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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.

ref2

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.

ref3

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.

first_light

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

fg

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.

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.

Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South East Asia and my first 4000m peak.

start Whilst walking the Inca Trail, I traversed above 4200m over a mountain pass.

4000m is the magic number for mountaineers (of which I am not actually one, but I can dream) and I had never actually done a 4000m peak.

Mount Kinabalu (which lends its name to Kota Kinabalu) is the highest mountain in South East Asia, standing at 4095m.

Quit a few of the people on the trip had climbed Kinabalu previously and didn’t want to do it again.

There were just 4 of us this time, Jason, Sarah, Richard and Me.

The gate on a building near to the start of the walk gave this warning.

I wasn’t sure if it meant strange looking people will be threatened with 1st WW rifles, or perhaps that people with unauthorised firearms would be intimidated by strange dancing men !.

sign
 route Our guide Johan showed us this board which outlined the route.

Start to finish, the peak is 8 kilometres.

That’s about 3 times my daily walk to work, much steeper though, so it was going to be a lot harder.

This board shows the world records in different classes, for speed ascents of the route.

Two and a half hours odd to the top of the mountain seemed unimaginable.

 board
 wfall The walk to the start of the route was really relaxing and we passed this waterfall.

Annoyingly all the comfort of the walk downhill to the start had to be made good as we were now at an even lower altitude than at the start.

Once again, the Park fee’s we paid had been put to good use.

The guides were all licensed, and carried identity cards and official credentials.

There were ready prepared steps throughout most of the lower sections of the walk and occasionally handrails like this one.

 handle
 flowers What was cool, was to see the change in vegetation, as we ascended higher.

The Nepenthes rajah is an insect eating plant.

 As we walked further, the colour of the steps and stone changed to this.  steps1
 gear Just like the Inca Trail we were passed fairly regularly by porters.

The difference here was that some of the ports carried parts to maintain/build some of the buildings at the stop of point above.

When I finally reached there, I noticed that one of the buildings had a washing machine.

I could only presume that it had been delivered by helicopter as I couldn’t imagine people carrying it up !.

 Further along, the steps become less pronounced and lighter in colour.  steps2
 turtle  I saw this Tortoise that someone had made by arranging stones at the side of the path.
 Further along the path it becomes more shaded and for a while, the rocks are gray in colour.  steps3
 hillside We stop of for a breather (one of many).

It was pretty obvious that Sarah was fitter than me, but Richard (photographed behind us) had almost athletic prowess.

Equipment wise, I took the same stuff as the Inca Trail, including my long sleeved Rohan shirt, my Karrimor Sabre daysack and my Karrimor KSB Boots (a companion on just about every trek for the last 10 years).

In my ruck, I carried water, a warm jumper, my Haglof goretex jacket and my head torch.

Camera on my belt so it was always ready and my whistle and mini torch around my neck on a piece of paracord.

 As we reach the staging post at the Laban Rata Hut our guide poses in front of these amazing clouds, attired in clothes I normally wear to eat a Sunday Lunch.  guide
 hut1 But the struggle wasn’t over !.

Our accommodation, was out at the top of this rocky scramble and although it had ropes, it took some going for me to get to the top.

I didn’t realise that the trip came with a complimentary Via Ferrata (I would have quite liked to do it, but with the level of exhaustion I was feeling I had to be realistic and I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it).

It was on these rocks that people get roped up and practice the Via Ferrata.

I had been told the accommodation was fairly basic but I found it to be quite superb.

We each had a bunk, a sleeping bag. I had read on the internet that you should take a sheet sleeping bag, but they were provided.

There were even sinks and a flushing toilet which is fairly uncommon luxury for a mountain hut.

In the “common room” there were mountain pictures (some of them by Doug Scott) and as much coffee and snacks as you could eat and drink.

We stopped here for breakfast on the way back. Most of it was nice, but to this day, I have no idea what the Sausage was made from.

 hut2
 night1 I have always been a bit skeptical of Alpine starts.

For me, unless ice is going to melt by the sun I just don’t see the point.

We set off at 2am and we went quite a long way along the wooden steps.

The Malays were quite the most polite walkers and trekkers I had ever met.

I had to stop fairly regularly to rest and each time all the people would stop behind me.

I had to explain that it was essential they overtook me, as the whole mountain would be at a virtual standstill for most of the morning.

At one point we reached this 70 degree angle and had to climb a rope hand over hand.

Our Petzle head torches proved to be essential.

Nobody mentioned 2 kilometres of rope.

 night2
 bankrobbers The Bank Robbers.

Full on Ski masks were popular among the local walkers.

My friend Jason had hung around with me up to this point but now the battle would be fought inside, between my comfort and my will.

I have never been a big fan of seeing Sunrises/Sunsets, they always seem to disappoint, so I told him to get cracking so that he could see it.

As the Sun rose, I realised why we had set off so early.

The angle of ascent was sole destroying (I had walked quite a long way in the dark and I think would have found it much harder to complete it if I had been able to see how steep the walk was).

 rope1
 rope2 It also explained why sometimes the guides stop the walk at Laban Rata if the rain is heavy.

The granite is very smooth and at a steep angle.

In rainy conditions it would have been like a skating rink.

The rope in the picture is changed each year.

It had been hard work up to this point but I never once considered quitting.

You can see the view behind, down the mountain. The view of the clouds made all the effort worth it.

 clowds
 finasc But there was more to do.

The actual peak itself (named Low’s peak) is at the top of a small pinnacle.

Its small in relative terms to the height of the mountain. In actual fact it was about a thousand feet.

Standing on Low’s Peak.

The actual peak was a lot smaller than I expected and there was a queue to stand on the top.

Earlier on the trip, I had asked my friend Jason to take the johnsunter.com T Shirt to the top, and be photographed with it if anything happened to me like I broke my leg.

As it was this wasn’t necessary. My first 4000m peak, wearing my johnsunter.com T Shirt.

 top
 rope3 We head back down.

My feet were sore but the sense of euphoria that comes from experiences like this put a spring in my step and spurred me on.

We got back to our hut, rested for a bit and had a brew and some breakfast.

As we carried on down the lower sections of the route it started to rain.

Rock, that the previous day had been firm under foot suddenly became slippy.

I tried my “parkour” type descent which had served me well on Machu Picchu, but after I fell a couple of times I stuck to steady plodding.

 down
 coke As we reach the end of the walk, our guide takes my camera and I pose for a photo.

A voice behind me ask’s if I would like a Can of Coke.

It was Sarah who very kindly paid for the Coke.

I can honestly say that I would have paid £100 for that Can, right at that moment !.

Jungle Trekking along the Salt Route in the Crocker Ranges, Borneo

gate We arrive at the start of the Salt Route, a trek through the Crocker Ranges.

The gates weren’t due to open until a certain time in the morning but we found a way to squeeze between them and set off.

We had to walk up this enormous hill to get to the ranger station and register.

Permits are required for most National Parks in Borneo.

This is a good idea, as the money is used to police the park, keep them clean and pay towards the education of the children who live in the villages.

longroad
 singapore Looking out from the Balcony we could see back to the ocean.

The view was spectacular but sadly my camera couldn’t fully capture it.

The Crocker Ranges National park is twice the size of Singapore.

 We wandered up hill through the Jungle.  trail2
 downhill  And we wandered downhill through the Jungle.
An inevitable part of traversing a Jungle is crossing a rope bridge (they aren’t made of hemp anymore, so cable bridge would perhaps be a better name).

Memory’s of Indiana Jones were awakened, and I was reminded that you should only cross one at a time, no matter how secure the bridge looks.

 rbpic
 rbspan  This picture shows a cross section of the bridge, giving some idea of its length.
This picture shows the height.

The water bellow is pretty fast flowing in the middle.

If you fell in you could be some way own the river before you the drag of the water stopped pulling you. You would also have been molested by the various parasites that live in the river.

 rbheight
 rcross1 On other occasions, it was necessary to do more basic river crossings.

There are some sophisticated ways to do this, including using a pole, 3 people holding onto each other, and various stuff involving ropes, or using your rucksack as a flotation device.

In this instance, we just walked quickly through the water being careful about where we put our feet.

Dan starts to cross.

 rcross2
 rest  And successfully completes the crossing assisted by a carefully placed walking pole.
We stop at one of the simple shelters along the route (some of them had been built by the Rotary club). On the left of this picture is the excellent Mr Mickey.

Although friendly, formalities were always adhered to. He called me Mr John and I called him Mr Mickey.

In the background, is one of Mr Mickey’s porters, and on the right, our own indigenous guide of the West Midlands, JK.

 villagesign
 villagehall Our first night. We have accommodation at the village hall. It was built by the Government, and belongs to the people of the village.

It was very comfortable and set the right balance (the villagers do get trekkers parading through their village occasionally, but they see the benefit from it in rent and the availability of a meeting hall).

Along the left, are the traditional chimes that Dan and I had seen in the Sabah Museum, early that week.

As I set up my bed for the night I regretted not bringing my thermarest. Since the hut was so warm, I didn’t actually need to sleep in my sleeping bag, so used that as an improvised mattress instead.

At the back of the room, is the Kitchen.

I hadn’t realised, that all our cooking would be done by the “lads”.

It was humbling to see them carry 3 times the weight of my rucksack, and when we finally arrive at our destination, their first thought was to make us a cup of tea and begin preparing our dinner.

 cooking
 waterpur One thing I hadn’t realised, was just how isolated we were.

It wasn’t possible to buy water, it had to be pumped from the river.

It was then I found out, where the Trek takes its name.

Just about everything the villagers needed was provided by the Jungle.

The only exception to this was Salt which in times gone by, had to be carried in on the backs of porters.

I had heard a lot about Leeches in the Jungle.

They never actually “got” me, but Dan agreed to pose for this picture so that you can see what one looks like.

 leech
 downhill2 The following day we hit the trail again.

We wander downhill through dense jungle.

 We wander uphill through dense jungle (in a 3 stooges pose).  three
 bamboo2  Down again (this time through fallen bamboo).
 And then back to the flat.  bamboo
 jungleplant  Some of the amazing vegetation along the route.
 I didn’t see a lot of birds perched on this tree !.  spiketree
 vegwater A pond next to the path with a sort of weeping willow tree overhanging.

It looked very serene and peaceful, but I was told that the water in the pond was so dirty, it would give you dysentery just from contact with your eye’s.

The highest point on the trail, is marked with this sort of triangular “thing”.

Never mind, it was more about the celebration than the “monument”.

We knew at this point, that the path wouldn’t go any higher.

 highpoint
 wardenhut As we reach our next destination by late afternoon.

We arrive at the ranger station (there were no bears there looking for picnic baskets).

I was delighted to see that the local lads had made this superb hammock using bailing twine.

They were busy making another when we arrived.

I gave the hammock a try-out, and it was very comfortable, if a little short.

 bthammock
 bath We all rest, and get cleaned up as best we can.

The bridge above Dan, would feature heavily, in the following mornings adventures.

I decide its time to put my hammock into action (after some minor mithering by JK, who correctly told me I would regret it, if I didn’t spend a night in my hammock, in the Jungle).

I consult with JK the self styled God of Hammocks for technical assistance.

 hammock1
 hammock2 JK points out that the key to the success of the project is the sitting of the hammock.

We find 2 appropriately distanced trees and then tie up (the hammock, not each other).

At this point, its essential to lie in the hammock and take the stretch out of it.

Once done you get out and re-tighten it, repeating the process until all the stretch is gone.

There will always be a little stretch left, but this adds to the comfort and overall sleeping experience.

Camouflage isn’t normally my colour but the Hammock I bought had been recommended by JK and it was certainly up to the job.

It had a very comfortable base, a sewn in mozzy net and a basha to go over the top and keep out the rain.

Various modifications were recommended like sticks tied in to stop drips and gaffa tape which insects wont walk across.

I decided since it was a first outing that I would stick with convention.

 hammock3
 hammock4 The view from inside my Hammock.

I didn’t need a sleeping bag at all, and just slept in my sleeping bag liner.

I didn’t realise, just how exhausted I was, and rested/slept in there for nearly 20 hours.

I woke with a start at one point but thought nothing of it.

I found out in the morning that a water buffalo had attacked the hammocks and JK had been forced to get out of “bed” and chase it away.

 Earlier in the afternoon, I caught up with the lads (over black tea) as they played cards.  cards
 rb0 In the morning, I wake early and decide to go exploring.

JK had mentioned a bridge that was quite “exciting”.

You can see on my right, that the support strut is missing.

As I head out across the bridge it lists heavily to one side.

I keep a tight hold and pose for this picture (one of my favourite’s throughout all my travels).

 rb1
 rb2 What’s this !.

The children from the local village set off for school.

Unlike at home in England, where education is perceived to be free, and therefore not valued, these children are on a mission to get to school, and won’t allow anything to get in their way.

…Not even me.

As I calmly explain to the Children that we will need to pass each other carefully, they are having none of it.

They boldly charge across the bridge and I am forced to grab the cable on my right.

The cable offered little more than psychological support and for one terrifying moment I thought I was actually going to fall into the water 40 feet bellow.

 rb3
 rb4 I quickly make my way back to the front of the bridge and not a moment too soon.

Another legion of Children are about to head across.

The “lead” child (a girl of about 13) smiled at me, but looked as though she wondered what the hell I was doing in the Jungle. At that moment I wondered as well !.

Up and out.

We quickly pack our stuff away and continue along the route.

You can see from this picture, that some of it was very thick mud, which took some real work to traverse through.

 mud
 pfields  Further along and things dry out a little as we wander across the paddy field of another nearby village.
There was some debate to the correct name of these creatures.

I thought they were wild boars. It was pointed out that since they lived on a farm they weren’t any more wild than me.

Domestic Boars, Farm Boars, Field Boars, none of them seemed to sound quite right.

On the bottom right of the picture, you can see a superb example of primitive technology put to work.

With a few chops of the Parang, this piece of bamboo becomes a perfect trough for the Boars (type unknown).

 wb
 biglog A section of the trail was flooded due to rain.

Mr Mickey, had worked out an exit route for us.

We wandered downhill for a while, through a demolished forest, and we pass under this enormous felled log.

The first time I’ve seen a road for 3 days, we head up this track, to get to our extraction point (does that sound too military ?).

It was really hard work and Dan and I had to focus really hard, to get to the top.

Luckily JK and Richard were there to motivate us. By taking of up the hill as fast as they could, and not even glancing backwards, Dan and I knew we were all in the thick of it together :(.

 roadout
 rain We reach our camp, and are once again (thankfully) put up in the local village hall.

At that moment, the heavens opened.

You can see from this picture why its called the rain forest.

Another game of cards is pursued and some “cans” are procured by a colleague of Mr Mickey.

We also got a few cans of coke as well. We had plenty of water, but there was nothing as refreshing as the taste of Coca Cola.

 night
 streetcred In the morning, we all pack up to return home.

Mr Mickey, Ridley and the others reverted to “street” dress, and they can be seen here in Rip Curl and other designer labels.

For the final morning the lads decide to take it easy and not cook breakfast.

Instead they take us to a cafe frequented by locals as a treat (which they very kindly paid for).

I didn’t feel much like eating so I just drank some water.

It was interesting to see the kind of place that a typical KK resident would take breakfast in.

 breakfast
 frogeel Also interesting were some of the more exotic foodstuffs on display.

The tank to the left is full of live Eels and the one to the right live frogs.

What a brilliant trip.

Id like to thank Dan, Richard and JK for their company and putting up with me during this adventure.

I have to say that some adventures, are pretty uncomfortable when your doing them, and that the real joy comes from reliving the experience. This was one of them.

I would also like to thank Mr Mickey, Ripley and the others (who’s names I heard but couldn’t pronounce, let alone spell) for making it such a superb trip.

 trail

Alpine mountaineering course in the Swiss Alps.

meglacier On the first day of the course, we went to a glacier to practice moving around with crampons and ice axes, and stuff like that.

I was delighted to find, that all my equipment worked perfectly.

 Everyone puts on their equipment. gearedup
 philinst  Phil instructs in the use of ice axes, and moving accross uneven ground.
 The group practice ice climbing on a conveniently sized ice wall.  iceclimb
 indcr  That evening, the lads I was sharing an apartment with, decided to practice crevasse rescue (a key technique in Alpine mountaineering) in the living room !.
The following day, we set off, for a 2 day excursion to the Dix Alpine hut. This is a picture of the hut in the distance, as we walked up from Arolla.

Although I was much fitter than before, everyone else had been getting fitter as well, and I quickly found myself at the back.

The walking poles I bought were really useful, and I reminded myself of the Brian Tracey quote “by the yard its hard, but by the inch its a synch”.

 dixhut2
 dixhut The Dix hut from outside.

It was a beautiful hut, and all the more beautiful for being so isolated.

A few of the locals had brought 3 generations of their family up for dinner, and the evening out.

They even had Swiss army knives with the hut name and logo on them (I bought one for Sarah).

The cost of drinks in the hut, was a little expensive, but I had a few beers and wine, and the evening was quite fun.

The first night, couldn’t sleep due to the altitude, but by the 2nd night, I was fine.

 mehut
 twid  It’s very hard to get an Alpine guide to pose seriously for a picture.
 In the hut during the evening, the mountain rescue helicopter landed outside and many of the Children (and me) all went outside to watch it take off.  copter
 outsidehut In the morning, we got up to do various activities. The view from the hut was impressive.

In the bottom left of the picture is a PYB instructor called Martin, who had been to the top of Everest.

This mountain was the first thing you could see, when you walked out of the front door, of the hut.

I could hardly believe the angle of this mountain, the sides formed almost a perfect triangle.

 alpscene
 alpscenes A glacier up towards the Pign D Arrola.

A few of the lads actually got to climb this, but although I was much fitter than previous trips, the blisters on my feet limited me a bit.

 Instead, I walked back from the hut with Phil a qualified Alpine guide (it is illegal to guide or lead in France or Switzerland without this qualification).  phil
 metop Phil showed me this mountain, and with his help I got to the top. At 3015 metres it is the highest I have ever climbed.

I ended up going home, the following day, but I had a brilliant time.

I would like to thank Twid and Martin, and especially Phil from PYB for an amazing trip and for all their help and assistance.

2 Youth Hostels, Soup & Magnificent 7.

jcarr

Just after Nikki returned from Ski-ing, we headed for Liverpool to see Jimmy Carr live at the Liverpool Philharmonic.

It was a bit of a faf, as we had to get a replacement bus.

I was really looking forward to it, but he wasnt that good (it wasnt helped by the fact that many of the audiance appeared to have spent the afternoon in the pub).

We left in the interval and had a couple of drinks in Liverpool before returning home.

rav

The following weekend, Nikki and I headed to a Youth Hostel called Ravenstore. I quite like Youth Hostels as they are usualy informal, pretty cheap and located in the best parts of the countryside.

We love the Peak District and it was a chance to catch up with an old friend called Cheryle, who moved down to Birmingham and who we dont see as often as we’d like.

Driving straight from work, we had dinner in a country pub on the way, then met up with everyone in the hostel and had a few drinks.

We met a group (3 generations of a family with some freinds). They were planning their own walk the next day. When we asked where they were going, they were a bit vague.

No matter, we respected their privacy and wished them a good day on the hill the next day.

20170311_112602

We met Cheryl through the walking group and loads of other members of the group had come along.

So it was logical, that we’d spend the days out walking (and the evenings drinking good bear and wine and eating pie and mash).

We wander along a section of the Monsal trail.

20170311_110933

I’ve walked the Monsal trail previously with my friend Frank and a few times since (they’ve actually opened up the tunnels now, so you can do the original route the railway line would have taken rather than the twisty around one which I personally prefer).

20170311_103348

The view from the to of a one time railway bridge.

20170311_163119

Brian has chosen a “hybrid” route, and we quickly find ourselves on a section of the Limestone way.

20170311_131151

We come to a hill overlooking this Quarry.

There is actually right of way, and we follow a path which goes right through it.

By now it was late afternoon, so we stopped by the Quarry and had lunch.

20170311_142018

As we continue along, I see this old air raid shelter. I tried exploring inside it, but it wasn’t very big.

cher

The trail carried on for a few more hours.

We came to a pub.

We’d normally have a drink to finish the walk, then go back to the hostel to get cleaned up before heading out for dinner.

The pub was very busy, so we opted for a early dinner with a couple of pints.

Once back at the hostel, we got cleaned up and it was a chance to catch up with old friends.

I was delighted to find that YHA establishments now stock Moretti beer.

20170311_151900

In the morning, we have breakfast.

Chatting with the 3 generation group we’d previously spoken too, it turned out they had gone on a walk led by the “son” who had no map and used a phone.

Suffice to say they’d got lost and spent a lot of time walking along the road. They were using the trip as “prep” for a charity walking along the great wall of China.

We invited them to join us on our walk.

The 2nd day is normally a shorter walk, designed to finish around 2pm. Brian had designed an amazing walk to take in all of the countryside in the vicinity around the hostel.

 

20170311_110927

Another mingle of the Limestone way and the Monsal trail with some steep hills and spectacular views.

By 2pm, we’d finished. One of my lasting memories of the trip, was our guests thanking Brian and saying how much they’d enjoyed the walk (and they genuinely looked enthralled).

That’s pretty much how I feel whenever I go walking, and I’m delighted they’ve chosen to join the walking family.

soup

A bit of random stuff now.

With my new “super-kitchen” I’ve started cooking again.

One of the things I love to make is soup.

I think after hillwalking, soup is my favourite way to relax.

mscafe

On another weekend, we head off to summit Moel Siabod.

Unfortunately, there’s driving rain.

I own waterproofs and if your a walker, you cant be fickle about the weather .

That being said, I refuse to walk for hours in driving rain, so I politely stepped back from the walk (I’d hope the weather would improve on the way there).

Normally, I’d have sat in the car until the 3 other walkers returned, but luckily I was able to relax in the famous Moel Siabod cafe.

I had some lunch and coffee, and later a bottle of wine.

In the 4 hours I was there, I was able to read numerous copies of trail and other outdoor magazines and put plans together for 20 trips over the next 3 years.

So not a complete wast of time. My walking “companions” didn’t get to the top, as with altitude, the rain turned to snow.

20170320_191015

Another interesting talk at the Chester Globetrotters the other week.

One I found fascinating, was about Swaziland (the worlds only remaining full Monarchy).

It also featured a Brilliant talk by Kevin (one of the organisers) about a trip around the middle east.

He’d given the talk previously, but I’d missed it, so I was made up to finally see it.

gt

I’ve recently taken over the management of the Globetrotters mailing list.

If you aren’t on it, and want to be, please get in touch and I’ll sort it out (thanks so much to Reggie for recommending mail-chimp which we use to run it).

jp

On the subject of things on at Chester Museum, the Chester Film Society have started to put performances on there.

Additionally, I got a call the other morning from my friend Dave at the walking group. Turns out that evening (also at the Grosvenor Museum) there was a travel talk, put on by the Society of 13.

The Soc13 as I call them (it makes them sound like some sort of black ops outfit, which they clearly aren’t) put on talks and events.

That evening, they were hosting John Pilkington in partnership with the Royal Geographical society. It was the first time I’d been to one of their events. It was very well organised and I even ran into Nikki’s parents who were also there.

The talk, Russia and Europe: what next was absolutely fascinating. He had stood on the hillside from the charge of the light brigade, taken photo’s in Chernobyl and drank Tea in a bombed building.

It’s showing throughout the year at different places, if you get the chance go and see it.

biketrain

My cycling to work is proceeding well.

I now cycle 3 miles to work from Capenhurst.

On the way back, I now cycle all the way home. At 13 miles per day, I’m coming up on my 300th mile.

bikework

My bike locked up at my office in Ellesmere Port.

It still amazes me, that some people just lean their bike against the rack.

I think differently. I grew up in Newton Heath after all. If something isnt locked and you leave it, it might as well be gone already.

20170323_202146

When I was 7, mum was taking David and I to school. During the drive there, she said there would be a suprise for us when we get home.

We did everything we could to get mum to tell us, but she was tight lipped.

When she picked us up from school, she made us wait until we got home, and then, there it was. Our black and white tv had gone and in its place was an amazing colour tv.

I cant describe the elation as we flicked through the channels and all the programs I normaly watch seemed to jump into life in colour.

We washed our hands and faces and then had tea (dinner if your from the South) and then we sat together and watched my first colour film, The Magnificent Seven.

Chez Jules in Chester have an event on upstairs in their restaurant, where you have dinner and watch a classic film

So there, all those years later, Nikki and I went to see Mag7 once again. What a fantastic experience, which I’d definitely recommend.

setoff

Our 2nd weekend away in March was to Snowdonia.

Picked up at 5pm from work and we set off.

Since the clocks had gone back, it was nice to be driving in daylight.

snowdonia

We returned to my favourite place in Snowdonia, Llanberis, once again staying at the Youth Hostel there.

We cooked some dinner, opened a bottle of wine and settled in for the evening.

brian_pe1

In the morning, we head into the town to meet our friends from the Chester and District Walking Group.

Our meeting point was the legendary Pete’s Eat’s where they sell food in large portions and pint mugs of tea.

me1

Our goal for the day, was a circuit over and back around a mountain called Moel Elio, which we’d nicknamed the Elephants back (more about that later).

We’d walked it previously, which is always the preferred way to lead a walk.

You can see the hill was quite steep.

mtop

After a couple of hours walking, were at the top, and you can see all the way to the top.

It was quite windy, so we found a spot behind a wall and had lunch.

m_mountain

Dropping back and circling around, you can see Moel Elio from the side and why we call it the Elephants back.

Back into town for a drink and a chat with our friends. From here, they all head home and Nikki and I return to the Youth Hostel.

inside_hostel

A sit down and a bottle of Moretti beer, then off for a shower and get cleaned up.

peak-restaurant

We had a dinner booking at the Peak Restaurant.

I really like it there, as they sell “normal” food like beef and ale pie, but in a fine dining style (and Nikki really likes the wine there).

Some chocolate cake to wash it down, a few more drinks and then off to bed (it had been a long day, but we had more adventures planned for the following day).

nikki_walking

Up early and we drive out of Llanberis, towards Snowdon.

Parking near the Vaynol arms pub, we set off with Nikki taking the lead.

big_hill

Elidir Fawr was our goal.

But this wasn’t a hill walk in the normal sense.

It’s one of the Snowdon 3000’s and its a brutal 1:2 gradient over heath (there’s no path to speak off, and frequently involves scrambling).

nikki_top

After an agonising walk, we get to the top.

Therese a sort of “birds” nest of rocks which is appreciated as its very windy.

The spot is said to feature the best overall view of Snowdon.

view2

Looking towards Snowdonia.

We met up with a fell runner who had jogged over from Llanberis (it had only taken him an hour).

view1

The view in the other direction was incredible.

res

As we head back down the hill, we pass the reservoir that feeds Snowdonia’s famous power station “hidden” inside a mountain.

va

At the bottom we have a drink the Vaynol Arms before heading home.

lland

Traffic is terrible on way home, so we stop in Llandudno and have fish and chips.

While there, I see the Grand hotel on the sea front, a place a used to see frequently on caravan holidays in my youth.

Just like the Snake Pass Inn, I’ve always promised myself that I’d go back there and so I’ve added it to my mind-map for this year (along with completing all the Snowdon 3000’s).

Adventures in London.

me_tb

I’m pretty switched on about stuff, and I’m on a lot of mailing lists for deals on travel, hotels, theatre and stuff like that.

One of my key information tools on my adventure journey is that I work in an office with some Millennials.

They literally know everything that’s going on. My friend Matt mentioned that Virgin were doing a seat sale and why didn’t I have a look and see if there was anything that suited me.

As usual, it was cheap going there one day, and expensive coming back the next. But, I found I could travel from Chester to London at 7:30am and come home again 6:10pm for £20 return trip.

I booked it 10 mins later and Nikki and I began planning our fast track trip to London.

train

We prepared our own breakfast and made our way to the train (Chester station is only 5 minutes from my house).

Just to the left of this picture, you can see a lone head. Its Nikki, this was our Jeremy Corbyn moment…

We had an entire carriage to ourselves, and I took this shot as I was returning after getting coffee’s

lonmap

We used the 3 star system that has served me well in trip all over the world and made a list of place to see.

I knew all too well that things can end up taking longer than you intend and this can have a knock on effect for the next and subsequent places you want to visit.

So, strict discipline to the clock throughout the day.

 

underground

Other important thing was getting around. I much prefer to wander on foot while exploring, but to see everything we’d need to travel almost exclusively on the London Underground.

We emerge from the Tower of London tube-station.

beefeater

It was a lot cheaper to book things online and print your own tickets.

It also meant you could just walk straight in, without queuing which was ace.

Once inside, we see a talk by one of the Beefeater’s.

A beefeater must have served in her Majesty’s forces for 22 years before applying to work at the Tower. It must be pretty cool, as they get to live there as well.

With limited time, head off on our own.

crown_jewels

The Crown Jewels are obviously a must see sight, and known for their enormous queue’s.

We’d factored this into our plans and put it first on our list.

No photographs can be taken inside, but I thought they were quite splendid, regardless on your thoughts about the Monarchy.

guardsman

Unsure of the protocol when speaking to the Guards, I asked if it would be ok to photograph him. He remained completely motionless.

I said “I’m going to presume its ok” then took the shot and said “Thank you”.

I can only imagine the 10’s of thousands of pictures he appears in, in photo albums all around the world.

eagle

Another section of Tower, is the fusiliers museum, a regiment who are based here (there were video’s of men training for the 2nd world war in the grounds).

Inside, it had 2 Victoria Crosses, and this Napoleonic Eagle, captured in the Peninsula war (which I heard was the inspiration for similar events in the book/tv series Sharp).

There was some stuff about a steel boot and how it had helped to stop desent in the regiment.

I couldn’t imagine what they meant, until a read it. Basicaly a shirker had an injury to his leg, which he claimed would not heal.

They made a steal boot that was locked and would completely enclose the leg. And sure enough a week later, it had healed (and he got 50 lashes).

wtower

The white tower is an incredibly beautiful building.

It has has stood in the grounds of the Tower of London for 900 years.

Inside it had loads of old suits of armour and swords, which frankly I found a bit dull.

ravens

It’s said that if the Ravens ever leave the tower, it will crumble and fall.

There are always 6 Ravens, and they have a spare just in case.

I had read that their wings are clipped so they cant fly away. I was surprised to find that they were in cages anyway, I presume this was to protect the general public as they can be quite viscous.

walkway

We got up onto the battlements and walked all the way around.

There was an interesting sign about the Duke of Wellington.

I hadn’t realised, that for a period of time, Wellington had actually been Prime Minister.

On one occasion in the house, during a debate, he took issue at something his debating opponent had said, and challenged him to a duel !.

crowns

But this is tourism after all.

As we wander along I offer to buy Nikki a gift and crown her as my Queen.

She comments that she would like to “crown” me, but in an entirely different way.

She eventually declines my kind offer and says she wants to be sick !.

tower_bridge1

Tower bridge, frequently confused with London Bridge is somewhere very special.

Its an iconic symbol of my country and so you might be surprised to hear that I’ve never walked across it.

towerbridge2

We could see enormous queues for the Tower bridge tour (originally built by the Victorians it was steam powered until 1987).

Everything is running to schedule, so when we reach the opposite bank, we take some time to wander along the bank of the Thames.

lunch

Its getting on for 1pm, so we stop for dinner at a traditional London pub called the Mudlark.

Nikki has fish and chips and I have Pie and mash.

Washed down with a few drinks, we are suitably re-energised and continue on our way.

buildings

I took this picture back across the river (it reminded me of the sort of think you see in Lucky Man).

It features famous London buildings like the Walkie Talkie and the Gherkin.

I can only imagine how much extra it costs to make a building that isn’t the normal square shape.

parliament

Only 10 days earlier a terrorist atrocity had resulted in 5 deaths, including a Police officer.

We were passing by on our way to see another popular attraction.

A sobering moment, but democracy and freedom come at a cost.

wc_stat

The classic statue of Winston Churchill gives a hint of where were going next.

q

Outside, people are queuing for upto 2 hours, to get inside and see the Cabinet rooms.

If they’d just taken 5 minutes to book online, they could have walked straight in as we did.

wc_telephone

The cabinet war rooms, has many rooms setup roughly as they would have been during the 2nd world war, when the war effort was co-ordinated from here.

In many ways similar to Bletchley park. This room, was Churchill’s telephone room, which gave him a secure, direct line to Roosevelt, the American president.

10ds

The venue also has a museum dedicated to Winston Churchill.

To be honest, I’m quite well read on Churchill, so I’d seen/read most of it before and there wasn’t anything in the museum that really jumped out at me.

Instead, this replica of 10 Downing streets door, which features some comments he made on becoming prime minister.

map

The thing I really came to see.

OK, a minor moan. Just like Bletchley park and similar venues, they have rooms with some old wallpaper, and old desk and some other stuff, and say its a re-creation of Alan Turings desk, re-creation of Churchill’s bedroom etc.

But its not really is it ?

However, at the end of the 2nd world war, the door to the Map Room was locked and it remained exactly as it was until it was re-opened decades later.

It was here, that war was fought. Completely authentic and you could feel history as you looked at it.

npm

It didn’t take long for me to see everything I wanted to at the Cabinet rooms, and we were once again above ground.

As I said earlier, freedom and democracy aren’t free.

After wandering through St James Park, I made a point of visiting the National Police Memorial, to pay my respects to PC Palmer who had been killed in the recent attack.

This isn’t a political site, and I wont get into the one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter thing.

What I will say, is that a man got up that morning, kissed his wife, hugged his son and then went out to work, not knowing he’d never return.

nel_col

It doesn’t feel like we’ve seen much, but its getting towards the end of the day.

As we walk towards Trafalgar square, you can see the sky. The weather was amazing, all day.

nat_gal

Our final trip is the National Gallery.

Some of the most amazing paintings in the world hang here, and its free to visit.

But its also quite modern and contemporary, apparently there’s a picture of the Smith’s in here somewhere.

Knowing we had limited time, I looked on their website, and they said if you only have an hour, these are the 30 must see pictures.

Nikki and I managed to see 20 + of them.

me_nat_gal

And then, the best bit.

The Fighting Temeraire as featured in the James Bond film Skyfall where Bond and the new ‘Q’ meet for the first time.

Well, a fab day complete, we head back to Euston station (I wasn’t looking forward to it, they have an awful pub and Macdonalds and not much else…).

gs

But I was wrong. The pub has closed down and a load of new places have opened.

We get a beer and a glass of wine at Gino’s Italian. Quiet and relaxing, the perfect end to an amazing day.

A bottle of wine on the train home and then dinner at Artichoke in Chester.

Can’t wait for the next £10 deal, I’ll keep “monitoring” the millennials, stay tuned.

Snow, new initiatives and foxes.

namibia

It’s ironic to be frustrated by the difficult decision of where to go for the years “big trip”.

After much deliberation, its Namibia.

The cost of visiting Namibia is extremely expensive (and that’s comparing it to places like Cuba and Myanmar (Burma) which weren’t 50p either!).

However it has some incredible sites like the one above, of entire ships left in the desert of the skeleton coast.

It also features extensively in Wilbur Smith’s novel the Burning Shore. Sadly, I wont get to meet any real San bushmen but it isn’t a bushcraft course after all (Nikki wouldn’t be going if it was) and we get to meet  other indigenous tribes.

sicily

As some of you know, we go away for the whole of Christmas and New Year every alternative year (and why not, when else can you get 9 or 10 consecutive days off for an investment of 3 days holiday).

This time, we’ve decided to visit Sicily. It’s our usual format, where we visit 4 destinations for 2 nights each (although what those are has yet to be researched on the big computer on a wet Sunday mentioned later 🙂

flowers

Valentines came around again, and the usual juxtaposition of the flowers being delivered to me and then me bringing them home and giving them to Nikki.

As usual, I cooked, although this year I moved away from Jamie Oliver Sea-bass, and instead made a fusion mix of Chinese starters and a Thai main (green curry).

It was different in other ways too. Since the tragic departure of Tom from Corks Out, we’ve sort of fallen out of love with the place. So for the first time, the wine was sourced (as an experiment) from Waitrose. It was really nice, and I plan to attend a wine tasting there soon.

veeno

Chester has also benefited from the opening of a new wine bar in town. Veeno has been a fixture of Liverpool for a while and they have opened a place in Chester right near the town hall, in what used to be a pasty shop.

We really like it there.

spold

But back to valentines.

This year, in addition to valentines day celebrations, we’d decided to go away for a weekend together.

Some years ago, My brother David, Mac, Cazzie and Lee all drove out on a Saturday afternoon to Snake pass (Mac was the only one of us who could drive at the time and we got there in a Ford Escort he’d borrowed from his mum).

We stopped on the pass at a hotel and bar called the Snake Pass Inn.

The weather was amazing and the ramblers bar was full. People were sitting in the car park drinking and talking and the atmosphere was excellent.

In the main hotel, families with men in shirt and tie, were settling down to Sunday lunch.

For no reason I can remember, we went down through the forest next to the river and played football. A day I’ll never forget.

So with so many happy memories for me, it seemed an ideal venue for our weekend away.

spi

Well times have changed a bit. The place is a bit run down, doesn’t have such well to do clientèle and has been up for sale for 4 years.

Worse, the previous management had walked out 4 days before we arrived.

I was a bit concerned at first but then thought better of it. Its a traditional coaching house in the middle of nowhere and we were happy to be there just relaxing.

A stand in manager was on site with various volunteers and some Dunkirk spirit.

We had something nice to eat and some reasonable wine.

spinmorning

During the daytime, the plan was obviously to do some walking (there are a dozen excelent routes right outside the front door).

At this time of year, as a walker you plan for everything, but this view through the window at breakfast was still a shock.

spmehill1

No matter, we got ready and set off.

A good route would take us up the valley and back down to one of our favourite places in the Peak District, Hayfield.

If we timed it right, we could get there, have fish and chips from the chippy and trot back.

Better still, if time was on our side we could do a quick side route on the way back to Kinder Downfall (a famous waterfall in the area).

spmehill3

The temperature was freezing.

Because of the snow, it was very difficult times to work out where the path went so sometimes we were just smashing through bogs, which left our feet very wet.

spmehill2

Logistics weren’t on our side, and it didn’t look like we’d make Hayfield and back before dark (and from the picture above, you can see this wasn’t somewhere you wanted to be at nightfall).

However, the view of the countryside was fantastic and we were in high spirits, so we headed for Kinder Downfall.

Weather conditions worsened (ice had frozen onto my hat and waterproof jacket).

We decided to turn back, and do it again in the summer.

Overall, a fab day out and this time, Steak for dinner.

spbedcoats

After a fun evening in the bar with a roaring fire, we headed for bed exhausted.

Our room was a bit cold, so I “shored up” our quilt with a combination of down and fleece jackets.

spfor

In the morning another fab breakfast (one great thing about hill walking, if your out for the day, you can eat a full English without any feelings of guilt as you’ll burn of all of that and more).

A shorter route today, as we’ll be heading home in the afternoon.

We head down through the forest this time. This was the place on a sunny day all those years ago, that I actually played football without complaining I was so happy.

spfootbridge

There’s still snow everywhere and wandering further we come to this bridge and cross the river.

spvalley

We wander along the valley in the other direction. I remember my brother saying years ago, that the place looked like Canada.

spwall

We’d already checked out of the hotel, but we popped back in to change our wet clothes and had coffee before setting off.

I saw this amazing board, which had pictures of the pass frequently blocked by snow. In this picture, there were 15 feet snow drifts which had been cleared with multiple snow ploughs.

That was after people in the pub had been stranded for several days, drank the bar dry and at one point had to burn furniture to keep warm.

spsignhome

It’s time to head home and once again, the pass is blocked due to snow and we have to drive the long way back.

I also notice that they now have a new sign 🙂

Thing is, this place might not be what it once was, but the only difference now, is that less people seem to go there.

You can change that if you want.

merino_jumper

The only reason I have money and time to do the adventures I do, is because I’m pretty organised.

This Merino wool jumper from Rohan is perfect in just about every way a jumper can be.

With one exception. It just looks awful on me.

So last week I put it on ebay and sold it.

Interestingly, I now have some money to spend on adventures and dont have this guilt thing of not wearing it hanging over me.

research_centre

On the subject of organisation and ideas. My idea factory.

Goals for the year are always listed (and reviewed) in brief in my mind map.

Activities are organised in my week/weekend planner (email me if your thinking of doing something similar or have a similar system, I’d love to discuss it).

The essential 3rd process is the brainstorming, where the ideas actually come from. I call this my idea factory, and I thought I’d explain how I do it in case its useful to someone.

Venue: A proper pub. An empty house is too quiet for my thought process and a well run pub won’t have noisy idiots or anything like that.

Equipment: Relevant magazines and books and my notebook and pen (I normally use my space pen, but on this occasion had this one from advanced bionics).

I can use my phone to check dates in my calendar but no other purpose. Remember that this is just the capture process, and research that comes from it will be done on a wet Sunday on a powerful computer with 2 enormous monitors). Oh, and finaly a pint of Moretti, Asahi, Peroni or Budvar.

From here, I’ll normally get about 20 ideas, which may vary from 2 weeks in Cuba to cooking a particular meal.

Typically, of the 20, 2 will be infeasible, 4 will be put on the mindmap for the following year.

The remaining 14 will be fully researched and then completed (with enthusiasm)  as quickly as possibly.

nutracheck

One idea I had recently was losing a significant amount of weight for 2 ambitious walking trips I’m intending to do later this year (Hadrians wall, 20 miles + per day and Mount Toubkal in Morocco a 4000m peak.

There’s loads of information out there about losing weight, but in its essence it creating a calorific deficit (or taking more calories out, than you put in).

So, first thing, is recording and measuring. My friend Julie recommended a website/app combination called Nutracheck. Using it, I work out a plan of how many calories I can eat per day, and ideally how many calories I should burn in exercise. Plan is to lose 10% of my bodyweight by the 8th of May (or the weight of 1.5 old style Dell 15 inch monitors for those that remember them).

mebike

The next thing is exercise.

I absolutely love walking, but it just doesn’t burn calories fast enough around work in the winter.

I’m really into cycling at the moment, so instead of getting 2 trains to work, I get on the first one with my bike and then cycle to the office (3.2 miles) and do the reverse at the end of the day.

clothingplie

So far, everything is going to plan and I’ve lost 8 pounds.

People have asked me how I’m making it work so well, and the honest answer is something I read by Tony Robbins. The key is to make things real to you (ie find something personal that you connect with).

When I see a chocolate bar and feel like eating it, will the idea that I’ll feel better in myself or increase my concentration by eating more vegetables motivate me to stop ?

Off course not. What will actually focus and motivate me ?.

  1. When I cycle home, I get home 45min earlier than I would if I got 2 trains. That’s almost 4 hours a week, and I can do a lot with that time.
  2. I have a box in my wardrobe with some of my favourite clothes I can no longer wear. When I hit goal weight I’ll be able to wear any of them I like.

fox

Just to prove that adventure is everywhere, as part of my weight loss plan, I try to go for a walk at lunchtime 3 days out of 5.

The other day I spotted this fox near some railways lines.

che

If you look on the top right of the screen, you may see a countdown timer and a few people have asked me what its for.

Well, if you have a normal job in the UK, there will be 141 days in the typical year when you can go out in pursuit of adventure if you want to.

I dont think I’ve ever done all 141 but I constantly strive to do as many as I can. I also list all my planned adventures on a whiteboard next to my bathroom at home (its the first room I walk into each day).

The countdown is too my next adventure and updated each time its completed.

This weekend I’m going to see Alan Carr, walking up Moel Siabod, cycling 16 miles, going wine tasting and eating at a Brazilian steak house.

The following weekend were off walking in the Peak District staying at Ravenstore Youth Hostel (my first visit).

Its organised by my old friend Cheryl from CDWG who now lives in Birmingham and did something similar on a trip to Ironbridge a few years ago.

Near and far the search for adventure continues…

Planning adventure in the dark times.

OK, when I say dark times, I’m not getting all “Lord of the Rings”. I’m meaning simply that its January and February when most small animals are resting in the warm and “developed” species like ours are able to carry on working productively.

So, not much adventure to report, to be honest. I’ve spent several weekends and evenings, prepping the house, taking clutter to the charity shop and generally getting organised.

As it says in Don’t sweat the small stuff, on the day you die there will be things to do in your in tray.

cupboard

That’s fine, but I want to use most of this years free time to go adventuring, and its easier to do that, if you dont have something nagging in the back of your head, that a cupboard needs clearing out or a pension fund needs transferring.

As part of my routine, I checked over all my equipment, oiled and sharpened penknives, checked the contents of first aid kits and just as important, check the stitching and suchlike on rucsascks and boots.

planning

Once that was done, Nikki and I spent several weekends brainstorming this years adventures, culminating in a 2 day “hot house” session last weekend.

We’ve booked more than 8 weekends away in the UK, 4 days to do Hadrians wall, 5 days in Portsmouth and overseas trips to Morocco, Sicily and Namibia.,

On top of that, we’ve arranged to go and see multiple talks, comedians, trips to the theatre and films for the times in between when we cant get away.,

I still expect to do even more than this, but it’s a framework to get started.

snakepass

Our next planned adventure, is a trip to the Snake Pass in for valentines weekend and 2 days of walking in the Peak District.

I first visited there some years ago with Lee, Mac, Caz and my brother David. I remember we played football down by a stream, then we all had Coke in the pub (I mean Coca Cola, none of us drank then, and the only hard drugs I saw in my youth were on the tv).

Inside they had black and white pictures from the 70’s when the pass was snowed in, and everyone was stranded in the pub for several days (apparently, they had to break up chairs and tables for the fire, to keep warm).

Well, all these years later I’m going back, and I’m really looking forward to it.

tony2

It’s also that time of year again, when my friend Tony comes around and ends up standing in front of a cream coloured wall in my house.

He sought my help on another adventure trip, this time to India and Nepal, and on top of other assistance, we had to get him a visa so it involved emailing pictures to the embassy.

From everyone here at johnsunter.com, we wish Tony and his friend a good time on their trip, which should give them plenty of chance to practice swearing.