Several years ago I went to Carcassonne with my husband, but couldn't see anything. In a silly triple whammy I forgot to take my contact lenses, my glasses broke while I was travelling and I had an infection in my eyes.
My eyesight is really poor so all this meant I pathetically clung to my husband to avoid falling, plaintively asking "what can you see?" The answer was usually "it's a lovely view", so I didn't come away with a very clear vision of Carcassonne.
A little while after, I heard about a company offering really interesting tours of Lisbon. Visitors were blind-folded and then led around the city by blind tour leaders. It's a genius way to convey what it feels like to be blind, but also to give a very different impression of Lisbon. Participants were taken to the custard tart bakery where they smelt and tasted the local delicacy, then they listened to traditional music and felt the bark of the cork trees. It sounds like a much more memorable way to really discover a place than sitting passively on a tour bus with a recorded commentary.
I was reminded of all this when I recently watched two programmes featuring my secret crush Amar Latif (OK not so secret now...) The first was about the River Nidd and the second (watch it now) Travellling Blind, when Amar visited Turkey led by comedian Sara Pascoe. Amar is an incredibly positive person. His blindness certainly hasn’t stopped him from travelling or having adventures. As he points out, it’s really all about having different sensory experiences to help understand a place. Sara gradually 'saw' a different version of Turkey as she engaged in tactile, smelly and auditory experiences. I think she'd agree that her eyes were well and truly opened.
Why am I telling you all about Carcassonne, Lisbon and Turkey in a blog about the Yorkshire Dales? Well, the idea was to come up with 365 Different Ways to Discover the Dales. Most of the time I write about specific places or things to do but today my suggestion is for a different way to experience the Yorkshire Dales.
I normally spend a lot of time talking about beautiful views, lovely things to see, but perhaps that means missing something important? Instead we could try sitting quietly and closing our eyes for a little while. Places are really about layers - layers of history, of story, of feelings so why don't we focus more on different senses?
There are always smells on the air, whether it's the smell of new Spring blossom, first shoots of wild garlic or muck-spreading. We love the sound of the curlew and new born lambs and listen out for them but there's so much more besides - right now I'm listening to the wind whirling around and the rush of the river Ure. Running your fingers over the textures of moss on the dry stone walls, the very different barks on each tree, and sheep's wool are just three obvious ways to feel the Dales. As for tasting the Dales, who wouldn't enjoy that part, with so many fine cheeses, beers, and other local flavours?
So a big thank you to Amar Latif for helping me see in a completely different way.