The latest in our bi-annual Pembrokeshire-get-togethers-with-a-walk.
The usual Paddington rendezvous with Hazel and Charles then out on an earlier than usual GWR train service to Newport where Dave was waiting for us. Two hours later, we drew up outside Mayhem. G&T in the new summer house (aka Winterfell) segued into refills with curry dinner. Uh oh.
No onward journey to the caravan – spare beds were available and the Saturday walk was on the southern section of the coast path – made for a boozy evening and a late night, finished off with a slice of Charles’ home made and aptly-named Decadent Chocolate and Banana Pie (as seen on David Rocco’s Dolce India).
…. dawned grey and wet, as the tail ends of Hurricanes Lee and Maria made their way across the UK. Still, “it’s never to wet to walk”, so Dave drove us over to Freshwater East and the start of a new section of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path: Freshwater East Beach to Manorbier (and back).
The rain eased off for our outward walk … returning just as the church came into sight. So we dripped into the Beach Break Tea Rooms (and Gift Shop).
Restored by an excellent round of Welsh Caul / Haddock Chowder / Baked Potato followed by cups of tea / coffee / hot chocolate, we headed back out again under still cloudy skies – but thankfully the rain held off for the whole of our walk back to Freshwater East and its magnificent beach. Windy though.
The Freshwater East cafe / bar didn’t appeal, but The Cake Shop on Pembroke’s Main Street proved an excellent alternative. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a vast array of home made cakes and biscuits (their Facebook photos don’t lie!) …. extremely hard to choose what to have! After a lot of deliberating, (Christmas Fruit) Cake won out (and the rain resumed).
Back at Minwear Wood I had a nap while the others chatted over a glass or two of Prosecco. Then dinner – super tasty roast veg and ginger soup made by Steffi accompanied by Cardigan Bakery bread and a selection of Caws Cenarth Cheeses.
Early to bed. Despite the nap.
No rain … well, not until we’d breakfasted and started to think about a stroll in the woods.
Plan B (really, Plan A!) was put into action: A tour round the Aisles of Aldi. On the shopping list for this visitation, this week’s special offer electric log stove to go into the Not-Just-Summer House (Steffi) and wine (everyone else). Some Christmas treats also made it into my basket; it’s never the wrong time of year for Christmas Cake and / or Stollen in my book.
The rain had clearly settled in for the day so once back at base we lent our selves to putting the stove together and helping Maurice and Charles prepare our Mexican lunch extravaganza. With a small glass of wine to set the mood and to help tidy up the left over nachos….
A leisurely lunch, lingering until 2.30pm before setting off on the journey home. “Dave’s Taxi” to Newport, GWR to Paddington and then negotiating the weekend engineering works on the tube.
Japan was great – and I’d heartily recommend Inside Japan Tours. Lots of emails / calls / info before we went (Not too much! But more than I’ve ever got from other operators), and a very capable, and likeable, tour leader who spoke Japanese and knew the itinerary inside out plus plenty of varied places for eating, shopping and seeing.
The trip was non-stop which meant we saw and did lots. We had a really good group – 16 of us in all, with a mixture of solo travellers (generally in their 20s) and ‘grown ups with their kids’ (like me and Rosa), from the UK, the US and Italy. Everyone got on together, mixing at meals, on the train journeys and out and about on the tour.
It wasn’t expensive at all if you’re used to London prices (I didn’t spend anything like the £50/day budget suggested), and trains / tube are no more complicated / intimidating than London’s system. All signage is in English as well as Japanese. Their equivalent of the oyster card works in all their big cities – everywhere we went to. The Shinkansen bullet train is as speedy and efficient as people say (but not really that different from getting a train up the East Coast Main Line….).
It was HOT, and humid – around 30C every day, until our last full day when it got a bit cooler and rained a bit (still shorts and T-shirt weather though). And it rained more on the day we left – sad to see us go 🙂
In our two weeks, we really only scratched the surface of what Japan has to offer.
I made it to Asakusa and Sensō-ji, the 7th century Buddhist temple there, and across the river to the Edo-Tokyo Museum and Yokoamicho Park which has memorials to the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923 and the air raids of World War II. Back in Ikebukuro, our base at the start of the trip, we went up to the top of the Sunshine 60 skyscraper for fantastic nighttime views out over Toyko, followed by a successful late night shop in one of the 100 yen shops – everything and anything, for 70p!
Hakone was a complete contrast – home to hot springs and Mt Fuji (who kept herself hidden in the clouds), and the Hakone Open-Air Museum which is a sculpture park set amidst the trees and hills of the national park. Nice and cool up at 500m, and the park was lovely place to walk around – and half way round there’s a stone channel fed by a hot spring where you can sit and ‘cool’ you weary feet. Smashing! The guest house we stayed at had its own private indoor and outdoor onsen, hot spring baths. Think of a smaller version of the baths at Bath, without the Roman / Georgian grandeur and you’re pretty much there.
In Kyoto, even with 2 days, we only saw 4 of their temples/palaces and the old area where the geisha live and work, which is just a few small streets really, set around a small river. Lots of Japanese tourists there too – many of them dressed up in traditional outfits, which made for lots and lots of photos….
Hiroshima was a complete contrast to the busyness of Tokyo and Osaka. We spent most of the day on Miyajima Island, with its high, tree-covered hills at the centre and temples scattered around the slopes and stretching out into the bay. Beautiful.
In the afternoon, back in Hiroshima, we went to the Peace Memorial Hall, and then through the Peace Memorial Park to the Peace Memorial Dome and the Children’s Peace Monument. All very moving, and peaceful.
To lift the sombre mood, Charlea – our tour leader – took us for okonomiyaki for dinner. Okonomiyaki are pancakes cooked on a hot plate and in Hiroshima we had them made right in front of us, with all 17 of us squeezed into a tiny Okonomiyaki place. We filled it up, and we filled up! We had okonomiyaki in a few other places – the concept is the same, but the fillings vary. And they’re always yummy.
In Osaka we stayed in Namba, aka ‘party-town’, which has a very holiday feel with the ‘street of eats’, lantern-lit riverside walkways, covered food markets and lots of airconditioned arcades where you could shop and stroll and shelter from the sun. Osaka also offered karaoke and a Samurai stage sword fighting workshop too, where we got to dress up as samurai, ninjas, princesses and soldiers. I loved it! And in my ‘room’ in our ‘capsule hotel’ I felt like I was on a mission to Mars!
Back in Tokyo at the end of the tour, we had a super morning at the Studio Ghibli (animation studio) Museum, and time to shop before our final evening as a group when we went to the amazing Robot Restaurant Show – think a high energy carnival parade inside a relatively small dark room, with seats on either side of a central aisle. Then add giant robots, some carrying people dressed as mermaids or forest animals, or drumming on big kettle drums or playing guitar (like the best air guitarist ever) and with other people dressed up Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or neon light strip sporting creatures, all performing a series of short plays. Some of which came with fireworks! Really, really fun. Followed by dinner at a izakaya (Japan’s equivalent of a tavern), it was the perfect end to a great trip.
And I do want to return to Japan – next time to the mountains, in the winter time, for some trekking….
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.