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, 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…

Friday, 30 September 2016

WCP: Ferryside to Pembrey

Friday 30 September

Distance: 14.1 miles

Weather: Sunshine and showers

I didn’t follow the WCP route out of Ferryside this morning, as it headed inland up over some lumpy bits, as I guessed it would probably involve yet more soggy farmland and another tedious game of ‘spot the gate’, so instead I took the coast road which, as its name suggests, runs along the coast. Five vehicles passed me during the four and a half miles to Kidwelly.

After a pause there for an enormous Belgian Bun and coffee, I had intended to continue on the WCP, as now it took a line nearer to the sea than the road, but I must have been away in la-la land, as I missed the turn, and by the time I realised it didn’t make sense to go back. I did, however, feel like I was cheating by taking the road-based shortcut, so when I got to the point where the WCP rejoined the road, I followed it in the wrong direction, then turned around and walked back again.

One of a number of rainbows were seen as I first glimpsed the sea on this out-and-back detour:

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Back on the road, I was soon on my way into Pembrey Forest and after what seemed like an awful lot of wiggling around I finally reached an exciting point: as I dropped onto the beach I made the final turn of the trip. This beach was going to lead me all the way to where I finished my walk from Chepstow to Pembrey in March 2015…

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What a fantastic place to finish a Welsh Coastal walk!

…or so I thought. It was only when I turned inland to find Mick that I started to worry that nothing looked familiar, and after a further exploration of the map I realised that I had been mistaken about the route I had taken previously. It was soon solved with a quick out and back walk, which took me to this point, where I’d definitely been before:

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And that was that. Over the course of a number of trips, I have now walked the whole of the way around the Welsh Coast, including Anglesey, and even though a couple of the last few days have been less than fun, they have been very much the exception. Now, which bit of coast shall I make into my next project?

WCP: St Clears to Ferryside

Thursday 29 September

Distance: 25.8 miles

Weather: Sunny intervals

Yesterday afternoon I walked up the River Taf to the nearest crossing point at St Clears. Today I crossed the Taf, strode/splashed/waded all the way down to the coast at Wharley Point, before heading inland again to cross the River Tywi at Carmarthen, so the reality was that only a few minutes of the day were really on the coast.

The WCP does, however, try to keep as close to water as possible, except where the route nearest to water is a pavementless A or B road, whereupon the path tends to take a more indirect route through fields. It is perhaps for those reasons that this section seemed to be little walked – and even I gave up with the official route after a while.

The first bit that irked me, after I’d already slogged through fields of cows and long wet grass, playing ‘spot the gate’ was this:

image

I was annoyed with myself as much as the route planners. Why does the route do that big V instead of just following the right of way which goes across the top edge of the inverted triangle? And why had I not followed the line I’d plotted on the map, which did take that top edge?

The next bit which was ‘interesting’ was also my own fault to an extent, in that the route shown on my 2014 1:50k map had changed to a longer road-based walk by the time my 2016 1:25k map was published. However, when I got to the turn for the 2014 route there was a WCP waymarker and a gate so I followed it and soon found out why the route had been changed. That field was a serious muddy bog, with one water obstacle into which my walking pole disappeared right up to the handle. I did, however, find a way across that obstacle without going in much above my ankles, and I was sure that once I cleared that field the going would get better and drier.

It didn’t. I sent a text to Mick comparing it to walking in the Everglades, but with more cowpats and fewer aligators.

Back on the current WCP route, things didn’t get much better and it was here that I noted the first indications (after having to climb a few 5-bar-type farm gates which I couldn’t easily open) that few people come this way, like this WCP gateway:

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I did get a bit of a watery view on this section…

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…but it didn’t seem worth the trouble, so I vowed to stay on roads for the rest of the day.

My resolve remained for a while, although in part because I strode straight past the next turn without even seeing it, and I had intended to cut across Wharley Point as well, but when I got there I found that it was National Trust land and the path looked nice, so I took it. A good choice, as for the only time of the day, I found myself on a nice bit of coast path, with the sea to my right.

Rounding the headland, Llansteffan was ahead of me and the tide was low enough to walk the beach. There was no doubt in my mind that it was a viable route on this occasion, because Mick had walked out to meet me.

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First glimpse of the sand at Llansteffan

I arrived at Colin for elevenses looking like I’d been mud-wrestling:

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That’s my left leg. They were both equally spattered, both front and back. My socks were so caked in mud and silt that I set out in my still-sopping shoes (which were last dry as I set out on Monday morning) but with fresh socks on.

It being a bit early for lunch when I reached Llansteffan, Mick drove on the 4 miles to Llangain to meet me again, and I risked my life by ignoring the WCP route and taking to the B road, which I considered justifiable not only from the point of view of avoiding more mudfest fields and tricky route finding, but also because it runs closer to the coast.

More B road ensued after lunch, until the WCP left the road to take to a cycle route into Carmarthen. Carmarthen had been my originally intended end-point for the day, but I had decided to continue on the basis that today’s weather wasn’t bad at all, whereas tomorrow is forecast showery, so it seemed sensible to push on, thus arrangements had been made for Mick to meet me at a given grid reference later in the day. He was therefore surprised to find me walking towards him up an aisle in Aldi in Carmarthen. It turned out that the path went across the end of their car park, so when I saw Colin parked there I thought I’d stop for an unscheduled break.

I took the opportunity to set out not just in my third pair of fresh socks of the day (very fresh – I’d just bought them in Aldi!) but also in dry shoes, on the basis that so little of the rest of the day was off-road that I would hopefully be able to keep my shoes dry.

I did manage to keep my feet dry, but only with much faffing around certain areas of the path, where cattle had created huge mud-baths right in front of gateways, and where fields were just plain waterlogged. With all of the rain that has fallen this week, it’s not a good time to be crossing fields!

Approaching the point where Mick was to meet me I decided that rather than being ferried night and morning, I may as well continue on to our night-stop, which was only 4.5 miles further. Thus, I finished the day at Ferryside, which sits about 1km across the water from Llansteffan, where I had stopped for elevenses. I’m guessing by the presence of a Ferry Farm on the east side of the river and a village called Ferryside on the west side, that there was a time when it was possible to cross the river here, and to save a long journey around. Oh, to have had a canoe at my disposal today…

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Sunset out of Colin’s side window, looking over to Llansteffan. The nobbles on the second hump from the left are the remains of Llansteffan Castle.

(eeeh, that was a bit of an epic post, although I suppose it was quite a long day. Congratulations to anyone who made it all the way through to the end.)