The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Parc Natural de la Zona Volcanica

In the couple of weeks since my last post, we’ve been performing a bit of a touring circuit of the far north east corner of Spain, bottoming out at Barcelona. Much walking was done in Barcelona (around 30 miles in three days), but only incidental to our sightseeing activities (and some of that was only because I got confused between two Metro stops, adding a couple of miles to the start of our second day in the city).

A desire for a night with mains power, coupled with the lack of campsites open at this time of year, led us to a place just to the SE of the town of Olot yesterday afternoon, and as that landed us within the Parc Natural de la Zona Volcanica (which I’m sure I don’t need to translate), where there is a good selection of signed walking trails, this morning out we went for a 10km circuit taking in the crater of Volcan de Margarida.

Considering the scenery around here, I was a tiny bit disappointed by the route, in that so much of it was fully enclosed in woods, with no views to be had. There were plenty of smells in the first mile or so, but not good ones. I’m sure at one point we must have passed a pig farm. That said, the walk did most definitely have some redeeming features.

After we finally started climbing, initially up a rather eroded path:

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Straight into the sunlight. A lot of the first third of the walk was into the the bright, low sunlight, robbing us of vision to see what lay before us)

We came out at the church of Sant Miguel, where our arrival was impeccably timed. The church, which is only used half a dozen times per year, is kept locked, but there are a couple of grids on the doors, so that you can see inside. Next to the one grid is a coin slot and, if you feed in a €1 coin, the lights come on inside and an audio-guide starts speaking, first in Catalan, then in Spanish, then English. Having not seen a single other person in the previous half an hour, we managed to arrive just a minute or so after a couple had fed the meter and listened to the Catalan spiel. They had just walked off when we arrived, and after listening to the second half of the Spanish guide, we got the English version for free.

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And, as the lights stayed on through the whole thing, we got to see inside. It’s a very well maintained place considering it’s used so seldom:

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Onwards and downwards we went, before our final ascent to the rim of the volcano, from where no view was to be had at all. At that point, I didn’t realise that the path dropped down into the crater, and was feeling a bit fleeced that a route advertised as having this volcano as its main point of interest didn’t even give a vantage point of that main feature. All was soon forgiven, as we dropped down, on heavily frozen soil (steaming gently in the sunshine, as you can make out behind us in the snap below), right into the crater, where sits another chapel.

Finally being out in the open, and in the sunshine, a pause for elevenses was called, whereupon I realised that it was actually 12.30. That explained the level of my hunger and also told me that the small chunk of bread I’d brought along, slathered in marmalade, was nowhere near enough. Carelessly, when our start time got put back an hour, so that we could extend our stay at Camping La Fageda, I’d failed to think about the need to extra food.

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Making our way back out of the crater, we finally found a viewpoint to where we had just been:

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Our return leg could have included a detour onto route 15, for a close look at the half-collapsed cone of another nearby volcano, but aside from my hunger pushing me towards a more direct route back, we reached the turn-off just as a couple of coachloads of school kids made their way noisily up there, which was even more offputting.

If we had made that detour, then it almost certainly wouldn’t have been us that, only a couple of minutes later, a stray dog adopted as its new owners of choice. It was a lovely, very friendly thing, but: a) we’re not in the market for a dog; and b) it kept jumping up everyone it met, and I’m sure they all thought it was our dog and that we were failing to control it. We tried all sorts of things (speeding up, slowing down, stopping for a few minutes) to try to shake it off, and a few times we thought we had succeeded as it apparently went along with other people. But no, just as we thought we’d lost it, it would come bounding up from behind, wagging at us. With visions of arriving back at Colin with it still in tow, along came a dog walker and, whilst the stray was busy playing with her dog, we made good our final escape.

All that was left for us then was the couple of hundred metres down the road with a good view of the snowy Pyrenees, and back up to the campsite.

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7.6 miles had been walked, with around 1200’ of ascent. The extra distance versus the advertised 10km was in part because we took in the optional extra of the visit to the crater, in part because we walked to the start from the campsite and in further part because (as we often find to be the case) the advertised 10km was an undermeasurement.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Friday 25 November – Port Vendres Circular, via Cap Béar

There has been walking over the course of the last three weeks, but nothing to write home about. Until yesterday it’s mainly been touristic wanderings, although we did take to the GR4f for a couple or three miles when we were in Vallon-Pont-d’Arc a couple of weeks back. That was a bit of an ill-timed outing, in that we set out on a 10km route with only about 2 hours before sundown, resulting in a fast march back along the road when the light started fading rapidly out of the day. We did get to see the spectacle of the natural arch of Pont d’Arc, though:

The small print is that this photo wasn’t taken when we walked there, as the light was a bit dull by then. This snap was taken the following morning when we returned in Colin.

We’ve moved on further south since then, finally hitting the Mediterranean coast about a week ago (and thinking about it, we did also take a 5.5 mile walk when we hit the Med at the Carmargue. Impressively, not a single foot of ascent featured in that outing. Flamingoes did feature; lots and lots of them).

The significant factor which led to there being trail walking both yesterday and today (and, indeed, the very reason why we are currently in Port Vendres at all) is mapping. On my phone I have IGN 1:25k mapping for the Pyrenees, which extends far enough north along the Med coast to cover Port Vendres, thus I knew in coming here that there were multiple walking routes from the town, some of which looked particularly good.

Yesterday we took a stroll up to the fort that you should just be able to make out on the rightmost lump, above the town, in the snap below, before dropping down to the picturesque harbour in Collioure, and picking up another trail which led us back to Port Vendres.

Today we went coastal, starting out with the good view above, over the port and town of Port Vendres. Undulating along, it only took us half an hour to catch up with the group of ramblers who had set off just as we were getting out of bed. They took a short cut at the military base, whilst we followed the path around two sides of it. I’m sure in the UK you wouldn’t get razorwire at head height immediately adjacent to a narrow path:

There then followed a succession of little bays and inlets. From the first we had a good view back to the lighthouse at Cap Béar:


Bonus better snap of the lighthouse from further along the way

In the direction we were headed pictures weren’t as good, due to the sun being in our eyes:

Can’t complain though, as for the first half of the outing we were in our shirt-sleeves, enjoying the warmth.

It appears that Mick was after dipping his toes in the sea as we crossed the cove shown below. The continuation of the path was up the concrete steps set into the rock, not far behind Mick:

At Plage de Bernadi it was time for elevenses and a bit of fun with a few selfies. Mick has vetoed me showing the silly ones, so here’s a sensible one of us sharing a flask of coffee, having already polished off our croissant/chocolatine:

Away from the coast was then our direction, and into the vineyards:

Where, just after crossing a road, we missed a turn, finding ourselves ten minutes later back on the same road, but slightly further up. Throwing in a loop, we returned to the original point of departure from the road, and wondered how on earth we’d missed the ‘you need to turn here’ indications the first time around:

Twisting and turning, occasionally heading up washes, we marvelled at the gnarled nature of the old vines,and at the neatness of the terraces:

Until suddenly we were dropping back down from Col de Migt, with Port Vendres only a short way in front of us. The path and the waymarkers suddenly disappeared as we hit the road, but no bother – the most obvious route back to Colin was on roads anyway.

Having forgotten to take the Garmin Gadget, I don’t have an exact distance, but I reckon it was arounnd 7, maybe 7.25 miles, with 1500’ of ascent (I’m going with my Fitbit’s assessment of the ascent; it feels about accurate). A fine outing!

Friday, 11 November 2016

En France

We're in France at the moment, mainly doing touristy things rather than walking things, so my daily witterings are over at our other blog at thegateposts.blogspot.com. If we do any walking of any significance then I'll mention it here too.

Although today started with a 5km stroll on a locally waymarked path around the village of Peyres...

...and often within sight of the Millau Viaduct...

...the real highlight of today was our drive up Gorges du Tarn. What spectacular scenery, particularly with the multi-coloured leaves of autumn.

This snap's of Gorges de la Jontes. Gorges du Tarn was far more impressive but also impossible for me to capture within a photo

(Conrad - tell me something about your French Gorges walk, such as which gorges did it visit, how long was it and was it primarily following a GR or a route of your own making?)

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Cheriton Hill

After achieving my fastest ever 5km time at Folkestone ParkRun this morning (beating my previous PB which I set nearly 10 years ago), I decided to celebrate with a visit to the local Marilyn, Cheriton Hill.

Being a rather uninspiring hill, it's summit being farmland with no visually obvious high point, the biggest excitment of the outing was reversing Colin half a mile back down the lane when, on our way to my chosen start point, we decided that he wouldn't fit between or under the overgrown hedges. I didn't opt for the drive around (on sensibly sized roads) to the other side of the hill, as to do so would have given a very short walk. Instead we found somewhere to park slightly further away and I walked entirely on tarmac from there.

I even threw in a bit of extra tarmac thanks to a blip in navigation which I didn't immediately notice. The bonus of a good period of road walking was that it gave yesterday's waterlogged shoes and socks the chance to dry out a little.

It came in at 3.25 miles with a barely noticeable 70m of ascent.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Chanctonbury Ring, Ditchling Beacon and Cliffe Hill

Chanctonbury Ring
Mick wasn't impressed by my car park choices on this trip as we arrived at our start point and, for the second time out of two, a height barrier was present. Fortunately, there was a spot we were able to leave Colin just outside of the barrier. Unfortunately it was on a bit too much of a slope to make morning coffee a comfortable affair.

Being well before lunch, and with rain not forecast to arrive until 3pm, it was disappointing to feel spots of moisture when we were only half way to the top. Those spots of moisture persisted to varying degrees for the whole outing, but never enough to require waterproofs, which was a good thing as we'd taken nothing with us.

Having had a good wander around and inside of the ring of Chanctonbury Ring, covering all contenders for the high point, off we ran, all the way back to Colin.


Ditchling Beacon
We could have approached this one from the nearest road, which lies only 100m or so from the summit, but I fancied the walk in, along the South Downs Way, from the windmills known as 'Jack and Jill'.

My resolve for the longer walk was tested as rain started on the drive there and became increasingly heavy as we lunched (Colin was masquerading as a horsebox at this point as, once again, the car park bore a height barrier, and the signage was quite clear that the spaces outside were for horseboxes only. As those spaces were all empty and the weather foul, we didn't think it was a problem to take one).

It was in the same heavy rain that we set out, me fully waterproofed, Mick in running gear. He had soon trotted off into the distance, next to be seen as he passed me on his return.

It looked like it would be a lovely walk on a fine day, but with the rain lashing and the cloud brushing the path, it was one to be walked as fast as my little legs could carry me.

I was quite soggy by the time I got back to Colin, making me pleased that, two days ago, I finally got around to putting some hooks up on Colin's wet room walls. I bought the hooks about 3 years ago. It took me five minutes to fit them. Always the way with those little jobs, isn't it? (The lesson was learnt a while later that it is wise to remove the toilet roll before hanging wet clothes above it...)


Cliffe Hill
With the wetness getting worse, I would undoubtedly have called it a day after Ditchling Beacon if it hadn't been for the fact that Cliffe Hill required a trespass across a golf course and it seemed to me that two hours before dark on a very wet day with visibility down under 100m was probably a good time for a bit of solitude for my tortious act.

My ploy worked. Can't say it was fun, though, particularly the bit when I had to put my wet stuff back on and the bits when I had to get myself over an unstable double-barbed-wire-topped fence which had chicken wire on the lower section (i.e. nowhere to put your foot for the leg-up bit of the process).

The other two hills which had been pencilled in for today didn't happen. Aside from the weather, there wasn't enough daylight. So, we joined the horrible Friday afternoon traffic on some flooded roads with the windscreen wipers on their 'crazy speed' setting.

Total mileage for the day was around 8.5 miles. Off the top of my head, I've no idea how much up there was.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Leith Hill (TQ139431; 295m)

Spending a couple of nights with friends in Crawley, I took the opportunity today to nip over to Leith Hill. It had been on the agenda for the trip in January 2015, but a poorly engine (Colin's, not mine) forced a sudden curtailment of that particular trip.

A cold night last night led into a lovely day today, although we didn't really capitalise on it, as you'll see from the distance stat at the bottom of this post. It turned out to be an even shorter outing than expected, as our intended car park bore a height barrier sitting too low for Colin's stature, forcing us into an alternative car park, nearer to our objective.

A staircase led us up from there and, such was my level of research for this trip, I was surprised to find a tower on the top:


I was even more surprised to find that we could go up it for a modest £2 per head. Talking of heads, we donned our best headwear for the occasion:


And then changed to our second best for a further selfie:


The views from the top of the tower were superb. Definitely worth the £2 (moreover as I can say with some certainty that I've been to the highest accessible spot on this hill!):


We strung the walk out by taking a slightly longer way back, brining it in at, oooh, almost a mile. The far better stats of the day involve the quantities of tea and cake consumed with friends.

The Last Weekend in October - A Weekend in Leyburn

I should have written this when I was still in the land of power and internet. Alas, other things occupied that time, so I now find myself tapping away on a tiny, virtual keyboard whilst out in the wilds of Crawley. Accordingly, I'm going to be brief (moreover as other accounts of this weekend can be found at Martin's blog (phreerunner.blogspot.com), Conrad's blog (conradwalks.blogspot.com) and Alan Rayner's blog (alanrayneroutdoors.blogspot.com)).

It was Martin who very generously laid on this weekend, based at the excellent Colletts (colletts.co.uk) Eastfield Lodge in Leyburn. He did the same last year, but we missed the walking then due to having to dash off to a family emergency. This year all family members refrained from having heart attacks and thus we walked on both days.

Saturday involved Castle Bolton:


A stuck-in-the-mud motorhome that we tried at length, but failed, to free (and of which I didn't take a photo).

Some tumbling water:


A big arachnid (not to mention quite a few skulls and skeletons):


Some more tumbling water:


Later there was a good meal at Thirteen in Leyburn before five people squeezed onto the three-seater sofa back at Eastfield Lodge:


On Sunday I took even fewer photos than on Saturday (I haven't been selective above; I've included all that I took), but I did snap the castle at Middleham:


It was just after the castle that everyone else headed off to a tearoom for sustenance and hydration, whilst Mick and I strode with purpose back to Leyburn, to make tracks homewards for Mick to prepare for his last couple of days of work and for me to prepare for our next trip away.

It was an excellent weekend. Thank you Martin, for inviting us, and everyone else for making it a good time.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Mam Tor: 4 times in 24 hours

I’ve been missing walking uphill since I got home from the last trip at the end of September, so there was no chance that I was going to drive through the Peak District on Wednesday and Thursday (on the way to and from Martin & Sue’s latest presentation for Stockport Walking & Outdoor Group) without stopping for a stretch of the legs and lungs.

I didn’t do anything exciting. In fact, as the title suggests, I was a little repetitive, with the main objectives being hill-based exercise, with the fewest possible extra miles being driven.

So, on Wednesday I went up Mam Tor and over to Lose Hill, before performing an about turn and (passing some people I’d already greeted on the way out, and a few of those who completely blanked me in both directions) returning back over Mam Tor.

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Atop Lose Hill. Despite having four opportunities, it seems that I omitted to take a single snap from Mam Tor

I still had a bit of time after I’d eaten my lunch, so I nipped up Lord’s Seat too, where a chap was poised to jump just as soon as the right conditions presented themselves:

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Looking back to Mam Tor, from the path up Lord’s Seat. You can’t make out the detail in this snap, but Mam Tor was so busy that in this photo there is a trail of around 30 people heading up towards the summit. Lord’s Seat was rather less busy!

I could have done something novel on Thursday, but Mam Tor still had that great advantage of being only a handful of miles off my driving route, so back I went again. Setting out early in the morning, just as the drizzly start was abating, gave me a completely different (and much better) experience from the previous day, with just one other person seen, and that was within five minutes of setting out.

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Not such a nice day on Thursday

Surprisingly, the large car park was empty, save for Colin, when I got back; I don’t expect it stayed that way for long after I left.

 

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As an aside, what are the chances of seeing the same vehicle, in completely different parts of the country, twice in the space of a few months? My gut reaction, thinking of the number of vehicles on the UK roads, would be that the chances would be negligible. However, thanks to the van in question being very distinctive (see below, although it may not be obvious unless you click for a bigger version that the ‘Live Dartmoor’ design is hand painted and has the number 46 in a circle in the top left hand corner), I can say with certainty that the van I parked by in the National Trust Mam Tor car park on Wednesday afternoon was the same vehicle next to which I parked on Honister Pass at the beginning of June:

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I’m yet to meet the occupant(s). Maybe next time…