Guernsey – final day 30/08/20

With only a morning left, I had my last opportunity to visit any local attractions, and as Little Chapel was less than two miles from my hotel at La Villette, this seemed the perfect choice for my final walk.

The interior of the island is much quieter than the main thoroughfares and Guernsey has many publicised ‘Routes Tranquilles‘, the equivalent of our Green Roads. I was able to make use of many of these, which I imagine were farm roads in years gone by.

You will recall that the island claims to have no hills. Of course, it is not entirely flat, and inland it has a regular pattern of small hills cut through by attractive streamlets. I walked 7 miles inland this morning, and even then I managed to climb over 809 ft, so you can see this is a surprisingly undulating island. The highest point on Guernsey appears to be Hautnez at 111 metres, which is near the airport. Many of the cliffs are of similar height.

But today was pure countryside and brown and white Guernsey cows, and tiny villages with magnificent buildings.

The Little Chapel is very beautiful. I was expecting just one area for worship but there were a number of small chapels, all equally beautifully adorned. Creating it must have been a real labour of love and I could imagine using it for personal worship. Somehow it doesn’t feel as if it ought to be a tourist attraction.

Having visited the chapel I went to the village of Les Vauxbelets and followed the route tranquille up to the Candie Road. I turned left as I had spied a walking path through woodland that interested me at Les Fauxquets. This was a pleasant walk, though the end of the path was unfortunately very muddy, making a mess of my new shoes.

I followed the Route des Talbots with the Talbot Valley on the right. It is very picturesque with some beautiful houses. I then took side routes, that lead to St Andrew church. From this point I followed more routes that were ‘tranquilles’ but unremarkable and I was soon back at Mouilpied, the small village close to La Villette. I was back in time for a lunchtime pint in the bar, and later on a cream tea to keep me going until I arrive back on the Isle of Man.

 

So what have I gleaned of Guernsey these last few days?

1) it has far too many people and cars

2) the coastline to the south and south east is magnificent walking country.

3) their number plates contain only numbers, usually 5 digits but I saw one today with only 4

4) they have a good bus service, but narrow lanes therefore all journeys are slow, and if you happen to be behind pedestrians or cyclists, very slow

5) they build very large walls around their properties in the main town

6) books are cheap. My copy of Les Contemplations cost £3.71.

7) the footpaths are good but many do not contain waymarker signs. The scaled map is very good.

8) their post boxes are blue and set into walls.

9) many of the villages have their own ‘abreveur’, pumps which provided water for the local villagers

10) although the village names and places look and sound as if they are french, the pronunciation is different, more anglicised

11) it has a lot of cows

12) it is inundated with reminders of its war time histories

13) I didn’t pass a single shop on any of my walks, except beach cafes and, naturally, in the metropolis that is St Peter Port

14) if walking the coastline, be prepared for hundreds of steps! Continue reading “Guernsey – final day 30/08/20”

Guernsey Day 4 – coastal walk 29/08/20

This was my last full day of walking, so I started out early from the hotel finding a new route down to Petit Bot Bay.

Others had already arrived by the time I got there, mostly children and their parents who I think were about to go kayaking. There was already one group in the water. There is a cafe here, but as it was not yet 10am it had not opened.

The climb onto the cliffs is fairly strenuous, with something like 160 steps. I tasked myself with counting them today. Over the full day, I think I climbed 800 steps as well as encountering the standard undulations. It is worth the climb as the views are terrific and you get a sense of accomplishment too.

The coast path goes inland to cross streams in a few places and the paths weren’t always easy to find. To make matters worse ( or better), the Guernsey National Trust has purchased various areas around the cliff path and there are numerous routes within these areas, should you decide to veer off the regular track to explore. On one such occasion around Les Corbieres I did not quite end up back on the right path and found myself on a path slightly more inland than intended. Not that it mattered. This was a fairly long walk anyway of between 9 and 10 miles and I was more interested in reaching my destination than being pedantic about which path I took. However, because of this detour I did not visit the German Observation Tower at the top of this post, though I saw it for many miles thereafter.

There are only two places on this section of the coast path where you can get drinks so make sure you take plenty with you in case they aren’t open. It hasn’t been very warm for late summer but even so my stocks of water were getting low towards the end and I was concerned about getting dehydrated. There is a cafe and a bus terminus at the end of this walk, so it is easy to replenish your stocks and get back to your starting point, although buses are only once a hour. I had thought of going to see Little Chapel as I had finished by 2pm, but there were no buses going to that area at all on a Saturday.

The paths look very similar to the walk I did the other day, so instead of describing the route, I will leave you with a gallery of photos of the walk. I must say, I think this south western point is prettier and quieter than the eastern side around St Peter Port, and the houses I saw were much less showy.

Tomorrow, I shall walk to Little Chapel and return to my hotel for afternoon tea before my mid afternoon pickup for the airport.

Overall distance: 9.17 miles; total ascent 1414 ft; total descent 1762 ft

Guernsey Day 2 – La Villette to St. Peter’s Port 27/08/20

I had been warned by the taxi driver that this is quite a strenuous walk with a lot of steps, so I knew what to expect.

I set out early in the morning and was on the cliffs shortly after 9am. I decided to miss out Icart point and start with a gentle route down to Saints Bay, following another gladed valley. I soon hit the coast path contouring around several small bays, including Bon Port to Jerbourg Point.

At Moulin Huet car park, be careful to follow the map and descend along the road. The path then takes you through some light woodland before you ascend once again on the open coast path. There are one or two ins and outs on this stretch giving some variety to the walk, but whenever you turn a corner, the views are splendid. Renoir created some of his masterpieces here and there are several information boards showing you the view he was capturing. Below is one such scene.

There are two viewpoints mentioned on the map on the Jerbourg peninsula and it is worth taking your time here. The close up view of Les Tas de Pois d’Amont (translates as Pea Stacks) which have been visible all the way around this large cove is magnificent. The path continues around the point to join a lane which leads to the Jerbourg hotel. If you have had enough of steps by this point you can while away your time in the hotel having a cream tea, and then catch the bus (no 81) which will take your on a tour of the island back to St Peters Port.

 

I do not say this lightly, as the next section begins with a lot of descent and more steps, in the sure knowledge that you will have to ascend the same amount before long. This is a kinder path and slightly more undulating than straight up and down and you get the first views of Helm and Sark and the Castle at St Peters Port.

I had set off in fine sunshine, and pleasantly warm. I was also aware of dark clouds looming over the land and I was forlornly hoping that I might escape rain. This was not to be, but thankfully there was some tree cover and I waited patiently for a gap to appear in the lashing rain before I continued. Patience was clearly not a virtue and was going to make no difference, so I set off again for Fermain Bay, where I could see a cafe beside the beach. It was just about noon and I had walked 6 miles. I enjoyed some warming cups of coffee, had a chat with a local who had been swimming and I think wished he hadn’t bothered and ate my packed lunch. The tide was almost in but it looks to be a lovely beach and on a nice day I bet the locals come down here.

There was a brief respite so I set off again, yes, you can guess it, uphill again through woodland at Ozanne Steps and past some houses that had the most scenic and uninterrupted views of the sea. Leaving that path, it takes you to the Clarence Battery at Les Terres Point, an outpost that has guarded St Peters Port for centuries. From there it was a steady descent along La Vallette into St Peters Port.

I didn’t spend much time here today. I wanted to get back to the hotel, dry off and catch up on some sleep! So I boarded the bus, which showed me the delights of the area and dropped me off outside my hotel – very convenient.

I don’t know how many steps there were altogether, but it must be hundreds as there were usually about 30-40 minimum on each ascent. The total distance was 8 miles, descent 1726ft and ascent 1427ft. This walk started with descent, and it is this combination that makes it a little tiring. But it is so rewarding, and if you have a fine day, I would recommend it.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is not great, so I am thinking of doing a hop on hop off bus tour to the other side of the island and maybe do a bit of shopping.

Continue reading “Guernsey Day 2 – La Villette to St. Peter’s Port 27/08/20”

Air-Bridge Guernsey – Arrival Day 26/08/20

What an eye-opener! From the sky Guernsey looked to be a highly populated possibly overcrowded little island. In the taxi, I was struck by the amount of traffic, but once I got to my hotel south of St Peter Port at La Villette, I discovered a different world, of long lost lanes, attractive stone cottages, cows(!) and a most magnificent coastline only a mile away.

From what I have seen in the few hours I have been here, this is an island that cares for itself and looks after itself. The houses in the villages are well maintained and look as if they follow tradition. There is evidence of many former farms dotted around and even the new houses are made to blend in with the natural stone of their predecessors.

Typical former farmhouse on Guernsey

When I arrived it took me a while to get my bearings as I thought the airport was near the main town, when in fact it was in completely the opposite direction. This being so, my first amble took me in a different direction from that where I wanted to go 🙂 Thankfully, my trusty Garmin watch knew where I was going, so I soon discovered my error. It would have been useful to find out where I was staying before I went on holiday, as I was guessing from the word ‘go’, and usually I am better prepared. On this occasion, I hadn’t given my short break a moment’s thought beforehand.


So here I was, an hour and half after arrival and three hours left before the restaurant closed. Time to explore. This time I went in the right direction and after a mile I was on the cliffs admiring the sea and shoreline. I couldn’t stop there, so after a cursory look at the map I decided to head westwards or if looking at the sea – to the right! The cliffs were so inviting – so inviting I would break into a hop and a skip or even a little jog every now and again. The sunlight was glinting behind the cliffs in front of me me and I made a mental note that this walk would be best undertaken left to right in the morning another time.

There are a number of ups and downs on this stretch of path but nothing too demanding. The paths are very well maintained and look natural (note IOM govt), and there are many sections with stone and sandy steps which are easy to traverse. The path reminded me very much of sections of the South West Coast Path which I did with my third son, Matthew, when he was a teenager.

The cliffs are interspersed with shady glens leading down to the little beaches. I am looking forward to exploring more over the next few days, but I know it will be over too soon.

I am trying to extend my holiday to 5 days. The hotel has room for me but the flights are fully booked, so I must make the most of my four days here.

Total distance: approx 3.5 miles, 489 ft of descent, 500ft of ascent.

La Palma, Canaries, January 2020: Day 6, Final Walking Day – Cumbre Nueva

The final day promised to be interesting. We would start on the eastern side of the Cumbre Nueva, in the hills behind our hotel, scramble up some heady paths through the oldest volcanic rocks, reach a open green picnic area, and then descend on the other side walking across more recent lava flows, finishing in El Paso, the terrrain on the west and east escarpments being wildly different.

We were following what would originally have been an ancient path linking one side of the island to the other, rather like you find in the passes above Coniston in the Lake District. You could sense the spirits of bygone fellows leading their donkeys carrying their wares on their backs up and down these steep and narrow paths.

The Cumbre Nueva (translates as New Summit) contains the sharp spine of hills that we could see yesterday leading off to the south from Caldera Taburiente to the Cumbre Veija (Old Summit). The harder walk were heading off on the ‘volcano route’ of the Cumbre Vieuja, which sounds like a child’s paradise: lots of craters in a small area to play around in. A part of me wanted to do that walk, but I knew they would set off fast and I want to enjoy the scenery and not be on a forced route march. Cumbre Nueva being slightly smaller than its neighbouring friends with a maximum height of 2100m is rather softer in appearance than the other craggy volcanos surrounding it. and maintains a steady transpiration rate as it is mostly within the cloud forest height range, so it is lush and green. There are many pines on the eastward side whose lines are only broken where the lava has had its strongest grip. On the eastern side  the vegetation is more varied and more abundant – tree heathers can grown to 4 metres in height., whereas on the western side they are more stunted in growth due to the lava flows and also to the strong winds which buffet that side of the mountains.

Cumbre Nueva

At the bottom of this map is a marker point called Montana de los Tomillos at 1522 metres. That is the point where you change over from east to west. If you enlarge the photo you will see a green path to the right saying Pared Vieja on the east side. We started somewhere along that path, walking continuously uphill for an hour and a half.

Then we reached El Pilar which is an area that has been cleared to some extent to allow locals and tourists to make the most of the wonderful countryside. You can drive up to this point, there is a small visitor centre, toilets and a snack bar in season. It is very pleasant and cool, although the sun can still creep through the trees. One remarkable thing about this island is its taxi service. Every now and again where a path meets a track you will come across a green sign saying TAXI with several taxi numbers and prices to different places. They are very geared up for walkers and try to discourage vehicles by offering this service, and they are not expensive. The Refugio de La Pilar is a wonderful starting point for a walk. You can do at least six different walks from this starting point and I would have loved to have been able to spend time messing around exploring all of them. Maybe that will be for another visit.

As you leave El Pilar you cannot fail to notice the Volcano Montano Quemada of Tacande, which erupted as recently as 1470-1490, similar to other volcanic eruptions in the south, and indeed the terrain is very similar. You can see the black ash sliding down the hillsides and there are only a few loose boulders here. This ‘sand’ was procured by the locals over the years to make paths and gardens, but that practice has now been forbidden. This tiny loose rock was created when magma was thrust into the air, forming shiny black granules cooling rapidly as it hits the ground. This is called obsidian and it looks like glass. Everywhere we looked you could see it glistening up at us, but try to pick one up and it would mysteriously disappear. I did finally manage to bring a couple of tiny pieces home, along with some volcanic pumice!

Tacande
Volcano Tacande

This was a very pleasant walk down, with some open areas and lovely shaded areas in the pines. This was the first time there was evidence of water, admittedly not flowing right now, but there were channels in the lava which would allow the water to flow freely when it does rain. The rainy season is meant to be between November and February but as everywhere, the climate is changing and they have had little rain this winter. The annual rainfall is about 327mm p.a, compared with the Isle of Man that has 1139mm p.a, so you can see that if is dries up here they will be in serious trouble.

Water channels
Water channels in the lava

Throughout this holiday we had come across all kinds of lichen, which of course only grow in healthy terrains. They hung from the trees and where they fell off, it felt quite hard and leathery. The photo below shows such a lichen dripping from a tree, with the backdrop of the Punta de les Roques which is the last part of the volcanic ridge and the first part of the Caldera de Taburiente.

Lichen on trees and Punta de La Roques

The further down we went we lost the sandy rocks and found ourselves walking over a very craggy lava flow that went all the way down to El Paso. This had been incorporated into the gardens of the local houses

Changing terrain

And here we could hear the sound of birds as we went through more pine forests, casting their magical spell on us all as we passed through them.

Pine forest

Nearly at El Paso, we had our final trek over some tricky lava and a few minutes later we were at the Visitor Centre and the bar, where we sat and waited for the harder walkers who were not so far away. The fact that the lava continues right down to the road makes one very much aware that this is a living landscape and that it will always have the final say over mankind.

In this last photo, you can see the whole of our route on the eastern side and reminisce about all the wonderful things we saw.

End

Distance: 6 miles

Ascent: 948 ft (all in the morning)

Descent: 2041ft

So ends a truly memorable holiday, so inspiring that I have already booked to go walking on one of the other Canary Islands this time next year. For now, I shall resume normal service and report on walks on the Isle of Man, starting this coming Saturday with a report on Peat Monitoring which we plan to do if the weather is suitable.

Thank you for following this blog, and keep in touch.

 

La Palma, Canaries: Day 5 – Caldera de Taburiente Rim

This was a spectacular day. It started with a long, meandering, climbing, one and a half hour bus journey through the laurel cloud forest, giving wonderful views of Santa Cruz and its defunct volcano; the higher we got, the further north we could see and the laurels gave way to  tall, elegant pine trees. At times, I wondered if it were possible to go any higher. Every now and again we would get glimpses of rocky peaks through the trees and then finally we came out into the desertified landscape where the bus stopped temporarily at a viewpoint into the crater of the Caldera de Taburiente. This volcano erupted over 1 million years ago and again 1/4 of a millenium after that. It has a diameter of 8 kilometres, though landslides and erosion have now blocked off one side of the crater so that it resembles something of an icecream cone now.

Day 5 1

First view of the Caldera

We continued on the twisting lava road turning left beside some observatories, some which look at the stars and others that look at the sun. Then we stopped and could go no further, and indeed this was true for the bus too, it puts its foot down and the clutch or brakes decided they had had enough of carrrying the HF party, so the bus driver spent the next 30 minutes organising another bus to pick us up later. We had arrived at our starting point – El Roques de Los Muchachos, which strangely translates as Rock of the Boys! We were at 2,426m or 7959ft. We were warned we could be a little light-headed but no-one suffered more than usual.

The observatories

We were at the highest point of the Caldera and looking across to the left were several observatories, none of which are accessible to the public. They are too busy doing serious stuff. It was at this point that it was discovered that the easier walk could not run as only one person opted for it, the other person having changed his or her mind. This posed a problem as HF cannot lead a walk with 1 person. Fortunately we had a guide with us, who was supposed to tell us about the geology, flora and fauna, and she kindly offered to take the lady on the easier route and leave the two leaders with the harder walk.

It has a nice feeling being on top of the island, if not on top of the world, with sky all around, the cloud forest to the left, blue sea to the right and the other Canary Islands daring to raise their heads above the cloud parapet and make their own claim for our attention. At different times we saw Tenerife, La Gomera, and El Hiero. We were so lucky to have a mostly clear day, certainly along the rim, although inside the crater there was a kind of blue haze. The previous week the walkers had traipsed around the rim in total cloud, with not a view in sight. We obvously picked the right week.

Tenerife
Tenerife in the distance

The cloud forest 2
Above the clouds

View south east to Los Llanos
Los LLanos just visible to the east

View across to Cumbre Vieja
The Cumbre Vieja

But I am leaping ahead of time. Most of the time we were inside the cauldron, with many short and steep ascents and descents to Pico de la Cruz (2,351m), where we had our lunch. Now that’s what I call a lunch stop, though the wind was blowing a hooley and it was quite chilly.

Lunch stop
View to my right

Lunmch stop 2
View to my left

At this point we became aware that we did not have our easier walker and the guide. What’s more, the leader had no signal on her phone, so many a moment was spent trying to make contact to find out where they were. One of the guests finally succeeded and we were able to continue. Ah, maybe this is what our leader Mary has spotted in the distance?

Nowhere to go but down from here

We carried on up and down the rocky rim, which had amazing colours at times and at other times seemed quite dull but never boring. We crossed two other tops, Piedro Llana 2,321 m and our final point on the rim was Pico de la Nieve, which reminded me of yesterday’s story of the talcum powder as Nieve means ‘snow’ and lends its title to the patron saint of that area and everything to the east towards Santa Cruz. Not that it looks very white, or does it?.

End Point Pico de Bejenado
The youngest volcano in the rim, Pico de Bejenado

From here, it was all downhill, though perhaps the rocks underfoot were whiter than the rocks we started on. We had passed ancient pillow lavas created undersea when the volcano erupted, now evident at 500 metres showing how the uplift and shifting plates make mountains out of molehills. The whole of the Canaries is moving towards the African plate, so one day there will a mighty upheaval yet again. Even so, this island is unique in that its volcanos go some 4000 metres under the sea and 2500 metres above sea level, making them some of the highest volcanos in the world.

I end this section with a slideshow of some photographs taken on the rim to show you the variety of colour and interest created by the weathering of the rocks. Tomorrow is the last day of walking, and different yet again. Having been in the oldest volcano, I now enter one of the newest and the terrain is certainly different. Look out for the final instalment in my story of La Palma tomorrow.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Distance 7.5 miles

Total ascent 1312 ft

Total descent 2907 ft.

Maximum elevation 7951 ft; minimum elevation 6,283 ft.

La Palma, Canaries, January 2020 – Days 3 and 4: Santa Cruz, Breña Alta, Los Llanos

For a small island, it sure does pack a punch. The volcanoes in themselves are enough to take one’s breath away but it also has its calmer, more serene side where most people live scattered across the hillsides.

I took a day off instead of walking as my poor (big) toes were throbbing, I had blood blisters under both nails, the toes were swollen and painful and the thought of another long descent was not appealing. You will be pleased to know I don’t have a photo of my feet! On Day 3 I had a leisurely morning, caught up on some sleep and watched some of the Australian Tennis Open. Our hotel was magnificent. We were staying at the Parador de la Palma in Breña Baja, an ancient ‘suburb’ of Santa Cruz where they grow tobacco, apparently on a par for quality with Cuban tobacco. The hotel is relatively modern with extensive grounds which have been landscaped beautifully. It has a pool and a gym, neither of which I frequented, a lounge and a bar and a lovely enclosed patio area where one could sit and listen to the sound of water as one drank one’s wine, read one’s book or engage in mindless chatter.  And of course a restaurant. The food was out of this world and there was so much to eat I am glad to be home, otherwise I would end up a big fatty! So, all in all, a day off was very appealing.

In the afternoon, having written some postcards, I thought I should venture out to post them and explore the local community, wearing comfortable pumps which would not put any pressure on my toes. It is impossible to avoid uphill but at least I was on tarmac. Off I went, expecting a gentle ramble, which indeed it was. I found myself turning this way and that and two and half miles and a 1000ft later, I decided it was time to turn back. I was already in the foothills of the Cumbre Veija by this point where the cloud forest begins and it was trying to drizzle. It was a happy ramble in that I was able to nose into people’s gardens, which were generally large houses or smallholdings. It is noticeable that most of the houses are two storey. No large tower blocks here.  As I turned onto the top road I felt I could almost have been in the wild west. Imagine those big doors on the photo below are saloon doors and imagine horses tethered up in front – imagination can run away with you here :-). The variety of vegetation on the hillsides was remarkable and so many wild flowers were out, many of which we only see in late summer, if at all. Most noticeable were the ‘dying swans’ of Echium which grow all over the island.

 

The next day was the scheduled day off. I knew I had to get some new footwear if I was to continue with the organised walks so I go the bus into Santa Cruz and bought a pair of HiTec walking trainers that were a full size bigger than I usually buy. They were cheap, costing me 50 Euros which included 3 pairs of socks. I had a walk around Santa Cruz which has some nice alleys , squares and drinking places such as the Calle Real, the main cobbled street, but I was not in the mood for exploring.

Santa Cruz is the capital of the island but not the largest city which is Los LLanos on the western side. It is positioned on an old lava flow that emanated from the volcano easily visible to the south of the city. It only has a population of 15,674 in 2018, so about 2/3rds the size of Douglas. The total population is 81,863, which is slightly surprising given that so much of the terrain is inhospitable. Santa Cruz does have one very strange claim to fame. Every 5 years it holds an event called The Descent of the Virgin of the Nieves, when there is a peculiar dance performed, called the Dance of the Dwarfs. Grown men over 6ft tall assume costumes of bishops then go into a shed and come out as dwarfs, with enormous triangular hats, and do a polka!! They don’t just do it once, but over and over again, all through the night. There is another annual tradition called Los Indianos, where all the locals dress up in white, men in posh suits and ladies with their parasols and straw hats, and talcum powder is thrown all over the place. Quite how or why these traditions have emerged is a deeply kept secret, but it does make one wonder what other plants might be growing on the island. If you are interested in visiting Santa Cruz there is a Naval Museum, churches with fine architecture and some interesting houses on the front.

I had wanted to visit Los Llanos as it has an archaeological musuem, so I boarded the no 300 bus, paid the driver 2,60 Euros and off we went up and over the hills and through the tunnel to the other side of the island. I hadn’t a clue where to get off the bus, but I was fortunate in that I spotted a road sign to the museum so hopped off at the next opportunity. This is definitely worth a visit. I think it cost 4 Euros, but I could have had a pass for only a little more which would have given me access to other museums elsewhere. Of course, it explained about the volcanic construction of the island, but it also talked about the shepherding way of life and there were various artefacts and a few old bones to examine. I spent about an hour there before wandering around the rest of the town.

The west of the island has a totally different feel to the east which is more humid. As you come down the long windy hill into Los Llanos you cannot help but notice the vast number of cream-coloured greenhouses that look very much like low level warehouses from above, and it lends it a commercial feel. The greenhouses protect the bananas which have become a large part of the island economy. They are very dense bananas and relatively small, compared with the ones that are imported to the UK. Formerly the main product was sugar cane.

 

Los Llanos itself contains several roads that stretch uphill like boulevards, with established trees in the centre. It is quite a bustling town and has a happy feel to it, with cafes in the centre where tourists and local mingle. In one of the streets there are 11 Indian Laurel and Royal Palm Trees that were imported from Cuba, and indeed these are the symbol of the city. They are very dramatic and beautiful. Although not the capital city which is Santa Cruz, Los Llanos is bigger, with a population of 20,171 in 2018. It appears to be a sprawling city as other smaller towns are very close, such as El Paso, but each has its own identity. Los Llanos is unlikely to claim the capital spot as it lies 325 metres above sea level so cannot compete with Santa Cruz for trade in quite the same way.

Having done my city tours, I got the 300 bus back, but managed to get off at the hospital and change to the no 35 which stops outside the Parador. I had enjoyed my day. I managed to wear in my new boots without causing any more problems to my toes and I was all set then for out Day 5 Walk which was to be an absolute treat, walking about the largest and highest volcanic crater on the island – and I shall tell you about that, tomorrow.

La Palma, Canaries – January 2020: Day 2 – Cube de la Galga Ravine and Coastal Walk to San Andres

The title makes it sound as if this is an easy walk, but this was the hardest walk of the week. It started with quite a long coach journey before being dropped off in the middle of nowhere in the Parque Naturel de Las Nieves. This time I opted for the ‘harder’ walk and it certainly was harder than yesterday. After a brief level start we then climbed steeply up a rocky path for 400 metres through a most attractive laurel forest. I have been having trouble with a persistent but low-key cough for weeks and the steepness and difficulty of the climb made breathing difficult, especially as some of the walkers insisted on a fast pace, which basically I ignored. I never see the point of walking at speed on a holiday, where the idea is to see the views and imbibe the magic of the region. As yesterday, but for different reasons, the path was often slippery and a tumble was only the next footstep away if care was not taken.

   

The laurel forest only exists between 500m and 1200m, so that shows the height we started at! It doesn’t lend itself to wonderful photographs except for the specialist, but the sun played around between the trees and there was a cooling draft that was very acceptable. Beneath the laurels are lower ground hugging plants such as tree heathers so the whole forest is a very pleasant mix of greens and where the sun can really break through wild flowers grow near the paths. The forest only exists because of the trade winds, which allow a cloud forest to develop bathing the forest in moist air. We reached the Mirador de Somada Alta,at 790 metres. which is just a viewpoint and a resting stage, then we continued more of less contouring before turnwards eastwards and returning to our starting point. I cannot emphasize enough the beauty of walking through these remote woodlands and they make a fine contrast to the banana plantations below and the bare volcanic rocks above.

From here we followed well made paths down to La Galga, where a platter had been prepared for the walkers in a local restaurant. There is a wonderful viewpoint of the Barranco de la Galaga here at the Mirador de la Galga, tucked behind the local church, and an equally impressive view in the opposite direction down to the sea.

You can see how rugged and tricky the descent and ascent might be into the first ravine. We then followed a local path on the side of a hill which had been terraced for growing crops, such as wines, bananas, avocados, oranges and lemons. The lower terrains are covered with smallholdings.

Terracing

Juicy orange trees

Banana plantations

Reaching the coastpath GR-130, the path undulated and made various twists and turns before we encountered our first major Barranco, which are steep-sided ravines, sculpted by water – hard to believe considering the tiny amount of water that falls in La Palma. They would originally have been faults in the lava flows which are then corroded by water.

The first ravine near Los Galguitos (though the village was not visible from the path) was the steeper of the two, with a narrow rocky path to negotiate in  both directions, before we were able to continue contouring all the way to next ravine near Llano de Pino, which looked as if it would be daunting as at this point we reached sea level. But the ascent was much easier with intermittent level sections and with a few rest stops we soon reached our destination of San Andrés. This is a very attractive village with a beautiful central area around its imposing church, and lots of bars.

 

This was a varied and interesting walk, so different from the day before and different from anything else we would do. It was very exhilerating if demanding and we enjoyed a very welcome drink in the bar before getting the coach home

Distance: 8 miles (13 km); Total ascent 1700 ft (510m); Total ascent: Approximately 3,000 ft.

La Palma, Canaries – January 2020: Walking Day 1 – The Southern Volcanoes

La Palma is a walkers’ and geologists’ paradise. For my first visit to the Canary Islands I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I knew it contained volcanoes and it was billed in the HF brochure as being very green, but in reality this small island – almost the same size of the Isle of Man, is very dramatic, with old and new volcanoes littering and influencing every tiny part of it and hints of all types of natural change occurring over geological time.

Day 1 walks are generally designed to ease walkers into an unknown terrain and to get the feel of what they are capable of achieving. The other walkers all opted for the ‘harder’ route which involved a small amount of ascent contouring around the side of hills with coastal views and a descent into Los Canarios. I opted for the ‘easier’ route, which meant I would have time to explore the small town, but more importantly I would have time to have a good look at the volcano visitor centre and take a walk along the crater rim. From there, both groups would walk through the extensive lava fields and past the latest volcano to erupt down to the sea.

dsc02321.jpg

The view of the volcanic ridge to the north of Los Canarios, adjoining the Cumbre Vieja ridge. Below the small town to Los Canarios viewed from the San Antonio crater.

If anything, although there are other competing highlights, this was my favourite day. I walked along the San Antonio crater rim following the tourist route, but I was also able to explore the other side of the crater and have it entirely to myself. The light was better on this side and there was a greater sense of isolation and wonder at the achievement of the natural world. This volcano erupted in 1677 and therefore few plants and trees have had a chance to colonise the interior. The circumference of the crater is about 1 km, the depth 100 metres, and it’s height is 663 metres (2175 ft), so about the height of Snaefell.

The island is host to tens of volcanoes old and young, maybe more, and according to the Express in Jan 2019 it is already overdue another major volcanic eruption on a massive scale! It also hosts a myriad of astronomical telescopes on the ridges of many of the volcanoes and there is a miniature one at the visitor centre pointing to the Polaris star, which rather amused me.

Once we were all together again it was an continuous walk steeply downhill for over 2000 ft. In some places, the lava fields were tiny grains of pica, in other areas soft ash or small loose rocks and in others we were stepping over cobbles or bigger stones. We passed the Teneguía volcano which was more rugged than the San Antonio volcano with many more boulders; little natural vegetation has had a chance to grow yet, since this volcano only erupted as recently as 1971, following a previous eruption in 1949.

To the west we were able to see how the locals are making use of the new land created by these magnificent lava flows. Although the soil is very thin its temperate climate lends itself to growing grapes and wine is becoming relatively big business. The vineyards are evident all around the south, which also happens to have the sunniest and warmest weather of the island. There are several places where you can sample their wine, even in Los Canarios.

 

dsc02337
I sat here, alone with my thoughts, relishing the peace and quiet around me.

The descent from San Antonio was very steep and rocky in places, and always interesting. The next photo shows we have descended a few hundred feet and shows the San Antonio volcano standing imperiously in its environment.

We had stopped to look at some hieroglyphs on the rocks at the suitably named Roque Teneguía. This is an outcrop of rock containing phonolite which is pale and contrasts with the surrounding grey basalt gravel (called lapilli).The meaning of the symbols is unclear, and is thought to be ancient artwork; similar patterns are found on the rocks in other places too, so most likely some form of communication. They are usually positioned near a water source. Some say they resemble Celtic hieroglyphs, other says they resemble water or fertility, but in truth, no-one knows. We do know that they are at least 500 years old, so were there long before the volcanoes in this region.

Ancient Rock Art

From here the terrain changes as we walk along the eastern side of the Teneguía volcano. Large lumps of rock and awkward looking shapes were abundant and the descent here was arduous in places. The paths look deceptively easy, and they have been thoughtfully designed and maintained, but often the rocks are very loose and it was easy to lose one’s footing any day of the week.

 

Compare this with the lunar landscape on the eastern side as we descend further towards at Fuencaliente in the coast, which of course is all  new land.

You can just see the salt pans in the photograph above. It is possible to walk around them, or visit the lighthouse, or have a beer in the cafe. For those who don’t want to walk you can get a bus from Los Canarios and save your knees! Not that I had a problem with knees; my problem was toes, but I will tell you all about that another time.

None of the other walks we did have such a sense of spaciousness. Every walk was beautiful in its own way, but maybe because I am an islander myself and spend a lot of time looking up at the sky and out across the sea, this day will remain in my memory for ever. And of course, we finished at the sea.

Distance – my full day was about 8 miles, much of which was messing about around the volcano; ascent: 600ft; descent 2400ft

To follow: Day 2 was a testing walk in the hills north of Santa Cruz, with a lot of steep ascent and descent with lovely wooded valleys and steep ravines to cross, but well worth the effort. A memorable day.