Where next: Herefordshire

2020 is going to be a rather different year as Phil and I are moving to Herefordshire in January to try out the country life (but not Country Life). I’m still aiming to get a few trips in, but living in Herefordshire opens up a whole new world of walking opportunities, and travelling further afield means getting to grips with regional flights or factoring in a 3 hour plus train journey to/from London.


Trip No. 1 of 2020: Relocating to Herefordshire

Destination: Abbey Dore, a hamlet half way between Hereford and Abergavenny.

When: January – June 2020, possibly long term. We’ll see how it goes.

What: Living in rural Herefordshire, with Phil. Working remotely for LW (I got the official approval this week).

How: With the cooperation of family, friends and work.

Why: I’ve spent a lot of my life in Herefordshire, whilst growing up in Solihull, studying at St Andrews and Chester, and working in London. We’ve had a holiday home there since I was tiny, which is where Phil and I will be based, and dad and Jean live half an hour’s drive away.

Forty Acres
Forty Acres

I did my first walking in the Black Mountains, up Skirrid and along Offa’s Dyke. I love the history of the Welsh Marches, and the fact that we have a Cistercian Abbey and a Saxon Motte and Bailey castle (remains of) within walking distance, and stone castles scattered across the landscape. Not to forget Bacton, Kilpeck, Craswall and Cwmyoy.

Skirrid sunset, from Forty Acres
Skirrid sunset, from Forty Acres

I’m ready to spend some time living in a green world rather than a grey one, with space to grow things and to make and store things. The preserving pan and sewing machine will be coming with us.

“But why leave London?” I hear you ask –

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
— Samuel Johnson

Well, I am somewhat tired of London.

I love the fact that everything is on the doorstep, from shops to cinemas to museums, that I have family and friends within easy reach, that every Wednesday I can meet friends for wine and pizza, and that trains and flights offer a boundless choice of destinations near and far.

But I don’t love the noise, the early morning dustbin lorries and delivery vans announcing to all and sundry that they are reversing or turning left, the late night drunken revellers shouting and singing as they try to navigate the residential back streets of the Barbican, the police helicopters hovering over possible crime scenes in the middle of the night or monitoring protests and public gatherings during the day. The construction sites, providing relentless background noise of jackhammers and power tools at play, for new luxury developments in place of buildings with civic and social worth, signifying the Corporation of London’s distain for its residential communities and neighbours.

So. Watch this space.

Forty Acres sign post, Kerry's Gate
Forty Acres sign post, Kerry’s Gate


Everest Trek Get Together No 15

Another fab weekend in Pembrokeshire, with Steffi and Maurice, Hazel, Charles and Dave.

Summary: A gig in Tenby on Friday courtesy of Maurice and his band, and a wet walk along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path on Saturday doing a figure of eight from West Angle Bay. Sunday stroll around the Southwood Estate with blue sky views out over Newgale Beach, then another of Maurice’s Marvellous Sunday Lunches, with crumble by Carmen. Painful train journey home.

For photos, take a look at my Flickr Album: Everest Trek Get Together No 15. Read on for the detail.

Friday followed its usual pattern – train from Paddington, rendezvous with Dave at Newport, generous G&Ts on arrival at Mayhem followed by one of Steffi’s curry feasts. Then the evening diverged from the norm, as we headed over to Tenby to watch Maurice and his band in a gig at The Lifeboat Tavern. Brilliant!

A late night drive got us to Newgale, Steffi’s caravan, and bed.

No photos… I always fail to get any of the array of curries. Must be the aperitif.

Saturday‘s weather forecast offered 50% chance of light rain and moderate winds for our stroll around the headland from Angle to Freshwater West and cutting across the peninsula to East Angle Bay and back through the long, narrow village to West Angle Bay.

The 50% was not in our favour. We got a morning of very wet Welsh rain, and grey views out to sea as we walked this section of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path.

Wet Walk from West Angle Bay
Wet Walk from West Angle Bay

The rain eased off as we headed back towards Angle through, looking across to Milford Haven with views of the refinery, tankers and Irish Ferries arriving into port. Walking along Angle’s medieval main street, the nineteenth-century Estate-built hotels and houses standing out somewhat, we were passed by a vintage car rally. A fine parade, although we became rather concerned when we realised they were also heading to the Wavecrest Cafe, down at West Angle Bay.

Fortune smiled on us, and we managed to get a corner table for five, and the ladies who run the cafe were super efficient. We were tucking into Welsh Cheddar and Leek Tart (me), Bacon & Brie Baguettes (H & S) and bowls of steaming Cawl (D&C) within 10 mins. Five stars for the Wavecrest Cafe, team and food. Highly recommended!

As blue skies put in a determined appearance above us, we headed out to do the other half of the Angle peninsula, 3.7 miles along the coast path and back via the Pele Tower House with its spiral staircase, arrow slit windows and views of the stone dove cote. Angle has an ancient history.

Information Board: East Angle Bay
Information Board: East Angle Bay

We made it back to the Wavecrest Cafe with 15 mins to spare for pots of tea, tasty cakes and a warm welcome back, even though they were shutting up at 4pm. A really impressive bunch of women run that place.

Home and dry by 5pm, we had time for more tea and the papers as the rain pelted down outside.

Wine, soup and Cardigan bread lasted until 9pm when sleep called.

Sunday dawned with clear skies and a colder breeze. A light breakfast then out to the beach and then up on the footpaths to and through Southwood Estate, as discovered by Gwyneth and Dave this summer. A smashing stroll from Pinch Hill to Maidenhall Car Park, then back along the coastal path above Newgale Beach. Great views out to Grassholm and Skomer.

Newgale Beach Panorama
Newgale Beach Panorama

A speedy drive back to Mayhem via Aldi, for another Marvellous Maurice Sunday Lunch, with Carmen’s Blackberry and Apple Crumble for afters.

Sunday lunch
Sunday lunch

Full rabbit to Newport, where our scheduled return to London was scuppered by GWR. Our train broke down at Cardiff, the weekend engineering works were overrunning, there were rolling stock chaos and staffing shortages. AKA loads of cancelled trains. We took the station staff’s advice and jumped on a train to Bristol Temple Meads, only to find the next London train was cancelled, so we had an hour to wait. We got into Paddington at 20.44. Delay Repay submitted this morning. Now we just need to give GWR twenty working days to process it….. I think they’ll be busy.

Trek prep: Kit

Another in my sporadic series of blogposts on wider trekking and travelling themes.

Recently I’ve been reading about other trekker’s kit choices and preferences. There seems to be two main types – those who get “the best” kit, researching new gear, buying the best brands; and those for whom looking good is the driver. I’m neither, so I thought I’d write a bit about what I pack when I go on my 4 week high altitude treks in Nepal and Peru.

Dolpo Expedition: Packing
Dolpo Expedition: Packing

To set the scene a little:

  • By “high altitude” I mean overnight camps around 5000m max, daytime routes up to 5600m. You can read more about my trekking trips on Where I’ve Been.
  • The weather on trek has variedAnnapurna started off with 5 days of monsoon-level deluge, Three High Passes was similarly wet, but at 3500m+ this came as hail and snow, and was cold. Early morning pre-dawn starts for high passes and peaks are COLD. Camping at 4500m-5000m is cold once the sun goes down. Lower levels and/or sunny weather is hot, sometimes humid.
  • My treks are all portered – I’m not backpacking, but I’m still working to a weight limit – someone has to carry my kitbag and internal flights to remote airports come with a weight limit. In Nepal it’s 10kg “hold” luggage (stacked at the back of the plane) plus 5 kg carry on (on your lap), but doesn’t include what you wear…. so we have tended to resemble the Michelin Man, with boots, on our flights back to KTM.
  • We camp, usually 3 weeks straight, with sites determined by the itinerary, water sources and any villages en route. They’re not proper camp sites like you find in Europe. Accommodation at the start/end of the trek will be in hotels, simple lodges or guest houses, and depending on the route I may leave a small bag of stuff (clean clothes and things I won’t need on trek) in the main hotel.
  • My kit choices are driven by value for money. I’m not known for my fashion flair, and I’m not one for sporting the “right” labels, whether catwalk or outdoors. I will wear clothes / use kit until it falls apart. I still use the Karrimor 70l rucksack my parents bought me for my Duke of Edinburgh / Venture Scout expeditions, which has accompanied me on almost all my travels.
  • I’m also happy to wear clothes for days on the trot, so long as they pass the sniff test.
  • I run hot in terms of body temperature. I’ll often be comfortable sitting in a T shirt and fleece while others are wrapped up in down jackets.

So, my personal go to gear items:

Luggage & Bags

  • Karrirmor Jaguar 70l rucksack
  • Neeko Smart 32l daypack
  • Tarpaulin kit bag
  • Plastic bags and ziploc bags
Dolpo Expedition: Packing
From left to right: Daypack. Kit bag. Rucksack.

My rucksack makes it easy to use public transport to get to/from the airport. I’ve travelled with friends with wheely suit cases, and the tube is a nightmare. A rucksack on your back takes up less room than a suitcase, and personally I get really annoyed anticipating the locations of wheely suitcases trailed by oblivious owners. Plus, no one is likely to nick something looking that scruffy.

My daypack came from Val’s friend’s Bim’s shop in Kathmandu. It’s a good size and comfy, outside pockets for easy access to water bottles, top lid pocket for first aid kit, sun cream, rain jacket, inside pocket for valuables.

My kitbag was a freebie from the company we used for the Annapurna Circuit. The tarpaulin makes the bag that bit more waterproof (snow proof), plus it is rugged and red and there aren’t many of them around anymore. And I know that “full” it weighs around 10kg. I use a black bin sack as an extra waterproof liner.

You can never have too  many plastic bags. Supermarket shopping ones, the type you used to get for free, are perfect: light, gusseted, easy to wrap compactly (as shown to me by Nicola, many decades ago). I pack my clothes in them to keep them dry and organised – I don’t bother with drysacs.  I put my boots in them when I’m travelling in sandals. Dirty clothes are corralled on them, and wet weather gear kept separate from dry before and after use.

Ditto for ziploc bags. I put my passport and important docs (permits, insurance details, flight confirmation and boarding passes etc) into one to keep the paperwork dry in my backpack. I keep my mini first aid kit in one in my daypack and use one to keep ready money (notes) dry and handy in a trouser pocket. Likewise they protect photos of family I take to show to the folks we meet on trek, and our crew. Handy for sweets and snacks too.


  • Berghaus Goretex Jacket
  • Mammut Waterproof Trousers
  • Rab Latok Alpine Gaiters
  • Uniqlo Hooded Pocketable Parka
Picos packing: Waterproofs and MK fleece
Picos packing: Waterproofs and MK fleece

My Goretex jacket was a reduced end of season purchase from Cotswold Outdoor many moons ago. It’s a man’s jacket – who can tell? Does it even matter? It’s red. I like red. I don’t like pinks or pastels.

My waterproof trousers were another purchase from Bim’s a few seasons ago.  Previously I wore a 50 yuan pair which were an emergency purchase made in Saga during 2010’s Tibet trip. About a foot too short, but they worked.

Gaiters – yes, A Brand. High End Kit. A present from TJBR. My previous pair were Trekmates, but they had a habit of wrinkling down around my ankles, Nora Batty style. My calves don’t offer much to hang on to.

I wear my Uniqlo jacket more often than any of the other items. It keeps the rain off provided it’s not a downpour, helps keep the wind out, and packs small and light -easy to grab out of my daypack top pocket.

Boots etc

  • Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Womens Hiking Boots
  • Merrell Siena Walking Sandals
Boots and Sandals (trainers might come too)
Boots and Sandals

This Salomon model has been my go to boot for years. I’ve long narrow feet, and Salomons fit. A bit of ankle support, a light boot, Goretex waterproofing. A pair usually lasts a couple of years before the grippiness of the sole goes (as I learned on my Urus descent) and/or the Goretex splits by the balls of my feet. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that trekking boots are not boots for life. I refuse to buy them in pink.

I also take a pair of outdoor sandals for walking around camp and before/after the trek. I’ve only ever had one pair – they were a birthday present and are still going strong after 10 years of heavy use. I had to look up the name as Merrell don’t make them any more. As/when I buy a replacement pair, I’ll go for ones without the toe loop. I’ve had to glue it back into the base a few times, but more importantly a toe loop makes it tricky when it comes to socks. My solution is tabi split toe socks, which I get from Muji. Socks and sandals is not A Look. But it’s warm and prevents bites.


  • Uniqlo Heattech T shirts
  • Gelert Terrain Trousers
  • Lightweight Fleece
  • Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket
  • Clean clothes for the end of the trek
Tops & Trousers
Tops & Trousers

Uniqlo Heattech T shirts serve as my base layer. I have 2 grey ones, which you’ll see in pretty much every photo of me on trek. They’re men’s, and Uniqlo has stopped doing them in grey, sadly. [Update: They’re back!] Cotton gets smelly, the Heattech fabric doesn’t. It also dries quickly, although I rarely wash kit while out on trek. That said, at lower altitudes at the start of the trek I’ll often wear the t-shirt I travelled out in, and similarly at the end I’ll sometimes wear a bog standard cotton t-shirt, loose-fitting; it depends on the route. I work on wearing 1 t-shirt a week.

My beloved Gelert Terrain Women’s trousers were bought many, many years ago based on a good online review that mentioned the reviewer was slim and long legged, same as me. Lightweight with zip pockets on the side thigh, handy for lip screen, small sunscreen, small amount of ready money in a ziploc bag (I use the ones that your inflight cutlery comes in) as well as normal pockets which are home to my manky hanky and, occasionally, my camera. I wish Gelert still made them.

On my first few treks I took several pairs of trousers, no particular brand, so that I could have a new pair each week and to serve as dry spares in the event of rain, and in thicker fabric for higher altitudes. I’ve come to realise that 1 pair will often suffice. Yes they get dusty and dirty. If the opportunity arises I’ll give them a wash (usually more of a rinse) and sport my pyjama trews around camp while they dry. Depending on the trek, I will take a heavier pair for colder weather / higher altitudes – or as a clean pair at the end of the trek if that comes before returning to Kathmandu / Huaraz.

I’ve had a range of lightweight fleeces over the years, most recently I’ve been using another purchase from Bim’s in KTM, a red ‘Mammut’.

My Uniqlo down jacket is purple; reduced in an end of season sale (Spotting a theme yet?). Again, lightweight and packs small. Val lends me a heavier one for higher altitudes which is very welcome early morning, but too much once the sun is up. I’ll wear my Uniqlo one on colder days, and colder evenings particularly if we’re eating “inside” a bare building rather than in the dining tent or in a lodge.

No shorts, note. Cultural sensitivity factor in Nepal, and I’ve never bothered in Peru. I do have a pair of Mountain Warehouse Trek II shorts which have hiked in the Accursed Mountains of Albania and in the Picos de Europa. And around Herefordshire, London and the Sunshine Coast.

At the end of the trek, there is nothing better than a shower, a hair wash and clean clothes from top to toe. Ideally these stay in KTM / Huaraz, but I’ve been known to carry them for the whole trek if that’s not possible.


  • M&S knickers
  • M&S bras
  • Bridgedale lightweight socks
  • Icebreaker merino socks
  • Icebreaker merino long johns
  • Icebreaker merino thermal top, 200 gsm
  • Uniqlo Heattech top, long sleeved
  • PJ bottoms & T shirt top
Dolpo Expedition: Packing
Dolpo Expedition: Packing

Pants can last 3 days; bras a week. M&S knickers, M&S bras. Avoid cotton bras as daily sweat accumulates and makes them clammy and smelly. The poly ones cope better.

I take two types of socks – Bridgedale lightweight hiking socks and Icebreaker merino socks, 2 pairs of each. I use the Icebreakers higher up, but often they make my feet too hot.

Thermals. As I’ve mentioned, my body runs hot, and I tend to feel the cold less than others. I take the Icebreaker merino long johns I bought for Annapurna. Inevitably they’re not quite long enough, and I can’t remember when I last wore them. I really don’t like the flowery design on them, but who’s going to see that? If it’s cold, I tend to wear my waterproof trousers as they keep the wind out and are easier to get off.

Similarly I have a 200 gsm Icebreaker thermal top. Last worn crossing the Renjo La. FAR too hot once the sun was up. And again, not something I could take off without baring all. The layer I use most often when things get cold is another men’s Heattech top from Uniqlo – long sleeved this time.

I could probably get away with wearing pants and a T shirt in bed, but I like a pair of pyjama bottoms, especially when nipping out for an al fresco or venturing further afield to the loo tent.

Poles and Other Paraphernalia

  • Star Rover trekking poles
  • Mauser penknife
  • Muji water bottles
  • Julbo sunglasses
  • Buff, gloves, hats
  • Digital watch with alarm
  • Petzl Tikka headtorch
Dolpo Expedition: Packing

I did my first big trek – the Annapurna Circuit – without poles. Never again!!!  They are invaluable on steep downhills and stream crossings. My current pair are Star Rover, and this pair have served me well in Dolpo, Ladakh, off the beaten track in the Khumbu and on the Manaslu Circuit, in Albania and in the Picos. Most importantly they are long enough – I am 175cm tall and usually set them to 135cm. The only thing I’d look for next time is a pair that packs smaller. This pair are 70cm when collapsed – Leki et al are much the same – which is pretty much the height of my Karrimor rucksack, so I have to remember to pack them first. I’m not good at getting out my poles on trek. As my knees start to show their age, I need to get better.

My mum bought me a Mauser penknife for my 17th birthday. Invaluable. Two blades, a hack saw, a bottle/tin opener, corkscrew and hoof pick. I use the blades the most.

I take a pair of Muji 750ml Zigg-style waterbottles on every trip, occasionally packing a further 1l waterbottle from Blacks as back up. The body get hot when full of boiling water, so I’ve tied string through the bottle tops for easy carrying between the kitchen tent and dining tent / room, and dining tent/ room and sleeping bag. A waterbottle full of hot water at night doubles up as an excellent hot water bottle. One at the bottom of the bag for my feet, one in the middle to keep my body warm. Both wrapped in some clothes to start off with if they’re boiling hot. Don’t be misled into thinking I only drink 1.5l a day – I drink gallons at meal times. I find drinking plenty helps me to acclimatise, and to avoid headaches.

I take two pairs of sunglasses – one M&S vanity pair for lower altitude, UV category 3, and a pair of Julbo Explorer mountaineering glasses for higher altitudes and snow. I don’t like the style, but eyesight is priceless. My Julbos were reduced end of season stock from Cotswold a few years ago.

Generic fleece hat and gloves, plus an Aldi merino buff, go into my daypack every day, as does a sun hat. The last has been a surprisingly tricky item to find, but only because I got fussy about finding one that I liked. I’ve sported a full brim cheapie from Peru in the past, but prefer a cap as I thread my ponytail through the back. I’ve used an M&S lightweight peaked men’s sunhat for a few years. It packs small but the colour is a bit insipid. British Heart Foundation has come up trumps this spring, with a khaki green cap that’s coming to Nepal in November. I’ve got a pair of Mountain Equipment Mountain Mitts, purchased after the cold start to our Three High Passes to Everest trek. Rarely worn, but they are definitely coming along next month too when, all being well, I’m going over 6000m for the first time.

The £10 Casio digital watch that travelled the world with me and Hazel 1997-1999 is still going strong. The straps have long gone, and I keep it in a trouser pocket during the day, and in my sleeping bag pocket during the night – or on the bedside table when we’re in hotels / guesthouses. I keep the watch on 24hr clock and set the alarm accordingly. I don’t want to repeat my Ankor Wat sunrise mishap again.

I carry my headtorch in my daypack and keep it within reach in the tent overnight, and wear it to/from the dining room / tent in the evenings. My Petzl Tikka does a great job, although not as bright as newer models. I keep a spare set of batteries in my kitbag, in an old camera film container.

Toiletries, First Aid & Health

First aid, toiletries, tiny trek towel
First aid, toiletries, tiny trek towel

Toiletries always take up more room than you’d expect! Even with travel size bottles.

  • Solid deodorant – seen too many roll on ones “pop” at altitude
  • Toothpaste – a travel / sample size tube, or the tail end of a normal tube
  • Toothbrush – in toothbrush case
  • Wet wipes – for the daily morning “wash”. Make sure they are biodegradable.
  • Washcloth – helps to clean off the suncream, and for an occasional body wash in the tent vestibule. I keep it in a ziploc bag, so that I can pack it when still wet, together with a sliver of soap.
  • Microfibre cloth – works as a towel for face and body wash
  • Antiseptic hand gel – I carry a small bottle in my daypack and move it into the tent pocket overnight. Val’s food hygiene on trek is second to none, but I’ll use gel after loo trips and house visits.
  • Sunscreen and lipscreen – factor 30, minimum
  • Elizabeth Arden 8 hour cream – a life saver for cracked lips, cuts and grazes, sunburn
  • Moisturiser – Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Deep Moisture Body Lotion, decanted into a small bottle.
  • Hairbrush. Comb. Elastic hair bands – I’ve long hair which I wear in a ponytail when I’m trekking.  This keeps it under control when the wind gets up,  and I loop my ponytail through my sun cap, which keeps my neck cool and my hat on.
  • Shampoo & conditioner – I’ll take a sachet of each for the end of trek shower. Sample sachets from magazines are perfect, or you can easily buy sachets in Nepal and Peru. I’m not a brand person.
  • Nailclippers (sometimes) and nail file (always) – a snagged nail is a pain, literally if you end up catching it and ripping a huge chunk away from the nail bed. Not to mention snagging sleeping bag / down jacket fabric.
  • Tampons, and plastic disposal bags – Just in case. A multi-week trek in tough conditions can play havoc with your cycle. If there’s no means of disposing of them en route, I pack them in and I pack them out.

Val and Steffi carry more extensive first aid kits than I do, but I always make sure I have a grab bag at the top of my daypack with the following:

  • Plasters – I prefer a few different width fabric strips
  • Antiseptic – 2 x wipes
  • Paracetamol (headaches, especially at altitude) – 1 strip
  • Ibruprofen (general aches) – 1 strip
  • Antihistamine pills – 1 strip
  • Immodium – 1 tablet
  • Rehydration sachet – 2 x, for dehydration due to sweating as much as diarrhoea
  • Diamox – prescription tablets in a smaller ziploc bag
  • Compeed – 2 x

In my kit bag, I have plenty more of all of these (except the Diamox), plus:

  • Aspirin – 3 mini tablets for  the journey home. Being at altitude thickens your blood, and going straight to a long haul flight isn’t ideal in terms of DVT risk. A mini Aspririn a day in the run up to the flight home thins the blood
  • Vitamin C fizzy tablets – a tangy citrus alternative to black tea
  • Mosquito repellant – if necessary

No sleeping bag etc?

I do have a 3 season sleeping bag – a North Face Superlight – but I usually borrow one of Val’s expedition ones, or a sleeping bag provided by the trek operator. The person running the trek knows how cold it’s likely to get overnight. Plus borrowing/hiring one keeps a bulky item out of my rucksack for the journey out and back.

Thermarest – ditto. I borrow or it comes as part of the trek. I do always have one though, and would opt for robust over lightweight. I’ve shared tents with Thermarest NeoAirs, and they rustle and have been prone to leaks.

Sheet sleeping bag – I made my own sheet sleeping bag out of lightweight cotton a few years ago, primarily to have one long enough. It’s got a “pillow” pocket at the top, into which I shove my fleece jacket overnight to serve as a pillow.


So that’s it, at least as far as “kit that gets reviewed” goes, and my current preferences / habits. They may well change. My choices have certainly evolved over time.

Also, obviously, I do take more things with me – camera, camera batteries and memory card, phone and charger (usually left at the hotel), postcards and envelopes to go with the tips, a book to read etc.

And finally, for those who know me it will come as no surprise to learn that I have my full kit list “starter for 10” as an Excel spreadsheet. I print out the list and tick off the items as I pack, and add tweaks after each trip. You never stop refining your kit….

Mera Peak – Amphu Lapsta Pass – Imja Tse: Flight Change & Training Weekend

It feels like our flights for this year’s big trip are cursed.

I got a text on Wednesday from GoToGate, who we booked our new flights with back in April when Jet suspended their flight operations, advising that there had been a change to our flight schedule and to check my email for details.

Now, normally when I get these emails, the flights have moved by a matter of minutes, occasionally an hour or two.

Not so this time. Our outbound flight to Dubai has been cancelled and we’ve been offered the same flight 24 hours earlier. Not only that, but our onward flight from DXB to KTM had been moved from early morning to midday, arriving into KTM at 6pm. Thanks Emirates. Our choices were to accept the new flights and sort out accommodation in Dubai at our own cost, or cancel one or both parts of our journey and book our own alternatives, although a refund of the cancelled flights wasn’t 100% certain.

Not a great choice really, and both Steffi and I were up to our eyeballs with work and family stuff.

Looking for positives, although leaving on the Wednesday rather than the Thursday would be a pain, at least it was doable for us both. I’ve been able to juggle my working days (although that does mean I lose the Monday I had set aside to pack, and the weekend before we go I’ll be in Northern Ireland for a birthday), and Steffi had booked the whole week off.

My initial thought was to take the main flight and book an onwards flight for the Thursday and ask Val to sort out an extra night’s accommodation in KTM. That way at least we’d be in KTM. I was influenced by the expectation that hotels in Dubai would be ex.pen.sive – Burj Khalifa, Jumeriah et al. But, when I googled Hotels Dubai International Airport I was pleasantly surprised, quickly homing in on the presence of the ever-reliable Premier Inn. Checking availability, prices and location on their website, I realised that staying in Dubai would be doable without breaking the bank, and may well come in cheaper than cancelling our DXB-KTM flight and booking a new one.

So that’s what we decided to do: take the alternative flights offered by Emirates, and book 2 nights in Dubai International Airport Premier Inn – 2 nights meaning we can get a room as soon as we’ve landed and cleared immigration and baggage collection (2 minor minuses with staying in Dubai is that we have to do that, which is a pain), worth it given we land at 7.10am and Premier Inn checkin is 2pm. They provide free transfers between the airport and the hotel, and it’s only 10-15 min journey.

But inevitably it was not smooth sailing putting this plan into action.

The GoToGate email instructions were to respond to the email confirming our course of action within 6 days. By the time Steffi and I had conferred it was Thursday. No problem, I emailed them with our decision then and there. Five days left to go.

Thursday I heard nothing,

Friday, nothing – and Phil and I headed north to spend the weekend in Leith with Sue. Checking my junk mail every 30 mins brought no joy and the stress began to build. What if GTG were having trouble getting seats on the alternative flights? What if we wouldn’t be able to get to KTM in time for the trek? Had I lost Steffi and me another £60 each, having already booked the hotel on Thursday….. What if they hadn’t actually received my email at all?

So after a terrible night’s sleep Fri/Sat I decided I had to call GTG – assuming I could find a number, and even if that meant sitting on hold for hours.

I should be more positive. The phone number was easy to find, was a “normal” rather than premium rate number, and within a minute or so of navigating the automated call menu I was speaking with a very calm and reassuring lady. She could see my email, and confirmed they’d rebook us on the offered flights – there was no risk that we’d be left in limbo. PHEW.

Her confirmation email came straight after the call, and although it took a few days to get the updated confirmation PDF from GTG, once we were home I was able to log into the booking and see we were on the new flights. From there to the Emirates site to download our boarding passes and to book new seats – no need! We’d got the same ones as I’d booked for the original flights. Neither planes look very busy at all, which may explain the cancellation…. I’d half wondered if the main flight cancellation might be Brexit related.

Let’s hope that’s it for the flight stress.

(OK – we’ve still got Yukla in the schedule, but that’s Val’s responsibility.)

(And annoyed that we paid more for a flight without the inconvenience of a layover, and have ended up with one.)

So now I can start to ponder how we might spend our day in Dubai. It’s been a long time since my one and only visit, but Janette’s been recently and tells me the metro makes it easy to get around, plus the hotel has a pool and plenty of food places nearby, and having booked direct we get 2-for-1 deals, which helps. One good thing about our new DXB-KTM flight is that we don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to get to the airport for checkin.

I’ve bought new Stansted Express tickets and Steffi’s changed her train to arrive on the Tuesday.

Let’s hope that’s it for travel plan changes.

In the meantime I’ve been buying USD daily via the ever reliable Thomas Exchange Global to try to even out exchange rate fluctuations (thank you Brexit; thank you Trump), and I’m writing this as my Virgin Train heads north to Penrith for a weekend’s walking and training with Val; Steffi and Nicola are coming too so that we can all get some practice in using ropes, harnesses, crampons and scrambling. We’ve also got a prelim kit check and I am sure we’ll be fine tuning our “getting the gear” plan, although I’m hoping Steffi and I will still be OK to hire kit from Val’s KTM contacts, to avoid having to lug it there and back. Let’s hope my birthday daypack passes muster.

Things left to do: buy Alpine & Ski Insurance from BMC. Pack. Buy UAE dirhams.

And in the background, at work David dropped his bombshell.

Post Lakes Training Weekend Update

  • We’re walking rather than flying from Lukla. GREAT!
  • Nicola’s on the same DXB-KTM flight. EXTRA GREAT!
  • The getting the gear plan is even less clear than it was before. And the trip cost has crept up again. NOT GREAT.

Training was fun.

Training for Mera Peak - Amphu Lapsta - Island Peak
Training for Mera Peak – Amphu Lapsta – Island Peak: Me, Steffi & Nicola at Near Howe

Picos de Europa: Photos & Notes

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.

Sea Holly, Cabeza Juan Robre walk
Sea Holly, Cabeza Juan Robre walk

Photos from the week are in my Spain, July 2019 album on Flickr.

Here’s what we did on Exodus’ Walking the Picos de Europa, day by day:

Saturday, 20 July 2019: London Stansted – Bilbao – Las Arenas de Cabrales (No photos)

Weather: Rain.

Day 1: EasyJet U23227 from Stansted to Bilbao. Scheduled departure 11:50 arrival 14:50. Delayed almost 3 hours.

Alfonso and his fellow driver met us at the arrivals hall for the two and a half hour drive to Las Arenas de Cabrales. The first of many excellent evening meals at the Hotel Torrecerredo.

Sunday, 21 July 2019: Cares Gorge (photos)

Weather: Overcast, hot & humid.

Day 2: Drive to Poncebos, walk easy footpath though the Cares River Gorge to Caín and back. Busy with Sunday strollers. Lots of limestone.

Cares Gorge walk
Cares Gorge

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.

Cabeza Juan Robre and Las Arenas old church
Cabeza Juan Robre from Las Arenas de Cabrales

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.

On the Treviso-Urdón trail
Treviso-Urdón trail

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.

“Wine Wednesday” mojitos in Cafe Jardin La Palma followed by raciones at La Plazuela.

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.

Peña Maín panorama
Peña Maín panorama

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.

Me and Steffi arriving at Refugio Casetón de Andara
Me and Steffi arriving at Refugio Casetón de Andara

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.

Quesería artesanal El Cabriteru
Quesería artesanal El Cabriteru

Saturday, 27 July 2019: Las Arenas de Cabrales – Bilbao – London Stansted (No photos)

Weather: Rain.

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.