Port Erin Beach and Athol Glen 5th May 2020

If ever there was a short walk, this is it! My customary stroll down to the village and then on to the beach. I have been asked for some ‘beach photos’ so after my shop I wandered down to see what was in store on the beach today. First though, a snapshot of life in lockdown. It was just after 1.30pm on a debatably warm, but definitely sunny Tuesday afternoon. Normally, Port Erin would be bustling with people and cars would be parked on every available square inch of kerbside. Not today. This is what lockdown looks like when it works properly, just the standard 2 metre depth queue for the Coop,  a lone walker, and next to no cars. By the time I got there, the queue  had developed to a massive three people and meant a wait of about 10 minutes to do my  tiddly shop for eggs and milk.

Port Erin in Stage 2
Port Erin in Lockdown

After that, I continued my solitary walk to the cliff top, where a man was enjoying  a bit of relaxation on the bench at the top, where the featured photo was taken.  I took the stepped path down to the bottom lane in the centre of the village, where I joined the beach passing by a young child, no more than 2 or 3 on the final section. As I walked passed her, her mum apologised for her young child not understanding social distancing.

You can tell it has been a little windy as the sand had carved out mini layers of sand and rocks. There were surprisingly few people on the beach given that the schools are not back yet and most people are working from home. I had it largely to myself. It was bright and clear today and very pleasant. There was even one brave soul swimming in the water. No danger of contracting Covid-19 there at least!

A quiet beach

Buoyed Up

Spaldrick

Bradda Head

I walked along the edge of the sea and joined the path at St Catherine’s Well, and followed the lane back to the street corner and more importantly  to the ice-cream parlour. I hadn’t planned a treat for myself but it seems rude not to take advantage of an open shop selling such niceties, especially when you aren’t expecting it to be open. In I went and had a pleasant conversation with the owner and we discussed the plight of Davisons in Peel, who had found unwanted fame on social network by someone posting a photo of a long queue and no-one social distancing. It turns out that Davisons had been targeted and the owner had had his tyres slashed – for opening the ice cream parlour!? – and the photo had been taken from such an angle to minimise the distance between people in the queue!  It seems some people will find something wrong with anything. I will issue a word of caution as this is simply what I was told and I have no other evidence for or against this point of view.

I enjoyed my raspberry ripple ice-cream as I walked back through Athol Glen which is looking very attractive. A bit of rain wouldn’t go amiss to freshen everything up, but it was doing a pretty good job without it, and the birds were singing in the trees and telling us that life will go on and nothing really changes, so stop worrying and enjoy life.

I finish with a few photos from Athol Glen. I hope to travel up north (if we are allowed to travel, I’m not quite sure).  We are now allowed to make unnecessary journeys but I think this is meant to apply to close to home, but I really could do with some air in my lungs. I would really like to walk along the miles of beach around Kirk Michael and tomorrow it is due to be warm and sunny, with less wind than today. I am enjoying it already…..

The distance is immaterial, as you will not be walking from my house. But if you were to park in Port Erin, the whole distance would be no more than 1 mile, with  ascent and descent  up and down the cliff of 100 feet, And you can follow a gentle road up and down if you don’t like steps. Just lovely to have all this on my doorstep. Aren’t I the lucky one!

Silverdale Glen 2nd May 2020

At last! A few restrictions have been lifted and we can now enjoy limitless hours of solitary entertainment walking along our wonderful riverbanks, through our forests or along green byways. Psychologically I feel liberated, and no longer feel that eyes are watching me as if I am a criminal when I walk down the road.

After potting up more seedlings and planting more seeds, the warm sunny weather  drew me out to go further afield. One of my boys had sent me a heart-warming photograph of a forest of bluebells that he had encountered on his daily Derbyshire walk. Spurred on by his thoughtful gift,  I was prompted to drive to Silverdale Glen where I hoped the ramsons and bluebells would be flowering. And indeed they were, though perhaps not quite as abundantly as in previous years maybe due to the exceptionally dry weather we have had over the last month and they certainly weren’t as pungent as they usually are in most places.

Wild Ramsom

I parked in the top car park and walked down the footpath to where the path divides. To the right the boating lake and to the left the wilder side of the glen with the leat running  north to south to feed the mill at the lake. This was marked no access but I knew this would where the ramsons and bluebells would be standing at their most proud so I flouted the footpath closed sign for the sake of getting photographs.

The Lake

The reason for the closure became obvious as the bridge has been taken down and a low one put in its place. Whether it is to remain like this I don’t know, but it would allow pedestrians and wheelchairs access to the other side of the river. It was so quiet down there and the sunlight darted about about the trees and vegetation. It was like being in a fairies’ playground.

The Woodland

Reflections

The bank

There were a few people around the boating lake, some with their children at the play area but this place usually bustling with activity on fine days was a shadow of itself, but still very lovely. I walked to the old Mill and crossed the road and walked up the lane to go to the other man-made lake where there were ducks chasing each other in the water. I was surprised to see butterflies, given that it is so early in May. I saw male orange-tips flittering about never stopping long enough for me to snap them,  and what I think is a speckled wood, judging by its eye on the underside.

Lake 2

Ducks

There were numerous spring flowers lining the paths and riverbed, some of which I have included in the slide show, along with the butterflies and ducks!

I continued down to Ballasalla, passing Abbotswood and saying a little prayer for all those struggling with Covid-19 and the key workers there cleaning up the nursing home to make it safe again for the residents to return. On to the bridge and Rushen Abbey, then following the river north back to the Mill. I hardly saw a soul in the 75 mins I was out.

The Silverburn

So, I finish my ramble with a slideshow of the flowers I enjoyed and the  interesting trees with the unusual shapes they throw, often looking like hands or monsters creeping over the ground.

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Distance: 2.3 miles; 121 ft ascent! 🙂

Silverdale Map

Hope Bowdler Circular 8 miles – 16th March 2020

Hope Bowdler

The sky was clear as a bell when I awoke, so an early start onto the hills was in order. I had worked out and memorised a route I wanted to take starting from Hope Bowdler, though whether it would work out in practice was anyone’s guess.

I parked in a lay-by alongside mums taking their children to nursery and walked along the road through the pretty village. I knew my path would be just behind the village on the eastern side of a stream, and I found it without a problem. It was all uphill to the source of the stream, keeping Hope Bowdler Hill to my right.

I fully intended to traverse west across the moorland so that I could take in all the peaks, but you could carry on between the hills if you preferred. There are three mini peaks, all nameless, one around 390 metres, the second about 410 metres and the highest at 426 metres. The views across to the Long Mynd were spectacular and the sun warmed my soul as I walked along the ridge. I should mention there is no footpath marked on the OS map but there is a clear path in practice.

The source of the stream
One of the mini peaks
View of the Caer Caradoc range from the mini peaks of Hope Bowdler Hill

From here there is a steep and uneven descent that curves around the hillside contouring for a short time, before entering the valley, scrubland and forest that is very very boggy. The paths here are less obvious but there is plenty of choice and as long as you know roughly the direction you want to go, you will get there. As it was, I didn’t deviate from my mental route all day, which rather impressed me.

The stream crossing

There are little streams to cross, but these are not difficult and eventually you hit the main ‘thoroughfare’ between the Hope Bowdler Range and the Caer Caderoc range. There is a choice of routes. There is a steep path up to the first crag to the left, but given my physical condition I tend to look for the more gradual routes, so I walked eastwards on the path until I reached a gate and stile.

Going off piste; the stile is at the top

There is a clearly visible route that heads directly to the top of Caer Caradoc, but again I wanted to take in the mini peaks, so I ascended over the tussocky ground to join an easy path to the east to view the nameless peaks. The ridge walk was lovely, undulating and soft underfoot, and there is a slightly steeper rockier ascent to reach the craggy highest point at 459 metres. The views are just stunning from here.

Called The Three Fingers?
The view towards Church Stretton
Towards the top
A sheep presides over its kingdom
The view from the top to the south

Unfortunately, it is all downhill from this point, and quite steeply too. I would recommend walking poles if you are slightly unsure of your balance. The descent is mostly on peat and heather, as opposed to the grit at the top, so if the path is worn or slippery you can walk on softer terrain which will give you more grip. As the descent eases it turns into a grassy track. You could carry on at this point and do the final hill in this series, but that was not in my plan.

The view downhill

I took a path to the right at the shoulder of the hill and followed this round the base of Caer Caradoc to Cwms Cottage, which is actually a ruin. At this point you are back on the former track. The walk continues for a couple of hundred metres west before turning south to go around another unnamed hill, with Cwms Plantation to the left. Once you reach the stile, the path follows a field boundary for about 10 minutes to a point where there is a conjunction of paths.

The view northeast with the Wrekin in the distance

My route took me south and uphill again over but not over the top of Willstone Hill, across an area called Battle Stones. My path then continued over lovely sheep filled grassy meadows and took me down to Middle Hill, where I expected to walk through a farm and continue.

Sheep-filled meadows

However, it was marked private and no access. I do apologise but I climbed over the fence because the recognised footpath appeared to continue straight on. However, I would not recommend this. I saw no-one but I heard loads of dogs that were clearly aroused by my presence. They were contained in sheds and not visible, but it was a little alarming.

View from the track

There is an alternative route, so don’t go down to Middle Hill but go to Cardington Hut and follow other waymarked routes. It will add on another mile, but you can actually start this whole walk the far side of Hope Bowdler, so it would even out. As for me I continued on the farm track. Once on the farm track there is another route via Greystones which takes you down to the main road. Either way, all paths lead to the main road and from there it is simple walk on a grassy verge back to Hope Bowdler.If you get the chance to visit St Andrews in Hope Bowdler it has the feel of centuries of worship and activity. It is only a small church, but it is very special, with an avenue of enormous yew trees leading you to the church entrance, and a lytchgate that still has the stone coffin stand in its entrance.

The lytchgate of St Andrews

This was a really super walk. It took about 4 and a quarter hours; 8 miles with 1889 ft of ascent and 1922 ft of descent.

Postscript, 22nd March 2020: Sadly, I had barely written this post when news came through that because of the coronavirus, anyone returning to the Isle of Man after 23.59 on Tuesday (the next day) would have to self isolate for 10 days. I took the rapid decision to get the 2.15am ferry and return to the Isle of Man, so after a hurried evening dinner with HF, I packed my car and shot off up the motorway.

On arriving home, I decided to self-isolate for 7 days in any case, so that is what I have been doing these last six days. Thankfully, I do not have any symptoms so I hope to scale up to the social distancing only stage from tomorrow. Our IOM govt has decreed that as long as we are sensible we can take ourselves for solitary walks, so I will try and fit a few in while most other aspects of life have been put on hold.

Church Stretton – Beneath the Stiperstones [Day 1]

The Stiperstone Ridge

The hardest decision to be made each day is usually what to pick from the vast array of food for the packed lunch, closely followed by ‘which walk shall I do today’.

Given that my muscles are not great right now, and can be very painful on exertion, it was a fairly easy decision. Usually I would opt for the longest walk, especially if there is ridge walking involved, but I decided that 8 miles and just over 1000ft of ascent would be sufficient. It is so easy when you are younger to take your health for granted and it is so hard when your health starts to fail and you have to pace yourself and look longingly at ridges and scrambles rather than actually do them.

The day began with a coach journey of 40 minutes to our drop off point in the middle of nowhere, nowhere being just north of Corndon Hill at 344 metres. We followed an easy path over grassy knolls to Michaels Fold Stone circle, which is less impressive in practice than it sounds on paper. Makes you think a farmer so named it for his sheep. It was lovely up here, with wide expanses of moorland.

Michael’s Fold Stone Circle

From here we ventured south on very very muddy tracks to a place called White Grit. We followed a path taking us through Squiver farm up on to the very lovely Milk Hill, veering left of Mucklewick Hill – what wonderfully descriptive names they have in this part of Shropshire, though we may have been in Wales at this point. We continued to the foot of Grit Hill befor traipsing over boggy meadow to a spot called THE BOG. I write it in capitals as that is how it appears on the map.

Here there is a disused mine and a closed visitor centre, but there were benches where we could have our lunch. There was even old machinery showing how they transferred the rock from one end of the hills to another using a rope pulley system.

We had views of the Stiperstones from here, beguilingly in the near distance but just out of reach. We contoured around the lower regions and at a height of 430 metres we started our ascent to the Stiperstones ridge; we walked northwards along the ridge for a few hundred metres. It felt like more as it was very uneven, meaning that each step had to be carefully negotiated. This was our highest point of the day at roughly 490 metres. The views were tremendous in all directions, and we could see the foothills of Snowdonia in one direction, and the Wrekin in another.

The ever present Corndon Hill. We started to the far right of this then skirted left beneath it through fields on very muddy ground until we reached higher elevations. This area has a lot of undulating shale layers (the Mytton flags) creating clay soils, with discontinuous layers of volcanic rock. The hill itself is an intrusion of volcanic dolerite, as opposed to the Stiperstones quartzite, most likely laid down on a beach or in a water environment.

We descended through a narrow valley between Perkins Beach and Green Hill. This had a couple of steep and rocky sections but were easily passable with care. This section had an entirely different feel to anything we had encountered the rest of the day.

On reaching the road, it was just a hop, a skip and a jump to the village of Stiperstones and the village pub, which had a welcoming roaring fire, an old fashioned traditional pub, where you could imagine the locals sitting around sipping their pints and exchanging stories.

Total distance: 7.5 miles, Ascent 1020ft

Church Stretton – Arrival day 13th Mar 2020

View from the HF house at Church Stretton

The whole country may be in disarray thanks to the Coronavirus, but where I am right now, no-one would ever know.

I was in two minds whether to continue with my planned holiday to the UK, but given that everything was still going ahead, i.e. boats, planes and trains, well not so much planes with the collapse of Flybe, I resolved to proceed as planned.

Well, not entirely as planned as I was booked on a Flybe flight, which then became as expensive alteration to my plans as I was obliged to use the ferry costing me £267.50 for me and the car, with a seat and WiFi being extra.

The journey was actually very pleasant – a smooth sailing sat amongst a crowd of netball and hockey players on their way to play in Lancashire. Travel down from Heysham on the M6 and A49 was uneventful and at least I wouldn’t be on a crowded train of potential virus sufferers.

I was especially thankful to be in the car when I arrived at picturesque Church Stretton, as Longmynd House is positioned up a steepish hill, which would not have been fun to walk with a suitcase and umpteen pairs of walking boots.

I had come very well prepared given that Shropshire has had such rains and floods in recent weeks, so I doubted that one pair of boots would be enough, and given that I am a messy walker, I would also need a range of other outerwear too. And having the car meant that I could throw in anything I like, which was a luxury I rarely encounter as I usually travel light.

The HF house is large, with a fantastic lounge offering panoramic views of Caer Caradoc and its range of soft topped grassy hills. I was suitably impressed with its wonderful location. I was eagerly greeted by one of the walks leaders, and the manager and team who preside over the house were very friendly and obliging so it was all very promising.

The evening was spent eating and drinking – there is always a lot of food at HF holidays, and the walks leaders introduced themselves and their walks for the following day. Not a mention of any type of virus so clearly it doesn’t exist, not here at least.

It was a good start to the holiday and the other guests were very friendly, so I knew I was in for a good week’s holiday.

Port Erin Circular Coast route – 7th Feb – 10 miles, variable

With Storm Ciara threatening to curtail activities in the next few days and a free day, I decided to catch up on my old favourite and walk from home around the coast, taking in the Sound.

I started from the beach at Port Erin. It was not a particularly nice day, overcast and rather gloomy and a little chilly, but it is always good to get outside and dust off the old cobwebs.

DSC02620
Bradda Head and Milner tower from St Catherine’s Well

I walked up Ballfurt Lane to St Mary’s Lane and turned left to walk along the top road to Port St Mary. At this point I decided to call in home (!) and pick up a woolly hat, and as the day progressed I was so glad I did. The sun wanted to come out but it wasn’t trying very hard and it became very blowy, giving me a taster of what was the follow at the weekend.

DSC02639

When I reached Port St Mary I followed the Underway which is always spectacular when the tide is in as it was today. The seabirds were having a field day as the wind must have whipped up fish close to the shore and they were competing for the best catch.

DSC02638At the harbour where one is no longer protected from the southeasterly wind the seas were swelling, fast and furious. I had walked about 2.5 miles at this point and had planned to call in at the Golf Course cafe for a coffee, but this was closed for refurbishment so I carried out on the path.

Dappled light at PSM
The calm side of the harbour

PSM Lightbhouse

Going round Perwick Bay I bumped into a friend who was monitoring the birds for a survey, today mostly shelducks and oystercatchers on that bit of the coast. I followed the route down the road to Glen Chass which ultimately leads to the Raad Ny Fooillan and grassy footpaths, which one has to share with sheep. There is an alternative route that takes you up higher and on to the Chasms, but I always like the low route as it gives wonderful views of the rocks around the Sugar Loaf and the opportunity for a tiny bit of scrambling.

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The steep cliffs of the Chasms

DSC02676
The coastline around the Chasms, looking towards Black Head

By this time, the wind had really got going and I didn’t want to venture too close to edge once I was past the Chasms on Spanish Head. It reminded me of a time several years when I was following this route and the wind was so powerful I had to give up at this point and head to Cregneash as I could barely stand upright. It wasn’t like that today.

Chasms
The deep chasms

The day might be dull but the mountain gorse brightened up the walk significantly. It truly was this yellow and it was delightful.

DSC02686

Ascending the slopes to Black Head I followed the deviating route that hugs the coast. This gives on the first look at the Calf of Man, the small island detached from the Sound. Chicken Rock lighthouse looked cold and forbidding today.  I am including a photo to give you a flavour but it’s not one of my best as it is out of focus though it does create a chilling mystical feel. Even the Drinking Dragon’s head is right down.

Chicken Rock
Chicken Rock Lighthouse on a cold, windy day

 

DSC02706
Resting places at the Sound, with the Calf of Man in the background and Kitterlands in between. The cafe (and bus stop) is to the right, out of shot.

7 miles and it was lunchtime when I reached the Sound Cafe. It was reasonably busy. It is always a welcome sight on rough days, knowing that however cold or wet you might be, a warm coffee and hot food awaits (as well as toilets). For those not wanting to continue on, it is possible to catch a bus back to Port Erin, but they are not especially frequent.

For those of you who are new to my blog and I have quite a few new followers recently, thank you, I have a chronic condition which leaves me depleted of energy, and breathing and moving my legs can be a little tricky right now. The sensible part of me considered stopping here, but the outdoor and nature lover in me won the day and I carried on, it has to be said with some considerable difficulty along the cliffs to Port Erin. The weather perked up at this point, and although still windy the sun managed to creep through the clouds occasionally and I was well rewarded for my efforts.

CoastlineKamikaze sheep

Notice the Kamikaze sheep on the photo above. You feel if the first one jumps the rest would follow… like sheep! Quite why or how they had got themselves in that position I will never know. It wouldn’t be the most sheltered position.

t

Looking Back
The view back. The Calf is the final cliff in the distance.

Port Erin in the mist
Port Erin emerging from the mist.

Once back at Port Erin I went to the Health Food shop and had a pot of camomile tea before walking home. I was back at 2.15pm having had fish and chips at the Sound as well! The full distance was 10 miles, but that includes lots of ins and outs that you don’t need to do, such as calling in at my house. 8-9 miles is more common for this route. You can also get the bus or train to Port St Mary, which avoids almost all the walking through villages and allows you to concentrate on the footpaths. And you can escape off the cliffs at the Chasms and go to the lovely hamlet of Cregneash where you can get a bus back, or follow a shorter walk over Meayll Hill/The Howe to Port Erin. So, there are lots of options if you want shorter walks.

Port Erin Circular

Distance: 10 miles

Ascent: 1732 ft

Descent: 1572 ft

Maximum elevation 1,028ft.

Saturday’s ‘walk’ (yesterday) was a wander over the Snaefell Hills taking measurements of the peat. I am just awaiting some photos then I will tell you about that. Meanwhile, keep safe and warm and well away from Storm Ciara.

 

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.

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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.