My Pyrenees HRP Diary - Introduction

This blog was begun in 2015, to record my walk along the Pyrenees HRP from Hendaye to Banyuls. If you want to read about that, I suggest you start here.

But that is all in the past now, and I have expanded the blog a little to cover more recent events.. such as:

Hebden Bridge
Equipment Reviews
North Downs Way

and also, one day:

Snowdonia Way
Pennine Way

I hope you will find something interesting. Please do provide a little feedback or comment, and if you are interested in something that I didn't say enough about, please let me know .. happy walking!


Saturday, 17 June 2017

Snowdon - Preparation 1

The idea for walking the Snowdonia Way came from a random find in a bookshop of a new Cicerone guide with that title. The guide contains two routes, one a six day walk from Machynlleth to Conwy, the other a nine day walk called the mountain route, that goes up and down quite a lot and includes Snowdon, Cader Idris, and other pointy bits in the Snowdonia national park. It seemed to me that it would be quite neat to walk one way on one route, then back on the other one.. and the mountain route has several days with more than 1,000m ascent, so would be good preparation for my projected trip to Andorra.

However in buying the printed book, I have made one mistake already! The thing weighs 220g, 1/2lb or so which might not sound much but it is the same as all my cooking kit .. and I am going to have to carry the thing all the way, because the digital version costs the same amount again and I am too tight-fisted to spend another £14.95 just for a digital copy of something that I already have... oh, well.

Getting ready involves the following steps:

- review the route
- book any necessary accommodations etc

- review necessary equipment
- trial pack, then pack and go!

The Route
The first thing to do is to review the route, and plot it onto my digital OS maps (courtesy of Anquet Maps). I have to do that first because I can't book any accommodation, until I know which day I will be where. Actually I don't like to book accommodation at all if I can help it, but for the first night at least I will need somewhere to stay and since I am driving, I will need somewhere to leave the car.
So, I have gone through the book and transcribed the route onto the 1:25k high definition walking maps my phone will display. Mostly I have followed the official route, but I could not resist making a few changes here and there. For example, there is no point in going to Beddgelert only to straight trail back out again the next morning. I will keep going and put up the tent for the night somewhere suitable. Also I could not resist changing the route on the fifth day of the ordinary route, to Bethesda, so that it goes directly over Glyder Fach and Tryfan. All those lovely contour lines!
It is sooo handy, having the route and very detailed maps available on the phone. What the phone will not do is to show you the bigger picture, which is why I plot them on the desktop which will display any scale you wish on a number of different map types.

As I say I will drive to Machyllneth, but it does have a railway station so you can get there that way too. I have booked a B&B just outside the town, Elinor sounds very nice.. I will post more, when I've actually arrived there! I have booked two nights, and she is happy for me to leave the car there meantime. This is rather a bet on how long the walk will take, I am hoping there might be a little wriggle room if I am too slow or too quick.. but I expect it will all work out. I have also booked two nights in Conwy, Alison sounds very nice too.. so the walk schedule looks like this:

Friday 07 July
drive to Machynlleth booked Elinor
Saturday 08 July
1 Machynlleth - Dolgellau

Sunday 09 July
2 Dolgellau - Trawsfynydd

Monday 10 July
3 Trawsfynydd - nr Beddgelert

Tuesday 11 July
4 nr Beddgelert - Bethesda

Wednesday 12 July
5 Bethesda - Conwy booked Alison
Thursday 13 July
zero day booked Alison
Friday 14 July
M1 Conwy - Bethesda

Saturday 15 July
M2 Bethesda - Capel Curig
Sunday 16 July
M3 Capel Curig - Pen-y-pass
Monday 17 July
M4 Pen-y-pass - nr Beddgeler

Tuesday 18 July
M5 Nr Beddgelert - Penrhyndeudraeth

Wednesday 19 July
M6 Penrhyndeudraeth - Trawsfynydd

Thursday 20 July
M7 Trawsfynydd - Dolgellau

Friday 21 July
M8 Dolgellau - Abergynolwyn

Saturday 22 July
M9 Abergynolwyn - Machynlleth booked Elinor
Sunday 23 July
drive home

I haven't booked anything else, but there are a fair number of YHA and similar facilities along the way as well as hotels and B&Bs, so I have noted down some phone numbers and will play it by ear and see how things go. The mountain routes M1-M9 are looking fairly relaxed to me so I might finish a day or so early but we shall see. Having to spend an extra day wandering around Southern Snowdonia doesn't sound too bad.

Having used most of my stuff on the recent North Downs Way walk I don't think there is anything new I need. I have all the clothing required, though I would like to do something soon about my wet weather gear.. the Berghaus Paclite kit has been good but is getting quite old and somewhat unreliable. It is rather harder to tell than one might think, because if you are climbing a mountain in the wet you will get wet regardless, because no fabric is perfect when it comes to breathability. If I find something better I will buy it but top class waterproofs are extremely expensive... so all suggestions are welcomed. But absolute minimum weight, totally waterproof, highest possible breathability.. this is a challenging spec!
The other piece of new kit I have is my Samsung Galaxy S8+ phone. It has an absolutely wonderful display and it makes the OS maps look brilliant. It is also very good for battery life, it will go two days where my S5 only went one, or less. However it does weigh more and I'm not yet sure how robust it will be. I am vacillating about whether to take the S5 too, as backup. I might not do, since I will have the paper guide book - if the phone stops working it will be a pain, but it will not be absolutely terminal, as it would be if I had no other maps or info (or compass!).

So at the moment everything looks to be on track .. I will do a brief update before I set off, using my phone to do it with. It was a problem on the north Downs Way to get it to upload, and I need to resolve that.

Roll on, 7 July!

Image result for glyder fach
Looking towards Glyder Fach, from near Tryfan

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Thoughts on completing the North Downs Way

I don't know if anyone is really on the ball nowadays when it comes to managing our national trails .. I do hope they are, because the trails are a real boon to walkers. If so I hope they will sit down and give the North Downs Way a good spring clean, which it very badly needs. The signage is not too bad, for most of the route. Some of the kissing gates are annoying because they have so little room that a walker wearing a rucksack cannot pass. I had either to take off the rucksack, or climb over the gate. Some of the vegetation was sufficiently overgrown as to make it difficult to get past .. it is that time of year, and on an ordinary footpath I would not have worried but on a National Trail I expected more.

But none of that matters much, compared to the overwhelming need for a review of the route itself. It is bad enough being closely exposed to what feels like every motorway and dual carriageway in the South East. But the route is badly wrong in a number of places. Like most walkers I suppose, I didn't keep a list .. but for example:

- where you have to walk close to the M25 north of Oxted
[ I do not know what walking along the Woldingham Road above the official route is like. Ideally the authorities should make a better route alongside or near it]

- where it crosses the M25, between Knockholt and Otford
[ a better route appears to be to go north at Lees Wood, immediately beyond Knockholt Pound, and cross the M25 near Polhill Bank nature reserve, rejoining the route at Otford]

- where it ploughs up from Holly Hill all the way to Rochester M2 and then back down again
[ don't go to Holly Hill, instead continue on the bridleway to Upper Halling then go down and across the new Peter's Bridge. Turn right immediately along the esplanade, go through Eccles (poor pub alert!) and rejoin the official route where it crosses the A229 south of Kit's Coty]

.. these are glaring faults, so much so that if you are planning to walk along the North Downs Way, I recommend that you depart from the official route around these points, and plot a better one for yourself. There are more, but these are the worst.

Despite all that, the NDW has some long views, and some fine parts.. the Surrey Hills, the Wye Downs, the Dover and Folkestone cliffs .. these are memorable. It is definitely worth doing the walk once. But the South Downs way, the Greensand Way, and - especially - the really lovely Wealdway, are all better.

As for me, I managed the walk well enough, camping three times and spending a night at my daughter's and a night at home. Finding places to discreetly put up a tent is not hard but if you decide to do that, please, please, leave no trace behind. I never felt totally fit, but that is part of why I did the walk in the first place.. Taking a couple more days would make it more fun. Food and drink are easy to find throughout, the route is well supplied with pubs. The best of which was the Tally Ho at Knockholt, with the Gatekeeper at Etchinghill not far behind. .. avoid Merstham and Charing, if you can.

And for the record, of course I did not quite complete the Way, since about five miles between Hollingbourne and Detling was left unwalked - this time, anyway. I have walked that stretch a number of times, on other occasions.

I will leave you with some photos ..

View from St Martha's Hill, with the inspiring Freyberg graves in the foreground

North of Westerham, not long after dawn

Looking towards Folkestone along the White Cliffs

a view from the Wye Downs

NDW Day 6: nr Hastingleigh - Hollingbourne

I love my Zpacks tent. It is spacious, and it weighs almost nothing, about 1lb or 450g. Here is a picture of it, so you can see what it looks like:

My tent on the Pennine Way. You can see my cooking kit in front of it
It got quite a test on Sunday night, when there was a spectacular thunderstorm. I don't remember ever seeing quite so much lightning! And there was plenty of thunder too. It rained hard but only for half an hour or so, then lighter rain, then it stopped. The tent coped very well, no water came in .. but not a great amount of sleep was had!

In the morning I set off a little later, about 7am, after some mopping-up operations to try to dry the tent off a little before packing it away. I thought I had done a reasonable job, but I weighed it after I got home and again when it was properly dry and found it had about 500g, or more than its own weight of water on it!

To get back to Detling it was about 26 miles .. (where had the extra 6 miles come from, I wondered?) and it was not clear if I would make it that far. As I was out on the Tuesday I really had to finish the walk today, and I have never been a fan of eating late in the evening. I decided I would walk until about 6pm and then stop .. I have walked the whole route in the past, so nothing to prove.

view from the top of the Wye Downs
 Very soon I reached the Broad Downs and Wye Downs, one of the most scenic parts of the whole NDW and a very pleasant walk before heading down through Wye agricultural college into the town.

not a sign one often sees ....

The Great Stour river at Wye
 After that I headed back towards Boughton Lees and Charing, and the part of the Downs I know so well.

This is the point, at Boughton Lees, where the North Downs Way splits and offers two routes, one via Canterbury and one via Wye and Folkestone

And soon after, we are reminded that the NDW forms part of a larger European footpath network, in this case E2, which is intended to run from Galway to Nice.
 I was disappointed in Charing, which had nothing open .. no cafe, and the pub is permanently closed. It was however a bank holiday, so it had some excuse. There was a small grocery, where I bought some fruit drinks.

The war memorial cross, above Lenham
 So basically I just ploughed onwards .. it is fair to say that the stretch between Charing and Hollingbourne is dull indeed.

An actual pilgrim, not sure precisely where but this side of Lenham somewhere..

When 6pm came I was at Hollingbourne, so popped into the Dirty Habit and had a nice glass of wine while I waited for Sue to come and pick me up.

 Overall I walked 115 miles in six days, respectable enough though the missing 6 miles is annoying. I will do one more post about the North Downs Way in a few days time.. meanwhile I was glad to get home!



Friday, 2 June 2017

NDW day 5: Dover - nr Hastingleigh

So .. having been picked up from Detling by Sue on the evening of day 4, to spend an evening at home, I had anticipated being dropped off back at Detling the next morning. However after discussion, it seemed more sensible for me to drive to Dover instead, and then Sue can drive home and I will walk back from Dover. She can pick me up at Detling tomorrow, or as far as I get given that I have to be elsewhere on Tuesday ..

So, I was dropped off in Dover about 8am, and off I set. It may make this blog a bit complicated, one direction one minute, the other the next, but we will just have to live with that...

Looking back at Dover, Eastern Docks on the horizon, Western docks nearer, not to mention a fine beach!
I think it may be true to say that the best bits of the NDW are the end bits. Certainly the walk from Dover to Folkestone and beyond is special. Once you get out of built-up Dover there is quite a lot of climbing to do, but the view steadily improves in compensation and the view from the top of the cliffs is spectacular. The sea views are great but they are somewhat compromised by all the other action going on:

Looking back to Dover from the top of the cliffs

Although it is technically countryside, there is a busy road and a lot of other human stuff too. The first thing is Samphire Hoe, an artificial island built out from the cliffs using the spoil removed from the Channel Tunnel. You can drive down to it and then park, for a fee, which looking at it, seems a bit of a liberty. You would be lucky indeed, to see any samphire.

Samphire Hoe

The next thing one notices is that the whole stretch between Dover and Folkestone has a lot of military detritus of one sort or another..

WWII bunker with eco roof
WWII Listening ears, to help warn of incoming enemy planes

Among other things there was a disused rifle range along the top of the cliffs. A group of four people were riding unlicensed offroad bikes around and that would have been OK if they had permission to be on the land and kept away from the footpath .. but when they started riding up behind me on the North Downs Way I blew a gasket and I had a good go at them. They were not as familiar with the concept of a National Trail as one would hope, but I think I got my point across.
illegal motorbike rider, preferring not to be photographed

Then after a few miles Folkestone starts to appear, and it has as much going on as Dover.. first the harbour appears in the distance, then the Battle of Britain Memorial.

Folkestone Harbour appears in the distance
BoB Memorial, with the "Wings" building behind

I have always been a fan of the memorial itself, which is well done and is poignant. I am not so sure about the fancy new building. I quite liked the old buildings, with their jolly volunteer staff. The new building is very slick and clinical, much bigger and more modern, but it lacks charm. I get the "wings" idea but it is invisible from most vantage points so will mainly interest passing Spitfire pilots .. and architects apparently, it has won several prizes.

After that comes Cheriton. You don't realise quite how big the channel tunnel terminal is until you see it from above.
approaching the Channel Tunnel terminal

Channel Tunnel Terminal

It took more than an hour to walk past it, and get it out of sight. After that things picked up rather, as I headed back into the more rural parts of Kent. I stopped for lunch at the Gatekeeper in Etchinghill, and very nice it was too. It had one particular quality which I tend not to look for normally, but which can be very useful when you are walking: quantity! Eat all you can and bag the rest up for later, in the knowledge that it will all be put to good use ...

After that, a very pleasant walk on towards Wye , Charing and the downs nearer to me that I am so familiar with. I chose to put the tent up on the edge of a field somewhere before I got to the Wye Downs, and settled down for the night.. but it was not a settled night.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

NDW Day 4: Kemsing - Detling

I set off nice and early from Kemsing, about 6am and wandered along the top of the downs to Wrotham (which is pronounced Root-ham). Here I sat and made myself some breakfast as follows: 1/2 ltr of water in a pot, add a handful of rice and half a Kallo stock cube, bring to boil and simmer. Add a sachet of mushroom soup and a few chilli flakes. When it is back at the boil, remove from the heat and leave it in my patent pot cosy for ten minutes to finish cooking.. enjoy. Wrotham also has a public lavatory, bless it. The gents was locked, but the ladies was open and at 6.30am, that is not an insuperable problem...

Almost half way .. compare these mileages with the one on the sign at the start, in Farnham! Somebody doesn't do addition very well ..

Looking across the Medway Gap, somewhere beyond Wrotham
 The official route here does a really daft thing. Instead of crossing the Medway Gap via Aylesford as it should have, and as the Pilgrim's Way does, it bears left and goes via Holly Hill all the way up to Rochester. There it crosses the motorway bridge and comes all the way back again, down the far side. I have been along the whole route on daywalks, at one time or another. It is not an attractive itinerary and it takes in yet another motorway, the M2.

Instead, I made my own route which went along the edge of the downs from Holly Hill to Upper Halling, and then down to the Medway and across Peter's Bridge to the new and only half built Peter's Village. Thence to Eccles, and to pick up the official NDW again near Little Kit's Coty. Hopefully now this new bridge is open the powers that be will consider changing the route to take advantage of this opportunity to repair their Rochester Bridge blunder.

The shiny new Peter's Bridge across the Medway

the river esplanade at Peter's Village.
Shortly after crossing the A229 Bluebell Hill, you pass by the Upper White Horse Stone, a mysterious lump of rock that may or may not be part of an ancient megalith. The Wikipedia entry has lots of theories but no evidence of any kind .. all one can say is that this is an area with a lot of history attached to it, what with the two Kit's Coty stones, and the Coldrum stones too.

the White Horse Stone
After that, it was a pleasant walk up, around and along the top of the downs through Boxley Warren to Jade's Crossing at the A249 and the Cock Horse pub at Detling, where Sue came to collect me and take me back home for the night.

NDW Day 3: Godstone - Kemsing

Important work to do in the morning dropping Harry and Florence off at school, then Charlie took me back to Godstone to reconnect with the NDW.
The day began well enough with a pleasant climb up Winders Hill and along the top of the downs, but gradually the M25 became more and more obtrusive, as the path veered towards it..

view from Ganger's Hill

To left is an industrial quarry, and the path is heading straight down towards the traffic queueing on the M25 at the bottom of the field

Just a field away from the motorway now...

From then on it was visible the whole way until you cross first the M25 and then the M26, North of Sevenoaks. At one point you are walking along a pavement on a busy road with the M25 about 20ft away from you the other side. This part of the route is bizarre and I would recommend avoiding it altogether if you can. There would seem to be a much better route available, up from Knockholt Pound to Polhill Bank nature reserve and then back down towards Otford.

Before crossing the two motorways I stopped for lunch at the Tally Ho, Knockholt. This was an EXCELLENT pub! A traditional country local with a lively discussion around the bar, a friendly and welcoming staff and good food for walkers (in my case, liver & bacon). Highly recommended, and good value as well. 
A stunning display of buttercups in a field above Otford

Then I ploughed my way over the N25 and the M26 and up into Otford, a nice little town, though plagued by traffic. After Otford the path goes up a steep hill and back to the top of the downs, and more fine countryside. I wandered along for a while before stopping for the night in a field above Kemsing which I have put a tent up in once or twice before. Nobody here but some friendly and inquisitive sheep..

Friendly sheep near Kemsing

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

NDW Day 2: Dorking - Godstone

Note: I am sorry but owing to problems with my new shiny new phone, I was not able to publish this blog whilst walking. Instead I made notes, and now that I am home I will issue the updates over the course of the next few days. I have also extended and updated day 1 and added photos.

Today was a long, hot day. I was up early and started walking soon after 6am. The countryside is lovely at that time of day, fresh and unspoilt.  Lots of birds, rabbits, squirrels etc. Twice I caught sight of deer. Look at this:

Early morning on the Downs above Dorking..

I crossed the pleasant open area of Ranmore Common and then the path went through Denbies Wine Estate, Britain's biggest vineyard I believe.

a corner of Denbies Wine Estate

Immediately after the route crosses the river Mole, via stepping stones, and then goes up Box Hill, which is quite steep..

stepping stones across the river Mole

Climbing up Box Hill. Lots of these...

.. but the view from the top is spectacular. Dorking right of centre

By noon, I had already done more than 13 miles. The afternoon was not so good as I started to wilt rather, in the heat. Also the landscape changed and the dreaded motorways - M23, M25 - began to intrude. I stopped for a mediocre lunch in a dusty little town called Merstham, right next to the motorway and then ploughed steadily on to Godstone where I was picked up by daughter Charlie and my two lovely grandchildren and whisked back to their house in Crawley Down for a night of pampered luxury (fish & chips from the van in the village and a glass of rose, excellent)..
strange gravestone in the woods for a horse called "quick," though presumably dead

A lime kiln, near Box Hill