Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my dinghy cruising blog about my John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. Built over three years, Arwen was launched in August 2007. She is a standing lug yawl 14' 6" in length. This blog records our dinghy cruising voyages together around the coastal waters of SW England.
Arwen has an associated YouTube channel so visit to find our most recent cruises and click subscribe.
On this blog you will find posts about dinghy cruising locations, accounts of our voyages, maintenance tips and 'How to's' ranging from rigging standing lug sails and building galley boxes to using 'anchor buddies' and creating 'pilotage notes'. I hope you find something that inspires you to get out on the water in your boat. Drop us a comment and happy sailing.
Steve and Arwen

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Bereft about 'Stanford's' in London


Surely it cannot be only me who feels bereft at the news that the London Store ‘Stanford’s’ may be forced to close its doors forever before 2020 ends. 

I know this has nothing to do with dinghy cruising but this news is akin to a sucker punch to the ribs for me, as I sit here surveying our travel wall and shelves. Here, hang hats from various countries, a Thai house for our house spirits to reside in, a seed pod from The Gambia, a tiny coke tin from Costa Rica. Photos adorn the stair well walls of our travels - our epic New Zealand Grand tour, the four weeks exploring Namibia, the five weeks self-driving Costa Rica. The Beijing underground railway travel passes hidden behind lava from Etna and some pumice from Vesuvius. From climbing Kilimanjaro and crossing the Serengeti to canoeing the River Gambia and horse back riding across the wild hills of the inland border regions between The Dominican Republic and Haiti, what links all these artefacts, photos, maps, journals and travel guides is one thing. That one thing they all have in common, they all started as an idea dreamed up from a visit to Stanford’s.

From the Caribbean to China and Thailand
Our journeys all start from inspiration gained at Stanford's Of London and Bristol 

Every map, every guide book, even the little journal I write my notes in now (a sweet A5 lined notebook with an antique Latin map of the world as its cover – one of eight others which grace my work desk – a record of our notes and ideas, dreams and aspirations spanning the last few decades) – all have come from Stanford’s.

The London Stanford’s has always been my go-to place when visiting our capital. When completing my part-time Master’s at the Institute of Education, no weekly visit to that place of academia was complete without me calling in at either the RGS map room, Foyles bookshop or Stanford’s.  I would run at 3.30pm when school finished (I could run quite fast in those days) the two miles to the railway station to catch the ‘earlier’ train up to Victoria. That train would give me a precious two hours before my evening course started, in which I could head for one of my three most favourite places in the city.

One of our many, many,  book shelves given over to maps, guides, travelogues and travel literature 

And is it only a year ago that I was sat on the floor at the Bristol branch with maps and guide books strewn around me – covering South America and the West Coast of the USA – maps of all types, scales and detail; obscure maps of national parks, travel writing books by American authors? Where I scribbled copious notes and ideas for two epic retirement travel tours covering Peru, Bolivia and Chile and then South Western USA? To be surrounded by shiny hardbacks, softbacks, maps of all sizes, scales, shapes and colours, racks of OS maps, shelves dedicated to the cycle trails across Europe or walking the Camino de Santiago (both still on the list of things to do before I reach sixty).

Where else can you sit for hours whilst other shop users step over or skirt around you, completely at ease with your domination of acres of floor space, each one greeting you with that knowing smile, twinkly eyes and quick wink. All complicit in your hogging of space, for they understand, they have been there, they ARE there – for that sense of awe, wonder, intrigue, inspiration, quest and sense of adventure.

Our planned seven week self-guided exploration of Peru, Bolivia and Chile put on hold by unrest in South America; our planned six week self drive exploration of south west USA, cancelled due to Covid; our planned seven week backpacking Interrail tour of Europe - on hold because of covid.
All these itineraries and plans, started out on the shop floors of Stanford's in London and Bristol 

Yes, sense of adventure. Stanford’s is my London bolt-hole, a place where I can dream, gain sanity, reflect on the changing world, gain perspective and plan, yes plan, those little adventures that have been so much part of our family lives. And yes, perhaps in recent years, a visit to Stanford’s has been an attempt to rekindle that adventurous spirit I had when I was in my twenties and that I feel I have now lost.

My, our, first steps to an adventure have always started at Stanford’s or with something purchased from Stanford’s. Not just maps and guide books, travel writing or notebooks but inflatable globes (to be left in schools in The Gambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia and Thailand). Or our collection of travel games – Scrabble, Bananagrams, The British Railway game, our travel chess and draughts boards – all from Stanford’s.

The old Stanford's in Covent Garden - my bolt hole and refuge from the chaos of the world around me

And what a place the London Stanford’s is. Over 160 years of history from when it was first established by Edward Stanford in 1853. The roll call of adventurers who have used the place as their first port of call for planning an adventure – Amy Johnson, David Livingston, Robert Falcon Scott, Ernest Shackleton, Florence Nightingale, Ranulph Fiennes, Bill Bryson, Michael Palin and Levinson Woods. How many of these have been my exploration heroes, how many of their books have I read and pored over down through the years? To walk in their steps, to reach for maps off shelves where they once stood?  

A sense of history that saw the first shop through two world wars, where its founders became royal cartographers to queens and kings, where Argentinian diplomats bought up all the stock of maps of the Falkland’s months before that war started, forcing the British Army to become reliant on captured enemy maps during the conflict. Where Michael Palin started his travel career and ‘Around the World in 80 days’ – that shot of him starting the journey from leaving Stanford’s.

Stanford’s has been, is, a much-loved vital part of our travel landscape, the world’s biggest map retailer, an organisation that prides itself on the depth and range of its stock. If you can’t find the map you want at Stanford’s then the reason is simple – it was never published in the first place!

Stanford's 1901

2020 has decimated the travel industry. As Covid 19 has spread, practically uncontrolled in many parts of the world, travel has been all but impossible. The world has become paralysed but like many of our businesses, taxes, rent, wages have not. Footfall and income to the London store has dropped away to barely anything and the shop faces the real threat of closure before the end of the year. This joyful, tranquil retreat in the chaos of London, where adventures are dreamed of or planned will be lost forever and I cannot believe that I am the only outdoor enthusiast and armchair explorer who will deeply regret its demise.

There is a life line. Stanford’s has been given it by the Mayor of London’s ‘Pay It Forward Crowdfunder Initiative’ – a project to help stricken businesses across the city. Donations from £5 will get the donor a reward from the shop should its target of £120,000 by Spring 2021 be reached, when Stanford’s hope that the travel industry will be up once again and people travelling once more.

I cannot help every single business facing the prospect of closure. I will do all that I can to help local businesses on my local high street throughout the impact time of this pandemic. I buy books online from small book businesses, I shun the Amazon’s of this world.

And, I will definitely donate to the Crowdfunder to save the London Stanford’s. I may only visit it once very couple of years, but there has never ever been a time when I have visited London when I have not ended up sat on its floor surrounded by maps and travelogues, guide books and journals, dreaming of adventures and explorations to come.

It is, and always will be, my place of refuge from the chaos of life, my source of inspiration, curiosity and wanderlust – a place where I see the detail of our amazing planet, where I plan new adventures to witness changing life and nature across our varied continents, where I can plan to meet old friends and create journeys to make new ones.

Moved just around the corner - the new (above) and the old (below) Stanford's of Covent Garden, London

When I started this post, I apologised for it having little to do with dinghy cruising. But, I have come to realise that actually it does. For dinghy cruisers are small boat adventurers. 'Adventure' doesn't have to be found only on epic journeys to far flung places. It is found in our backyards, our national parks, our countryside, our rivers and coastlines and yes, even our cities too. If you are a true adventurer blessed with an exploratory, inquisitive, adventurous nature, then please donate if you can.

Williamson and me
The summit of Mount Kilimanjaro 1991
Guide books and maps.....from Stanford's of London! 

Friday, 13 November 2020

Living close to a magical coastline

 I am lucky. I am a short car ride or bike ride way from a beautiful coastline. It's majesty and raw power are best seen during the autumn months when the sun is lower in the sky, the winds are stronger and the autumnal colours give a richness to the seascape. 

If during lock down I cannot sail this stretch of coastline, then I may as well walk it. 

Looking out towards the tombolo that is Burgh Island with its art deco hotel

No Surfers this morning but kite surfers are making the most of the empty waters on Bantham beach.

Looking westwards beyond Burgh Island. Between the two headlands on the horizon lies Plymouth Sound

The red sand beaches at Thurlestone

When it starts to get gusty! 

Looking eastwards towards the headland of Bolt Tail and the little villages of Outer and Inner Hope Cove

Looking northwards up across the lower stretch of the river Avon. 

Looking back towards the entrance to the river Avon

Friday, 6 November 2020

We have bought a motorhome

 Well our USA grand tour got cancelled due to Covid. Our south America tour never got off the starting grid. 

We managed to get all our money back, even from Virgin Atlantic! 

We part exchanged 'Florrie' our wonderful caravan and bought 'Bryony' our new motorhome. If we can't travel globally, we may as well tour our own country and European neighbours when circumstances allow. 

'Arwens Meanderings' is primarily a sailing blog. Occasionally I have posted about our international travels. 

Our adventures in Bryony will be the subject of a new blog. If you are interested, you can follow and subscribe to it here at

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

The next lock down

 Well the new lock down has put paid to my forthcoming plans for an autumnal overnighter trip to Salcombe from Plymouth Sound. I had hoped to sail along the coast, and then do two nights, one up at Kingsbridge and one at Frogmore Creek. During the day between the two, I had hoped to sail eastwards along the coast to Prawle Point and perhaps a little further beyond that as well. 

At the moment, there is no guidance forthcoming on the pages of the Plymouth Harbour Commission. Last time, they stopped all boating on Plymouth Sound. 

Neither has the guidance been updated on the RYA site.

I know that the responsible thing to do is to actually not go sailing. In that way I do not create any risks where people may have to come and rescue me or give me first aid help. 

Ah well. I will have to contend with writing a few more articles for various websites. There are a few maintenance jobs to do on Arwen. I want to measure her and buy a new proper tent for her in the New Year sales. 

There are a few summer trips I can do some provisional planning on as well. 

I also have the wood downstairs to build a Kentucky Stick Chair for the garden and I'll post the building log here. 

Take care everyone. To my New Zealand friends, enjoy your sailing summer and post plenty of pictures for us on the Dinghy Cruising Association FaceBook forum. 

If you are a member of the Dinghy Cruising Association, look out for my forthcoming articles in the next few journals,  listed below:

  • Creating your own sailing vlogs parts 1 and 2
  • Constructing a traditional sailor's ditty bag
See you on the other side of lock down folks. Stay safe and well. And to my American friends, I hope common sense prevails and the election goes the way you want it to!


Monday, 14 September 2020

Enrico in Italy - Miravar 2020

 is off on a raid - all the details here

and here is the taster video - looks a great sailing area

That guilty feeling...

 So I was late out feeding the garden critters this morning - talk about hard stares! Oh the guilt and to cap it all, squirrel Nutkin decided to show his displeasure by biting off the stems of the sunflowers so that they collapsed onto the veg box , from where he could attack the heads. 

Ever watched a squirrel try and carry a 2' long piece of sunflower stem with head up 32 garden steps? A hilarious start to breakfast outside at the coffee table.