hidden europe

Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

An exotic spot in western Scotland: the gardens at Crarae (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

In Victorian Scotland, the public took great interest in technology, and so the detonations at the quarry of Crarae on the west shore of Loch Fyne became something of an attraction. The regular steamer from the Clyde to Inveraray would pause at ...
Old cemetery on Barra's west coast (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

Islands breed patience – among both the living and the dead. Especially in mid-winter in Barra, when the storms can be relentless. For us, however, there is a rare pleasure in being at the mercy of the elements. One feels connected with nature in a ...
The velvety landscapes of the Cotswolds in summer have long been a magnet for poets and writers (photo © Davidmartyn / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Edward Thomas' achievements as a poet and essayist were only fully recognised posthumously. For many, it is his poem about Adlestrop which sticks in the mind. But there's more to Thomas than that poem - indeed he was a very accomplished nature ...
The Afsluitdijk is a symbol of Dutch engineering ingenuity. It connects Friesland with northern Holland (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

We crossed the Afsluitdijk last week on a long journey from Berlin to the island of Barra in Scotland's Outer Hebrides. Most other vehicles on the Afsluitdijk road sped along close to the speed limit. Instead of dashing over the dyke, we stopped ...
image © Igor Sokalski / dreamstime.com
Letter from Europe

I have stood on the cliffs in Ireland and looked west to Hy Brazil, that fragment of lost Atlantis which has fuelled a thousand Celtic legends. You'll search in vain for Hy Brazil on any modern map, yet this legendary land has powerfully shaped ...
The former monastery at Chorin in Brandenburg is a fine example of Brick Gothic architecture, made all the better by its serene setting (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

Summer is slipping into autumn and the leaves in forests around Berlin are already falling. We walked through mixed woodland pondering the sounds and smells of beech, oak, hazel and pine. Before long, we came to Chorin where the remarkable ...
The former prison island of Cabrera - just off the south coast of Mallorca - is now a popular destination for day trips by boat from Mallorca (photo © Alexander Nikiforov / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

In the summer of 1812, while Napoleon's Grande Armée was storming east towards Moscow, William Faden's publishing house in London was busy putting the finishing touches to a new guide to Spanish inshore waters. Among the areas covered in the pilot ...
On three weekends in February 2016, the port of Oban on the west coast of Scotland will have a direct overnight sleeper train to and from London (photo © Georgesixth / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Over the next three weekends, the overnight sleeper from London which would normally run to Fort William will instead run to Oban — travelling out Friday night from London and returning from Oban on Sunday night. It is a rare experiment, but let's ...
An aerial view of the Zambezi River (photo © Luca Santilli / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Flying is rarely a bundle of fun. Even leaving aside the generally horrid nature of airports with their essential (but inevitably unpleasant) security checks, modern aviation practice makes few concessions to the poetics of the journey. The ...
The gardens at Alfàbia on the island of Mallorca (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

We wandered amid bamboo and eucalyptuses, past carob trees and citrus orchards, by pomegranates and myrtle. The gardens at Alfàbia on the island of Mallorca are one of many beautiful places we have visited as part of our work for hidden ...
Letter from Europe

So you know, Ancient Yew, of all that came to pass in 1215? You shivered for more than a thousand winters. You gave shelter for more than a thousand summers. Did you gaze in those days over the Thames to the meadows at ...
Loch Lubnaig near Callander, Scotland, on an afternoon in early March (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

We love real weather. And we had real weather aplenty on a journey through Scotland this week. Clear blue skies at Carsaig Bay with glorious views west to Jura. Great spreads of grey-white snow over Rannoch, the hills all hidden in mist. A lone ...
Letter from Europe

Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country is a volume where the land and landscapes of Africa stand centre stage in the plot. In his book, first published in 1948, Paton goes beyond the romantic rendering of South African landscape which was ...
Narrow-gauge steam train at the top of the Brocken in Germany’s Harz Mountains (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

In our second article to mark 25 years since the political changes in East Germany of late 1989, we make a pilgrimage to one of Germany's most celebrated mountains: the ...
Letter from Europe

The equinox has passed and now a hint of frost dances by dawn on the more sheltered meadows. Restless stonechats are busy on the high heaths, where we stand and gaze on distant Wealden ridges fading into misty morning sunshine. This is one of ...
The Titovka roadside café is a welcome spot to have a coffee and enjoy a break from the road. It is located on the E105 to Murmansk in the north-west corner of the Russian Federation (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

Everyone stops at Titovka sooner or later. That's the way things are up here in the far north-west corner of Russia. The Titovka roadside café is on the highway that runs west from Murmansk towards the mining towns of Zapolyarny and ...
Church at Bregninge on the Danish island of Ærø (photo © Marieke van der Horst).
Letter from Europe

Ærø in four words: hilly, hospitable, homely, hyggelig. The Danish island is the place to be at times like this. It is mellow and calm, a small island that wants spring to come sooner rather than later. The hilltops are scattered with ancient ...
Letter from Europe

Wales is a place for miracles. Perhaps the greatest miracle of all is that Wales is there at all, that it has a strong cultural identity and a language that is still spoken. Wales is nothing if not tenacious. It has a knack of getting into your ...
Letter from Europe

It is one of those wild sulphurous days, and the bare heath beats to the roar of the winds. The storm sweeps in from the west. The drenched heath lies low. And it survives the fierce onslaught. The forest at Froeslev is less ...
Letter from Europe

The Great North Road, a fragment of the classic Cape to Cairo route, cuts through Limpopo on its way to Beitbridge and the Zimbabwean border. A stream of buses and bakkies head north towards another Africa, their passengers barely sparing a glance ...
Letter from Europe

Ribe no longer makes waves as once it did. The silting up of waterways has changed the local landscape. The bustle of port trade has long gone, but Ribe is still a watery place. Set in a wall on one Ribe street is an inscription that notes the ...
Letter from Europe

We wandered through Devon byways, passing Kingdom's Corner to reach the River Dart at Worthy Bridge. From there it was an easy stroll down the valley towards Bickleigh. John Lean farms a handsome herd of White Park cattle here. He has 150 head of ...
Letter from Europe

It is again that time of year when I find my hands peppered by thorn pricks. Blackberries mark the month. Wondrous little taste bombs protected by thorns, treasure for scavengers. There's nothing common about the common blackberry: rubus ...
Letter from Europe

Dutch Friesland (or more properly Fryslan) is a world apart from the densely populated parts of Holland where cities rub shoulders with one another. Dutch planners ensure that a strip of open land divides Rotterdam from Den Haag, but one dyke and a ...
Letter from Europe

Tomorrow, a mighty stream of cars will roll over a new bridge across the River Elbe at Dresden. The bridge's opening is not being celebrated in any very public manner. For many Germans, it is a Bridge of Shame, for it is the reason why that part of ...
Letter from Europe

Hoxne is one of a number of spots in England that are improbably prominent in Quaternary history. Big cities like Birmingham and London count for nothing in this narrative. One day an enterprising tour operator with an interest in geology might ...
Letter from Europe

The time is coming when residents of Rome escape the Eternal City. Rome is not a place to stay in summer. Many from Rome head north into the hills of Lazio, where Etruscan, Roman and Renaissance threads intertwine in history and culture. The lakes ...
Letter from Europe

The waters came, and so did the European media. The water was ruthless and unsympathetic. It tore down bridges and wrecked homes. The mud and debris that came with the flood blocked culverts and drains. Lives were put on the line. So too were ...
Letter from Europe

Wilderness is a wonderful thing. The American illustrator and writer Rockwell Kent understood how wilderness tugs at the soul: "I crave snow-topped mountains, dreary wastes, and the cruel Northern sea with its hard horizons," he wrote. Yes, we know ...
Letter from Europe

I discovered yesterday that the traveller wanting to take a train out of Zakopane is hardly spoilt for choice. Early birds can opt for the 03.27 to Kraków. Then the next departure from the resort in the Tatra mountains of southern Poland is not ...
Letter from Europe

Sometimes it is good to be led. Paul has the map. I follow. Three of us are walking: Greg, Paul and I. Paul leads us to the shores of the lake. It is a good spot to retreat from the dark-scud clouds that crowd the October skies. There is a sweet ...
Letter from Europe

They are the forgotten places, the liminal zones where land meets the sea. Shingle promontories and spits rarely have the same appeal as rugged cliff coastlines or great tracts of golden sand.Unlovely spreads of shingle, patchy sand and saline ...
Letter from Europe

Wander through the industrial landscapes around Ajka and you'll see a Hungary that does not feature in the tourist brochures. Lake Balaton is just over the hills to the south. The lake stands for recreation and fun. Ajka stands for something quite ...
Letter from Europe

I walk by dusk along the dirt road that sweeps through the fields of corn. I do not go as far as the hills, where each distant terrace jumps out in sharp relief. During the heat of the day, the high sun drains the landscape of energy. But, come ...
Letter from Europe

hidden europe 37 is published today. You can review the full table of contents with summaries and extracts from every article on our website. More on that anon, but let's stop for a while on the edge of a Polish forest. In the very centre of the ...
Letter from Europe

The news this week, widely reported in Europe's media, that French glaciers are on the retreat prompts us to reflect on glaciers around mainland Europe. It is of course no surprise that Europe's permanent areas of snow and ice are threatened by our ...
Letter from Europe

We drifted slowly through wintry forests, past unkempt meadows and villages full of scrawny desolation. We crossed the River Odra four times. And four times I gazed down at the river's wine-dark waters from the train, watching the waters swirling ...
Letter from Europe

Travelling across the North European Plain, a vast sweep of two-dimensional terrain that extends from Brussels to Berlin and beyond, travellers might well give thanks for whatever modest hills punctuate their journey. The Harz Mountains barely rise ...
Letter from Europe

Are not some landscapes genuinely therapeutic? We crested wave after wave of rolling forests as we drove through Karelia last week. Writers looking to plot the spiritual geography of Europe might do well to start here, for Finnish Karelia is a ...
Letter from Europe

It is an odd experience to arrive in a small town before noon and find a local restaurant full of folk eating lunch. Vila do Gerês, the town where spa clients eat before noon, comes as a surprise. It is a little town in northern Portugal — faded, ...
Letter from Europe

Travel and myth-making naturally go hand in hand. Arabia is a product of the European imagination. Romanticised views of the desert and rumours of ancient cities lost in great seas of sand conspire to create picture-book images of an Arabia that ...
Letter from Europe

There is something definitive, something final, about a long spit that juts out into the sea. Be it sand or shingle, vegetated or barren, you know you have reached the end of the world when you reach the end of the spit. Tennyson said as much in ...
Letter from Europe

It was just an hour on the train to Putbus, a little community on the Baltic island of Rügen that is impossibly grand for such a remote spot. Just four thousand souls, yet a town so full of aristocratic associations that it seems like a Baltic take ...
Letter from Europe

The Giant's Causeway is squeezed in between Gay Byrne and God. The latter are of course by far the two most important men in Ireland - at least that's the view of literary critic Terry Eagleton who is one of the more thoughtful commentators on all ...
Letter from Europe

It takes less than four hours to cross Macedonia by train. It is just 250 km from the border with Serbia at Tabanovce to the Greek frontier at Gevgelija. Of course Macedonia deserves more than merely four hours, but that short train journey affords ...
Letter from Europe

Cut off the main highway to Norwich, dive into the countryside through meadows full of deep green grass and you will reach Quidenham - a cluster of cottages and uneven lanes that were never meant for fast cars. Across England there are a thousand ...
Letter from Europe

It was way back in 1879 that a witness, testifying before a Select Committee of the House of Commons in London, declared "Geography is ruinous in its effects on the lower classes." If there is one discipline which has informed our writing in hidden ...
Letter from Europe

The temperature was still around minus fifteen when we alighted just after midday from the slow train at Grunow. It was a bitterly cold winter morning, sunny and clear, with a numbing east wind. The countryside east of Berlin has a delicate ...
Letter from Europe

The French TGV train is nothing new, but the afternoon service from Strasbourg to Paris last Thursday happened to feature the very engines that two years ago broke the world rail speed record. Back in April 2007, the specially modified train ...
Letter from Europe

It snowed last Tuesday night. Yes, we know you will think we are joking, but it really snowed. We were in eastern Iceland, and snow at the very start of September is a reminder of just how early winter comes to some parts of northern Europe. But a ...
Letter from Europe

It is that time of year when Slovenes take to the hills. It is perfectly possible to be Scottish and never climb Ben Nevis, just as it is easy to be German without ever having set foot on the Zugspitze - that is the mountain straddling the border ...
Letter from Europe

On a beautiful spring day, the forty minute train journey from Löwenberg to Rheinsberg has to be one of the prettiest on the planet. And it was a beautiful spring day. We trundled through birch woods bursting with spring flowers, the morning ...
Letter from Europe

The PTTK is a venerable Polish institution. Roughly translated, its full name means the Polish Society of Country Lovers. Kick-started in the Tatra Mountains in the late nineteenth century, the society encouraged an increasingly urban populace to ...
Letter from Europe

The populous county of Yorkshire, hemmed in by hills and the sea, is a wonderful part of England. hidden europe was away exploring the county last week. We watched in awe as a field of gulls swooped over Whitby, we trembled with cold as a bitter ...
Letter from Europe

Venice may come with a constellation of superlatives, but head out into the Veneto to find a world apart. The country around Treviso, just a dozen miles inland from Venice, is classic città  diffusa territory. As if in retort to Venice's urban ...
Letter from Europe

This is a stunning time of year to be in the Maramures area of Romania. And especially in the Iza valley, where russet-gold apples hang heavy in the orchards that cluster round every village, and the fields are full of distinctive haystacks - ...
Letter from Europe

The land around the Cabo de Gata really does include many classic elements of desert terrain: a nice volcanic mesa, little alluvial fans and of course sand dunes. It is a landscape that has stood in for both the American West and the Middle East on ...
Letter from Europe

Few of the passengers snoozing on the train even noticed Gornje Lezece. The train had twisted and turned through valleys where the hillsides tilted sharper and sharper, sharp screeches of wheels on ancient rails, and the wind blowing madly through ...
Letter from Europe

Across much of Europe, today is a public holiday on account of the Catholic solemnity of Corpus Christi. It is a feast that comes with a heavy helping of curious cultural customs. Wander through many small towns in central Europe this afternoon, ...