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Welcome to the first post in what will be a regular feature on the vtravelled blog. We'll be interviewing members of our community and getting to know them a bit better by finding out more about their travel passions, and we'll also be asking them to tell us about their own part of the world and offer up a few tips for visitors who might be heading their way. We hope you'll enjoy reading about the real-life people behind the thumbnail pics!
In our very first 'Meet a vtraveller' we're delighted to introduce Keith Kellett. When Keith retired from the Royal Air Force, he turned his travel writing and photography hobby into a business and has since been published in a number of different print and online publications. Keith is a prolific uploader of photos to vtravelled and we always look forward to seeing evidence of his latest adventures! All the photos in this post are his own - click to see them in their full glory - and read on to learn more...
Keith, before you retired you used to serve in the Royal Air Force. What was your role and did it involve much travelling?
Well, the Air Force expected everyone to be a sort of 'jack of all trades'. I kind of alternated between being an Operations Officer and an Air Traffic Controller. It sounds fairly static but, of couse, we had many bases overseas. I've been stationed in Australia, Cyprus and Germany. During my last six years, I had a great post. My job was to seek out and operate disused airfields, suitable fields and even beaches for our C-130 transport force to practice operating, and I got all over the country, and abroad.
Tell us about some of your earliest travel memories. What were some of the places or events that really inspired you?
I'm a 'war baby', and nobody got around a lot in the immediate post-war years. But, those who could were easily persuaded to come and talk about it ... even show slides, if they brought any back. The village hall was usually packed on such occasions. Also, my dad's employer used to give me copies of the National Geographic magazine he'd finished with. That was about the only place you could see such great colour photography in those days, and I couldn't wait to get out there and see some of these things for myself.
On your vtravelled profile page you quote an old Chinese proverb: "He who never got lost never went anywhere" - would you say this sums up your travel philosophy? Which places would you recommend as great destinations for ditching the guidebook and seeing where you end up?
What I usually do is identify a prominent landmark and work out how to get to my hotel or wherever from there. Then I just wander at will. I figure it's easier to ask directions to, say, the Rialto Bridge or the Puerta del Sol than to the hotel. As far as good places to get lost, I'd recommend Amsterdam or Antwerp. Both are cities with 'a surprise around every corner' and if you get really crossed up, most people speak English. A big problem is, having found somewhere that really attracts you, sometimes you can't find it again.
What is your preferred travel style, and has this changed much over the years?
Unfortunately, the days are gone when I could shoulder a pack that would make a Marine's knees buckle and just take to the hills. But although I like my comforts, I don't insist on them. I do try to travel as lightly as possible, but I've found any weight I save in clothing and so on is made up by the increased amount of electronic equipment I carry around. However, even this is now reducing; I've replaced my laptop with a netbook, my camcorder is about the size and weight of a packet of cigarettes and my mobile phone is so small, I keep misplacing it...
You've done a lot of travel writing since you retired and now this helps to fund your travelling. How did you first get into this?
Almost by accident! In the Royal Air Force, most stations have a magazine. One night, I met the editor of ours in the bar and she said if I could put together a phrase like 'self-congratulatory, inward-looking parochial pap' while on the outside of half a gallon of best bitter, I should be able to do a halfway decent article and when could she expect it? Well, I did a couple for her and to my surprise, the local paper asked if they could use one of them, for which we received a cheque! I didn't get to keep it though; the editor was also chair of the Station Charities Fund and as we have seen, a very persuasive lady!
In addition to writing for other outlets, you also have your own blog, Travelrat's Travels, and you're a regular on Twitter. Has the world of social media had an impact on how, where or why you travel?
Absolutely! I'm able to reach places I never heard of, let alone considered, and I can get fairly up to date information about a place rather than rely on a guidebook that may be out of date as soon as it hits the streets. I've met many 'dot.comrades' and 'e-mates' face to face, too. Comes, I suppose, from having Stonehenge just down the road from me - a lot of people drop by before or after they've visited.
Some people say that you're travelling as soon as you step out of your front door. Would you agree with this statement? You mentioned you live close to Stonehenge which is in the beautiful English county of Wiltshire, and the picture below is a classic postcard view of Salisbury Cathedral across Harnham Water Meadows. Could you tell us a bit more about the area and offer us a few recommendations?
I would agree whole-heartedly! I've lived here fifteen years, and there are still places within a short bus ride that I haven't seen. The Harnham Meadows picture was taken from the Salisbury 'town path', which I explored for the first time while waiting for my car to be serviced!
And I'm glad you asked the second question. Only the other week, a local Parliamentary candidate for the area said we must convince people there are more reasons to visit the region than Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral. What I'd recommend is to stay at a small B&B or pub in one of Salisbury's outlying villages, and, if you don't have a car, buy a Network ticket for the Wiltshire & Dorset buses for the period you require. You can just explore the local area, or go further afield. Bournemouth, the New Forest, Swindon, Marlborough and Southampton are all on the network. Or you can walk ... Wiltshire has a clear and well-signed network of footpaths and bridleways. I realise my picks for places to visit may not be to everyone's taste but, for what it's worth, they would include the Avebury Stone Circle, the Exbury Garden Railway in the New Forest, STEAM, the museum of the Great Western Railway in Swindon, the Wadworth Brewery in Devizes where draught horses still make daily deliveries, and the Kennet and Avon Canal.
Finally, what are your all-time favourite destinations and why? And where do you still have a burning desire to visit?
Jordan, without a doubt! There's so much of interest there, and everyone is so friendly and welcoming. Only an over-importunate baggage porter at Queen Alia Airport spoilt a 100% record! I've been three times; twice with the Air Force and once on a private tour. The tour operator bent over backwards to ensure that (in his words) we saw what we wanted to see, not what he wanted us to see. Spain, especially Salamanca is a close second, with Sydney, Adelaide, Egypt, Austria and Haut Savoie in France vying for third place. Still to do India... a ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway has been on my wish-list since I was ten years old. I have visited Italy and Madeira and I'd love to do so again, to explore them in greater depth.
Would you like to be featured in our 'Meet a vtraveller' slot? If so, then use the 'feedback' button at the bottom of this page to send us a link to your vtravelled profile and tell us a bit more about yourself. We'd be very happy to hear from you! In the meantime, if you have any questions on Wiltshire or any of the places Keith has talked about, we're sure he'd be willing to help - just fire away in the comments below.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.