Friday, 19 December 2014

Back in the Alentejo

After many enjoyable weeks in the sun at the quinta near Marvao it was time to return home to catch up with family and friends so I headed across to Lisbon breaking the journey with a quiet night alongside the lake at Montargil.
Easy Parking at Lisbon airport provided a secure place to leave the van at around £4 a day and I was soon whisked over to Departures and by mid afternoon we were banking towards Bristol airport high above Weston Super Mare's pier.
The journey to Shropshire was broken by a very comfortable night and excellent meal at The Bear near Crickhowell and we arrived to find Mum looking fit and well and her new home as cosy and welcoming as ever.

After catching up on paperwork and news over a few days I then headed north for two weeks in the Lake District where amongst various groups of friends I enjoyed some memorable walks, good food and stunning scenery with predominantly fine weather. The Langdale Pikes, Coniston Old Man and Wetherlam were all tackled as well as the shore walk on Ullswater, a circuit including Tarn Hows and the undulations of Lingmell. The Britannia Inn was as unspoilt as ever and for this year only we were in the rather sumptuous Beckside West Lodge with high tech entertainment systems, a stylish fire and showers of unnerving strength and complexity. Our usual abode was having a major refurbishment and looked very smart but we have decided to put both weeks on the market as the opportunity for family to stay in the future is dwindling - however there is no rush to sell and I may well be fortunate enough to stay again next year.
A smooth journey down to Pembrokeshire passed through some of Wales's finest scenery and whilst down there we took the major decision to book flights to Melbourne in the Spring. Thus we are committing ourselves to a 6 week outback tour that will cover around 6000 miles of unforgiving territory but should give us a tremendous insight in to a part of the world that we touched on briefly four years ago.
During my final week in Shropshire Mum and I visited family friends in Cheshire and I arranged van insurance for Morocco and met friends from my smallholding days for meals before heading to Bristol where Bill and Sue kindly put me up and then delivered me to the airport for my return flight. Somewhat illogically Easy Parking only pick you up from Departures which caused a slight delay but the van was in good order and, after reconnecting the battery kill switch, started first time.
Soon after I was a little further along the coast at a free aire in Belem tucked amongst a few other vans alongside the river. Two roads, a tram and a rail line created a bit of noise but it was quiet enough overnight and by mid morning on the Monday I was on the tram in to Lisbon proper after posting my old insurance certificate back to the UK. The centre part of the city was totally refashionned after the destructive 18th century earthquake and has a major square near the river linked to others by wide streets with high class shops, numerous cafes and a host of classical buildings. Street artists were at work in the warm sunshine and the colourful old trams rattled alongside the more sophisticated new carriages that move both locals and tourists alike. A maze of alleys led me up to the castle for extensive views including back down to the cruise ship terminal where the Oriana which had glided past me overnight sat overpowering a smaller liner. Back at Belem on a mild evening I took some photos of the old Lisbon power station and the April 25 Bridge which mimics the Golden Gate one in San Francisco before passing another quiet night.

Tuesday morning began with a walk up to the iconic Belem tower followed by a visit to the Maritime Museum and the Manueline monastery alongside before a visit to the old power station - now a remarkable museum with plant and machinery on an impressive scale all beautifully preserved. After lunch I set the sat nav for Marvao and enjoyed the 3 hour drive on empty roads through familiar scenery. A spectacular sunset as I arrived at Marvao finished off a good day and I was soon tucked away alongside the convent beneath the hill top town - almost deserted in comparison to the throngs that were enjoying the Chestnut Festival on my last visit.
Unfortunately the Sisters of Mercy provided too much shelter as their church blocked out the rising sun but by mid morning I was back to Yolande's to be greeted by the enthusiastic dogs, raucous geese and saintly Colleen. Much progress had been made on the roof, a wood shed, fencing and the domestic electrics and it all seemed comfortingly familiar as I spent the day checking the contents of the van and loading up with the items I had left in storage.
Yesterday I spent a warm and sunny day in Castelo de Vide enjoying the views from up on the castle roof and receiving email confirmation that my letter posted on Monday had arrived and been dealt with regarding insurance for Morocco - remarkable service from all concerned.
My base for the next fortnight is once more Camping Asseiceira where I have the cosy round room - a former wine store - with ensuite shower and kitchen. The closed site looked in excellent order as a mild autumn has allowed the grass to grow and Gary reported another busy and successful year. The sad loss of a local expat and the imminent demise of another who is seriously ill had upset the rest of what is a close and supportive community so I hope his holiday across in Spain is a chance to recuperate and enoy a break before the season begins again on the 2nd of January.
A group of us enjoyed a good meal in Portagem where the wood stove kept the chill night at bay before I spent a slightly restless night as a rare cold has developed over the last few days.
However I expect to be as right as rain soon enough and will get the bike out if only to ride over to Yolande's on Christmas Day as they have invited me to join them.

A look back at some of the highlights of the last month will be found at this link and my locations will be reported here.

Apologies for the long interval since my last update but I took the bare minimum of luggage back and trying to post via a small phone screen would have been rather tedious.




Wishing everyone a very Happy Christmas wherever you are spending it and looking forward to a rewarding New Year.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Marvao Chestnut Festival

This annual weekend festival is one of the highlights of the local calendar and as observed last week there had been plenty of planning in anticipation. Gary's site and rooms were busy and up at the town stalls, lighting. stages and marquees were being erected.
However after weeks of  hot sunny weather a low had gathered out west which shrouded the hilltop town in cloud and brought cold winds and blustery showers and deterred me from visiting on the Saturday.
However Sunday dawned bright and clear so after attending to the various animals and giving the dogs a good walk I hopped on the bike and took the back road up to town. Cars were parked in every available space on the approaches as the GNR were limiting access as busses were laid on for the twisty access road but I was waved through and was soon locking my bike up outside the convent.
The town was bustling with life - not something I have seen on previous evening visits - as visitors explored the narrow streets, watched bands and displays in the sunny squares and consumed pounds of chestnuts cooked en masse in half oil drums giving off a heavenly aroma. Below the castle chickens were being barbecued and a host of stalls selling cheese, wine, olive oil, craft products lined the town walls.
Everyone was in good spirits and I enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere and watching the performances. Two young jugglers took centre stage in the main marquee and deservedly received much applause from the crowd.

As I was leaving I saw one of the cleverest acts I have seen in the shape of a seemingly elderly couple wandering through the streets greeting all and sundry. A young lad in a wheelchair was absolutely entranced and they took the time to pose for pictures with him and his family before heading off in to the crowds jabbering away.




Downhill all the way made for a rapid return to the quinta where all was well and arrangements were made to collect Yolande on her return this week.

Yesterday  Colleen and I headed across to Spain for the weekly market in Valencia D'Alcantara where we bought various fruit, veg, cheeses and some fabric - a new throw for the van seat for me and curtain material for her. After a decent coffee in the square we returned to finish sorting out the house and garden whilst Anna added the final touches to the walls and steps she has built during the last fortnight. She had made a delicious tortilla from the eggs that arrive at the rate of 8 or 9 a day here which we all enjoyed in the sun but last night saw prolonged and torrential rain which will no doubt encourage the fire salamanders out once more.

However as always the van provided a warm and cosy environment and I settled in to watch a couple of films having assisted Colleen in catching up with emails etc. as unfortunately she had dropped her laptop and the hard drive could be heard creaking ominously.

Anyway having not moved far this last week there are no Spots but a flavour of the Chestnut Festival can be found HERE

I will probably head away for a couple of days on Friday before returning here on Sunday as I intend to leave my bike, the generator and laptop here for safety as the van will be in Lisbon's airport parking for almost 4 weeks - my return to the UK being scheduled for the 18th.

There is a chance of a return to Oz next summer for an extended off road tour of the outback passing through Alice Springs once more but using the old outback trails that even the trusty bus would struggle with - here is a flavour of what we might expect .....................






Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Still sitting - sitting still .............

So here I am still based on a small quinta in the Sao Mamede National Park beneath the towering rock outcrop that gives Marvao its panoramic views.

An easy routine has been adopted by Colleen, myself and all the animals and 3 weeks has passed surprisingly quickly, helped of course by almost unbroken sunshine.
The day starts with the 5 dogs being let out and the donkeys and sheep receiving some hay - fed in this part of the world to overcome the scorching summer rather than a bare winter. The geese and other poultry then receive their rations and I take the dogs down to the enchanting farm ruin being restored further down the track - usually accompanied by 2/3 of the  cats. Various local people arrive during the day to attend to a number of tasks - Anna is building stone walls, Monique is finishing a traditional chimney, Carlos is constructing a wood shed and Raffie and David are fitting in extensive fencing work around their college studies.

I have done a number of odd jobs, read extensively and been out for a spin on the bike a few times but largely stay on site with my scanning in of several hundred slides from 3 decades ago almost complete - it has been good to reawaken old memories of India, Nepal and the heyday of my caving enthusiasm.


An evening up to Marvao to capture the sunset culminated in the discovery of a flat battery which my jumpstart pack overcame but seriously dim lights on the return along narrow and unfamiliar lanes indicated an alternator problem. This was confirmed the following morning with my multimeter so the defective item was removed and I presented myself at a car parts store in Portalegre where despite the language barrier it was fairly obvious what was required. A new one was ordered with delivery after the weekend so I returned to the quinta via the supermarket as I was not keen to use the pool car more than necessary so stocked up with supplies. I put the battery on a 48 hour charge as it had obviously been missing out - probably from somewhere in Spain a couple of weeks ago - and it seems to have recovered well.

On the Monday Colleen's cat required a trip to the same vet that we had taken the Westie to as she had an inflamed leg following an altercation with one of the resident cats. A good hour's attention plus anaesthesia, medication and follow up blood test amounted to £40 - a fraction of the cost in the UK and we had time to collect the new alternator which had confounded my expectations by turning up as promised at the store. On a foul night with strong winds and heavy rain we returned to base and were both soon tucked way as the heavens emptied.
Tuesday however dawned bright and sunny and after the livestock routine I soon had the alternator installed and all was working well - the old one had been fitted in 2009 prior to the Oz/NZ trip and had needed a repair in Melbourne which had never been quite right but anyway I guess 120,000 miles is not too bad.

Today has seen me out on the bike for 5 hours as it was a cloudless sky and the temperatures hovered in the early twenties whilst the sun was up but soon fell away after dusk. The empty roads, stunning scenery and friendly locals made for a memorable day and affirmed my feeling that the Alentejo is one of the most appealing parts of Portugal which in itself is a very rewarding country to explore.
Thus the final week here begins of which the highlight will be the weekend Chestnut (Castanhas) Festival in Marvao which draws in huge crowds - up in the town there was a lot of preparatory work underway and if the weather holds it should be a memorable event so return to this spot for an update early next week.


Talking of spots I have not moved very far over the last 3 weeks but the odd foray is recorded HERE and this post's piccies lurk HERE


It seems odd that in two weeks time I will be back in the UK and four weeks after that I will be back here again..........but it will be good to catch up with family and friends and enjoy a Guiness or two

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Easy Living

After a good catch up with Gary and friends at Camping Asseiceira I headed over to Yolande's small farm a couple of miles away, tucked beneath the ridge where Marvao sits on its lofty perch. 
Over the next few days I picked up the daily routine regarding the care and welfare of 3 donkeys, 5 dogs, 5 sheep, 4 geese, 4 cats, 16 chickens and 2 ducks, tried to memorise a host of names and individual foibles and met a number of locals who are undertaking various tasks around the place. Much of this centres around restoring power and function to various systems such as phone, internet and wifi as well as well and borehole pumps, showers and boilers following a recent lightning strike that knocked out many devices and caused numerous short circuits.

I parked the van up in the shade of some olive trees and have a hook up to the bore hole cabinet for power, good clean water and thanks to a network circulating around the ring main good fast personal wifi access which has made keeping in touch with people and events very straightforward.
After a day or two of mixed weather with some torrential downpours things have setlled down with cloudless skies and day time highs of 32 -35 with overnight temperatures hovering around 15 degrees.
A hazard for the dogs here is the barbed grass seed which can get lodged in ears and eyes and indeed Cherry the Westie displayed a swollen paw one morning which resulted in a trip to the excellent vet in Portalegre. her almost perfect English was a bonus as the pooch was anaesthetised, the paw opened up and the offending item flushed out. Over the next few days we had to flush the wound through and administer painkillers and antibiotics and she has now made a full recovery - we have a follow up visit tonight which will be combined with a supermarket sweep at the large L'Eclerc that will see me right for a week or so
After treating us to a substantial meal out just across the border in Spain, Yolande has now departed on a much needed holiday leaving her good friend Coleen and I to adopt a relaxed routine enabling us both to leave the property as required - I have taken a couple of spins out on the bike exploring local trails and we both returned to her old house which is on the market pending her possible relocation to the UK. 

The days are filled with a host of minor errands - in Castello de Vide we shopped at the weekly market, dropped off dry cleaning, picked up some items from the small hardware store and joined a dozen or so others for a farewell meal as Gary's business partner Chris is returning to the UK for the winter - he lives near the proposed HS2 route and is busy battling bureaucracy regarding the devaluation of property prices. It was a lively evening with excellent food - I enjoyed the cuttlefish and a superb cheesecake washed down with plenty of beer and wine - all for the princely sum of £15.
A new cover for the well, lighting for the chicken run to try and provoke egg production, repairs and improvements to the goose shed as well as the construction of a new pedestrian gate have all helped the first fortnight to fly by and with a curry on Friday to look forward to all is well.
So far back in Shropshire the mail has produced no unexpected issues for either Mum's or my affairs and she is looking forward to a visit from her sister next week when I hope to Skype them for a catch up.
This morning I have checked in for my return flight in 3 weeks time, I will probably have a night in Lisbon as apparently it is an attractive city to visit, and will be leaving various items of value safely here as the van will be in airport parking for 3 weeks.

My location hardly varies at the moment but this link may indicate my occasional whereabouts and the following photos will introduce you to some of the new friends here and the superb local scenery.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Snowbird.

So after a successful Brecon Beast Event I popped up to Shropshire where we remembered Dad on his first anniversay in a suitably quiet and respectful way. Continuing good weather put the seal on Mum's new life with the village, the estate and her amazing little home looking at their best for a visit from the wonderfully supportive friends and neighbours who came over for the day from Coventry.
Unfortunately I missed their visit as I was happily farm sitting near Brecon and making good use of the barn to prep the van for its MOT which it passed with flying colours - as mentioned before at 300,000 miles and 15 years of age : not bad. Four new tyres were fitted anyway as I will be away for some time and as I had also renewed the front brakes and done a general service all that remained was to touch up a few spots of rust (including the common area under the windscreen), redo the side door with a couple of rattle cans and all was set for another journey. I took the opportunity to fully review the contents and their stowage and was again able to make small improvements and add travel guides for next year's adventures and some specialist kit for possibly Toubkal and the Mulhacen plus the via ferratas of the Italian Dolomites.
Two friends from Bristol dropped over for the weekend which included a long walk over the Brecon Beacons, a curry on a busy night in Brecon and another long day around the Elan Valley where Lluest Cwm Bach provided a welcome shady lunchstop on a warm September day.
Anyway eventually I headed off to Portsmouth to meet Greg for a visit to the historic dockyard that we had last visited in 2012. Our main aim was the Mary Rose but first we crossed over to visit the submarine museum which was very entertaining. A WW2 midget submarine brought home the bravery of the submariners whose vessels were towed across the North Sea and then sent deep in to the Norwegian fiords in search of the German fleet - these heroic deeds had been much celebrated in monuments and plaques I had seen in Norway last year but to see an example of the cramped and very basic craft in real life was very revealing.


Even more basic was a very early submarine that had been recovered from the sea bed and restored - basically a cast iron tube that contained a large diesel engine, one torpedo and precious little else.
Thus when we were escorted on to HMS Alliance we felt more up to date. The huge vessel is now out of the water and is presented in its fully operational state (having served well in to the 1970's) and former crew gave us a detailed and fascinating insight in to the realities of submersed life. The torpedo tubes, navigational equipment, diving gear, crew quarters, catering facilities, operations centre and engine compartment were all visited and we developed an understanding of some of the pressures and difficulties of life on board. However compared to modern nuclear submarines all the intricate engineering is technologically obsolete but I guess the personal challenges faced by the crew remain very much the same.
Anyway such was the fascination with more modern warfare that we ran out of time to see the Mary Rose but will visit next year as the tickets are valid for 12 months and after a drink before the setting sun watching the busy waterway I was soon in the modest queue for the LD/DFDS overnight sailing to Le Havre. For the bargain price of £40 the van and I were delivered in comfort across a calm Channel and we arrived as the port slowly woke to another sunny day.
The sat nav was set to avoid toll roads and bridges as I had discovered last year that the new fixed roof seemed to attract higher fees and in any case for once I was in no hurry to cover the distance involved (1200 miles) to the campsite near Marvao in Portugal. Thus by the end of the day after a shop and a doze at lunch time I arrived in the Loire and stayed at a small aire in Grize north of Angers. Three other vans were also parked up by the river under the trees but there was plenty of room and after a walk around the village I slept soundly on a warm night.
The troglodyte village of Rochemenier an hour or so away provided a fascinating diversion with two complete farms carved out of the soft sandstone rock. Several houses, stables, grain stores, a meeting hall, workshops and a church were all filled with contemporaneous artefacts and gave a real flavour of how life must have been. I took a real liking to the photos of an old woman struggling with a ploughshare and then mastering a very early motor car - what a character.

By the end of the day I was at Les Eyzies in the Vezere staying on another aire - these provide cheap and often free overnight stops in a variety of villages and towns and are an ideal option for those passing through - many have power, water and waste facilities to hand and should be available more widely in the UK - my regular haunt in Brecon is actually listed as one of only a handful in the UK whereas France and Germany have hundreds.
Saturday saw me arrive in the Pyrenees where a small Aire Naturelle (effectively camping a la ferme) seemed an ideal stop for the night as the aire in the nearby village had a few vans in already and I fancied a hot shower. 9 euros a night gave me a quiet spot on a terrace above the farm house with a spectacular view, excellent facilities and a chance to do a good walk from the door.
This I undertook on the following day and it gave me the chance to adjust to the scale of the 1:50,000 maps, the scale of the Pyreneean terrain and the vagaries of recent changes as my maps were bought in the late 80's. However I enjoyed a 7 hour walk that took in a good ridge with some scrambling that offered superb views over to distant higher peaks and passed through high pasture where abandonned shepherds huts contained the slowly disintegrating remains of a former way of life.
From the Col de Solour I tackled a very steep route to another high crest but then found out why it wasn't marked as a path - the continuation to the craggy summit became exposed and impenetrable and it was with some relief that I descended the way I had come leaving the territory to the goats whose agility conspired to make my cautious progress seem pitiful.
Heading over to the Spanish border I spotted the perfect wild pitch on a terrace above the road which I shared with a French girl also living full time in her van - bizarrely at dusk we were joined by a mature French couple in a small Citroen car who promptly both climbed in to the back seats and spent the night in what must have been even less comfort than the Wicked I had spent a short time in whilst in Oz.
Again with plenty of time to spare I decided to walk up to the Refuge de Plombie and enjoyed its spectacular location at the foot of the towering Pic du Midi D'Ossau which on a clearer, calmer day is apparently within the average remit. However the fog shrouded vertical crags were somewhat intimidating and I was content to return to the van and head over to Spain via the Col de Pourtalet.
Somewhere norh west of Zaragoza I spotted a turn off in to a small national park and decided to head up a steep dirt track to find a place for the night. However as heavy rain was forecast it seemd quite possible that a descent and the flat plain below would become treacherous so I returned nearer to the road and was soon settled down miles from anywhere as the heavens opened on a sultry night
No surprise then when at around 4am a vehicle passed (this has been a regular feature of many a similar seemingly remote wild camp over the years) so I thought little of it.
The next morning two deep tracks led around the corner and a few hundred yards away lay a seriously bogged down car but no sign of any driver - fortunately the sun had dried out the track again and I was able to resume my journey across the vast empty and arid plains of the Mantera with a brief stop in Soria and then longer at the mediaeval village of Calatanazor with its lofty ruined castle and half timbered houses bearing distinctive conical chimneys.

A quick shop in a L'Eclerc stocked up my fridge and cupboards with the machine happy to accept my card (and more importantly return it : always a moment of slight agitation) but the free in store wifi was down so a local McDonalds provided a brief connection to check all was well back in the UK.
Segovia's impressive aqueduct failed to carry away the heavy rains so I nipped up to the elaborate cathedral and then headed off to Avila an impressive walled city that also claimed to have an aire. Maybe it did but unfortunately the circus was in town and on the aire so I decided to push on as it was early and reached La Alberca in the Serra De Francia at dusk. Another mediaeval village greeted me with more quaint streets, traditional houses and at the top of the main road a large and empty car park clearly signed for overnight use. Two other vans were tucked away as I settled in, strolled down to a bar for a couple of cervezas and slept soundly after grilled trout and a range of veg.
The area has a number of walks so on a sunny Friday morning at the end of my first week away after looking round the maze of old streets I set off for the Pena de Francia, the highest hill locally which sports a remote convent and fortification.
The chestnut trees were bursting and the path well marked although a river crossing was enlivened by the rain that had fallen overnight. Only half the clapper bridge remained but after some searching I found a substantial post wedged in the bank and used it to complete the crossing arriving 90 minutes later at the rocky summit. The quiet convent and church were open and the panoramic views made the effort well worthwhile - only a handful of other visitors were present - and my return to La Alberca by the same route was uneventful.
So today I have arrived at Camping Asseiceira near Marvao where Gary and Joao gave me a warm welcome and where tonight 7 of us have enjoyed an excellent meal prepared by Chris who also spent much of the last year in Warwickshire and attended an evening class learning Portuguese at Warwick University : if only I had known!!
Anyway we were joined by Yolande, Colleen and Ali for a very sociable evening catching up on news both locally and abroad and looking at arrangements for my imminent session at Yolande's smallholding. It will certainly be different and will no doubt be reported here in due course but for now that is more than enough.


My sporadic locations lie at the link here   

and some photographic highlights of the last week or two can be found here.

Monday, 15 September 2014

September Sunshine

Late August saw me down in West Wales where a number of suspicious strangers lurked around the lanes of Moylegrove refusing to divulge the nature of their business. 



The blustery Bank Holiday weather saw me tucked away beneath the Epynnt ranges before I headed to Shropshire to see an IFA as part of tidying up my affairs before resuming my travels. A quick trip to Sheffield to see Penny included a good walk around local hills and a trip to the extensive Treacle Market in Macclesfield which had the atmosphere and range of produce reminiscent of French village life.

A ride in to Lluest Cwm Bach bothy to see how the whitewash had turned out (a refreshingly bright makeover has further improved this unique gem) formed part of a good loop from Llangurrig to Rhayader and back via Cwmystwyth during which I also inspected Nant Rhys.

En route to North Wales we completed the delightful Precipice Walk near Dolgellau and explored the tracks around the old Brithdir copper workings that lie near another bothy : Nant Rhys.
Our stop for the night was unplanned but after checking out Cae Adda campsite on the southern shore of Trawsfynydd the sublime location, deserted field, excellent facilities and warm late afternoon sunshine made the decision for us and we enjoyed a a memorable night as a waxing gibbous moon rose - Google it !

Saturday saw us scale Cnicht - the Welsh Matterhorn apparently - followed by a loop round the extensive Croesor quarry workings : long since abandoned but still presenting a fascinating array of old workings, buildings and inclined planes. A strong draught issuing from the main level indicated extensive workings deeper in to the mountain - this fact later confirmed by a mines enthusiast who told us that a 6 hour through trip is possible with an abseil down in to workings that start on the other side  of the range. However we were content to amble back to the village of Croesor and head north to the far side of the Carneddau for a wild camp high above Dolgarrog on a warm and sunny evening.


An early start saw us heading past the last occupied house sitting remotely at the head of the spectacular valley before a steep climb and an airy ridge saw us lunching below Carnedd Llewellyn.
As we reached the sumit the erratic clouds cleared only to surround us later as we descended north leading to a slight navigational error easily corrected at an early stage by Sarah's new Garmin.
Passing above Dulyn bothy we were back at the van after an eight hour day to share our quiet pitch with a couple in a blue Type 2 almost identical to my first air cooled VW back in the mid 80's.
We needed an easier day on the Sunday so parked at Tanygrisiau to explore other workings that led back to Croesor as part of a walk through a fascinating part of North Wales' industrial heritage.
Back at Cae Adda we had the tranquil site to ourselves and on the Monday started from there to circumnavigate the lake on a new cycle/walkway that passed the former reactor buildings now partially decommissioned. A new teashop nearby is to be highly recommended and after passing through Trawsfynydd village we took the metal walkway across the southern half of the lake to return to the site for another memorable evening.
Tuesday morning saw us walking the 'New Precipice Walk' on the southern end of the Rhinogs which is more demanding than the original but less well signed and offers a panoramic view over the estuary and across to Barmouth.
Finally we drove south stopping for a treat at the Cross Foxes pub which has had a much needed but sensitive makeover and checking out another T4 camper that is for sale - a nice example with only 90k on the clock, a decent conversion and in good order. However it would need the pop top changing to a high top for my needs which would add 20% to the asking price but I will retain the details just in case as my old girl topped the 300,000 mile milestone last week and is due an MOT this week.

East of Aberystwyth we found a remote and idyllic place I had stayed in last year that I felt would make a fitting finale to our week and we were rewarded well with no other occupants, a sunny evening, dinner cooked over an open fire and coffee under a full moon - it reminded us both of many special nights in similar circumstances across Europe and in particular New Zealand and Oz.

A quick trip to Shropshire saw the last tweaks to my financial arrangements and Mum's affairs before I head south in 3 weeks and I then returned to Brecon for the start of the 2014 Brecon Beast charity mountain bike event.

The usual suspects gathered on the Friday to erect signage, check gates, and assemble the bones of a feed station with a long day on Saturday seeing everything in place for the 900 or so riders who turned up for a mass start. Hundreds of riders had camped the night before and enjoyed the excellent catering provided by the Leisure Centre whilst others arrived in droves as the morning mist cleared.
A safety and pep talk brought us to 9am and with the crowd cheering a police escort took us down towards Llangorse and the first of many steep ascents - Crad and I saw the last rider through and then followed on removing the signage which set the tone for the day as other volunteers, marshals, sweep riders and the Mountain Rescue all chipped in to ensure the day ran smoothly. Back at event HQ another dedicated team had issued numbers, checked details and were in place to welcome the riders back with T shirts and applause.



A few minor injuries were as expected but good weather limited these and again the event was voted a major success with the riders expressing their appreciation to all involved to which I would like to add personal thanks to Dale, Crad, Jason and Al for another few days of laughs and mickey taking that seem to epitomise this remarkable event - in fact I might phone Al in person.......... ( an in joke).


So what a year - losing Dad exactly 12 months ago has been a massive jolt to the family and his many friends and resulted in many changes during that time - we have come through it as generally you do and Mum could not be in a better place surrounded as she is by two adoring grandchildren, the rest of the family, new neighbours and friends and a cosy house that reflects Dad's style and tastes but also has a definite aura of Mum's strength and personality about it. The opportunities for cultural and social exchange are remarkable in England's smallest town and the rolling Shropshire Hills are a joy to travel through.

My plans revolve around a migration south for the approaching winter and will as ever be reported here along with my progress at this link.

Piccies to entertain and amuse may well appear here and an invitation to join me in Portugal before Christmas, Morocco after February and Italy in the Spring is extended to anyone with a sense of humour and adventure.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

AWOL

Well here we are back after an absence of over 2 months : plenty of developments largely centred around getting Mum moved safely over to a new house in Shropshire where I am delighted to report she is very happy and has settled well in to a friendly and supportive community on her small estate.
The sale of her old house was an unnecessarily protracted affair thanks to unacceptable delays by the legal teams on both sides but we could not have asked for a better family to deal with and hope they will be very happy at No 22.
Thus I also have new contact details but my email and mobile remain unchanged and can be found in the profile section of the blog.
The van and trailer proved up to the job of moving furniture and posessions to the new house or new owners and is now a few hundred miles short of notching up 300,000 miles. It has been good to get away for a few days here and there with the HUBB event proving a memorable success. Plenty of old friends were met during a weekend of useful displays and inspirational presentations and I enjoyed meeting new faces during volunteering stints - a huge thank you to the organisers and in particular the techie guys and gals who helped my humble presentations appear on the big screen.


After the concrete pour north of Brecon two days of hard work saw a spacious and elegant summer house installed at a friends under the watchful eye of the Major. It took some care and ingenuity to get 8 heavy and cumbersome roof panels in place but the end result was well worth it and indeed a few weeks later Mum and I were royally entertained in its cosy confines.


A few days in North Wales with perfect weather saw a return to Caernarvon and the fascinating National Slate Museum - well worth a visit. With luck I will be in Snowdonia again in early September for a week of walking the tops once the schools have returned.

A very enjoyable weekend in Somerset started with an evening at Thornbury Sailing Club where we watched a couple of races cope with somewhat tranquil conditions against a stunning backdrop - a cycle over the original Severn crossing earlier had been superb on a glorious day.


A group of us enjoyed a ride around the Somerset levels - now recovering from the winter floods I had witnessed from ground level and the air earlier this year. The lanes were quiet and the old peat railway provides a good link heading west out of Glastonbury to various bird reserves. A nostalgic night at the Hunters Inn near Priddy was a reminder of old times, a late phone call from a neighbour in Coventry a reminder of the issues still to be resolved. Fortunately as it turned out the alarm which had gone off at the old house proved to be a false one on my arrival on Sunday - apologies to the neighbours who had to sleep with windows closed on one of the hotter nights of the year!

Anyway things are now settling down and I have plans in hand to get back on the road in early October with a ferry to France followed by a relaxed journey down to Portugal where I will spend a couple of weeks farm sitting and enjoy the chestnut festival in Marvao before returning for a few weeks to check all is well and then returning to Camping Asseiceira for Christmas. Early January should see us heading across to  Morocco with the intention of visiting some old favourites and an area in the far south that I deliberately left for a return visit. 

Before then I will give the van a good service and see what the MOT throws up, assist with the 2014 Breon Beast, spend a week in Snowdonia, farm sit near Brecon for a week and prepare for a winter away so have plenty to do.

In between I shall no doubt continue to thrash around the hills of Mid Wales - recent highlights have been a completion of the lengthy and challenging Epynnt Way, various moorland circuits in the Elan Valley, thrilling rides in to most of our bothies and just last weekend a superb ride following the Monks' Trod that links the abbeys at Strata Florida and Abbeycwmhir. This latter ride was the prelude to another memorable work party at Lluest Cwm Bach where we limewashed the walls to brighten the interior. A hard working team achieved a great deal, enjoyed two barbecues and shared a host of laughs and memories from what for some of us is almost thirty years of involvement with the Mountain Bothies Association : congratulations to Martyn for organising the occasion and it was good to see Tony B active again after a summer which has seen nearly every regular volunteer break something - none of which I hasten to add as a result of bothy related activities!

Just before the work party a highlight of the summer came in the form of a trip in to the old lead and silver mines of the Ystwyth valley. Two novices joined three old timers on two excursions in to these extensive and absorbing workings - the dramatic surface ruins a portent of what lay below. From a series of levels various deep shafts headed off above and below to the further limits of the workings that date back to Roman times and provided a fascinating few hours of exploration. Chris and Craig coped very well with deep water, exposed drops and a couple of tightish pipes under the supervision of Kingsley who at 75 is something of an inspiration! Having mastered the Go Pro I am building up a collection of videos that enhance my recording of various activities but for now the piccies HERE will have to suffice.

So with much to look forward to I hope to post again shortly so watch this space.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

HUBB UK 2014 19th-22nd June

Since our return from Portugal life has largely concentrated on Mum's move to Shropshire with big developments expected shortly.

In between I have enjoyed a memorable ride in the Elan Valley checking up on bothies,





 a soggy farm sit near Brecon and a stunning day on the Carmarthen Fans. 



This was followed by a long walk in superb conditions around the Cotswold Valleys north of Bristol which left us all grateful for a pint after a long hot day.


Excitement was provided by a concrete pour involving a large lorry in a tight site.



Exertion came in the form of various thrashes on the bike around the mid Wales trails of Abergorllech and Halfway. A more leisurely ride along the Millenium Coast path to Pembrey saw major dredging works at Burry Port Inlet which looked like a good day out for the machinery operatives!



The excellent Carwood's up here in Coventry gave the van's turbo an hour's diagnostic check over and pronounced both it and the engine to be in good order - it was refreshing to find a company that did not take the opportunity to make a quick buck as I was fully expecting to have to splash out a fair whack on a replacement : they would not even take payment for the exploratory work.

This weekend has been spent placing spare furniture with first time buyers as Mum will be treating herself to new and putting my presentation photos in order for the forthcoming Horizons Unlimited UK event in 3 weeks time.

It promises to be yet another inspirational weekend so try to find a gap in your diary for at least one day at Donington - get organised before the 12th of June for a useful saving and visit  

www.horizonsunlimited.com/events/hubbuk-2014 

During the 90 minute presentation I shall look back over a decade of travel to Europe, North Africa and Australasia with glimpses further back that cover life before I took to the road and the more recent changes whilst the 45 minute session will focus on the plans, preparation and execution of the Japan, New Zealand and Australia trip. As an appetiser a few of the highlights can be found here, for the rest - see you in the audience.




 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Pointing at bothies, planes on the ground and placid in Portugal.

After the tumble from the bike I approached the Lluest Cwm Bach work party with caution as my ribs were still a source of concern. Fortunately the estate had loaned us the resourceful Dean and his quad which swiftly delivered a ton of materials and supplies to the bothy across a mile of bog on a warm and sunny day.

Over the weekend a sustained effort by all saw the interior walls fully pointed, drainage trenches dug and even the troublesome loo door finally beaten in to submission. The companionship and atmosphere were again true to the spirit of volunteering with much humour, co-operation and team work. The evening barbecue filled empty stomachs and the fine weather raised everyone's spirits - well done Martin the newly appointed MO. 

If you are inspired to join us on other workparties take a look at www.mountainbothies.org.uk or email me for the latest plans - my contact details lurk in the profile section to avoid the crawler bots!!

On a return from Shropshire where the other parties involved in the purchase of Mum's new home were given a delicate prod I visited the excellent RAF Museum at Cosford ( www.rafmuseum.org.uk/cosford ) which provided several hours of interest. A wide variety of experimental and service aircraft were on display with a wealth of information backing up the sleek and not so sleek machines - seeing the technology involved in close up was fascinating and the long and proud history of British aviation was done justice.

Indeed a week later 3 of us were even closer to said technology as we boarded an Airbus A320 at Bristol bound for Lisbon. A two hour flight dropped us in warm sunshine after good views of the south west of Britain, the north western tip of France and the northern coast of Spain that I had explored at leisure a little over a year ago. 

The hire car was a LH drive manual version of Mum's Up! so seemed immediately familiar and after a speedy crossing of the empty Portuguese interior we were in the Alentejo.
Mum and Pen were intrigued by the large and unruly stork nests astride almost every electricity pole, each containing a couple of leggy chicks whilst for me the green grass and astounding flowers were the biggest contrast to my usual winter visits. Camping Asseiceira looked as idyllic as ever and we received a typically warm and generous welcome from Gary before settling Mum in to the comfortable rooms (preview them in the gallery at www.campingasseiceira.com ) after which Gary, Penny and I went in to Santo Antonio for a few drinks and to see the spectacular fireworks that marked the end of the village festival

A warm and sunny morning saw us heading to nearby Valencia de Alcantara across in Spain to shop in the local market where fresh fruit, olives, vegetables, cheeses and meat cost a fraction of the UK prices.
Back in Portugal we topped up with other goodies at the Pingo Doce near Castelo De Vide followed by a walk round the quiet streets and castle of Marvao and a glass of wine or two to celebrate our good fortune.
Over the next week we enjoyed hot sunny days, blue skies, and cool beers. The slow rural pace of life took over as we walked the local lanes, visited old favourites of mine and made new friends amongst the locals and the multinational ex - pat community.

We were impressed by the ambitious plans of a young family from Lisbon who are setting up a guest house in the old station at Beira (the last trains have run but I hope they will be able to preserve the painted tiles and other features of the historic buildings) and enjoyed a nose around the free camping provision at a local reservoir before stopping to enjoy views over Castelo de Vide from a small hill top chapel.

Penny and I explored an old village that was gradually abandonned in recent years after the EEC borders were opened up and an illicit trade in smuggling evaporated almost overnight. Wild bees were starting a hive in one old building and two huge clay jars sat forlornly in a collapsed kitchen that sported a vast wood fired oven. The stream that marked the border provided refreshment for hot soles and souls and we returned as the afternoon heat eased passing an old farmer spreading muck from a donkey and cart.

A good meal out introduced us to a lass from Nottingham whose rural retreat we visited later in the week - 5 dogs, 3 donkeys, a number of sheep and assorted poultry plus a few acres of olives and vines keep her busy and I may well return later in the year for a couple of weeks to give her a long overdue break.

Castelo de Vide's  impressive church dominated the square where we enjoyed lunch outside before climbing to the castle ramparts which gave good views across the terracotta roofs, white walls and flat plains that led mainly to Spain. To the west we could see the tiny chapel that faces the town across the valley whilst to the south lay the highest point in the Serra de Mamede and to the north the snow capped tops of the Estrellas.



A day out to Estremoz introduced us to an area of Portugal that supplies exquisite marble and the handsome product adorned many of the grand churches and castles as well as the more humble homes and businesses - the actual quarries were surrounded by huge shimmering spoil heaps as yet again the sun shone and temperatures rose. Evoramonte's striking castle provided a cooler, loftier place for lunch before we followed a delightful back road to Elvas for a visit to its castle and aquaduct.

After a final relaxing Saturday we were away on the Sunday and an efficient combination of private and public transport arrangements saw us rather surreally back in Coventry within 12 hours. The take off from Lisbon gave us a superb view of the compact capital and even Bristol and South Wales were visible as we approached over Exmoor.

Without wishing to embarass anyone I would like to thank both Mum and Penny for entering in to the holiday spirit with such enthusiasm and good humour and also Gary for such superb hospitality - this traditional and unspoilt corner of Portugal is a calm and sunny haven that deserves a visit and the options available at Asseiceira would meet any requirements or budget, I look forward to my return in the near future.

Back home the van received an oil change, fan belt adjustment and additional fog and reversing lights as it approaches 300,000 miles on the clock and I prepare for a short farm sitting break near Brecon.

The June Horizons Unlimited meet is a little over a month away - if you are bitten by the travel bug then it would be well worth a visit so have a look at www.horizonsunlimited.com/events/hubbuk-2014

When you have time click HERE for some piccies and HERE for my occasional whereabouts.

Now that the blog has been running for almost 5 years there are a lot of posts to trawl back through so why not utilise the search facility on the RH side if there is a particular place or event you wish to find quickly?

Finally given the large number of viewers from various corners of the globe I have added a translation gadget to the blog which I hope assists international interest - as ever I was aware of my linguistic limitations when confronted with the Portuguese language which to my ears sounds like Russian and was humbled by the abilities of various museum guides, restaurant owners and Gary's friends to communicate in a familiar tongue - obrigado!

PS if you have a smartphone definitely download the Google translate app - seriously useful.....

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Horsing Around in mid Wales

With remarkably good weather giving perfect conditions two of us enjoyed a spin along the Millenium Coastal path near Llanelli with good views across the estuary towards North Gower after which I headed west and then north and inland to a favourite wild pitching spot near the Teifi Pools above Pontrhydfendigaid.

En route we stopped for lunch at the RSPB reserve near Tregaron and enjoyed a walk out in glorious sunshine to the hide before starting the riverside walk that heads in to the centre of the extensive bog land.
Whilst following the boardwalks we spotted a horse's head sticking out of the wide perimeter ditch with a trail of disturbed mud and silt where the unfortunate beast had tried in vain to escape. The spongy surface deceived the eye as beneath it were many feet of silt and debris and despite our best efforts with a handy fence post we were unable to persuade him out.
Sarah headed off to fetch assistance whilst I tried to reassure the beast and put a section of walkway in place to provide a bridge and give me something to hang on to as I was literally out of my depth. Two local farmers arrived with a telescopic handler but despite a great deal of effort we were unable to make any progress. A tractor was fetched that could cross the bog enabling us to get a rope and head collar in place and after another hour we eventually we pulled the by now exhausted animal out on to the firmer ground.
Almost immediately it staggered to its feet, gave a few hefty shakes and set off in search of companions whilst we all deterred it from returning to what could so easily have become a watery grave.

The rest of our walk was enjoyed in hot sunshine with swans, geese and otter prints to enrich the day.
Up at the pools we parked with a stunning view west and enjoyed a comfiortable evening with phone and TV signal very much appreciated in such a quiet location.
Saturday was grey and cool so we walked up to Claerddu bothy and were disappointed to find it in a filthy condition - a large school group had stayed the previous night and litter, food debris and abandonned clothing spoilt every room. However half an hour with a broom saw order restored and the bin bag full of rubbish was carried out to the van after which we enjoyed a brisk walk round the pools before firing up the genny on a very breezy evening.
Sunday dawned bright and sunny and gave us a full day out north of the bothy enjoying some quiet tops and still pools before a return to Pembrokeshire and then my departure east.
The mountain bike trails at Abergorllech and Halfway provided good filming opportunities before I stayed overnight with friends at Lower Chapel near Brecon where on Tuesday morning we winched a large beech trunk in to position to create a rustic garden bench. Several hours exploring the commons and ridges to the north east were enjoyed in hot sunshine and later that evening Bill came over from Bristol to join us all in a curry.
Bill and I overnighted in my usual town centre hideaway before cycling out to Talybont and climbing south towards Trefil on the old Brynmore tramroad. Further Go Pro opportunities presented although the steam train at Pontsticill fooled us by heading the wrong way as we waited to capture it. The Gap Road climb was superb but on the steep descent north I took a tumble and stuffed the handlebars in to my left rib cage which caused the odd expletive. However a fast descent in to Brecon rounded off a superb day of thrills, spills, punctures and exercise - my aching ribs meant that the evening's badminton was something of an ordeal but 3 pints of Irish pain killer eased my weary bones.
After an uncomfortable night I met an MBA stalwart in Builth to hand over donated tools and then concerned that I may have given the old ticker a jolt popped in to the Minor Injuries Unit at Llandrindod Wells where skilled staff checked me over. Basic obs were spot on and an EEG merely highlighted a heart block that identified my stent. The likelihood of a cracked rib or two will relegate me to light duties over the forthcoming bothy workparty at the Elan Valley but I look forward to the usual good company and stunning surroundings
Anyway a report on that event will appear next week so enjoy piccies HERE and search for me HERE.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Marching Around

After the exertions of the bothy tour I returned to Coventry and Shropshire to put the wheels in motion for Mum's move to the country - there is plenty yet to be done but it should prove to be a relativly seamless transition to a new chapter in life with lots to look forward to.

In between I enjoyed a few days north of Llandovery with good walks and company whilst staying at the excellent Camping and Caravanning site at Rhandirmyn which is but a short waddle from the equally satisfactory Royal Oak.

Whilst in the Neath Valley I returned to the old silica mines that were once a favourite haunt when I lived locally and spent a couple of hours exploring underground whilst familiarising myself with the intricacies of an excellent Go Pro video camera. Using the Fenix torch as I had done last year in Box Stone Mine produced some encouraging results enhanced on a return visit the next day by diffusing the light output with a piece of white muslin. A quick blast at Halfway on the bike also produced some good footage and I hope to introduce clips from a trip planned for Coed Y Brennin in the run up to Easter in to this blog.

Mum and I then headed to Sheffield to celebrate Penny's forthcoming significant birthday, with Mum heading north to York for a couple of days and Penny and I enjoying some superb scenery and remarkable light conditions around Ladybower Reservoir.

Back in Coventry a new VW Up for Mum demonstrated to me how much car design, comfort, sophistication and economy has come on in recent years although for me the practicality and adaptability of the van takes some beating and the recent attention of Carwoods (www.carwood.co.uk) to the diesel leak has resolved a starting problem when parked on a slope or unused for a day or two. The pump's spindle bush had worn and as this had been replaced with a steel bush 140,000 miles ago in Portugal a new cover was required this time as the pressing itself had worn. Anyway with 293,000 miles on the clock I guess similar issues are to be expected but I still have no desire to trade up and have as yet to see anything that would inspire me - perhaps the forthcoming Horizons Unlimited event will shed light on the matter.

The old Kangoo was delivered to a new owner in Manchester giving me the opportunity to visit that city's Museum of Science and Industry before catching a train home - the abysmal signal until near Wolverhampton made me question the logic of an HS2 line when surely providing opportunities for passengers to work whilst on the move would be a far cheaper, less disruptive and probably more productive strategy. Anyway such luxuries even if afforded would have been of little use to me as my Sony Experia had gone in to meltdown - amazing how these gadgets take over your life and become seemingly so crucial. Perhaps in my case this is exacerbated by my nomadic lifestyle and the current need to monitor not just my own affairs and finances but those concerning Mum, the house purchase and sale, car related matters and a busy social life whilst on the move. The replacement thick phone was just about capable of calls but its smart counterpart had scrambled most of my contacts so
 
 IF REGULAR READERS OF THIS BLOG HAVEN'T HEARD DIRECTLY FROM ME FOR A WHILE PLEASE CONTACT ME AS I MAY HAVE NONE OF YOUR INFO.!!!!!

Anyway a repair seems to have been undertaken although the covering email suggested a replacement handset was to be supplied - as part of my travel security measures my original device was discreetly marked to help identify it if stolen and the so called replacement has miraculously also been so marked - clever these Sony johnnies eh??

As a high tech back up I will tomorrow be purchasing a new fangled 'address book' which seems to be an alphabetically segregated collection of paper that is cunningly bound together and can be written upon with a magical stick - what a technological marvel to behold it will be - piccies and review to follow.

Another enjoyable break in the mid Wales hills took me back to Moel Prysgau bothy for lunch where we took shelter from the snow and carried out the usual junk that visiting aliens from the Planet Zog leave,  followed by a real cracker of a day starting at the beautiful and isolated Soar y Mynydd chapel and incorporating the Doethie Valley, Tyncornel hostel and a remarkably eroded track back across to Llyn Brianne.

Finally I returned to Sheffield - as my long planned Scottish trip has been put on hold whilst family matters are addressed I was actually able to join Penny for her birthday meal with over a dozen friends and colleagues. In the days beforehand we walked extensively with a hard day in low cloud enriched by wine, cake and good company, a brighter day above Castleton and for me a long overdue blast on the bike following the Trans Pennine Trail up to the Woodhead Pass.
 After a lovely evening I returned to Coventry prior to a longish spell away over Easter with bothy work parties planned at Penrhos near Dolgellau, Lluest Cwm Bach in the Elan Valley, socialising in and around Brecon and other goodies to be reported on in due course.

A few pics sit HERE and looking ahead you can pin me down by clicking HERE



Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Boggy days and Bothy nights

Having dropped coal at four of our five proposed overnight stops three of us met up at Glangwy campsite where the hard working owner Sue was dealing with early lambs but nevertheless found time to welcome us. The van provided a place to dine well and discuss the week ahead and early the following morning we were away after a rogue shower heading across to the first of many planned minor tops : Cerrig Gwaun y Llan. Leaving phone and wallet behind as neither would be of much use I followed the others along a stock fence that had dry marram grass neatly woven in to its strands by the strong winds of the past few months.
Good navigational skills from Chris put us on the various summits including Pen Lan fawr and Esgair y Llwyn as we tracked SE towards the Elan Valley bothy, lingering above the Cwmystwyth road to enjoy the sunshine before dropping down to the old slate mine that was probably the source of that building's original roofing material.
The reborn bothy provided a welcome end to an excellent first day and we set to to light the stove and cook evening meals - a pack of brazil nuts left by a previous occupant were largely devoured by yours truly and punishment came in the form of alarming stomach cramps for most of the night.
Thursday dawned dry and bright and the stove was coaxed in to life - the bothy would benefit in due course from a sub division as the large open space was difficult to heat and would be chilly in mid winter but for now the team of volunteers will be soldiering on with the repointing of all internal walls with the next push possibly scheduled for the Easter weekend - watch www.mountainbothies.org.uk for details or contact me directly for an update.
The contouring path round to the Craig Goch  dam soon had us warmed up and as we tracked across to the Claerwen dam picking up another summit  (Craig Dyfnant) en route we spotted a small newly roofed building in the distance that might merit further investigation. A fast descent on our backsides brought us to the waterside track and me to the realisation that I had mislaid my Thermarest way back up the hill - given the strong winds it was unlikely to be retrievable so we trundled on following a fast flowing stream up the Afon Arban with many a boggy section. The final mile or two across to the forest edge at Carreg Wen Fawr proved hard work as the bridle path marked on the map is non existent and the tussocky bogs were harder still thanks to our full packs - a persistent hailstorm added to the endeavours and we were pleased to reach the firebreak which marked the final section of our 19km route. I was reminded of the last time I followed that route in the 1980's on mountain bikes when a friend and I were forced to ditch the bikes as they were slowing our progress, leaving us to return for them the following day. Indeed we arrived at MP bothy after dark which made finding the coal I had hidden rather tricky as the trees assumed very different identities in the glow of a head torch. However the elusive bag was finally unearthed and we enjoyed a very cosy night as a covering of snow fell. I used spare clothing to replace the lost mat and was surprisingly comfortable and enjoyed another of the Aimless Idiot's Moroccan couscous concoctions.

 


Friday morning started with a session up the Towy track towards Strata Florida that involved a couple of river crossings before we cut through the forest to higher ground and a surprisingly snowy vista. In the distance lay a tin shearing shed and after crossing a large bog and spotting half a dozen geese we entered its airy interior for a sheltered lunch. The sun emerged during the afternoon as we headed north to Dibyn Du and the others picked up a phone signal to check in with family - I had been reporting in by the Spot device anyway - before we dropped towards the distant Teifi pools. Whilst following a sheep trod I stepped on an unassuming patch of ground and was instantly up to my waist in a small but very deep bog - fortunately due to the earlier snowy conditions I was in overtrousers so remained dry and was able to extricate myself immediately after which the ground reformed to await the next victim. Llyn Egnant looked sublime as we reached the road head and Chris recounted his fly fishing exploits of a previous visit.

The warm sun as we approached the bothy brought out the best in this wonderful area and showed the well maintained building in a truly warm glow. Our coal, food and gas stash was recovered and I was delighted to find an army style camp bed available that would provide me with some comfort. The old range was lit and cooking began using the Belling gas stove kindly supplied by the Elan Valley Estate. Another evening of joking and laughter was interrupted by the arrival of a couple from Aberystwyth Uni. - I think the lass was perhaps somewhat new to the scene sporting as she did a pink duvet, pillows, hot water bottle and slippers.
They retired to the rather chilly spare room despite our friendly overtures and by 10pm we too were up to the other wood panelled sleeping accommodation where my camp bed proved disappointingly unsatisfactory as it creaked noisily every time I moved and being off the floor provided no insulation giving me my coldest night of the trip.
The weather continued to hold as we walked north again passing Llyn Fyddon Fawr that would merit a return in summer with a tent  and reached our most memorable top (Domen Milwym) that provided a sunny and lofty spot for lunch. Surprisingly given the boggy nature of much of this part of mid Wales finding a good source of water for a brew proved tricky but eventually billy's were boiling as we surveyed a panoramic vista covering we estimated some 500 square miles and looking back across much of the terrain we had covered over the last few days.

A gradual descent in to Cwmystwyth led to a meeting with a rather lively horse and its rider whom we met twice more as we climbed out towards the Hafren forest stopping for lunch by a stream after a steep climb out of the village. A couple of hours through the woods, partly on a local long distance footpath brought us to our overnight accommodation where fellow MBA members and volunteers had been hard at work on the annual maintenance of NS bothy. A new latrine pit had been dug and the Ty Bach installed which was duly christened - aligned in accordance with the skills of the engineers of Pisa it provided a useful amenity and added to the sophistication of one of the more quaint of the Welsh bothies. That evening saw useful and productive discussions regarding the condition of our existing bothies and commitment to the new project in Snowdonia - the Speaker ruled with fairness and diplomacy over the unruly front benchers and as ever we are very much indebted to the efforts of our very own Mr T the Welsh Area Organiser. A welcome appearance was made by the MBA Chair who had travelled down from Scotland but quite a few made an early start on the Sunday morning as a motor rally was closing the access tracks from 08.30.
Thus we left a depleted but committed workforce to carry on painting and fettling -  Mike decided to opt out of this last stage as his knee was playing up so Chris and I headed north towards the distant wind turbines of Cefn Croes. Up at the head of the valley we took shelter at the foot of a turbine and cooked up lunch whilst a variety of classic rally cars roared past - their presence and the first real rain of the trip persuaded us to leave Banc Dolwen for another day and we were soon pulling another bag of black gold from its hiding place adjacent to NR bothy. The bothy snug soon warmed up and we were joined later by Mike who had retrieved his car from Glangwy for a final evening of mirth and merriment giving us a chance to dry out our waterproofs, review the undoubted success of the last few days and sleep soundly on our last night out in the sticks.
The final morning saw an easy stroll down to Glangwy and we went our separate ways after one of the most enjoyable trips I have undertaken recently - much of this was due to the great companionship of my two co conspirators but also the quality and availability of the bothies, unexpectedly good weather and the superb mid Wales scenery - the entire walk remained within the borders of OS Sheet 147.
Since then I have returned to Coventry with plenty on my 'to do' list - the dishwasher has been repaired, the van's rear brakes fully overhauled and progress made on a number of fronts regarding the family.
A diesel leak on the old girl requires specialist attention but assuming that this repair is completed on time I will be heading down to West Wales this weekend after a brief foray to Shropshire although at this stage it looks as if my planned journey north of the border will be curtailed if not cancelled. However everything is rather fluid at the moment so watch THIS SPACE for my whereabouts and CLICK HERE for the photographic account of last week's exploits.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Winter Wonderings

Firstly an apology for the month long gap between posts - the Epson wireless printer I spent some time installing has corrupted my net book causing it to crash every time it tries to log in to a wireless network - solutions on a postcard please. Despite much uninstalling, system restoring and the like the problem persists so this post is being sent via an older machine which saw much use in Oz and NZ and had been looking forward to its retirement.
Anyway the last month has seen my usual variety of activities whilst simultaneously tying up my late father's affairs - part of which involved trips to Yorkshire and London where Madam Tussaud's provided a surreal diversion on what would have been his 80th birthday. The spectacular and cavernous interior of Westminster Underground station placed us at the heart of democracy with the city transforming after dark in to a vibrant and colourful scene.

Back in Wales I enjoyed a long day walk in the waterfall country of the Brecon Beacons National Park meeting no one on a rare break from the torrential winter rains before assisting in the introduction of 4 novices to the joys of caving with a few hours spent in the Upper Series of Ogof Fynnon Ddu in the Swansea Valley. The team all enjoyed their experience and proved very competent with all of us appreciating the warm, dry and windless conditions that contrasted sharply with the conditions outside that made our return to coffee and cake in the van something of an ordeal.


Another almost spring like day last weekend saw a group of us enjoy several hours mountain biking in the Wye Valley combined with arboriculutural challenges as a large number of substantial trees had fallen in the previous week's storms. Excellent navigational skills from Dale saw us explore a range of tracks and bridleways and it will be an area to return to after in my case a surprising twenty year absence. Dovetailed in to all of the above were a number of forays to the bothies located on OS Sheet 147 to secrete coal and in one case food and gas to sustain us during our 6 day walk starting tomorrow.







3 of us are intending to link 5 bothies via various tops and tracks with the social interaction of the Wales Area Meeting on Saturday 1st March at Nant Syddion providing a welcome diversion. Spotty Spot HERE will track my whereabouts and the photos reached by clicking HERE cover the last month of meandering.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Mid Winter ??????

The aftermath of the Christmas and New Year flooding lingered on across the Somerset Levels where an excellent small site at Heath House provided a superb view of the calm waters and an opportunity to walk locally at the tranquil Shapwick Heath bird reserve. 
A mate's birthday celebration in Bristol was an entertaining evening with excellent food and conversation at hand but little alcohol for me as I was in charge of logistics.
Back in Coventry after visiting a friend in Shipham I spent some time persuading a new wireless printer to talk to my netbook which will make it easier to print off stuff whilst on the road. The old one which has served me well and been down to the southern hemisphere and back was rehomed in Somerset - I expect we will exchange Christmas cards for a year or two.

Bothy antics resumed with a visit to the Elan Valley project where the Welsh rain has defeated an oak door fitted to the loo - it seems beyond repair and an alternative arrangement seems necessary. Changing the door to a window and opening up a new access from the store shed seems to be a suitable solution which will retain the 'loo with a view' and make use more comfortable in inclement weather.
Whilst there I met a guy staying for the night and we arranged that I would pick him up next morning en route to Snowdonia before heading up to the cosy comforts of the small site outside Llangurrig where hook up, telly and internet made for a comfortable night. The owner Sue works very hard to maintain a simple but satisfying place to stay and I was touched to see she had written to the Club magazine to thank those who had been so supportive last year when her late mother had been ill - I look forward to return visits later in the year.
After calling at www.nannerth.co.uk to inspect their accommodation I picked Donnard up from the Elan valley and we headed across to Dolgellau and fish 'n chips for lunch before dropping in to Penrhos bothy where a spindle for the stove damper was missing. However a quick return to town sourced a suitable M12 bolt and an hour later all was well.
A further hour later we were pulling up in the Pennant valley in SW Snowdonia and as dusk fell walked up to the new potential bothy project where Mike and Keith had the stove alight. I had decided to spend the night back in the van so departed well after dark and was soon alone in a large bog with little in the way of markers as to my onward route. However thanks to a decent torch and the distant lights of Porthmadog acting as a guide I avoided the deep flooded former slate quarry and reached my cosy abode where a dozen tea lights soon had things warmed up as tea simmered. Incidentally a cheap 12v PC cooling fan improved things considerably as located in the roof it redistributed the warm air back to floor level and I may look in to incorporating a length of ducting to refine the system further.
Heavy rain on Saturday morning encouraged me to lie low until Martin, Frank and Juliet arrived after which we all headed the mile or so up the mountain with coal, food and other provisions for a thorough inspection of what will be an interesting MBA project. The owner and Leeds Mountaineering Club (the current incumbents) seem content to transfer responsibility for this intriguing building to the Association and whilst as ever access is a little challenging there seemed to be plenty of support from those of us likely to undertake the work. The two side barns need fairly urgent attention to the roofs, some internal work is required regarding fire regulations and the current porch will be removed as it is somewhat incongruous!!


A photo in the link shows Martin looking forward to more wall pointing which should be less tedious than the sessions endured last year at LCB! After a constructive chat with the owner and a fuss of Ben the sheep dog I returned to the van leaving the rest to enjoy a cosy night under clear skies.
Sunday dawned dry and bright so that by 9 a few of us were climbing to the end peak of the Nantlle Ridge for superb views across Anglesey and the Lleyn peninsula. A few exhilerating hours saw the ridge completed and a return via the substantial Cwm Pennant slate works where a veritable terrace of potential bothies caught my eye. The impressive inclined planes led down to a disused railway that took me neatly back to base after some seven hours on the hills - new boots had only caused one blister but the so far unusually mild winter meant I missed out on any snow and ice on which to try out newly acquired crampons.
A wet Monday persuaded me to return to Coventry across mid Wales with some new areas worthy of further exploration (such as the Tanat valley) traversed. Later this week a brief foray to Yorkshire and Derbyshire beckons so you can follow me around via Spotty Spot here and look back at some pictorial highlights HERE