“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
I just read an article about slow travel; well, it was really just a listing of slow travel holidays. It promised that no planes were involved. It started off quite predictably with the familiar sustainable bucket list holidays, walk to Santiago de Compostela , cruise the Rhine, cycle in the Netherlands, then then half way down the listing, cruise Antarctica, sail the Mekong, hiking in Bhutan. Hold on, how do you slow travel to the Antarctic or Bhutan? Then I remembered something I was told by a travel writer we hosted this summer.
The editorial policy of most newspapers and journals is to review the activity/destination but not to mention the journey to and from. There are obvious exceptions to this, notably Helen Coffey in the Indi, but that’s generally how it goes. Even so it seems particularly perverse to imply that you can travel to the Antarctic from the UK without flying or that its doesn’t count. Most of the voyages start from S. America or New Zealand, about as long haul as you can get, and then involve a high-speed cruise across the Roaring Forties to the icy wastes of the southern continent. Slow, well not really, sustainable definitely not.
One of the take-aways from our summer voyage around the UK was that the process of getting to and from our boat was a really important part of the holiday. It was a summer of severe train disruption caused by the ongoing strike action. Several strike days clashed with our embarkation and disembarkation days. Some guests dealt with this by travelling a day early or late, we also managed to adjust our itinerary to accommodate some changes. Stories of the abandonment of pre-planned schedules and unexpected opportunities abounded. But notwithstanding the disruption no one arrived late and no one failed to get home on the departure day. In fact, we were the ones who, due to adverse weather, twice failed to arrive at the disembarkation port on time.
Serendipity played a hand, one guest spent an unplanned but welcome evening at a local music venue, another explored a botanical garden they hadn’t considered visiting before. Shared taxis and lifts, overnight sleepers booked or cancelled, hours spent on slow trains reading or chatting to strangers all added to the adventure. Whether this is a frustration, or an opportunity depended largely on the mindset of the guest.
What was clear is that for everyone the adventure started when they leave their home not when they stepped onboard. Our lesson is to ensure that the change over ports are accessible and attractive for an unplanned stay. We encourage travel by public transport and for most of the European ports we will visit in 2023 this should be possible the UK on the boarding or disembarkation day. Sadly, for those traveling to the furthest ports, many of the European sleeper routes were closed over Covid and have not yet reopened though there are still a couple of overnight ferry routes running; Rotterdam - Hull; Amsterdam – Newcastle. This removes one of the possible adventures and means people may have to stay overnight at a midway city, not such a bad thing if you plan it in. We don’t offer to provide third party transport, but we do research the options and can help with suggestions for low carbon and sustainable routes which have a little something extra to offer.
Which brings me back to slow travel. That’s what we offer, slow travel along with slow food and low adrenaline sailing. There are plenty of gung-ho boats offering a Fastnet place, sitting on the rail getting wet and cold, eating Mars bars and bananas, we don’t do that; there are sail training vessels that require you to muck in with the sail handling on a dark and stormy night, we don’t do that; and we certainly don’t pretend to be pirates. Snark moves slowly, averaging 8 miles / hour. You are very welcome to help with the sailing and steering, and we will show you the ropes, literally, but this your time to relax, enjoy the scenery and wildlife, read a book, de-compress, share a story or two, make new friends or explore unfamiliar or challenging ideas.
We are on a journey, that is what we do.