Monthly Archives: February 2016

EL HIERRO – LA GOMERA, bits of the GR131.

Valverde – Puerto de la Estaca – La Gomera.

As a footnote we walked down to the ferry at Puerto de la Estaca on the GR131 this morning. It didn’t look far on the map but it took us longer than we expected. The manager of the Boomerang [did I detect an Aussie accent?] said fill your stomachs before going but we didn’t understand. The route, an old walled and paved way, was a joy to follow but was hard going – it is El Hierro after all. We arrived at the port early expecting to eat lunch but there was no cafe or bar – it is El Hierro after all. The ferry to La Gomera cost as much as the much longer journey to Tenerife, the girl on the till agreed it was illogical – it is El Hierro after all.  And I have to come back to walk the 131 properly.

End of the GR131 on El Hierro.

End of the GR131 on El Hierro.

Empty cafe.

Ghostly port cafe.

Leaving El Hierro.

Leaving El Hierro.

The crossing was thankfully calmer than a few days ago and Mount Tiede  was covered in snow from the bad weather last week. On disembarking at San Sebastion  an enterprising taxi driver accosted us and before we knew it we were enjoying the fantastic scenic roads over to Vallehermoso. A note was waiting for us at our booked apartment – just let yourself in. To make the most of the day we jumped a taxi down to the Playa and walked the delightful track up the fertile valley under Rocqe El Cano back to Vallehermoso.  Supper at the superb Agana included the local  potaje de berros, we had seen the watercress being picked earlier. Went to sleep accompanied by the frogs’ chorus.

Start of the GR131 at Playa Vallehermoso.

Start of the GR131 at Playa Vallehermoso.

One for you Conrad.

One for you Conrad.

 

EL HIERRO – Camino de Jinama.

 

La Frontera – Valverde.

Behind La Frontera is a 3000ft wall of vegetated rock leading straight to the crest of the island, the result of a massive landslide. There didn’t appear to be any route through. The morning was brighter as we walked up through the hamlets of La Frontera to the chapel Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria with its prominent bell tower above on a volcanic cone. Here we found the sign for the Camino de Jinama, an ancient paved way linking the high plateau with the lowlands of Golfo, used to transport animals back and forth according to the seasons. We zigzagged our way up this unlikely way marvelling at the skills to construct such a path,  ? a thousand or more years old, modern roads weren’t started until the middle of the last century. On our climb we had plenty of occasions to rest and take in the bird’s eye view of the coast below. The vegetation was exotic to start and then we moved into the Laurel-Silva forest with the occasional Canary Pine.

At the top, 1200m, was a small hermita and a large viewing platform, a road came up on this side so we were inundated with tourists bused up from the cruise ships which now come to the Canaries instead of Tunisia and the Eastern Med. Walled drovers’ tracks weaved through the larval rocks in a scenery reminiscent of Scotland.  The fields provided meagre nourishment for cows and sheep. San Andres seemed to be the centre of everything agricultural up here , like  Masham in the Dales. The local bar was doing a fantastic luncheon trade, no doubt of local meat products, we sat outside with a beer. We were now on the GR131 our original objective and it was all downhill from here. We passed wind turbines used for pumping water up to a reservoir, feeding turbines when needed thus making this island almost self sufficient in electricity. Impressive technology. Yet further on we met a farmer cutting fennel stems for salads which must have been used for centuries.

The church in Valverde at the end of the Camino de la Virgen.

The church in Valverde at the end of the Camino de la Virgen.

In Valverde the deserted Hotel Boomerang gave us Room 101 where I tried to consign into oblivion some of John’s excess equipment. He got his own back when to avoid losing them I hid our room keys in a chair on the corridor – he came out with the classic subtle reprimand  “I wouldn’t have done that”   Our night on the town didn’t materialise as almost everywhere was shut. A chance find of a tiny local bar, with men playing dominoes, gave us a beer and vague instructions to a shop up the top of town. We had just about given up after much climbing and searching when the shop appeared and we emerged with all that was necessary for a supper back in our room. It was with trepidation that I, keyless, approached the hotel front door but thankfully it was open so there is no story of bivouacking in the street.

EL HIERRO – first steps.

NO!   That was the response to my simple question in the Valverde tourist information office  – ‘tiene la previsión del tiempo para mañana?’  That had us off to a bad start, we were the only ones on the bus from the ferry up to the main town which at 600m was bleak, wet, cold and windy. More like the Falklands than the Canaries.

Approaching El Hierro.

Approaching El Hierro.

'Caneros' an ancient figure in sheepskins - more friendly than the Tourist Information office.

‘Caneros’ an ancient figure in sheepskins – more friendly than the Tourist Information office.

Until 1885 the Punta de Orchilla cape marked the Zero Meridian and was used in most 16th and 17th Century maps. Today the island is still known as the Meridian Isle.  John and I were back to follow the GR131 footpath across the high spine of EL HIERRO which starts at that point and incorporates the Camino de La Virgen. Every four years islanders carry a sacred statue from a shrine to the church in Valverde to commemorate the miraculous ending of a drought in 1614.

We based ourselves in the friendly little town of La Frontera and had arranged a taxi to take us to the start of the GR the next morning, however the mist stayed down and the cold rain continued. Apparently there had been a few days of unseasonal weather. I think I’ve had enough days in the hills when I’ve seen nothing all day so when the taxi arrived we opted for a low level walk from the coast at Pozo de la Salud back to La Frontera. The village of Sabinosa appeared deserted but we heard later that the Saturday carnival went on till morning despite most residents being over 75years. The land in this area, the Gulf of El Golfo, is mainly agricultural with bananas, vines and pineapples, though there is evidence of old walled enclosures where animals used to be kept. Call it a cop out if you want but despite the wind we enjoyed ourselves and the mountain tops remained in cloud.

Pozo de La Salud.

Pozo de La Salud.

Gulf El Golfo.

Gulf El Golfo.

Pineapples.

Pineapples.

Humphrey Head.

                                

“the ascent is a bare foot stroll”

At 53m we are not talking fell here and we are outside the Lake District National Park but this hill is included in AW’s Outlying Fells – which underlies his idiosyncratic nature. I’ve been before; climbing on the rather stiff limestone cliffs but today I’m here because the weather deteriorated whilst I was in the fells to the north.

I strolled up, in boots I may add, from near the outdoor centre. The trig point gives views across the Kent Estuary, across to Heysham Power Station and across miles of treacherous sands.  The trees are bent double from the sea gales. I continued down to where this spit of limestone dips into the sea but was unable to walk back on the western side because the tide was already in. So back over the top.

A good quickie and the weather never really worsened.

 

Bigland Barrow and beyond.

       Rough ground to Bigland Barrow.

 

It has not rained for a few precious days and the tourist board are trying to attract people back into the Lake District.  Today was ideal for a quick raid on the Southern lakes Wainwright Outliers.  I didn’t use Wainwright’s route but followed my nose on one possibly more varied,  but I did take heed and visit point 182m for the best views. The lower end of Windermere was surrounded by smaller hills most of which I now recognise from my recent wanderings. In the hazy background were the white Coniston, Langdale, Helvellyn and Kentmere Fells. It was freezing on top despite the sunshine. Interestingly there is a cairn on this unlikely spot, I can only think it must be related to the  popularity of AW’s books.

 

Point 182.

Point 182 with the lower reaches of Windermere.

 

Attractive open fellside took me across to the summit of Bigland Barrow 193m and its unusual wartime observation structure, others have written of it so just look up on that wicked pedia place.  The rusty steps and bannister have lasted well but won’t be there forever.

From here one can see down to Backbarrow famous for its ‘Dolly Blue’ mill on the River Leven, all tourism now.  Belted Galloway cattle roamed these uplands and there was much evidence of horse riding, [I later realised that Bigland has a large stabling facility]. On the horizon to the SW was a higher prominence which I was keen to explore so I found muddy paths above a delightful tarn, ?Back Reddings, to the road outside the gates of Bigland Hall. This all looked very private but the footpath sign pointed down the drive and my map agreed. Within yards I came across less friendly signs!

Throughout the estate there is an unnecessary proliferation of PRIVATE signs, they must be paranoid.  Bigland Tarn [No Fishing signs] was passed along with its boat house and railings from the past.

DSC00431

Then, using stone steps in a wall, fields were entered giving access to the green hill, Grassgarth Heights 203m. I had an uneasy feeling I was trespassing and in full view of Bigland Hall but reached the trig point and was rewarded by superb views south into the Leven and Kent estuaries.

Bigland Hall and from forbidden Grassguard Heights.

Bigland Hall and from forbidden Grassgarth Heights.

Leven's Estuary with the railway viaduct and Chapel Island visible.

Leven Estuary with the railway viaduct and Chapel Island visible.

 

I retreated quickly to the safety of what turned out to be the Cumbrian Coastal Path although I seemed a long way from the coast. This guided me between all the private signs down to the river near Haverthwaite. Passing through a delightful hamlet, Low Wood, I found a woodland path alongside an old mill race. There were signs of past industry all about. Further on I was above the River Leven and able to watch some canoeists braving the falls of white water, there must have been an abundance of this in the last few weeks.

Back to a flask at my car just as the weather dulled – see next post.

 

We should know better – Wainwright wanderings.

Coniston vista early in the day.

                                                                   Coniston vista early in the day.

The day was quickly passing when we [Sir Hugh and I] arrived on top of Carron Crag poking out of Grizedale Forest. We had not come the usual way from the the forest centre’s car park. No we had already traversed virtually pathless [and boggy and rough and confusing] ground across Bethecar Moor visiting rocky Brockbarrow, Low and High Light Haw and Top o’ Selside. The day had been perfect –  sunny, clear, cool and calm. The latter adjectives can’t be applied to the next hour’s floundering through ‘open’ forest on a supposedly direct route west to our escape path. Tripping over tree roots, falling into bogs, frequent changes of direction, much under the breath cursing – surely not Sir Hugh?  Who was leading who? There are tellingly few photos of our plight as the tension increased regarding  our emergence. That word is scaringly similar to emergency!                                                                                                                                                  We should have known better from a combined experience of over a hundred years.

Top o'Selside from High Light Haw.

Top o’Selside from High Light Haw.

Carron Crag in our sights.

Carron Crag in our sights.

Carron Crag.

Carron Crag.

Panopticon company on Carron crag.

Panopticon company on Carron crag.

Miraculously the forest opened for us like the Red Sea and we were soon waltzing along the delightful bridleway high above Coniston Water back to Nibthwaite. Highlights were constant views of Dow Crag hiding shyly behind the Coniston Fells and the passing of the remote Low Parkamoor house. If you fancy an ‘eco’ getaway including a well with indoor pump, paraffin lamps and wood burning range and the luxury hip bath [they don’t mention how many kettle’s full of hot water] book it through their website.

Salvation.

Salvation.

Dow Crag and Coniston Old Man.

Dow Crag and Coniston Old Man.

Low Parkamoor- your ideal retreat.

Low Parkamoor- your ideal retreat.

LP

Low Parkamoor.

We were just happy to arrive back at the car with the promise of central heating, a hot bath and maybe a take-away.

 

Gone with the wind.

Giggleswick Scar, Dead Man’s Cave, the Celtic Wall and more.

The ‘pieman’ and I have postponed several recent meetings because of bad forecasts, it was no different for today but we said “what the hell”. And so we found ourselves being battered by 50 mph winds on the limestone pavements above Giggleswick. Wainwright’s Walks In Limestone Country gave me some ideas, always dangerous, and I wanted to visit some of the out of the way features. I cannibalised three of his walks into one rough itinerary. Living in Skipton I presumed the ‘pieman’ would have up to date maps of the area around Settle, but no – so we had to make do with Alfred’s drawings, as good as any map I would say. The only problem being my copy was from 1970 and not all the wall gaps still exist so we had some fairly hairy up and overs, no walls were damaged on this walk!

First off was Schoolboy Cairn, above that big quarry, maybe had something to do with Giggleswick School down below. A  high level promenade above the bypass road gave us a gale battered but splendid bird’s eye section above the South Craven Fault.  The floods in the Ribble Valley below were all to obvious. We clambered up to the conspicuous Wall Cave, the wall seems to have gone, from where we had a view across the golf course. apparently there was previously a tarn here. There are lots of strange features in this limestone area. Below us somewhere are the popular bolted climbs on the steep scar.

Spurning other caves we marched along to Buckhaw Brow, the garage and cafe of Wainwright’s era have long since gone. Without giving any secrets away we arrived at Dead Man’s Cave and were glad of its shelter for lunch as the gale blew past. The bodiless sanctuary gave us chance to think and talk, previously these had been impossible. Guess what the ‘pieman’ dined on. The odd drip on our heads was of no consequence. My next new rendezvous was the so called Celtic Wall on the hillside above, we could not really miss it. 20m long and 2m wide and constructed of massive blocks it stood in splendid isolation. 2000 years old and possibly a burial site – who knows?

In front of us across a valley was the escarpment of Pot Scar [previously a regular climbing venue of mine until it became too polished for comfort. Climbers have a skewed take on places – Cannabis, Nirvana, LSD, Addiction, The Pusher and A Touch Of Grass were all popular lines.] and next to it Smearsett Scar. We had not knowingly been to the latter’s summit so a direct assault was commenced. We had to cling to its trig point to avoid being blown away. Views to Ingleborough, Penyghent, Fountains Fell and Pendle were glimpsed but photography was almost impossible. We spied a way off which we followed  to Little Stainforth, the famous packhorse bridge above the falls and then along the Ribble to finish.

Schoolboys' Cairn with Pendle in the background.

Schoolboys’ Cairn with Pendle in the background.

Looking out from Wall Cave.

Looking out from Wall Cave.

Giggleswick Scar.

Giggleswick Scar.

Dead Man's Cave.

Dead Man’s Cave.

The Celtic Wall.

The Celtic Wall.

Pot and Smearsett Scars above.

Pot and Smearsett Scars above.

The isolated Celtic wall.

The isolated Celtic wall.

Distant Penyghent.

Distant Penyghent.

Stainforth bridge and falls.

Stainforth bridge and falls.

By the way despite the forecast we didn’t have a drop of rain, the sun shone briefly, it was great to meet up with the ‘pieman’ and a first class day’s walk was  grasped from nothing.

Memo as usual  – buy some up to date maps.

zCapture.JPG giggleswick