We are thrilled that sailing journalist Steffan Meyric Hughes has taken time out to answer our 7 Wonders questions. Steffan’s book Circle Line chronicles his fascinating journey around London. Not by the yellow tube line, but using the network of rivers and canals surrounding the capital.
1) I wonder, when looking at the airport departure board, where have you thought, ‘I really would like to go there someday’, and why?
Yes – nearly every destination I see! Though without trying to sound too high-minded or parsimonious, anywhere on this Earth’s surface is of interest however ugly or difficult it might be. As a travel writer, I’m not in search of happy stories or sad stories – just truth. And that lurks everywhere. I love European travel, and any travel outside that would be dictated by the rivers I’d like to kayak. In no particular order: Canada, Chile, Uganda, Zambia, most of South-East Asia, China and New Zealand. I also have a special fascination for the United States – partly because it’s a country whose people are the friendliest I’ve met in the developed world, partly because it’s the living embodiment of the 20th century – but more than any of that, because I’d like to kayak down the huge rapids of the Grand Canyon! It’s great to travel with a focus like kayaking or sailing –you get to see parts of the country no one else will see, and often you will strike up genuine camaraderie with locals because you share an interest – rather than the strained small talk you’d get otherwise… if you’re lucky!
2) I wonder if you travel by guidebook or trust your instinct and simply explore.
I don’t walk around with a guidebook all day, but I’ll always have one there if it’s a substantial trip to a new place – otherwise I’d be going in blind to any knowledge greater than my own. Guidebooks to whitewater rivers usually tell you you could easily die – then cheerfully tell you to go and do it anyway – I try to ignore them as much as I can. Guidebooks in sailing – the Reeds Almanac and to a lesser degree pilotage guides to individual harbours – are pretty much indispensable.
3) I wonder from your travels, what is the favourite photo you’ve taken and the story behind it?
I once took a photo of my girlfriend’s shadow in Spain – and it depicts her better than any conventional snap – I think it captures her essence! It’s funny, because I’m a bit of a geek and love photographing textures of walls and doors in late afternoon light – and my girlfriend likes shots of people. So this one pleases us both.
4) I wonder whilst travelling, what is the one thing you can’t live without?
My clip-on reading light (and, obviously a good book). I’ve yet to find the perfect reading light, which would have a strong clip and a dimmable, incandescent bulb, but they are a Godsend on planes, coaches and trains where they often turn the lights off at night and expect everyone to fall asleep. They also double up as a torch that clips onto things. Much of my travel involves camping or sleeping rough in some manner or other. For that, a Thermarest self-inflating sleeping mat is the best bit of kit out there, by miles.
5) I wonder what’s the most effort you’ve taken to travel somewhere…… And was it worth it?
Cochabamba in Bolivia. I think it took about four flights and a coach ride or two. And no, it wasn’t worth it, as the whole idea was to fly from La Paz (Bolivian capital) to the Amazon to spend some days canoeing in a dug-out with natives there. We spent 48 hours waiting for our flight out of La Paz on a small propeller plane. It eventually took off, and was buffeted so severely in the turbulence of the Andes that we had to give up and return to La Paz. Very exciting ‘near-crash’ experience, with the wingtips quite close to the mountains, which nearly made it worth it – but not quite. A great moment on that trip though, was accompanying rafters as a safety kayaker on the Urabamba River, a Grade 4 limestone whitewater river that flows through the Sacred Valley near Machu Picchu. It took me a day of lying through my teeth to various rafting companies before they’d trial me out for that one. But I was determined to do my “gravity/water thing” rather than hike up that hill on foot!
I’ve lived in London most of my life, and grew up sailing and canoeing on the Thames. Sailing and rowing around London was first and foremost a cheap holiday, which is what I needed at the time. It was also a way of testing my theory that you don’t have to go far to see new things and to travel. And I thought it was a neat little journey – a way of making a circuit to contain the sprawling mess that is my home.
7) I wonder what you have planned next and where can people find out more about you?
I’m lucky enough to travel quite a bit for work. In terms of boat-related travel adventures, I’d love to return to the Alps soon. I was in the French Alps this summer for a week kayaking the stunning whitewater rivers and was blown away by the beauty of the place, the wild flowers, the wooden villages, the pace of life – everything. Sailing-wise, I have a boatbuilder friend who is sailing around every lighthouse in Britain in a tiny dinghy (and across the Channel too). I wanted to join him on the Channel trip but couldn’t – so I hope to tick a few of his list with him next year. I would also love to do a source-to-sea descent of a river, which is a holy grail that I’ve never done. Devon’s River Dart would be a good one for kayaking, with serious whitewater tumbling down to a sunny, tidal estuary and for sailing, I’d to sail the whole navigable Severn. But I’m still mulling all these options over – so many dreams and so little time. If I was a millionaire, I know exactly what I’d buy: time! And, referring back to question 1, a month kayaking in the Alps would beat everything apart from a Grand Canyon.
Please check out Steffan Meyric Hughes’s website steffanmeyrichughes.com and purchase the book (by clicking on the cover) for a fascinating read.
by Si Salter