Hill walking, old friends, old phones and dealing with disappointment.

Frank and Na come to visit me in Chester

Frank and Na standing outside Chester Cathedral.

After last months meet up with Julie and Nick in Manchester, my oldest friend Frank and his lovely wife Na came to visit me in Chester.

I took them to the remembrance garden. It features a flower display which renders as the medal of the Cheshire regiment.  Every time Frank’s been before it was winter and there was nothing to see. On this day, all the flowers were out and he finally got to see it.

Inside Chester Cahedral showing the massive open spaces.

Speaking of things to see, I’d worked out an interesting itinerary of things to do including the newly re-opened castle, Chester’s amazing Storyhouse theatre/library/cinema and a visit to the official Liverpool football club merchandise shop, as Na had a number of requests from friends back in Thailand.

The main event, was the Ark exhibition in Chester Cathedral. As you can see above, the Cathedral is spectacular in its own right, but with the addition of some spectacular exhibits, it came to life.

Wallboard showing list of attractions at Ark exhibition.

Featuring 90 works of art, by 50 world renowned sculptures, the exhibition is free (although obviously, we bought the optional map and made a donation).

Damien Hurst sculpture showing an animal in a tank of formalyehyde.

Most interesting to me was “False Gods” by Damien Hurst.

Frank had always wanted to see this and was quite delighted (I remember commenting, that I never thought I’d get to see it, but definitely not in Chester Cathedral !).

Frank and Na are back home safe in Thailand now, and I look forward to catching up with them the next time one of us is in the others country.

Peak district walking: Bleaklow

Brian standing on some rocks.

The following day, we head off to the Peak District, to go hill walking with the Chester and District Walking Group.

Bleaklow is an iconic hill in the peaks. I was looking forward to returning as the last time we were here, the weather was appalling.

Nikki standing on a path on a hillside.

An early start, we drove there with a full car of keen participants and parked at the Mill (which once made textiles and is now filled with web developers).

Some of the path was muddy, but there were clear trails throughout the day.

Group of walkers stopping on a hillside for a rest.

After a morning of trekking and friendly conversation we stop on the hill side for lunch.

wreckage

One of our group, Brian is an excellent navigator.

He had worked out where an American plane had crashed nearby and he had worked out a route to the site.

Amazingly, after all these years, some wreckage still remained.

Steel plaque fastened to a rock.

A plaque to the crew of the Superfortress, nicknamed Overexposed.

Large aeroplane engine parts.

Some of the larger engine parts from the plane.

We wander back down the hill, have a pint in the Bulls Head, Glossop. We like to contribute to the local economy (and we like pints as well).

Another fab day out with the walking group then its the usual routine, drive home, bath and dinner at Artichoke.

New First aid and safety equipment

The classic Nokia 3310 redesigned.

I’ve been upgrading some of my equipment recently (you may remember a new hard torch and duffel bag).

I’ve actually bought a new first aid kit by Ortlieb. When I say first aid kit, its actually just a bag, as I’m going to fill it with my standard travel first aid kit supplies anyway,

The Ortlieb bag is a lot more hard wearing than the Life venture one I have at the moment and is fully waterproof.

While researching first aid kits I was delighted to discover the Nokia 3310 has been relaunched.

Time was, when you saw a police officer or a fireman, they always had a Nokia.

With a weeks worth of charge available and amazing signal strength, this is the ideal emergency phone.

A new experience at Urbano 32.

Menu and drink list for the Urbano 32 Gin tasting evening.

Urbano 32 in Chester is somewhere I go frequently, and I’m a regular attendee of their wine testing hosted by their supplier Rodney Densem wines.

It normally involves 5 wines and 4 food courses (food and wine are matched to make for an amazing experience).

Table filled with contemporary food and drink.

One this occasion, they had the same format, but decided to opt for a Gin tasting evening.

I like to try different things.

I enjoyed myself, but the joys of Gin are lost on me, as it felt like eating a 4 course meal, with lemonade in between every course 🙂

Crib Goch – a date with destiny.

Climber walking the Crib Goch ridge.

Crib Goch near Snowdon, is one of the most spectacular ridge walks in Europe.

A girl called Jane Smith gave me a framed picture of it 30 years ago, it’s hung on my wall ever since and for reasons I can’t explain, I’ve never gotten around to doing it.

Probably because, this isn’t easy, requires perfect weather and planning (and a suspension of a persons fear of heights!).

I’ve been talking to a few friends at work and we’ve got a date set to go and do it.

A mixture of health trepidation and immense enthusiasm. I’ll post updates when its completed.

The other side of my day at work.

Merseyrail train at Chester railway station.

I was asked the other day what I do at work, when I’m not working. So, for no particular reason, I thought I’d write a bit about it.

Amazingly, it takes 2 trains to travel the 7 miles from Chester to Ellesmere Port where I work.

Instead, I get on this train with my bike, get off 9 minutes later at Capenhurst then ride for 20 minutes to my office at EP.

I usually do the same in reverse on the way home, but if the weather is nice, I join the canal and peddle the 10 miles along the towpath, where I get to see fishermen, people walking dogs and other people smoking Marijuana.

A bench in Overpool cemetery.

At lunchtime, if its raining, I find a quiet corner in the warehouse and read.

If not, I go out for a walk.

A circuit I do, takes me through some quiet industrial places, some forested areas and on the way back, I get to sit on this bench in the graveyard where I usually eat my lunch and drink mineral water.

As I’m walking, I usually listen to the Smiths or the Happy Mondays.

A plate with Fish and Chips and a pint of San Miguel.

Occasionally, I don’t cycle to work and just do the 2 train combination.

Because of the way the train times fall, I usually have 28 minutes to wait, so I pop to a pub across the road.

It’s full of balloons (the human kind) but I find a quiet corner and relax with my tablet or notebook before getting the train.

Sometimes, I treat myself to dinner in the pub and the tasty Fish and chips above cost only £3.99

One of the most advanced laboratories in the country help me out with a personal problem.

Scales with a gas canister on it.

Speaking of work, some of my friends in the lab have been helping me with a conundrum.

How do I know, how much is left in the gas canister for my camping stove ?

The answer, weigh a full one and then weigh the one you’ve been using.

Obviously for the full scientific solution we’ll need an empty one as well.

For the time being its a great little solution, so thanks for that Alison.

The Beggars Opera and humble pie on the menu.

Upper aisle looking down at the stage.

I’ve been to Chester Storyhouse several times to watch films, get coffee and study in the library.

I recently got my first chance to watch something in the theatre.

A reworking of the Beggars opera with the musicians on the stage joining in, some incredible vocal work by the actors and instead of the tragic ending, the audience are invited to choose an ending just like Wayne’s World.

Great day out in the Ogwen Valley.

Hill walker at a shop buying coffee.

Following day, were back in the Ogwen valley, Snowdonia, in further pursuit of the Welsh 3000’s.

One of my favourite people: Tracy, who seems like a typical mum with grown up daughters who likes to bake cakes.

Which gives little clue to the amazing adventure life she’s lived.  She was stationed all over the world with the British army and spent 2 years in northern Ireland.

These are the kind of people you meet when you go hill walking 🙂

We got coffee before setting off, but when we got back, the kiosk was closed so we missed out on the sausage rolls I’d been dreaming about all day.

Some mountains and a lake.

The mountains and lakes around here are stunning to look at.

Some people sitting on a mountain side.

We stop for a breather.

Dave E in the front of the picture and Andy in the back.

The woman in blue standing up, is a Russian lawyer who lives in London. She’d travelled up for the weekend but got lost.

We invited her to join us and we spent the day on the hill together (she had come on the trip straight from work, so was carrying her work laptop and other unnecessary stuff for the whole day).

A valley with a lake in the middle and mountains all around it.

Our goal’s for the day Foel Grach and Foel-fras (2 more Welsh 3000’s to tick off the list). Our task finished and a day of interesting conversation complete, we head for home.

Disappointing start to my sailing career.

Some small yachts sailing in a row.

But not everything goes to plan.

For ages, I’ve wanted to have a go at sailing. I’ve been on bigger boats in the past, but the idea of having a relaxing afternoon sailing up and down in your own little boat seems pretty attractive to me.

A training centre that was highly recommended was the Wirral Sailing Centre at West Kirby, where they have a large marine lake.

I’d signed up and had been looking forward to it for weeks (they only run 4 courses a year).

Showing how to tie a round turn and 2 half hitches.

I was so enthusiastic that Nikki’s sister Lyn got me a book and DVD from the Royal Yachting association and I’d been learning theory and practising knots for weeks before.

An then, the night before I wake up and start being sick (I’m still unsure why) and with that, my sailing hopes for this year are dashed (the next and only other course this year is on the same day that Nikki and I are due to give a talk at the Chester Globetrotters).

After calling the centre and telling them I couldn’t attend I was overtaken by despondency. Why do I set my sights high. It only means when something goes wrong, I’m miserable.

Why don’t I do what many of the masses do, watch x factor, tidy the garage , sit in the garden and just goe through the motions of life. I doubt they feel much dissatisfaction.

But then it hits me, I couldn’t live that way, even if I wanted to. I’ve booked to do it next year and I should have a tidy compliment of sailing attire to wear when I do it.

Enemy’s become friends

A domestic pigeon sitting on a nest.

For a long time, Pigeons caused me all kinds of problems in my garden (back yard).

They had a nest on my Sky dish and since its a 3 story house, I couldn’t move them and they would poo in the garden which required frequently cleaning up.

Over time, the dish was removed and the problem went away.

The other day, I noticed that the pigeons had built a nest on the ground, next to my storage cupboard (oh the cliche of motivational speaking) and were using my garden chair as a sort of porch.

Having read up on it, I know that both parents will take turns to incubate their 2 eggs. It will take 17 days and then another 30 for the young chicks to learn to fly, find food and annoy me.

In the meantime, since I was responsible for them being homeless, I’ve let them stay and I put a little bowl of water and some bread out for them each night.

But once the chicks are grown, as Americans say, “your outta here!”.

Counting down the days to the Dr Who experience in Cardiff.

Building at Cardiff bay.

Well, one more weekend at home, and then I’m off to Cardiff to see the Dr Who experience.

I’ve even signed up for the walking tour. I’m only sorry there isnt more time, as I’ve found out there are other Dr Who filming locations that are a bus ride away and I won’t have enough time.

I’m sure I’ll go back, Cardiff looks like a fab place. I’ve even found a nice bar featured in Torchwood where I can get a drink before I head for home.

Don’t forget that Nikki and I are giving a talk on Burma on Saturday the 16th of of September at Chester Museum.

Near and far, the search for adventure continues…

Adventure update

sharp

Loads going on this month (hence the lateness of this posting).

Main event is that we’ve booked India for Christmas. Amongst the many amazing things we’ll be doing on this trip, a chance to visit the actual fort featured in Sharpe’s Challenge.

indiamap

Initially, we’ll be doing a tour of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.

We’ll visit Delhi’s old town, see the Taj Mahal and possibly see Tigers on one of the national park visits.

goa

Once this is finished we’ll be travelling to Goa to celebrate New Year (not sure what specific thing we’ll be doing on this trip, but I’m thinking Sea canoeing and some snorkelling as well a daily overdose on curry).

lw

As we’re coming to the end of July, it’s given me chance to reflect on the first 6 months of this year.

It has been exhausting, but I can honestly say with walking, culture trips, weekends away and overseas trips its been the most productive year of my life (and there’s still 5 more months of it to go).

I’ve also been making strides in my career, but more about that later.

wanderer

I’ve been upgrading some of my gear too, including my head torch and stuff like that (I prep and review my gear every year).

For a long time, I’ve had my eye on a Tilley hat. Problem is, I could never find the exact one that suited me.

In the Rohan shop in Betsy Coed recently, I saw this hat, the Tilley Wanderer.

Well, I’ve bought it, and I couldn’t be happier. Waterproof, floats in water, heard wearing and a raft of other features.

It’s main advantage to me are: a, I really like it and b, It looks really smart.

Next on the list are some quality sunglasses.

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My brother rents a cottage in Anglesey each year and usually invites us over for the weekend.

We spent the evening catching up in the cottage and the following morning we headed out to see a bit of the countryside.

We wandered around Newborough forest. The weather was fantastic and the view on the beach was stunning.

That evening we had dinner in town at the splendid Dyalns and in the morning we headed out to do Carned Dafydd and Carned Llewelyn.

As we were setting off, we were speaking to the owner of the cottage. By coincidence, his parents loved those mountains and his first and middle names were Dafydd and Llewelyn in their honour 🙂

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On that subject, my project to climb all of the Welsh 3000’s before the end of the year continues on a pace.

Next weekend I’m going to summit Glyder fach and Glyder fawr and I’ve arranged a date for Crib Goch, a ridge I’ve wanted to walk for 30 years.

Bellow I’ve listed all of them in case anyone’s interested in having a go themselves.

  • Snowdon
  • Crib Goch
  • Glyder Fawr
  • Tryfan
  • Garned Ugain
  • Foel-fras
  • Pen yr Ole wen
  • Glyder Fach
  • Y Garn
  • Yr Elen
  • Carned Dafydd
  • Foel Grach
  • Elidir Fawr
  • Carned Gwenllian

bed

Last year Nikki and I didn’t end up doing a camping trip, so this year, we’ve caught up by doing two.

Beddgelert is a place we love visiting so we set of right after work on a Friday and headed straight over.

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It was a bit late to eat out when we arrived so we sat out in the amazingly comfortable tent and had a sort of indoor picnic with some nice wine.

One thing I love about Nikki’s tent, is that although its big inside, completely waterproof and has chairs and all the luxury’s I’ve always scoffed at, it also takes only 20 minutes to put it up.

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Next day we head out to walk Moel Hebog.

A fantastic walk in challenging weather. On the way back we got to walk through this charming forest.

In the evening we had dinner in restaurant in the town which was also called Hebog.

gtclub

Attended another meeting of the Chester Globetrotters on the 15th of July.

Two interesting talks, one about a multi visit trip to Africa tracking the route of the old explorers to the Nile and another about Mongolia.

Nikki and I are giving a talk about our trip to Burma on the 16th of September, so if your near Chester museum in town around 1pm, come along and hear us speak !.

scatman-john

Looking around the internet the other Saturday afternoon I was reading about Scatman John.

Back when I lived in Manchester, I used to love listening to his Scat Jazz. But what I didn’t know…

John Paul Larkin had a pronounced stutter, which lead to an emotionally traumatic childhood.

He learned to play the piano and listened to singers like Ella Fitzgerald singing Scat Jazz.

Realising  that his speech impediment actualy enhanced this kind of music, he launched a musical career that would see him sell millions of songs all over the world and win multiple awards for his work.

Not bad for a person who “cant speak properly” and what in inspiration.

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Realising that I’m probably going to be working in for the next 20 years, I’ve decided to re-train and transition to a new field over the next 4 years.

Takes me back to when I first decided to work in IT, when I was 21. My friends Mac and Caz tought me to use MS DOS, showed me how laser printers worked, how to operate spreadsheets, word-processors (there were seven on the market then not just one) and the pre-eminent database of the time, dBase.

It was incredibly frustrating at times, but after a while, some of the mud thrown at the wall would stick and from those humble beginnings I’ve had a fantastic career spanning multiple decides.

Of special inspiration to me, was Peter Norton, who wrote the Norton Utilities. So much so, I still have his picture on the wall next to my desk at home.

ps

How times have changed. I’ve set myself up with a plural-sight account, so I can run training session at home during the evening (and even watch them on my tablet at lunchtime in the office).

Best of all, if something really doesn’t make sense, it can be googled on the internet or you can email one of their experts for clarification.

Its tough going, but I climbed the mountain of learning and 30 years later I’m doing it all over again.

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Speaking of things that happened 30 yeas ago, I recently visited Manchester and had a meet up with 2 of my oldest friends and favourite people, Julie and Nick.

We had a couple of drinks around Newton Heath and then spent a few hours in the city centre.

The picture above was taken in the Wellington. One of the best afternoons I’ve had in ages.

bt

I briefly took leave of my friends, as there was a massive Lego “get together” going on.

Its changed its name, but what I remember as GMEX had literally hundreds of Lego enthusiasts with loads of clever things that they’d built.

ms

Off special interest to me, was the Lego Mindstorm section.

I have a Mindstorm robot I bought some years ago, but looking at the newest ones they have now, I think I have a Christmas present for myself lined up.

train

If you aren’t on it already I strongly urge you to get on the virgin train mailing list.

Several times a year, they have a sale and Nikki and I managed to get return tickets to London for £11 each.

The deal was so good that we booked to go on 2 separate Saturdays. At the moment, were working through our “London – not done” list.

A tour of the internals of tower bridge and watching a play at the re-creation of the Globe Theatre are on the agenda as well as a visit to Camden market and an exhibition on “Mod” culture.

Above is a picture from our last trip to London, when due to an anomaly, Nikki and I had an entire carriage to ourselves.

I’ve also booked tickets to Cardiff to see the Bay and the Dr Who exhibition which ends this year (but more about that next time).

sailing

I spend a lot of time cycling now, and it my number 2 hobby, after hill walking (and adventure travel).

I decided recently that I want to build from that have a go at sailing as a possible 3rd hobby.

Not thinking big ships, ocean and sale to Morocco, I’m thinking more lake in West Kirby, some sandwiches and a quiet afternoon sale to relax.

I’m booked on a 2 day beginners course in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime I’ve got a book and a dvd from the Royal Yachting Association to prepare.

Nikki’s sister Lyn has been assisting me with questions by email. Lyn is a qualified ocean Yachtmaster and I wonder if questions like “what shoe’s should I wear” aren’t just the smallest part undeserving of her skills. But I’m great-full anyway.

sc

Like many people in Chester, Nikki and I were delighted when the Storyhouse was finally completed.

Its the starting pistol for a regeneration of the City.

We’ve booked to go to all 4 of their performances and were going to see the Beggars opera this coming Saturday.

But lots of cottage industry’s have sprouted up while we were without a theatre/cinema, like Tip Top productions, and Chez Jules, where you can have a meal then watch a classic film.

We want to keep those things alive, so I’ve booked to see a film called Momento in a couple of weeks.

I’ve never actually seen a performance at the Liverpool playhouse, so I’m really looking forward to the Suitcase, set in apartheid, its performed by a visiting South African theatre company.

lw2

Our 2nd camping trip of the summer, was to Keswick.

We normally stay in Ambleside when we visit the lakes, but since we were camping, Keswick has, in my opinion the best campsite in the country, with its location right in the town and next to the lake.

Arriving on Friday night, we got the tent up the headed out to the Keswickien chippy, voted one of the 10 best chip shops in the country.

In the morning, we walked up Grizedale pike and the weather couldn’t have been better.

sunburn

Too good you might say, as you can see, I didn’t take my Tilly hat, so the sun got the better off me.

I had a few drinks before dinner at the Inn at Keswick, which for many years was called the Keswick lodge, a place of many happy memories.

I remember standing in this exact spot during my stag do in 2000 with some of my favourite people.

Mexican for dinner, off to bed, then tent down and a shorter walk on the way home.

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On the weekends when we aren’t doing our own projects we go out walking with the Chester and District Walking Group.

Brian organised a trip Llanfairfechan and we wandered up to the quarry and cliffs overlooking the town bellow and the ocean.

copter

As a youngster my brother and I used to play a fab game called Gunship.

You got to pilot an AH64 Apache helicopter gunship in a number of theatres including the Vietnam war and a theoretical 3rd world war.

So, it was amazing to see a real Apache gunship flying over the ocean bellow us.

One of life’s special moments.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and once again, the search for adventure continues…

Trekking in the Atlas mountains

I’d been to Morocco twice before which is unusual, as I normally want to see new places and don’t go back.

However, this place is an enchanting adventure paradise, and for some reason I’d never been trekking in the Atlas mountains.

We found a well recommended trekking company Aztat Treks, booked some flights, “base” accomodation in Marrakesh and off we went.

road

Our flight arrived late at night, so we had a transfer booked to our Marrakesh accommodation.

A quick meal, shower and then off to bed…

In the morning, I had images of things being a bit of a faf and organisation being a problem, but I shouldn’t have worried.

Just as we were finishing off our breakfast, we were told that our driver was waiting to take us to Agersioual where we would begin our trek.

The journey took about 90 minutes and I was amazed at the new roads and new cars (which even had seatbelts and air conditioning that didn’t consist entirely of an open window).

Morocco had clearly upped its game since the last time I was here in 2008.

map

We arrive and meet Mohammed Aztat, the owner of the company. He shows us on the map where we’ll be going.

We’re introduced to our personal guide Mohammed and our cook/muleteer (mule driver) Ibrahim.

Our first day will be an acclimatisation trek in the Ouirgane National Park.

setoff

Our main bags are loaded onto the Mule along with all the cooking equipment, water and food well need for the next 4 days.

The Mule and driver take off up the hill and leave us behind. We get chatting to our Mohammed and he tells us a bit about himself and the area’s were going to be visiting.

day1

Our first look at this beautiful land.

The terrain here is quite gentle (as you’d expect on an acclimatisation day) and the whole area is coated with copper green soil and juniper trees.

The temperature is hot, but not unbearable (although a hat and sunglasses are essential).

lunch2

As it reaches lunchtime, our guide leads us to a spot with several tree’s for shade.

We’re delighted to find our cook has set everything up, and we have a glass of mint tea, then were presented with a delicious Tajine (its restaurant quality food, the only problem is there’s enough food for 6 people).

Mint tea is the traditional drink of the Berber mountain tribe. As a joke its nicknamed Berber whisky (the joke is, that they are Muslims and don’t drink any kind of alcohol).

Our guide explains that were going to take it easy today. As there’s no hurry, we sit on our rug, under the tree and relax for the next 90 minutes.

mule

Our hardy mule is unloaded and left to wander in the valley and stock up on grass.

We asked later if the mule had a name, but they said it wasn’t normal to give them names, although their company has very strict rules on their treatment.

downhill

Its about 4:30pm.

We reach the top of the pass and bellow, the Berber village of Tizian where we’ll be staying for the night.

You’ll notice from this picture, Mohammed always keeps his head covered.

It’s easy to get massively sunburned here, and not even notice it (until it starts to hurt).

ref1

We wander up through the village and arrive at the refuge  where we’ll be staying.

bhouse

Once inside, the seating area is of traditional Berber style.

There are several bedrooms in the gite, with light mattresses on the floor. As there are only a few people staying, Nikki and I get a room to ourselves.

The toilet and shower are functional although they could benefit from a qualified plumber (or perhaps just someone with a modern set of tools).

mint_tea

With the days walking complete we rest on the terrace and have some more mint tea (I wouldn’t have minded a pint of lager, but there would be none for the next 5 days).

mosque

From the terrace, we could see the construction of the new Mosque, which the local villagers are very proud off.

Unfortunately, the scaffolding outside made of old wood, wouldn’t pass a health and safety inspection in the UK.

expanse

Next day, were up early, breakfasted, cleaned up and off we go.

We’ll be trekking up the Azzeden Valley.

The area opens up into a wide expanse of lush walnut groves.

rocky_trail

After about 3 hours, we change direction and trek horizontally across the mountains on these rocky trails.

On the way we found a small “shop” where an enterprising teenager is selling bottles of Coca Cola for about 40p.

bike

Further up the trail, we meet another mule and driver coming towards us. I’ve realised that mules are the main means of transport in the mountains.

Normally used to carry gear and food (and occasionally, a weary trekker home, when they’ve bitten off more than they can chew and can’t walk any further!).

When I saw a bicycle being carried, it seemed to me to be a bit like cheating.

If you want to ride it down, you should be prepared to ride it up 🙂

waterfall

We stop to photograph one of the Ighouliden waterfalls.

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Our home for the night, the Lippeney hut.

A bit nicer than our previous refuge, and had a basement sitting area that was very cool in the hot afternoon.

bunks

Something I’d not seen before, a sort of  “double” bunk bed.

Once again, we had our own room, which was pretty fab.

high_pass

Our 3rd day is much harder as we’ll ascend 1400 metres.

We climb up really steep scree and leave the Azzaden valley behind us.

high_trek

Were heading towards the Aguelzim mountain pass at 3,560 metres so we can reach the next valley and the Toubkal refuge.

picnic_lunch

Reaching the top of the pass, we have lunch with spectacular views (and mint tea, boiled-up on a small fire).

Snow on the tops, and our first view of the Toubkal massives.

snow_crossing

Things start to get exciting as we cross various snow fields.

It’s for this reason we’ve had a picnic today.

Mules cannot safely cross this kind of terrain, so our mule and driver have had to trek back to Imlil, and then up the Imlil pass to join us at the Toubkal refuge.

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Our first sight of the mountain Niltner hut at the base of Toubkal.

inside_dark

Inside its a functional mountain hut (which I personally don’t like).

Sharing a room with about 10 other people !. We briefly discussed getting our own room, but decided since we’d be getting up at 4am, the £80 wasn’t really worth it.

Dinner that evening prepared by our cook. I had great expectations. I’d only climbed 1, 4000m peak in my life (Kinabalu in Borneo) and this would be my 2nd.

If only I’d known 🙁

nikki_dark

Everyone in the hut was getting up at different times, so we awoke at 2am and never got back to sleep. An appealing nights sleep over.

No matter, we get out, put on our head torches and the 3 of us set off for Toubkal (4,167m).

uphill_snow

In winter, the trek requires crampons and ice axes. At this time of year, its “easy” snow, which just mean the annoyance of moving slowly.

900 metres of ascent, It will normally take 5 hours to get up to Toubkal, and back down to the refuge.

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The first sun of the day, hits the mountain rocks above and its a beautiful sight.

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Were making slow but steady progress, but its clear that were exhausted from the previous few days and its actually going to take us 8 hours to get up and back to the refuge.

As we stop for a rest, I realise people have sprayed political graffiti on these rocks. Is nothing sacred ?

crunch_time

And then, one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.

Nikki points out, that once back at the refuge, we have to make our way back to Imlil. We’ll be exhausted by the time we get back to the refuge, and lucky if we make it back to our hotel before 12 midnight.

Part of me refuses to give in. But its clear, that here and now, it’s just not going to happen. I realise I’m in denial and Nikki is right.

At this point, were going back anyway, so if we carry on up hill for another hour and don’t reach the top, its just wasted effort.

lt

At this point, I’m transported back several years to an Alpine preparation course I did at Plas Y Brenin with Louise Thomas, one of the best mountaineers in the world.

The other chap in this picture mentioned that he’d almost got to the top of Kilimanjaro, but had to turn back and had always regretted it.

With years of experience she’d said simply “Never regret going back. If its not the time, then its just not the time”.

With a heavy heart, I head back down hill.

wander_back

Back to the refuge and a cup of awful coffee served by the indifferent staff.

Then we head back down the hill to Imlil.

Its only now I realise how much the previous few days have taken out of me. I’m shattered and deeply relieved that I’m heading for a shower and comfortable bed.

chairs

Another teenage “entrepreneur” has setup a small cafe, so we stop for coca cola.

They must have got a special deal on brightly coloured chairs.

lastleg

At ground level, its a few more miles, with Imlil in sight.

If my feet could speak, they’d be swearing at me right at this moment.

rooftop

And we arrive at our hotel, Dar Adrar.

A shower and then some food on the terrace.

The adventure part of the trip is over and now we can relax.

bedroom

We’re reunited with out main bags and relax in our wood panelled room while connecting my laptop to the hotel wifi.

For the first time in several days, I can shut the door, and nobody will disturb me.

A relatively early night, the days earlier disappointments forgotten.

kasbah

We have a 2nd night booked in Imlil so we’ve got the whole of the next day to explore.

Nikki has been to Imlil before spent time in a place called the Kasbah.

Its rated by National Geographic as one of the best places to stay in the world.

We sat out and had Coca cola and coffee at farcically inflated prices but it was very comfortable and relaxing.

asda

As we wandered further around the village, we found this shop which was closed.

It had a cheeky sign on the front, that said “cheaper than Asda” 🙂

imlil

We relaxed at a coffee house in the main village for several hours.

We went through quite a lot of coffee, before heading back uphill for dinner.

ashop2

The following morning, and its time to head back to Marakesh.

Another mile takes our bags down the hill to our transport.

We actually get to see Mohammed’s famous shop. It has lots of 2nd hand kettles and waterproofs for sale. I love places like that.

heading_home

And then its 90 minutes in an air conditioned car, back to Marrakesh.

Our adventures over and I’m looking forward to a few beers, some nice food and a lie in.

Perfect Bank holiday, walking, cycling and Marakech.

mf

Recently, myself and a group of friends from my company formed a team and have been taking part in the Virgin global challenge.

The idea is to get people to be more active, by measuring the number of paces taken, and putting them onto a map showing how far you’ve walked.

There’s also a leader board, to show which teams are doing best.

Our team, Legit (made up of people from the Legal department and IT) are doing quite well, but we were determined to do even better.

Last Saturday, we decided to head out and do a “trek” around Moel Famau in North Wales.

Our visiting colleague from China, Jerry (pictured in the middle) came along as well.

A fab day out.

leanto

Later that day, I attended a barbecue at Nikki’s house.

Whilst everyone discussed the coming general election and ate fine foodstuffs, I decided to grasp the opportunity.

At my house, I have a back patio (which if were being honest, is actually a back yard).  Nikki has a “proper” garden.

I was able to use the garden to test some bushcraft equipment I bought recently and built this lean-to.

Its now June and were half way through the year. Time to take stock and really double down on any big targets for the year in my Mindmap.

To help me focus, I’ve been using a technique taught to me while working at IBM.

The idea is you make a hit list of key things you need to do. Next to each one, you list a next action. A task that will progress the goal.

Its a simple thing, but it means I always know the next thing that needs doing.

Sailing lesson -> speak to school and choose course

Garden -> tidy next sunny evening

Xmas trip -> speak to Nikki, plan for India

tubthumping

As well as my will, I have a document describing how I would like my funeral conducted (it can feel like a depressing subject, but by doing it, it will take pressure off loved ones who would otherwise have to organise the event from scratch).

I’ve chosen 2 songs that I would like to be played.

The first is Pure by the Lightning Seeds. Let me say, that I am in no way pure, but the song really connects with me, and reminds me of happy times in my youth.

The other, is Tubthumping by Chumbawamba. Put simply, its a drinking song with a chorus that says “I got knocked down, but I get up again”.

kosi1

I’m busy working on a new section of the blog devoted to my recent trekking trip to the atlas mountains.

In the meantime I thought I’d pop up a picture from Marrakesh once we’d finished the mountain section.

We found a really nice place called Kosibar.

kosi2

In the evening, we had a view out across the square with children playing and people just sitting out chatting.

meboat

Nikki and I went away for a few days over bank holiday.

We do this quite a lot, as we never like to waste any kind of break from work. On this occasion, I thought it ranked as an almost perfect Bank holiday weekend, so as inspiration to to others, I’ll go over it and what we did.

trail2

We decided to head to the peak district which is ideal as its only 90 mins drive.

We arrive at the Jug and Glass coaching Inn for 7:30pm and the weekend has already begun.

T bone steak for me and a bottle of Rioja. A few more drinks, then its off for an early night, ready for the walking the next day.

snakesign

Hayfield is one of our favourite places in the Peak District and we’d chosen a route that would take us up across the moors to Kinder downfall and back again.

trail1

I still get annoyed with myself when I think that for so many years, I worked in Manchester city centre. When I finished work on Friday, I could have jumped on a train and 40 minutes later I would have been in the 2nd most visited national park in the world.

But I didn’t, and just like the saying goes, 20 years from now, you’ll be more concerned by the things you didn’t do, than the things you did.

The weather was fantastic throughout the whole day.

kinder

A sign on a bridge reminds us this is the site of the famous mass tresspass which led to the foundation of the national trust.

kinderdownfall

We break for lunch.

I always drink sparkling mineral water. I call it Champagne for hill walkers.

res

We continue along past Ladybower reservoir.

Its about the 5th time we’ve been up here this year and one of the best spots in the whole peak district.

jandg

With the fantastic days walking over, we head back to the Jug and Glass.

I always like to have a drink in the bar, before heading upstairs to get cleaned up.

hotelroom

We hang around in our room reading, then head back downstairs for more amazing food and wine.

mons

Next day, we head for Buxton.

The Monsal trail, is a route I’ve done several times. Its 8 miles from just outside Buxton and goes all the way to Bakewell.

Its a superb walk, as the tunnels of the old railway line were closed and you had to go over or around each time you came to one, which made for a pretty amazing walking route.

The tunnels have now re-opened and last year I walked it that way. I have to say, it was a bit dull, although the tunnels are really long.

bike1

So this time, we rented some bicycles.

Only £13 for the day. It actually took no time at all, to get to our destination for lunch.

bakup

Bakewell was rammed as you’d expect on Bank Holiday.

We wandered around and got some coffee.

knifekit

My friend Jason, who I met in Borneo runs a bushcraft shop in Bakewell, so while I was there, I decided to pay a visit.

He was away at the Bushcraft show, but one of his assistants showed me around, and I bought this pretty smart Knife, where you can fit the handle and carve it, and make the sheath yourself.

bike2

After a look around a few other outdoor shops, we set off back.

I cut quite a dash in my Mountain Equipment Frontier jacket that Nikki gave me for my birthday.

monsalhead

On our way back, we take an alternative route and see the view from Monsal head.

lunch

The chaps at the bike rental place were really good and advised us of some quieter places on the trail back where we might want to get lunch.

Still sporting my Morocco suntan, I settle down for a pint.

carpark

We hand back the bikes, then walk back to the car along this path with stunning views.

balloon

Back at our hotel, we have a drink in the garden outside.

I see this Virgin balloon, and it reminds me of my time in Australia.

bm2

The last day, the weather takes a turn.

We think on our feet and decide to visit the Boat museum at Ellesmere port (somewhere we’ve both wanted to visit for ages).

A short car journey later and we arrive.

bcafe

We have lunch in their new restaurant and plan our trip.

bm1

The museum covers everything from how boats were repaired to the lives of the people who lived on them.

I think most people in the UK are familiar with the railways and how they kept the country running before road vehicles.

I hadnt realised that the generation before trains, belonged to boats and British life would have been practically impossible without them.

boattrip

An actual boat journey onto the canal is included and we were shown run down buildings and pictures showing them in their prime.

oldboats

The saddest part for me, was some of the older boats.

To restore a boat, requires taking it out of the water and installing it on special supports (which are expensive).

Some of the really old boats, are left in the water, as their isn’t presently enough money to repair them.

There was so much to see, we were there for 7 hours, before heading home, getting changed and ending the bank holiday with a meal in Urbano 32.

Preparing for Mont Blanc. Winter mountaineering in Scotland.

mehills

In Preparation for my first mountaineering trip to the Alps, I did a 2 day, introduction to mountaineering course with Alpine Guides (www.alpine-guides.com)

After my experiences, I decided that I would visit Scotland in winter, every year.

I arrived on a Friday evening, after a 9 hour train journey at Fort William in Scotland.

The fine details had been taken care of, even to the point of having a bath in my room, rather than a shower !.

I laid out my stuff to get organized, then went down to the bar, to meet the organizers and course members and plan the weekend, over a pint.

gear
 setoff

Our guide explained the many options available too us, but although everyone in England thinks Scotland is carpeted in snow 6 months of the year, this isn’t always the case.

He recommended Anoch Mor, as it had a cable car, and we could get straight to the “action”.

Our guide Matt (a qualified Alpine guide), Bill (a bloke very similar to myself, who does a rewarding “ordinary” job, but in his spare time, seeks out adventure,) and me, in my Buffalo top which I was keen to test.

As we got of the cable car, there was a Cafe/Bar called the snow goose.

The cable car stops around 4:30 each day, and it is reckoned that 30% of the people on the hill, don’t make it, and end up walking back down.

From the cable car, its possible to see the 2004,mountain biking world championship track.

Although its would take 2 hours to walk up, it only takes a world class rider an average of 5 minutes to descend using the track !

 gooseview
 steephill

The Skiers chair lift was closed, so it took nearly 2 hours to climb the staircase-like hill to the top.

Although the Buffalo shirt kept me warm, when walking up hill, I just couldn’t keep cool enough.

We were taught various things about winter mountaineering, such as weather and navigation.

We practiced doing ice axe arrests (stopping yourself slipping down a hill, using an ice axe).

We found a snow hole someone had dug.

It was amazing how warm it was inside.

 snowhole
 easygully

The view down easy gully. I was lowered down on a rope, and climbed out, using my crampons and ice axes.

I loved being out in the snow. I learned so much on the course.

Before, if I was on a hill walk, and there was snow, I would have avoided it, now, I would get my gear and head straight for it.

As well as the many skills we learned, we also got to do a mountaineering route.

Here me, Matt and Bill are photographed on the peak of Anoch Mor. It was a fantastic feeling getting to the top.

I am wearing my hat, which I lost. Bill was really genuine and commented that it really was an awfully hat.

Hearing this, from someone like him, convinced me to give it straight to the charity shop.

 anochmor
 whiteout

On the way back from the peak, we experienced a white out. It was exciting, and slightly scary.

I took a picture with my camera, and this is all that came out !

 webclimb
 leg

The course ran on Saturday and Sunday, and on Monday, I had arranged a private days guiding with a guide called Mark.

I spent a whole day being taught specialist mountaineering skills, and the finer practical points of the art, such as where and how to carry an ice axe etc.I practiced walking across mixed terrain for more than 3 hours to get completely comfortable moving on snow, ice and rock.

I didn’t get a moment to take any pictures, so this is the view from the web.

After each days mountaineering, we had a drink at the “goose” whilst waiting for the cable car.

I like Tea and Coffee normally, but the taste of either, after a day on the hill, is too good to be described.

Bill and Matt walking off the hill, viewed from inside the bar.

I would like to thank Twid, for an amazing course, and my 2 guides Matt and Mark.

Also, a quick thank you to the staff of the Alexander hotel who were kind and friendly to me whilst there.

 gooselads

Hadrians Wall path.

fence The Hadrian’s wall walk, was opened to the public in 2003. It was the first time since the 3rd century, that it was possible to walk the full length of Hadrian’s wall.

Frank and I returned to complete the walk (84 miles) using b+b accommodation, and a delivery service to move bags, and enable a fast and light strategy (a previous attempt at camping, had already failed).

Here we are photographed at Segedendum fort, the start of the walk.

The first 12 miles of the walk are coated with tarmac, which means trainers are recommended. Also, since it passes through housing estates, the scenery isn’t up to much either (that’s why we walked east to west, as finishing the walk, walking through a shipyard, wasn’t really what we had in mind).

The walk then passes right through the center of Newcastle, and passes under all 5 bridges across the river tyne.

nc
 me  The walk was quite hard going, with an average of 22 miles being walked each day (we had decided to complete the walk in 4 days).
As stated earlier, Hadrian’s Wall is new, and accommodation is limited along the way (most of the places we stayed were big hotels, and very expensive.

Another thing unique about the walk, is that its only supposed to be walked in summer, to preserve the wall.

Sometimes part of the wall will be worn out, and wooden devices like this, are used to stop people walking across specific parts of the turf.

 block
 frank The wall was built almost completely by Roman soldiers. A ditch was built into the design, to make it hard for advancing soldiers to attack (they would end up charging up hill, against a 15 foot wall.

Here, Frank stands in a surviving part of the ditch.

 The Bridge at Chollerford, taken from the George hotel where we stayed.  arch
 penine  The place where the Pennine Way, crosses Hadrian’s Wall.
Section of the wall, with the Oak Tree, featured in Robin Hood prince of thieves.

Robin (Kevin Costner) dances around on the wall at one point, before getting into a fight with some soldiers. Its presently forbidden to walk on the wall, although we saw plenty of parents allowing their children to do it.

Not sure what Robin Hood was thinking, but a journey from Dover to Nottingham, wouldn’t normally involve crossing a wall near the England/Scotland border !.

 tree
 bridge Bridge at Poltross Burn. It was this 84 foot bridge, that marked the completion of Hadrian’s Wall walk, replacing the broken wooden bridge that went before it.

It was built by the same company that made the famous Angel of the North Sculpture in the North East.

 A view of several sections of the wall. You can see about 6 continuous miles of the wall, from one point near Steel Rig.  wall
 road  The road out to Bowness on Solway, was an incredible length, and ran in an almost completely straight line.
 The walk completed, we got the bus back to Carlisle (the only one that day, and it left 6 minutes after we arrived, which was exciting) and then the train home.  bs

Peruvian Inca Trail

 

start While working through my bluelist, I kept hearing mention of the Inca Trail.

I like to walk anyway, and had never been to South America, so I took the rare step of modifying the bluelist, and adding the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu to it.

I flew via Amsterdam to Lima, and then From Lima to Cusco.

Unfortunately, 6 people had cancelled due to the earthquake, so only 5 of us remained (including Danny Quinn, the stalwart of, Off the Wall in Chester).

We set off from Kilometre 86.

 We walk down from the drop off point, cross the railway lines, and then head across this shaky bridge that crosses the Urubamba river.  bridge
 startwalk The first part of the trail, wasn’t very steep, and we set of at a cracking pace.

I thought that Dan was walking a bit too fast, so I called him back for a photo op.

Sadly, the weather wasn’t exactly Malaga.

We are passed by the Hiram Bingham train.

Its a first class train, which travels from Cusco to Machu Picchu, serving cocktails and five course meals.

It answered one question I had. Where are the Japanese (I hadn’t seen any the whole morning on the trail).

Turns out, they mainly travel on this train, then stay at the mundane hotel, at Machu Picchu itself.

The tourist train cost $50, the Hiram Bingham, cost $500.

 hgtrain
 ruin2 We stop for lunch across from Llaqtapata.

Manco Inca Yupanqui, destroyed this, along with a number of settlements along the Inca trail during his retreat from Cusco in 1536.

He did this to discourage Spanish pursuit. In part due to these efforts, the Spanish never discovered the Inca trail or any of its settlements.

Carlos (our guide) stops to re-supply on water (and we re-supply on Toblerone, Kitkat and other necessities).

The shop is optimistically named “Shopping Centre” which I think overstates it a bit. They offered to take Mastercard, which will probably save the odd traveller from hardship.

Also, after lunch, Carlos switched from his trainers, to walking boots, and we knew the terrain would get a little rougher.

 shoerepair
 dog The guidebook had said to be wary of dogs when walking into a village.

It said that the locals, will typically throw stones at dogs that bound towards you and try to bite you.

It went on to say, that if you couldn’t bring yourself to do that, you should bend over, as though picking up a stone.

In reality, all the dogs I saw, were like this one. Grade 4, without a care in the world.

This appalling picture, probably shouldn’t have been put up, but its the closest I have ever got, to actually stalking and photographing a deer.

It was in the woods, on the left hand side of the path.

 deer
 uphill We walked up hill some more, walked down into a valley, and then walked out of it again.

Finally about half an hour up these steep steps, and we were at our campsite

We arrive at our campsite.

There was only us, and one other group staying here, so it was quite nice for the first evening.

It also had a turf floor, which was quite comfortable.

Dan and I realised that we had been given “Personal” tents. We decided to share one, and let the girls have one each.

Here Ashima, unpacks her gear, and works out how to set up all the camping gear she purchased (which has secured the pensions of several salesmen at Blacks outdoor leisure), while Dan’s expression is timeless.

The tents weren’t in a particularly straight line.

 camp1
 waterfall It was still early days in the trip, and we wandered around the camp, just before dinner.

We found this stream with some pretty cool “rapids” which we tried to photograph in artistic ways.

This little girl lived near the camp site, and kept coming over to explore.

She was really friendly (her older sister sold Bottles of coke and stuff like that).

On the morning we set off, she had a go at climbing Ash’s walking poles.

 saleswoman
 porters We have our “meet your family” ceremony. Our Porters, Cook, Lead Porter and Guide take it in turns to introduce themselves, then we do the same.

The guy with the hat bending down, is the lead porter. At one point, he teased the small guy in front of him, by using the bag scales to way him (he wasn’t very big, but carried the same weight as everyone else).

We all had to say whether we were married, how many children we had etc. Ash was able to speak directly in Spanish (the rest of us had to be translated by the guide) and there was a knowing silence, when Ashima told them that she was single.

I told them that I was married for the 2nd time. They were all staunch Roman Catholics, it can take years to save for a wedding in Peru, and they seemed shocked and disgusted that someone would get divorced.

Once I explained that I came from Manchester (the home of United) they were happy again.

 Some of the bridges we crossed were very “Bushcraft” in design (well they would be, they were made by real village dwellers, not computer analysts who pay to go into the woods and learn how to light fires !).  footbridge
 checkpoint The route along the trail, was very well organised and policed.

I had actually wondered, whether all the stuff about trekking permits really mattered.

We had to pass by a checkpoint and show our passports. Our guide had to show his permit, and the Porters bags had to be weighed.

A porter isn’t allowed to carry more than 20kg. This means each of us, can only give them 7kg each to carry. It was quite a problem managing for 5 days with just 7kg of gear, and most of us, put extra stuff in our day packs to compensate.

There aren’t many pictures of the 2nd day, as it was physically very demanding (that’s a very euphemistic way of describing it).

I was pleased though, that we got it done on the 2nd day.

The highest point in the trail, is dead woman’s pass, at 4200m.

Most of you will know, that 4000m is a magic number for mountaineers, and here I am photographed reaching that height under my own steam for the first time.

 4000m
 dwpass After a gruelling couple of hours, I reach the top of the pass.

The rest of the group, were already there, and had time to compose themselves.

You can see from my expression what was going through my mind.

For the previous 45 minutes, I had felt very sick, and I know once I got to the top, I had to get down again pretty quickly.

This beautiful path led down through the valley, and into the campsite.

Although I was last to the top, I was first to the bottom.

 downhill
 camp2 I didn’t like this campsite very much as it only had 2 toilets between the whole camp, and felt like we were camped in someone’s living room.

The ground was very hard to sleep on, wouldn’t have been a problem normally, but the previous day was very hard, and I needed my sleep.

The other thing I couldn’t stand, was camp etiquette. At every campsite I have visited around the world, there is an understanding that you keep the noise down after a certain time. Two woman visiting the toilet at 3am, thought it perfectly okay to walk past our tent and conduct a conversation.

Having not slept for more than 45 minutes continuously, I was feeling pretty miserable the next morning.

It was raining as we set of walking uphill (much less steep than the previous day).

We stop to visit Runcuracay ruins. I correctly guessed that this was of strategic military importance, due to its location in the valley.

 fort
 path After lunch on the 3rd day, I finally found what I had been looking for on the Inca Trail.

There were beautiful stone paths, high up in the mountains, which led through rainforest.

 Carlos showed us much of the local plant life.  flowers
 rfwalk It was explained that the Inca Trail had been secret and sacred.

It was designed as a Pilgrimage for high born people to walk, and worship along the way.

One novel thing I found, was, if only high born people could walk the trail, who would carry the bags.

The answer ?. Llama’s.

 There were points on the trail, where the Inca’s had tunnelled through rock, and carved steps into the stone floor.  tunnel
 merainforrest After much upheaval, a quiet moment of contemplation for me.

This is what I had always imagined the Inca Trail to be like.

As arrived at our camp, we had a go at photographing a nearby Glacier.

The Inca Trail is surrounded by mountain, some of them are nearly 6000m high.

 glacier
 weather2 This campsite was much quieter, and it was like our own village.

I really wish we had been able to have a campfire , unfortunately, these are banned, and I went to bed at 7:30pm (it was very cold at that altitude).

To show how changeable the weather was, take a look at this picture.

Ten minutes later, the camp (photographed from the same position) looked like this.

Twenty minutes after that, it looked like the first picture again.

 weather1
 metunnel  We set of trekking down hill, with the intention of visiting Winawyna for lunch.
 Puyupatamarca, a ruin, very close to our camp site.  ruin
 steps As we descended into the tree canopy, it became quite dark.

We reach Winaywayna, easily the best facilities of any campsite on the trail, it has a bar and showers.

Half our porters had stayed with us until this point, to provide a farewell lunch. The rest had travelled to Aguas Calientes to deposit our bags at the hotel where we would be spending that night.

 We catch a glimpse of the the Urubamba river, which marked the start of the Trek.  river
 dan After some confusion, and the checkpoint being closed, we set off on the last leg of the trip.

It was uphill, and my legs were still stiff from the ordeal at dead woman pass, but it was with a sense of expectation and achievement that we forged on.

We reach Intipunku, the Sun gate, which overlooks Machu Picchu.

By this point, I wasn’t fit to be photographed, so I took a picture of Ash instead (Danny was busy setting up Camera’s and stuff like that).

 intipunku
 mpview The photo that people always associate with Machu Picchu, is the one taken from the Sungate.

Unfortunately, it was very cloudy that day, and this was the best picture I could get.

 With heightened spirits, we walk down to Machu Picchu to complete the trek.  walkdown
 finish Soaking wet, with more than 151 insect bites, toothache, AMS and boils I finally complete the trek, and stand in the ancient city of Machu Picchu.

I said at the time, that I wish I had done the tour, and got the train instead, but on reflection now, I am glad I did it.

We had the whole of the next day free to visit Machu Picchu, and our hotel was waiting. After a few minutes to soak up the atmosphere, we board a bus for Aguas Calientes and visit our hotel.

I spent the afternoon visiting local monasteries, and finding my “center” after such an enlightening experience.

Get real !, this is a John Sunter adventure. I hooked up with Dan, in a nearby Boozer and we had some Ale !.

Thanks to Jennifer @ the Adventure Company, Our guide Carlos, and our Porters and Cook (who all had unpronounceable names).

 pub

Yorkshire 3 Peaks

 

frankecafe Frank at the Cafe where participants cards are stamped prior to setting off on the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge.

The people there were very friendly and helpful, and knew my Uncle John.

This is the Settle to Carlisle Railway Viaduct.

Everyone talks about how beautiful it is, but lots of people died making it, which kind of takes some of the beauty away as far as I am concerned.

There was a Caravan just near here, which sold Coffee and Burgers, I couldn’t recommend either.

viaduct
 peny This is the view of Pen – y – Ghent from my Uncles Cottage.

Its really interesting, as because his house is on a hillside, its upside down.

The living quarters are upstairs, and the sleeping quarters are downstairs. Otherwise, there would be no view in the living room.

I first saw this walk in Adventure Travel magazine and was determined to complete it.

I woke at 6:30 (I was staying at my Uncles cottage) and woke up Dizzy Dave (who was sleeping in a tent at the camp site) and then woke up Frank (who was staying in the local b + b).

All 3 peaks must be completed in 1, 12 hour sitting (there wouldn’t be much time for sitting).

 3pkssign
 fstpk We decided to climb them, in the traditional order.

Top of the First Peak.

Pen – y – Ghent (694m, pronounced penny ggent).

It was a synch really, we got to the top in less than 40 minutes.

Top of the 2nd peak.

Whernside (736m).

Showing signs of fatigue, the soles of my feet, felt like they were on fire !.

 mdpk
 lastpk Top of the 3rd peak and its done !.

Ingleborough (723m).

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as that, since it took another hour and 45 minutes to walk back to Horton on Ribblesdale.

We put our cards in to get a certificate saying we had done it

Eleven hours to complete it. Not exactly Steve Cram, but at least we were doing it, when most of our mates were back home in the Pub !.

Off to the local in Horton-on-Ribblesdale, to meet my Uncle John and Auntie Veronica and celebrate.

Multi-Activity holiday in the Pyrenees mountains of Andorra

 

meclouds I decided to do a week long multi activity holiday with the adventure company in the pyrenees mountains of Andorra.

For the cost, it was actually cheaper to do a trip like this overseas, than it was to do the same thing in the UK.

Me standing on Pic Maia.

I am awoken by a woman with dyed blond hair and a spectacular tan.

I am obviously in Liverpool, and only need her to speak to confirm it.

Then I realise, that she is wearing an orange uniform, and it come’s back to me, I am on a flight to Barcelona with Easyjet.

I arrive in Barcelona and have several hours to kill. I spot somewhere that looks friendly, but I draw the line when I read its name. I refuse to drink in any pub called ars.

ars
 rochotel After a 3 hour coach drive, we arrive at our hotel in Soldeu.

I had a very comfortable room with a bath, just what I wanted.

Unfortunately, there were mechanical diggers outside. Since we were mostly out doing activities it didn’t matter.

After a superb “Sunday” roast, our guide for the week Ed, introduces himself and fills us in on some of the details of the trip.

One concerning thing, is the weather, which at the time, is appalling. No matter, we are from the UK, and quite used to rain.

 briefing
 map The following day, we set out on a day trek to Pic Maia.

The superb thing, is that we are driven to the top by Landrover, and only have to walk down.

At nearly 9000 feet, the air was fresh and cool.

One thing I found surprising, was that we didn’t see any other walking parties.

You don’t see signs like this one in the Lake district.

 sign
 snowcrossing  Heading down from Pic Maia we cross a snowfield.
 Me standing on a snowfield.  mesnow
 vulture Griffin vulture.

It was flying so high, that I have had to enhance this picture.

 Further along the walk, we drop down into the forest.  fwalk
 emmabar The hotel was very friendly, and during the day, you served yourself at the bar, and just wrote down what you drank.

Here the excellent Emma (a woman of boundless enthusiasm), acts as barmaid and serves me a pint.

Disaster strikes.

Rushing around in the morning, to get ready, I slip on the bathroom floor, and injure my hand on the cast iron radiator.

This is a picture of me on a skidoo, I didn’t see much point in putting up a picture of a bathroom.

 snowmobile
 smug1 We tour the smugglers rout in 4×4 vehicles.

Apparently, up until 5 years ago, smuggling was a perfectly legitimate profession in Andorra.

Here our guide Ed, briefs the group, before they take part in some excellent downhill mountain biking.

Unfortunately, because of my injured hand, I was unable to ride a mountain bike at that point. I was pretty disappointed, but the views and the countryside made up for it.

 biketalk
 mbpath  You can see from the shape of these trails why the place is so popular with mountain bikers.
We stop on a peak in the smugglers rout, for lunch.

I wander around, and find gun emplacements and dugouts like this one, used during the civil war.

I am saddened, when I realise that someone could have died on this hill, and it doesn’t even have a name.

 dugout
 village As we drive back, we stop to visit Civis village.

I found the people there were very friendly.

We drive back across the border into Andorra.

At one point, we were passed by a police car, that was patrolling the border, looking for smugglers.

 smug2
 beerwork In the afternoon, its out with my laptop to review the mornings photographs.

Some bikers had checked in and were watching a bike race in the main bar.

I couldn’t see the screen, but I could hear them cheering, and the commentary on Eurosport.

Imagine my surprise, when I came to fly home, that I was sat next to Julian Ryder, the actual commentator I had been listening too, during the race.

This picture didn’t turn out very well, as I turned of the flash. He was asleep, and I didn’t want to wake him.

For a TV personality, he was very friendly and genuine.

 julian
 crun1 The following day, we have a free day, to do various activities.

My hand is still causing me enormous pain, so when the group go to do Via Ferrata, I cant join them.

No matter, I didn’t come here to sit on my backside, the hotel owner tells me of an easy walking rout into the village, the Capsa a cale.

The route is known locally as the Chicken run.

Not surprisingly, it is marked throughout with this symbol.

 crun2
 crun3 A beautiful sunny day, with fantastic scenery.

It was supposed to take 1.5 hours, but I enjoyed it, and took 4.

This tunnel had been “blasted” out of the rock.

I didn’t see another person, during the whole walk, and only had animals and birds for company.

In this picture, I finally got the timer on my camera to work, and was able to photograph myself.

 crun4
 pcat2 In the evening, we walked up the hill, to Soldeu.

Although it wasn’t the ski-ing season, and the town was practically shut down, we found this English bar called the pussycat.

It was run by a guy called Robin, who like most of the people in Soldeu, works as a ski-instructor during the ski-ing season, and does another job out of season.

It made me wonder, how the infrastructure of the town, actually works during winter.

The following day, was a mixture of mountain biking and white water rafting.

Because of my hand, I couldn’t do either, so I decided to walk into the town of Canillo and rest my hand.

On the rout down the road, was this spectacular outdoor climbing wall.

 cwall
 stilts Canillo wasn’t so much a town next to the river, as a town built on top of a river.

You can see from this construction how its cleverly raised above the water.

 I sat in the comfortable village square, spent some time on the internet and had a couple of drinks and a pizza.  town
 wwrafting1  Meanwhile the rest of the team had a go at white water rafting in a place called Sort.
 These pictures were taken by Emma, and I would like to thank her for allowing me to use them.  wwrafting2
 band  That evening, The hotels resident band, the Roc ‘ers, entertained us with charismatic live music.
On the left, the Hotel Chef, Ben. A superb cook, and quite the most modest Chef I have ever met.

On the right, our multi talented barman Pepe. Throughout the week, he couldn’t have been more helpful, and literally nothing was too much trouble for him.

In the center, a charming girl called Laura. She worked at the pharmacy in the village. She was one of the few people I met who wasn’t a ski instructor.

 bar
 mbpark1  The following day, my hand is a little better, and for the first time, I am able to ride a mountain bike (I have to hold the handlebars a certain way, and take lots of painkillers, but I am actually riding !).
 We cycled a circular rout through the a park near El Cortals valley.  mbpark2
 mbpark3  It was great to be out on a bike, I haven’t enjoyed riding one that much, since I was a child riding my Chopper.
 The path went past this beautiful lake.  mbpark4
 bbq1 At lunchtime, our guides cook a Barbeque at this delightful picnic spot in the El Cortals valley.

I was so tired, and it was so warm, that I found a really smooth rock, lay down on it, and went to sleep.

Me at the start of the GR11 trekking rout.

In the afternoon, we drove to the top of the El Cortals valley and and peddled down.

 mebike
 icekart1  A skating rink in Canillo, featured the go karts, with special tyres, which enabled them to race on ice.
 Apparently, the Karts had a governor on them, so if you were driving recklessly, they could slow you down by remote control.  icekart2
 canyone1 While I went walking, Emma and Preston went canyoning.

I had thought it would be like gorge walking, but actually involved abseiling down waterfalls.

 It looked pretty exciting to me.  canyone2
 border On the last morning, we head out walking, in perfect sunshine to the Incles valley.

The ridge behind me, is the border between Andorra and Spain.

 In places, the rout was quite steep, and days of activities and late nights in the bar had taken their toll on me.  steep
 high  It was worth my exhaustion, as you can see from these spectacular views of the valley we had, once we got up high.
A thing that really impressed me in Andorra were the refuges.

They were similar to mountain bothy’s in Scotland, but had beds and windows and stuff like that.

 ref1
 ref2 Here you can see the fireplace inside the refuge, with a bow saw for collecting wood.

There were even tables for cooking and food preparation.

 We sit by the lake and eat our well deserved packed lunch.  lake
 wfall As we descend back down the valley, I pause next to this waterfall.

I was really sad to come home, despite my hand, I still had a brilliant time.

I would like to thank the hotel staff, the locals I met like Robin and Laura and the many friends who were other adventure company participants like myself.

Hadrians wall, Yorkshire dales & Wrexham.

me_3k

Well, it’s the 5th month of the year, time to get reviewing to do list’s (although you should probably do that every day 🙂

As I write this, I’m about to go on holiday trekking in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.

Other good news, is I’ve been on a weight loss program and I’ve his my “lost 1 stone” mark.

Bad news, is I had a stinker of a cold which has been really hard to shift.

The month began with the picture above, with me completing another of the welsh 3000 foot hills while out with the walking group.

mp

The day before, my friend Julie came down to Chester for the day and we had a fab time exploring pubs around the city.

As we went into the Botanist, there was a small army (and it was a small army, they were team handed) of Moneypenny PA’s out for some drinks. It was fantastic catching up with everyone, the only downside is Julie isn’t terribly good at taking pictures on a phone, so this is how the photo came out.

moroc_ref

Tomorrow, I’ll be off with those orange uniformed people from Easyjet. Nikki and I are going to Morocco for our yearly overseas walking trip.

Thing I’m most looking forward too, is an ascent of Mount Toubkal. It will be my 3rd ascent above 4000 metres. A modest achievement, but one I’m very proud off.

As I’m going away trekking, I’ve started to convert some of the older trekking pages, that you might find interesting.

moroc_map

It’s a holiday after all, so its 4 days trekking with 3 nights in gite’s and refuges and the remaining time in Marrakesh, relaxing and seeing some of the new sights there since I went last in 2008.

fa_training

A couple of months ago, I was doing the Fairfield horseshoe and went over on my knee. I landed badly and ended up falling onto my side.

Nothing serious, although my knee hurt a lot, and as my camera was on my belt it took the full force and was destroyed.

At that moment, several people came over from other walking groups who’d stopped on the top and offered assistance. I was surprised at the array of first aid equipment and military grade bandages. I’ve since upgraded my first aid kit, but it left me thinking.

If I’d landed on my knee and broken it, what exactly would I do. I’ve always thought that someone around would know what to do, but what if everyone else is thinking that as well.

As a committee member at the Chester and District walking group, I suggested a half day first aid course.

I’d previously seen the Saint John’s Ambulance station across from the Moneypenny building where I used to work, so I contacted them.

12 places and a 3 hours session for about £240. The training was superb with the instructor Don sharing loads of practical and useful information with everyone (who all really enjoyed it). Nicest thing was, when we ran over, Don stayed for an extra hour to make sure we covered everything we wanted too

If you’re looking for first aid training, I couldn’t recommend them more highly.

chip_butty

With the training over, I’m still in Wrexham (a place I really like) surrounded by loads of my friends and Nikki.

So we had a few drinks around the town and went to a new Turkish restaurant called Turquoise. Daft name, but excellent food.

Later we went to a pub called the Polish Embassy. I was delighted when the barmaid appeared with several bags of chips and buttered bread.

Its a local tradition apparently, that on Saturday afternoons, there are complimentary chip butty’s for every customer !.

I hope that tradition spreads to Chester.

cards

Well, it was my birthday once again, and I got a selection of nice cards and gifts (and loads of texts, emails, fb’s and tweets).

photoboard

As usual, I opened my memories box and had a look at my photos.

Life has its ups and downs for everyone, but its in moments like these that I realise how lucky I am and I’ve got so many things to feel happy about.

I stopped doing my famous birthday pub crawls last year (they were great fun, but the organising involved was quite stressful).

Instead I had a quiet day with Nikki, and since he was around, my old friend Mike Delafield.

lib

Storyhouse, Chester’s new Theatre, Cinema and Library was open, so we went in there. Okay, hands up. I’ve been critical and sceptical in the past few months, but honestly, its amazing.

We had a full tour if the building and it is spectacular. It’s a starting pistol fired for the re-development of the city.

They sell coffee and wine in the library and they have dozens of travel books so I was in my element.

corks_out

Afterwards we went to Corks Out.

Their wine bar has been closed for 4 months, during building work, which has now finished.

It’s actually really smart, 4 times the size it used to be and now has a dedicated barman.

stk

As I bid farewell to Mike, Nikki and I head to Upstairs at the grill for dinner.

It’s quite expensive, but considered the best steak in the city and an ideal once a year birthday treat.

On the next table were some American Aeronautical engineers. We got talking to them and one of them had the steak above, described in the menu as the size of a small tennis racket !.

bag

I’ve recently upgraded 2 pieces of gear. The stuff I have I’ve usually owned for years and taken a lot of time to select, so I dont swap things very often.

In this case, my Adidas sports bag of 20 years (which I use for car trips and weekends away) literally fell to pieces so I upgraded with a mountain equipment base camp bag. A bit heavier, but the perfect size, completely waterproof and built for the knocks of airport baggage and high mountain trekking.

The other one was a head torch. The one I had was fine. Lately,Petzle have produced headtorches with selected brightness (if you look around and there’s a tree 3 feet away, it will dim the beam while looking at it). They can also be recharged with USB and you can choose bluetooth to configure its settings.

I like my headtorches simple so none of those features are any use to me. But, the version of the 1 I already have, was released with upto 300 lumens (much brighter than the one I have and ideal for emergency’s) so I bought that too (it also means I have a spare headtorch now.

hw_castle

This month saw us go away for 2 long weekends (hence the delay in updating the blog).

Our first trip was to walk Hadrian’s wall. This time we’d built in a whole day to see Newcastle and have a look around.

The picture above is inside the “new” Castle, a really interesting place. There were loads of nice pubs and bars and we had Thai for dinner.

One of my favourite things was the Baltic art gallery. It had loads of interesting things but on the 2nd floor, they had a standard build kit (polythene sheets and stuff like that) that’s issued to refugee’s. They had constructed one inside and you could see what it would be like to live in there.

We had coffee in a nice cafe. With music as its them, they actually had Jazz LP playing on an old style music centre.

hw_setoff

Following day, and we set off.

We walked for several miles along the bank of the river and were passed frequently by joggers and cyclists.

hw_wall

When the Romans left, much of the wall was broken down and used as building material.

The Hadrian’s wall path is basically the route where the wall used to be. In reality there’s not that much left, but we found this bit that was worth photographing.

hw_hills

Its a long way, but it was a more leisurely trip as we had more time. It enabled us to visit the Roman army museum and other interesting things like that.

hw_bridge

Willowford bridge is made from the same metal as the Angel of the North.

It was put lowered into position by helicopter and made the original site of the wall, fully walkable for the first time since the 3rd century.

<picture of new ht & bag>

yd_pgme

Our other long weekend was a trip to the Yorkshire Dales.

We spend lots of time in North Wales, the Peak District and the Lake District, but hardly ever visit the Dale’s.

We planned 4 iconic walks for the trip, including the one above to Pen – Y – Ghent.

yd_bridge

On the way, we stopped at the services to get some coffee.

I remembered that I saw Hugh Laurie on this bridge a few years ago when I was with Frank and Christine on a day walk to the Lakes.

I’ve always regretted not saying something too him, as I’d always enjoyed Blackadder and he was my favourite character (and what we didn’t know then was he would return to form in House).

yd_path

We went up a different route to Pen Y Ghent this time.

As its near Horton in Ribblesdale, I tried to meet up with my Uncle John who lives there.

Unfortunately, Uncle John suffers “bank holiday” invasion in the same way Chester people suffer “the races” so he was out of town when we were there.

yd_kettlewell

Our base for the trip was a lovely village called Kettlewell.

We had dinner in each of the 3 pubs in the town. I really liked it there, and I’ll be returning.

yd_hills

On the final day, we did a circuit around Wolf Crag’s. The view across the valley was incredible and we’ll be going back there before the end of the year.