As we come to the end of another difficult year, we reflect on our highs and lows – on and off the blog
I thought that things would be different this year. We ended 2020 on a low but hopeful note and I really thought the world would be back to normal this year.
Instead, travel continues to limp on. Here in the UK, lockdown hangs like the sword of Damocles, yet again threatening our trip to Antarctica. There is a sense of time ticking by, especially for Peter who has lost two years of climbing in his prime, which has impacted his lifelong dream to climb the seven summits.
As ever, we’re trying to focus on the good things. Peter managed to get away to Switzerland and Greece, and we had our first trip together in nearly two years: a beach and diving holiday in Cyprus. He walked the Coast to Coast – twice – and began to focus more on writing, with contributions to DK’s Outdoor Europe as well features in the Independent, Telegraph, Guardian and i.
As for me, my novel Next of Kin came out this year and was named Times Book of the Month. I was shortlisted in the Diverse Book Awards and finished the first draft of my fourth novel – currently with my editor at HarperCollins.
Our friends and family are healthy – physically at least. I think we’re all running out of stamina under the pandemic. Still, we’re doing what we can, which at Atlas & Boots means continuing to showcase Earth’s best outdoor spaces. So, as is tradition, here are our top 10 posts of 2021.
1. I’ve lost my traveller edge
Read I’ve lost my traveller edge
For more or less a decade, travel has been a part of who I am. Whether sleeping with snakes in the outback or with rats by an active volcano, I’ve been able to grit my teeth and get on with it. On a short trip to London, however, I was tested by trivial things. I found myself feeling annoyed and stressed at having to pack and unpack repeatedly. I disliked having the wrong coat or wrong shoes or wrong bag for my various engagements. I didn’t like sleeping on pillows that were too soft or too hard, or using a hair dryer that wasn’t mine.
In this post, I reflect on what it has been like to lose my traveller edge and, in doing so, losing a part of my identity.
2. Coast to Coast: walking across England twice
Read Coast to Coast: walking across England twice
Feeling restless after months under lockdown, and loosely inspired by Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Peter decided to walk across England… twice.
In Lee’s memoir, he walks out from his Cotswolds home and embarks on an epic foot journey that takes him across southern England to Spain where he spends a year tramping from the north to the south coast. In Peter’s case, travel restrictions meant he couldn’t head for Spain, so he picked up the Coast to Coast trail that practically runs past our house. Determined to make the journey by foot alone, he walked the route – twice.
3. Why I’ve given up eating fish (again)
Read Why I’ve given up eating fish (again)
I was vegetarian for 15 years until I started eating fish again at the age of 28, mainly for the sake of convenience when travelling. Even in developed countries like France and Argentina, restaurants often didn’t have a vegetarian option, in which case I chose to eat fish.
Slowly, fish crept back into my diet and I sometimes found myself choosing it even with a veggie alternative. In 2020, I didn’t travel at all, but still ate fish once or twice a month. Then, in May of this year, I read an article that forced me to rethink. This post grapples with my decision to give up fish once again.
4. Virgin peaks: the world’s unclimbed mountains
Read Virgin peaks: the world’s unclimbed mountains
In January 2021, Nirmal Purja and his team of climbers completed the first winter ascent of K2, the world’s second-highest mountain. Some say that the feat was the last great challenge in mountaineering, but this overlooks the world’s unclimbed mountains: peaks that have yet to be climbed at all, at any time of the year.
In this post, Peter looks at the most coveted unclimbed peaks across the globe. It struck a chord with readers who were clearly craving remote places far away from home.
5. Diving in Cyprus: our first dive in two years
In our first trip together in nearly two years, Peter and I stole a week away in Cyprus. Diving wasn’t on the cards initially. After a trying year, we were keen to do nothing but eat, drink, read and wallow in the sunshine. In typical outdoorsy-ish fashion, however, two days into our trip, we decided to go diving.
In this post, I reflect on my nervous start to diving and why getting back in the water was just what I needed.
6. Q&A: Climbing every mountain in the Yorkshire Dales
Read Q&A: Climbing every mountain in the Yorkshire Dales
Similar to his Coast to Coast hike above, another of Peter’s pandemic adventures was to climb every mountain in Yorkshire Dales National Park, home to one of England’s classic outdoor landscapes.
The park’s glacial valleys – or dales – are defined by a unique terrain of high heather moorland, rolling hills and dramatic waterfalls. With 41 mountains and an outstanding network of footpaths, the Dales are ripe for hiking – and so off he went. Throughout the challenge, he received myriad questions via email and social media. He collected his answers in this post, which was widely shared by readers and picked up by the Yorkshire Post, Yorkshire Life, Living, This Is Y and other local publications.
7. Ice work: 10 first ascents by female mountaineers
In a world dominated by men, a select group of women have shattered the ice ceiling. In this post, I review some daring first ascents by female mountaineers.
We pay homage to Junko Tabei, the first woman to summit Everest (after being told that she “should be raising children instead”) as well as Lucy Walker who climbed the Eiger in a voluminous skirt thanks to the social mores of Victorian Britain. It’s no surprise that these pioneers struck a chord with readers.
8. 10 most (seemingly) dangerous things we’ve done
Peter and I have a long-running joke that I have fallen off my bike in the most beautiful places in the world – among them Bora Bora in French Polynesia and Isabela in the Galápagos. What’s interesting is that no one ever calls me ‘brave’ or ‘daring’ for riding a bicycle, or indeed a horse even though statistically (and in personal experience), these activities are some of the most dangerous I’ve partaken in.
Instead, it’s things like skydiving and bungy jumping that impress others most. In this post, I share 10 seemingly dangerous things we’ve done – some of which posed a real risk, but most of which were just pure fun.
9. The seven second summits: a tougher challenge
Read The seven second summits: a tougher challenge
Peter has often talked about his dream to climb the seven summits. In this post, he goes a step further and looks at the seven second summits – the second-highest mountains on each continent – albeit from a safe distance.
It’s said that these mountains are more challenging than their loftier peers, often with higher fatality and lower success rates. In Into Thin Air, his best-selling book about the 1996 Everest disaster, Jon Krakauer explains that “more than one critic of the Seven Summits concept has pointed out that a considerably more difficult challenge than ascending the highest peak on each continent would be to climb the second-highest peak on each continent, a couple of which happen to be very demanding climbs.”
As Peter explains in the post, he’s more than happy to stick with the ‘easier’ Seven Summits.
10. Cold shoulder: 10 dramatic climbing controversies
There was a time when climbing controversies were sportingly confined to the slopes. The petty trivialities, the robust exchanges and the heated clashes were just part of the cut and thrust of the mountaineering world.
As the field grew more lucrative and summiteers were furnished with fame and book deals, these once-discreet disputes began to spill off the slopes.
In this post, I review some of history’s most fascinating climbing controversies, from contested first ascents to violent clashes at high altitude.