Wednesday Wander Revisited – A Trip To Dragonstone, Part 1

When I was about a year into blogging I started a regular feature called a Wednesday Wander, where I’d write a post about somewhere I’d been (I’ve travelled a bit), share photos, a bit of local knowledge and my own insight into the place. I had to stop doing them, eventually – not due to running out of places, but because other things came up in my life and they were feeling like a bit of a chore. However, they remain some of my most popular posts, and I’m so happy that people enjoyed them 🙂

Now we can’t go anywhere, for the most part, locked into our cities and towns and villages, dreaming of holidays past. In that spirit, I thought I might revive a few of my old Wanders so we can all travel again, albeit virtually for now. I’ve chosen Dragonstone, aka Itzurun Beach in Zumaia, Spain, as my first location – we’re just over a year out from the (disappointing) finale to one of the most popular television shows in history, so it seemed appropriate. However, even if you’re not a fan, sit back, feel the sunshine, and enjoy the wander…

(…and if you want to do a bit more armchair travelling, check out my other Wanders – there are over 100 of them!)

I’ve recently been away, doing a spot of wandering in Basque country. I am a big Game of Thrones fan and so, when I found out that two of the locations used for the show were not too far from where I was staying, I decided to take a look (and dragged the family along with me).

If you’re not a Game of Thrones fan, don’t worry! These locations are spectacular in their own right, and interesting even without their link to the most popular show in the world.

So, this week I am wandering to Dragonstone, otherwise known as Itzurun Beach, Zumaia. (Yes, I did go to the second location as well, but that will be in another post). Located on the rugged north coast of Spain, Itzurun Beach is notable for its spectacular geological formations, as it is part of the longest continuous rock strata in the world. The beautiful layered rock formations are known as ‘flysch’ cliffs, and are completely spectacular.

Zumaia is a lovely town, the streets lined with lowrise apartments. There is also an ancient fortified church, part of the original monastery that founded the town in the 1200s. Itzurun beach is a short walk from the town centre, along a walkway shaded by trees and a stone archway.

As you reach the steps leading down to the beach (also used in the show), you are greeted by a statue of two lions… or are they dragons?

The beach itself is no secret – the day was hot and sunny day when we visited and it was packed, the restaurant overlooking the water heaving with diners, the sand covered in towels and blankets and sunbathers. I tried my best to get shots without people in them, but it was difficult at times.

However, Game of Thrones fans will definitely recognise the cliff face and cave entrance, as well as this interior shot of the cave where they filmed Jon and Danaerys walking back to the light after visiting the Dragonglass mines. The iconic shape of the cliffs that surround Dragonstone itself are there too, though with a hotel at the top instead of a castle of stone.

And so what was it like to wander in the footsteps of the Targaryens? The rocks were beautiful, the layers of colour and rippling shapes like nothing I’ve seen. A young woman in a long black dress with flowing silver grey hair posed at the entrance to one cave, counterpoint to the many bikini-clad beach goers. Nearby a small child screamed, and I heard the flap of fabric as a towel was shaken out… or was it wings? Overhead sea birds soared, the waves crashing on the ancient stones, wind blowing cooler from the North as the tide came in.

Just to give you an idea of the scale of the cliffs and cave entrance

We spent a couple of hours there, playing in the waves, wandering around the rock formations and lying in the sun. As we left, we headed up the stark grey steps used as the entrance to Dragonstone on the show and I could see why the location was so appealing, so much that they needed to create the magic of Dragonstone already in place.

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!

(And next time won’t be too far away – I’m hoping to post about San Juan de Gatzelugtxe, otherwise known as the second location for Dragonstone, before the end of the week.)


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

A Tangled Path – Where Do We Go From Here?

As we move through these strange times, I suppose we each have our way of dealing with what’s going on. While we are linked on one level by the shared experience of lockdown, each of us has our own set of circumstances to deal with in how we find our way forward.

I found it difficult to focus the first few weeks of lockdown. Perhaps I was tapping into a larger, more generalised global anxiety, or simply finding the constant stream of news upsetting – or perhaps a mix of both. Whatever the case, I couldn’t do much writing, only able to sit for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. I concentrated on short stories, working on some I already had, improving them for competition entries. Otherwise, I busied myself around the house, doing laundry, cleaning, tidying, baking, working out how to get food for myself and my family, cooking, clearing out cupboards… you get the idea.

And walking. Each day, the dog and I would head out for our state-sponsored walk, and I’d try and let my mind go free as well, releasing anxiety. It helped, a little.

Then April began and, with it, a commitment I’d made to do Camp NanoWrimo with a group of likeminded writers. It wasn’t our first time in the cabin together, and it was a welcome change of focus. It also forced me to write. My goal was 20k words, a big chunk of the first draft of a new middle-grade novel I was working on.

And I did it. I reached my goal with days to spare, the satisfaction at seeing my word count creep up, day by day, sometimes by only a couple of hundred words, keeping me going. As did the group I was in. All of us had goals to achieve, and each of us, though we lived in different countries, were dealing with lockdown and the impact of the pandemic. It was nice to check in and see how they were doing, to congratulate each other with every badge achieved. And it got me writing again.

Now it’s May, and lockdown continues, though things are beginning to ease. I do think this will be the shape of things for a bit longer yet, though, until a vaccine is developed. What was strange has almost become normal, now – it’s interesting how quickly we adapt to changes in circumstances. It seems normal now to go to the supermarket and see hardly anyone in there, to see empty shelves, to wave hello at people from across the road but go no closer. Even though I live on the very edge of London, close to the busiest airport in the world and two major motorways, when I go out for my walks, most days, all I hear is birdsong. The skies are clear, the hedges filled with butterflies and buzzing bees as large as my thumb. There seem to be more flowers than I remember seeing, too.

I wonder what the world will be like when we come out of the other side? I wonder whether there will be lessons learned, not only about the way we treat the other creatures with whom we share the planet, and their habitats, but also the other lessons. About how people who actually keep the world going are often paid less than anyone else. About how much we pollute, simply by living our lives – the pictures of clear skies in India, of cities seeing the Himalayas for the first time in years, are proof of how quickly things can change when we change our behaviour. And what about corporate culture? Big expensive offices may become a thing of the past, as many companies have realised they can still run with people working from home. Why pay for someone to have a desk in an office when they can do the same work from the comfort of their home?

There will be divorces and babies and love stories and breakups. There will be people taking leaps, trying something new. There will be business failures, and success stories. In twenty years’ time, our children and grandchildren will be learning about The Great Pandemic in school. But what their world looks like depends on how we rebuild this one. Which path we choose.

Hope you’re all staying safe and well – let me know how things have been for you in this strange time xx

(Photos from a recent dog walk – thank goodness for the lovely weather we’ve been having!)


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Choosing the future

Food for thought from the always wonderful Sue Vincent…

The Silent Eye

A few months ago, with what now appears to be an uncanny and uncomfortable prescience, we began a workshop in the Derbyshire village of Eyam. The village is one of those pretty places of old stone and cottage gardens… but it is best known for its response to the outbreak of bubonic plague in 1665.

The plague arrived in the village from London in a bale of flea-infested cloth and swiftly infected the tailor who had ordered it and his assistant, killing them both. This was at the time of the Great Plague of London… the last time bubonic plague reached epidemic proportions in England and during what is now known as the Second Pandemic. The pandemic had begun in China in 1331, with devastating global effects in the days before modern medicine, killing hundreds of millions over the centuries of its periodic resurgences. The Great Plague of London killed…

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A Trip Into The Past – Den Gamle By, Denmark

In my previous post, I talked about a recent trip I took to Denmark. It was an impromptu trip, so there wasn’t much time to plan any activities. However, sometimes that’s a good thing, as you can ask for recommendations from locals when you get there as to the best places to go.

We had a great time exploring Aarhus in the few days we had, but hands down my favourite place we visited was Den Gamle By, a ‘village’ created from historic buildings brought from all over Denmark to create a living museum.

One of Denmark’s top tourist attractions, Den Gamle By was opened in 1914 and, at the time, was the first open-air museum of its kind anywhere in the world. Consisting of 75 buildings brought from all over Denmark, some dating back to the 1500s, the museum is laid out like a town, with streets and a town square around a canal.

There are three distinct zones, each covering a different period of history; the 1840s, the 1920s and the 1970s, and there are actors in each zone, enacting scenes of everyday life.

The complex also houses a museum, running beneath the modern section, with examples of European art and Scandinavian craft and design. There are also a couple of gift shops, a bakery selling traditional pastries, a bookshop and several food stalls, all designed to fit into whichever era they are part of.

Each building has a blue plaque on it, detailing its history and where it came from, and I really enjoyed details such as the cobbled streets in the old section, which really added to the overall feel of stepping into the past.

Other than the occasional glimpse of a crane or modern building, it really felt like being in another world, in the best way possible, and a reminder of what many European cities and towns used to look like, before war and development changed their faces forever.

I really enjoyed visiting Den Gamle By, and will happily go again whenever I return to Aarhus – it would be lovely to see in the summertime! As a writer, I can never resist a place that makes me feel as though I’m stepping through a portal into another world, and the old buildings felt as though they were full of stories, just waiting to be told…


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 5 – Failure

I recently attended a workshop with The Silent Eye about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part five of my account, parts one, two, three and four can be found here…

We left Tideswell and headed into the hills. The sun was shining, the temperature warm enough for just a light jacket – not exactly the kind of weather one associates with fear. However, so far we had faced pestilence, death, and the idea of losing everyone you hold dear to be left alone in a changed world. Quite intense for the first afternoon! I started to get the inkling that this weekend would be about challenging myself internally, as well as externally…

Fear is something that is both universal, and specific to the individual. There are fears that hearken back to our ancestral roots – the fear of being vulnerable, cast out, or killed by some predator. Then there are fears that are more personal – some people suffer from claustrophobia, whereas others dislike large open spaces. Some people are scared of heights, others of spiders – it really depends on the individual. There are modern fears – nuclear war, gender-based violence, terrorism – and age-old ones such as poverty, bankruptcy, homelessness. Fear is unique to each individual, and yet is something we all share. Our next destination was a place where people were tested against an ancient fear, yet where the same tradition is still observed to this day.

We arrived at a very busy car park with people everywhere, a coach disgorging even more walkers near the entrance. While it was a pleasure to be out in the Peak district in such glorious weather, rather than in the rain I’d experienced last time I was there, it did mean it was a bit more crowded than usual. There also seemed to be some sort of event on, with officials seated a tables, people wearing numbers and carrying water bottles. Still, it was a wide and glorious space and there was plenty of room for everyone, plus it made for a more social walk, with lots of lovely dogs to be petted and conversations to be had. Nothing to be scared of here, unless you don’t like dogs or conversation.

After a short conversation our group split, with some of us taking the path running along the cliff edge, while others took the more gentle path among the heather and cairns. For this was a land of the dead – an ancestral burial ground, with scrying bowls carved into stones, small piles of rock dotting the landscape. It didn’t bother me, though – the dead are at peace in such places. So I took in the view, and we remarked how it felt as though the wind was scouring us clean, blowing away the last vestiges of the strangeness we’d experienced the day before.

As the path turned a large stone, standing alone among the cairns, became visible. This is the Eagle Stone, so named because, from one angle, it looks like an eagle at rest. Carved by the elements into fantastic shapes, it has been used since time immemorial as a testing ground for young men to show that they are ready to be wed. Before they were allowed to marry, the young man at first needed to climb the stone to the top, a test of manhood to prove their worth.

While it may seem a simple task, closer inspection revealed there is no easy way to the top. A couple of our group tried, but even to get a short way up was far more difficult than it looked. This would have been a test of both strength and ingenuity, an indication to the tribe that the young man in question was a suitable candidate to marry and pass on their skills to their children.

So the fear to be faced here is the fear of failure, both on a personal level, and of the tribe. If no young men were able to climb the rock, then the tribe was doomed to weaken and die out. And for the young men in question, they would lose both respect and the chance to marry the one they loved. Interestingly, the custom persists, as young men from the village below still climb the rock before they get married, often with the help of friends, and with a veil tied around their waists. As Sue put it so eloquently, ‘perhaps ‘manhood’ is not only defined by the ability to face fears and overcome hurdles, but by the ability to cooperate and help each other.’

As I stood in the shadow of the rock I considered how, perhaps, ancient traditions designed to propagate the strength and fertility of the tribes have become twisted over the centuries, so the idea of fighting for a woman’s favour, of not giving up until it’s bestowed, the idea that it is somehow owed in return for making an effort, has gained traction with some segments of society. And that there is a different kind of fear attached to such behaviour today.

But, as we laughed and joked and made friends with yet another lovely dog, I felt a world apart from such things. It had been a lovely peaceful morning, especially after the strange events of the previous afternoon, and it was nice to sit in the sunshine and enjoy the fresh air. However, I had no idea what the rest of the day had in store…


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Another Adventure…

It’s wonderfully sunny today, one of those glorious days you get in September, a last burst of summer warmth before the chill of autumn descends. It’s my favourite time of year – I love the harvest, Halloween, the build up to Christmas, all darkness and fairy lights – so I’m excited to be heading away for the weekend with The Silent Eye.

I’m not a student of the school, but I try to attend one of their workshops each year. Together, we’ve wandered the mountains of the Peak District, the granite moorland near Aberdeen, and explored ancient hillforts down south. We’ve visited stone circles large and small, climbed a chalk giant, examined Pictish sites, and listened to poetry in the shadow of a Neolithic wall. Each wweekend I’ve shared with them has been wonderful.

The groups are always friendly, and each site is wonderfully well-researched by our guides, so I get to explore the history, as well as the mystery, of these places. There’s never any pressure to participate – instead, simply good conversation and excellent pub meals, and, if we’re lucky, some nice weather too (Scottish stone circles notwithstanding!)

This is the fourth such workshop I’ve attended – to read about my earlier adventures, click here for the Peak District, here for Inverurie and here for Dorset. This time, we’re heading back to the Peak District, to explore the villages around Tideswell as well as the surrounding countryside. We’ll also be exploring our internal landscapes… wonder what I’ll find?

As always, I’ll be writing up my adventures and taking many, many photographs. Look forward to sharing them with you!

Until next week…


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

 

The Wednesday Review: Under Stone by Helen Jones (The Ambeth Chronicles #4)

A lovely review for Under Stone, the fourth book in my Ambeth series 🙂 Thank you so much, Darque Dreamer!

The Mermaid Behind the Books

The Book:

side+crop+of+paperback+image+TSTME (1)Book Title: Under Stone

Book Author:Helen Jones

Genre: YA Sci-Fi/ Dystopian

Publishing Date: December 31st, 2017

Publisher: Pendry Publishing

Synopsis: ‘Help will come to you, Alma, you will not be alone.’

Accepting her new powers hasn’t been easy for Alma. Nor has finding out the truth about her father. And she’s still not sure about the prophecy, or about going back to Ambeth. But the Dark are gathering, Denoris on her trail. Deryck hasn’t forgotten about her either…

Events past and present converge on a small Welsh town as Alma, and the Dark, choose their path. Who will reach the Cup first?

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January Divider

The Review:

What I have loved most about this series is the fact that with each book the characters and story develop and change. Each book has offered some sort of emotional story-line, but…

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