Month: June 2017

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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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).


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


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).


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).


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.


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.


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.


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 🙂


We stop to photograph one of the Ighouliden waterfalls.


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.


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

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


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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 🙁


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).


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.


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


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 ?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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” 🙂


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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”.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


We break for lunch.

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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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

We wandered around and got some coffee.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.