We’re back after a mixed week walking in the Picos de Europa. We had a smashing guide, Alfonso, and Hotel Torrecerredo is a great base where Jim and Pilar provide good accommodation and wonderful food. But …. the weather, local fiestas and preponderance of biting insects meant that the overall experience didn’t live up to my (admittedly high) expectations.
The days (and nights) alternated between hot and humid, thundery and wet, and bad weather put paid to two of the more challenging walks – the Lakes of Covadonga, Majada de Belbin & Peak Pandescura (day 6) and the twin summits of Mancondiu plus San Carlos Peak (day 7). EasyJet delays both ways made for long travel days at either end and the all night fiestas for the first few nights resulted in poor sleep. Horseflies, mozzies and midges speak – and bite – for themselves.
But we did have a fabulous day on the Thursday when Alfonso took us on the Peña Maín walk we’d not been able to do on Tuesday due to orange weather warnings. The best day by far, although it inevitably came with the downside that it that made me realise what we were missing on the other days. So Steffi, Hazel and I are keen to return to tackle the El Anillo de Picos next June or September.
Also on the plus side, the wildflowers were beautiful – I was particularly taken with the sea holly – and I’ve returned with Pilar and Jim’s recipe for Sopa de Lentejas. The food really was wonderful.
Day 2: Drive to Poncebos, walk easy footpath though the Cares River Gorge to Caín and back. Busy with Sunday strollers. Lots of limestone.
Monday, 22 July 2019: Cabeza Juan Robre (871m) (photos)
Weather: Overcast, clearing occasionally, hot.
Day 3: Walk from the hotel, into Las Arenas and along trails up into the high pastures of Nava, full of wild flowers. On up via limestone bowls and paths to Cabeza Juan Robre (871m) which we can see from the hotel. Lunch at the top watching the clouds clear from the main Picos range to our south, then a long ridge descent back into Las Arenas de Cabrales, with great views of the town and valley en route.
Tuesday, 23 July 2019: Hoyu del Tejo – Tresviso – Urdón (photos)
Weather: Thunderstorms threatened. Overcast, hot & humid.
Day 4: Bad weather meant we had to forgo the scheduled walk in favour of a lower level alternative. Alfonso and Nanni drove us to the car park above Sotres (CA-1, Hoyu del Tejo) where it was extremely windy. From there we dropped down into the shelter of Vau los Lobos, turning off to follow Arroyo de Valdediezma down to Río de Sobra, crossing via an old stone bridge and skirting abandoned summer farms to get back up to the CA-1 and walking on into Tresviso for elevenses at La Taberna de Tresviso. Then the famous zig zag descent via Barrio Tresviso to Río Urdón. We met the minibuses at Urdón on the N-621 and then drove back to Las Arenas.
Wednesday, 24 July 2019: Celorio – Llanes – Celorio via the Coastal Path (photos)
Weather: Overcast, hot & humid.
Day 5: Free day. Hazel, Steffi and I, plus others, opted to take the hotel minibus to the coast to walk the coastal path from Celorio to Llanes. Lunch in the old town then back to Celorio for 4.30pm pick up and the hour’s drive back to sunny Las Arenas.
Thursday, 25 July 2019: Peña Maín (1612 m) (photos)
Weather: Blue skies, growing cloudy later.
Day 6: Leaving the minibuses at Tielve we walked up through shady beech woods to Peña Maín (Cabeza La Mesa, 1612 m) for splendid views of Naranjo de Bulnes / Pico Urriellu (2519 m), the rest of the main range and mountains all around.
Descending through wildflower meadows towards Sotres, picnicking en route, brought us down to the Pandébano Col from where the trail continued downwards through more meadows and on slippery tree shadowed cobbled paths sunk deep into the hillside, to bring us into Bulnes for ice creams and a final descent along a classic Picos limestone river gorge back to Poncebos.
A fab day.
Friday, 26 July 2019: Refugio Casetón de Andara & Carreña to Las Arenas de Cabrales (photos)
Weather: Rain, easing off later
Day 7: Low cloud and rain meant zero visibility and another bad weather alternative, driving back to the car park at Hoyo del Tejo (CA-1, above Sotres) where we donned full waterproofs and warm clothes to walk the old mining track to Refugio Casetón de Andara and back. Picnic lunch and warm drinks at a bar in Sotres before driving back to Las Arenas.
In the afternoon, Steffi, Helen and I, accompanied by Alfonso and the GPS download, took Pilar’s recommendation of a 3 hour walk between a drop off in the Arroyo de la Ría above Carreña and Arangas. Technically it’s part of GR-109 Ruta Asturias Interior, Etapa 2: Alles – Carreña and whilst a lot of the trail is along disused concrete roads the connecting cross country paths proved tricky to find at times. Lots of bramble bashing and nettle dodging was required.
On our way back along the AS-345 into Las Arenas we stopped off at another of Pilar’s top tips: Quesería artesanal El Cabriteru where we enjoyed a leisurely hour meeting the goats and sheep and then tasting (and buying) their cheese, and sampling the local cider. Excellent.
Saturday, 27 July 2019: Las Arenas de Cabrales – Bilbao – London Stansted (No photos)
Day 8: Two and a half hour drive to Bilbao to catch EasyJet U23228 to London Stansted, scheduled departure 15:20, arrival 16:10. Delayed 1+ hour. Smooth journey on the Stansted Express back to Central London for wine and pizza à la Waitrose.
OK, there is a bit of rain, but not many millimetres.
Looking the spare bed pile I reckon I’m going to be taking more to the Picos than I do to Nepal. Probably not a bad thing seeing as we will be in company and it’s not really de rigueur to wear the same clothes for a week on the trot.
Having read some of the recent reviews and refreshed myself on the trip notes, I am taking:
ear plugs …. due to cow bells!!!!
a brolly. There must be sections when we won’t need to use poles. And hopefully I won’t need it.
I have my Euros, just as the exchange rate drops even further. Thanks for nothing, Brexit.
Insurance / Optional Activities
I checked my travel insurance cover regarding the optional activities on offer for the spare day:
Today is free for you to visit the coast or try a spot of caving, self-guided canoeing or canyoning. Our local staff will be able to help organise any of these activities.
and only canoeing gets a mention:
Grade 1 and 2 only
So it’ll be that or a visit to the coast, or maybe another day out in the Picos….
I am looking forward to there being a bar….
* If you want details, you’ll need to find the trip on the Exodus website. They don’t like me linking to it. It spoils their SEO. Really?
When I was small, my dad used to disappear up into the room in the roof of our suburban Silhillian home to use this sewing machine.
I’ve no idea where it came from, but one of my earliest memories is my dad making me a royal blue zip fronted tunic, which I wore on my first day at Greswold Infants School (even if I did hanker after a pleated skirt with shoulder straps like all the other girls had).
It also produced clothes for my Sindy doll – an orange satin evening gown with lace bodice trim was a particular favourite – and, less of a favourite (sorry mum!), a somewhat gaudy pair of dungarees for me. And, once my dad had taught a young me how to use the treadle, to thread up the machine and to wind fresh cotton onto the bobbins, I made a whole array of clothes – a black and white polka dot shift dress I wore one Sixth Form summer channelling Audrey Hepburn, two ball gowns for my first couple of years at St Andrews.
When dad moved to Herefordshire, the sewing machine moved in with me.
I’ve never known much about it, and as I am at long last contemplating passing it on to a new owner I thought I’d see what I could find out.
With Singer Manufacturing Company Ltd painted onto the top, emblazoned on a shield sporting shuttle and needles, and twice on the treadle base, it was clearly a Singer sewing machine, each of which has a unique serial number. My machine is F509343.
Googling Singer sewing machine series F led me to two excellent websites:
The sewing machine is beautifully decorated with the “Victorian” (rectangular bed) decal. The faceplate is embossed with the “grapevine” pattern with two corner dots. The stitch plate is circular, nickel or chrome plated (I can’t tell which), covering the feed dogs with 2 split slide plates that run from front to back of the machine to cover the vibrating shuttle mechanism.
The sewing machine cabinet has an extension leaf table work surface, suspended drawers on either side and a small drawer in the middle for storing cotton reels, patterns, scissors, etc and my three spare bobbins, plus a cover – making it Extension Leaf Table Cabinet No. 126. Although now painted white, the woodwork is usually oak.
The sewing machine stands on an ornate cast iron base housing the treadle and flywheel that power the needle.
It’s really a piece of furniture in its own right, measuring:
100cm high, from the top of the cabinet cover to the floor
90cm wide, from the folded edge of the extension leaf on the left to the edge of the table by the wheel on the right
48cm deep, from one side of the front castor wheels to the other side of the rear ones.
Except that the Scots men and women who made my sewing machine would have been measuring in feet and inches, so let me try that again:
40 inches high
35 ½ inches wide
19 inches deep.
It’s a gorgeous piece of machinery.
Email me if you want it.
You’ll just need to collect it from the City of London.
On a sedate train service heading towards Cardiff, after another lovely weekend in Pembs, this time combining the 14th Everest Trek Get Together with the start of Steffi’s birthday celebrations.
Friday featured generous G&Ts followed by curry and then the onward drive Newgale and the Van. Dave and Gwyneth had met us in Newport with the usual smooth station rendezvous and a drive West that was somewhat wetter than desired.
The damp theme resurfaced on Saturday this time accompanied by strong winds – the forecast had promised heavy rain and winds over the 50mph mark, and proved accurate. The morning was slightly less bad, and we ventured out along the road to the cafe/paper shop. Huge waves and steady rain kept almost everyone else inside. The return walk, into the wind, took 6 mins longer than the outbound leg. A day in the caravan seemed the sensible option, with D&G driving back to the Duke of Cambridge to watch Wales romp to victory in the Six Nation final. We celebrated that and Steffi’s birthday minus 3 days with ginger tiffin, tea and sparklers.
Steffi and I ventured out to watch sunset from the beach, catching a final shower en route but one that delivered a wonderful full rainbow over the caravan park. Beautiful sunset, the sea still strong.
Back in the van, present opening followed together with further toasts, of champagne this time, accompanied by crisps from the pub. We dined on Steffi’s special soup, Cardigan bread, hummus and carrot sticks, cheese and biscuits.
Leisured breakfast on Sunday. No rain and crystal clear skies out over St Brides Bay. A beautiful walk along the beach, busy with walkers and dogs. Lovely.
Back to Mayhem for continued celebrations with more champagne and a slap up Sunday lunch cooked by Maurice and Maria. Yes, we did visit the Aisles of Aldi en route. It’s tradition.
Hazel and I caught the 15.54 from Whitland, changed onto the GWR service at Swansea and are whiling away the journey back to London listening to podcasts / watching downloads. Currently at Cardiff where our naturally quiet carriage now has a lady putting the world to rights on a phone call…
Over the past few years / trips, I’ve found I often don’t want to write a “we’re back” blogpost immediately on my return, particularly after a big trip. I suspect there’s a bit about being worn out, and a bit about the need to process everything that happens on a 4 week trek. I’m often quite grumpy by the end – tiredness again and my reserves of bonhomie reduced to near zero. It’s quite telling that the last big trip where I did want email / blog about the trip straight away was Ladakh. Shorter trips – like Walking in Northern Albania – are easier; all the more so when they’re doing something novel, like snow shoeing.
The delay isn’t entirely due to emotional fatigue though – we did a huge amount in Manaslu and Tsum, not just trekking but LED* solar light distribution, and – a first for me – running eye clinics to distribute glasses courtesy of Pat Booth’s super guide and two shoe boxes of donated spectacles. Chhering’s experience of doing eye tests, both with Pat and without her, in remote communities where older people in particular can’t always read, and aren’t familiar with the Roman alphabet, was invaluable.
Chhering and Steffi. L.E.D. eye glass clinic at Chhule. Photo courtesy of Charles Ng
But more than that, the first 10 days were a return to Tsum for the first time since April 2015 when Hazel, Anthony and I trekked to Mu Gompa and back with Val. (Hard to believe that it was our first Nepal trek with Val and Sirdar Chhering.) The April 2015 Nepal earthquake struck a couple of weeks after we’d left, the Gorkha epicentre only miles away, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would villages we’d passed through and stayed in still be there? What about the homes we’d visited and the families we’d met? Who’d died? Who’d been injured? Who’d lost their homes and their livelihoods? Who’d left? Who’d be left?
It turned out that the biggest changes in Tsum and indeed all along the trail from Sotikhola weren’t earthquake related, they were changes wrought by government economic policies on tourism, development and infrastructure – lodge and tea house accommodation had been approved for Tsum just before we’d gone there in 2015, but we were too early to see much evidence of building although we did see some in Chhokang Paro. Three and a half years later there were lodges galore, and the tourists to match. We still camped, dining in a mixture of homes of folks Val knows (always a highlight), in school rooms and in the dining tent.
The bigger, more dramatic and less happy changes were in infrastructure – the road has been blasted past lovely Laxshmi’s lodge in Lapubesi in anticipation of flooding the valley for the Budi Gandaki HEP scheme. The road building reaches far into Tsum, and this was the hardest to see. The trail that Hazel and I had taken to Mu Gompa, crossing old wooden bridges, scrambling over glacially tumbled rocks and boulders, passing (aways keeping to the left) lines of stone chortens and long, long mani walls…. Obliterated. In its place, a blasted road, reaching far beyond Mu Gompa up to the Tibetan border. The magical morning walk Val, Chhering and I did north of Mu, high above the river ravine, over pristine crisp white snow …. It’s gone forever. Now the same chortens perch precariously at the roadside edges, Chinese JCBs parked in rough camps nearby. Devastating.
The spirituality has gone – not that I am a religious person at all, but Mu was special.
But, if you’d never been there before, you just wouldn’t realise how different the place was.
Thankfully, Dhephu Doma, the small Ani Gompa that perches in a side valley a few hundred metres above Mu, and the path up to it, were unscathed. As you climb the new road falls out of sight leaving you with almost the same, beautiful view of Shringi, Ganesh, the Upper Tsum valley and the twin villages of Chhule and Nile. And this time I did it under gorgeous blue skies.
At the end of the whole trek, after crossing the Larkya La, the Manaslu Circuit joins the Annapurna, and the final two days were retracing in reverse the route Hazel and I had done as our first long trek – the Annapurna Circuit in 2009. I was ready for this to be changed by the road building, I’d read enough about how the road reaches all the way up to Manang and beyond and I’d seen how much Jomsom had changed between 2009 and my return there in 2017 at the end of our Dolpo trek.
The changes are wholesale – I struggled to recognise anywhere. Walking down the gravelled road from Dharapani, waterfalls on our left and right, water coursing across the road to reach the river down below, I suddenly realised that we were on the section where the Mountain Kingdoms crew had manhandled us across rain swollen steams after we’d holed up for the previous half a day in Tal after an exceedingly wet few days. Later that same day 2018 time, we were on the east side of the Marshyangdi Khola, walking on a path cut into the rock and over the sandy flats down at the river side. The mud/scree landslide we scurried over in 2009 has been absorbed back into the landscape, and the village of Tal now stretches further north and south along the trail.
Amazingly for lunch we stopped at the same place that the MK group had taken refuge in back in 2009. The basic one-large-shared-bed-platform rooms we’d stayed in then, and the outside loo with the head-whackingly low roof beam, were no more however. In their place a 2 storey lodge houses twin rooms with en suites. The dining room was still there though, and the outside picnic tables set in the garden.
The following day brought us to the end of the trek, and our final night farewell to the crew took place in another familiar lodge – Chamje’s Hotel Tibet Lhasa. The village itself transformed by the road that’s replaced the gentle trail. Tractors, lorries and jeeps now pass beneath the low wooden balustrades of the lodge’s first floor rooms. One of the charms of the Hotel Tibet Lhasa is that everything is still wood – the walls, floors, ceilings. Even the kitchen sink.
S0, the new bit – Manaslu. First few days, from Gampul to Prok were gloomy and overcast, and the narrow valley made for enclosed views. But once past Ghap the weather and the views improved. Our early morning arrival at Hinang Gompa and the walk up the valley to the glacier were magical, as was the trail through Lihi, Sho and Lho. Samagoan was a veritable metropolis (but in a good way), and the day trip from there up to Phuyang / Pung Gyen Gompa was stunning. The tiny gompa is nestled amidst the foothills of mighty Manaslu ( मनास्लु) (8163 m), set in the vast glacial valley that is surrounded on three sides by mountain ranges and more high peaks including Ngadi Chuli (Peak 29) (7871 m – the 20th highest peak in the world) and Himalchuli (7893 m – the 18th). We picnicked with local ladies and anis, sharing boiled eggs, chapatis and cheese, and being treated to a small glass or two of local rakshi.
Val’s Yak Kharka above Samdo was a treat too, with Gori leading Doug, Steffi and I up to the top of what we called “Samdo Ri” for stunning panoramic views of Ngadi Chuli, Manaslu, Naike Peak, Larkya Peak and Larkya North to the west; Nyasin Himal and the valley to the pass at Lajyung Bhanjyang, and Tibet, to the east.
The Larkya La was a bit of a let down after that – well, an anticlimax, let’s say – in the sense that the pass itself doesn’t come with much of a view. The day of the crossing does have fabulous vistas though and ever changing terrain: starting off in the predawn dark on the trail tracking below the glacial moraine ridge, dawn rays hitting Manaslu, getting yet another perspective to add to those from Lho, Shyala and Phuyang, Sama, Samdo and Dharamsala. Yes, I guess that’s why it’s called the Manaslu Circuit. We’d see another side of Manaslu at Bimthang and a few final, fleeting glimpses through the trees on the trail down to the twin tea houses at Yak Kharka / Chauli Kharka.
Gradually you leave the grass and soil behind, moving onto stony stretches that grow to become bouldered. You pick out the route by the poles set up to guide winter traders through the deep, deep snow. A last tea house provides welcome hot lemon. And great views. As you approach the pass you skirt shallow lakes frozen solid, and catch sight of the prayer flags at the pass. Once there, we celebrated with “Bombay” mix and Green & Blacks mini bars of chocolate – YUM. A breather.
And then the descent. Gentle to start – which is good because the views are stupendous: Lamjung Himal, Annapurna II, Kang Guru, Kechakyu Himal, Gyaji Kang, Nemjung, Himjung, Himlung, Panbari peaks, with the Thoche / Ponkar Glacier and Ponkar Lake below.
Larkya La descent. Charles’ panorama of the westward view.
But soon the path steepens, and you’re zig zagging down into the valley, the weird solid blue waters of Ponkar Tal disappearing as you near the moraine walls. Grass reappears. Shrubs and bushes. Birds. Things you didn’t realise had gone. And then you see Bimthang. The surreal sunshine yellow chalets, the blue roofs, the wooden fenced corrals, the people. You’re back to the mainstream.
Other memories – wind chimes at Chokkang Paro. Hairy walkways, some metal, some natural, high above the river in Tsum. Watching lammergeier, himalayan griffon vultures, hawks and choughs on a quiet afternoon above the Yak Kharka. Our first glasses clinic in the courtyard of a house in Chhule, another at Hinang Gompa – inside this time, with a Welsh Whisky Chaser. The side trip to Gumba Lungdang and the stately sunrise over Himal Chuli and Ngadi Chuli, and clear, clear views of Ganesh I, which had stayed resolutely hidden in cloud during the previous day’s 1200m ascent through the forest. Cheeky nuns. VTOs! Old ladies back chatting one another. Distributing lights in Leru in another family house courtyard. Trail runners at Mu and Hinang.
Charles’ photo of me on the trail to Sama
Being in Nepal in November – for the first time since 2011’s Three High Passes trek – seeing the harvest in full swing, literally, hand scything and sickle-ing the barley and amaranth was lovely. The colours of the Autumn berries and leaves. The harvest festival at Dzong with everyone coming from the surrounding villages of Upper Tsum to watch the dancing and ceremony, all in their best festival-going outfits. Fabulous fresh food every day courtesy of autumn crops from market gardens and summer stores, another world from the Dolpo menu. Rakshi rakshi rakshi – in Pung Gyen and Chhokang Paro, Samdo and Bimthang, and elsewhere.
Charles and his drone. Steffi and the spider in Chamje. Doug’s dawn call at Gumba Lungdung. The Girls getting to know one another, chilling out in Chhule as we shared a tent and waited for Gori, the mules and our kit to arrive, chatting about life, sharing reading recommendations, laughing. Chhering, Gori, Pemba. Dali and his lovely smile and super food. Learning that smiley Mossum had died, falling 300m to his death on a client-demanded descent from Dhaulagiri.
Charles’ photo of Steffi, Anne and me at Nyak Phedi. A favourite.
Four cards from Phil. Twenty one nights under canvas. One more in a small tea house in Lihi to dry out after our only day with rain. Our favourite tent. Disliking – intensely, but irrationally (perhaps) – Tilche and our final campsite at the Apple Garden Lodge. Seeing that the rooms Hazel and I stayed in at Jagat had been washed away by the river (after the earthquake? I don’t know).
The group we met at Dharamsala with the girl with severe AMS and the British gent who was trying to find someone with more expertise/confidence than their guide. Soaking up the sun at Chhule Gompa, gazing at the views back down the valley and watching a big group of birds circling something high above. Five little monkeys jumping on the bed, sung by Sama’s liveliest little monkey. First time frisbee in a field at Domje – who knew it would be such a novelty in Nepal?
Relaxing, showered, hair washed, with a beer, at Siddhartha Garden Hotel in Pokhara – serenity with super views and great hosts.
Finding the best falafel in KTM (thanks Charles!).
So, what did prompt this write up? Getting photos from Doug, Steffi and Charles.
If you’ve made it this far, watch Charles’ trek montage:
Charles’ montage: Manaslu and Tsum Valley Trek 2018
Plus this November’s Nepal trek is going to need some more blogposts soon. I’m going up a step, to tackle two Trekking Peaks with a very high pass in between. I hope I’ve not bitten off more than I can chew. Or, more accurately, more than my weedy arms can manage in terms of jumar-ing up, abseiling down. I take comfort in Val’s confidence in me. Mera Peak, Amphu Lapsta, Imja Tse – here I come.
I feel ready now to look through my 2210 photos and videos and to get selected ones up onto Flickr. And to make a start on Photos and Notes.