A pilgrimage to make a dream come true

Chartered Wealth Solutions clients, Marge and Peter Moodie, both in their mid-sixties, added their footprints to the millions who have walked the Camino de Santiago.  In this article, they describe how making this lifetime dream come true has reminded them that we are all pilgrims of life … and that having dreams makes the journey magical!

The Camino is a pilgrimage across the north of Spain and goes back to about 900 AD. We started in France, in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountain range. The

route over the mountain was used by pilgrims, by the armies of Charlemagne and Napoleon, both invading and retreating, and now by peregrinos like us.

The distance from the pass to Santiago is about 800 kilometres. We walked through forests, along rivers, over mountains, across farmlands and enjoyed meeting people from all over the world. It was time out from the daily routines of life. There was nothing else to do but walk and think and shed the unnecessary baggage that builds up over time.

We used the pilgrim refugios at night – basic shared dormitories, communal kitchens or shared meals. The cost is 6 to 12 euros, and each village has one or more of these places. There we met people of many nationalities, from South Korea to Argentina, Finland to Thailand, United States to Colombia, all walking the Camino.

We’d both had concerns about health before leaving for Spain, but on the walk we felt in better health than we had for months. We walked with people in their seventies who, like us, were doing 20 to 30 kilometres a day.

We had spent just enough time with an online course to pick up a smattering of Spanish, and it helped; our attempts to speak their language always got a welcome from local people. You have to buy food, explain where you are from, and ask your way at times.

The Camino brings people together from around the world and this means a great deal to the Spanish. They recognise the peregrino, seeing his walking stick and backpack with scallop shell, and wave him on, “Hola, buen camino!” A dustman swinging on the back of a passing garbage truck will call out “Buen camino!”

There are plenty of videos about the Camino on YouTube, some good, some not, and there’s a touristy element to it now (selling organised walks), but the lure of the Camino is, as Marge puts it, time to walk with yourself. It’s not organised – you just set out.

We had only 26 days’ leave (walking it takes about 33 days) and so we used bicycles for the last 500 km of footpath or tarmac from Burgos to Santiago. The Camino ends at Santiago cathedral, as it has for countless pilgrims.

The place is busy and noisy, when you really want to be quiet and think about what you’ve done. We were tired but deeply content that together we’d completed something we’d dreamed of for a long time.

We have more dreams…

Welcome to the West Country

Chartered Wealth Solutions clients, Norma and Rhys Rolfe, have had a respite from travel for some weeks – looking after their son and daughter-in-law’s home in the UK (together with cats and chickens).  But, now, the travel bug is biting again and we are fortunate to journey along with them again … this time to the West Country.  The counties include Wilshire, Somerset, Devon and Dorset … so familiar to readers of writers such as Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy.

Bath, an old Roman town, has been given UNESCO status, the only city to have achieved this honour. The natural thermal water flowing out of three springs beneath the city produces a million litres of hot mineral rich water each day as it did when the Romans and Celts found it over 2000 years ago.

Pulteney Bridge was built in 1769 across the Avon River and designed by Robert Adam, with echoes of the Rialto Bridge in Venice. All the old buildings were built with Bath stone quarried just outside the city.

The picture of the Kings Circus built in 1754 is a quarter of the circle. It is quite magnificent as are all the other crescents and building.

The magnificent Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol designed by Isambard Brunel and completed in 1864. It is over 200 meters long, and is 75 meters above the Avon Gorge, a beautiful sight.

We move on to Wells and the Cheddar Gorge. We do hope this finds you all well.

Spring into play

Women’s Day comes at the perfect time of year for me.

It’s when the cold of winter starts to settle, when our hearts and minds are readying themselves for spring. The light changes; new colours start to shoot – and all of it speaks to the beauty of rebirth.

This Women’s Day saw us hosting an art day with some clients. To be honest, my initial response to the idea was a “No.” Painting? In front of other people? That wasn’t something I felt comfortable with at all.

Play: no purpose needed                              

Never mind that I tell clients in our planning meetings to step out of their comfort zones, right? “You don’t have to be perfect at something to do it,” I say to them. I mean, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” I ask.

Well, the worst thing that can happen is that you have a lot of fun!

You see, somewhere at the back of my mind were the words of one of my favourite authors, Brene Brown. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she writes about the importance of play – and of play that is purposeless. We play for the sake of play, she says. “We do it because it’s fun and we want to.”

Never mind that I didn’t really want to. I did it anyway.

And so the day got underway. I found myself telling anyone who would listen that ”I’m really bad at painting” or “I’m not at all artistic.” And because I was operating from a place of what others thought of me, and not from my heart, the painting I was doing was coming from my head, if that makes sense. And that’s exactly what my canvas was reflecting.

Surprised by the gift of imperfection

At some point, I had to stop myself. What a waste of a day it was going to be if I wasn’t open to enjoying it. There I was, giving clients advice on how to live their very best life – and I couldn’t get through a day with a canvas and a couple of colours. So, I took a deep breath, decided to settle into my surrounds and just ease into the experience.

I took in the sights and the sounds; the laughter of precious clients enjoying a bit of artistic abandon. And am I glad I did! I enjoyed the people – and I loved the painting. The picture I painted was of a lady with an umbrella. Is it is perfect? Of course not. But that’s the beauty of it. In it, I see much more than someone holding an umbrella. I see a woman who lifted her umbrella – and her heart – up to an open, blue sky. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and just abandoned herself to the moment.

So, this Women’s Day, I found out – first-hand – that playing (in this case, painting) can, and should be, purposeless. And without perfection. And that therein lies the purpose.

The beauty lies in the variety!

A trip of lifetime to view an eclipse

2016 was a challenging year for the Walker family. So, the chance to visit their daughter in Seattle to celebrate Conrad’s 70th was one not to be missed … and the promise of a glimpse of a magnificent total eclipse was further inducement to cross continents for the experience of a lifetime.  Con and Rose Walker share a snippet of their wonderful journey.

My daughter, Tamara, resident in Seattle on the West Coast of the USA, organised a celebratory gathering of our many North American friends.  There was much to be celebrate:  despite my health struggles, I had reached my 70th birthday; and we wanted to commemorate the 20th anniversary of our dear son’s passing.

A sailing enthusiast’s dream

Tamara, knowing my love of sailing, planned a sailing trip among the San Juan Islands in the Seattle area.

We embarked on the 44 ft sloop, Akimbo, at Friday Harbour on San Juan Island. Jon, for whom Akimbo, moored in a Seattle Marina, is home, was our operator. The weather was perfect, but the haze from the huge forest fires burning in British Columbia obscured the normally magnificent views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains – Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier and the Olympic and Cascade ranges. The haze gave an eerie quality to the light, resulting in spectacular sunsets.

Our route through the San Juan Islands took us to Stuart Island for our first night, searching for whales up towards Saturna Island in Canada. We hiked across Stuart to its historic lighthouse, buying T-shirts on the honour system (please mail your check to….!).  We were fortunate to see a humpback whale and many harbour porpoises and seals. The usual pods of Orcas were not in the area where their main food source, Chinook salmon, have been very scarce this summer.

Following our second night at Sucia Island with its lovely bays, inlets and walks on the shore, we went to tiny Patos and its fascinating lighthouse. Though August usually sees little wind, we were blessed with amazing sailing – close reaches to the northwest, broad reaches to east and west, and a lovely run downwind with spinnaker flying.

Our fourth night was at East Bay on Orcas Island, where we caught up on groceries and email in a cute little town. We made our way to the east side of James Island for our final night and were treated to a lovely walk through its old growth forest. Sadly, it was time to return to Anacortes on Fidalgo Island to disembark and drive to Langley on Whidbey Island.

Eclipse fever

By Sunday 20th, we were getting reports of heavy traffic and gathering crowds for the eclipse and were getting concerned about how our plan to see it would unfold.

Tamara had found reasonably priced hotel rooms in Portland.  This would hopefully afford us the opportunity to view the total eclipse set for 21 August. (We heard of campsites at Madras, on the eclipse path, going for as much as $5000!)

Rose and I and friends Ken and Mary decided to proceed by stages: first, could we make it through the traffic to Portland from Seattle, and if so, could we get to the path of totality on Monday morning?

We had a plan B to view it from a friend’s patio in Portland where we would have 97% totality. The Seattle-Portland traffic was heavy but we made it to Portland by 3pm. The receptionist was not very encouraging, saying it could be 5 hours to Salem if we left early in the morning! We decided check Google traffic in the morning to see if we could make it to the nearest point of totality in the little town of Hubbard, 50 km to the south.

At 7am, the TV was showing chaotic roadside scenes towards Salem but Google was reporting an hour’s travel to Hubbard so we breakfasted and got away about 8am, reaching Hubbard at 9am. We encountered a few groups of viewers sitting in fields or by the roadside, and briefly stopped next to a peach orchard, but decided to carry on to Woodburn, and about 9:30am, we found a park with a few dozen folks sporting solar glasses on lawn chairs. We simply parked and set up next to our car, but discovered that we had somehow misplaced 3 of our 4 pairs of glasses. Rose and Mary remarkably came across a man offering 3 spare pairs!

Thus equipped, we began watching the eclipse, by now with a small bite out of the sun. With time, it became noticeably darker and colder and then, at about 10:15am, it became totally dark, the street lights came on and I was no longer able to see the controls on my camera, which needed a complete exposure change. I had one minute to get it sorted and get some pictures! Fortunately I was able to get the corona at totality and the diamond ring effect.

The traffic on return was totally choked up but after an hour or so it began to clear and we easily made it back to Langley by 5:00pm. The dire predictions of millions of viewers, including petrol shortages, simply did not materialise for us. Shades of Y2K!

What a remarkable experience: my first total eclipse encounter.

Diving adventure yields gems

Pat Dunbar, adventurer and Chartered client, continues the account of her Egyptian scuba diving adventure … and shares the life lessons she took away with her.

I had never dived on a shipwreck so it was both exhilarating and frightening.

With the help of my experienced dive buddy, I found myself swimming past, and marveling at, the most incredible underwater images.

Because of the abundance of life, it is impossible to remember everything you see: glass fish, scorpion fish, lion fish and the deadly stone fish in the sand, shoals of little Goldies swirling around the divers, clown fish in the anemones, exquisite emperor fish … just too many to list. The world under the sea is an alien, fascinating place, dangerous and thrilling with the unexpected around every coral outcrop.

On two occasions, I actually penetrated the wrecks.

By our last dive around the Pinnacles (two towers of coral-covered rocks), I was confident enough to penetrate the cave with the help of dive master, Sameh.

Each wreck revealed different sights, especially those with their cargo on display: piles of porcelain toilets scattered on the seabed, boxes of Italian tiles, a cargo of wine bottles, sadly all broken, and clear views of the remains of the winches, masts, funnels and even the captain’s bath tub.

As I am not qualified for Nitrox diving, I stayed at an average depth of 25m which gave me plenty of opportunity to see and experience so much more than I had ever seen before. My average bottom time was 55 minutes with my longest dive being 74 minutes and the deepest dive at 28.5 m.

On days that I did not dive, I snorkeled and really enjoyed taking my time observing the sea creatures as they went about their daily business, feeding, protecting their territories and generally doing what fish do. Deep underwater, colours disappear, the first being red, and this I discovered during one dive when I cut my hand and was quite amused to see that my blood was green … definitely an alien world.

The boat’s tiny galley produced the most amazing array and quantity of food and we were fed really well with a variety of freshly baked snacks delivered to us on the top deck every afternoon after the dive. The top deck was one of the few places where we could find a breeze which countered the intense heat of plus 40ºC and where we spent most of our free time. Fortunately, the lounge/dining room and cabins were airconditioned most of the time.

Roast Turkey was on the menu one evening and a fellow diver, Peter, celebrated his birthday with an Egyptian style birthday cake specially requested by his wife, Silvia.

Writing this article on my scuba diving trip has given me the opportunity to reflect on how much I have learned, besides how to dive. Diving has become a metaphor for aspects of my life:

  1. Challenging situations: I have had to overcome many emotions – fear, slight claustrophobia, a sense of inadequacy, and disbelief – by realizing that I actually had the courage to push myself out of my comfort zone.
  2. Trust in others: I realised just how much trust I had to put in the professionalism and experience of others, in this case, the dive master and my dive buddy.
  3. Confidence boost:  The recognition that I could cope and was able to breathe meant I came home with my confidence boosted. I felt 10 years younger; my mind was clear and I was proud of myself.
  4. Learning: Retirement has brought so many chances to learn new skills, meet interesting people and has opened up so many new avenues to pursue.
  5. Gratitude: I am so grateful that my husband, Ian, has encouraged me to do as much as I can, while I can, even if he is unable to go with me. I was immensely privileged to be able to experience this and other trips.

(Thank you to Kerri Keet for the use of her photographs.)

If you missed the first half of Pat’s adventure, you can find it here:

My seventh stone wears a scuba suit

Have you heard of Kingsley Holgate’s seven stones challenge? 

I attended a talk at Chartered House some years ago at which Holgate explained that each stone marks a decade of your life. “What have you done with your stones and what will you do with your remaining ones?” he asked.

I decided then and there to do as much as possible with my last stone – finances, health and other circumstances allowing.

Immersed in my dream

With this challenge as my motivation, I qualified as an open water scuba diver at age 66 and have dived once at Simons Town and several times at Sodwana Bay.

Nevertheless, it was with considerable trepidation and a sense of disbelief that, in July this year, I took my seat on the Air Egypt flight en-route to Hurghada for a scuba diving trip in the Red Sea.

On arrival in Hurghada, we (the ProDive SA group) transferred immediately to the dive boat, My Dreams, part of the Sea Serpent fleet based in Egypt, our new home for the next seven days.

We set sail for Sinai and the Ras Mohammed National Park, with a short stop at a dive site close to Hurghada for an orientation dive to check our scuba equipment, iron out any problems and check our weighting and buoyancy.

The itinerary for the trip included some of the best dive sites of the Northern Red Sea: The Dunraven, sunk 1876; the Thistlegorm Wreck, (a British Merchant Navy ship sunk by a German fighter aircraft in 1941); six Abu Nuhas wrecks dating from 1862 to 1983; the two Gubal reefs, together with wall and reef dives.

Many in the group were experienced divers, having been on similar trips before, but it was all new for me. Still, I quickly adjusted to the rhythm of life onboard. Being in confined spaces, it was important that we all got on well; I was very lucky as my bunk mate, Rina, was a considerate person – the cabins are really quite small.

Age really is just a number

I soon realised that at 71 I was the oldest person on board. The average age of the divers was in the early 30s with the exception of a married couple in their early 60s and my bunk mate. The spread of ages actually worked very well to bring so many different experiences and mindsets to the mix of conversation and I benefitted from the energy and enthusiasm of the younger crowd.

Each morning started with a wake-up call at about 6h00, a dive briefing at 6h30 and then our first dive of the day. A full breakfast was served when we had all returned, washed and changed. The next briefing was around 11h00, then an hour’s dive followed by lunch. The mid-afternoon dive typically took place at around 15h00 with the rest of the afternoon free to relax, read, have a preferred drink and chat on the covered upper deck. For the more experienced divers, there was a night dive and then supper. With air temperatures of 40ºC plus and several dives a day, even the youngest diver was in bed by 22h00.

At each briefing, we were given a thorough assessment of the underwater conditions and occasionally I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and did not dive – the currents would have been too strong for me.

My first sight of each wreck was mind-blowing, given the sheer size – enormous hulks, covered with soft corals, sponges, hard corals and teeming with other forms of life, fish of every shape, size and colour, Moray eels, Turtles.

(Thank you to Kerri Keet for the use of her photographs.)

Follow our Chartered client, Pat Dunbar, as she continues on her diving adventure and shares lessons she learned on this remarkable experience. Read her next installment here:

Never tire of life: travel instead

Two months touring some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK has gone by in a flash. We have been asked on numerous occasions: “Have you not seen all this before?”

I think the answer is very simple: if you are tired and bored with the beauty and wonder of nature, then you are tired of life.

We so enjoyed our time in Snowdonia, the Pembrokeshire Coast, North Wales, Brecon Beacons and The Gower Peninsular. The weather was not always good, but good enough for us to do plenty of walking and sightseeing, and get plenty of rest and reading time which we find essential at this stage in our lives.

We were able to enjoy time with my cousin and his wife at Penarth overlooking the Severn Estuary which has the second highest bore in the world; at certain times of the year it is possible to surf the incoming tide for miles.

On our way back to London we visited the Caen locks between Rowde and Devise in Wiltshire. It is a system of 29 locks built in a staircase nearly 200 years ago. Thomas Telford built the amazing 39 meter high aqueduct near Llangollen instead of the locks.

We are now looking after our son and daughter-in-law’s house and cats for the next two weeks while they holiday in France. We will then visit the West Country.

The Rolfes in literary-rich Lake District

After a wonderful few weeks in the Yorkshire Dales, an incredibly beautiful part of the British Isles, we now find ourselves in The Lake District, just proclaimed a World Heritage site. With chocolate box scenery, it is certainly a wonderful area to visit … especially if the weather is perfect.

We have enjoyed some lovely walks in the mountains and visits to the many beautiful Waters, lakes and villages. We are staying at a lovely site on the shore of Coniston Water, where Donald Campbell died 50 years ago attempting to break another water speed record. We enjoyed Ullswater, home to some of the highest mountains in this area, all of a 1000 feet high.

This is Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter country, and we visited Cockermouth on the west coast where William Wordsworth was born. We drove over the Honister Pass; negotiating the narrow roads has been interesting, but drivers are so considerate which makes it feasible.  We saw the results of the devastating floods in and around Ullswater in 2015, but they are slowly returning to normal.

Making the most by making music

Music is a pathway to the playfulness of life.

Whether it’s music that taps along – literally – to the light-hearted enjoyment of everyday life or the overwhelming intensity of an orchestra imploding our senses, music is play at its most powerful.

Listening to music, writes Dr Sara Ahmed, can be a healing experience. She says that music is “intricately linked to our lives, entangled with memories from childhood to old age…”

She also says that music can improve well-being in cases of anxiety and depression and can stimulate the memories of those suffering from dementia. Even the lyrics of a song can carry power: lyrics are linked to “emotions and memories, which form the foundations of us as individuals”. (Click here to read her article.)

Benefits for the brain
But today, I want to take music-as-play to its most literal level and talk about playing – as in the literal playing of a musical instrument.

According to Dr Ahmed, learning to play a musical instrument, even as an adult, improves your brain’s neuroplasticity, possibly preventing neurological disease and improving your focus and decision-making abilities.

You might never have played a musical instrument, or have played so long ago, you can hardly remember what a cello looks like. But how wonderful to be able to play – literally – and be developing your brain at the same time.

Music’s unique contribution to your wellbeing
I had the privilege of attending a neuroscience conference by Dr Tara Swart, who shows that the only activity that literally accesses or lights up the whole brain (as per her presentation showcasing different brain scans) is that of playing an instrument. Dr Anita Collins, music education researcher, concurs.

Monitors measuring brain activity in real time show that music literally lights up multiple areas of the brain. Doing a maths sum or reading a book will show activity in a specific section of the brain but playing music, says Anita, “is the brain’s equivalent of a full-body workout.”

And the research attests to this: musicians have shown the ability to process information in fast, intricate sequences. Playing an instrument engages every area of your brain at once – motor, visual and auditory. And practising strengthens brain function.

What’s more, we can apply that strength to other activities in life, making the most of music in more ways than one.

I don’t know about you but that is music to my ears. And because the fine motor skills that playing an instrument demands are controlled in both brain hemispheres, there’s an interplay between the mathematical precision of the left hemisphere and the creativity of the right.

Music makes memories
Playing music increases the activity in the bridge between the two hemispheres, allowing messages to move across the brain faster. The research shows that musicians can solve problems more effectively – academically and socially. And because making music involves creating emotional content, musicians often have higher levels of executive function – strategising, planning and paying attention to detail and enhanced memory functions.

This means that when it comes to making, storing and finding memories, musicians can retrieve memories more efficiently.

I don’t know about you but all of this excites me. Making music is literally about making memories. There’s something profound about the wiring of this universe of ours.

But I can’t chat more now because I’m off to wipe the dust off my piano.

I’ll see you in concert.

10 Reasons solo travel is incredible – and why you should do it!

Travelstart writer, Rebecca Houston, is sold on solo travel … and gives us so many reasons why!

  1. Have the freedom to be as spontaneous as you like

Travelling solo means you can go where the adventure takes you. If you make a new friend you can change your plans as you like without worrying about derailing others’ travel plans.

  1. You’ll focus on the destination

Don’t come back from Rome with the memory of a silly argument over where to eat. Travelling alone gives you the opportunity to really connect with the people and places around you without the safety blanket and insulation of a travel buddy.

  1. You have complete financial control

When you travel with friends and family, budgeting can be a headache. Someone might want to eat out most nights while someone else might want to go the ‘two-minute noodles’, backpackers’ route.

When you travel alone you don’t have to worry about pleasing everyone or breaking the bank.

  1. Challenge yourself

“Most travel, and certainly the rewarding kind, involves depending on the kindness of strangers…” – Paul Theroux

Get out of your comfort zone when you travel alone.

You’ll need to think on your feet and you’ll have to learn to rely on your own resourcefulness – an invaluable skill that will give you a huge boost of confidence.

  1. Give yourself a proper holiday

Solo travel is a break from compromise. When you travel solo you get to make the decisions! It’s a rare opportunity to be a little selfish, in a good way. You call the shots. You don’t have to worry about pleasing everyone or breaking the bank.

  1. Give yourself time to reflect

“The inner journey of travel is intensified by solitude” – Paul Theroux

Take time out from your hectic schedule to reconnect with your inner thoughts. A slower pace of life, with time to take in the sunset, to read, to climb a mountain, to drink a coffee in the sun at a sidewalk cafe- these are the rewards of solo travel.

Solo travel gives you time to rejuvenate and have a holiday free from distractions and reminders of work stress.

  1. Once you’ve done it once you’ll be hooked forever

It sounds intimidating but once you’ve taken the leap and made your first solo journey (something that a growing number of modern travellers are choosing to do) you’ll be hooked forever!

  1. You never return the way you left

“You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back,” writes Paul Theroux.

Travel to discover the new you and to open your eyes to different modes of life. Solo travel is an opportunity to embrace new cultures and to immerse yourself in a whole new world. Volunteer when you travel or choose to stay longer in one place to really get to know its daily rhythms and nuances.

  1. Experiences are way more valuable than things

Studies have shown that the secret to happiness is spending money on experiences, not things. Recent research from San Francisco State University found that the thrill of purchasing things quickly fades but travel memories last a lifetime. When you invest in solo travel you’re investing in an experience you’ll get to keep forever.

Solo travel refreshes, it challenges, it’s an adventure, an opportunity to expand your horizons, to discover stuff about yourself and the world you never knew…

As the celebrated American travel writer Paul Theroux advises:

                 “There are three basic rules of travelling. Travel on the ground. Travel alone when possible. Keep notes. That’s it.”

  1. Travelling solo doesn’t necessarily mean travelling alone

It may seem counter-intuitive but when you travel alone it’s often easier to make friends. Locals and fellow travellers are more open to speaking to a solo traveller, and you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to start a conversation with someone.

The best ways to travel solo:

By rail

“Anything is possible on a train: a great meal, a binge, a visit from card players, an intrigue, a good night’s sleep, and strangers’ monologues framed like Russian short stories.” ― Paul Theroux

Railway travel is a wonderful way to experience a country through its landscapes and through encounters with people on the train. You also have lots of time to stare dreamily out of the  window, read and reflect on your travels.

By package tour

This may sound counter-intuitive, however, if you’re not ready to go it alone completely and just wish to dip a toe into solo travel, why not consider an organised tour? You’ll meet like-minded fellow travellers but also have time to yourself.