Monday, 14 November 2011

Return to the Himalaya

I've decided that there is no way I wish to winter in Britain so I briefly visit friends in Dorset, Wimbledon and Chiswick. In central London storm clouds are gathering over St Paul's catherdral near to where I once earned an honest crust - it really is time to move on.
It takes longer than expected to get visas, inoculations, malaria pills, maps & guides, replacement gear, lap-top software, flights and an itinerary planned before I head off to foreign climbs. When I was last in Nepal I said I would return and so I will.
Monday 7 November: Overnight flight to Delhi, swish recently opened Metro from Indira Gandhi Airport to New Delhi station and the international reservation office on the first floor (Paharganj side) to reserve a 2nd class sleeper on the 20:25 Gorakdam Express to Gorakhpur, the railhead for Nepal, a short bus ride to the border town of Sunauli. Once formalities are complete and I'm on the Nepal side, a shave and cold beer are a treat while I await the 8:00pm night bus to Kathmandu.
Monday 10: Arriving in Kathmandu's new bus station at 6:00am it's a taxi ride to Durbar Square and a short walk around the corner into Jhochhen (Freak Street) where my hotel of choice, Annapurna Lodge, is full but Century Lodge, opposite, has a slightly more basic room with a small balcony and free wifi. It's chillier than I expected here and there's lots I need to do: TIMS (Trek Information Management System) permit, visa extension and hire some extreme weather gear from Shona's in Thamel. This all goes rather smoothly but
the local ATMs limit me to 15,000 Rupees a day (about £150) so it will take three days to accumulate enough cash to last me a month or more in the mountains.
Tuesday 11: Following an uncomfortably cold night last night, tonight I climb into a four-season goose-down sleeping bag which should cover me down to minus 15 degrees Celsius, heavenly.
Monday 14: I head to the City Bus Park (old bus station) near the tourist office to catch the 6:00am bus eastwards to Jiri (pronounced 'cheery') at the start of the original trekking route to Everest base camp. My lap-top remains in Kathmandu.
Pictures from rural England to Kathmandu.

Friday, 11 November 2011

South West Coast Path to Land's End

Thursday 29 September: Dunster to Lynton (26 miles). Sunny and warm. A quick glimpse of Dunster Castle and it's downhill all the way to the seaside resort of Minehead and the start of the South West Coast Path, England's longest and most scenic long-distance route. I've walked all of this before and have been looking forward to the steep inclines and fine views. From Minehead it's a grueling climb up to Selworthy Beacon and along clifftops before dropping down to Bossington Beach and the Ship Inn at Porlock Weir for lunch. Another steep climb takes me up Porlock Hill to the thatched toll booth at Worthy then on to Culbone church. I'm now in Exmoor National Park and at Foreland Point alert deer follow my approach from a hilltop. It's dark when I get to Lynmouth and the climb up to Lynton is a tough one, eventually I find a B&B.
Friday 30: Lynton to Ilfracombe (21 miles). Sunny and hot. More ups and downs to clifftops and beaches until at nightfall I arrive at Ilfracombe and Ocean Backpackers. It's off season and I get an en-suite dorm all to myself and, more joy, it has a bath tub.
Sunday 2 October: Ilfracombe to Braunton (15 miles). Sunny and warm. Great scenery before I drop down to the surfer's beach and dunes at Woolacombe Sands and on to Braunston Burrows.
Monday 3: Braunton to Westward Ho! (16 miles) Sunny with cool breeze.
More low level walking takes me inland to the twelve-arched Taw estuary bridge at Barnstaple and on to Instow where the seasonal ferry to Appledore has stopped running. This means a tiresome detour to the busy Torridge road bridge and a road walk to the YHA's Manorville Hostel in Westward Ho!.
Tuesday 4: Westward Ho! to Clovelly (17 miles) Cloudy and warm. A surprisingly long day of ups and downs through cliff side woodland and eventually I drop down to Clovelly before climbing out of the village again to reach Hartland Camping Barn at Mettaford Farm. This time I have the whole place to myself and it's only a short stroll to the shops at Hartland for food.
Wednesday 5: Clovelly to Hartland Quay (13 miles) Cloudy with strong gusty wind and rain squalls. It's really hilly now, up to clifftops, down to streams and beaches, up again to clifftops. Hartland point lighthouse stands above rough seas and as the skies open I just make the Wrecker's Inn at Hartland Quay for lunch then continue a couple of miles to be the only guest at the YHA hostel at Elmscott.
Thursday 6: Hartland Quay to Bude (15 miles). Sunny with strong blustery wind and brief but chilly rain squalls. A couple more hills and I'm in my final county, Cornwall, where more ups and downs take me to North Shore Backpackers Hotel in Bude.
Sunday 9: Bude to Boscastle (17 miles). Drizzly with gusty wind. More ups and downs today too, Widemouth Bay, Dizzard Point, Crackington Haven, Cambeak and finally Boscastle YHA hostel where I have a large dorm to myself once again. Perched on the side of a steep gorge of a fast flowing river it looks like an accident waiting to happen but after few pints in the Cobweb Inn I stop worrying about it.
Monday 10: Boscastle to Tintagel (5 miles). Drizzly and windy. Just a short hike today to prepare for a tough one tomorrow. Not much left of Tintagel Castle but the old post office remains and, once again, I have the nearby YHA hostel all to myself.
Tuesday 11: Tintagel to Polzeath (20 miles). Cloudy and windy. This is the hilliest day so far. My personal trainer once said that it's healthy to get out of breath at least twice a day. She would be proud of me today. The hills are not long but mostly short and steep and I get out of breath 36 times before reaching Polzeath. The inclines between Port Isaac and Port Quin are the steepest but there are great views and plenty of rock features to look at as a reward. It's getting dark so instead of walking to Rock to get the ferry to Padstow I take the bus hoping to catch the last ferry. I've missed it but an evening water taxi (88th mode of transport) delivers me safely to Padstow and I hike the last 4 miles to the YHA hostel at Treyarnon. I get a room to myself but tomorrow it's full with a group booking so next morning I carry on by bus to Newquay and the trendy Silver Spray Lodge.
Thursday 13: Polzeath to Padstow (3 miles). Cloudy with warm sunny spells. From Newquay it's a long bus ride back to Polzeath but I fall asleep and end up back in Port Isaac by mistake and there is no return bus for two hours so I walk the five hilly miles again to Port Quin and Polzeath before walking the missing three mile section from Polzeath to Rock and then the day ferry across the Camel estuary to Padstow for a late lunch, a Rick Stein recipe Cornish pasty, delicious. Bus to Newquay.
Friday 14: Padstow to Newquay (25 miles). Cloudy. Bus to Padstow to continue along the rugged coast to Trevose Head and lunch at Treyarnon hostel which is full of school kids. Many hills later and I'm back in Newquay.
Sunday 16: Newquay to St Agnes (15 miles). Warm with sunny spells. From Newquay there's a great little footbridge across to Crantock and after a few more hills I'm in St Piran's Inn in Holywell for lunch then onto the YHA hostel at Perranporth. It's fully booked so I have little option but to detour inland to Penkerris B&B in St Agnes.
Monday 17: St Agnes to St Ives (24 miles). Cloudy with sunny spells. Back on the coast the rugged path continues through Portreath, around Godrevy Point then doglegs inland around Hayle estuary so it's pitch black when I arrive in St Ives having taken the wrong track a couple of times in the dark. St Ives Backpackers is tricky to find but finally I have a bed for the night.
Tuesday 18: St Ives to St Just (20 miles). Sunny with showers. Now I'm walking through an industrial tin-mining landscape of chimneys and spoil heaps so it's appropriate to stop at the Tinner's Arms in Zennor for lunch. Refreshed I continue to the lighthouse at Pendeen Watch and navigating, once again, in the dark I pass over Cape Cornwall and eventually find Land's End YHA hostel in St Just.
There is only one other person staying, Carol Parker, from Ham Hill near Yeovil who went to the same school I did. She is taking a short cycling holiday in Cornwall and much to our amazement she was one of the cyclists I met in John o'Groats YHA more than three months previously. Now that's a coincidence.
Wednesday 19: St Just to Land's End (5 miles). Sunny with showers. A short morning hop to Sennen Cove and soon I'm at Land's End. I've done it. What next?
Photos from the SW Coast Path from Dunster to Land's End.
My final total route walking distance is 1,341 miles.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Bath to Dunster

Monday 26 September: Bath to Street (36 miles). Sunny and cloudy with a light shower. Heading out of Bath my day starts with a long steep hill-climb south to join the Limestone Link path which heads west to a good lunch stop at the Ring 'o Bells pub in Hinton Blewett. Here I join the Monarch's Way continuing south again. Passing Priddy in the Mendip Hills, the path drops off the limestone escarpment down to Wookey Hole where there are great views across the Somerset levels to Glastonbury Tor and beyond. Crossing the levels on minor roads I skirt round Glastonbury and, as there is street lighting, decide to carry on to the YHA hostel in Street which is on a ridge of the Polden Hills south of the town. It's a long slow climb - this is my longest day.
Tuesday 27: Street to the Quantocks (29 miles). Cloudy and warm with thick evening mist. The Samaritans Way South West follows the ridge of the Polden Hills all the way to Bridgwater and so do I. Dropping down off the hills I cross King's Sedgemoor Drain at Chedzoy but the pub in Chedzoy is closed and I have little choice but to continue past the pretty church to the Boat & Anchor on the west bank of the weedy Bridgwater & Taunton Canal for a late lunch.
Goathurst is the gateway to the Quantock Hills and as I ascend to the summit at Wills Neck a heavy mist engulfs the landscape and soon darkness falls. Now walking carefully I'm using a compass and torch to navigate but it still seems an age before I reach
the Blue Ball Inn at Trinscombe, my favourite pub of the trip. They have stopped serving food so after several packets of peanuts and pints of beer it's quite late when I pitch my tent at Quantock Orchard campsite in Crowcombe.
Wednesday 28: The Quantocks to Dunster (18 miles). Sunny with clear skies. By the time I wake the mist has been replaced by bright sunshine (too bright!) and I follow the route of the West Somerset Steam Railway to Williton to pick up the Macmillan Way West to Dunster. It's dark when I arrive and I'm not looking forward to another hike through dark woodland to the YHA hostel a couple of miles further on but the Forrester's Arms is a great place to stop and, you guessed it, another hot tub.
from Bath to Dunster. My total is now 1,085 miles.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Cotswold Way

Wednesday 21 September: Painswick to Wotton-under-Edge (22 miles). Cloudy with a strong cold wind. Loud bells ring in Painswick's spired church just opposite my bedroom window and I'm up and ready for an early start, southwards bound. My first good views for days are across the Severn Estuary to Wales. The weather improves, it feels good to be back in the hills. There are wind-swept follies one of which I climb but loose my maps in the process along with my scribbled B&B address. So when I get to Wotton I'm a bit stuck, so ask a policeman and eventually get an accommodation list - they are all full but a kind couple at the last one take pity on me, phone round their contacts and drive me a few miles out of town to a fair-priced B&B at The Ridings and, joy-of-joys, another hot tub.
Thursday 22: Wotton-under-Edge to Wick (26 miles). Cloudy. Just before lunch I pass a funeral service in a hill-top church. It's a village church where I'd like to be interred when my time is up, Old Sodbury. It's getting late when I get to the pub in Pennsylvania, its closed and I realise I'm not going to make Bath for the night so I detour to Cold Ashton. The pub here has also closed down. Eventually I find a B&B at Wilkes Farm in Wick several miles away and another hot tub, I could get used to this.
Friday 23: Wick to Bath (10 miles). Cloudy with sunny spells. A short day, a long downhill stretch into Bath, several hilly lanes and paths through Bath and my first stay at a YMCA in the heart of the city centre, but no bath tub.
Photos of the Cotswold Way. I've now walked 1,002 miles.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire Ways

Sunday 18 September: Bicester to Westcote (31 miles). Sunny with showers. After spending some time with Robin and Debbie, last seen in Venice in June 2009, I walk into Bicester and on to Kirtlington where I left the Oxford Canal yesterday. Here the Oxfordshire Way heads west across rolling farmland towards Stow. Four pubs I pass en-route are closed and boarded up and when I reach Nether Westcote the campsite here is also closed and the pub has closed at 9:00pm, it's Sunday hours. By now it's pitch black and I can't make it as far as Stow so I'm forced to camp wild in a field near Church Wescote, hungry and tired.
Monday 19: Westcote to Stow-on-the-Wold (10 miles). Cloudy and cold. A welcome breakfast at Bourton-on-the-Water and I continue on the Gloucestershire Way to the pub at Cold Ashton for lunch, it's also closed and there's not a lot ahead for many miles. The bus back to Stow's YHA hostel for the night is my best option.
Tuesday 20: Stow to Painswick (26 miles). Cloudy and drizzly with rain. More farmland with not much to photograph and my lunch stop pub in Kilkenny is also closed (the recession really has hit this part of Gloucestershire) so when I reach the Air Balloon pub at Birdlip mid-afternoon I'm, once again, ravenous. The scenery improves after lunch when I join the Cotswold Way but the weather gets worse. The two roadside hotel pubs in Birdlip are full of wet walkers so I carry on, soaked through, to the Falcon Inn at Painswick and my most expensive night so far, but it has a delight for walkers, a hot bath to soak up the pain, a sort of pain wick.
One photo of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire Ways. I've now walked 944 miles.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Coventry and Oxford Canals

Thursday 8 September: Abbots Bromley to Drayton Manor (27 miles). Friends who live in Brinklow, a pretty village near Rugby, have invited me for a beer so rather than continue along the Staffordshire Way, as planned, I fork east onto the Trent & Mersey Canal towpath to pick up the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal at Fradley Junction, just north of Litchfield. It's flat easy walking and there's a campsite at Fradley, so hopefully I can stay a couple of nights there and pop into Lichfield to buy, now badly needed, socks.
Bad news, the campsite is caravans only and the next one is a long walk further on at Drayton Manor, sounds nice but I'm sure I've heard that name before? It turns out to be a huge theme park campsite but it's dark and I'm exhausted, it will do for the night.
Friday 9: Drayton Manor to Brinklow (31 miles). Sunny. I'm the only camper but I know it will be busy at the weekend so, joining the Coventry Canal at Fazeley Junction I head towards Brinklow, hopefully to briefly catch my friends before they disappear for the weekend. The Coventry Canal links with the Oxford Canal at Hawkesbury Junction and, as I'm off my original route, this is where my map coverage ends. From my memory Brinklow is not far from Hawkesbury and I'm walking at a cracking pace, I should get there soon. 'Soon' turns out to be quite a relative term and it's dark when I reach Brinklow, knackered. Worse still, my friends are not at home in Bonnie Brae and it looks like a construction site, so I rush to the nearest pub, The Raven, for a meal. Asking if they are still doing food the barmaid looks shocked and customers look at me in alarm. But, yes they do food but will only take money for it, not plastic. I'm running low on cash but have enough. The foods awful, and I find out later that no one in the village eats there.
Back at Bonnie Brae my friends have kindly left the rear garden lights on so I pitch my tent and head for the next nearest pub.
Barman: "We only take plastic on orders over twelve pounds."
Me: "Four pints of Timothy Taylor please." Problem solved.
Saturday 10: Awake, I try the back door of the house only to find it's been open all the time, then I spot one of the building workers in the front drive. I go round to the front garden to introduce myself, but when I get there he's locked in his van.
Me (tapping on the window): "Hello, I'm a friend of Tony and Chris."
Builder: "Oh, I thought you were a squatter. I was just waiting for my mates to arrive in case you were a big bloke." (Have you seen the size of my tent?!)
Wednesday 14: Brinklow to Rugby (6 miles). Sunny and warm. Finally, Tony and Chris arrive back and by now I have bought maps and fluffy socks. So, after we have a beery night out on the town, Tony and I walk back along the canal and into Rugby to collect the car, my shortest walk-day so far. It's an interesting stroll with Tony giving me fascinating insights into the Roman and canal history of the local area.
The first recorded schoolboy game of rugby, however, was played in Aberdeen in 1633. Rumour has it that an even earlier game was also played in Scotland where kilted highlanders enjoyed kicking an Englishman's head around after a battle was won, a game some of us still enjoy today.
Thursday 15: Rugby (Clifton Wharf) to Napton (18 miles). Sunny. It's goodbye to warm-hearted friends and hello to the pretty Oxford Canal. Walking along at a steady rhythm my mind begins to wander and I begin to wonder what I should do after I get to Land's End? Travel again, maybe buy a narrow boat, look for a wife? Perhaps I could combine two of them, kill two birds with one stone so to speak. So I think up an advert to put in one of the canal magazines . . .

Attractive Female Boat Owner Wanted for Marriage
If interested please send recent picture of boat.

Does that work, I ask myself, or does it also need . . .

Also, please send recent picture of engine.

This is the sort of daft thing you think about when you are walking along alone. Arriving at a campsite near Napton I retire to the Folly Inn for a meal.
Friday 16: Napton to Banbury (16 miles). Sunny with cloudy spells. More of the Oxford Canal today and I happily arrive in Banbury.
Saturday 17: Banbury to Bicester (19 miles). Sunny and cloudy with an afternoon hailstorm. One of James Brindley's contour canals I wind my way south via the Great Western Inn at Aynho Wharf through a hailstone shower to Kirtlington and a bus ride to see more friends in nearby Bicester.
Photos along the Coventry and Oxford Canals. I've now walked 876 miles.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Limestone Way

Monday 5 September: Castleton to Youlgreave (19 miles). Sunny and cloudy with cold wind. The climb out of Castleton is up a limestone valley with a howling gale funneled straight in my face and it's blowy all the way to the Angler's Rest in Miller's Dale for lunch. My evening stop is the YHA hostel in Youlgreave, spelt Youlgrave on my Ordnance Survey map, oops.
Tuesday 6: Youlgreave to Ilam (pronounced eelham) (17 miles): Blustery with showers. Picking field mushrooms most of the way I finally arrive at Ilam Hall, a super National Trust property used as a YHA hostel where one of the gardeners confirms that most of my mushrooms are edible.
Wednesday 7: Ilam to Abbots Bromley (22 miles). Cloudy becoming sunny. Mushrooms on toast for breakfast and I'm on the road again headed for Uttoxeter's racecourse campsite for the night - at last a town where I can perhaps buy socks. But, it's a town with no outdoor outfitters and worse the racecourse campsite and B&B's are full of racegoers, so I'm forced to carry on along the Staffordshire Way to the next village, Abbots Bromley. Here I find four pubs but no accommodation so, wet and hungry, I call into the homely Bagot Arms for a meal. Good news, I can camp in their beer garden or retrace my steps to Marsh Farm a mile or so north of the village which may do B&B. When I knock on the door a cheery face answers.
Landlady: "Come in your soaked, are you an End to Ender?"
Me: "How did you know?"
Landlady: "Oh, most of them stop here for the night."
Great en-suite room, use of the kitchen and great farmhouse breakfast. Good deal.
Photos from the Limestone Way. I've now walked 759 miles.