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:

Snowdonia Way
Hebden Bridge
Equipment Reviews
North Downs Way

and also, one day:

Andorra
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!



Jerry

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Andorra! Initial Thoughts


Approaching Andorra from the North .. the pointy bits ahead

I want to go back to Andorra! I want to walk round it, to circumnavigate it in fact!

I went through Andorra in 2015, during my trek along the Pyrenees on the HRP (see other posts. Andorra is from Day 38 through to day 43). So it was well into the second half of the walk. I was already starting to think about finishing .. the weather in Andorra was rather mixed .. Refugi Coma Pedrosa was the worst manned refuge I stayed in, on the whole journey .. and I got lost once or twice .. so overall, Andorra and I did not get on terribly well on first acquaintance. However I suspect that was really more because of me, than the country itself.

The scenery in Andorra is nothing short of magnificent: remote, wild even, uncrowded, and unspoilt. There is only the one manned refuge, but Andorra does have a very neat network of small, unspoilt refugis. They are free to use, and they all have bunks (no mattresses though!) and fireplaces and usually, a wood supply. Even at the time, when I was not feeling on top form, I remember thinking that if you were properly prepared and equipped, you could have a really good time in Andorra. This thought has nagged at me since and although I feel in many ways I have done my time in the Pyrenees now, I want to go back to Andorra - and now I shall.

The first thing to do is to make a basic plan, with the following elements:

- a timetable, not just for the trip itself but for preparation. Andorra goes up and down a lot and I will need to be fit.
- information. Look at available books, interact with a walkers forum or two, look for others who have done the same.
- mapping. I prefer digital maps these days but Andorra is not huge so a paper map of the whole thing might be useful. I might even have them already from HRP days.
- route. Plot a viable route and work out rough timings. I am thinking three weeks may suffice for the whole thing including travel there and back but I need to confirm that
- accommodation. Can't book it until I know roughly where I will be when. I will take a tent but would like a base to work from, especially if I drive there.
- travel. Drive or train? L'Hospitalet pres d'Andorre has a train station.. driving or train, each has their pluses and minuses.
- equipment. Check I have everything I will need. With the possible exception of walking boots/shoes, I bet I do have everything I need but hey, never miss an opportunity to buy an exciting new toy of some kind.
- other. What else is needed? There are bound to be some logistics I've forgotten to think of .. phone coverage is an issue in Andorra for example, Spain and France are now just like being at home in England, but not Andorra, oh no.

So, that is my starting point. I hope to have the information and mapping sorted within the next month or so. I will do some more posts here as things develop.

Exciting!

.. if you have ever been to Andorra, maybe you drove along the main road between France & Spain that goes across it. It is a dire experience, full of petrol stations and duty free tat, but that is not the real Andorra. Below are some photos that I took in 2015, passing through from NW to SE along the HRP. They will show you, I hope, what Andorra is really like:

Estany Negre, which had lumps of ice in it.. in August!

Refugi Les Fonts, a typical unmanned Andorran refugi

.. and the view from its door


Two Dutch friends, Gert & Thijs, met en route. It is hard to see but Refugi Coma Pedrosa is visible on the shelf in the centre of the picture

the view from the Collada des Meners, looking forward..

.. and the view looking back. Between the two pictures, you can see most of Andorra.

You see what I mean, about wild and unspoilt? It is not an area that is to everyone's taste, i admit, but I found it thrilling. I am hoping that it will be even more thrilling next time, if I am properly prepared and equipped, free to wander, and not preoccupied with the HRP.

we shall see!






Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Thoughts on Completing the Snowdonia Way.. and Photo Gallery

Well, my first thought is that I haven't fully completed it, after all. I did all of the lower route, except for one or two bits where I altered the route to make it more interesting, eg adding Cnicht and Glyder Fach to the route North from Machynlleth to Conwy. As for the mountain route, I did most parts but not all, as well as a couple of parts not on either route, such as the Snowdon Horseshoe. But I had a good time..

There is a PHOTO GALLERY here .. with lots of photos and captions

That said, what do I think of Snowdonia, and of the Cicerone Snowdonia Way guide and the two routes it contains? Well, all of them have plus points and minus points:

Points in favour:

  • Snowdonia National Park and its environs certainly are highly scenic and attractive areas, worth a visit in anyone's money
  •  They include some proper hill walking, climbing and scrambling.. proper mountaineering too, if one is so inclined
  • The Snowdonia Way guidebook is well written, concise but not overly so. I could find no fault with it, apart from a couple of trivial points
  • The two routes are distinct and different. The lower route is suitable for any walker, but you will get only distant glimpses of Snowdonia proper. The mountain route on the other hand has some quite hard days and some quite difficult navigation, especially in poor visibility. But most of Snowdonia's higher points are included.
  • It is good that the routes overlap and can be intermingled according to preference (or the weather)
  • The Snowdon massif was impressive and enjoyable, despite the crowds. It helped that it was sunny then!

Points against:

  • It is fair to say that despite its popularity, much of Snowdonia really is not well geared to tourists and visitors. Of the towns I visited, some (Dolgellau, Colwyn, Machynlleth) were welcoming and had good facilities. Some on the other hand, (Beddgelert, Penrhindeudraeth, Bethesda, Trawsfynydd) were not, and I have to say made me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. I will avoid these places in future. If you intend staying or eating in any of them, I recommend that you book up in advance, or use campsites, which are plentiful and tend to be friendlier and more flexible.
  • The weather! Crib Goch according to Wikipedia is the wettest place in the whole of the United Kingdom, with over 176" rain per year .. 1/2" day on average! I was lucky there, but over the sixteen days it rained on every day but three. In July! It will rain a lot, in Snowdonia..

In summary, I definitely would recommend Snowdonia and the Snowdonia Way. You will have to be philosophical about the weather, and it will be best to book accommodation and meals in advance if you can, or use campsites. My turn-up-and-see approach did not work very well for me.

Accommodation

I stayed at, or ate at, or visited, the following establishments. I have done reviews of most of them on the invaluable Tripadvisor, and posted links to them below:

Dolgeylynen B&B, Machynlleth (Elinor)
Torrent Walk Hotel, Dolgellau
Tafarn y Gader Tapas, Dolgellau
Cross Foxes Hotel, Trawsfynydd
Cae Adda campsite, Trawsfynydd
Busy Bees Caffi, Penrhindeudraeth
National Trust campsite, Hafod-y-llan
Pen-y-Gwryd hotel
Victoria Bunkhouse, Bethesda
Y Llangollen gastro pub, Bethesda
Bryn Guesthouse, Conwy (Alison)
Erskine Arms, Conwy
Castle Hotel, Conwy
Joys of Life, Bethesda
Campsite, Nant Peris
Vaynol Arms, Nant Peris
YHA, Pen-y-Pass
Royal Goat Hotel, Beddgelert
Tanronnen Inn, Beddgelert
White Lion, Machynlleth

Of all the above, the best hotel was the Torrent Walk, the best campsite was Cae Adda, and the best B&B was the Bryn, in Conwy. Easily the worst hotel was the Royal Goat. I wouldn't say I had a bad campsite or B&B, one or two of the pubs were perhaps a bit iffy.

Well that's it for the Snowdonia Way. I have some unfinished business here, in particular a wish to go over the rest of the Glyders and the Carneddau in good weather, and to go to the top of Cader Idris. So one day I will return.. in the meantime I have also done a brief equipment review.


If you have any questions, please do get in touch.. you can comment on any of these pages, and it will get to me. If you include an email address, I will reply to that





Snowdon Day 14

Dolgellau - Machynlleth, 15.8 miles

The forecast for today was dire, and so it proved. It rained all day, sometimes in buckets, sometimes just steady rain. So, no point in trying any mountainous stuff, I just got the full rain gear on and ploughed away. I had done almost all of this route on day 1, in the other direction, and it was surprising how different things looked just because I was going the opposite way - insofar as you could see anything, that is. I got to Machynlleth at about 6pm, and was able to have a shower and a complete set of clean clothes from the stuff I had left in the car.

Not much more to say, really, the walking is done. It has been an enjoyable and occasionally quite challenging fortnight. I will do another post, of thoughts on completing the Snowdonia Way, in a day or two


Looking back towards Cefn Naw Clawdd. The only photo I have of this day, because of all the rain.

Snowdon Day 13

Up Cader Idris from Dolgellau, 10.9 miles

OK, this day could have gone better I'm afraid. Because I saw it as a rest day I had a lie in and a leisurely breakfast, then it rained for a while, so I did not start walking until after 9.45am. I was planning to walk up to the highest point of Cader Idris, which is called Penygadair (893m, 2,930ft). There is a shelter there. No problems to start with, the first mile or two is up narrow lanes. The fun starts past a farm called Bwlch Coch, where you start walking over boggy ground full of reeds, gullies and such, and the path totally disappears. I found my way through it all eventually, but it took quite a long time. It was well into the afternoon by the time I was on Gau Graig, the ridge leading up to the top. I ploughed on up, getting a little nervous about the time, until I got to the top of Mynydd Moel (863m, 2,831ft). This is the summit before Penygadair and only 30m lower, though as usual you go must down and then back up again. Surprisingly for such a well-known hill, i saw nobody all day, not a soul.
I sat on Mynydd Moel for a few minutes, and then decided to go back down, partly for reasons of time, partly because the weather was still iffy, and partly because frankly Penygadair looked pretty much the same as Mynydd Moel with much the same views. Looking back now I can't imagine why I didn't carry on, it is not as if daylight was an issue, but there we go.

Cader Idris. The further lump is Mynydd Moel, you can't see Penygadair yet


I floundered back down the hill side, a little quicker than coming up because now I could follow the quite detailed instructions in the Cicerone guidebook. Even so I had to climb a couple of barbed wire fences, because the gaps the guidebook mentioned did not exist. I got back to Dolgellau about 6.30pm, after a full-but-very-slightly-unsatisfactory day.

Tomorrow is the last day, when I walk back to Machynlleth and my car.

Penygadair from Mynydd Moel

View from near the top of Mynydd Moel




Monday, 24 July 2017

Snowdon Day 12

Trawsfynydd - Dolgellau, 16.8 miles

For the second time, I had a good night's sleep at Cae Adda, and for once I took the trouble to cook myself a breakfast. Then I set off about 8am for Dolgellau. The plan was to follow the lower level route to Dolgellau and then spend two nights there. Tomorrow, a day trip up Cader Idris, then the day after walk back to my car at Machynlleth.


A huge bull encountered just after leaving the campsite.. he seemed quiet enough but I was glad of the fence


Farewell to Llyn Trawsfynydd. Cae Adda campsite is just beyond the small promontory that sticks out on the left side.

After that I just plodded on in mixed weather, showery but not steady rain.


I'm getting a little confused over my Snowdonia mountains .. is this the Rhinogs again? Could be ..

I got to Dolgellau about 5pm and checked into the Torrent Walk Hotel, which I had taken the precaution of booking that morning. I stayed there on day 2 and really liked the place. The Ritz, it is not - but it is cheerful and friendly, which seems less usual in Snowdonia than it ought to be. And the food is excellent, and the rooms are cheap. My room had a truly vast bed which filled it almost completely .. not sure why but it was comfortable.

Tomorrow, Cader Idris.









Snowdon Day 11

Beddgellert - Trawsfynydd, 20.0 miles

Wayne dropped me off about 8pm on the Monday evening, in Beddgelert. This proved to be too late to obtain any food, despite there being several pubs and restaurants in the village; they keep early hours and will not put themselves out. It was also almost too late to find somewhere to stay though I did eventually manage to do that, at an extortionate price with grudging staff. I did not find Beddgelert a welcoming place and will not return.. I will say no more about it.

After my exertions yesterday on the Snowdon horseshoe, I decided not to pursue the mountain route from Beddgelert which goes to Penrhyndeudraeth ("Penrhyn"). Added to which I doubted if it would be any easier to find food or a bed there than it was in Beddgelert. Instead, I decided to follow the lower level route which goes to Trawsfynydd, and stay at the friendly and cheerful Cae Adda campsite I had visited on Day 2. It was further (it goes through Penrhyn, but keeps going) but flatter. Some of the route would be the same as I had followed on Day 3, but a lot of it would be different, since I had amended the other route to finish at Nantgwynant instead of Beddgelert.

 Today was not so photo-tastic as yesterday, though the countryside was pleasant enough... a steady plod in mixed weather (translation: rained a bit!) and arrived at the campsite about 8pm.


 Llynn Tecwyn Uchaf reservoir

 .. and here we are, back at Cae Adda campsite and Claire and Derek were as friendly and welcoming as ever .. and this time, no mosquitos! None too speak of, anyway. There was a slight breeze, maybe a little wind moves them away.

I highly recommend this place, it has all required facilities and the surroundings are tranquil and idyllic. I promise to stay nowhere else around Trawsfynydd!



Snowdon Day 10

Snowdon horseshoe back to Pen-Y-Pass, 8.6 miles
.. which just goes to show how misleading mileages can be. The two hardest days so far, turn out to be also the shortest!

When I got back to the Pen-y-Pass hostel I found I was in a four-berth room with two other men, and got chatting to one of them, Wayne Boothman. It turned out that he was intending to attempt Crib Goch the next day. I had been thinking I would like to do the same but I was a little nervous, especially about doing it on my own. So when he assured me it was easy peasy, just like a walk in the park really, not at all difficult, oh no - I agreed to accompany him. My route tomorrow was via the summit of Snowdon and then down the Watkyn Path to Beddgelert. Wayne was doing a circular route called the Snowdon Horseshoe, so we would part at the summit.

We set off after breakfast, 8.15am or thereabouts, up the Pyg path to the junction where Crib Goch begins. It was another beautiful sunny day:


The path soon becomes, well, essentially vertical:

























.. but there are plenty of hand and foot holds in the shattered rock face so although it needs care it was not technically very difficult. It took a while to get to the top, because Crib Goch is one of the higher points of Wales in its own right, at 923m (3,028ft) high. When I finally got there, I saw that there was still plenty of work left to do..



First of all, you have to scramble along the knife-edge ridge (you can see some people doing that, in the photo above). Then there are a couple of notches that have to be negotiated. finally you drop down to a further ridge and climb up it to the summit of Garnedd Ugain, the second highest mountain in Wales at 1065m (3,494ft). And then round the next col to Snowdon (1085m, 3,560ft). Snowdon is the pointy bit directly behind the Crib Goch ridge, Garnedd Udain is the one on the right.

Jerry & Wayne, ready to ridge walk..
 Negotiating the ridge is not technically hard, it is the vast drops on either side that make it interesting. If you are either daft, or a gymnast like Wayne, you can trot straight along the top. If not then you can drop down a few feet and scramble along using the top for handholds. After you have done this you get to the first notch..



You drop down one side and then climb up the other, as this young Spanish couple are doing.



Note that they have brought their dog, a brave move that some others on the ridge rather disapproved of. They did complete the climb successfully however, and the dog seemed to enjoy it.

Eventually, we negotiated the two notches and the subsequent climb to reach the summit of Garnedd Ugain. Wayne made himself a friend for life, by reaching into the bottom of his rucksack and pulling out two cold beers! Wayne is wearing a GoPro camera on his head and "Grib Goch - the Movie" is scheduled for future release.. see here!

 After that it was an easy stroll round the col to the summit of Snowdon, at the back in the photo above. All this took quite a long time, and it was around 3pm before we were ready to set off again. Rather than me continuing down the Watkyn Path to Beddgelert, it seemed as if it would be quicker to carry on round the horseshoe back to Pen-y-Pass. Then Wayne said he would drive me down to Beddgelert, a matter of a few minutes and on his route in any event, an offer I gratefully accepted.



The route back follows this ridge .. not the path down to the right, it goes over Y Lliwedd (898m, 2,946ft) ahead and follows the ridge down left back towards Llyn LLyddaw reservoir. Easy, ne c'est pas? 

The dot is me climbing the East peak of Y Lliwedd (893m), photographed by Wayne who is on the West peak.

We eventually got back to Pen-y-Pass hostel around 7.30pm, tired but happy after a very full day. I am immensely grateful to Wayne for helping me to complete a walk I would hesitate to do unaccompanied. The weather was fantastic throughout the day - something of a rarity, since Crib Goch has the unenviable record of being the wettest place in the whole of the UK, averaging 176.1" of rain each year.

If you are wanting to have a go at this walk, and are fairly fit, and are used to mountain walking, I say do it - always provided the weather is good. Wait for a clear day; I would not want to do it in rain or even in cloud. You will need a full day, and it is best not to carry a 12kg pack, as I was doing!