Exploring around Agaete – Gran Canaria

For the second half of the holiday, we stayed in the town of Agaete located on the north-west side of the island. Our house was part of a large apartment complex, but I thought the street looked quite scenic with the mountains in the distance and it was one of my reasons for liking the area.

After settling in, we went for a local walk around the town and then a walk up into the mountains the day after (in my next post).

The first walk was a local walk around the town and along the coastline. It doesn’t make sense to arrive at a new place and immediately jump in the car to drive somewhere else. We went to Agaete Botanical Garden first, then along the coast and finished at the Lava tomb fields in the valley above the town.

Agaete Botanical Garden
It was very nearly the right time of year to visit the garden, I think another few weeks and most of the blossoms would have been out. Despite this, it was definitely worth the few euros to get in. I found the Silk Floss Tree, an incredible tree that towered up over 30 feet and was covered in hard spikes. The main trunk had huge spikes, right up to the thin branches at the top.

The coastline at Agaete

The next part of the local walk took us along the coastline at Agaete. There was some stone beaches, but also huge concrete cubes around the harbour. The cubes were roughly my height and so pretty big and heavy. I thought it best to embrace the juxtaposition of having harsh concrete against the fading island in the background.

The shoreline where the concrete cubes met the sea was covered with hundreds of shy crabs. I was clambering over the rocks and could hear scuttling, it was only when I walked carefully that I had a chance to see them before they rushed away. Afterwards, we walked on north, past the old salt pools and up the cliff.

About 30 minutes from Agaete I stumbled upon a cave dug into the hillside, facing out to sea. It was roomy inside with large cubby holes along the sides and a larger second room right at the back. The cactuses (cacti is the Latin plural, cactuses the more natural English plural – both are correct) cover most of the island and the fruit is edible – though I didn’t like it much, I suspect mainly because of the sharp spines!

Tombs amongst the Lava Field

The final part of the walk took us past ancient tombs in a lava field. There are roughly 700 tombs in large burial mounds scattered over the volcanic lava flow.

The tombs date back over 1,300 years, and a couple could be seen to contain skeletons. They looked real but I’m not convinced they would leave ancient aboriginal tombs open like that.

The following day we drove up into the mountains and climbed a 1000 metres up to El Hornillo, a lake and small hamlet at the top.

 

 

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Maspalomas Sand Dunes

After a couple of walks in the mountains, we decided it was time to do a bit of sightseeing and visit the Maspalomas Sand Dunes. The dunes are famous for being a mini desert’, in certain places all you can see is hill upon hill of sand.

We parked near Maspolomas and walked over the bridge towards the sand dunes. The dunes appeared to be fenced off so we walked through a gate and went left. We walked for ages around a line of worn out no entry signs and then into the shrubby part of the dunes. The trees help retain sand and stop it from blowing away.

Things went downhill from here. Spain is very liberal regarding nudity at coastal beaches, and it is legal to walk around stark naked away from the main holiday resorts. The nudist areas of the beach are clearly marked on the map and aren’t that big, but that doesn’t mean you won’t walk around a dune to find naked people strolling around without a care in the world. A lot of them aren’t carrying anything so how they expect to get home I have no idea!

I’m happy to confess that this photo has some photoshopping going on.

I’ve annotated a map to depict just how careful you have to be:

Your route should start at Hoten Riu Palace Oasis and roughly follow the green arrow. The red hashing is the risky area. We walked through the shrubby area and still found nudists, I suspect that both beaches use it as an exit point.

ANYWAY

The dunes themselves were stunning. We had a lot of fun jumping off the top of the high ones, though the sand wasn’t as slidey as we hoped. It would probably work better with a sledge.

The dunes were formed by sand from the bottom of the ocean during the last ice age. Wind blew the sand towards the coast of the island where it piled up in the huge dunes we see now. The building of holiday resorts encircling the dunes has disrupted the wind pattern and experts worry that the dunes will turn to pebble within the next 100 years.

Hiking in Gran Canaria – Mogán

When people said ‘Tenerife’ or ‘Gran Canaria’ to me in the past, I’ve thought of towering hotel blocks packed to the brim with sunburnt tourists who bake themselves on the beach all day. I’ve now come to the realisation that this is only a partly accurate image. Whilst the coastline of Gran Canaria is a heaving mass of holiday resorts, I discovered that inland is full of towering volcanic mountains that are perfect for hiking.

We decided to rent a car for our weeklong stay. This allowed the freedom for longer/higher walks and was pretty cheap anyway. There are local buses but it would be difficult to get into the higher mountains using them.

Hiking from Mogán – The Lake walk

The first house we rented was near Mogán, a town on the South-West coast of Gran Canaria. We spent a few days driving up the GC-605 to walk in the mountains

One of the comments I heard before getting there was ‘the mountain roads are horrendous! You’re better off catching the bus’. This is completely inaccurate, all roads we drove along had barriers and many had been resurfaced in recent years. The only way to get a road to the top of a cliff is with hairpin bends, so a potential danger is if sharp bendy roads make you nervous.

You can see some of the road on the right, it hairpins up the mountain for about 4 miles.

If meeting someone coming from the opposite direction worries you, we found that most people go up in the morning and down in the afternoon. If you follow the same pattern, you’re likely to meet one or two cars rather than fifteen all trying to get home.

The first walk we did was around Presa De Las Niñas, a large lake with a picnic/bbq spot that would be perfect for a lunch or evening BBQ.

Hiking from Mogán – The plateau walk

The second walk from Mogán was around a large mountain plateau. It was a huge climb up then a long circular walk along the cliff edge. I’ll confess it was somewhat longer than it should have been (as the route below shows!). A good piece of advice when walking in Gran Canaria is to keep a close eye on the path you’re following and be aware of when you need to take a turning. It’s a hot country and so the path sometimes disappears over hard rock.

I don’t normally do panorama photos, but the view from the top of the plateau was incredible enough to require one. The lakes in the view all have dams as they need to save as much water as possible.

Click for the full size!

Which direction do you think the water is flowing in the photo below?

Did you think it was flowing towards you? It is actually flowing (downhill) away from you. There are many canals that start in the mountains of Gran Canaria and gradually contour miles down to the coastline. Incidentally, whilst the tap water is safe, it also isn’t that nice and so it is advised to drink bottled water as much as possible.

Due to us overshooting the turning we were a little bit late on our walk down the mountain. This did mean that the cloud had time to build up around Tenerife and we had a beautiful view of the mountain peaking over the top. A local told us that the Tenerife mountains still had snow on up to a few weeks ago!

I can’t find a map showing the route anywhere so this GPS route recording will have to do.

The following day we went to see the famous Maspalomas Dunes!

Wilsey Down Forest

Location Spotlight: Wilsey Down Forest

When you’re bombing it down the A30 into deepest Cornwall you are guaranteed to pass Wilsey Down Forest. It is situated near Altarnun and borders the edge of Bodmin Moor. The dark, foreboding mass of trees is bound to make you wary – something only an evergreen forest can accomplish.

With war looming on the horizon at the beginning of the 20th Century, Britain could no longer rely on timber imports. Woodland resources in England covered just 5% of land area by 1917, due to demands during the First World War (especially trench warfare). In 1919 the Forestry Act came into force and Conifer plantations like Wilsey Down were established to ensure a strategic reserve of timber. It is unfortunate that many of the ancient broadleaved woodland areas around England were cleared to make way for the faster-growing Conifer trees.

Whilst some plantations are gradually being replanted with native species, Wilsey Down remains as a fascinating stretch of woodland to amble through and explore. The interior of evergreen plantations have a tendency to be dry dead places, due to the needles blocking out light and suffocating the forest floor. This forest is the complete opposite, with an endless carpet of moss creeping over everything, including up the trunks of trees.

As with any natural area, people have come and made it their own. The woods are scattered with survival lean-to shelters carefully designed to keep out the elements. The photo below has a heat reflection wall to bounce the heat back inside the shelter… Though I have never seen anyone actually sleeping in one.

Even the odd piece of litter is absorbed into the forest and quickly becomes something special. This glass bottle has turned into a tiny biome, complete with plants growing inside it.

A Cycling Recap – 2017

It’s time for my second cycling recap post! The first one was for 2016, during which I started cycling as a hobby and covered 1911 miles around Bournemouth work placement year at university. This year I only did 628 miles of ‘hobby’ cycling that was recorded on Strava, but the 5000 miles of unrecorded cycling during my summer tour is also added on.

In 2017, I cycled:
5628 miles – 9057km
158 days – 145 activities

My cycling map hasn’t really changed much from last year, the main difference is more rides in Cornwall as I spent the last quarter of the year at home.

And the Strava ‘My Year in Sport’ video

My favourite day-ride cycling photo from 2017 has got to be Badbury Avenue in the mist. I haven’t taken such an atmospheric photo since.

In last year’s recap I said it was unlikely I would do more than 1500 miles, I never imagined I would do triple the distance.

The main rides:
Summer Cycle Tour
Into the Mist
Nipping into the New Forest
Dorset Bluebells
New Forest Exploration
Hartland Moor and Corfe Cycle

 

2018 New Year Goals

On the 1st January 2017, I made a ‘New Year Goals’ post, the outcome of these goals a year later is that I achieved a few of them, half achieved a few more and completely failed the rest. Does this matter? I would argue no, as I’m happy with what I did manage over the year (and besides, it’s a bit late worrying now!).

Last year I wanted to:

  • Grow my reader base on Facebook – I left Facebook, so that didn’t work out. But on the other hand, I started using Instagram which is going great. (1 resolution achieved!)
  • Have a few more guest writers – It’s surprisingly difficult motivating people to write. I don’t think this was a very good resolution as it relies on other people to be completed.
  • Finish documenting my travels from the last few years – In the process of doing, I just need to tidy up and actually publish. (1.5 resolutions achieved!)
  • Keep up my cycling – I cycled 5600 miles! (2.5 resolution achieved!)
  • Draw more and photograph more – I have practised both digital art and my photography, but maybe not as much as I hoped. (3 resolutions achieved!)
  • Graduate – I achieved a first, so definitely done! (4 resolutions achieved!)
  • Write about this years holiday – Done! (5 resolutions achieved!)
  • Find an IT Graduate job – Slowly getting there, I have my eye on graduate schemes which I’m really keen on.

So I have achieved 5 out of 8 of my 2017 New Year Goals, the ones that I missed I’ll carry over to this year as I still want to achieve them.

2018 New Year Goals
  • Finish documenting my travels from the last few years.
  • Find an IT Graduate job.
  • Visit at least one more country I haven’t previously gone to.
  • Read 36 books.
  • Finish two digital art pieces I’ve been working on/off for years but always thought were missing something that completes them.
  • Meet with the Bournemouth lot at some point.

 

Summer Cycle Tour Recap

The finished route, cycling through 13 countries over 4 months.

The initial idea of a summer cycling tour began a few years ago but never developed into a full plan. We knew we wanted to do it and that was enough. Then, last Christmas we started to discuss it more and dithered between two ideas:

1. Cycle the Baltic Sea.

2. Head into France and meander south.

Idea 1 had the size and impressive thing going for it, whilst idea 2 would have been a more relaxed holiday and safer as we know France. In both scenarios going to Ireland was first as we needed to be near home in early July.

In Ireland, idea 2 tended to win. We were constantly wet, cycling up mountains and generally miserable. Our conversations would mostly be “can’t wait to be eating croissants” or “this supermarket is awful, at least the French supermarkets are really good”. We held off deciding until after a week resting with family in the Peak District. The horrors of rainy Ireland faded away and so we settled on Idea 1.

I’ve collected my adventures over the summer into this post with quick links to each country along with the best photo from it. Simply click on a post link to be whisked away to the relevant place.

UK

Cornwall to Wales

Ireland

Winding Westwards | The Dingle Peninsula | The  Wild Atlantic | Cycling the Causeway Coastal Route

UK (again)

Stopover in the Peak District

The Netherlands

Cycling through the Netherlands

Germany

Visiting Hamburg and Lubeck

Denmark

Exploring Copenhagen | Reaching the Baltic Sea

Sweden

Southern Sweden | Destination: Gotland

Finland

 The Archipelago Sea | King’s Road through Finland

Estonia

The First Baltic State

Latvia

Disaster Strikes in Latvia 

Lithuania

Border troubles in Lithuania

Poland

Touring through Poland

Germany (again)

Back into Germany

Belgium

Navigating Belgium

France

France and home

That’s everything for the summer cycle tour! Four and a half months summarised into 21 website posts and countless photos.

France and home

Roughly 130 days later and we are nearly home! The last country of the tour was France, all it did was rain and so we caught a train and only spent three days there.

We entered France at Lille and what felt like the worlds longest continuous highstreet. It went on, and on, and on. We spent so long on it that it started to feel like a timeloop. Every 10 minutes the same tram station would go past, and I would stare at it until I realised that it was ever so slightly different. We eventually got onto a canal and followed it for 40 miles to a camping municipal.

Entering France at Lille meant that we cycled straight through the Somme and the Western Front in World War One. The length of time it took to cycle, combined with the constant signposting for war graveyards really enforced the scale of the fighting.

The next part of the cycle was terrible, we checked the forecast and saw there was a massive rainstorm coming in and so decided to cycle to a small country station and catch a train to Amiens. We arrived to find that the entire line was closed for repairs and so we cycled the whole way to Amiens as fast as possible as we wanted to catch the 5pm train. We made it with 10 minutes to spare and had to dodge all the commuters heading home.

I was using my phone to navigate and took a quick photo enroute, but the water on the screen changed the settings into faded black and white. I think it came out even better!

My phone broke after that incredibly wet ride. I later dried it out at home and found that it stills works other than the WiFi circuits were fried. I decided to make do as it it works perfectly for everything else.

Rouen Cathedral and the Abbey of St. Ouen were really hard to photograph properly due to the size. Though I quite like the doorway with my bike and a boy with his hands clasped in front of him.

Rouen is also famous for its medieval half-timbered houses that brighten the cobbled streets.

From Rouen we needed to follow the Seine river straight to Le Havre and board our ferry by 5pm. We got half way and suddenly thought that maybe we should double check the ferry time.  Much to our dismay we had misremembered the time and actually needed to be there by 4pm. So we did 90km in about 5 hours without stopping. The route led us through small riverside towns, a national park and the Esso oil refinery that was belching huge gouts of fire into the sky from its chimney stacks.

Whilst in the queue we chatted with some fellow tourers, and one said “wherever you go, there is always someone who has gone further”. True words, though we only met someone who had done a comparable distance to us once and that was durign . We made it onboard the ferry and sunbathed on deck until the sun set behind gloomy looking clouds.

After a quick stop in Fareham we were once again cycling through the Cornish countryside and the holiday was over.

The Route

My next post will be a recap of the entire holiday, from beginning to end. But until then, here is our final (rough) route and the key details.

4.5 months
5000 miles
13 countries
£3711 spent

Navigating Belgium

Only two posts left for the summer cycle tour! We mysteriously sped up after Dusseldorf and pelted it home, doing 550 miles over 7 days.

I was initially excited about cycling through Belgium. I researched the best way home during the Dusseldorf break and found the Flanders Cycle Route. It’s a segment of LF6 that goes from Maastricht to near Dunkirk and so would have carried us nearly all the way back. In reality, it was useless and we ended up going more diagonally towards Lille (which was a huge mistake!)

The first bit was cycling through Germany to Maastricht (Netherlands) where we found a statue memorialising d’Artagnon who died during the Seige of Maastricht in 1673. It was a must-stop for both of us as we had read the Three Musketeers series when we were too exhausted to do much else (I read about 60 books during the holiday).

The next day we cycled into Belgium and proceeded to get lost in a town whilst looking for a shop. It was divided in half by a large road and the map app route looped around and was completely mystifying. A guy yelled at us from the top of the building during one of our map checks and then came down and guided us to an Aldi on his bike. He said people often couldn’t find it and we weren’t the first he had shown.

That evening we camped in a ‘legal wild camping spot’, along with a tramp who was camped right next to the water pump. We couldn’t get the pump to work and had to go on a phone signal hunt to translate this sign:

The first paragraph translates to “best driver (?), please always leave a round bucket with pump water for the next visitor. It is the intention that you first pour water into the pump and then the pumps start.”

That puzzled us, then I decided to take it literally and poured water into the top of the pump where the handle is. That worked but the water was filthy, it stank of iron and had dirt/rust floating in it. The bivouak site quickly dropped from being great (free!) to being absolutely useless and frustrating. We made do with the water we were carrying then walked around the lake.

Close-up shot a bit further on:

Yes, I did see a few dead fish. On the plus side, there was a large watersport facility further around the lake that had an outside tap which I may have used to wash whilst my brother kept a careful lookout.

The main problem with the Flanders Cycle Route was that it felt like they dropped a piece of spaghetti on a map and decided to use that as the basis for the route. It twisted and turned up every big hill and most of the small roads. We only followed it for a day but the majority of the route was over cobblestones which rapidly became uncomfortable. Not to mention worrying, we were cautious after breaking a spoke in Poland going along rough roads.

On the final day of Belgium, we were cycling towards Herne, a small town that has a campsite when a local chased us down the road and yelled at us. We carried on cycling and he chased us down the road so we figured we should stop, he switched to English and offered us his garden to camp in. It turned out the campsite in Herne was caravans only.

Throughout Belgium we found beautiful graffiti by their resident graffiti artist, he is called DZIA and paints urban areas throughout Europe. This was the best one I saw, though there are hundreds of others that we missed.

 

Back into Germany

We approached Germany with some apprehension, everyone knows the German reputation for being strict and law-abiding so we thought they probably wouldn’t be so thrilled to find us camped in the corner of a graveyard or on their pristine football pitch. Our worries turned out to be unfounded as we made it across to Dusseldorf without any arrests or incomprehensible yelling matches.

After the relative poverty of the Baltic States, we were overjoyed when our first German town had a bridge with a slide attached for no reason other than fun. We noticed more random features of entertainment throughout Germany than any of the other countries and always tried to make the most of it.

Our first adventure in Germany was meeting another tourer from New Zealand on the ferry over the Szczecin Lagoon. Incidentally, he was on his way home because the tent had fallen off the back of his bike. One of my general exploration tips has always been:

Don’t store equipment on the outside of your panniers or backpack! If you absolutely have to, loop a strap through somewhere where it is impossible to come off even if being dragged behind you.

The bicycle tourer felt that the younger generation are swept up in their digital lives and was amazed at meeting tourers as young as us. He invited us to a cafe and we ended up chatting all morning, and not leaving until 12. The delay wasn’t ideal for our planned long day to get us well into Germany. In the end, we still did a huge distance (85 miles) and managed to take smaller roads. I noticed that autumn was arriving and felt odd having left home mid-spring and still travelling at the beginning of autumn.

Something we found entertaining was the state of German roads. Unlike Poland or any other country I saw, Germany seems to like chopping the roads up and filling them back in to make a patchwork quilt effect. We couldn’t puzzle out why they would need to cut such peculiar shapes out of the road. Is it because of pipes or wires? Roots? Treasure hunting? Most likely tree roots, judging by the huge trees either side.

After spending a little too much money at the supermarket the previous day, we decided that we really should find a wild campsite for the evening. I noticed a road leading up to a large clump of trees just outside a small village. After some exploring through the trees, I found a small, sandy quarry with a beautiful open spot overlooking it. Tractors drove past in the morning and got a good look at our washing drying on the trees, they paused for a bit but didn’t stop to investigate.

Heading off in the morning down the track

The next day was Sunday, and extremely windy. All food shops are closed on a Sunday in Germany so we were carrying a fair bit more weight whilst also fighting through the wind. We cycled past a graveyard surrounded by fields and decided to stop a little bit early. The following morning our choice of campsite was rewarded with the best sunrise I’ve ever seen.

The tent is tucked away on the left beside the trees. It was a great spot, other than an endless barrage of slugs crawling towards us. They were those horrible long, black ones that ooze goo and refuse to go away. We woke up to a few on the outside of the tent-inner and tried hitting them off from the inside. It didn’t work. Instead, we upgraded the problem to squashed, leaking slugs. Ten minutes of scraping the tent and we were ready to pack up and move on.

We cycled as far as Celle and then caught a train to Dusseldorf for 134 euros, which saved roughly five days cycling. It was always the plan to catch a train somewhere in Germany as we knew by this stage of the holiday that staying with my sister would be a welcome break.

Germany technically marks the end of the Baltic Sea Bicycle Tour as our route back via Belgium and France doesn’t go anywhere near it, nor do the countries even border it. Next up, we attempt to navigate the Flanders Cycle Route through Belgium.