Monday, 31 October 2011

A visit to Scotland - 17th/27th October 2011

I left Chester at noon on Monday 17th October and as I reached the Scottish Border the weather had dramatically changed with heavy rain and high winds. At the back of 3pm I was in Hawick and calling to see my friend Allan Graham and his wife Dot. Dot makes wonderful sandwiches. After an enjoyable “catch up” I left at 5.30pm and I was bound for Cardrona to stay for a few days with my friends Andrea and Martin Brown.

Tuesday was a wet morning so it was a run in the car to check out Glentress mountain bike trails and to check as to hiring a mountain bike. The facilities are first class and we have coffees in the new café area. Glentress is probably the best biking centre in the UK with over 73km of purpose built trails that cater for all abilities. We then took a run to Innerleithen and drove up the Leithen Valley and continued on the B709 until we where able to see Edinburgh and the Pentland Hills in the distance.

Wednesday was a nice sunny morning after a frosty night (the first frost of the oncoming winter) and at 9am we are away to Traquair and the start of our walk to Minch Moor 567m. We reached the top at 11am and we saw snow on the mountain tops in the distance. For a time we were on The Southern Upland Way (a challenge for the future!). At the back of 1pm we had lunch in Innerleithen before tackling Lee Pen 502m and reaching the top at 3pm with lovely views all around. We continue along the ridge and drop back down into Cardrona at 4.30pm. A most enjoyable day on the hills.

It was another frosty night and on Thursday I am bound for Glentress and my 4 hour mountain bike session. I started at 12.50pm and finished at 4.45pm having successfully done the Green Trail and with some stops also the Blue Trail. This proved to be very demanding with some steep climbs and some wonderful fast and twisting down hill sections. Not for wimps!! I was well pleased with my performance but to attempt the Red Trail I would need to acquire a lot more skills.

Friday 21st October saw me leaving my friends and I was bound for the Moorfoot Hills where I did Windlestraw Law 659m (2,162ft), Broomy Cleuch 657m and Glede Knowe 591m in two and a half hours. Had it been a nicer day with better visibility I would have loved to have got to the top of more hills in the area. It was dry but strong winds battered me on the tops and ridges. The Moorfoot Hills are a range of hills south of Edinburgh in east central Scotland, and are one of the ranges which collectively form the Southern Uplands. The Hills run from Peebles, Scottish Borders, in a north easterly direction to Tynehead, Midlothian. The highest of the Moorfoot Hills is Windlestraw Law.

For many a year I had wanted to call to say hello to Stewart McCullum who I knew still lived in Penicuik but alas I had never been able to find him. On this occasion I had more time and I drove around the various streets until I found Waukmill Drive. Stopping my car and walking down to a garage where I did spot a gentleman working, I immediately recognised Stewart (he had not changed – other than like myself - had “matured”) and within seconds of me saying hello, he knew who I was. Perhaps it was around 1984 (near 30 years ago!!) since we last worked together? Patsy, his lovely wife, took us in for coffee and we spent a couple of hours going over old times and what former colleagues we were still in touch with, etc. We will meet again in 2012 on one of my trips to Scotland and have a few pints.

I then went to see my friend Doreen O’Neill who was my next door neighbour when I lived in Penicuik and who I have always kept in touch with and visited on a number of occasions. Doreen was busy catching up, her daughter Lesley and family had been on holiday with her and they had left the day before. Doreen showed me her new laptop, she was now “online” and enjoying the internet and e-mails. As usual I had a lovely coffee, with Doreen bringing me up to date with her active life, family and holiday locations. Doreen left me with a wonderful quote – “Old Age ain’t for wimps!”

I was now bound for The Kingdom of Fife and Inverkeithing where I was to stay in a B&B for two nights as I hoped to walk a further two sections of The Fife Coastal Path and catch up with Wendy Smith a friend I used to curl with in Edinburgh. It was a 7am breakfast start on Saturday morning and then a drive to Crail and at 10am I was on the coastal path. On the whole it was a good walking day with periods of sunshine as I made my way along this very special coastline. Can I warn readers that this is a very demanding walk with lots of steps along the way. Make sure you also check the tides. The tide was out thus enabling me to walk on many of the beaches and watch many Saturday golfers on three pristine courses as I made my way to St Andrews. This is a wonderful walk and the high light of the day was watching gannets dive, so skillfully, to catch fish. At 4pm I arrived in the town centre (what a lovely location) where Wendy was kind enough to pick me up and take me back to my car in Crail and then catch up on what we both had been up to. Wendy is still very much involved in curling but like me is enjoying retired life and is heading for a holiday in Canada in November.

On Sunday it is another 7am breakfast at Inglewood Guest House where I did enjoy my stay, the accommodation and excellent breakfasts. Getting breakfast at 7am was also much appreciated. I drove to North Queensferry to have a look at the two bridges and the start of the first section of The Fife Coastal Path. The early morning darkness was fast receding and as it was turning out to be a nice morning I decided to return to The Pentland Hills to try to do a few more of these very special hills. At 9.30am I have parked and I am on my way to climb Castlelaw Hill 488m, it is then onto Fala Knowe 439m and up to Allermuir Hill at 493m and wonderful views over Edinburgh and in the distance The Kingdom of Fife. It was then along the ridge to Caerketton Crags and Hill 460m before retracing my route back to Allermuir Hill. It was a steep drop and then up to Capelaw Hill 454m where two vertical metal rods marked the top. It was now 12.30pm and my target of Black Hill at 501m, the highest point of my walk, seemed a long distance away. In between were Harbour Hill 421m and Bell’s Hill 406m and then a steep long slope up to Black Hill and with some fast walking and the odd trot I was there by 2pm - beyond my wildest dreams. It must have been the porridge with honey and cream I had for breakfast!! Descending Black Hill on a good track there are lovely views of Glencourse Reservoir in the distance. Gask Hill 412m is on your right as you continue to make your decent and then you meet a tar macadam road that leads you back to Flotterstone where I arrived at 3.15pm. I stopped at Flotterstone Inn for a bite to eat.

I was then on my way to stay with my sister Anne and her husband Tam for a few days and hopefully if the weather permitted I would get a couple of Munros climbed. On Tuesday I got to the top of Ben Ghlas 1,103m and Ben Lawers 1,214m (10th highest Munro) with strong wind and low cloud. This is a 10.5km (6.5miles) walk with an ascent of around 968m. I marked my way to the top as I knew I would be returning by the same route as it would have been silly to attempt more mountains in an area that was totally new to me. Ben Lawers is the highest point of a long ridge that includes seven Munros and it was ever so tempting to have gone further but due to severe weather conditions, sense prevailed. I took the time to visit the lovely small towns of Killen, Kenmore and Aberfeldy before returning home.

Wednesday saw me travelling north once again and my target was Schiehallion 1,083m (3,553ft) a walk of around 10kms (6.25miles) and an ascent of 731m. This is a famous Munro (ranked 59th out of 283) and lies totally isolated between Loch Tay and Loch Tummel, 10 miles north of Aberfeldy. When I left the Braes of Foss car park (£2 parking fee) at 10.30am there was low cloud but it looked promising that this would lift which it did as I gained height. By 12.30pm I had reached the top with one walker getting to the top before me. With breaks in the cloud on top I was able to see the beauty of the surrounding area and glimpses of the long East Ridge I had come up. It was cold on top so I was well wrapped as I stopped for some lunch and to enjoy the roll and cheese between two pan cakes my sister had made for me. As I made my decent lots of walkers were making their way to the top of this popular mountain. By 2pm I was back in the car park thus taking me three and a half hours which I was well pleased with. I went all the way to the top without a stop.

I popped in to say hello to my friends Moira and Ian in Perth before returning to my sister’s for dinner. After dinner I went to say see my friends Louise and Grant, again living in Perth.

After breakfast on Thursday it was alas time to travel south. 293 miles lay before me and my driving time was 4 hours with around an hour’s stop near Carlisle. In my enjoyable short break visiting friends I had done a total of 1,031 miles in my car, 15 mountains, a 13 mile walk on The Fife Coastal Path and a half day on a mountain bike in the UK’s premier mountain bike location. I have to say I was well pleased.

30th October 2011

Sunday, 30 October 2011

“Combine Culture and the Great Outdoors” 26th/31st August 2011

Our Morocco Trek re-union was held in Edinburgh over the period Friday 26th to Wednesday 31st August 2011. Our Agenda took in walking, sightseeing as well as a bit of culture in this wonderful old City. Pia had secured a flat in the prestigious New Town on Dundas Street, a stones through away from George Street and thus an ace location as well as being a first class flat.

All of us were arriving on Friday from across the UK, meeting at the flat firstly and then going out to sample the Festival atmosphere. The Edinburgh Festival is a generic term used to describe the cultural explosion which takes place in the City in August each year. It is in fact made up of a variety of festivals and events including the International Festival, The Fringe Festival, Edinburgh Book Festival, Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Jazz Festival and Edinburgh Mela. The Edinburgh Fringe is not only the largest arts festival in the world; it’s the most important, the most exciting and undoubtedly the most fun. It grows each year and in 2011 there were approximately 258 venues, 2542 shows and 41,689 performances.

We went up The Mound and down the High Street, sampling some street entertainment as we went. Our first pub stop was the Albanach on High Street which is recommended on the City’s Pub Trail and here the beer was ever so good. We turned to the right at the Tron Kirk and went into Hunter Square and down Blair Street to the Cowgate sampling the Fringe Venues such as The Underbelly. The atmosphere was magic. We were soon in the famous Grassmarket and somewhat peckish we stopped at Mamma’s for a light meal. The Grassmarket was “buzzing” as we made our way back to Dundas Street at a late hour and we were well aware we had an early start next morning as we were walking in The Pentland Hills.

What is particularly good about these hills is that there are so many walks and variations. Pia had been here before and like so many others found that it’s just not possible to tire of them. We had opted for a linear walk taking in around 10 individual tops.

We had an enjoyable breakfast at Henderson’s before we caught the No102 Dumfries Bus on Lothian Road which was dropping us off at Flotterstone at 10.15am and the start of our walk for the day. The weather was kind to us all day staying dry but cold at times on the higher hills. Our first hill was Turnhouse Hill, then Carnethy Hill at 571m and then on to Scald Law at 579m the highest point of the day. We took a slight detour from the main path to get to the top of South Black Hill at 563m, before getting to the tops of East Kip 534m and West Kip 551m. West Kip is a mountain in miniature and is perhaps the shapeliest; having a narrow and rocky summit that is gained by an all round steep ascent. Our first intention was to follow the path down to Nile Mile Burn but due to good progression we decided to do Spittal Hill 526m and Patie’s Hill at 500m before coming down near Carlops at the back of 3pm and telephoning for a local taxi to take us to Roslin to see round the famous Roslin Chapel. After a drink at the Original Roslin Hotel it was back by bus to Edinburgh.

We had decided on an Italian meal and my recommendation was to go to Bar Roma in the West End, a well established restaurant I had known when I worked in the City many years ago. We all had a wonderful time where food, wine and service were just ace in a packed restaurant with a lovely ambiance.

Sunday morning saw us up nice and early and having breakfast on George St before heading to the bus station for the X59 Stagecoach bus to Leven. We gained Fife Dayrider tickets (not five!!) and we were on our way at 10.35am on a dull but dry morning. On a Sunday the X59 changes to the No 95 (at Leven) which takes you up the Fife Coast to St Andrews.

We were off the bus (and Pia negotiating with a taxi!) before we discovered this but we were soon back on and at 12.20pm we were in Elie to walk eleven miles (17.6kms) on The Fife Coastal Path, ending our day, we hoped in Crail. The Fife Coastal Path runs from the Forth Estuary in the south, to the Tay Estuary in the north, stretching some 150kms and is part of Scotland’s Great Trails. This was just a wonderful walk passing through the small fishing villages of the East Neuk. We saw lots of wildlife and historic sites along the route. After Elie we passed through, St Monans, Pittenweem, Anstruther, Cellardyke and Crail. At Pittenweem we shared a smoked mackerel and smoked nuts, which were so enjoyable. We encountered a few light showers of rain but at Caiplie Caves this became heavier. We arrived in Crail at 5.20pm and only had a few minutes to catch our bus which we took back to Anstruther where we stopped for fish, chips and mushy peas at one of the busy fish restaurants on the harbour. At 6.50pm we boarded a bus which took us back to Edinburgh at the end of a wonderful day in The Kingdom of Fife.

With two of our party having to go back to London in the evening Monday was designated our culture day. It was a very relaxing breakfast in a café in Stockbridge before a walk by the Water of Leith to Dean Village. We then went on to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to see Tony Cragg’s first museum show in the UK for more than a decade. This proved a very enjoyable experience seeing the fascinating work by one of the world’s greatest living sculptors. We decided to have lunch in the gardens of the Gallery. It was then a stroll back to the City Centre and through the Grassmarket up to Chambers Street and we were bound for the National Museum of Scotland. Our first target here was to get to the roof garden to see the “jaw-dropping” views over the City – we were not disappointed.

What a wonderful experience in this unique building with some 20,000 objects, displayed in 36 galleries grouped in five collection themes – Natural World, Art and Design, Science and Technology, World Cultures and the history of Scotland from its beginnings right up to the present time. You do need a map of the various floors to help you get round and to enjoy this wonderful place. I came away totally amazed that between the 1820s and the 1920s more than 2 million people left Scotland for a new life in Canada, America, Australia, South Africa or New Zealand. On exiting the Museum we headed for Greyfriars Bobby and a welcomed drink and to discuss the highlights of our Day of Culture.

Our day was far from over as we were now heading by bus to Ocean Terminal and Leith to see The Royal Yacht Britannia and to have our evening meal in one of Leith’s fish restaurants. Entrance to the Yacht was sadly closed but we were able to look down on the vessel from Ocean Terminal. It was then a short walk to look at the various restaurants and we chose to eat at The Shore at 3 Shore which we very much enjoyed before getting a taxi back to our flat. Another full, active and enjoyable day had passed.

Tuesday after another delightful breakfast on George Street, we needed to run for our train to take us to Dunbar and with major structural alterations at Waverly Station we only managed to get our train with a couple of minutes to spare. We commenced our walk at the harbour at 10.45am and it was out intention to follow the John Muir Way and then walk on the lovely beach as the tide was out. It was a lovely morning with a good breeze and surfers were enjoying themselves amongst the large waves as we headed for the River Tyne estuary. We had our lunch on the beech and not another person was to be seen. We decided to rejoin the John Muir Way and walk as far as the end of the estuary before making a decision as to what route we would continue to take. While we did think about going as far as North Berwick this was not going to be possible so rather than walking back to Dunbar on virtually the same route we decided to follow the John Muir Way (well waymarked) to East Linton and from there we would get a bus back to Dunbar or indeed Edinburgh.

We arrived in East Linton at 2.45pm and took the first bus back to Dunbar after a brief snack in a local café. We just caught the train at Dunbar (it was 10 minutes late!) bound for Edinburgh and we were back at Waverly at 4.20pm. It was now time for individual shopping and we agreed to meet back at the flat for around 7pm. We had drinks in The Dome on George Street, enjoying the special ambiance of the place and the smell of lilies. We reckoned the building must have been a former bank. It was then on to an Italian Restaurant called Caciopepe on Hanover Street for an enjoyable meal before a night cap in our flat.

Next morning after breakfast we were all going our separate ways to London, Chester and Geneva. This had been a wonderful break and one that is going to be hard to beat. We all loved our few days in this wonderful City. Various suggestions were tabled as to where we would meet next year but no decisions were made. Munich is high on the list. A massive thank you to Pia for organising the Edinburgh get together and the very special accommodation.

2nd September 2011

“The Ultimate Cross Country” St Bees2RobinHood’sBay 11th to 15th June 2011

Saturday 11th June
At 10.15am we set off from St Bees on a lovely sunny morning, having arrived there with our bikes being carried by our Carrier – Packhorse. We had come from Kirkby Stephen where we left our cars.

As we were following much of the route taken by the Master Fell walker, crossing three National Parks (the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North Yorkshire Moors) over five days we were having our kit thankfully carried for us. On day one we needed to get to the scenic village of Troutbeck, so we opted for a quiet route that took us through some lovely villages such as Eskdale Green and over two steep passes (Hardnott and Wrynose) to Little Langdale. It is then onto Skelwith Bridge and Clappergate and up a very steep hill for the last mile or so to the Youth Hostel at Bridge Lane, Troutbeck where we are staying. We arrived at 4.45pm having covered a distance of 65kms. After our meal we took a walk higher up the hill and enjoyed a couple of pints at the Mortal Man pub. The Youth Hostel was first class as to accommodation, food and service.

Sunday 12th June
We had breakfast at 7.30am and we were away at 8.30am on a nice sunny morning and today we were bound for Kirkby Stephen and the small village of Soulby where we are staying with Jane and James at their B&B at Cross Bar View Farm. We had stayed there on the Friday evening and found out what an excellent establishment it was. Jane’s breakfasts are just wonderful.

By 10am we were on the top of the Garburn Pass, a very hard off road section and by 10.45am we were in the village of Kentmere. At 1.30pm we were on the top of Shap when we discovered our first light rain of the trip. We had done 40kms. By 2.30pm we were in Crosby Ravensworth and now it was very wet as we crossed the moors and at 5pm, having done a total of 77kms we arrived at our B&B. Coffee was immediately brewed and by a roaring fire we ate some of Jane’s unique home baking once again. Our wet cloths were taken away to be dried by the large aga in the kitchen and after wonderful showers we had fully recovered.

Over the two days we had seen two red kites, an owl, curlews and roe deer along with many other animals.

Monday 13th June
After another excellent breakfast (Jane’s home made sausages are to die for) we left at 9am on a dry but dull morning. In the first few hours we encountered a number of steep hills and on the moor we encountered a short period of rain. At the entrance to the Yorkshire Dales National Park, it was another photograph opportunity, and soon we were at Tan Hill, the highest Inn in the UK at 1,732ft. It was noon and we had done 22kms. From here on it was mainly down hill for most of the way with spectacular scenery as the weather continued to improve. I was able to reach a speed of 56kms (my fastest ever) but my friends Glyn and Dave (“professionals”) recorded speeds of 48mph on their mountain bikes – imagine the speed they could have got to on a road bike!!

At 1pm we stopped by The CB Inn for lunch, we had travelled 36.6kms. Here we spotted our first and only cuckoo although we had heard their unique calls all along our route which in itself added to the great ambiance of this special adventure we were all sharing. We had a brief stop in Reeth to watch the world go by and with easy cycling we were in Richmond at 3pm having cycled some 60kms. Here I took advice from Glyn and got new brake blocks at the town’s cycle shop –Arthur Caygill Cycles. We met the owner, a very keen cyclist, and we were all impressed with his setup.

It was a lovely sunny evening as we arrived at our hotel the – Shoulder of Mutton Inn at Kirby Hill – at 5.50pm, having travelled a total of 69kms. After a shower and getting our bikes and kit ready for next day (we adopted this discipline each evening) we walked down hill to a pub called the Bay Horse Inn in the village of Ravensworth where we had another excellent meal and a couple of pints of real ale. Glyn and Dave were introduced to Haggis for the first time and did enjoy it.

Tuesday 14th June
Today was to be an easy day as we were travelling to the Youth Hostel at Osmotherley. We would have liked to have gone further along the route but we could not find suitable accommodation. We were all very conscious that we had a long ride on the last day with the added pressure that Packhorse were picking us up at 4pm in Robin Hood’s Bay!

It was another mild sunny morning as we left and we stopped in Richmond for sandwiches etc. By 11am we had done some 20kms and we were at Ellerton. By noon we were at Danby Wiske (29kms) and we stopped at the White Swan for drinks of coke to have with our packed lunch. For the first time we saw a good number of other walkers and cyclists. At 2pm we did arrive at the Youth Hostel, having done 51kms, but reception was closed so we did make ourselves comfortable, had a shower and locked away our bikes.

We walked into the village and had drinks and a meal at the Queen Catherine Hotel. We did as best we could to work out the start point on the Cleveland Way. Tomorrow was going to be a hard day so an early night was on the agenda.

Wednesday 15th June
We were up at 5am and away by 6am on a nice quiet morning but later on the sun came out and it was a perfect day for cycling. The Cleveland Way as we did expect proved very hard off road cycling in stretches and we had no alternative but to walk with our bikes and carry these over a number of stiles. At 9.45am we had reached Ingleby Greenhow but had only done 20kms! At 10.50am we stopped for tea at The Hayshed Shop before going off road once again but this proved a good fast section. A welcomed drink was had at the Wheatsheaf Inn near Egton and we had done 57kms. At 2pm we were at Sleights some 65kms along the route and at 3.30pm we finally arrived at Robin Hood’s Bay and went down to the water front to have our photographs taken. This had been a hard day and we had come some 84kms.

At 3.50pm we were on the bus and heading for Kirkby Stephen – the massive adventure was over. It took us 5 days and we did a total of 346kms - magic memories will last forever.

16th June 2011

Asturian House

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Henry Garcia Tours Madeira
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Rachid Imerhane

Rachid Imerhane
Guide & Organizer of Treks - Mountain - Coast - Desert & Imperial Cities

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Clashview Kinlochbervie
Clashview Kinlochbervie





Bayhead Self Catering, Isle of Harris

Bayhead Self Catering, Isle of Harris