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]

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Shapely Rocks at Echternach (Luxembourg)

Alternative title: Thwarted, Thwarted, Thrice Thwarted!

More often than not when we're travelling outside of the UK, we choose where to visit based on where there is overnight parking available for Bertie-the-Motorhome. Once there, we look to see what there is around that area. Sometimes an area is interesting and we stick around, sometimes there's nothing to hold us; sometimes we find a walking route (like yesterday) that is pleasant, but not spectacular, and sometimes we strike gold, like today.

After an early 4-mile, 2-circuit run around the lake just outside of the town of Echternach (which sits on the edge of the area of Luxembourg marked on our road atlas as 'Little Switzerland'), we relocated Bertie to a car park in the town and off we set to pick up our intended 17km route.

In the middle of a town is not where we most expect to find an interesting tractor. We particularly liked the addition of half an ice cream tub, wired into position under the bit of the engine that was leaking fluid.

Usefully today we came upon an information sign with a clear map setting out the walking routes in the area, from which we discerned that it was route E1 we were to follow. From a waymarking point of view, that turned out to be a very easy thing to do; this is a route so well signed as to make it suitable for people with no navigational ability or aids.

A steepish haul up a road out of town took us to a more level path that felt a bit like a levada walk in Madeira, except the drop off the side of the path wasn't big enough:

The first 'thwarted!' came when we reached a road with 'closed' barriers across it. Initially I didn't think this a problem, as we were to branch off just before we reached the closure, Alas, it was a problem, as the path was also barred:

As we had left town one of the finger posts had tape covering over the E1 finger, and another of the fingers had a diversion map. As that map said E4 at the top, I didn't pay it any attention. Perhaps that was an error!

A large group of ramblers turned back from the same point just as we reached it, and having briefly looked at our options, we followed them. We know not where they went, as at the first bench we stopped for a very early elevenses and to more closely examine our options. The decision: we would backtrack a little further, follow a path that would join up with our return route, and change the circuit into a lollipop.

That mainly worked, although we did soon come across another obstacle that was far trickier than this photo makes it look:

Four trees were down across the path, with branches, twigs and foliage everywhere. It took a while to find a path through, knowing as we did so that we would have to return the same way, and hoping that they hadn't also closed this bit of path by then!

It was beyond this point that the truly excellent bits of the walk began, in the form of shapely rocks:

Soon after we entered what was labelled as 'The Labyrinth', which I would compare loosely with Lud's Church in The Roaches, but with added twists and turns:

A little while later it became apparent that the path ahead of us had recently suffered significant water damage and when we had to cross a stream the bridge was missing (we later found it further downstream, lying uselessly high up along one bank), but with the water low, we were able to cross. We only covered a handful of paces the other side when the second 'Thwarted!' occurred:

This was a more significant issue, as it meant we couldn't access the westernmost section of the route.

We would have turned around at that point, except that the rock structures across the road looked too interesting to ignore, so we went for a closer look, and what should we find there...

...but a staircase leading up into a fissure. Clearly, we had to go up it:

It got a bit steep at the top, and the staircase became a metal ladder:

That led us to a viewpoint, on top of the rocks (in fact, on top of an overhang - gulp!), and having admired our surroundings from up there, it seemed that, having gained all that height, we may as well take advantage of it by adding in a loop of the next valley along which the E1 headed.

Alas, my intention to walk out along the E1 then return along the bottom of the gorge met with another 'Thwarted!'in the shape of another path closure, so we stuck with the E1 until it took us back to the road. There we discovered, by a glance to our right, that this road was closed too. However, we were already past the 'road closed' barriers, and hadn't passed any signage saying we couldn't proceed, so proceed we did. The reason for the closure became apparent: more flood damage has caused the road edge to collapse.

A workman took a photo of us as we passed him further along. Or maybe we were being paranoid and he was actually taking a selfie of his spectacular work location. Either way, nobody challenged us as we returned to our outward path.

Back through The Labyrinth, back over/round the fallen trees, a stop in a substantial lunch shelter, and onwards we went to the 'Gorge du Loup' - of which I failed to take any photos. It was a vast limestone wall with interesting layers.

This route is set up for the masses. There were benches and bins regularly, and a couple of big lunch shelters too. Due to the path closures, we had it almost to ourselves, encountering only 5 other people beyond the closed section (a group of three who commented how quiet it was, and a couple of dog walkers)

Just for the fun of it, we threw in an extra climb towards the end of the Gorge du Loup, when a sign told us we could climb another staircase up to the top of the wall, to a viewpoint. The viewpoint would have been a good one before all of the trees grew so big...

Down was then our direction, to regain the town, where this sign, outside of a school, caught my eye:

We often find ourselves bemused by European countries' adoption of English slogans

Even though we didn't get to follow the whole of the route, we still managed to cover 14km. I've no idea how much ascent was involved. Nor do I know how much more spectacular rock we missed, but if we should find ourselves passing that area again in the future, I'd be happy to stop by for a few more days to explore further.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

A Wander Around Wiltz, Luxembourg

As the title of this post suggests, we are away again in Europe. As always, anyone can see where we are at any time by nipping over to our daily 'what we are up to' blog at, but I will post here when we walk anywhere worthy of a mention. Having been on the road for just over a week, today was the first such outing.

The location was the town of Wiltz, which lies in the top third of Luxembourg - a country that neither of us had before visited. It's a very green, undulating area, with lots of summer meadows and woodland, and the route I had selected for today was described on as something like 'The woodlands and watercourses at Wiltz'.

Our route was the red one.

Based on the map (OpenStreetMaps - it's what we use for most of our walks abroad unless they are of a nature to suggest that a more detailed map is required), I had suspected that we would be in the trees for most of this walk, so I grabbed a couple of snaps early on when views presented themselves:

It turned out that we weren't nearly as hemmed in as I had expected, and even when we were in the trees, there were some clearings, including this one, covered in foxgloves:

Waymarks were plentiful...

...which might have been useful if we had known which, if any, we were trying to follow. As it went, there was no difficulty at all in following our route on the map.

There was, however, a little difficulty with two short sections of overgrown paths:

We battled through the first such section, but backtracked from the one shown above, feeling (quite literally!) that the number of nettles was incompatible with bare legs. It was easily bypassed via a road then a track.

The final section of the route ran parallel to the railway and a river, the former we had to cross a couple of times, the second time at a station. It was an odd place for a station, seemingly being beyond the end of the nearest road, deep in the forest, and with no haibitation around it. Curious.

Whilst nothing spectacular, it was a more pleasant outing that I'd expected, and a decent leg-stretch (9.5km, around 200m of ascent).

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Postscript to my earlier post

Earlier today I posted a photo of two cars jointly causing a dangerous obstruction of a road, as West Sussex Police's Operation Crackdown report form required me to upload the photos to somewhere on t'internet and to provide a link, rather than allowing me to submit the photos direct.

The acknowledgement I received in response to the report submission said that it was very important that the photo uploaded to somewhere on t'internet was not made public, because if made public it cannot be used in evidence. Key information that would have been better given at the point of instructing to upload the photo and provide a link to where it was located, rather than only imparting the instruction after the event (although in the absence of having an account at any suitable photo-holding website, all that prior notice of the requirement would do would be to stop issues being reported at all; not very user friendly).

As it goes, I'm almost certain that nothing will come of my report. I expect that only a requirement of access to the road by the emergency services would result in words being had with the drivers in question, and I sincerely hope that no such emergency does arise today.

As for us, thanks to Bertie's relatively slim stature (as A-class motorhomes go) we did get out and thus didn't have to move our Eurotunnel crossing, nor our appointment in Belgium tomorrow. A bit of careful measuring told us that the gap was 3" wider than Bertie. Some very slow guided manoeuvring ensued.

Mick took the job of steering and was patient enough to pause mid way out whilst I took these photos, to record our 'tightest gap we've ever had to squeeze through', although note that the photos were taken when Bertie's 'waist' was in the gap; his widest points are his wheel arches.

Obstruction Photo for West Sussex Police

West Sussex Police's Operation Crackdown requires all reports to be supported be evidential photos, but it doesn't allow photos to be uploaded with the form, instead they have to be placed somewhere on t'internet and a link provided. Hence this post. So, if you're not West Sussex Police you can move on to a far more interesting blog post.

(But just by way of a tiny bit of explanation: it's an inconvenience that we are currently trapped in this street (thankfully at a friend's house, not literally sitting in the street), it's far more of an issue, in an area with a high density of elderly folk, that access to the road is currently blocked for ambulances and fire engines.)

Monday, 28 May 2018

Cairn-mon-earn (NO782919; 378m)

I'm going to have to cast my mind back a bit here. Somehow this* is the first time I've found since last Wednesday to pen a few words about what turned out to be the final hill of this trip. (*'this' is as we are driving past Stirling on our way south, with Mick just having taken the wheel.)

Wednesday 23 May
Distance: 1.4 miles
Ascent: around 140m
Weather: overcast but dry
Start: Large layby on A957 at NO 77914 91027

On paper, Cairn-mon-earn looked to me like one of those hills that someone would only visit if they were a hill bagger, which is, of course, exactly why I found myself there early last Wednesday morning.

Appearances can be deceptive and it turned out to be a nice little hill, if you overlook all of the communications masts and equipment on the summit and the line of power lines on the way up.

It was certainly a quick and easy one. Shunning the forest track that takes an indirect route from the A957 around to the back of the hill, before approaching the top from there, I opted to go straight up the break through the forest, which I accessed directly opposite the layby.

Initially it was a tiny bit boggy (I lost both feet in gloopy peat at one point, which was careless) and it occurred to me that in a few weeks the bracken would probably be an impediment...

...but I'd not ascended very far before picking up a well-trodden line that took me all the way to the top.

Standing at the trig point, which sits atop a pile of stones, the outlook to the north west and south were pleasant.

Looking west(ish)

It was to the east that it all became too industrial:

Returning via my ascent route, I got back to Bertie having spent 21 minutes going up and 11 minutes getting back down (plus and unknown length of time on the top). That left me plenty of time (or about 3 hours more than necessary) to drive to and through Aberdeen to pick Mick up at his TGO Challenge finish point...

...although I wasn't quite able to manage that as harbour extension works had the road at Girdle Ness closed, so he had to walk a short distance back out across the golf course. I joined him for that short return section and did offer to carry his bag once his Challenge was officially completed, but he declined.

There was one more hill I intended to visit on my way from Aberdeen to TGO Challenge Control at Montrose (Hill of Garvock). The only thing that potentially saves this middle-of-a-field from falling entirely within the 'pointless summits' category is the presence of a tower atop it. I'll have to reserve judgement, as having driven to my start point, which sits about 1 mile and 30m of ascent away from the top, and having attempted approaches via two different fields, I left it unbagged due to overly frisky cows, with young, and an overly interested bull. I'm not generally too fazed by cattle these days, but these exceeded my tolerance level for bovine behaviour. I shall have to return to this one in the winter months sometime.

The view on the way to Hill of Garvock

That's it for Marilyn bagging for the time being. I think my final tally for the trip was 46, bringing my overall total to over 440 (but under 450; I don't know the exact number off the top of my head).

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Kerloch (NO696878; 534m)

Distance (bike): 15 miles (around 450m ascent)
Distance (foot): 2.1 miles (265m ascent)
Weather: overcast with very light showers
Start Point: Silverbank Caravan Club Site, Banchory

When I planned this trip I thought I would be mainly sitting around this week, with a lack of easily accessible hills along the main roads along which I was going to be driving. Looking at the maps this afternoon, I’m now coming to the conclusion that I had gone map blind by that point in the planning. That’s a shame, as I now realise that there were three or four hills I could have visited yesterday afternoon on my way to Banchory.

I also didn’t have Kerloch on my radar until I looked at a map this morning. As Bertie had spent the night on a campsite at Banchory, it struck me that rather than driving out of my way somewhere, I could leave Bertie exactly where he was, take my bike and go and visit this hill.

First good view of where I’m going, and the top is just in the cloud

As is often turning out to be the case, I was able to bike further than expected. I knew (from logs on that the initial section of track after leaving the road was good, but that somewhere in the forest it became horribly eroded. The somewhere transpired to be from the junction just after the wooden building marked on the map as Glenskinnan. There I dumped my bicycle, and took to a track that had large sections that Mick (who does not enjoy loose rocky/stony surfaces) would not have liked:

It had been raining on me off and on all the way, never quite to the extent of me donning waterproofs (although I did stop a couple of times with that intention, before deciding against), but as I approached my turn from the track onto the path that would lead me to the summit, the cloud base had risen:

Alas, it didn’t stay that way for long, and by the time I had covered those few hundred metres, I had not a single view of my surroundings. With windblown rain hitting me, I didn’t hang around beyond taking a few photos. Such a contrast to 24 hours earlier when I had sat in warm sunshine enjoying the views from The Coyles of Muick. Yesterday I had been in a short-sleeved t-shirt for most of the outing; today I was in three long-sleeved layers and only overheated on the latter stages of the ride in.

The sun briefly came out (for maybe 30 seconds) as I re-entered the forest. If only I'd hit the top during that short window!

A pleasant interlude in my ride back was meeting TGO Challenger Humphrey on my way down. We talked Norway, Spain, Scotland and heat maps before we each went our separate ways.

I opted to take the A93 for the final mile and a half back to the campsite, rather than the Deeside Way. It wasn’t nice, but it did take me via a supermarket, which was my aim. What did impress and please me about the outing was that until I hit the main roads through the town, in 13.5 miles of cycling I had been passed (in either direction) by only three vehicles, two of which were tractors. If I’m going to cycle on roads, those are the sort I prefer!

Monday, 21 May 2018

The Coyles of Muick (NO328910; 601m)

Distance (bike): 8.7 miles
Distance (foot): 2 miles (180m ascent)
Weather: Glorious, although with cloud approaching by the time I descended.
Start point: Ballater main car park

Intentions of doing nothing today were quickly modified this morning when I saw the cloudless sky. Options were considered: it was either to be The Coyles of Muick, which I had lightly pencilled in as a possibility whilst I was in Ballater, or Mount Keen. The weather was perfect for the latter, but I also knew it would be busy up there and I had already missed the opportunity for an early start. So, The Coyles of Muick it was.

With the need to have vacated the campsite by 11.30, I relocated Bertie to the town car park, got my bike out and cycled over to the south side of the river, from where I got my first view of my objective:

My intention to cycle to the point where my chosen forest track left the road, then walk from there, was modified when I saw the track and decided to cycle up it a little way. 'A little way' turned into 'right the way to its highest point', leaving me not a great deal of walking to do.

Aerial photos had suggested that there was a clear way through the forest from here, up to the dip between Meall Dubh and The Coyles of Muick. What aerial photos didn't show was that this was an old cleared bit of forest, with a certain number of obstacles still lying on the ground:

There was no clambering and crawling today. The obstacles were easily bypassed or stepped over and there was nothing difficult about the terrain either, so before long I was at the top edge of the forest. There I found two handy reference points to make sure I knew where to re-enter the trees on my way back down:

Two boundary markers, right at the point where I left the trees.

I must have followed the forest edge for over 100m before I noticed that there was a path a few yards to my right. It was a well trodden one...

...that led me all the way to the summit.

More interesting than the highest point was the slightly-lower top bearing two big cairns:

It was over to that top that I headed for elevenses as the wind was blowing too much to pause without shelter.

I'm not sure whether my snaps convey what a really superb hill and viewpoint this was. To one side was Lochnagar, ahead was Loch Muick, to the other side Mount Keen was poking its head over the intervening hill. I was a happy walker as I sat there eating my butteries and admiring the view (albeit, to be out of the wind, my view was in the fourth direction, which contained no notable landmarks, but was still very pleasing).

The descent was as straightforward as the ascent had been, although I did lose concentration about twenty paces before rejoining my bike, resulting in me plunging my right foot down a hole and into a stream. My feet had been completely dry until that point - as they have been for the last few days' walks. The ground certainly has dried out in this ongoing fine spell of weather.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Ben Newe (NJ381142; 565m)

Sunday 20 May

Distance: 2.6 miles
Ascent: around 310m
Weather: Overcast and breezy with a couple of showers
Start Point: end of forestry track at NJ 39678 13966 (there is a car park up the track, but a) I was thwarted in reaching it in Bertie due to overhanging branches; and b) even if I had, it's currently got signs saying it's closed due to forestry operations).

A closed road, a lengthy diversion, a little, easily accessible hill just a mile or so from the diversion route; who needs a rest day in the face of facts like that? Moreover, I needed to get some sort of exercise today, and why take a nice level walk along the Dee when I could nip up a hill?

There were signs that tried to put me off...

...and they made me quite cross for their apparent denial of lawful access rights, without giving any useful information whatsoever. Clearly, I ignored them and (unsurprisingly at just after 7am on a Sunday morning) the only evidence of work I encountered was churned up tracks:

I knew there was a path leading from the nearest forest track to the summit, but with so much disruption to the earth, due to felling, near the top, I wasn't sure whether it would be obvious when I met it, so as the track started to contour the summit, I headed straight up the hillside, soon popping out on the top:

It's a nice pointy hill, with extensive views, although today wasn't the best possible weather to enjoy them. At least the next shower held off until I was on my way down.

I didn't retrace my steps off the summit, nor did I follow the trodden path. Instead I followed the fenceline to the east. With the summit being heavily protected by deep heather and juniper, it perhaps wouldn't be everyone's choice of a good descent route, but it worked fine and I managed not to lose myself down any concealed holes.

I was back at my start point only a little over an hour after setting off, giving me the whole of the rest of the day to be lazy.