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Ground Tour

Exactly two years ago today we set off on our first big adventure: leaving a life in the UK for something less certain; on November 2nd, 2014 we travelled to Barcelona with our heavily reduced possessions and no more of a plan than to see how it went. We wrote about that first step into the unknown in this post.

So our second anniversary seems like a good time to talk about what’s next. Most importantly, how do we build upon those initial intentions and do more to experience the world? Before I talk about that though perhaps it’s worth setting some context.

We’ve written extensively about our thoughts on living and learning; sharing our fascination with getting to the essence of life was always the aim of this blog. We started out by stripping away, selling and otherwise abandoning the clutter and irrelevance that controlled us more than we controlled it. In doing that we deliberately spent more time thinking about what we wanted to keep, or even obtain.

The obvious things manifested themselves mostly in the way we approached learning with our children: the journey into unschooling was not about just getting out of the school system but rethinking how everything in our lives fitted together. When you stop outsourcing education and bring it back to your own sphere you become even more acutely aware of how everything in life is connected.

Connectedness was a driver for our initial, tentative move to Barcelona. Learning through experiences and passions requires direct contact. Deciding to immerse ourselves in another culture was our way of creating a new context for our children and ourselves, stimulating new interests and expanding our collective minds.

In parallel with that it seems that recent years have seen a gradual erosion in formal education of what learning is all about. Education policy is increasingly concerned with preparing children for the most mundane jobs and is ever less interested in the pursuit of that which cannot be measured in hard currency.

The last few months in particular have seen announcements that seek to undermine the importance of culture in education. In the UK we’re losing subjects like art history and archaeology as politicians fail to see their fundamental importance. Art history alone offers new ways of seeing and understanding the world and, as much as this isn’t a post about how important this subject is to our development as human beings, it’s vital to the narrative that we state how important it is to us personally and as a family.

Barcelona is a wonderful place for art and culture, but as much as we have no intention of leaving here we also recognise the need to push ourselves further and experience more, and now what started out as a flippant idea a couple of months ago is starting to look inevitable. In essence it comes down to thinking about what a Grand Tour might look like for us and for now.

The New York Times in 2008 described Grand Tours in this way:

Three hundred years ago, wealthy young Englishmen began taking a post-Oxbridge trek through France and Italy in search of art, culture and the roots of Western civilisation. With nearly unlimited funds, aristocratic connections and months (or years) to roam, they commissioned paintings, perfected their language skills and mingled with the upper crust of the Continent.

– Source Wikipedia.

We’re not wealthy young Englishmen with unlimited funds. Nor do we imagine we’ll mingle with the upper crust of the continent. But the idea of a slow journey, guided by art, culture and experiences seems like something worth putting a bit of effort into.

We plan to walk, initially from Barcelona to Italy, starting Spring 2018 and taking as long as it takes. The part of Europe from here to Italy takes us past a whole load of amazing things, from prehistoric cave paintings to renaissance art; things we think are worth seeing together. And the walking is important: in the same way the original Grand Tours were slow journeys we want to make sure we don’t zoom through. We may of course fail at points, but we won’t think about that too much now.

We know we have a lot of planning and preparation to do but this post represents an important step in that. We want to share as much of this trip as we can with whomever is interested. By that we don’t just mean writing about it (although we shall) but considering how we might really connect with people before during and after. Even mentioning this idea to a few friends has created new connections and ideas, from route ideas to technology that might be useful. And there are sure to be many more possibilities.

If you want to help or otherwise get involved (and maybe meet us on the way) then please leave a comment. We’re looking for any and all suggestions. We have a year to plan and we intend to use it wisely.

  • http://www.ha2point0.com Jayne Hilditch

    What a fascinating and bold idea. I’m sure you’ll experience and learn loads along the way. If your route happens to lead you to enter Italy via the Mont Blanc tunnel to Courmayeur, do get in touch – we’re about 45 mins from the tunnel. If its outside the peak summer/winter seasons (where we earn our living by renting out rooms), you’d be welcome stay a while.

    Much cultural life in this valley is folksy, derived from the harsh struggle to live and farm in the alpine landscape, with its glorious summers but harsh winters. Back in the 19th Century, the valley was known as the home of stonemasons, who used to travel extensively around France to carry out their work – so we happen to have some rather marvellous stone carvings dotted around.

    (there’s some blurb about the valley on our website: http://www.purealps.com )

  • http://dougbelshaw.com/ Doug Belshaw

    I’m in awe. That is all.

  • http://homepages.abdn.ac.uk/b.scharlau/pages/ scharlau

    Wow! You have great ideas and have set yourselves up to enable them. You might find something useful on this blog site about how Henrik Kniberg a coach at Spotify/Lego based in Stockholm took his young family on a big trip. BTW he also takes one child with everytime he does a conference talk, which is kinda cool and might be something you want to consider. He’s an approachable fellow if you ever want to reach out and compare notes too. https://bigfamilytrip.wordpress.com/author/hkniberg/

  • http://www.visceralbusiness.com/ Anne McCrossan

    Meet you at the Scrovegni Chapel, as discussed :)

  • http://mistergough.com/ Simon Gough

    That would be a very cool meeting place.

  • http://mistergough.com/ Simon Gough

    Thanks! That’s really interesting. I’m looking forward to learning a lot through this experience.

  • http://mistergough.com/ Simon Gough

    Early days but thank you. :)

  • http://mistergough.com/ Simon Gough

    Much appreciated comment. This kind of insight is what it’s all about. I love the look of your place too. Really hope to make it there. Hope it’s all going well for you.

  • Mark Braggins

    Wonderful idea. Bold venture. I’ll be following your travels with great interest