Wednesday, 26 December 2012

South for Sun

After an excellent meal in Brecon with good friends from the badminton club I made an early start on a wet Thursday morning to cross a saturated Wales and England reaching Portsmouth in time to enjoy the impressive attractions of  the historic dockyards : HMS Warrior was (to me anyway) even more interesting than Nelson's Victory but both are a tribute to our nation's seafaring heritage and the skills of modern day restorers. The Mary Rose will be open again next year in a new state of the art display building. I resisted the attraction of the arcades at Southsea and joined the short queue for my LD Lines overnight crossing to Le Havre. After an uneventful voyage I instructed the sat knave to take  me to the Loire via non motorway routes, stopping en route to pick up provisions for lunch in the sun in a sleepy village - the familiarity of France fitting  like a pair of old slippers.
The quiet site just outside Tours provided intermittent wifi, hot showers and a chance to rough out the next few days. The rain blanketing the UK was in evidence so as planned I headed south again with a rural site outside Bordeaux the goal. A supermarket sweep to top up my cupboards to see me over the festive break, a tankful of fuel at around £1.10 a litre and a fast stretch on the empty A10 had me at the site gates by dusk - ferme despite the listing in my book. However the huge benefit of the new roof is that discreet wild pitching is so much easier so I was soon tucked away in a quiet car park in a nearby village - Guitres.
A few hours in warm sunshine brought me to Ixtsassou in the French Basque country - the foothills of the Pyrenees whose loftier snow capped summits had been shimmering enticingly in the distance for a while.
The large well kept site was empty bar two other vans which suited me very well and I was soon set up for a doze in the sun - the village pharmacy's thermometer indicated 68 degrees when I walked in later.
In need of some exercise I spent the next day cycling up to a nearby ridge which offered wonderful views on another warm but very windy day - it can obviously blow like mad up here as a radio mast had been bent right over but the local pottok horses seemed oblivious. Sixteen vultures were arguing over a carcass but were still sufficiently wary of me and took off en masse in a remarkable display. The 2.5 hour ride up was retraced in half an hour with brakes heating up as I passed remote farms with lambs in the field.
Christmas Day saw a flurry of texts exchanged with friends and family before I drove through the Nive Valley (amazed to see the boulangeries open) to park in sleepy Urdos and start a 5 hour walk to the Pic D'Iparla on one of the many crests that form part of the GR10 Trans Pyrennean route. Passing sheep being gathered for milking and up through chestnut woodlands I soon reached the Col and turned north for the lofty summit with more pottoks and vultures for company but no bipeds. Lunch at the top with its panoramic views was welcome before I picked up a lesser path - described as difficult but in reality no worse than the average British mountain route - which dropped steeply off the ridge and took me right under the outcrop where the vultures nest. The longest worm I have ever seen was emerging from its burrow in the warm weather as I dropped slowly back to Urdos and had a chat with a local family.
A short drive to Arneguy on the French/Spanish border set me up to climb high above the valley towards Urkulu where I found a lofty vantage point to spend the night. Today I continued upwards ignoring the 'road closed' sign as hunters had also gone through in their vans and was soon crossing large patches of snow.
The sat knave wanted me to take a track down to Roncesvalles which would have been great on a mountain bike - never fully trust these modern devices - and with heavier snow lying ahead I decided to return to Arneguy. The taste of the these empty summits has convinced me to return for a fuller exploration next Autumn so I resumed my intention and headed over the Puerto de Ibaneta to Roncesvalles in Navarra. Whilst still part of the Basque region the Spanish influence was in evidence with different brands, signage and  other subtle nuances. Turning east for a couple of hours took me through sublime limestone valleys with lunch atop a pass at 1150m. The Roncal valley south had towering cliffs either side before emerging at a large new lake above which a few miles further on stood intriguingly abandoned Esco whose quiet eerie streets hid so many tales and secrets.
The nearby monastery at Leyre and the Castillo de Javier were both impressive and a new autovia soon had me in Pamplona where a small site provided the night's accommodation  - with wifi and hook up. The latter seemed to be malfunctioning as I failed to get a supply but after various tests it seems it is my cable that is at fault - fortunately by moving I could use my shorter back up and will source 20m of Spain's finest copper three core in town tomorrow A quick Skype to family was welcome  and this blog up date completed. Pictures here as ever and Spotty spot here
Happy New Year to one and all - my intention is to head to Bilbao for some culture and then west to Gallicia, before turning south through Portugal to reach Gibraltar by the last few days of January.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Final Preparations

The second week in Cumbria continued in much the same vein with largely clear skies, sub zero temperatures leading to tricky walking conditions and the fells looking sublime with their dusting of snow. My parents joined me for a fun filled few days and I managed to finish scanning in around 20 albums of photographs covering the period of my life between 1976 and 2001. That stirred memories of my happy days training in Hampshire, the move to Bristol, many years of caving around the UK and the many triumphs and challenges of life on the farm. The transition to digital storage since 2001 is a reminder of how much technology has changed - certainly life in the van is far more sophisticated than those epics in the 80's when I had an air cooled Type 2 that was never happier than when on on AA Relay truck returning down the M6 from Scotland and communication relied on shoving substantial coinage in to a phone box.
Returning south via York to see family and Sheffield for an excellent curry with Penny I then diverted to the showrooms of Timberland Motorhomes where their range of sleek and sophisticated campers was rather enticing. However after a thorough look round nothing really floated my boat and I am now considering two options - keep this amazing old girl and maybe buy a van in Oz to leave there and use for the 6 months or so of our winter, or source a good base vehicle and commission someone to assist me in conversion to my own spec. based on the knowledge and experience gained over the last 7 years of being on the road.
A brief break in Coventry enabled me to arrange travel insurance that will provide cover in the unlikely event of another coronary meltdown, purchase the last few items prior to leaving for Europe and extract enough medication from the surgery to see me through to April.
In Brecon I sorted out finances for the trip, plus arrangements for requesting breakdown cover, enjoyed the usual energetic badminton session and survived a particularly cold night in the town centre car park alongside a French couple. 
I hope to post on Thursday night whilst waiting for the 23.30 sailing but beyond that communication will become patchier as I will be restricting phone and internet usage thanks to the usual unacceptably high cost of European usage. 
The plan is to head south to Bordeaux fairly smartly and then track the coast of Spain and Portugal with a final leg to Gibraltar for the 1st of Feb. when my Green Card van insurance for Morocco starts. If Morocco suits me I will stay on another few weeks and return either late March or the week after Easter.
Either way I have a fairly tight schedule as it is such a large country and I will need to keep up a steady rate of progress.
Some piccies here cover the last week of Cumbria and click here to see where I am lurking!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Lakeland at its Best

After the dubious pleasures but substantial achievements of the bothy dig I travelled via watery Warwickshire to the Lake District to be joined for the first weekend by a trusty trio of walking buddies. A circuit of Bow Fell and Crinkle Crags returning to Cockley Beck via Ulpha Fell gave us a mix of weather and conditions with a final river to cross well after dark.
A damp Monday proved the ideal day to explore the slate quarries and mines of Tilberthwaite with impressive Cathedral Cave providing a dry lunch spot. Penny joined us on the Tuesday for a stiff climb in wintry conditions behind Harrison Stickle before the men departed south.
A change to cold, dry, icy conditions saw the fells looking at their best as we walked locally and then mid week took off to Ullswater to catch the ferry from Glenridding and walk back along the shore line on a perfectly calm day. A meal at Zefferelli's after seeing Silver Linings finished off an excellent day.
Friday was spent walking at Wray Castle, Tarn Hows and near Hawkshead before crossing to Bowness after visiting Hill Top - all related to the life and times of a certain B. Potter.
A walk round to the Drunken Duck on Saturday took in a former family property although the icy conditions made for slow and delicate progress on the paths and lanes.
Today we caught the bus in to Ambleside and walked back via the slate caves of Loughrigg on a final day of sunshine as out west we could see the cloud bank moving in ahead of tomorrow's forecast rain.
My future plans focus now on spending the month of February down in Morocco - it is about the size of France so should offer plenty of interest and challenges. This may prove to be a precursor to a longer trip there in the Autumn.
I depart in just over a fortnight so have a little while to prep. the van and say tara to friends and family .
Pictures of the last ten days can be found by clicking here and the eye in the sky locates me here.

A current favourite piece of music from Ozzie singer John Williamson.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Up North and Out West

The journey to Sheffield passed smoothly enough and the tram delivered me to Penny's on a damp grey evening where we dined with her brother - a senior bod in renewable energy. 
A thoroughly enjoyable weekend ensued with a good cycle ride round the surprisingly rural 'Wakefield Wheel' on Saturday and a very sociable ramble in the Worksop area on Sunday. The security system at a scrap metal dealer's rural property was perhaps a little OTT.
A cold drizzly Monday convinced us to do a bit of shopping before seeing the tense 'Argo' at the pics. Less tense and rather more farcical was the 'Sheffield Ghost Tour' led appropriately by Mr P Dreadful - we escaped alive despite rapidly losing the will to live less than half way through the tedious monologue.
Passing through Coventry en route to Brecon we tackled some overhanging trees at my parents before I crossed to Bristol to have the other suspension bushes replaced and a repair done to the van cushions courtesy of the talented Sue. Bill was busy on the final stages of a kitchen renovation and we all enjoyed a good meal that evening with their lad who is completing an eco build in Dorset.
I then headed north for a very pleasant weekend near Llangurig staying on the simple but excellent site off the back road to Nant Rhys bothy - open all year with hook up available and very reasonable rates - the campsite not the bothy : contact Ms Sue Pope on 01686440232.
3G, phone and a TV signal makes this a very useful winter stopover and there are plenty of good walks in the area . 
We completed a circuit along the Wye Valley Walk, in to Nant Rhys bothy (which was in excellent order)and back along the lane on a dry day. A sharp overnight frost was enjoyed not endured courtesy of the heater and much improved van roof before we walked at Nant Y Arian as over 30 red kites circled above.
Sunday night was spent at the top of the Elan Valley Estate from where two stalwarts had already walked in and pitched tents at the new bothy project : Lluest Cwm Bach. Monday morning saw Alec and his team of estate workers join us and by 9am we were hard at work. Scaffolding planks, shovels and wheelbarrows had already been taken in to this remote spot about a mile from the tarmac through bog with the final approach along a better track. 
Thought to be last occupied in the 1950's we had first inspected the ruin in December last year - for me that was a minor milestone as I had just one week previously been in cardiac intensive care and had only been permitted to drive the day before. On that snowy day the project looked daunting although a photo later this year looked more promising - see link to photos.
An impressive amount of graft by equal numbers of EVT and MBA volunteers in muddy wet conditions soon revealed a quarry tile floor, a bread oven and a few artefacts such as old auger bits, a tea pot lid and a few bottles.
Lunch was enjoyed on a mound of sheep dung more than a metre deep in the tin lean-to that offered some shelter for the weary workers.
The afternoon saw the removal of an elder tree lodged in the wall, yet more rubble and the sludge filling what seems to have been a rudimentary water supply for the dwelling.
A start was made on the muck pile and the debris used to level out the old yard and create a drop site for the delivery by helicopter of an estimated 30 tons of material next year when the project begins in earnest.
A few hardy souls camped alongside as the rest of us walked back out to campervans and cottages on a mild but windy November evening.
Fresh faces joined us for Tuesday so that by lunchtime we had completed all the site clearance, prevented livestock from entering and undoing all our good walk and departed leaving the winter rains to wash down the tiled floor, perimeter paths and soften the landscaping.
It was a remarkable and heartening team effort ; many thanks to Alec and his team, Tony and Frank from the MBA with their team and the weather gods for letting us off lightly.
I now head indirectly to Langdale for two weeks indulgence before departing for Spain, Portugal, Spain again and Morocco with a return now planned for Easter as my GP wants to keep a close eye on me (best not mention all the digging then). I then plan to return to Scotland for a couple of MBA work parties and then aim to complete a summer circuit of Scandinavia before returning for the 2013 Beast at Brecon. 
Whilst it is very early to be looking at this event if you would like to be involved with preparation and marshalling please underline Sunday September the 8th 2013 and the few days before and after if you can!
Photos of the Big Dig appear here and as ever my whereabouts lie here.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Bristol's Boats, Brighton Rocks and the Beacons Beckon

After dropping the van off for a new clutch I headed in to Bristol for the day to visit the SS Great Britain. This turned out to be fascinating and impressive - well worth the slightly steep admission fee. Whilst exploring the  reconstructed interior a couple of calls came through from the garage who had found a couple of issues with the gear box. However they were able to fit new input shaft bearings and syncromesh rings and skim the fly wheel and assured me that all would be well by late afternoon.
After completing my tour of Brunel's iconic vessel I took the Bristol Packet that runs through the docks for an interesting perspective on the flourishing waterside developments. By mid afternoon I was back to collect the old bus and settle a bill rather larger than initially anticipated but at least the work done should avoid any problems whilst over in Europe - other than the replacement roof this is the first serious money spent on the old girl in 7 years and 140,000 miles so with 257k miles on the clock I am more than content.
A weekend in Frome produced a very sociable pub session in Bath on the Friday night and two good walks in the surrounding countryside despite some heavy snow first thing Sunday and rather saturated farmland.
On Sunday I headed over to Farnham to see a long standing friend and his family as I felt it unlikely that I would be that far east again before heading south. His elder lad had an early flight one morning so we dropped him at Gatwick and headed down to Brighton on a crystal clear day. Simply seeing the Channel stirred my travel desires - December the 20th will see me crossing from Portsmouth to France on the next adventure. The temporary Eye observation wheel provided good photo opportunities before we enjoyed breakfast in a sun drenched cafe on the front.
Later I returned to Brecon with the van seemingly back on good form and settled down in the town car park as the fun fair filled the streets with neon and sound. A good walk on the Beacons today included meeting a few others on the summit of Pen y Fan from all corners of the globe : London, Bath, Vancouver and Nepal! Well done all of you for pushing on despite the summit mist. A few National Trust volunteers were maintaining the path over Cribbyn whilst far below in Cwm Sere a hunt was quartering the woodland and mountain flanks.
A short break oop north begins tomorrow after a brief GP check up so meanwhile enjoy the piccies here  and keep tabs on my location here

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Autumn's Onset

Following the energetic weekend of mountain biking I took it easy for a few days with a potter round Hay on Wye's book shops, the restored flour mill at Talgarth and Bronllys Castle. A misty and tranquil walk round Llangorse Lake included a climb up Allt yr Esgair for surprisingly good views of the surrounding Beacons and after badminton in Brecon on Wednesday I drove up to Coventry for a sign on interview with the practice nurse. 
In an effort to rejuvenate the van I changed the fuel filter plus oil and oil filter which seems to have done the trick. A disintegrating  fan belt was spotted and later replaced whilst down at Bristol. During this work I spotted a badly worn suspension bush and arranged for it to be replaced on the Tuesday thus imposing on the hospitality of friends for longer than planned. With my MOT only a month old this was an alarming oversight on the tester's part and highlights the shortcomings of these safety inspections.
Good weather and access to a few tools enabled me to give my bike a much needed clean and service, exchange the waste tank tap for one with a larger bore and continue to transfer my various settings to the new netbook. 
Saturday saw us walk along the bank of the Severn to the original crossing on a crisp and sunny day whilst the poor weather on Sunday saw me scanning a decade of farm photographs on to a memory stick and then disposing of the bulky and rather tatty old albums. I was pleased with the results and will deal with the remaining dozen or so other albums covering the 1980's over the next few weeks. Around 2000 slides also need attention but that will be an even more labour intensive task which may keep me occupied whilst down in Europe this winter.
I plan to leave in late December and head to Spain over the Christmas/New Year period and then slow right down once it warms up.
As part of the pre trip preparation the excellent PC Motors (01179424746) in Bristol will be asked to replace the same bushes but on the offside and do a cam belt - much easier to have this done early here in the UK than over on the continent. The last change was done in Auckland!
A new clutch is being fitted this week after which I travel to Sheffield by train for a long weekend, return south for the bothy muck digging and then have two cosy weeks up in the Lakes.
It is good to be drawing all the various loose strings of the last year together and I am looking forward to setting off once more with a rough route but no timetable - just how I like it!
A few piccies here cover the last week and these here look at a few highlights of my smallholding experiences.
Errant locations via the Spot here.

Fond Oz memories epitomised below.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Beacons Biking

A picture perfect journey on a sunny autumn day through Wales' finest scenery had me in Talybont by lunchtime to meet Bill and Dale with time to walk in to Brecon along a combination of canal towpath and footpaths with just enough time to get the last bus back followed by a few pints in the Star.
Saturday saw the team assemble with the arrival of Nick and Dale and in perfect conditions we headed off up the Talybont Valley. The long climb brought us to Torpantau Tunnel after which we followed much of the 2012 Beast route across the moor and down the rocky tracks of Cwm Callan. At Pontsticill we split in to two and 3 of us headed over the Gap Road to enjoy the swooping descent towards Brecon culminating in a blast down the green lane in to Brecon itself where Dale picked up some much needed front pads at Biped Cycles. 
A less conventional crossing of the Gap can be seen by clicking the above link.
A steady spin back along the canal finished an excellent day's riding and justified a guilt free feast and more ale at the Star once more.
Early mist on Sunday morning soon burnt off as four of us drove round to park in the shadow of the Sugar Loaf and begin the long steady climb up the Grwynne Fawr reservoir - the crisp air, bright sunshine and stunning colours showed off the impressive dam at its finest . Lunch at the bothy saw us fit to continue to the ridge with wonderful views across Radnorshire before we headed south towards Waun Fach along a broad ridge that at times got boggy leading to a spectacular face plant by Bill. Almost never ending views across to the Carmarthen Fans were our reward as we kept up a decent pace to ward off the surprisingly fresh easterly wind.
The fast descent down an old pack horse route to Hermitage put smiles on all our faces and a weary return through the lanes had us back to the vans after two thoroughly rewarding days.
Given the tough terrain and long distances the bikes and bodies all held up well - thanks for turning out guys - must do it again!
This week I am seeking advice on a perceived power loss combined with increased fuel consumption that may require some professional intervention - these issues relating to the van not me - and next week I travel to Sheffield for a few days.
Photos of a memorable weekend here and locations here.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

A Windy Week in North Wales

After the successful bothy related activities I took advantage of clear conditions to complete a circuit of the Carneddau with a return via the small shelter on Foel Grach that I had failed to find 25 years ago on the first night of a memorable off - road, north to south cycling traverse of Wales. It was a stunning day with very strong gusts enhancing the exposure on the short scrambly ridge and clear views to the surrounding peaks. 
A look round Conway Castle and the town walls was followed by the coastal drive round to Caernarfon where I was to spend a week at a smallholding with three horse and two cats for company. The horses could  clearly detect fear but kindly didn't take advantage whilst the cats could spot a soft touch and took full advantage settling themselves on and around me during evenings in front of the wood burner.
Whilst the rain generally confined itself to the nights very strong winds blew for most of the week deterring me from heading for the tops. However a day in Llanberris visiting the impressive Electric Mountain  Pump Storage Power Station built almost entirely underground and the National Slate Museum was well worth it. The collection of skilfully crafted wooden patterns for the foundry was a highlight for me - especially as many of the finished cast products could be seen in use in the buildings and machinery. 
Crossing over to Anglesey on the Britannia Bridge gave me a good view of Telford's Menai Bridge whilst at Holyhead the walk from the breakwater quarries to South Stack included seal sightings, a view of the Wicklow Mountains near Dublin and the Isle of Man, and spectacular sea cliffs. 
Beaumaris Castle was impressively solid but high tides prevented me from following the coast road north so I headed instead to the dramatic scenery of Parys Mountain where huge deposits of copper provided boom times many years ago for nearby Amlwch. The gaping hole with its many hues and barren outcrops reminded me of the iron ore mining in Western Australia and the site provided an interesting couple of hours exploration.
Caernarfon Castle's impressive bulk finished off a varied and informative week and tomorrow I head south for a weekend of mountain biking near Brecon.
Photos here cover the highlights and stalkers can find me here.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Autumnal Activities

The last few weeks have provided a remarkable variety of activities based largely around Wales where the transitional Autumnal colours have been providing a changing back drop.
A visit to Coventry and across to Shropshire to see family and inspect an impressive new wood chip boiler system at my brother's cottage included the spreading of many tons of stone chippings to tidy up his drive. This was followed in South Wales by assisting in the spreading of 8 cubic metres of concrete at a friend's latest project.
A trip to the informative Deep Pit mine at Blaenavon followed by the adjacent blast furnace remains provided a fascinating glimpse in to Wales's historic industrial heritage.
Further evidence of this was apparent on my cycle along the canal towpath from Abergavenny to Newport - very well worth doing with a number of surprises along the way. Long term plans to reopen the waterway seem ambitious but it would be good to see the flights of disused locks functioning once more. 
After a social event in Brecon I returned to Coventry once more to register with a local GP and then took Crad to an outpatient appointment where progress seemed satisfactory. Later that week we headed over to West Wales on a trip for him down memory lane to the Cliff Hotel near Cardigan. I picked up my old slides and photos whilst there which provided me with an opportunity to look back more than a decade to early life on the farm, my caving days and even life as a student nurse in Hampshire over 30 years ago.
A good meal at the Penycae Inn in the Upper Swansea Valley with a friend from my smallholding days was a chance to visit this comfy pub which is much changed from the days when it was a rather more basic affair. I also picked up a new netbook as this machine is showing signs of age after several years of trouble free performance - said replacement will just sit tucked away until things crash permanently.
Our planned re roof of Nant Rhys bothy in mid Wales fell foul of new asbestos handling regulations but we all met there anyway for our Autumn Area Meeting where progress on other projects, new possibilities and current issues filled a constructive evening. The proposed new bothy in the Elan Valley seems likely to go ahead next year as planning permission has been granted - our initial involvement will centre around the shovelling out of many tons of sheep sh*t in mid November - can't wait.
We all then migrated north to Dolgellau to stay at Penrhos bothy and walk some of the local hills  - 3 of us recreated 'Last of the Summer Wine' scenarios on a couple of gentle but jovial jaunts.
To make use of booked leave and willing volunteers we again moved north to isolated Dulyn bothy in Snowdonia at the back of the Carneddau. An excellent meal in the local pub provided fuel for the hour's walk in which Chris and I neatly avoided by kipping up at the car park. At the bothy the stove required major work as much of the flue and exit pipe had corroded away. Given the remote location and distance from the roadhead we were fortunate that the hydro electric scheme workers were inspecting the adjacent reservoir and valve house and were willing to haul out said stove on their tracked load lugger and Land Rover. Phil and Mike then dashed down to civilisation to effect repairs, returning safely late on a frosty Tuesday night.
On Wednesday the power workers again provided much assistance with the stove, cement, ply and coal and after a busy day by all the bulk of the work was completed along with external pointing, internal painting and a new chimney cap and cowl.
Today heavy rain has sent me down to Llandudno for supplies and a catch up as next week I will be over near Caernarvon where house sitting and keeping an eye on three horse will leave me time to explore some of Snowdonia's tops or if the weather closes in the many attractions of Anglesey and perhaps the Lleyn Peninsular. 
Photos here capture some of the highlights of a busy 3 weeks since my last musings and Spotty Spot here will enable monitoring of my whereabouts.
Slides top right return to Japan as a marked contrast to my current location!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

One year on.

The successful completion of the Brecon Beast Event a fortnight ago marked the first anniversary of our return from the two amazing years in the southern hemisphere. Generous sponsorship from friends and family has raised £500 which will go towards new facilities for the Brecon Ambulance Station Crew rest room. The  professional approach and reassurances provided by the paramedics during my memorable transfer over those same mountains in December were so very much appreciated at the time and I am delighted to be able to thank them all in this way - thank you again to all those who kindly chipped in.
The last 12 months have seen as most of you know some profound changes but also produced some very happy memories. Proving to myself that good health has returned has involved gradual exposure to the levels of activity I enjoyed over previous decades and I feel as fit as ever - 5 hours in perfect conditions on the Wall and White's level trails at Afan Argoed yesterday was a part of that.

Last weekend's get together near Brecon to celebrate Jan's final summit as part of a birthday challenge was a happy and sociable occasion - not in my case marked by photos as I managed to lose a second camera during the walk. Thus I also lack pictures of a recent ride in to Moel Prysgau bothy which is looking in top condition and reflects the great efforts put in over the last couple of years by the Maintenance Organisers Chris and Frank ably assisted by the Welsh Area members and other volunteers. In a fortnight we begin a week long project to reroof Nant Rhys bothy - volunteers welcome and details available from myself or via the MBA website here. For a flavour of what to expect check out the video.

En route to Bristol I dropped in to Neville Hall hospital to visit Crad who the previous day had had an unfortunate incident whilst returning from a hack - his stirrup caught on a gate fixing causing a nasty fall that resulted in a fracture of his left collar bone and fibula plus severe ligament damage to an ankle already weakened by an incident 17 years ago. Recovery will be slow and possibly frustrating but even just 24 hours after the event he was in typically upbeat and determined mode - good on yer cobber!
The trusty van was submitted for an MOT in Bristol and required the same temporary fix to the front brake caliper as I had undertaken on the rear ones last June in the dusty outback of the Pilbarra in Western Australia. The use of Dale's drive for the fix and then Ian's barn for fitting new parts (and as a precaution new rear discs and pads) was very much appreciated. With 255k miles on the clock and at 13 years old apparently there is little else of concern so I hope to get many more years service out of the old girl yet - if only everything was as reliable as a Volkswagen as they used to say!!
A quick trip to Coventry enabled a catch up with my parents, attention to paperwork re finances, van insurance and the impending divorce resolution plus an unexpected and much welcomed meeting with Penny who was visiting family in Warwickshire.
Wednesday saw us all travel to Bishop's Castle to inspect the seemingly rather complex systems behind my brother's new wood chip boiler system - several tons of stone chippings were spread around his drive to smarten the place up and as ever my nephew and niece were charmingly sweet and entertaining.
An energetic session of badminton left me as ever more bushed than the Beast event and Brecon town car park provided the usual secure and peaceful accommodation.
Life on the road suits me very well as I have so much freedom and flexibility - I have enjoyed the last year back in the UK but the reports and tales on other travel blogs continue to inspire me and I will be pleased to set off again on the 20th of December once all outstanding matters are finally resolved. These revolve around  moving my GP care to Coventry followed by a review and reduction of medication (I hope to ditch the beta blockers, move to over the counter statins and aspirin leaving me only the ACE inhibitor on prescription - which will make long term travel easier), finalising the divorce and associated details and I hope entertaining a number of friends over the fortnight of 24th November to 8th December in Cumbria - let me know if you can join in for a day or two.
Today I am tucked away as wind and rain lash the land once more - it is a 12 tealight day and I am as snug as a bug with internet signal, TV reception and my weekly dose of iron in the shape this time of two lamb cutlets to look forward to.
I have put together a selection of photos here recording some of the highlights of a memorably unpredictable year and will by next time have mastered the new camera with its various features. Locations via SPOT will appear here and the the slideshow top right covers time in Southern Oz.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Brecon Beast 2012

Our busy few days of signing over 100km of route, establishing and supplying the two feed stations, marking out the camping and registration facilities and a host of other tasks were completed in glorious sunshine by last thing Saturday night. Access to the more remote sections by quad and trail bike required coordination of transport and drivers & some radical twilight riding to get everything done as the camping field steadily filled up with expectant entrants.
Dale arrived from Bristol & after joining in the pasta supper we checked over the bikes before trying to get an early night parked up in the compound.

Sunday dawned bright & sunny with the Beacons summits beckoning away to the the south & after a substantial porridge & nuts breakfast we joined the throng of over 700 riders in the starting lay by. A police escort saw us safely out of town at a steady warm up pace before 5 or 6 miles out the first off road section began. Locals out early seemed to enjoy this unusual sight as we began to thin out with last year's bottle neck largely ironed out & the rougher sections of Mynydd Llangorse persuading some riders to walk the dry but uneven track. I decided not to stop at the first drinks station near Bwlch & shot along the A40 to Talybont having already lost Dale who unfortunately had a frustrating problem with his gears slipping. 

A long climb alongside the reservoir provided great views and a fast descent before another tough ascent of a rocky track had many of us pushing again. The shorter route joined us again before we reached the second drinks station where I was grateful for an energy drink and a choccy bar before setting off apace on the loop round Pontsticill reservoir. For me knowing that the steady climb through the Beacons to the Gap was really the bulk of the effort done was a real boost and I dropped off towards Brecon at a fast pace - the 60psi tyre pressures avoided any punctures but made for a bone jarring descent passing a number of other more cautious riders.
The last off road section in to town included a race against Jason on the support quad before a final pull up to the leisure centre saw me home in just over 6 hours - I have no idea how the lead rider could complete in under 4 hours but was pleased with my ranking in the 40+ age group.

After a hot shower and hotter tea I felt surprisingly good and enjoyed watching a few more finishers with Dale who had managed to complete the shorter course despite the mechanical hindrances.

That evening and Monday saw us complete the dismantling before the weather changed with vehicles cleaned, signage stored away, hire equipment returned and everywhere tidied up.
Without wishing to embarass them I would like to thank Jason, Crad and Al for the huge amount of work they did (as usual) and the barrel load of laughs but also the dozens of other volunteers and marshals whose support and input have over the years created an event to be proud of. Three local charities benefit from the funds raised and full details of the results, some photos and feedback all appear on the  Beast website here 
I will report on the total funds and their destination raised through my sponsorship in a few weeks once I have collated everything - thank you to all those who chipped in. 
Completing the event almost 9 months to the day since my heart attack has given me the confidence to look forward to a return to near normality and start finalising my plans for winter sun - just a shame that it will be another year before I get another choccy bar.
No pics this time as I was too busy hanging on but the SPOT here will give you an idea of the route for a few more days

Friday, 7 September 2012

September Summer

A long awaited spell of excellent weather saw the variety of places visited over the first week of September looking at their best. 
The excellent mountain bike trails at Afan Argoed saw the start of my training in earnest for the forthcoming Beast - some old favourites are closed due to felling but will be reinstated in 2013 but the Wall provided some memorably fast descents on single track.
A return to the small bothy in the Black Mountains with a new broom left it looking spick and span after a brisk walk in from the north as gliders coasted silently overhead.
I then headed off to the Horizons Unlimited meeting high on the Mendips where again an excellent variety of presentations triggered more inspiration for future trips. Perhaps the severest journey undertaken was that by a Polish guy during the hard 2011 winter when in the January he headed to the furthest reaches of Norway arriving in deep snow and temperatures of -34 at the Nordkapp. Using very basic camping equipment and 'cooking' burgers with a blow torch he completed a remarkable journey that few unsupported groups would undertake.
'London to Beijing on Two Sh*t Mopeds' proved to be an appropriate title for an account of another remarkable journey undertaken by two lasses from London and captivating images of Mongolia from other talks sowed ideas in my mind before an evening of chat around the fire pit.
Sunday saw a good cycle round the Sustran's routes of Wiltshire, the Kennet and Avon Canal and then the back lanes in to Frome after which I headed way out west to overnight at Ceibwr in Pembrokeshire as my 3 monthly bag of tablets was due.
Monday afternoon was spent enjoying the trails in Brechfa Forest with Tuesday morning spent at Halfway where preparations for next week's motor rally reduced the choices available. As a result I decided to return to an old favourite - the Sarn Helen Roman road starting near my former home. The track was in better condition as a result of its closure to 4x4s but still provided a challenge as it dropped to cross the nascent Nedd and then climbed to the Ystradfellte road. Dropping through Pont Melin Fach and then reaching the Inter Valley Road I decided to travel down memory lane and pass through Cwmnanthir. Sadly the new owners have to my mind at least somewhat spoiled the place with unsightly new livestock sheds and some rather crude alterations to the house itself. Slightly disappointed at the general air of neglect I passed through anonymously and returned to Coelbren on the green lane that had surprisingly been much improved by the spreading of thousands of tons of hardcore - surely the Banwen bypass isn't imminent?
After a clean report from the dentist I headed to Brecon for an energetic session of badminton where Jan broke the sad but not unexpected news that good old Amber had slipped away that day. True to fashion she had gone with no fuss at the guesstimated grand old age of 18 - coincidentally 3 years exactly since she had gone to live contentedly north of Brecon.
Yesterday and today have seen plenty of hard work by the usual team in preparation for the 2012 Brecon Beast this Sunday. With our largest number of entries to date the need for clear signage is even more important so much effort went in to informing local communities, putting up directions for riders and safety warnings for other road users. Careful planning and co-ordination saw the bulk of the work completed in good time although disappointingly some petty disruption confirmed that as ever a mean spirited minority (very likely just one individual in fact) have only their own selfish agenda to work to. However the support and goodwill from everyone we actually met was heartening and set the mood for what promises to be a busy but ultimately highly rewarding and satisfying weekend of fund raising.
I hope to report on a successful completion of the full course on Monday evening and will endeavour to affix the SPOT device to my helmet so logging on here during Sunday should allow you to follow what I hope will be steady progress.
A few photos are available here.
Lest I forget a big thank you to all those kind enough to offer sponsorship :
 a grand total will be reported in due course.

With fond memories the video below is a touch of self indulgence - turn up your volume and enjoy.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Beacons and bothies

With the holiday makers safely returned we crossed to Talybont on Usk where the excellent new facilities at the village camp site ensured a comfortable few days despite the early and noisy departures of a couple of DoE groups. On the Tuesday we cycled along the tow path to Crickhowell passing the muddy remains of the Green Man festival's partying and enjoyed a pint in sunny Crickhowell. Wednesday saw a foray up to a bothy in the Black Mountains passing the dam wall I and a mate had perhaps foolishly free climbed twenty plus years ago. The bothy was in good order and provided shelter for lunch on a blustery day - soon after a particularly vicious hail storm saw us seeking cover beneath my storm shelter on our return down the valley. A good meal and catch up at Jan and Ian's with Amber dozing quietly by the wood burner preceded us dropping in to Brecon for my regular badminton session. A walk on the Beacons in fine weather earned us the right to a slap up meal in the Star before we followed the quiet valley up to inspiring Llanthony Abbey and out on to the lofty commons at the top of the Gospel Pass with good views west along the Beacons' escarpments.
Hay on Wye's charms entertained us before Penny headed to Shropshire and I crossed mid Wales to reach the bothy above Dolgellau. Here a few of us regulars were joined by 3 lads from Dudley who set to with enthusiasm on Saturday morning. Large quantities of timber, sheeting and fixings were soon used to enclose the stairwell as part of a fire safety review and the usual banter enhanced excellent catering by our tame chef of Aberstan fame.
With most of the planned work completed I set off on a glorious Sunday to complete the 40km Coed Y Brenin Beast in training for its Brecon namesake in two weeks time. Half way round the sharp rocks of the 'Morticia' section ripped apart my tyre so a temporary repair was effected using part of the old tube to enable me return via forest tracks to the van and replace the tyre and tube. Setting off again I enjoyed almost four hours of fire road and single track with spirits soaring on some of the superbly designed sections as the bike took to the air - mostly with me still attached. A second puncture was soon dealt with and I returned to the van after 6 hours in the saddle and sat very still for the rest of the evening.
After cleaning out the bothy gutters and devouring a bacon sarnie I have now headed across to Shropshire to catch up with my brother and his family before heading to Bristol for the HU  (details here) meet via Brecon.
An amusing diversion whilst doing this post arrived in the shape of a breakdown truck that offloaded a vehicle alongside me only to end up with a flat battery himself - trusty power pack to the ready and all was sorted - good to return the favours granted to me many years ago when my aircooled Type 2 was regularly relayed from Scotland in the early hours.
Location here courtesy of SPOT and piccies here as ever - names of those involved in the various activities removed to protect the seriously guilty!
Slides randomly look back at adventures in NZ - it is almost 3 years now since we packed the van off in Southampton!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Bristol Round Up

A pleasant week in Bristol saw a number of tasks completed including replacing the van horn, giving the bike a good clean and check over in advance of the Brecon Beast in 3 weeks time, seeing various friends and enjoying the for me now rather novel concept of living in a house. The dogs soon got used to my presence on their walks as we ambled along the Avon to greet the swans, moorhens, free ranging pigs and an assortment of other canine companions.

Out at Portishead I enjoyed an excellent meal with old friends with the new housing and cafe culture surrounding the former power station and dock site reminding me perhaps surprisingly of Perth in WA.
A good friend from my nursing training days joined me for the weekend and we enjoyed a bike ride out to Bath along the converted railway line with the restoration enthusiasts at Bitton manning a good cafe and running a diesel loco from the '70's. The Kennet and Avon canal took us through the heart of Bath to a pub for lunch before we returned stopping in Bristol to look at the terraced property I first purchased in 1983.
Arnos Vale's 50 acre cemetery containing some 50,000 graves was a peaceful and moving experience with the volunteers facing a mammoth task of keeping the undergrowth at bay and preserving the tombs and headstones that help chart the expansion of Bristol over many generations. Our cycling continued with a ride through Bristol's waterfront attractions and out towards the Bristol Channel along the Avon. The graceful Clifton suspension bridge soared above us and Portishead yet again provided a sun drenched spot for refreshment.
Our final day has been spent admiring the street art in the city centre, sourcing guides to Turkey and eastern Europe in anticipation of my next trip and being suitably impressed by the displays at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden up on the Downs.
Having just enjoyed a night at the pictures I am now lurking in the early hours under the flight path at Bristol Airport to collect the returning holidaymakers with a transfer over to the Brecon Beacons tomorrow for more cycling and hopefully some tops if the weather holds.
Piccies lurk here and my whereabouts will soon reappear here.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Bristol Revisited

The final few days over in Ireland passed quickly with a brief dry spell followed by a return to more changeable weather as I tucked away in the Knockmealdown mountains after visiting the remarkable Rock of Cashel and its mediaeval buildings. 
A calm crossing returned me to Pembrokeshire where a meeting with Sarah seemed to confirm that our separation will be permanent and formalised - this will be achieved as smoothly and speedily as possible so should be resolved by Christmas.
The lifting of all the uncertainty is in itself a relief to me although I would of course have preferred a different outcome but plans can now be made for 2012/13 building on the new opportunities that have arisen.
I saw various friends around Brecon and enjoyed a ride along Sarn Helen as I need to start getting fit for September's event - the poor weather in Ireland limited the overall activity levels so there is some catching up to be done!
After a brief trip to Coventry to see family and deal with mail I have taken up residence in Bristol for ten days - the city I left 22 years ago to begin life on the farm. An interesting bike ride along the Severn to Sharpness and beyond introduced me to an area I had overlooked whilst living there, the boat graveyard was fascinating and the pub's pork pie somewhat daunting - still with 27 miles covered we worked most of it off - honest. A walk high above Cheddar offered excellent views across the Somerset levels on a warm afternoon before the following morning I taxied friends to the airport and then gave the van a good clean both inside and out and investigated the options for a clutch replacement in Bristol in a couple of months time -  post MOT and in advance of my next extended trip.
Planning for this is underway and I have collected together my various guides to Europe and sourced maps from the excellent branch of Stanfords in Bristol. My plan once the divorce paperwork is signed off is to follow the coast of France, northern Spain, western and southern Portugal, revisit the Sierra Nevada and Alpujarras in Spain, follow the coastal perimeter of Italy to include Sicily and then cross the Ionian Sea for Greece, Turkey and a return via eastern Europe with the latter stages depending on my rate of progress by next summer/autumn. The odd flight back may be required to obtain repeat prescriptions although once I pass the first anniversary in early December some of my current meds. can be discontinued - hurrah.
A glorious day today enabled me to explore the new (to me at least) attractions of central Bristol with the colourful and vibrant Floating Harbour and wharves providing a wealth of interest. The Mshed museum provided a respite from the heat and the revamped shopping precincts of Broadmead showed little obvious signs of a recession.
The two terriers in my charge enjoyed their usual romp down by the Avon and the rest of the week promises more socialising as the weather deteriorates once more. The looming bank holiday will be spent in southern Snowdonia on an MBA work party - all welcome, check out - and as it sits on the route of the excellent Coed y Brenin mountain bike trails I hope to thrash around a couple of those in between bouts of nailing and tea sampling.
The HU meet on the Mendips in early September has a promising array of presenters lined up already and should be another excellent event  - with limited space available register here now if you are tempted.

The slide show gremlins seem to have gone on their summer recess so the content rewinds a calendar year - lots of water under lots of bridges!

A new post should appear next week when I return to the Beacons and from where I will resume spotty Spot - so this time its piccies only here

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Connemara Revisited

Ireland's new and almost empty motorway network soon had us over on the west coast where the simple pleasures of the Renvyle campsite met our every need. There were superb views from the sweeping beach across to our planned walks as the sun set and we had a relatively early night in anticipation of a hard day.
This encompassed a return for me to the classic 12 Bens ridge enjoyed this time in even better conditions and with good company. Strong winds required concentration on the rocky descents but the day remained largely dry and sunny and we all enjoyed the stunning views and sense of isolation. Leaving the bike at the finish avoided the need to walk back along the road and after an exhilerating day we were content to retire to the cosy pub in Tully Cross.
Monday dawned clear and sunny despite the forecast so we headed round to Leenan and Killary to climb Ben Gorm, this time continuing along the ridge to drop down at Loch Doo where again the bike was used to retrieve the van. Some of the finest views of the trip were enjoyed looking across to the Mweelrhea Horsehoe walk with Clare and Achill islands sitting in a deep blue sea and a fast steep descent over grassy slopes resulted in the demise of various shorts and trousers.
Tuesday saw a return to the unsettled conditions that had dogged the early part of this trip but we explored the coast around to Cliffden with a walk at low tide across to Omey Island which seemed a world apart from  normal civilisation. The Sky Road near Cliffden provided good views across the west coast in between heavy rain showers before we returned to Renvyle and a celebratory meal out after an excellent trip.
Torrential overnight rain cleared as we packed up and headed back to Galway stopping to enjoy the restored silver mine at Glengowla - a credit to the owner's enthusiasm and energy. Additional interest was provided by their seismology station which constantly recorded the surprisingly frequent earthquake activity around the world. The Galway Races traffic caused a slight delay en route to Dublin where a spacious camp site provide a final night's accommodation in easy reach of the airport.
It was lovely to have such good company and I would like to thank the team for making the effort to get over here and provide such happy memories - good on yer!
The van provided practical transport for all of us and our kit and continuing comfort for me and Pete's photos of Croatia have given me ideas and inspiration for early next Spring. I have also just signed up for another HU meeting, this time on the Mendips in early September which looks promising. The Beast follows a week later with a number of other activities through until mid December to keep me busy - as ever they will be digitally recorded and displayed here with my whereabouts similarly available here

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Connemara Classics

The Twelve Bens and Central Maumturks provided two excellent walks over tough ground but in perfect conditions after which I headed east towards Dublin stopping once more in the secluded Slieve Bloom Mountains.
Rendezvous with Jan and both Pete's went smoothly despite the usual poor pick up arrangements at the airport and we headed south stopping en route to stock up for the week.
A camp site in Roundwood up in the Wicklows provided all the required ammenities and we tucked away in a corner with some privacy.
Lugnaquillia provided a memorable moment for Pete as he marked the completion of all the 3000' summits in Great Britain which made up for the limited visibility and dank conditions encountered on a demanding first day together.
Guinness was enjoyed in one of the villages five pubs - surprisingly the place claims to be Ireland's highest village.
Yesterday saw another circuit of tops in much improved conditions above the picturesque Glenmacnass waterfall and today we have completed a beauty including Mullaghcleevaun. Drama from the start included getting bogged whilst trying to park and being pulled off by a coach load of Czech girls (ooerr matron) but the lonely tops in hot sunshine made for a memorable day with excellent views across the Irish Sea and inland.
We have decided to nip across back to Connemara as the others have not been there so will decamp tomorrow with another week to go before returning to Dublin.

Photos here and locations here - Ireland's Google Earth seems less clear than elsewhere but it does give an indication of where we are.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Waiting Game

After a spell of low cloud and rain things cleared up briefly enabling me to walk the Glendaturk Horsehoe, cycle the Greenway (a converted railway line) and complete the Mweelrhea circuit of lonely tops in excellent conditions. A good ridge walk took in the conical summit of Croagh Patrick where I encountered dozens of others tackling the steep climb up from the coast - most suffering due to inadequate footwear, lack of fitness and the steep path across loose sharp scree. Two guys leading a trio of donkeys looked set to spend the night up there.

Wild pitching in some memorable spots was very much enjoyed and Radio 4 on LW provided evening entertainment.
The coast around Killary was sublime but the weather has closed in again briefly although an improvement is forecast - good news for the others travelling out next week.
Feedback from the HU meeting indicates that everyone else enjoyed it as much as I did and the guys from Oz I have kept in touch with are now crossing Turkey after a hair raising trip through Iran - check out
A lass from Switzerland we met in NZ was kindly welcomed to Bristol by friends there whilst attending an interview and enjoyed the harbour and docks which I intend to revisit during my week in mid August.
Over the next day or two I will loop around the coast towards Galway and then if the weather picks up return to the mountains for the Twelve Bens and Mamturks.
Piccies here, locations here and another post from Dublin next week all being well.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Rain Stops Play

Ireland has not escaped the deluges affecting the rest of the UK & since the meeting ten days ago I have been largely confined to quarters by wet conditions, low cloud on the tops & strong winds - all reminiscent of a trip to Northumberland in Summer 2007 - still I have managed the odd easy walk!
Irish schools have broken up so I feel sorry for the families trying to make the best of things but it is very quiet as people are staying put. Thus I have wild camped for almost a fortnight now & have followed the coast round towards Galway from where I will briefly revisit the Burren before crossing to Dublin to meet friends - I hope it picks up for them.
Still the time has given me cause to reflect on the last few months and following the HU meeting I feel inspired to plan for this winter and beyond - particularly as I seem to be as fit as a fiddle. Winter in Spain and Portugal to pick up the lingo should equip me for a longish trip to South America starting in about a year with some early summer walking in the Pyrenees planned for 2013.
After this trip I will be concerned with the Beast event, a major MBA work party and getting the van MOT'd and a new clutch fitted as part of planning for the SA trip.

The poor weather has precluded any worthwhile piccies from Eire so I have compiled a few images from years gone by as a celebration of my good fortune - they are pleasantly random and include a few classics and can be found here
Random locations are available from this link.

Another post from another McDonalds in a week or two.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Eire and there - unlimited horizons.

A quiet wild pitch at Strumble Head with the light sweeping round rhythmically saw me down to Goodwick in good time for the afternoon ferry across to Rosslare in damp but reasonably calm conditions. A newly purchased sat nav with full European coverage for the forthcoming year then delivered me to Mount Leinster where I spent a quiet night in foggy and mild conditions in the hope of  walking to the summit the next day. Continuing low cloud prevented this but as the day unfolded the clouds dissolved and I enjoyed a couple of historic sights before tucking myself away in the Slieve Bloom hills. A German outfit consisting of a coach towing a large trailer that served as a mobile hotel seemed to me at first sight to be the ultimate in impracticality but then again with a good crowd of say twenty mates ..............
The empty and peaceful tops provided a good walk in sunny conditions after which I stayed on a well presented site and met a couple from Brecon - the first of many 'small world' encounters this week.
Kilkenny provided more interest with its castle and other sights in the area including the several wonders of Fore - not to be missed. A wet and wild night in the Iron Mountains near the border led to a damp day so a planned walk was left for later and I dropped across said unmarked and invisible border to spend a day in Enniskillen with its impressive castle and museum displays.
For the weekend I joined the Horizons Unlimited get together as planned and enjoyed the event tremendously. Inspirational presentations by skilled and entertaining travellers gave us insights in to adventures in all corners of the globe with the South American coverage of particular interest. Practical talks and demonstrations combined with an excellent social side made for a successful gathering despite the poor weather. Whatever your mode of transport the chance to meet up, learn, absorb and be involved at similar events should be taken - small world encounters included input from individuals and companies in Ystradgynlais of all places and a biker from Perth who has trucked across the Nularbor over a hundred times. Saturday night's entertainment from local bands and dancers plus good food and organisation created an event to be proud of. As I had hoped it has inspired me for future years although I remain convinced that for me at least four wheels are better than two - most of the time. A massive thanks to all those who worked so very hard before, during and after the event.
So its off to the hills again staying in NI for a week or so, starting with the Sperrins and heading to the coast for a lazy drift anticlockwise over the 3 weeks until friends arrive in Dublin. 

Latest pictures appear here, locations here and the next post will depend on the availability of wifi once I leave Derry.

A milestone for the trusty van in the shape of clocking up a quarter of a million miles en route to Enniskillen gave me pause to recollect on the many adventures enjoyed whilst incurring half of that total - it has all been a total privilege and a wonderful set of experiences.
Incidentally a recent MOT for me recorded a cholesterol at 3.8, axle weight of 74kg,  oil pressure at 120/80 and revs ticking over steadily around 45 bpm so it looks like we may both have a few miles left in us yet.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Beacons Break

After a long but pleasant journey south I have been catching up with friends and family during a fortnight spent largely around the Brecon Beacons. An enjoyable week's farm sitting reminded me of the pleasures of 'The Good Life' but also the commitments whilst also giving me the opportunity to sort out the van, have a spring clean and refresh kit for the trip over to Ireland on Saturday. I have booked a place for the HUBB meeting in Enniskillen - link here which should provide information and inspiration after which I will explore the north and west coasts before collecting friends from Dublin for a week in the Wicklows.
A good training ride for the Beast over the Gap road followed by a favourite walk over the Carmarthen Fans reminded me that sometimes you don't have to travel very far to be impressed - remarkably it is a decade since I last walked those tops in the summer. To mark my apparent return to irritatingly sound health I will be raising funds for Brecon War Memorial Hospital who were instrumental in promptly diagnosing and reacting to the drama of six months ago - cheque donations gratefully received - email me if you need my Coventry address, or thrust cash at me when I next see you - always a good idea! The event takes place on the 9th of September and will be reported here in due course.
I hope to continue posting in Ireland and will produce a more substantial range of  photos shortly - meanwhile a few humble offerings appear here. 
Erratic if not exotic locations available courtesy of the Spot here

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Final Week

The climb up Ben Mohr on the hottest day of the trip brought some respite from the heat and offered memorable views across most of the Uists, north to Harris and east to Skye and Rhum floating on a mirror flat sea. Eriskay was crossed in a flurry and the final few days spent on Barra. Whilst small the island has lots to offer and I enjoyed a good half day kayaking around the bays and islands to the north with heron nests seen at very close quarters whilst seals observed us warily. The remarkable sight of flights using Traigh Mohr beach as an airstrip was a  highlight followed by a walk up the island's highpoint Sheaval for more panoramic vistas.

Three static days on a small campsite next to the sea gave me a respite from driving and allowed me to explore pretty Vatersay on two wheels - empty beaches and warm sunshine combined with a cool breeze made for perfect conditions.
Unfortunately too much use of the CD player gave me a flat battery this morning forty minutes before I was due on the ferry - fortunately my power pack and the 12v charger from the generator soon had me going but I have resolved to wire said machine in to the second battery to prevent a re occurrence, one of a long list of minir tasks to be completed between milking the chickens and counting the carrots next week.
A calm crossing to Oban was enlivened by a practice launch and recovery of the ship's fast rescue RIB and I now begin the long haul south after a ten week trip that has restored my own confidence in my health, allowed me to enjoy some of Scotland's finest in generally excellent weather and come up with a framework for the next year before another big trip begins in 2013.

Pics here and locations here.

There will be a break of a few weeks whilst I am in Wales but late June sees me off to Ireland so I hope to start blogging again once over there.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Island high land.

A week spent criss crossing the islands of Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist all linked by various causeways provided a variety of environments and some memorable wild pitching. The weather stayed good and by the end of the week cloudless skies and soaring temperatures had me ditching the down jacket and digging out shorts for the first time since the brief hot spell at the start of this trip in the Yorkshire Dales 9 weeks ago.
A walk round the coast from Loch Sgioport to Usinish bothy passed the abandoned village of Caol Islas in a serene but remote coastal setting. Heccla's rocky summit was reached after a stiff climb in strong winds but offered a remarkable view over the watery flats of Benbecula.
Back up at Berneray the coast facing Harris provided a dream wild pitch and a good walk round the headland to watch seals basking in the sun. Lochmaddy's Festival of the Sea provided the opportunity to join the Lady Anne with 8 others for a trip over to the Monach Islands which amazingly used to support a community of around 100 people. Threading our way through the flat calms of North Ford lulled us in to a false sense of security as having just scraped under the causeway bridge we sped across choppy seas for an hour to reach this small group of islands. The ruined buildings also include the well maintained former schoolhouse that is used by fishermen  to escape bad weather and crofters from the Uists when they travel out to manage the sheep that graze throughout the year. Works of art adorned the wall and clearly many a good night had been spent there. I walked out to the far western end crossing silvery sand bars with dozens of seals dozing in the hot sun and spotting the nests of some of the numerous bird species.
On our return crossing we had to wait grounded in mid stream for the tide to come in and sweep us under the bridge once more to complete a perfect day out.
I returned for the fourth time to the huge beach of Baleshare as it provides first class wild pitching and is handy for a return to Lochmaddy today for the lifeboat open day and another boat trip this time round Lochmaddy Bay on what seems set to be an absolute scorcher. My last week should include a climb up Beinn Mohr followed by a drift south to Eriskay, the crossing to Barra and finally, a week tomorrow, the return to Oban and south to Wales - mainstream civilisation will come as a shock after the slow relaxed pace of the Hebrides but a medical review beckons prior to my trip to Ireland and it will be good to see family and friends during my week farm sitting near Llandeilo.

Photos here and locations here - enjoy!