The excitement is building….. IJT’s InfoPack for their HYPERJAPAN J-Pop & Go! tour arrived today for Rosa’s 18th birthday trip – a manga / anime / J-pop themed tour of Japan – kawaii!!
There’s a map of Japan, a more detailed itinerary booklet with names, addresses and maps of each of the hotels. Our tour leader is Charlea Jefts and she will already be at our start hotel – the b ikebukuro – when we arrive, so we should be able to meet up with her to get tips on what to do on our two extra days at the start. Other than get through the jet lag.
Rosa and I spent a lovely afternoon looking through the trip itinerary and what we could do with our extra time, and talking through what to take. Here are the main things:
The trip notes recommend taking ¥100,000 cash for a 2 week trip, for food, drinks and entrance fees (some are included, others aren’t, and we’ve got 2 extra days of Doing Things). That’s about £700, which works out at about £50 a day. We have to buy lunch and dinner most days.
Wednesday 17 May 2017: London Euston – Caledonian Sleeper
A pre boarding glass of wine at Gino D’Acampo, then off to Platform 1 to walk the length of the train to find coach Y. Next time we’ll know that the old hands have their pre departure tipple in the dining coach… and that it’s a very, very long train.
As the train trundled north we settled in to our berths. A good night’s sleep.
Thursday 18 May 2017: Caledonian Sleeper – Fort William – Loch Lochy – Kintail – Dornie – Plockton – Broadford – Edinbane
Two cups of coffee and a pack of shortbread accompanied our wake up call at 8am as the 6 carriage train made its way through the Highlands. Green glens and hills gliding by, the gorse in bright yellow bloom, rivers and lochs and morning mists.
Our arrival into Fort William coincided with The Jacobite getting up steam, and the lovely gent from Slipway Autos was there ready and waiting with a sign and and our Practical Car Rentals Citroen C1. Super speedy admin – the first time I’ve used the DVLA / GOV.UK online service create a ‘check code’ to share my driving record with a car hire company and it worked like a dream. The only bit of paperwork was the Vehicle Rental Agreement! Done and dusted in less than 5 mins.
I tell a lie, there was one more bit of paper – a handy map of the Fort William & Lochaber area which made our drive to Skye super-easy: North up the A82 to Invergarry then west along the A87 all the way to the Kyle of Lochalsh and across the bridge to Skye.
En route, a leg stretch and photo op at Loch Lochy, a late elevenses / early lunch at the Jac-o-Bite Inn in Kintail (in a downpour), and another photo stop at the stone slipway at Aird Point (Dornie) with its views across Loch Duich to Eilean Donan Castle. A detour north towards Stromeferry and around the peninsula brought us to Plockton for a stroll around the village and harbour.
Then across the sea to Skye.
Broadford was our first stop on Skye. Easy (and free!) parking (hark the Londoner) looking out over Broadford Bay. Another stroll, via the scattering of small shops to the old stone pier then back through town and out the other side and onto the stone beach. Crystal clear waters, fiery seaweed, bluebells and trees in bud. Beautiful.
Continuing north along the A87 we skirted sea lochs and scurried under looming mountains, veering north west at Portree and turning onto the A850 at Carbost/Borve, the scenery shifting at every turn.
Our destination – the small village of Edinbane and Shorefield House, our B&B for the next 3 nights. Both bed(room) and breakfast definitely merit their 4 stars.
After a warm welcome from Hilary and Peter, we settled in and took up the offer of a refreshing pot of tea and the decidedly superior selection of biscuits before heading out on foot to explore the village and for a pre dinner stroll along the banks of the Abhainn Choishleadar.
The “Where to have dinner?” decision was easy – the excellent Edinbane Inn is a couple of minutes walk away from Shorefield House. As it turned out, lots of other people had the same idea, but our hour’s wait turned into 20 minutes and that gave us time for a pint and some crisps, both Skye-made, before tucking, slightly tipsily, into a tasty, tasty meal.
Then back to base. Still light at 11pm.
Friday 19 May 2017: Edinbane – Coral Beach – Neist Point Lighthouse – Portree – Scorrybreac – Trotternish Peninsula – Portree – Edinbane
The sunniest day of our sojourn on Skye.
A feast of a breakfast* at Shorefield House then off, driving west along the A850 to Dunvegan, past the castle and turning north along a single track road running along the shores of Loch Dunvegan to Claigan. First stop – Coral Beach, which came complete with seals leaping in the bay and a cold wind. Back in the car, back to Dunvegan and onto the B884 heading west across the the Duirish Peninsula to Neist Point and its famous lighthouse. A steep path / steps down – better views from the cliffs close to the parking area, and you can see the sea birds nesting on the cliffs too.
After retracing our road to the A863 we continued south east to Struan where we turned left onto the B885 to take the short cut across the island to Portree.
A potter around Portree and then the Scorrybreac Circuit. A pleasure in the warm afternoon sun; the wind had died down completely.
The lovely early evening light saw us complete the drive around the Trotternish peninsula, with several stops for photos of the Western Isles. Beautiful.
Our plan to have dinner somewhere in Uig was foiled by all the possible pubs’ car parks being too full, so it was plan B – back to Portree and the Lower Deck Seafood Restaurant down by the harbourside.
Back to base and the wifi to work out a plan for tomorrow, which looked likely to be damp….
* juice, muesli with plain yoghurt and fresh raspberries, oatcakes and cheese, granola and blueberries, veggie fry up – two veggie sausages, scrambled egg, fried mushrooms, fresh fried tomatoes, clootie dumpling – toast and tea. And that was just me.
I was a bit more restrained in my breakfast order this morning – mushrooms on toast (after muesli with yoghurt, prunes and water melon) to allow room for at least one triangle of toast and jam/honey (which I just about managed) and a nice big cafetiere of coffee between us. That set us up for a somewhat damp day, driving around the west of the island.
Taking the A850 west and the south east again, we detoured off onto some of the map’s “white” roads, via Harlosh and Vatten, around Loch Bracadale. Really lovely, even in the grey.
We were heading to the Talisker Distillery, on the shores of Loch Harport. Busy on a drizzly day, so we had an hour to while away before we could join the first tour of the afternoon. Easily done strolling along the waterfront and pottering around the small display in the Visitor Centre. A bit heavy handed with the history and The Brand – you could tell there was a big business behind it.
The tour was interesting, and there was a tasting at the end. As driver, I was given my wee dram in a small takeaway pot. Very Good.
The weather hadn’t improved, and didn’t, which made for an afternoon’s drive – east to Broadford for coffee and cake at Café Sia, then west along the B8083 to Elgol, almost at the end of the Strathaird peninsula. Very picturesque, and an opportunity for a photo of some free ranging Highland cows.
Then all the way back to Edinbane for dinner at the Edinbane Inn. Not nearly so busy as on Thursday – but we had booked a table in the restaurant Just To Be Sure.
Sunday 21 May 2017: Edinbane – Armadale – Invermoriston – Fort William – Caledonian Sleeper
Farewell to Skye and another damp day. So I started with a full veggie breakfast (including potato scone) to make up for it. As well as muesli and fresh fruit. And toast. Coffee again.
East and then south to Portree and south again along the A87. Through Broadford and onto the A851 – to Armadale and the CalMac ferry terminal. The next sailing to Mallaig and the mainland was docked, but we resisted temptation (and the risk of a dint or a scrape on the hire car) and returned to the mainland via Broadford and the bridge.
East along the A87 all the way to Invermoriston, where we stopped at the superb Glen Rowan Cafe for the best coffee and cake of the trip. Highly recommended.
Then the A82 south west, along the shores of Loch Ness – not a Nessie in sight – and onwards through the Great Glen, arriving back in Fort William with a couple of hours to spare before catching the 9pm Caledonian Sleeper back to London.
That gave us time to tour around the ring road and one way system before parking back at the station, to stock up on dinner treats from Morrisons, to walk the length of the High Street and down to the shores of Loch Linnhe and back to the High Street again for a pint and some crisps at The Grog & Gruel.
A painless car key drop at the ticket office, then down to coach Y and into our cabin for a picnic dinner watching the Scottish scenery roll by…..
We were back in London Euston by 9.15am Monday morning, in time to join the commuters on the Circle line heading east to the City.
I’ve spent today packing. Even though it’s a week or so before we fly to Kathmandu, today / tomorrow was my only chance before Steffi and Sam arrive from Far West Wales.
When we met up in March, Val had given me a holdall of LED* stuff (including a box of donated eye glasses and 10 or so of the inflatable LuminAID solar lights) to take out, and last Tuesday I’d picked up a large suitcase and a big M&S Christmas Carrier Bag full of clothes donated by Sonal and her friends. Getting all of that into my 75 litre Karrimor rucksack, and handbaggage, was looking like a Herculean Challenge…
But with the help of 3 of those vacuum storage bags which you put clothes in and then suck the air out of, plus (wo)man power from Silver Surfer Jean and (vitally!) her hoover, I’ve managed to compress a bunch of the warmest coats/jackets/fleece tops etc so that I can fit as much as possible in, and still have room for my own kit.
So. Kit. What am I taking? We’re away for 31 days, it’s a portered trek and the weather’s wintry:
Update from Val today: OK there is heaps of snow and we’ve had lots of rain so I’m hoping that with your arrival it will all start to clear up and be good normal weather.
And used my trusty kit list spreadsheet, which translated into this packing:
Documents & paperwork
Tickets / Flight confirmation email
Vaccinations log book
6 x passport photos for park permit & tourist visa (on arrival)
KTM contact details
Emergency family contacts
Photos of home
Travel diary & pens
Envelopes + postcards for tips
Travel clothes / KTM & Pokhara
Cargo trousers, T-shirt, Grey zip top (plus trek boots and socks I don’t mind walking around the aeroplane in)
Orange check shirt
Long sleeve T shirt
2 pairs of trekking trousers
2 x microfibre trekking T-shirts
2 x T-shirts
1 Fleece zip top
Thermals: leggings + long sleeved microfibre top + thicker Icebreaker top
Gloves (1x mittens; 1 x red fleece)
Gaiters (new ones, an early birthday present from TJBR)
Windproof / showerproof jacket
Sunglasses (1 x normal for KTM/POK; 1 x Julbo for snow/sun/altitude)
16 pairs pants
3 x bras
4 pairs walking socks
handkerchief x 2
Silk sleep sheet
Sleeping bag fleece liner
PJ bottoms x 2 (1 x trek; 1 x KTM / POK)
T shirts x 2 (1 x trek; 1 x KTM / POK)
Yaktrax (and planning to buy some spikeys in KTM/POK if the conditions still look super snowy)
2 x Muji metal water bottles
Head torch + spare batteries (3xAAA)
Watch with alarm
Swiss Army knife
Flannel & soap in ziplock bag
Hair brush & comb
Elastic hair bands & hair clip
Travel towel (microfibre cloth)
Toothbrush & toothpaste
Tampons & disposal bags
Shampoo & conditioner (3 sample sachets of each)
Sunscreen & lip screen
8 hour moisturising cream (always!!!)
Wet wipes (biodegradable)
Loo roll / tissues
Washing up gloves
Rucksack (to leave in POK)
Nisamax holdall (Val’s)
Black travel bag
Plastic carrier bags (always more than I think I’ll need, in all sizes)
Travel purse x 2 (GBP / Nepali Rupees)
First aid kit (in plastic grab bag)
Diarrhoea stopper (Immodium)
Aspirin (3 tablets for the journey home, vs DVT after 3 weeks at altitude)
Electricals and gadgets
Camera, cables, battery recharger, plug adapter
Spare camera batteries – charged
Mobile phone (no charging kit – I’ll turn it off once we’re in KTM)
I’m borrowing a sleeping bag, thermarest and (I hope!) kit bag from Val, who’s also providing travel scrabble and dice for Ten Thousand. I’ll buy a map out there and I’m hoping I’ll be able to squeeze in a couple of books, just in case Etihad’s in flight entertainment fails me. Plus we do have hours in Abu Dhabi in both directions.
And this list doesn’t include all the stuff I’m taking for Val/LED.
Feeling less stressed now that I’ve got my bags packed.
So that just leaves sorting out a birthday present for Rosa before I go…..
Packing List Update: 04 April 2017
1 x pillow case (to turn spare clothes into a pillow)
1 x nail clippers and nail file – usually on the list. I shall make room.
Elastic washing line. I am going to need to do some washing….
* Light Education Development, the charity Val runs to bring affordable, sustainable solar light, education supplies and basic medical care to the Manaslu, Tsum, Solu and Humla regions of northern Nepal, yak herders in highland areas of the Himalaya, and the high mountain villages of the Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash in Northern Peru. I’m a trustee.
One question that I’m often asked is “How did you get into trekking?”. If our paths crossed 9-5 (am-pm, and more accurately “8-7”), you probably wouldn’t picture me looking like this:
So, some history.
I did a fair amount of hill walking in my younger years – starting with walks over Ewyas Harold Common and up (and down) Skirrid as a kid, then with Ventures and through the Duke of Edinburgh award as a teen. At St Andrews I joined Breakaway, which led me a bit more towards the mountain walking end of the spectrum. Not at rope / crampon / ice axe levels though.
Then London, a job, the life of a twenty / thirty / forty something in the smoke – and the opportunities to get out and about anywhere without a few hours of travel on public transport pretty much disappeared.
I work in the legal sector – long hours, desk-bound, but well paid so I can do one or two “holidays” a year. Initially these were city breaks and cultural group tours, with occasional DIY trips with travel-mate Hazel to take advantage of family/friends based in exotic locations. You can see the list on Where I’ve Been.
Then, in 2009, Hazel and I decided to do the Annapurna Circuit and it’s been trekking holidays for me ever since.
There were two trips that rekindled my love of the great outdoors (not that I’m sure it ever really went away), and gave me the confidence that I wasn’t crazy to tackle a 19 day trek over the 5,416 m / 17,769 ft Thorong La, albeit one featuring porters, a guided group and tea houses.
The first was 2003’s month in Chile and Argentinian Patagonia when I caught up with Hazel during her travels in South America. Our route took us from Santiago to Punta Arenas, and we spent 5 magic days in Torres del Paine National Park walking the “W”. We carried ridiculously large packs given we were staying in refugio and weren’t carrying/cooking our food, but we did 5 days of continuous walking, with rucksacks and through all sorts of weather.
We had a half day hike up to the famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery (Paro Taktshang) at 3,120 m / 10,240 ft above sea level (mind you, the trail starts at 2,600 m / 8,525 feet), but my favourites were the walks through the countryside and communities of the Mo Chhu river, Chokhor and Radi valleys.
Those half day meanders really whetted my appetite for a holiday that was all about walking and in the eight years since Annapurna I’ve spent most of them in the mountains, the higher the better. A chance encounter with Val Pitkethly on our Three High Passes to Everest trek brought opportunities to experience Peru’s Cordilleras Huayhuash and Blanca under canvas and to get off the beaten track in Nepal – as well as to do some good through her charity, Light Education Development. Crampons, ropes and ice axes have started to feature too….
…. which brings me to training, which I’ll talk about in my next post.
A month to go until my Dolpo Expedition with Val Pitkethly, and Steffi, Sam, Charles, Christine and the as-yet-unmet-Ernst.
I’ve paid our deposit (I hope!! *), done DIY Passport Photos and decided I don’t need any more jabs – partly because the travel clinic at my GP now only operates on Wednesday afternoons, which is useless given it takes 20 mins to get there/back from work and they never keep to the appointment schedule. My premium LV= annual travel insurance covers me trekking to 6000m, does mountain rescue and runs until September, so that’s all the “admin” done and I’m now at the more pleasurable “collecting kit on the spare bed” stage (and pondering my “Kit To Take” spreadsheet) and keeping an eye on the weather:
Val’s got three alternate routes mapped out, and has warned that this winter Nepal saw the heaviest snowfall in 20 years, but that last summer’s wild fires made Phoksundo (फोकसुण्डो) inaccessible. Hence the options, and the plan to purchase microspikes / spikys in KTM…. At least the suggestion of taking walking ice axes seems to have receded into the distance. Well, at least until Val gets to Nepal in a few weeks time.
It will be lovely to see Chhiring, Gori and hopefully Krishna again, and – all being well – to do some solar light distribution for Val’s charity, Light Education Development (LED) in this remote part of Nepal. I’ve got a whole bag of warm clothing donated by friends (and friends of friends) to take out with me too.
Now, back to working out that packing….
* 11 March 2017: Got an email from Val today confirming the money’s arrived. Phew. And thank you to FairFX for handling the International Money Transfer for me. Recommended! I used them to get travel cash delivered to the door too.