In the Pyrenean foothills

After walking up the Aspe valley and over Col du Moine in my last post, we dropped down into the valley to shelter from thunderstorms. The tops of the mountains were quickly shrouded in cloud and so we thought it would be a good opportunity to buy some fresh food and relax.

The following day a local informed us that there was a landslide further along the GR10 route, the town on the other side of the landslip was closed for business. This wouldn’t matter other than it would mean carrying five days of food as we were relying on it for buying food.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing and debating how to get on to the next stage of the walk. In the afternoon I walked to the nearby Cascade de Seris.

Thomas discovering the waterfall

I’ve had an obsession with waterfalls for years and I’m always on the lookout for one to go swimming in. Today was the day I found one! The water was freezing as it’s flowing from snow patches high up in the mountains.

I went in twice, the first time I coped for an entire 30 seconds. The second time I managed to swim around for a few minutes. The secret is to wait until you’re absolutely freezing and then wait a bit more, you go numb and it starts to feel less cold.

We decided to leave the high mountains and walk into the foothills around the landslide. There was a lack of campsites on our route so we decided to stay in a beautiful rural hotel.

 

It rained heavily all evening and we woke up to a sunny clear day. There wasn’t a cloud in sight so we decided to walk up the next valley to Cauterets. We then have a huge climb of 1718m up to the Ossoue Glacier.

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Up the Aspe Valley

The holiday started with flying from Bristol to Toulouse on the 21st June. We arrived to find in typical French fashion that the train service up into the Pyrenees was on strike. The issue was quickly resolved by booking a lift on Blablacar. Blablacar is an app that let’s people advertise where they’re driving to and offer lifts (for money). We then caught a bus for the final stretch into Oloron Saint Marie.

The next few days were spent relaxing before catching the train higher up into the valley and to where we would join the GR10. We arrived early so I went on an afternoon walk to Bedous Waterfall.

Then we discovered that we had walked to the wrong waterfall and that the actual one was only accessible from the road on the other side of the river. So we paddled across lower down the river and walked up to the proper waterfall. It was unusual but I think the first waterfall was better.

The following day we joined the GR10 and began the 2100 meter climb to Col de Moines. There was a glimpse of Fort du Portalet, which was built to guard the border and access to the pass.

We then had to navigate a precipitous path carved into a cliff face, and avoided the climbers clambering over the overhang and up the cliff.

Roughly half way to the top we had a rest break surrounded by cows and sheep. They didn’t seem bothered at all by us. I think the shepherds milk the sheep and make cheese up in the mountains then take it into the valley. We passed a woman leading donkeys that appeared to be carrying baskets of cheese.

Then we reached the top! The view of Pic de Midi d’ossau was incredible. Especially with the snow still clinging to the peaks around us.

We couldn’t dawdle long as the day was getting late and we were feeling rather hungry. The first lake had a refuge nestled beside it and already had a few tents scattered around.

We decided to continue on and pitched by the second lake. I woke up to the sun rising behind the mountain.

The next day we started the descent down the valley. We went past a lot of waterfalls but the best one was at the top of the valley.

What we do next is undecided, the weather has turned bad and clouds obscure all of the mountains. So we either wait for the weather to clear or go into the foothills and hope its sunnier.

Summer Update 2018

I’ve neglected this blog a little over the past 6 months, mainly because I haven’t been out and about as much as I would have liked – but that’s going to change!

The downside of the Baltic Sea bicycle tour last summer was that I completely missed the annual recruitment drive for IT graduate schemes. The early companies start in April time, with peak recruitment running from May to September. This is when the huge companies (GSK, IBM, HP, Any Acronym inc, etc) are finding top graduates to steal straight from university. A lot of students finish university and start looking at these graduate schemes for a job.

I did the opposite and instead was thinking about how far I could cycle over the summer. The end result was that I cycled 5000 miles and completely missed getting a graduate job. I started applying to non-graduate jobs when I got back but didn’t get anywhere, I had a few interviews but nothing came of them. Then April came around and I started applying to graduate jobs again, I had a few interviews early on and then three over the course of a week. The wait payed off and I was offered a place on a graduate scheme in Warwick. The bad news is that it starts in September, but this does mean that I have another summer to travel through Europe!

Similar to last year, this summer has two phases. The first phase is backpacking for three weeks in the Pyrenees, following the GR10 hiking route. The second phase is flying out to Romania and taking a brief look at the Black Sea before following EuroVelo 6 back across Europe.

Phase 1: Pyrenees

The plan for the backpacking holiday is to fly out to Toulouse tomorrow and catch a train to near St Engrace. We’ll then walk the red/yellow dashed bit on the map below and finish at Bagneres-de-Luchon, where we will catch a train back to Toulouse and fly home. The entire GR10 hiking path is 600 miles and I will be doing about 1/4 of it. My father is doing all of it!

Phase 2: Black Sea to Atlantic Cycle Tour

The second phase is flying to Constanta, Romania, and following the Danube River to it’s source in Germany, from there we either follow the Rhine back through Germany or the Loire to the French coastline. The bit after the Danube depends entirely on time and what we feel like.

The entire route is called The Rivers Route or EuroVelo 6. It meanders through 10 countries, is 2230 miles in length and goes through 3 capital cities.

I need to be back home by the 20th September to get ready for my job, so that gives us 53 days to do the entire thing. Which roughly translates to 42 miles a day – easily done!

Like last year I will try and post holiday updates as we go along. If nothing appears here you can always check my Instagram page – The Exploration Journal

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.

 

 

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.