Murrë: The Deserted Village

The nearly-vacant village of Murrë, in Albania (already Europe’s most isolated country), is only accessible via foot or horseback.

Before the breakdown of the communist regime in 1990, the mountain village was bustling, with more than 100 families living there. Generations communed in stone-built homes, and the mountain conditions yielded everything that everyone needed.

Yet the change in government caused chaos. Better opportunities were available in the cities. Teachers and doctors left. Infrastructure declined. The mountain villages became more and more deserted. Today, just a couple of families remain.

I visited one family in Murrë. Entirely self-sufficient, they grow onions, corn and vegetables. Their 68 chickens and 40 goats provide eggs, milk and meat. They keep bees and horses. Guard dogs and cats patrol the perimeter, which teeters on the side of the jagged mountain.

Here are a few portraits of some of the kind and beautiful people I met. Thanks for the endless coffee, the warm bed, the huge feasts, and all the hugs and laughs! Still feel weird from all the raki though…!

Brighton: Urban Axe Throwing

My pals at TRIBE had their launch party at Preston Circus in Brighton at the weekend! TRIBE is an urban axe throwing pop-up, available for events, festivals, parties and more. The chiefs give specialised instruction on how to sling axes, and the vibe in the queue was electric as everyone cheered each others’ bullseyes!
Check out some favourite photos below!

Alp d'Huez: Yoga and Hiking Retreat

Alp d’Huez: Yoga + Hiking Retreat

I spent a week in Alp d’Huez with the Alpine Yoga Retreat crew! The chalet is nestled amongst the mountains for a very chilled out vibe, perfect for a retreat. Each day began with a dynamic flow on the decked outside area. Then, during the day, we hiked, cycled, swam in glacial lakes, sunbathed and explored villages. The evening yoga session sometimes included acro-yoga! And our hosts made delicious vegetarian meals for the whole group to share each night.

Check out some photos below. Big thanks to yoga teacher Rosie for her inspiring teaching, Alex and Lainy for hosting us, and Ted and Reba for keeping everyone in order!

Sagres: Yoga and Surf Retreat

Sagres: Yoga and Surf Retreat

The south-western tip of Portugal, in Sagres, part of the Algarve, is all surf-perfect coastline and near-constant sunshine. It’s an ideal spot for PureFlowMotion’s week-long surf-yoga-hiking retreat.

Based at the Baleeira Memmo Hotel – a modern and spacious accommodation, overlooking the ocean – PureFlowMotion’s retreats are a blend of healthy relaxation, chilled surfing, engaging yoga and meeting new friends. With simple tasty vegetarian meals included, and minibuses transporting our small group between beaches and locations, everything is taken care of.

Meditation guru and yoga instructor Michael began the week with a meditation session on the edge of the cliffs. The twice-daily yoga classes progress from teacher-led demonstrations with an inspiring dose of philosophy thrown in, to guests learning to improvise their own flows. One session incorporated yoga for your eyes, and another session included laughter yoga, leaving the entire room in tears! Towards the end of the week, Michael led a beautiful Qi Gong session in a pine forest.

Surf instructor Martha led three surf sessions at various beaches over the week. Helping complete beginners ride their first wave or intermediate surfers improve their skills, Martha gives clear and helpful advice. (Meanwhile, Hugo rugby tackles people into waves and scares everyone with the clown tattoo on his belly!)

Hiking guide and geologist Nicolau takes the group on two incredible walks across the cliffs and beaches in the area. Explaining the indigenous flora and history of the coastline, Nicolau has such a wealth of knowledge – his varied work has included shepherding, bee-keeping and more.

The group – made up mostly of solo travellers, with a few couples also joining – was able to spend the entire week together, or split off at any point to explore the cafés and shops in the village or the beach.

For more info, check the links below:
Baleeira Memmo Hotels
PureFlowMotions Retreats

Big hugs and obrigadas to Michael, Martha and Nicolau. High fives to Hugo and Massimo. Thanks and good vibes to Paige, Meg, Rach, all the Yanns, Will, Imagin, Matt, Hollie, Sheila, Gabor, Seb and Patricia. Gratitude and reggae love to Stu.

Sponsored by Surfume.

Merzouga: Camel Safari

Merzouga: Camel Safari

“When’s your birthday?” I asked Hassan. He poured hot tea back and forth between a silver teapot and a short glass to dissolve the large chunk of sugar he’d just added.
“I don’t have.”
“What do you mean? How do you not have a birthday?”
“I think it’s September. Maybe the one before. Or after.”

As a Berber, Hassan lived a truly nomadic existence for the first half of his life. His parents – with their goats and camels – roamed around the desert so their animals could graze. Hassan had been born, at some point, somewhere, and when his parents were next close enough to a town to register his birth, it was months later and no one quite remembered the date.

Now settled in the tiny Moroccan village of Hassi Labied, north of Merzouga, by the Algerian border, Hassan lives with his mother, brother and sister in a home he built. He owns four camels, and spends his days hiking across the desert to feed his animals and to take tourists on camel safaris.

I met Hassan via Couchsurfing. Hassan wanted promotional photos of his desert camp, so I booked a flight to Marrakech, took a 13-hour bus journey to Hassi Labied and arrived one February evening. The black sky was filled with stars, and I had never seen anything like it. A young guy with dreadlocks AND a mullet met me at the bus stop, and explained he was Hassan’s brother. “Hassan had to go to the desert,” he told me. “I am Mustapha.” I followed Mustapha across the sand. At his home, Mustapha introduced me to his mum, Bida, and his sister, Aicha. We shared “Berber pizza” – bread with vegetables and oil – and drank atay, a sweet Berber tea, whilst communicating in broken French, wild gesticulations, and slightly awkward laughter.

The following day, Hassan returned from the desert and we met for the first time. We loaded up a camel with water, fruit, tea, my camera bag and blankets. And we started walking.

We walked for hours each day, sometimes up to 10 miles, barefoot in the sand. The first night, we met up with some of Hassan’s friends who were taking out a group of American tourists. We stayed at a luxury camp which had beds and a toilet. The following day, we hiked on towards the Algerian border where we stayed with a nomad couple. They had two tents and a lot of goats. We shared a tajine in the evening, and slept on the floor wrapped in blankets.

Sometimes – as we hiked across the dunes – we’d stop to make tea: collect sticks for fire, share some fruit and nap in the shade of a tree. We’d sing Bob Marley songs – well, the same verse and chorus of Buffalo Soldier over and over again – as our feet sunk into the slope of the dunes. In the evenings, we’d cook dinner, wash up using as little water as possible, and play drums. With no light pollution, the stars at night are persistently astounding. Falling asleep underneath them, covered in a pile of blankets, is unforgettable.

At night, the camel was left to roam and graze. His front legs would be tied together – or a single leg would be tied up to itself – to prevent him from wandering too far. Still, each morning, we’d climb to the highest dune nearby and search across the horizon to find the camel. Sometimes we’d walk miles to fetch him back!

Eventually, we made it to Hassan’s camp. He had built four tents from bamboo and tarpaulins, with cloth stapled over the insides. We set about tidying everything up from the recent sandstorms. We fitted cloth to the inside of his new tent, moved the beds and sofas, laid out the rugs, and – perhaps most importantly – collected all the camel poo from around the camp. Apparently it’s highly flammable and useful to cook bread over!

The tourist industry is tough. With travellers visiting from all over the world to spend a night in the desert, Hassan constantly needs to maintain his camels and his camp. Yet, sandstorms and last-minute cancellations blight daily life. And building an online presence to market his business is not easy without a credit card to manage transactions and fees. But life in the desert is magnificent. The silence is incomparable, and the seemingly never-ending dunes are almost too vast to contemplate.

On the return bus journey to Marrakech I met a woman who created a petition against quad bikes in the desert. Whilst they can attract tourists, they also cause problems with wildlife and create noise pollution which is really noticeable in the otherwise silent expanse. Check out more info on the petition HERE.

Find out more about Hassan’s camel safaris or get in touch with him HERE!

Endless thanks to my good friend Hassan for showing me around and sharing his life with me. Big thanks / saha / shokran to Mustapha, Bida and Aicha; Mohammed, Zahor and the Fatima crew. Also to Caroline (quickest 13 hours ever!), Hamza (great CS host in Jemaa el-Fnaa!), Joe (amazing BBQ’d camel!), Harrou, Yassine (for infinity pools, whiskey and motorbikes!), Mohamad, Jawad and Rabi. See you all again soon:)

Knoydart: Deer Stalking

Knoydart: Deer Stalking

In November, I travelled up to Knoydart in the West Highlands of Scotland to photograph a week-long deer stalking trip. I knew nothing about hunting beforehand, and had no idea what to expect.

After a 16-hour drive and a night in Fort William, our group of 9 arrived in Knoydart – which is not accessible by road – via a foot passenger-only ferry. Having settled into the country house on the estate, the group went down to the larder and butchered a deer, which had already been hung, for our meals for the week – venison steaks, stew, burgers and kebabs!

The group split across two different estates each day, with a primary shooter and secondary shooter accompanied by a resident stalker and ghillie. The scenery was stunning, the weather was varied, and the stalking was unpredictable. One day, we climbed almost vertical hills in an intense hailstorm, hiking for nearly eight hours, and taking home nothing. Another day, the sun made the entire vista golden. Later in the week, we crawled on our bellies through thick snow under a cloudless sky.

When a deer was shot, the shooter or ghillie would gralloch it (remove the stomach, intestines, spleen and colon), and the ghillie would drag the deer down the hill. Then, the deer would be put on a quad bike or strapped onto a pony to travel to the Landrover, and put in a trailer for the journey to the larder. At the larder, the animal has its legs and head cut off, and its organs removed. Her teeth are used to age the deer. Then, she is cleaned and hung, before butchering later on.

Some of the shooters in our group were first-timers, so, following tradition, the stalker dabbed blood from the shooter’s first kill onto their face, before sharing a hipflask (port mixed with whiskey, or a Strongbow..!)

I was interested in opinions and ethics around shooting. Due to a lack of natural predators, the deer cause environmental damage, and the estates are fined if the correct number of deer are not culled each season. The numbers of deer shot are monitored, and part of the stalker’s job is choosing which deer to cull. This results in a steady, healthy herd on the hill. I asked one of the stalkers about this one evening: “I do what I do because I love it,” he told me. “But killing animals is not fucking cool. I start to have a meltdown if I think about it too much. Am I god? I have to decide out of a group which ones to kill. ‘Oh, she’s not a good mother, BANG! He won’t last the season, BANG!'”

Photographing this trip was a challenge. I took lightstands, a tripod, off-camera lighting, a range of lenses and back ups of everything. But after day one, I realised I needed to limit myself to one body and one lens on the hill. The hiking could be strenuous and the weather was highly changeable – not ideal circumstances for carrying extraneous gear or even changing lenses a lot of the time. So I ended up using different lenses on different days – one day taking out my D3s with the 24-70mm attached, several days I used my 20mm, and another day I opted for the 85mm 1.4 (which I felt was risky at the time, but ended up getting some of my favourite shots of the trip).

For more information about the Knoydart Foundation, go HERE and for info about the Kilchoan Estate, go HERE. Massive thanks to Cai at Game and Flames for organising! Thanks also to stalkers Ian, Jim and Fred; ghillies Mike and Lewis; and hunters Jed, Rob, Eddie, Fei, Lee, Phil, and Matt for making the whole trip such a memorable one!

NOTE: some of the following images are graphic, showing dead animals, and animals in the process of being butchered.