The volcano that changed my life

by Rachael Castell, Founder of OurPledge

Thinking about The Big Boat of 2021 recently got me thinking about The Great Volcanic Ash Cloud of 2011, a scales-from-the-eyes-moment in my life, that really made me consider the earth and how we treat it from an entirely new perspective.

Luckily for me, I was in Barcelona, overseeing a film project – a European initiative to Support Your Local Cinema. News started trickling in that a volcano in Iceland was spewing out ash to such levels that it might ground flights. Before my colleague and I could whip back to the hotel and manage a call to the EasyJet help desk, everything was grounded. Where I could previously simply hop, skip and flight my way back to London, home was suddenly very very far away. The Earth, it appeared, was actually very VERY big.

I was already enviro-curious, dabbling in climate actions and passionately protective of natural wildlife in the UK. I was a vegetarian that ate the occasional steak. But nothing had quite prepared me for the revelations that happened as I took the 18 hour bus journey across the surface of our planet. I looked, learned, remembered. I took in the changing landscapes, the architectures, the different food and drinks on offer at each stop. I embodied the distance that we covered in a way that seemed so natural and made my speed-freak air trips seem bizarre. When we got to Gare du Nord my brain was echoing: there was an impenetrable sea of people in the station and I couldn’t stop thinking ‘all these people would usually be in the sky’. It seemed to me that that probably wasn’t the way things were supposed to be.

After that, I took the train every month to my European job. I couldn’t take a short haul flight again – particularly as I learned more about the damage that aviation can do to the atmosphere (Flights are responsible for 2.4 per cent of emissions globally, but they drive an estimated 7.2 per cent of warming due to high-altitude atmospheric effects). I leaned in to the time these journeys offered me. I often took night bound trips so I could sleep. I tried varying routes with stop-offs in different cities. I booked as far ahead as possible to keep my prices down. I discovered the leisurely stroll through passport control and customs with a case of any size: no mad airline rules or regulations or last minute fees and panics. I took my own packed lunches. Sometimes a mini wine 😉 I got a Eurostar frequent traveller card and gifted some trips to my friends. A few of them began to ditch planes in favour of rail. I noticed the ripple effect.

This was the beginning of some contemplation that made me realise something had to be done and that I could do a little part of the work and maybe create some impact. 5 years later on a walking holiday in France that I reached – of course – by train, I had the idea that has become OurPledge. This is why today I am overjoyed to be supporting the future of sustainable travel by working with No Fly Travel Club. Their campaign launches today and we will be cheering them all the way … to France, Mallorca, Tuscany or more destinations.

For more information about how you could support and enjoy the delights of overground rail travel and fantastic sustainable holidays, visit their page at

For more information about why it’s a good idea to reduce your carbon footprint by flying less, see This Article in Canada’s National Observer, or This Article in the Washington Post.

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