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]

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Saturday 9 February - PR4 at Pereiro

Until yesterday we have pretty well been hugging the water around the extreme SE corner of Portugal, firstly along the coast then up the River Guardiana, which forms the border between Spain and Portugal. Yesteray we moved properly inland, albeit only by 15km, to the small village of Periero.

At first glance, as we pulled into the motorhome parking area, there didn't seem to be anything nearby that would hold our attention for longer than a lunchstop. Then the map told me of a village just a few hundred metres walk away. By the time we'd whiled away the afternoon, variously wandering and sitting, we'd decided that we would stay over and take a stroll around the local PR walking route today.

We found the terrain near to the Spanish border to be formed of countless little lumps of hills, stretching out into the distance. Here we are at a higher altitude and the undulations are much longer and gentler. That didn't make the first part of our walk massively interesting. The land hereabouts isn't suitable for agriculture, or, well anything really. So, it's just a whole lot of stunted scrub clinging to those long, gentle undulations.
This pond was the first break in the monotony of the scrubland and I wondered whether it was going to be the most interesting thing we saw today.
A while later I spied what appeared to be the remains of either a hamlet or large farm in the distance. We later found ourselves over there and it was indeed completely abandoned.

Thing did improve. Whereas the routes we've walked to date have all been on tracks and dirt roads, this one suddenly took us off piste, for a climb out of a valley up a moderately-steep grassy slope:

There was either a failure of waymarking or a failure of attention (but we think the former), thus we missed a turn somewhere up that slope and found ourselves faced with a fence at the top. A quick hop over and a couple of minutes along the road and we were back on track ... and being snarled at by a rather aggressive dog, which was soon retrieved by its owner.

Waymarks were a bit lacking on the next section too, and it wasn't until we reached the bottom of this walled green lane that we found a marker confirming we had been right to go down it in the first place:

Thinking about it, missing or unobvious waymarks became a bit of a theme, as we missed a turn at the ruined farm/hamlet (see photo 2 above) too. That may have been a good thing, as we could see that the track beyond was being maintained by some heavy machinery, so probably best to keep out of their way. We got ourselves back on track at the next opportunity, and took a little detour to see if a nearby ruin was indeed an ex-windmill:
Yes, was the conclusion we reached.
View down to the village of Pereiro from the ruined windmill

We were soon down in the village having coffee outside of the one and only cafe there, in the company of the cafe's very handsome dog (pointer/dalmation cross was our uneducated guess; should have taken a photo).

Around 6.4 miles were walked with somewhere between 150-200m ascent.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Thursday 7 February - by Alcoutim

We arrived in Alcoutim yesterday, me on foot from our previous nightstop, Mick in Bertie. After a couple of hilly runs this one looked easier, being downhill overall, but it had enough undulations that I was happy to take a micro-breather for a quick photo when I got my first view of the village of Sanlucar, with its prominent castle, just across the water from Alcoutim:
The water in question, the River Guardiana, forms the border between Spain and Portugal; Alcoutim is in Portugal, Sanlucar in Spain.

Today I rested my running legs by going for a walk. The signed Petite Randonée route in Alcoutim didn't look particularly interesting, so instead I chose a route I'd downloaded from, which turned out to use sections of the PR2, the GR15 and the GR13, as well as some forest tracks that aren't on any marked trails.

Here are a few snaps:
Looking downriver on our outward leg. Alcoutim is on the right bank, Sanlucar on the left.
Trying and failing to capture the extent of the green lumpiness of the landscape and how it contains a whole lot of nothing.
Apparently we were following in the footsteps of smugglers during at least part of our outing.
This info sign, located in the town, gives a bit of history relating to that smuggling.
After the wide tracks and dirt roads of the GR15 then the GR13 we took to lesser used tracks, some more overgrown and eroded than others. This one was very slightly narrowed by overgrowth, but had a good surface.
In the foreground are the scant remains of Alcoutim's old castle. Beyond is Sanlucar's castle. It's a pity there's not a position from which one can capture both of these and Alcoutim's 'new' (14th century?) castle.

The outing came in at 6.3 miles with 850' of ascent - short enough to be back in time for lunch, but long enough to justify our break half way for elevenses.

(Conrad: a bit of an aside, but I think you would have been as entertained as we have been by the German caravanner that arrived this afternoon and who has spent a good two hours trying to find the absolute ideal position for his caravan, finally setting everything up completely in one spot only then to decide that six feet to his left looked better and to restart the whole exercise over again. The drama when something went awry with the positioning of a wheel chock was something to behold!)

Monday, 4 February 2019

Sunday/Monday 3/4 February - PR4 by Odeleite

In my last post I mentioned the PR4* which runs close to where we are currently parked, a few kilometres away from the village of Odeleite. I've now almost covered the ground of that route twice and, between those two outings have covered its entirety once.

Yesterday, before the sun had started to pour warmth into the day, I donned running gear and set off along it at a trot. This is not a flat area and we are parked on top of a hill. I was thus a bit alarmed to see quite how much height I dropped in the first 3 kilometres, and by the time I started hitting the riverside undulations on the path I'd hoped would be flat, I was wondering if I'd bitten off more than I could chew. The route was a few miles shorter than I'd intended to run yesterday, but I'm not accustomed to tackling hills at more than a walk. However, I surprised myself and only had to walk a couple of minutes of the biggest and longest incline.

The one bit of the route I didn't see yesterday was the tour it takes of the village of Odeleite, which I omitted purely because I thought the chance of dog encounters would be lower if I skirted the village (there are dogs *everywhere*; most are tethered or behind fences, but two got their paws (but fortunately not teeth) onto me as I ran).

Mick, still struggling with his long-term calf injury, wasn't able to join me, although he did run a shorter circuit later in the day. It would have been a shame for him to miss out on what is a very pleasant route, so today we approached it at a brisk walk, omitting a short distance at the beginning (because we'd already covered it during a previous stroll) and adding on the bit through Odeleite that I'd missed yesterday. We encountered no loose dogs, but also encountered no good reason to climb right up to the top of the village to then descend all the way back down the other side.

Here are a few snaps taken across the two outings, which came in at 10km with around 250m ascent:

(*Petite Randonée - a French walking route classification which has been adopted by Spain, Portugal and quite probably other European countries.)

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Occasional Iberian Relics (1)

I can't really claim that this afternoon's walk was A Walk. We just went out for a little look around our new surroundings and found ourselves walking three miles or so on a loop using the GR15 and the local PR4.

We will likely see more of the local tracks over the next few days, but for now I'll just leave you with a couple of snaps.

The downside (quite literally!) of being parked on top of a hill is that any walk involves quite a bit of downhill, followed by equal amounts of up. This was a section of the down. We turned back towards our start point just before we got to the village.

They're hiding behind one another, but there were two 2CVs and two Renault 4s in various states of decay in this small holding. Seemingly the owner was a fan of French cars in the 1970/80s!

Monday, 28 January 2019

Monay 28 January - The Salt Pans of Castro Marim/Vila Real de Santo Antonio, Portugal

Before putting fingers to keyboard for this post, I took a quick look to see when I last posted on this blog. It appears that post-worthy walks are so few and far between that I may as well abandon this blog - but I won't, because: a) it's still a useful resource to aid my own memory; and b) we are scheduled to do some blog worthy activities later in the year.

Of course, as an aid to my memory, it would be more effective if I did actually blog the blog-worthy walks. It's just occurred to me that the walk we took with Martin & Sue on 5 January is missing from the record. I am not quite sure how I failed to write a post about it - I certainly intended to. You can find Martin's account of the day here.

Skipping forward from my last blog post to today (via a trip to France that got suddenly and unexpectedly curtailed in November, Christmas at home and, starting a couple of weeks ago, a long drive from home to the south of Portugal, via Belgium), a toss of the coin this morning between 'move on to pastures new' or 'go for a walk around the local salt pans' came down on the side of 'stay and walk'. So we did. Only 10.6km, almost dead flat, but in temperatures suitable for shorts even if fleeces were required for most of the outing.

Very pleasant it was too, if we ignore the sections on road at the beginning and end, the latter of which was the most offensive. The salt flats would have been even more worthwhile if we were of a bird watching bent. As I didn't inherit my father's interest in birds, I only managed to identify the flamingos and the egrets.

A couple of snaps:

Can you spot the big JCB-style of digger sitting inside the mountain of salt on the right?

Looking over the heads of the flamingos towards the two hill-top (/pimple-top) forts at Castro Marim, which is where we are currently staying. We took a look around the forts yesterday, although the newer of the two is only partially accessible to the public.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Botley Hill (270m, TQ387551) and Detling Hill (200m, TQ804586)

Looking at my blog, it looks like I haven't been for a walk since the beginning of August. There has, of course, been some walking, but nothing of a nature worth writing about. Mainly I have been running, including, at the end of September, a trot that earned me a bit of bling (and much proudness for achieving a half-marathon time of which I didn't think myself yet capable):

I'm a bit limited for running routes at home, such that if I want to cover more than 3 miles, then the canal tow path is the obvious place to go. Heading north it is rough, grassy, muddy and rooty; to the south some of it has a reasonable surface. However, I've grown increasingly bored of that canal over the last couple of months (and have got too up close and personal with it on a couple of occasions, arriving home with bloody elbows and knees). So, it's nice to have a change of scene. Yestereday I took myself off along a nice Voie Verte (disused railway line, now a traffic free leisure route) near the town of Neufchâtel-en-Bray in Normandy.

There aren't any buildings like this on my local running routes.

Anyway, that's not what this post is meant to be about, which is the fact that on our travels this week I managed to tick off another two Marilyns. 'Tick off' is about the size of it too; neither of these was a hill that has any merit for a special visit other than its presence on a particular list.

The first was Botling Hill, and many a Marilyn-bagger has driven right up to the top. That wasn't a feasible option in Bertie and after a grand tour of the local roads from the comfort of my armchair, via StreetView, we opted to park in Oxted and walk the 1.6 miles each way.

If ignoring the noise of the motorway, it was a pleasant enough walk through farmland and woods, with some good views at one point. As for the summit, it was somewhat lacking in merit:

I do take Mick to some attractive summits!

Mick didn't join me as I trespassed into the adjacent field just incase the ground on the other side of the compound was higher:

Detling Hill, by Maidstone, is another of those 'if I'd known then what I know now' hills, in that we passed within 300m of its summit when we walked Kent to Cape Wrath in 2010. On that basis, I didn't feel too bad about not making this visit into a proper walk, but instead settling for a bagging-raid.

As Maidstone Borough Council has decided that vehicles over 2m high aren't to be trusted in the White Horse Woods car park (even though there are also gates that are closed at night, and substantial banks all around the car park to prevent travellers from accessing the grassed areas), we had to park in the large layby adjacent to the A249 - a road not dissimilar to a busy motorway. There Mick waited whilst I discovered that the nearest public footpath that leads to the summit (only about 100m distant) has obviously been unpassable for quite some years, resulting in a possible bit of trespass and an adventure through brambles and woods. I was glad that no dog walker (or indeed anyone) was passing as I crawled out (quite literally) from under this hawthorn bush:

Having visited the piece of ground that has been adjudged to be marginally higher than that surrounding it...

An even less inspiring summit than Botling Hill
...I opted for a longer return route, via the barred-to-Bertie car park and the verge of the A249.

So, two hills not worthy of this many words, but having put them off for so long on the basis of 'we pass multiple times per year, I can do them any time', I'm glad to have visited them.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Wednesday 8 August - Wasserfallsteig

During a visit to the town of Bad Urach yesterday, we popped into the Tourist Office and picked up some information, including a booklet of local walking routes (in English!).

A panoramic (i.e. bent out of shape) shot of part of the market square in Bad Urach - an attractive little town of half-timbered houses.

We had moved on from Bad Urach by the time I perused the walking options, but they sold them so well that we resolved to return today to sample one of them. The Wasserfallsteig trail looked the joint most interesting, but it won on the basis of having been awarded first place in one of the categories of Wander Magazine's 'Germany's Best Walking Routes 2016'. I have no idea what the quality of that magazine is, but it seemed like a reasonable recommendation.

It must be a popular choice too, as the car park where we left Bertie (€3 per day - the leaflet didn't mention that!) was huge. It was also completely deserted at 10am, although a smaller car park slightly nearer the falls was filling up.

I had to nip back and change my footwear at this point ;-)

To give the first set of falls the benefit of the doubt, this dry summer may not have been the best time to view them. That said, it did rain yesterday afternoon and again before we set off this morning, so maybe they are never impressive. They were more 'dripping moss' than 'impressive fall':

I'm sure a lot of people only walk as far as the falls, and if I'd paid €3 for that, I would have felt a little cheated. Happily, we still had other features to see and they made up for the disappointing falls.

Limestone cliffs, across the top of which we were later to walk

Beyond the falls, the path lost its surface and became a narrow dirt line, clinging to the side of the steep hillside, as it cut through the trees. It seemed for a while as if trees were going to obscure all views, but we did find a couple of viewpoints along this section, including one that required a small out-and-back detour:

Mick caught me edging my way cautiously to peer over the edge

Whereas Mick just had a sit down, with his legs swinging over the abyss

We only had a bit more ascending to do from there, before we found outselves at the top of those impressive limestone cliffs. Viewpoints abounded along that section of path...

...all of them bearing some type of bench:

I've mentioned before the number of benches we have found on all of our walks in Germany, and this paragraph in the walks booklet clarifies that they (along with picnic areas and Grillplatz) are officially essential ingredients for a good walk:

A zig-zagging descent through another patch of forest took us to the second waterfall of the outing. This one was even more 'drippy moss' in its nature than the first - so much so that I couldn't even get a photograph that shows anything that looks remotely like a waterfall.

The leaflet didn't make it look like there was anything to see bar one more viewpoint on the rest of the route, so we chose to take a short cut, to take us past something marked as a point of interest on the map:

A grand farm of half-timbered buildings

We weren't entirely sure whether we trespassed a few paces to get onto their driveway, which we followed along its avenue of apple trees, back to our start point.

Our version of the route came in at 8km with 300m of ascent, and it certainly was attractive and worthwhile, even if it was not, even in our limited experience, the best Germany has to offer.

Monday 8 June - a Swabian Stroll

On Sunday afternoon we found ourselves in a car park in a green valley flanked by forested slopes broken up by limestone cliffs and outcrops - not unlike we experienced around Beuron on the Danube a few weeks ago, but on a smaller scale. We have now left the Danube, after a few weeks spent often within a stone's throw of its waters, and are currently journeying northwards, through the Swabian Alps.

My only expectations of Sunday's car park were that it would be quiet and in pleasant surroundings. It surpassed those expectations (although we did have to wait for the 'quiet' attribute, having arrived at a time of day when it was absolutely rammed with picnickers and families enjoying the river, with cars squeezed into every available spot on all of the local roads and tracks).

A map board in the car park set out two walks in the area, one being 6.8km long, the other 239km, and it wasn't a difficult decision to stick around on Monday and walk the former, complete with its advertised 11 points of interest.

The route took us easily along the flat bottom of the valley, where a small river meanders its way...

...before a turn had us puffing our way steeply up to the structure we had spotted high up above us.

The signposts had this down as a ruin, but when we got there we found a sturdy, reconstructed tower, complete with an external spiral staircase giving access to the top:

The views weren't too shoddy...

...but with a lack of shade on the top, we didn't pause at the bench there for elevenses, deciding instead to wait until a Grillplatz we knew we would pass once we got back down to the river.

It took us much longer than anticipated to get there, because a signpost to another ruin, further up the valley, had us impulsively take a detour. Alas, this ruin was less impressive. In fact, we wouldn't have noticed that we were standing inside of it, if it hadn't been for the small 'this is your location' sign on a finger post.

Route finding to get from there back down to the river proved a little tricky, but after a bit of back-and-forthing we found the way, and popped out on the valley floor right in the middle of a summer camp group of early-teens. We soon left them behind as they waited for the laggards at the bridge that took us onto the other side of the valley.

A late elevenses was finally had in a substantial shelter at the Grillplatz, thus affording us some shade. Then, shunning the perfectly good riverside track, up into the forest we went.

Looking back up to the tower from by the Grillplatz. An information sign here showed how the tower was just one part of a large set of defensive buildings on this valleyside.

Mick did question whether there was any purpose to the indirect forest-bound route. I didn't know, having understood as much of the information sign as he had, but I figured there must be something of interest up there, to have made the trail planners take the route that way. I was wrong. There was nothing of interest about that detour, although it was nice to pop out into a meadow at one point, and find it full of sunflowers:

We have been seeing fields of wild-flowers all trip, but most of the varieties are now dying off, just as the sunflowers have come into bloom.

A lack of concentration had us walk a few minutes in the wrong direction at this point, winessed by a chap in a BMW that didn't look like it was designed to be driving up a rudimentary grassy track like this one (the grass in the middle was feet high). Perhaps he had taken a wrong turn and couldn't find anywhere to turn around?

Putting ourselves right was easy, and down we went, to rejoin the riverside track that, in hindsight, we shouldn't have left in the first place (I ran that track on Tuesday morning and can confirm that it was far more interesting than the forest route).

Back at our start point, we had walked 9km with 220m of ascent and had noted just one point of interest, rather than the eleven advertised. Examining the information board again, I came to the conclusion that most of the claimed points of interest were, to my mind, just nice surroundings (the meandering river, the riverside meadows, cliffs, etc). Still, it was all lovely and a good way to spend our morning.