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....