Monday, 23 December 2013

Portly in Portugal

After a memorably successful badminton club dinner at the excellent Star Inn in Talybont on Usk I drove across to Bristol in foul weather and settled down for a good kip at 1am in the long stay car park after the ANPR had granted access. Around 8.30 I wandered over to check in and drop my bag off - the Easy Jet app making both these tasks pretty straightforward and then read the papers until my flight was called. The route over Cornwall, the Bay of Biscay and northern Spain crossed much of the terrain driven last Christmas and we arrived after a bumpy landing in Lisbon where a Fiat 500 sat waiting for me. Not having driven a left hooker before I was pleased to have my own sat nav with me which soon set me on the A road to Marvao and I arrived around 5 - an hour or so before dusk.



Gary had allocated me his cosy and comfortable twin single room with ensuite kitchen and bathroom and I was soon settled in - for me it makes a change to have to pack a suitcase but most essentials seemed present. After an excellent meal and a catch up I slept a solid 10 hours waking to blue skies and a sharp frost. A trip to the supermarket put local delicacies in the boot for lunch and I then explored the Sierra de Mamade National Park that sits in this corner of the Alentejo.

Hilltop fortified Marvao was as remarkable as I remembered it with the setting sun adding greatly to the scene but of course it soon turned cold under the almost cloudless sky so I dropped back to Camping Asseiceira in time to join Gary and two friends for a meal at a small family run restaurant in Portagem where the bemused owner indulged me with a taster of all 3 desserts on one plate. It was a good evening with Joao and his mother looking forward to their trip to Germany to see his brother and a new addition to the family. Gary left for Spain the next day and after checking all was well I took a spin south to a couple of small towns and the local mountain from where a panoramic view extended in to Spain and I took a doze in the sun.
Back at San Antonio all was well and the cat and I sat in the cosy kitchen enjoying the peace and quiet.
Yesterday I walked up to Marvao following a network of farm tracks and cobbled routes passing smallholdings where little has changed in the 5 years since I started coming here. Cork oak trees mix with olives and vines, goats and sheep graze beneath and presumably the same old lady was bashing away at her laundry in the large font tucked away beneath some of the huge granite boulders that are strewn around.
After some more photo opportunities in the town I enjoyed a good lunch and on my return leg met Joao and his mum who were just leaving for the airport. They had very kindly dropped in with a card, wine and some choccies - what a lovely gesture but not good for the waistline.
Further trouble lies ahead in this area as today I discovered that Gary's fridge has packed up so a steak, several pounds of sausages and a nice piece of salmon need eating up soonish - well you have to help don't you?
I moved everything salveagable in to the camp site fridge and freezer and thought initially we had had some sort of power surge as my phone was also dead - however as no other appliances were affected and no warning lights were flashing  I think it was just a strange  coincidence and after a quick search on Google found out how to overcome 'sudden death' on the Sony Xperia and all is well again.
I also noted whilst checking to see if the car insurance was valid in Spain that it expires before I return it to Lisbon so made a quick call to Europcar who assured me that that was fine and that if I did get stopped by the police they would foot the bill   ................  I see another of my letter exchanges coming on! Incidentally my good friends at Sadtanduh logged my latest complaint on the 12th but only wrote to me on the 18th which, considering the nature of it, is already a black mark against them but let's not prejudge - it is Christmas after all.

Talking of which on C/Eve the local villagers light huge bonfires that burn until New Year so I hope to walk down tomorrow night and watch the spectacle.

Anyway today saw a foray in to Sapin where Valencia held a large colourful market and side roads took me down to the calm waters of the Tejo that are backed up behind a large hydro scheme. Bonelli's eagles floated lazily around - I wonder if he knows they have escaped?
Back at the site which seems very strange without its usual array of campers the neighbours were picking the olives - ladders saw them in to the trees and nets caught the black shiny prizes which were bagged up to be pressed in the New Year.
During the course of some Skype calls I learnt that a friend and his two sons had had a very close shave with a falling tree on the A40 - quick thinking saw them pass under it as it fell causing 'only' a cracked windscreen, dented roof and frayed nerves. Thus a beer has been cracked open and I am looking ahead to a revised 2014. There is much to look forward to with bothy forays, a week in Knoydart and the 2014 HUBB event already booked in - I shall probably give a presentation or two at the latter but you guys can have a sneak preview by clicking here and follow my locations at the reinstated Spotty Spot here.

Wishing you all a safe and festive Christmas - FELIZ NATAL

And finally - click here for a track from my old favourite JW : the lyrics seem strangely pertinent to the situation pertaining ; a pity the video clip is a bit cheesy.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Langdale Luxury

The prospect of a fortnight based in Langdale filled me with anticipation as I trawled around Tesco's in Skipton to assemble the groceries to feed the forthcoming visitors. I arrived on a fine afternoon to find the lodge in the usual perfect order after a lovely drive through the Dales from York, once troublesome glow plugs (last changed in Portugal in 2006 and 140,000 miles ago so not bad) had been overcome by a jump start.

Friends arrived later that evening and a few pleasurable days were spent catching up, enjoying local walks and some settled weather. After a brief interlude during which I headed over to Wasdale, Buttermere and Honister via the Wrynose and Hardknott passes to enjoy some spectacular views I greeted another group of friends from my caving days.

On the Friday we caught a bus up the valley and began to ascend the impressive fells that close off Great Langdale. Our walk from Dungeon Ghyll up to Crinkle Crags and round over Pike O' Stickle was quite a challenge in very windy but dry conditions and we arrived rosy cheeked in the pub that as a group we had last sat in perhaps thirty years ago during memorable New Year's Eve celebrations.
Saturday saw a completion of the Fairfield horseshoe in almost spring like conditions with a large raven providing additional interest on the summit as a front drifted in from the north. The Langdale facilities were enjoyed to ease aching bones and joints after another strenuous day.

Sunday's walk over Wetherlam and the Carrs was enjoyed in dry conditions with a moment of reflection at the Halifax wreckage before a descent towards dusk and an excellent meal in the Britannia.
On the Monday we all enjoyed a nose around Tilberthwaite and its spectacular slate quarries after which the boys headed home and another quartet of friends from Brecon arrived. Another relaxed and highly amusing few days passed with only a brief but severe storm on the Thursday interrupting activities and even this had blown itself out by mid morning - the accompanying power cut caused some problems at the leisure complex with sliding doors but otherwise as ever the level of service was superb with the housekeeping girls accommodating my interruption of their routine with good humour. All those who came were very appreciative of Mum's generosity in allowing us all to stay for the fortnight and indeed for me it was the best spell there for years - thanks guys.

The knackered glow plugs which are being replaced in Bristol this week necessitated a jump start from the maintenance van after which I headed south to catch up on family affairs including chasing yet again my good friends at Santander who continue to provide a remarkable level of customer service, a cheque book issued last year was cancelled the same day thus rendering it useless : a fact that did not come to light until I submitted important ones to HMRC which has caused great inconvenience and some embarassment.

Anyway my fortnight in Portugal is fast approaching with lots to do before then so here are some pics from oop north and a link to an excellent video of the new LCB bothy sits here

Nice one Alan especially the time travel trick given the date on your video !!  I hope to get up there and inside (ongoing door swelling issues may well be resolved by then) in mid January when a group of us also hope to assess a new project in Snowdonia.

Unlikely to post until in the Alentejo in a week or two so again Crappy Histmas to one and all..................

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Classics.

After the thrills of the Thrust 2 simulator which replicated the breaking of the world land speed record rather more sedate forms of transport were enjoyed at the Classic Car and Motorbike Show in Birmingham. Beautifully restored and presented Morris Minors took me back to my earliest driving days whilst a host of stalls and companies were able to supply even the most obscure grommet or widget for a vast range of vehicles. Modern day developments were on display with Jaguar's latest eco beast but I suspect a new generation of drivers will miss out on the joys of spannering away lying on a cold floor with the prospect of grazed knuckles and oily palms.




A return to more rural pursuits came in the form of a memorable four day work party at LCB in the Elan Valley with excellent company. Martin and Mike formed a tribute band - the Pointer Brothers - by standing in front of grey walls for 6 hours a day but achieved several hundred linear metres of tedious pointing which transformed the look of this very special building.Meanwhile Howard created some functional bothy furniture, Keith dug a canal to Rhayader, Tony administrated, Dave re- rigged the drying rack and I spent a day on the toilet - the new oak door had swollen and attention with chisel and plane was required. After similar work on the main door all seems well and the building remains very much open to all. Two inches of snow on the Tuesday morning added to the scenic grandeur and made for stunning views - topped off on Wednesday by the sighting of an osprey as we walked out.
Mum and I are now in York before I head to the Lakes and she returns home by train with the weather still cold but clear so I hope to get some good walks in and enjoy the company of a number of friends. Spotty Spot will emerge again in due course but meanwhile the latest digital images sit here

Early days yet but as in the past I will be donating to charity in lieu of Christmas cards so take it as read that I wish you all a good one.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Progress,problems,probate and projects.

Well much has been achieved since my last post a month ago - after considering expensive proposals from outside bodies I decided to deal with Dad's affairs 'in house' and after a solid few weeks of endeavour have submitted the forms for probate, sorted out Mum's affairs, created a user friendly filing system for all areas of day to day life and enjoyed the odd bit of RnR.

Again with one surprising exception all the public and private organisations I have dealt with have been sympathetic and helpful - particularly so HMRC and the Probate Service and the whole process has been a source of interest and learning. The task is well within the remit of any methodical person assuming that the affairs were in reasonable order and that a will existed - again with reference to my advice in the last post please consider sorting out your paperwork and making a will - problems down the line are avoidable if you just take these simple and inexpensive steps.

Mum has kept me (too) well fed and watered and we have enjoyed some memorable days out together - usually involving a joint walk followed by a meal out and me cycling home via the various networks of tracks and bridle paths that I last explored as a youngster in the 70's. Dad is always in our thoughts and his ashes were carefully laid beneath a favourite tree in Shropshire where we can easily visit and we now look to the future as new challenges emerge.

I have enjoyed gently introducing a friend to the cycle tracks of South Wales and caught up with various acquaintances around Wales and the UK as well as enjoying a few days farm sitting in the Beacons for friends whose spacious, well lit and solid floored barn enabled me to give the van some minor attention - the bidet was restored to working order and a reversing camera fitted whilst two adoring blondes looked on. Both were then given their walks and joined me in dozing by the fire!

Meanwhile the Welsh MBA team achieved considerable success in re roofing Nant Rhys bothy and all deserve great credit and thanks, particularly Mike the MO, Frank the PO and Tony the AO who went AWOL but puts a huge amount of time and effort in to keeping us all in check, attending meetings way oop north and liaising with other interested parties.


Last weekend saw a group of us in Somerset for a weekend of walking and mine exploration based at Frome's premier B&B. After a muddy but enjoyable walk in the Deverills we repaired to the local curry house where the good natured and friendly waitress coped admirably with our gentle teasing and a heavy workload - one of the most entertaining young people I think most of us had ever met.
Sunday saw 14 of us gather to explore the extensive Box stone mines that supplied much of the material seen today in the buildings of Bath. We were to visit only a fraction of the 26 km of tunnels that comprise just the southern third of the mines and spent several entertaining hours under the guidance of a competent and well informed leader. The early miners' graffiti reflected the changes of the time with the representation of penny farthings and Brunel's broad gauge railways and many relics of their employment remain intact deep underground. Changes in their working methods could be seen but the overall impression was of a tough way of life demanding both skill and stamina for scant reward. 

Mum and I enjoyed a picturesque tour of mid Wales giving her an insight in to the scenery that draws me back time after time and a glimpse across the waters to the LCB bothy project that I return to next week. This will see a determined attack on the internal pointing that awaits completion before we head north together to see friends and family. Then I head over to Cumbria for a fortnight which will see a number of friends joining me for various activities - something I am very looking forward to.

Today Coventry's excellent Transport Museum provided a taster before tomorrow's visit to a Classic Car and Bike Show at the NEC so photos of that event will appear next time : meanwhile enjoy those to be found by clicking this link 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Changes

Well, a month after Dad's sudden passing much has happened, lots has changed but equally and reassuringly there has been continuity in other areas. His service was very much in accordance with his wishes and accorded close family the opportunity to celebrate a life well lived - we did him proud.
Since then I have addressed the formalities of dealing with his affairs, the privileged task of supporting Mum who is facing up to the new challenges with her usual dignity and composure and keeping tabs on other areas of interest that have otherwise taken a back seat for the time being. Living in a house has been unusual for me - over a half a stone in weight has been lost simply from climbing the stairs dozens of times a day - and the various public and private organisations dealt with have by and large been both helpful and sympathetic.
The Adventure Overland Show at Stratford provided a breather with plenty of displays, events and information to hand. My presentations covering my approach to travel were I think well received judging by the numbers of people who dropped by the van for a look round and a chat on more specific issues. I took a particular shine to Joe who is also planning a trip to the Nordkapp but is travelling in January in his very early Mini - that will be one heck of a challenge but his undoubted mechanical knowledge and skills will see him through I am sure - take a look here to follow his blog.
A huge array of private conversions and commercial expedition vehicles covered the full range of possibilities and gave me food for thought although as Trustybus sailed through its MOT with no issues I will not be changing anything any time soon : 285k miles on the clock and still pulling like the HS2. Talking of which a warm late September afternoon pub lunch and walk took us unknowingly to a spot on the London to Glasgow line where 40 years ago I used to pedal over for a bit of train spotting - I'm not sure Mum was converted but who knows....
Trips to Wales afforded the opportunity to catch up with friends, hone my badminton skills - plenty left to do there - visit various acquaintances in hospital or post-op and, just yesterday, pay a long overdue visit to the bothy project in Mid Wales that has provided such pleasure this year. A couple of recent MBA work parties had seen the installation of a new stove, a superb staged sleeping platform, the construction of some excellent bothy furniture and drainage works outside.
We were very privileged to meet relatives of the last family to live there in 1952 and new archive photos have emerged to augment the history of this very special place. Lluest Cwm Bach is now available to all for shelter and enjoyment - I hope you get a chance to visit some time. It was very moving to see smoke coming from the chimney for the first time in over 60 years. Click here for MBA details. Incidentally the team are reroofing Nant Rhys bothy near Llangurig this week so if you fancy a walk up there take them some cakes as encouragement as it is a formidable task.
A few of us did an extended walk around the Elan Valley and are planning a walk to encompass all 5 bothies that now sit within OS Sheet 147 which will I am sure become a classic in time. On my way back to Coventry I visited my brother and his family for a relaxed and cosy evening in front of the wood burner - my nephew and niece are full of the energy and enthusiasm of youth and provide a welcome distraction.
Whilst still very much in support mode I am making tentative plans for later this year and next with two weeks in Cumbria preceding a fortnight in Portugal : as I will be returning to the UK  rather than as planned returning to Morocco for 3 months, I have decided to fly down from Bristol and hire a car - quite an initial outlay but cheaper overall than driving there and back for such a relatively short period. I guess the new Year will be taken up with the formalities of probate and the like but a trip north of the border will provide encouragement and I am planning to take the van to Iceland and the Faroes in June which entails a 3 day sail from Denmark.

Anyway the photos revisit the amazing story of Lluest Cwm Bach and include other recent activities.
Thanks to all those who passed on their sympathies over recent events - the anonymous gestures in particular were very moving - just a piece of advice to all : putting your affairs in order (as Dad had done) is perhaps one of the most constructive gestures you can make in advance to help family cope with a difficult turn of events. Please think about it!

Piccies here.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

A DIFFICULT TIME
Suddenly but peacefully my beloved, generous and inspirational father passed away last week. His loss has come as a huge shock to all his family, friends, former colleagues and acquaintances from across the broad spectrum of his many interests.
We have all been deeply touched by the many warm and heartfelt expressions of sympathy and the flowers received add hope to a sombre household.
Mum has amazed us all with her strength and composure in the face of the loss of a husband and partner of nearly 60 years.
We celebrate his life on Friday the 27th of September with a simple humanist service for close family only but would ask that you spare us a thought mid-afternoon.
My extended adventures are on indefinite hold for the forseeable future but Mum is already insisting that I should get back on the road from time to time.
Thus bear with me if posts become less frequent for a while and click the link below for a piece of music - the words to which form part of my personal tribute to a wonderful man.

 






Monday, 9 September 2013

Welsh Favourites

Whilst calling in to check up on Nant Rhys bothy in mid Wales my rear wheel collapsed, tore off the derailleur and required a temporary fix to get me back to the comforts of Miss Pope's C&CC site near Llangurig. After a decision to replace rather than repair the bike I dropped back to Brecon where Jason at Biped Cycles fixed me up with a KTM hard tail with 27.5 inch wheels that was also slightly lighter than the old bike which had served me well for many years. Considering it had sat on the back of the van for 8 years during trips to Oz, NZ, Morocco and the recent Scandinavian journey as well as around the UK and Europe in all weathers it was due for replacement so I turned north once more for a Bank Holiday weekend of bothy maintenance, looking forward to a few test rides.
Penrhos bothy lies half way round one of Coed y Brennin's black routes and thus starting there gives you a chance to ride the tracks ahead of other visitors. After partially rebuilding a dry stone boundary wall two of us headed over to the compact Arenig bothy which had been damaged by some idiot leaving a gas cylinder on the fire. New perspex was placed in the window frame and everywhere given a good tidy out before we dropped back to Penrhos via a possible new project for a quiet night, in contrast to the crowds reported to have descended on Snowdon. Monday saw me giving the new wheels a good test on the 40 km long black route before I found a superb location above Nant y Moch reservoir for a quiet night.
At the new Elan Valley project I spent a useful day repointing the fireplace prior to the stove installation planned for early October and again marvelled at the achievement of all involved in its renovation before returning to the comforts of Llangurig for a much needed shower.
A good walk near Shrewsbury with Penny was followed by a meet up with members of Bedworth 4x4 Club who are involved with the Adventure Overland Show at the end of September - it promises to offer plenty of sources of advice and information about future trips and vehicle options.

A trip to the GP extracted a scrip for 9 months of ticker pills and after a catch up with family I headed down to Bristol to collect a trailer for the forthcoming Beast mountain bike event in Brecon.
A very peaceful long weekend near Abercrave at a fellow smallholder's property gave me another chance to test the bike with a ride through my old farm which sadly looks slightly run down before I followed the superb Sarn Helen off road track up to Sennybridge and back to Abercrave - a tiring but exhilarating ride.
In contrast the ride down the Swansea Valley to Mumbles the next day was a relaxed affair - the bay looked almost Mediterranean in the hot sunshine and that evening I enjoyed a good Chinese takeaway with friends near Neath.
Down at Henrhyd Falls the setting sun produced an idyllic scene - this location features as the waterfall entrance to the Batcave in the film 'The Dark Knight Rises' - but I only saw a robin.
Wednesday saw me collect most of the signage needed for our event and the work began in earnest on Thursday with 3 of us signing the steep climb to Fan Ghyrich, the estate track to Ystradfellte and the mountain route back to Brecon. Hot sunshine and good company made for another memorable day in stunning scenery and I enjoyed my temporary camp at the leisure centre compound with power, showers, internet and TV. Friday saw a whole range of tasks completed with more signing of the 100km of route, 900 T shirts collected, 1000 litres of water and 400 kilos of fruit stockpiled, two 4x4 pickups and a quad delivered, the camping and parking organised and marshals given their instructions. At the event pavillion another hard working team prepared to register riders, record their safe return and issue the T shirts and other sponsored rewards, as well as coordinating the course marshals, safety riders, mountain rescue cover and so on
A friend from Bristol joined me on the Saturday to provide invaluable assistance in delivering 2 tonnes of water, 8 barrels and 300 kilos of fruit to the first feed station just beneath the summit of Fan Ghyrich where all 600 plus riders would arrive after 25km of riding and a climb to 700m ASL. We then checked the previous day's signing as in previous years the odd act of selfish stupidity has occurred but all was well and we had enough time to deliver the remaining water and fruit to the second feed station aimed solely at those tackling the full 100km route via the infamous Gap Road east of Cribin which reaches 600m ASL.
After an excellent pizza we turned in early as a couple of hundred campers checked their bikes in readiness for the big event.
After some traffic duties first thing Dale and I were away to our marshalling points on Fan G. and within one hour of the start the first rider appeared followed over the next two by the rest of the riders who were grateful for a brief stop and refreshments. Two broken collar bones a little further along the mountain section kept Brecon Mountain Rescue (a major recipient of our funds raised) busy and once the last rider had passed through we relocated unused fruit to further round the course before removing signs, tidying up and heading back to base. Once the second 4x4 was available again we retrieved the now considerably lighter trailer from Fan G. and descended cautiously as rain had made parts of the track quite slippery.
A steady stream of tired but happy riders arrived back during the afternoon and we retrieved the second feed station, removed signs and returned to Brecon to soak up the positive vibes and sense of achievement expressed all round.
Monday was spent cleaning vehicles, returning equipment and tidying up - all in good weather and I again felt very proud to have been involved in such a worthwhile cause where the willingness and enthusiasm of the volunteers echoed that shown for the bothy restoration. The thanks and appreciation from many riders was heart warming - for some it was their first and rewarding if gruelling introduction to a part Wales that has given me over 30 years of very special memories.
A few photos sit here but things were so busy over the event that the camera remained largely unused - something I will rectify over the next few weeks as other excitement unfolds.
Click here to see where I am most days.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Magic!


In the space of the last fortnight my erratic lifestyle has again thrown up the unexpected. Two weeks ago I was tucked away north of Trondheim miles from anywhere and all tooled up to give the van its scheduled oil change in a secluded parking area. Whilst removing the sump plug it became clear that it was merely spinning freely allowing oil to leak out but proving impossible to either remove or re-tighten. PTFE tape reduced the trickle to a slow drip and I made my way carefully to a small garage some 30 miles away where after some effort we managed to apply a two part quick setting liquid metal that stopped the drips but prevented the removal of said plug. 
With only a fortnight of my trip left I decided it would make sense to return early and the next three days saw a rapid and trouble free return across Northern Europe. In Bristol PC Motors fitted a new sump complete with gasket and fresh oil putting me back on the road again with a trip to Wales and Shropshire proving that all was well. After catching up with friends and family I was able to tag along for the next chapter in the renovation of a new bothy in the Elan valley in mid Wales.
Nine weeks previously over 20 tonnes of tools, materials and equipment had been lifted across to the ruined farmhouse where Paul, Chris and a small team of craftsmen had started on the ambitious project. Two MBA stalwarts had installed a flue liner once the chimney was secured and reported favourably on the progress to date and I was keen to see the transformation having walked in 20 months ago in mid December when the idea of a renovation first emerged and been at the memorable initial work party to dig out 60 years of accumulated rubble in November of last year.

Rounding the headland gave the first view of a remarkable transformation best described by clicking this link:

PICTURES TO BE FOUND HERE

Paul and his team with the support and back up of Alec, the Elan Valley Trust and the MBA volunteers are to be thoroughly congratulated on an achievement that is a true credit to all involved. The sensitive and sympathetic materials used combined with high quality craftsmanship have produced an outstanding result that sets a benchmark for future projects.
This stage of the renovation work was rounded off by the lifting out of scaffolding, tools, surplus materials and scrap roofing sheets by the skilled team of  Chief Pilot Phil and his colleague Dave from Veritair (www.veritair.com) and soon the rejuvenated building was left in its remote surroundings with a kite and some sheep taking no obvious notice of the transformation. 
A bonus for four of us was a flight over the bothy and surrounding area - the Elan reservoirs looked superb way below and the dams almost insignificant as all too soon we were dropped off at the water's edge for a final check of the site.
Much internal work including stove installation, repointing and the construction of a sleeping platform remains to be done so an appeal will be made to the many MBA volunteers who have achieved so much in Wales over the last 30 years in the hope that progress will be made in time for a scheduled 'official opening' in mid October.
Back at the drop zone a small team worked hard to return the scaffolding and other equipment to various storage areas before I headed off to Brecon with the prospect of a Bank Holiday weekend at another bothy near Dolgellau.
Thus my unexpectedly early return has had many a silver lining and I anticipate being UK based now until December - updates will follow in due course so as ever watch this











Sunday, 4 August 2013

Ups, downs and rounds.

The impressive Seven Sisters ridge offers a 16 hour traverse but I contented myself with an ascent of the most southerly summit as I felt attempting the full route on my own might be asking for trouble and would require some logistical planning eg dumping the bike at the far end etc. However the 910m Breitinden was a good top in its own right and provided superb views across to the thousands of islands out west and further tops inland - later that day I saw my first moose as I was heading to Sandnessjoen : not a good photo as I passed at speed but good to see anyway.

I took the ferry over to Donna planning to do that island's main summit but unfortunately the following day the conditions had changed dramatically and I spent a wet and windy day tucked beneath its fog bound slopes by a lovely beach and caught up on my trip diary and some further research. After crossing to Heroy via various bridges and causeways I took another ferry back to the mainland and spent the night on a small site between two more of the many ferry crossings that complete the E17. 
Heillhornet provided a superb day's hiking in perfect conditions with the final ridge requiring some scrambling assisted at one point by some chains. The views were again astounding, confirming Norway's status as one of the most beautiful countries I have visited. The unspoilt scenery, well kept villages, colourful houses and low visitor numbers combine to make it a place I will return to another time - probably when there is some snow on the tops but perhaps not when the nights are long and dark.




Leka is of geological significance  to Norway and made for a good day out on the bike. I left the van parked up, caught the ferry across to the island and followed the coast roads and tracks on a day that whilst dry lacked the sunshine to highlight the deep yellows of the convoluted igneous outcrops that characterised particularly the west coast.
Similarly today Joa - another island - provided another excellent perimeter ride. Whilst tucked away last night torrential rain had drowned out the action whilst watching the 1st series of Homeland but after a lie in this morning things cleared up and the 6 hours pedalling round Joa's roads and tracks were enjoyed in hot sunshine.
A mini festival that apparently takes place annually had taken over a pristine beach and headland and had obviously been severely affected by the overnight downpours. Sadly there was a huge amount of rubbish and abandoned tents, camping gear, old chairs and settees but I presume it would get cleared away eventually.
Side tracks led to small jetties and landing stages and the Nordveien crossed to the north of the island via a good section of single track riding. The small church at Dun stands in the ruins of a larger one and marked the final highlight of what had been a thoroughly enjoyable if tiring day.
Back on the mainland I passed through Namsos and will need to do a bit of a shop tomorrow before heading for another planned summit : Hermanssnasa and then entering what may be a slightly busier area of Norway. The last four weeks have covered an area that takes some getting to but over the next three I will be trying to cover the highlights of the major fjords and some national parks which will involve some back tracking at times.

A few photos sit here and progress south can be seen here.

Monday, 29 July 2013

The Lofoten Islands and the E17 Coastal Route

Arrival at Fiskebol on the Lofoten Island of Austvagoyby ferry from Melbu on Langoya (one of the Vesteralen Islands) was on a grey afternoon with low cloud obscuring the tops but things improved the following day as I walked a stiff section of coastline from Eggum before heading round to Nusfjord - a wonderfully situated traditional fishing village with brightly painted huts, a former cod liver oil factory and another good walk round the craggy coastline.
From near Flakstad a walk over a steep ridge followed by the descent to Kvalvika beach was undertaken in perfect conditions and the bay an absolute gem - a few people had pitched tents enjoying the 'allesmannsratte' that permits wild camping almost anywhere in Norway and which people very much appreciate so undertake responsibly as regards litter and nuisance value.
The islands are linked by tunnels and bridges all dominated by the 160km long Lofotenveggen mountain chain which provide a remarkably craggy backdrop to the many hamlets and bays. Down at 'A' (at last an easy name to pronounce) I skirted the south shore of Lake Agvatnet before climbing steeply to the ridge that offered superb views back down to A and out to the wild west coast. 

With the weather conditions now perfect I enjoyed a couple more days exploring the many delights of this straggly chain including Henningsvaer another pretty village with many rorbuer (former fishermens' huts) available for rent and a diversion down to Digermulen where one of the large Hurtigruten ships was powering majestically through the Raftsunde. In the mornings a sea fog filled the fjords leaving the bridges to rise ghostlike beneath sun drenched mountains - all very picturesque.
However with the halfway point of this trip fast approaching I headed inland and round to Narvik with its huge iron ore processing terminal and then followed a dramatic section of the E6 to Fauske. The amazing road climbed steep passes, followed idyllic coastline and utilised many long tunnels and one ferry crossing to bring me to the start of the E17 coastal route (the Kystriksveien) which will take me the 800 or so kilometres down to Trondheim. It mixes and matches roads, bridges, tunnels and 7 ferry crossings and has linked a number of previously very isolated communities with the wider world. 
The good weather encouraged me to free camp every night - hence the long gap between blogs - and I was making use of the tinned and dried goods from home topped up by fresh fruit and veg from the odd larger village. Between Jetvik and Kilbogham whilst on the ferry we crossed the Arctic Circle (marked by a steel globe on the shore) which marked for me the end of 3 weeks within its 'confines'. The van had also clocked up 280,000 miles that day and the trip had reached its halfway point so the day was full of mini milestones - closer examination of the labels in a shop in Ornes had revealed a miscalculation of mine over the price of Guinness as it is in fact only 99p a can but I resisted the temptation to indulge as with 6 weeks on the wagon behind me it could only hurt.
After a night by the sea in Glomfjord the long dark Svartistunnel led out on to high plateau where the Svartisen glacier could be seen - its lower edge drops to only 170m ASL - the lowest glacial arm in mainland Europe and reminded me of the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers in NZ's South Island which also drop almost to sea level.
The whole coastline had been superb and the innumerable off shore islands beckoned so at Nesna I decided to take the ferry over to Tomma where I found the perfect free camping on a beach on the west side of the island. Here I saw my first sunset in a month as now being outside the Arctic Circle things would slowly revert to normal, although in fact it only set for an hour and it never actually went dark. The main purpose of my visit was to climb the 922m Tomskjevelen  mountain reached by starting at sea level near Forsland. A steep pull up to lake was followed by another section across rocky outcrops and amongst blueberries and stunted birch trees to reach about 2000' at which point I realised I had mislaid my camera (sounds familiar). Backtracking to the van met no success so I set off again trying to follow my route but with no paths to stick to it all seemed rather pointless. Then amazingly 500' below where I had turned round I came across the shiny blue case - if anybody ever does lose a needle in a haystack I'm your man - and feeling somewhat reinvigorated tackled the remaining 1500' to the summit. From here the north east face of the mountain dropped a sheer 2000' to the the approach slopes and then the superb coastline with its turquoise bays, tiny huts and golden beaches.
Hundreds of islands glinted across the water in this area known as Helgeland which receives no coverage at all in my Rough Guide - a major omission - and will be well worth returning to.
A hundred miles away across in mainland Norway - probably nearer the main inland route the E6 and Mo I Rana where the even higher mountains of the Norwegian/Swedish border lay- I could see that there was a huge storm breaking so decided to head back down arriving at the van after a tiring but exhilarating 7 hours on the go. I had the beach to myself again and enjoyed a peaceful night before today picking up the E17 again with 2 ferries down to Sandnessjoen. The remnants of the storm passed by and after a week of wild camping I have booked in on a lovely coastal site to do some laundry, deal with emails and update this blog. If the connection is up to it there are phone calls to be made as well before I head south to Trondheim with a couple more islands and some good summits to look forward to. By connecting one of my jump leads to the aerial I can occasionally boost reception sufficiently to get Radio 4 which is a bonus but when I have a wifi connection I have been downloading dozens of podcasts to listen to enabling me to keep abreast of news and current affairs.

Anyway whilst my meanderings can be clocked here this time there is a bonus of two sets of photos - the Lofoten Islands here and the northern part of the E17 coastal highway here

Some time this week I will have to spend an hour spannering under the van as an oil change is due and I will have to find a chemist for some aspirin as I am about to run out - in fact all my pills will run out just as I return home so a GP appt. will need to be made before  I head to Brecon for this year's Brecon Beast event - if you can help out then please set aside the weekend of the 7/8th of September for some fun and games.

Longer term readers of the blog will recall my involvement with a new bothy project in Mid Wales - great progress has been made since the helicopter drop : these pictures give an idea of the achievements made - a superb effort on many fronts. Well done guys - I will soon be back to choose the curtain fabrics!















Friday, 19 July 2013

Island Life

Tromso's stunning new cathedral looks across to the small city itself which was reached by crossing a graceful bridge. The Polar Museet had some excellent displays on the history of life over the last few hundred years in these once remote places. The story of Roald Amundsen's polar explorations including by airship were well documented and the story of Fridtjof Nansen and a colleague who were marooned in 1895 on the pack ice and waited 9 months over winter to escape after a total of 15 months of isolation was somewhat humbling.
From Tromso (which took some leaving as the major roads are in tunnels with poorly signposted roundabouts underground where of course the sat nav was itself lost) I headed west to catch a ferry across to Skenja and a harbour side park up in Husoy for £10 including hook up. In the village which sits encircled by high mountains there was a travelling summer festival brought in on a ship that had moored up which was well attended.
I explored the rest of the island which has many isolated villages linked by passes and tunnels (but most easily for locals by boat)  including Torsken with its beautiful wooden church and parked beneath Kvaenen on the coast with a large shoal of fish being hunted offshore by a pod of dolphins. The Anderdalen National park lay to the east and with plenty of daylight left on a fine evening I decided to tackle the 3,300' top reached by a long ascent through birch wood and then large expanses of boulders and scree before a final steep scramble to the jagged ridge. From the top this fell away dramatically to the fjords below and the panoramic views were the best of the trip so far. I stayed an hour or so before descending to the comforts of the van for a good night's sleep.



After returning to the mainland at Finnsnes I followed the coast road round to Harstad on Hinnoya reached by another bridge and found a place to stop on the Elgsnes peninsular.
Today has seen an exploration of Andoya one of the Vesteralen Islands and I am currently at the top end of another - the island of Langoya  at Sto on a small site that offers peace and quiet in a very special setting. The Lofoten Islands will fill the next few days before a circuit back to Narvik - if you enjoy the photos at this link it is possible to get a slideshow by clicking the'v' to the right of  the 'add photos' box and selecting the slideshow option.
Equally my whereabouts at this link are updated daily whether or not I post on the blog.

Monday, 15 July 2013

High Pressure - No Pressure

After the wild spell of weather at the top things settled down - good news for the various cyclists and others battling their way to the top including two lads pushing a wheelbarrow with all their kit. 

Round at Hammerefest I took a pitch for the night on a quiet site at the edge of town and enjoyed a walk round the bustling harbour and the following day visited the museum of freedom and liberation that detailed the horrors of Nazi occupation and the rebuilding of the town following implementation of Hitler's scorched earth policy during withdrawal. Much of the Norwegian housing up here is post war and during the occupation many survived great hardship living in caves in the mountains and using traditional survival skills.
Down at Allta the UNESCO listed rock art was very impressive and carefully explained and with clear skies I enjoyed the coastal road dominated by impressive mountains before settling for the night on the shore of Langfjorden. 
Round at Storslett the helpful information centre had a leaflet listing a number of walks in the area so I headed up the valley and found a place to spend the night alongside a hydro power scheme's dam. Rain had returned overnight but the next morning dawned bright and clear for the three hour each way walk to the 3000'summit of Favrresvarri. A footpath of sorts followed the lake shore past two bivouac shelters to a simple hut which reminded me of the DOC huts in NZ with fire wood laid on and a stove waiting to be lit - our bothies in the UK tend to be existing buildings but these are purpose built.
A couple of stream crossings en route had been hairy due to the overnight downpour but fortunately the major river had a substantial footbridge although after that there was no path - marked or otherwise so I took off across the open country leaving the birch and willow behind and below as I climbed towards the snow patches below the summit. A ptarmigan took off to reveal a lovely nest of eggs and I was soon on the summit with panoramic views in to even wilder scenery and higher tops. Norway's access rights mean you can walk freely just about anywhere but at these latitudes the season is short and even in mid July conditions can get quite demanding - indeed on the higher ridges last night's rain had fallen as snow. A different route down took me past reindeer herds one of which crossed the fast flowing river without a second thought and I returned to the van after an exhilarating day for another night of solitude.
Today has seen me travel through some superb coastal and mountain scenery and take the first of what will be many ferries over the next few weeks as I follow a somewhat mercurial route along the coast to include the Vesteralen and Lofoten islands to reach Trondheim which will be about half way down Norway. With so much free camping available sites like this one here in Tromso will act as service stops enabling me to get my laundry done, spend some time online and fill up with water but otherwise generally compared to such gems as last night they hold little appeal. With the high pressure that has brought the UK such good weather now seeming to have arrived here daytime highs of 28 - 30C and lows of around 15C when the sun is lower (it still never actually sets) will be very welcome.

The usual selection of pics are here and big brother is here. 

A good friend retires (at last ) on Friday so I will take the opportunity to wish her well but suggest that here at £9.90 a can for Guinness I will be toasting the news with a decent brew of tea!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

24 Hours At The Top

Heading back towards Honningsvag for a couple of miles put me at the start of a 5 hour return walk to Knivskjellodden (that woke the spellchecker up) which juts a mile further north than the Nordkapp and is the true most northerly point of Europe. On a dry but blustery day the walk took me out across a plateau with scrub grazed by reindeer herds, birds play acting to lead me away from their nests and a sense of remoteness  of some magnitude. In fact a couple of other people were also on the route which eventually dropped through a broad valley and down to a windswept bay. Half an hour later a stone memorial and a signing in book marked the endpoint with the cliffs of the Nordkapp away to the east and a choppy, cold looking Norwegian sea stretching in to forever.
On my way back I was fortunate to find a glove I had dropped and got back to the sanctuary of the van before the heavens opened. Back at the Cape I parked up behind a line of much larger vans as last night the howling gale had threatened to rip my bike,cover and rack from the rear door before having a quick wash and retreating to the comforts of the visitor centre for a couple of hours of people watching whilst also online.
Outside the low cloud, heavy prolonged showers and biting wind underlined the realities of this location and again I reflected on how extreme it must be in mid winter.
After an early evening lull the various coaches arrived and discharged their hundreds of passengers who all disappeared in to the exhibitions, cafes and shop - I chatted to a couple from Tasmania on their big OE and was generally bemused by all the activity. Outside the low cloud persisted until magically at the stroke of midnight there was an all too brief appearance of the sun to a round of applause, popping flashguns and general excitement. Within half an hour almost everyone had gone but after returning to the van for my heaviest down jacket I returned  as the clouds cleared more substantially to bathe everything in sunshine - again it amazed me that with no cloud it was simply broad daylight at 1am.
Today the winds were if anything even stronger and after a couple of hours of tea, biscuits and banter with Barry who is on a longish tour after retirement from various services and had a very comfortable van (only the second UK plate seen in a fortnight) I headed back along the exposed road to Honningsvag where the Oceania was berthed.- smaller than the QE but still a mighty ship. A couple of walkers, some cyclists and numerous bikers were heading north and all struggled to stay upright in the atrocious conditions - they all deserved a huge amount of respect but I was at a loss for words when I saw two lads walking and pushing a wheelbarrow containing their kit. The Nordkappelen tunnels and bridges took me back on to mainland Norway and I  am now round in Hammerfest the most northerly town in Norway where tomorrow's highlight could be the chance to be knighted with a walrus's penis bone at the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society - we'll see.
Otherwise inspired by Barry's tips from his journey up from the south I will be hugging the coast heading south, visiting the Lofoten Islands and hopping on and off ferries like buses as I cover the one thousand plus miles down to Oslo - its still nearly 400 miles just to cross back over the Arctic Circle but with 6-7 weeks in hand it will be a gradual process which you can follow here and see recorded in megabytes here.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

THE ONLY WAY IS SOUTH

Well the title says it all - sat as I am up here at the Nordkapp - the tip of the island of Mageroya in northern Norway and as far north as you can go by road in Europe. Tomorrow I will walk out the 6 miles or so each way to the true tip of the continent but for now am content to enjoy this remarkable spot. 
My journey from central Sweden mostly followed the Inlandswagen which largely shadows the Inlandsbahn (rails made in Wales boyo!) and passes through vast tracts of birch and pine woods interspersed with clear lakes, rushing rivers and hamlets of brightly painted and immaculately kept wooden cottages and huts. The odd larger town had a shop or two, cafes and a filling station but really life out there was pretty simple. I decided not to take the 'Wilderness Road' that is effectively a loop out to the Norwegian border as I can cover much of it on my way south over the next six weeks so stopped a night in Gallivare (which has a huge ore mining industry) at a winter snow sports hotel that offered camping and the biggest mozzies you ever did see. During the day I had crossed the Arctic Circle and so was now in the land of the midnight sun - a concept I had totally failed to get my head round beforehand.
Basically it did not get dark at all right around the clock - no dusk, no gloom just broad daylight at midnight, one, two or three in the morning - which made sleeping the first night bizarre as I kept wanting to check outside to see if it was still truly daylight : it was.
A brief crossing of part of Finland put me back in the land of the Euro but otherwise there was very little change - political and other boundaries up here are almost irrelevant to a culture where until recently transhumance was a way of life - Chernobyl put perhaps one of the final nails in that coffin but despite the loss of traditional culture life must be far less harsh and enduring for the Sami people as now all the trappings and comforts of western living exist even in the most isolated places. It must be awesome here during the winter as conversely there are many weeks without daylight and with heavy snowfall - every property has huge reserves of firewood and most have skidoos parked under lean to's.
A free camp by a river south of Lakselv on a warm night saw me using my mosquito net to sleep under so I could have the windows open - again the night-long daylight had me astounded but I did sleep through until 10am.
Lakslev on a sleepy Sunday morning was like a ghost town but I found the ATM for some Norwegian currency and headed out to Havoysund after initially following the Porsanger inlet of the Norwegian Sea.
This remote town is cut off for much of the year and each day at set times snow ploughs set off with private vehicles in a convoy with another plough at the rear to try to get through as the road climbs high above the Revsbotn inlet to reach the fishing port. During my visit a huge storm which I had watched drifting in all day from the south arrived and as I hunkered down by the river at Selkopp I was again very appreciative of the van's strengths and comforts and tucked in to some of the tinned and dried food I had brought with me - food in Norway is at least twice the price of the UK : a loaf and a pot of yoghurt setting me back £7!
The weather had settled for a while (enjoy the heatwave you guys back home) as I rejoined the Porsanger inlet before stopping at the site of the old ferry across to Mageroya - the views were reminiscent of Western Scotland - add in a CalMac ferry and it would have been a twin. The dense forest cover way south had slowly given way to smaller trees and now even these were absent apart from low down by the waterline. Amazingly though there were a few small flocks of sheep and probably the most northern cut of silage being taken - having the sea so close keeps this area slightly warmer than inland northern Norway and Sweden but all things are relevant. In fact it hasn't got that cold yet as of course even if it's not actually shining the sun is still there round the clock lifting the temperatures - so up to 20 Celsius if it emerges and no lower than 10 if hidden.
The old ferry has now been replaced by a combination of tunnels and bridges - the Norkapptunnel being the longest structure at just over 4 miles and plunging nearly 700 feet below sea level with a 1:8 gradient down and back out again to get under the deep sea bed. It was an amazing experience and passing the occasional cyclists reminded me of my ride under the Himalayas to Kashmir almost 30 years ago. Most of the traffic was other campervans or caravans, motorcycles and a few cars all heading for or from the one destination and I have to admire the cyclists as the road despite being very well engineered had some long challenging climbs and a very strong westerly had come howling in. The port of Honningsvag was dominated by the new Queen Elizabeth, lying majestically at anchor at the furthest point of a two week cruise up from Southampton, which dwarfed the fishing vessels and even the Hurtigruta vessel also at anchor - one of a fleet of 14 that conspire to provide a full daily service from Kirkenes to Bergen - a journey of a fortnight. I took a wander round town and even saw a big Cat fishing before heading out as the weather closed in. There seemed little point heading out to the Cape in such conditions especially as the several thousand QE customers would be milling around so I took a side detour out to remote Gjesvaer on a road that passed through pure wilderness inhabited only by skittery herds of reindeer.
A cyclist battling the heavy rain and dangerous winds was grateful for the offer of shelter, coffee and biscuits - he was on a 6 week tour from Stockholm and recommended the wild country over to the Russian border for another visit - maybe.
Finally with conditions as bad as ever I decided to stay at Europe's most northerly campsite in Skarsvag - with a hook up as a bonus and welcome hot showers - humbling to reflect that 6 months ago I was staying on Europe's most southerly site prior to crossing to Morocco and exciting to think that with luck I will be there again in another 6 months for a longer return visit. Both sites were the same price - around £16 and it was money well spent here as the most ferocious winds had picked up - it must be unbelievable here in mid winter.
So today under cloudy skies I have finally made it after some 3000 miles from the UK - even the short way back is going to be over 2000 - and it is a very special place. Despite its popularity there is no getting away from the sense of being on the edge of the world - something I last really felt at Slope Point in New Zealand's South Island - and I sensed some of the spirituality felt almost 3 years ago stood on the northern tip of NZ's North Island's Cape Reinga where amazingly there was nothing between there and the North Pole which now lies across a similarly empty span of water. It is a cause for reflection on life's changes since then and as I head south I feel it is time to enter a new chapter  - as ever no idea of the plot or the outcome but no doubt a report will appear here at some stage.
So piccies to enjoy as always are to found by clicking here and my meander south should crop up here. I will linger in this area tomorrow as well in the hope that the cloud cover will break and anyway it has been good to have a break from the driving. The £20 admission fees is steep for a day visit but actually allows you to camp here two nights, there are good facilities over in the centre and with no urgency to any of my plans it will do very nicely - perhaps the biggest dilemma is which tin of Tesco value curry do I open and shall I risk the tinned fried onions? Emails on the pros and cons very welcome!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Sweden is BIG - Very BIG!

After seeing the future for VW at the Autostadt I also enjoyed a comprehensive history of their more iconic vehicles in the nearby museum before heading north for a more sobering look in to the past. Bergen Belsen is nowadays a place of peace and tranquility but the austere display building pulls no punches when it comes to describing the atrocities that took place 70 years ago - I also offer no apology for including some disturbing images in the photo link as sadly judging by world events we have learnt very little. All the buildings were eventually burnt down by the Allies to eradicate disease and the site now offers no more than trees and a stillness only interrupted by birdsong and ironically the sound of the heavy artillery of the 7th Armoured Brigade 'The Desert Rats' stationed nearby. This may also have explained the curious number of old camper vans tucked away in nearby woods which I had assumed were people wild camping but turned out to be the business premises of working girls as indicated by the fluffy dashboards and flashing red lights. I shall have to chose my spots carefully.
Luneberg and Lubeck were both crammed full of half timbered houses, mighty churches and impressive castles which I enjoyed en route to Puttgarden where on a whim I decided to get the next ferry over to Denmark. A couple of hours up to Copenhagen and a crossing of the impressive Ostersund Bridge put me in  Malmo in southern Sweden.
After enjoying the sunshine of the Skane coast I decided to head north and was soon passing through wonderful scenery with mixed woodland interspersed with shimmering lakes and dotted with brightly painted wooden houses that were all kept in perfect condition. Diesel prices were similar to the UK but food at least twice the price so the tinned and dried goods I have brought will have to go a fair way. Camp sites seemed about the UK average (which I still think outrageous for one) but by chance I met a retired nurse and her husband who had a list of smaller cheaper sites so was able to photocopy the details for future use.
Karlsborg's huge fortress was full of interest and sat beside a vast lake - rendered obsolete by advances in weaponry the town sized site is now a training academy and public museum
Mariestad had a centre full of old houses and an impressive church and I watched numerous boats traversing the Gotha canal which links Stockholm and Gothenburg saving a lengthy sea voyage.
I then headed in to the Sewdish high country towards the Norwegian border where the long winters attract skiers and skidooers in large numbers. At this time of year it is relatively quiet and I found plenty of small deserted sites with just the occasional hiking group staying. Sweden's highest waterfall freezes solid for 5 months of the year and is a popular ice climb but of course I saw it pouring majestically from the high plateau beyond. The highest campsite in Sweden at Tanandalet once recorded a temperature of -5 Celsius in July 1888 but was pleasantly warm during my stay which of course led to large numbers of flies and mosquitoes which played havoc with a group in tents. Yet again I was grateful for the relative comforts of the van and even found a TV channel in English with Swedish subtitles showing old UK day time telly.
A quick whizz over in to Norway rewarded me with my first sight of reindeer who were ambling around grazing the verges - they were surprisingly compact and looked rather shabby as they were moulting but made for a remarkable sight.
The remote and lonely road (Sweden's highest) over the Flatruet plateau dropped down in to Mittadalen from where a bike ride and walk took me to some Stone Age rock art that was eerily similar to the Aboriginal images in Kakadu, Northern Territory.
Isolated hamlets were dotted around - fishing and hunting are still traditions but the locals also provide wonderful huts and lodges for the visiting winter sports enthusiasts.
Last night I stayed out in the wilds where a young German couple have spent 13 years constructing lodges and a home whilst raising a young family - it was all perfectly presented but so far this year has been quiet and after a poor summer last year I did wonder how they managed - winter images in their brochure looked wonderful but I think the economic downturn in Europe will have a serious effect on their business.
Today has seen a long haul north as I want to maximise my stay in Norway. The 'Inland Road' follows the same route as the 'Inland Railway' and some time tomorrow I expect to cross the Arctic Circle but the Nord Kapp is still a few hundred miles on from there reached by crossing Lappland which straddles the northern parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland and even Russia. The van seems content to chug along on the empty roads - 2000 miles covered over the last fortnight - and provides as ever for all my needs. Out here there is very little between the villages but this peaceful campsite has all mod cons - a good job too as wifi is almost non existent elsewhere.
Pictures that may cause you to reflect are here and my whereabouts can be monitored here. It may well be some time before I can post again but who knows.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

CROSSING BORDERS

An early morning ferry to Dover enabled me to swiftly enter Belgium and cross to the intersection of the German, Dutch and Belgian borders for a comfortable night near Aachen. The town's impressive Rathaus and Dom formed part of a lively centre with musicians and a market adding to the relaxed atmosphere.
The huge Hermann monument further east was of a remarkable scale - no wonder it was the sculptor's lifetime work.
In Hildesheim more remarkable civic buildings were best observed from the heights of the St Michael church spire before I continued east with a lengthy delay on the autobahn caused by a very nasty single vehicle accident that had wiped out an entire family.
On a quiet Sunday evening I pulled in to the stehlplatz adjacent to the Autostadt museum which in turn sits alongside the home of Volkswagen at Wolfsburg. This was the factory that after the war was allowed to begin production of the Beetle and is overshadowed by four haunting chimney stacks of the plant's power station. After a thorough exploration of the Autostadt's excellent displays I joined the factory tour where although photos were not permitted we were given a fascinating insight in to a cutting edge car production line. 4000 Golfs a day are produced and we were transfixed by robots and machines that created vehicles before our eyes - it takes just 30 seconds to install a complete pre assembled drive train and magical arms swept in to affix entire dashboards, windscreens, the wheels and even the space saver in the boot.
A further few hours exploring the rest of the Autostadt included a priceless chrome Bugatti Veyron, makes from days of old including a Ford Capri and many insights in to the future of the industry.
After another quiet night in the stehlplatz I am about to visit the Classic VW museum before heading north with the intention of reaching Sweden by the weekend.
Piccies here and locations here - a rather brief post as there is very little wifi in Germany and you can only stand so much of McDonalds!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Chop Chop

The major reason for delaying my departure to Scandinavia by a couple of weeks was to enable me to assist with the delivery of 20 tonnes of materials, tools and equipment to the new bothy project in the Elan Valley.
Given the limited access other than on foot the estate had budgeted for a helicopter lift due to the quantity and bulky nature of items required and the date had duly arrived.
Last week's hot weather had drifted away and we worked in typically upland conditions which at least kept the midges away. Six of us arrived at the bothy site first thing and shortly afterwards the pilot flew across to check out the location before returning with the first of more than 30 loads that had been assembled at the farm a mile or two away on the west shore.

The awesome experience of unclipping the slings as the machine roared only a few metres above our heads was a first for all of us and after initial concerns we soon slipped in to a well practised routine as timber, roofing sheets, tools, sand, scaffolding, generators and guttering arrived. Cement, lime and the new doors and windows were placed out of the elements in the tin shed we had cleared out last November and after a short lunch break whilst the machine also refuelled we were back at work. The use of such advanced technology contrasted sharply with the methods the original inhabitants must have used to both build and live in such an isolated place - the house was probably last occupied in 1953.

It was a great team effort with everyone chipping in and looking out for each other due to the obvious potential for hazards. The powerful down draft was more than capable of sending 8x4 sheets of ply spinning and no one fancied a free ride across the chilly waters if they got caught in the nets.
The pilot was highly skilled even dropping bags of aggregate with precision right in to the building itself  as well as coping with blustery conditions and loads of varying weight, dimensions and fragility. After 6 efficient hours all was done and he set off on the return to Cardiff which would take around half an hour leaving the bothy still and silent once more. Paul and his team of one (!) have a fair task ahead of them and progress will be heavily dictated by the summer weather - I will return in the autumn when we hope to be able to make a start on the internal works - floor, sleeping platform and stove installation to name a few.
Once again the cooperation between the estate and MBA members was heart warming and congratulations are deserved all round. There is positive interest from the local farming and wider community and combined with other bothies in the area there will soon be the potential for a 5-7 day mid Wales circuit of what is to my mind one of the real Welsh landscape gems.
My ferry is booked for an ungodly hour next Friday morning so my next post will originate from either Germany or Denmark en route to Sweden so meanwhile enjoy the photos HERE  (again select slideshow from the 'v' to the right of the 'Add photos' block' and keep an eye on me HERE as I head across northern Europe with the intention of crossing the Arctic Circle and possibly reaching the Nordkapp in the land of the midnight sun.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

New Ideas - Old Favourites

The HUBB overland travellers meet was held over a hot and sunny weekend at Donnington but under the flight path for East Midlands airport however I experienced little of either the sun or the planes as I was intent on seeing as much of the timetable as possible. Over the four days I saw over 30 hours of impressively professional and highly entertaining presentations, met old friends and enjoyed displays of a variety of expedition vehicles. Of course much of the emphasis was on motorcycling but even this spanned the full range from cheap Chinese mopeds through classic Nortons and Enfields to modern superbikes and of course sidecar combinations. The lad who had ridden back from Malaysia on an ex new Zealand Postal service moped gave an amusing account of his amazing journey and plans to tour the Americas on it in the future! Pedal power was also included and four wheeled vehicles were present in a remarkable variety of shapes, sizes and budgets. A new Land Rover with demountable living pod would set you back almost £80,000 whilst classic Series 2s with wooden raised roofs were priceless and had seen many adventures. On site, one neighbour had been round the world in his trusty Series 3 whilst another had spent many years criss crossing Africa. On the Sunday we all bade two couples farewell at the start of following their dreams - Mongolia and South America being the intended destinations before I stayed on to assist in the speedy take down of various marquees and exhibitions. A good meal for all volunteers rounded off an excellent weekend which left me with much to consider as to the future.
Whilst I had a rear wheel bearing replaced in Bristol I cycled out to Bath enjoying the hot sunshine and then crossed across to Wales once more for a few days within the margins of OS Sheet 147 which contains immeasurable gems and has provided me with peace and solace for over 30 years. Cors Carron RSPB reserve was my starting point with a couple of hours walking through the wetlands spotting otter footprints en route, after which I spent the night up in the Cambrian Mountains meeting another couple also enjoying the spectacular light at sunset and dawn in a stunning location. A planned ride out along the Claerwen was curtailed by my chain snapping for the third time in a week so I dropped in to Aberystwyth for new bits and bobs and met a friend for lunch by chance who was collecting his lad at the end of his first year at uni.
Nant Yr Arian provided a good testing ground for the new components with the sinuous curves of the Summit Trail providing exhilarating riding - another van was parked up for the night so I decided to stay on as well enabling me to ride the 35km Sydfrin trail the next day. This was another corker taking me over previously unexplored terrain west of Nant y Moch reservoir and passing a series of small but enchanting lakes - one of which later provided a perfect place to spend the night.
Today saw me cycling the hills and valleys east of Devil's Bridge incorporating both Nant Rhys and Nant Syddion bothies which were both in good order. A 74 year old guy exploring the area on an electrically assisted bike seemed pleased to meet another soul as the area has a complicated network of tracks and trails many passing the 40 or so turbines of the Cefn Groes windfarm.
After several days of blue skies and sunshine a change is on the cards in time for our materials lift in to the new Elan Valley bothy project but I hope to be off to the continent within a fortnight - the prospect of the Swedish (male) train drivers wearing dresses being too much to resist! - just Google it.
Piccies here, locations here and for now watch this space....

Monday, 27 May 2013

It 's a Long Way to Lundy

The unexpectedly curtailed Scottish trip left a month or so without a cunning plan but as usual I found plenty to fill in a period of largely dry but unseasonably cold weather.
A trip down to Somerset included exploration of a new length of cycle track that cleverly utilises old railway tunnels under Bath and another disused railway line traversing the Somerset Levels where abandoned peat workings now provide a range of wildlife habitats. Extensive panoramic views from Glastonbury Tor and a small, friendly farm based camp site added to the enjoyment of an area I had not previously visited in detail.
The Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton required a full day to appreciate the range of aircraft displayed with the 002 Concorde providing a fascinating insight in to the peak of British civil aviation and the history of the Falklands War tinged with emotion. The simulated aircraft carrier experience was well executed and topped off an excellent day.
After a day at the remarkable National Trust property of Tyntesfield which almost uniquely still contains all the treasures and artefacts that are original to the house, and has superb parkland grounds I returned to Brecon to admire a friend's 60 year old Morris Oxford being prepared for wedding car duty.
Over the May Bank Holiday I cycled in the Elan valley and walked across to the new bothy project we had excavated last November to see what effect the long cold winter had had on the remaining ruins. All seems well and it will be exciting to see the project begin in earnest with a helicopter lift of materials in mid June. I cycled in to Nant Rhys as well before exploring the tracts of forest and moor that surround the large Cefn Groes wind farm which was generating steadily in the strong winds.
A weekend in Shropshire included a family catch up in Bishop's Castle, a walk, bike ride and curry with Penny from Sheffield and a day out around local lanes with my brother culminating in a good pub lunch - our first day out together in decades.
Back in Brecon I enjoyed a horse shoe walk up over Pen y Fan after a late fall of snow before heading to Coventry for the result of my knee scan. Basically I have an oblique tear in the posterior horn of the medial meniscus (a torn cartilage in plain English!) which probably ought to receive further investigation and possible repair but I have decided to defer further action until September when I will be starting a 3 month period in the UK for commitments already scheduled. With cholesterol still good at 4.1 (despite a slight relaxation of my strict regime) and BP of 110/68 thankfully all seems well on the other health fronts
Thus reassured I headed south to Bristol for a memorable evening ride through the Bath tunnels with Bill and Dale once more and back via the pubs of the Kennet and Avon canal before heading down to Frome. This was the departure point for a week in Devon and on a sunny but chilly Sunday we headed down to Bridgetown on Exmoor and an excellent site alongside the Exe from where we enjoyed an evening ride across the empty moor and a night sampling the local scrumpy in the comfort of Anne and Sarah's comfy motorhome.
After a good walk up on the moor including Dunkerry Beacon - the highest point - we pitched up at Ilfracombe in preparation for the visit to Lundy.
Tuesday morning saw us checking in on the harbour front dominated rather strikingly by a Damien Hirst statue beneath which the MS Oldenburg bobbed - perhaps a smaller vessel than I had expected! Luggage and supplies were craned aboard and at 10am we departed along the impressive North Devon coast in a stiff Force 5 northerly and sea conditions described as moderate. Unfortunately despite missing breakfast I saw little of the view as the rough crossing got the better of me and it was with some relief that we arrived 2 hours later at the small jetty on Lundy's southern tip.
Soon after walking up to the small village our larger rucksacks were delivered  and we pitched camp on the empty field using the dry stone wall as a windbreak - the sun was shining though and we were soon away up the east coast passing old quarry workings, cottage ruins and one of the properties available for rent : Tibbetts which with its wood panelling and solid fuel appliances was reminiscent of an upper class bothy.
Soay sheep, Sikka deer, seals and bird life were all encountered and the flooded quarry's pond contained rather bizarrely dozens of goldfish and a large carp. From the north lighthouse we enjoyed phenomenal views along much of the south Welsh coastline - from Milford Haven and the Preselli's via Pembrey, Llanelli, Worm's Head, Gower, Swansea, Port Talbot and the cliffs of coastal Glamorgan round to Cardiff; whilst to the south and west lay Hartland Point and the coast south to Land's End.
After a walk back along the spine of the island the Marisco Tavern provided a welcoming bolt hole and we slept well with total peace enveloping the island whilst the generator was at rest from midnight to 6am.
Wednesday saw us walk the rugged west coast with side trips to the old Fog Battery and the granite slab known as the Devil's Slide before falling asleep in the midday sun leaving me foolishly somewhat sunburned.
We dined well in the Tavern in the company of a lass from Sheffield who was camping and also on her first visit - with a fine evening outside we all decided to walk over to the old lighthouse and ascend the spiral steps to the lofty platform for a panoramic view of the island as the skies darkened.

Very strong winds kept me awake most of the night as my tent flapped wildly despite being fully pegged down but the excellent hot showers soon had me refreshed and by 9.30 our bags were ready for collection  leaving us the day to walk round the south side of the island and watch the Oldenburg arrive after another lively crossing. We took a closer look at the other properties available for rent and the remarkable church built by a Reverend Heaven with granite exterior and decorative brick lining. At four o'clock and buoyed by ginger biscuits we boarded the ship once more and set off with the sea described as rough to moderate. For 2 hours we rose and fell on endless waves that occasionally washed across the decks - Pete had chosen a good spot though and we remained dry although at one point the crew asked everyone to move indoors during a particularly rough patch. Thanks to the biscuits (I think) I was able to enjoy the excitement of the crossing and the spectacular coastline and soon after arrival we had collected our bags, picked up pizzas at Tesco's and were cosily installed on a cool and windy evening.
On the Friday we headed across to Lynton and enjoyed a walk down to the village and back along the coast via the Valley of Rocks and the Lee Abbey grounds before a night in front of the telly with hook up keeping the chill at bay. It is almost 30 years since I last walked in this area as I undertook the Minehead to Bude section of the SWCPP in 1984 and it still retains its beauty and grandeur with plunging valleys, lush woodlands, rocky headlands and hidden coves.
On Saturday we parked up near Watersmeet to enjoy a mini expedition that took us along the coast path over Countisbury Hill, down in to the Doone Valley and then high on to Exmoor for a night under the stars part way along the Two Moors Way. Again it is many years since I slept in a bivvy bag and in such excellent conditions it was a real privilege to be out in such a magical place. A few hours more on Sunday morning returned us to the van which in turn returned us to Frome after what had been a full, varied and rewarding week.
This weekend I am in Leicestershire for the HU Overland Travellers UK meet after which I will get the van bearings done and new tyres fitted in readiness for a trip to Sweden and Norway that is planned to start once the bothy materials lift has been completed in mid June. I plan to be away until late August and hope to return to more regular blog postings once on the road again.
Quite a few pics appear here due to the long interval since my last musings - Picasa seems to have morphed in to Google + which is a little irritating but persevere by clicking the 'v' to the right of 'Add photo's'  and you will be able to run a slideshow which I hope you will enjoy and my sporadic locations will appear here.