Where next: 2020 – COVID-19 Update

Here’s a copy of the update I made to my Where Next? page today.


2020

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.

Naturally, there are some travel plans – but the only one booked is a return to northern Spain with Steffi and Hazel to walk the El Anillo de Picos in the company of Alfonso who led last year’s week in the Picos. I’ve already got weekends in the Northern Lake District, Pembrokeshire and St Andrews booked into my diary, and Phil and I are off to Northern Italy for Michael and Katja’s wedding in June. That still leaves a chunk of time for a Big Trip, but what, where and when depends on what Phil and I decide come June on the Herefordshire front….. About which, read on….

COVID-19 Update – August 2020

Well, we made our move to Herefordshire at the right time! Although not the trial we’d anticipated, it’s certainly proving to be a better place to be this year than London would have been.

As lockdown has been easing I have made it to Pembrokeshire for a weekend with Steffi and Phil and I have had a week in Walton on the Naze. All other trips – foreign and domestic – are all now cancelled.

Who knows what 2021 will bring? ‘More of the same’ would not come as a surprise.

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.

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.

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

Trip No. 2 of 2020: El Anillo de Picos – POSTPONED July 2020

Destination: The Picos de Europa, Northern Spain.

When: August / September 2020.

What: Steffi, Hazel and I – plus Rache – return to Northern Spain to walk El Anillo de Picos.

How: In the wonderful company of Alfonso Gallego de Lerma who was our excellent guide/leader on Exodus’ Picos de Europa trip we did in July 2019.

Why: July’s trip whetted the appetite even though the bad weather restricted our routes and made the Grade 5 trip closer to the standard Grade 3 holiday than any of us would have wished.

This time we’ll get to spend a long week in the Picos de Europa proper, hiking in and around  the three massifs. We will be staying in refugios and carrying “everything” with us.  That shouldn’t be as dramatic as it sounds – we are used to carrying wet weather gear and warm layers, plus lunch and water, in our day packs and will only need a sheet sleeping bag for the refugios which will also provide all our meals. I for one am not renowned for my vast wardrobe when I’m walking …. Plus we will have clean clothes to enjoy once we’ve competed El Anillo.

Itinerary: Factoring in travel to/from London, our itinerary is:

Day 0: Travel to London
Day 1: Fly to Bilbao. Travel to Arenas de Calabres.
Days 2 to 8: Trekking through the Picos.
Day 9: Relax and swim…. Drive to Bilbao or Santander. Visit the city.
Day 10: Fly to London
Day 11: Travel back from London

Steffi has  booked flights and Alfonso is booking hotels and the refugios (turns out four clients is a good number, as is Alfonso’s price), so we are All Systems Go!

El Anillo de Picos: Postponed

We have abandoned our plan to go walking in the Picos mountains in Northern Spain at the end of August / start of September.

It was already looking complicated (trains / flights / hotels / masks etc and a day/night in Bilbao.. and that’s before we got to the relative safety of the mountains) and when the UK Government reintroduced quarantine on return from Spain overnight at the weekend, that was the final nail in the coffin.

Even if the Government were to lift quarantine by the time we were due go (which is unlikely), the risk of it being re-reintroduced while we were there felt greater.

Alfonso has been amazing, and gracious as always.

Our current thinking is to do the trip next year. Hasta el Año Que Viene.

Picos postponed: GOV.UK email
Picos postponed: GOV.UK email

Steffi’s now working through requesting all the refunds etc. EasyJet’s cancellation email for our return from Bilbao on 08 Sept arrived today. Now we are just waiting for BA to cancel the outbound flight. I hope they don’t continue to play hardball – at present they are only offering a voucher if you don’t want to take their flights to Spain.

On my To Do List: seeing if I can get a refund for my train tickets. Unlikely.

Oh well.

El Anillo de Picos: Travel Update

Yes, we’re still planning to go to Northern Spain at the end of August for 10 days walking hut to hut in the Picos de Europa, with Alfonso.

Having booked flights way back when, and sorted out hotels and refugio bookings, we put everything on hold once COVID-19 hit. But we were (are) all keeping our fingers crossed.

So, it was not EasyJet’s finest moment when they emailed yesterday to let us know that they’d cancelled our outbound flight.

After a flurry of emails, we’re now booked on the BA flight on the Saturday – a much earlier departure, and a lot more expensive, but at least we should be able to get there….

… although obviously the trip is entirely dependent on the Travel Corridor between England and Spain remaining open, and the summer’s lockdown easing not generating a second / third / fourth / nth wave of infection in either country.

Ya veremos.

Still trying to work out the safest way to travel to/from London.

Where next: Picos de Europa – El Anillo de Picos

August / September 2020 will see Steffi, Hazel and I – plus Rache – return to Northern Spain to walk El Anillo de Picos in the wonderful company (and excellent guiding) of Alfonso Gallego de Lerma.

Destination: The Picos de Europa, Northern Spain.

When: August / September 2020.

What: Steffi, Hazel and I – plus Rache – return to Northern Spain to walk El Anillo de Picos.

How: In the wonderful company of Alfonso Gallego de Lerma who was our excellent guide/leader on Exodus’ Picos de Europa trip we did in July 2019.

Why: Last July’s trip whetted the appetite even though the bad weather restricted our routes and made the Grade 5 trip closer to the standard Grade 3 holiday than any of us would have wished.

This time we’ll get to spend a long week in the Picos de Europa proper, hiking in and around  the three massifs. We will be staying in refugios and carrying “everything” with us.  That shouldn’t be as dramatic as it sounds – we are used to carrying wet weather gear and warm layers plus lunch and water in our day packs and will only need a sheet sleeping bag for the refugios which will also provide all our meals. I for one am not renowned for my vast wardrobe when I’m walking …. Plus we will have clean clothes to enjoy once we’ve competed El Anillo.

Itinerary: Factoring in travel to/from London, our itinerary is:

Day 0: Travel to London
Day 1: Fly to Bilbao. Travel to Arenas de Calabres.
Days 2 to 8: Trekking through the Picos.
Day 9: Relax and swim…. Drive to Bilbao or Santander. Visit the city.
Day 10: Fly to London
Day 11: Travel back from London

Steffi has  booked flights and Alfonso is booking hotels and the refugios (turns out four clients is a good number, as is Alfonso’s price), so we are All Systems Go!

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.