30 December 2015

the best of sketches in travel december

Well the Christmas pudding should have digested. The turkey is well and truly devoured and the presents already used, broken or returned! Hopefully it was a joyous time for you? The new year is now fast approaching and as always Sketches looks back at the month before moving on. This month, music has featured heavily as has testing out the superb Suunto Traverse GPS watch and Lego! So in no particular order here is the months best bits and the top picks from the year.

Selfridges - Bond Street
European Life Magazine -  This months article for the luxury magazine was about shopping. Well it is that time of year and the sales are now in full swing. Selfridges is one of the UK's premier shops, a place for luxury and decadence. It's also quite a tourist attraction that should feature on any visitors itinerary to London. Follow the link to learn more Shopping at Selfridges

Shopper Lottie Magazine - Although we've spoken about this wonderful folk group on Sketches before, we decided to write a slightly different article about the folk trio, Said the Maiden. Their delayed EP will launch in the early new year (10th January) so here's a chance to see their new video and make sure to order your copy. They have a big 2016 ahead of them, click on the link for more Said the Maiden

Said the Maiden
Suunto Traverse Amber - I was given the opportunity by the wonderful people at Suunto to test out the new Traverse GPS watch. A luxury accessory for the adventure and sports market. With an abundance of functions it's a watch that not only looks good but is also the perfect accompaniment for a skiing trip to a hike. There's also a new review at Shopper Lottie Magazine. Click on the link to see the full review Suunto Traverse

Sweet Billy Pilgrim - We all have our personal favourites when it comes to albums and songs that we've loved throughout the year. Here was my choice from Sweet Billy Pilgrim - Motorcade Amnesiacs. Trust me when I say you will be drawn in by their mix of sounds Sweet Billy Pilgrim

Most popular posts from the Year
As a final look at the year I've also included the best posts from the Sketches year. 

1) The most popular post was when I visited the wonderful Corfe Castle in Dorset The 1040 to Corfe Castle

2) A different type of post, linking Coffee with Travel. What's not to enjoy about sitting at a cafe watching the world go by?  
Coffee and travel

Cafe Culture 

3) The Boeing 747 changed travel forever and we celebrated that with this post Boeing 747


Can I just take this opportunity to thank all my readers for your support and comments throughout the year. I honestly cannot believe the huge steps this blog has taken and without you I wouldn't be writing this. So thank you and I do hope you will be joining me as we continue Sketches journey into 2016. I wonder whats around the corner?  Wishing everyone a safe and prosperous new year.

29 December 2015

why lego should be in your life

The Christmas turkey has been well and truly eaten, gifts opened, friends and family entertained. If you, like me have finally got a bit of time to look through the gifts given, you'll either be very happy with them or about to take various item(s) back to shops. Santa gave me some Lego this year, I know I'm not a kid anymore but who can argue against a bit of the brick or in this case Technic pieces to fill in the gap between Christmas and New Year? 

From the Lego Bulldozer kit
Building Blocks
So why should everyone have some Lego in their life? I'm sure many of you have had it as kids and then long left it behind to gather dust. Perhaps to return to it once you have introduced it to your own children? Since M & K came along my love for Lego has returned and some. If however you have remained childless then that shouldn't deter you from finding those dusty bricks or visiting a Lego store and giving it a go. Here's three reasons why you won't regret it..

1) Its fun 
2) Its a great stress reliever - takes you away from distractions like phones and the everyday stresses we all face.
3) Its educational - the Technic sets are a great way to understand how mechanics. 

Lego Technic

Technic Lego
The Bulldozer slowly coming together
The Bulldozer 
This Christmas I was given a bulldozer! It's not the biggest in the Lego Technic collection and probably not the hardest to build, but what fun. The joy comes in discovering how its put together and what each component does and how each individual section connects to create this wonderful machine. This set has 600+ pieces so will provide you with a few hours of fun. And once it's complete and you want a change, this set gives you a second vehicle to create, giving you hours more fun. 

The Bulldozer taking shape
Why you should have Lego in your life
Lego isn't cheap, some sets are upwards of £160+, but the entertainment far outweighs the expense. And there are some bargains out there. It could be argued (please do in the comments) that it's the greatest children's toy invented? Knocking down all barriers, bringing together young and old, across both all genders and race. So whether its the Technic sets or just the coloured bricks, it doesn't really matter. Go on give it a try, go and build, be creative and salute the wonder of Lego.  


When was the last time you built something with Lego? It would be great to hear about or see your creations, just click on any of the social media channels at the top of the page. Happy building..


22 December 2015

suunto traverse

Suunto Traverse Amber 
Are you planning a skiing trip or a hiking expedition next year? Perhaps you are looking to rid the excesses of the festive period with a bracing walk or run? When Sketches was given the opportunity by the good people at Suunto to test out their new Traverse range of watches I just couldn't refuse. The weather hasn't been the kindest but after getting my head around how to use its functions we set about testing the watch. Here is our tale..

GPS watch
Suunto Traverse Amber
Walking in the hills 
Living in a rural area (The Chiltern Hills) didn't present too many problems when thinking about setting about testing the traverse. Perhaps not the most challenging of landscapes but a useful place nevertheless to test the watch and our compass reading skills. Suunto wanted us to test the watch against the old map and compass. So with M and K in tow we headed out for a bracing walk. It wasn't particularly hard; muddy yes, undulating definitely not. For the most part we were on the tops of the hills. Immediately it was clear that using a compass and map can be cumbersome, especially with the wind blowing. A great way for the kids to understand maps and how a compass works, but for the more seasoned user with the advancement in technology people want instant help or readings without the hassle of getting out maps. This is where the watch comes into its own. 

On a road to nowhere?
Sunset approaches in the Chilterns
M getting to grips with the compass

Using the watch
We decided, to do compass work and using the Suunto Traverse at the same time. The watch can have programmed routes via the Movescount app or as we did on this particular occasion you can record your route. Initially this proved tricky, well I'm not the most tech savvy person out there. So after a bit of fiddling around and a short practice at recording a route, actually done whilst cycling home from work. I felt confident enough to use it for our test. 

Throughout the duration of the walk we checked the watches functions and found them easy to read, informative and fun (as the pictures below demonstrate). M and K especially liked comparing the compasses to check they were accurate (the watch has one).  A touch of a button changes the screen to the information you require, whether that is co-ordinates, the route or timings. So even though this was a simple test I would feel very confident about using the watch in more demanding terrain.

Suunto Traverse Amber in action at the start of the walk

The watch creates a map of your route

The Suunto Traverse 
The Review 
First impressions are everything these days and the Traverse delivers that from the moment you open the box. Yes its chunky, but aren't most watches nowadays? It's very well built and light for its size. The watch almost demands to be put through its paces. The Alps are calling! After initial set up and charging up the watch (the battery lasts approximately 100 hours between charges). Its advisable to create an account with the Movescount app. This way you can sync the watch with your phone and/or PC and also work on planning routes. Which can be shared in the growing community of walkers. Just remember to turn the Bluetooth on your phone! It took a while to get used to the watch (size mainly) but after a few days it felt comfortable. Would I wear it all the time? Probably not but there is no reason why you can't. It's eye catching that's for sure. For more information please visit Suunto's website, where you can also download the user guide and find the nearest retailer Suunto Traverse Collection

The watch has a many functions, including GPS, a compass, it measures your steps daily, tells you the sunrise and sunset times and of course the routes you've planned can be stored on them. You can also record whilst walking. Giving you plenty of details as you progress, calories burned, distance walked, average speed. For the hiker or trekker its the perfect accessory. So you could conceivably say goodbye to the map and compass. 

The Verdict
If you are an adventurous traveler then this watch is the perfect accessory. Whether you are skiing, hiking, walking, cycling or running it will also meet with your needs. Suunto have added a great watch to their growing family of products. With the Traverse coming in a variety of colours (amber, black, white) it also has a certain amount of chic. A quality product that I will use again and again. 

May I take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and thank you for your continued support. 


15 December 2015

sweet billy pilgrim

Motorcade Amnesiacs 

Music makes for a great Christmas gift and if you are prepared to push the boat out and go with someones recommendation that isn't part of mainstream pop music then this is for you. We've been featuring music quite a lot recently so it felt appropriate to add another strand by giving you Sketches album of the year. Sweet Billy Pilgrim released Motorcade Amnesiacs back in the early summer and to say its an absolute corker is not an exaggeration.

Sweet Billy Pilgrims latest offering

This is an album that takes you on a music journey through a landscape that is actually quite hard to define. On the one hand rock, throw in a little prog rock and a touch of acoustic guitar and some harmonies and you are kind of there. Just when you think a song has found its rhythm, it decides to head off in a different direction. Taking you on a completely different journey. Some songs start slowly and build to crashing conclusion such as the wonderful Ffwd To the Freeze Frame, which like a good thriller has a wonderful twist (like I mentioned above) towards the end. Other tracks bound along like a well-oiled pop song, dding in wonderful choruses that you will hum for days and days. Just above Midtown, the video featured, is testament to that. There are also times when its all driving guitars. I could go on but don't want to spoil the enjoyment. 

Sweet Billy Pilgrim
Some bands get the plaudits, the attention and the record sales to boot. Some though create fabulous music and hardly get a look in, but should. Sweet Billy Pilgrim are one of these such groups. Even though they were nominated for the Mercury Prize with their second album; Twice Born Men. They deserve so much more. So if this Christmas you're looking for some new music to discover? Then may I suggest you take a look at this wonderful band. They really do deserve your attention. 

11 December 2015

bauble bowls

Travel Games - Bauble Bowls
You've put the Christmas tree up and you have a few moments to spare in-between wrapping presents, preparing office party dresses or heading out to a Christmas Market. In those brief moments of spare time here's a little game you can play, call it a festive travel games special from Sketches. They sometimes sparkle or shine in the bright lights. And to be honest demand your gaming attention. So if you have a few spare lying around then perfect. Or if not just take them off the tree so that you can have a quick game of Baubles bowls!

Pick your Bauble! 

The Rules 
This is really just a simplified version of crown green bowls adapted for the indoors. So all you need is a smooth surface and a bit of room. Perhaps the hallway would be a good starting point? From thereon the rules are as follows..

* Each player has four baubles if playing individually or two each if playing in pairs.
* Pick a smaller golden or silver coloured bauble as the jack.
* Throw the jack down the hall or open space. 
* The idea is the team who gets their bauble(s) the closest wins a point. If more than one of your balls are the closest, then that's two, three or four points respectively. That will complete the first end.
* Play as many ends as required until the first team or individual reaches 21 points. 

Bring some bauble fun to your Christmas preparations
Baubles Bowls
The concept seems easy and fun to boot. Although with one side being weighted down by the hanging section (if that's what its called?) it means some skill is required. A word of warning to anyone playing with youngsters, baubles can shatter easily so perhaps don't play it around them. And to get into the festive spirit why not add in a glass or three of mulled wine? What better way to lose yourself for an hour or two on a dark Christmas evening? 

Why not share in your bauble games by sending in pictures or telling us your tales of winning or woe? Thanks as always for your support and happy bauble bowling.

4 December 2015

5 reasons to get out and about this december

Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat!
Yes its the season to be jolly, eat to much, drink a little more than normal, indulge in too many chocolates, exchange gifts and then start thinking about how to get the weight we've just put on, off! So before / during / after, heading to the office party or meeting up with the relatives. Sketches gives you it's monthly reasons to get out and about. This time its the five steps to a perfect Christmas

I is for Ice Skating: London has them aplenty and many major towns around the UK have them too. Over the last five years or so outdoor skating rinks have become a feature of the run up to Christmas and beyond. So why not put those wholly scarfs and hats on and get skating. The Natural History Museum has one, as does Somerset House in London, giving you that added ambiance to the fun of constantly falling over! 

N&C is for Nativity and Carols: Sometimes we need a little reminder that Christmas is not just about giving and receiving presents. So why not add an extra element to the Christmas run up and visit a carol service or perhaps a live nativity? Many villages and towns are holding these events that incorporate many people from many different backgrounds and faiths. What's not to like about a live nativity with live animals, carols and sketches? Or singing along to a few hearty carols around an open fire? 

C is for Christmas Markets: OK, so if you read last months 5 reasons you'll know I mentioned them there. Well they are a great way to get into the Christmas spirit, literally! What's not to like about having a warm mug of mulled wine or cider? Buying a great little gift or some decorations for the tree? Many towns have a German style market, others venture down the Victorian route. The National Trust hold Victorian themed events at their properties and one of the more popular examples of the Christmas Market is held in Bath. 

P is for Pantomime: "It's behind you". "Oh no they are not!" "Oh yes they are!" The Panto is one of the great British Christmas traditions. Bizarre perhaps to many from outside the UK, but incredibly popular. If you are visiting you may wonder what the fuss is all about. People mucking around making silly jokes. Grown men dressing up as women in outrageous makeup and women dressing up as men. Panto is Britain's take on the traditional fairy tale. Cinderella, Aladdin to name two. Great family fun, with a few famous celebrities and lots of jokes and fun thrown in for good measure. Any town with a theatre will probably have one and its a great way to keep the kids entertained for a couple of hours. Want to get a feel of the Christmas season in the UK, then go see a panto!

LP is for visiting your local pub: There is something rather comforting about visiting a cozy looking pub which has an open fire and serves a good old pint of warm British beer during the Christmas period. Well it is the time to indulge a little and what better way than to find a good pub and meet up with friends for a chat or take the parents for a winter warmer after a long walk. Many pubs will have special winter ales and beers to choose from. Cheers!

So there we are, 5 reasons to get off the sofa and out and about this December. Turning that Christmas run up into a celebration itself, full of fun and frolics. Have you got any suggestions? Then please let me know. And if you find a good pub selling a great winter beer and please let me know...I'll be the one at the end of the bar! 

Thanks as always for your support. It really is appreciated. This is the first Travel Days of Christmas post. So be sure to look out for the others in the run up to Christmas.  



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