Author Archives: bowlandclimber

GR131 LA PALMA – A BALMY BIVY.

Refugio Punta de los Roques – El Pilar.

We had heard there maybe a food van at El Pilar where we planned to bivy tonight so set off with high hopes. Today was much easier walking with well graded paths and not so much ascent. Steep zigzags below the refuge brought us back onto the caldera rim, though there were still no decent views into it. A late breakfast was taken sat on a branch of one of those magnificent Canary Pines.

A gun shot scared us, today is Saturday and one is allowed to hunt the introduced Barbary Sheep, a large horned goat, Arruis. All along the rim were hunters, presumably waiting for the prey to be driven up the hillside. Later we saw them driving away in their jeeps – I don’t think it was a successful day.

At Reventon there was a tap and a wall to sit on for lunch, we are slowly eating our way through the heavy load. We spent time watching a group of La Palma chaffinches coming to the font for water.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/27/Fringilla_coelebs_-La_Palma%2C_Canary_Islands%2C_Spain-8.jpg

There was a sign announcing the incorporation in 2008 of the GR131 into the European walking route E7.

From here on a dirt track ran all the way along the ridge to El Pilar but the 131 has been diverted off it through the Laurisilva woods. We walked a bit of both as it was so humid and hot on the undulating ridge.

We were glad to arrive in the recreation area, El Pilar, and enjoyed a coffee from the van. There were lots of families enjoying the day barbecuing on wood fires, free wood seems to be provided. We approached the warden about bivying somewhere later and before we knew it had an official camping permit. Well we didn’t actually have it but we had signed a bit of paper. Supper of veggieburgers from the van was taken on one of the picnic tables, washed down by an unexpected bottle of wine, from the van! We even had time for coffee before he drove off. There were free toilets and showers on site. I had to explain to JD that this did not classify as a real bivi. Once the noise of revelers died down we slept fitfully as the night was so warm, no need for a sleeping bag at1500m.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done—
‘It’s very rude of him,’ she said,
‘To come and spoil the fun!’


GR131 LA PALMA – ROUND THE CALDERA RIM.

 

Roque de los Muchachos – Refugio Punta de los Roques.

The taxi deposited us at Roque de los Muchachos, 2426m, the highest point on the Island overlooking the vast Caldera de Taburiente. I felt rather sick from the twisting ascent. There is a car park, a little information hut and a water tap. The road is maintained to serve the numerous Observatories scattered near the summit. At this height clear skies and lack of light pollution provide astronomers with perfect conditions. The trail, with its usual red and white marks starts along the rocky rim in close proximity to the eerie saucers and spheres.

We were expecting cool conditions up here but in fact the temperature was into the 20’s. Heavily laden with 4 litres of water, food and  bivy gear we stood out from the tourists exploring the area, exaggerated further when within minutes we passed a bikini clad lass. The views into the caldera were a little obscured by cloud and sightings of other Islands likewise. That would be disappointing to the coach trippers but we were staying high for days so expected better to come.

Volcanoes have rough surfaces to walk on so a feature of the GR131 is that it is bordered by stones defining the way, over time the track itself becomes smoother to use. Along here to avoid the road we were led up little garden paths which seemed unnecessarily rough and steep, after a couple of hours we had hardly covered three kilometres.  By the time Pico de la Cruz was reached we were ready for some lunch, the first of our tuna with crisps for me, oatcakes for JD. Whenever we stopped Ravens would appear looking for scraps.

 

‘A loaf of bread,’ the Walrus said,
‘Is what we chiefly need:

Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed—
Now if you are ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed!

En route JD was learning by heart Lewis Carroll’s  The Walrus and the Carpenter so from time to time I may put in an appropriate quotation.

The path undulated along the crest with surprising amounts of descent and ascent until Pico de la Nieve was reached, we climbed up to its cross but again views down to the caldera were disappointing, however all around were fantastic volcanic rock features in all colours. People were climbing this top from somewhere on the road below.

Better tracks continued down into the Canarian Pines with their burnt and twisted trunks. Zigzags led into a gap, Degollada del Rio, from where a small trail climbed across a rock face to emerge once more on the ridge. By now we were reduced to a snail’s pace and were glad to come round a bend and find the stone Refuge Punta de los Roques, 2040m, next to the path. Before I could appreciate the surroundings I collapsed onto a bunk for half an hour, glad to get the weight off my shoulders. The refuge turned out to be perfect, A kitchen area with tables, sleeping platforms with a few blankets, solar powered lighting and water [needed purifying] in the tank from the roof. Across the caldera rim we had walked could be seen the observatories at Roque de los Muchachos. Way below us in the haze was the town of El Paso which lit up after dark. The night was very warm, probably 15 degrees, but we were too tired to come out for star gazing. We never saw the resident mouse.

 

 

 

GR131 LA PALMA – LOGISTICS.

Continuing my saga of walking the GR131 through the Canary Islands the next venue was to be the volcanic island of La Palma…

For a start flights from Manchester only go on Thursdays so a week would have to suffice.  The route is some 65k long and climbs to 2425m with no real opportunities for restocking or accommodation. I’m not sure I want to carry 4 to 5 days food, plus the necessary water up to those heights.  So JD and I came up with a simple plan, have a taxi to take us up to the top, Roque de los Muchachos, and walk down in three and a half days via Refuge de la Roques, El Pilar, Fuencaliente to the Faro [lighthouse]. Then taxi back to the top and walk down to Puerto de Tazacorte  on the west coast. Even that idea involved bivouac gear and a substantial weight of food and water.

The first day would end at an unmanned refuge, Roques, at 2000m with no suitable water. The second day at El Pilar, 1500m, with water but no accommodation. We would have a pension on the third night in a village, Fuencaliente 780m. A bus would transport us from the lighthouse back to the east coast ready for the next trip to the summit ready for the shorter second leg.    Is that cheating?

Amazingly this is basically the route of an annual 73.3K Transvulcania mountain race with the present record of 6.52.39!

We were booked out of Manchester Airport  just as reports of fresh volcanic activity under the Island were being reported, rather dramatically by some of the red tops – panic on La Palma.      It last erupted in 1971.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SW COASTAL PATH – THE TV COAST.

Port Isaac – Padstow.

This is the ‘Newly wed and Nearly dead’ season according to the locals which explains the large number of tourists still out and about. The two villages linked have a high profile, Port Isaac is Doc Marten country and Padstow is TV cook Rick Stein’s domain, not without controversy. They are both pretty ports best visited in the evenings when the coach parties have gone. Boat trips and shopping have taken over from the fishing industry although local catches are still available but on the whole commercial tourism has taken over.

Walking through the sleepy village, without a sight of the Doc, I picked up a coffee and croissant and carried them up to a seat on the headland overlooking Port Isaac. A great place for breakfast on a sunny morning. The harbour was below me and looking across the bay Tintagel Head could plainly be seen. The first couple of miles was a real roller coaster with the path clearly visible ahead in the rugged scenery. Varley Head and Kellen Head were crossed on muddy paths slippy from yesterdays rain.

Round the corner the inlet of Port Quin was entered. People were parking up and heading for the coastal paths unfortunately the mobile tea van hadn’t opened yet.

On Doyden Point was a folly built by an 19th century merchant to entertain his friends. Nearby were two fenced off mineshafts, previous silver mines. Vapour was rising from one of them and on peering down the sound and smell of the sea came up, the shaft had obviously reached sea level maybe 25m down.

A little further I had a break by a dramatic sea arch, Lundy Hole.

Grassy paths wandered through gorse and people seemed to be coming from everywhere, looking at the map I realised there were many circular walks from nearby Polzeath. A gentle circuit of the rocky Rumps Point and Pentire Head gave good views of rocky islets with speed boats whizzing around. From the point i could see right back up the coast to Hartland Point and Lundy.

Then I was into Polzeath on Hayle Bay with the usual surfing crowd in the waters.The first cafe I came to was in a side street, an old fashioned establishment with home made drizzle cake.The elderly couple gave me a sample of rocky road cake which I’d never come across, very rich and chocolatey. Apparently popularised by Nigella Lawson – another TV link. Next door was a beach house based on an old railway carriage. Third class strangely from the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway closed in the 60’s.

Walking past seaside houses I arrived on the beach of Daymer Bay the site of the treacherous Doom Bar now famous as the name of one of Cornwall’s beers. There were lots of people strolling along the beach but as the tide was coming in I kept to the higher signed path up through the sand dunes for a final flurry to the quay at Rock. The small ferry to Padstow arrived and before I knew it was elbow to elbow with tourists shopping in the narrow streets. I had a bus to catch so will leave exploration till next time.

Accommodation was expensive in Padstow so I’d booked into a pub in nearby Wadebridge from where my 10 hour journey back to Lancashire would begin tomorrow. Eight great days of coastal walking are behind me and the legs remind me of the strenuous nature, time for a rest. Not sure when I will be back to finish to Lands End.

 

 

SW COASTAL PATH – AN EXHILARATING DAY.

Tintagel – Port Isaac.

The forecast was dire – rain by 2pm and wind all day. So I set off expecting the worst, you never think about not going. Within 20 mins I was hiding behind a wall at the clifftop YHA putting on full waterproofs. The wind was ferocious and I was very wary of getting too near the cliff edges.The start of the route was above slate quarries and wet slate was not the best footing.

Slate quarries and Gull rock.

Approaching Trebarwith Strand.

On reaching Trebarwith, all of 2 miles, I dived straight into The Port William pub for a coffee out of the wind. Quite an expensive place to stay in, the chatty barmaid said in a whispered voice that you paid over a £100 for the view, obviously way out of her budget. She had walked parts of the coastal path and wanted to do more.

From the steep steps behind the pub I could have a breather and watch the waves in the bay.

There was more evidence of slate quarrying in the next valley.

The route continued in the same difficult manner in and out of small coves. The wind made it difficult on some of the exposed ridges and I was glad to take shelter in one of the bays just above the pounding sea. 

A small snail hitched a ride on my rucksack and another had to make its own way.

Back into the wind and rain I battled over more headlands whilst the waves crashed below. I was beginning to enjoy myself. Port Isaac could be seen ahead.Reaching a road I walked into the little harbour of Port Gaverne, i was dripping wet and didn’t feel I could go into the many starred hotel. So I pushed on into Port Isaac and found a quiet cafe in a side street for my favourite toasted teacake and coffee.

Ignoring the rest of the village I just wanted to get to my airbnb and have a bath. The Coop provided a cheap supper as I couldn’t be bothered to go back down to the restaurants.

 

 

 

SW COASTAL PATH – NO EASY DAYS.

Crackington Haven – Tintagel.

Today’s plan was simple – enjoy a good early breakfast, climb the high hills over to Boscastle where I’d lunch in a cafe and then enjoy the afternoon’s stroll into Tintagel. Somehow I staggered into my hotel at 6pm.

As usual the first obstacle of the day was a steep climb up a headland – why did I eat such a large breakfast? Looking back though revealed the amazing convoluted strata of the cliffs at Crackington.

Onwards up to the highest cliff in Cornwall where the only bench for a rest and the best view was occupied by a lady. She happily shared it and we exchanged conversations far and wide. She was walking to Boscastle where she had left her car. Not wanting to interrupt her day I wandered on but as I was always stopping to admire the views and take pictures we kept passing each other.

A little further and she was taking lunch, she warned me about some steep sections before Boscastle but I continued expecting an early lunch. She knew something I didn’t. It was a beautiful day and there was lots to see and yes lots of climbing. The feral goats on Beeny Cliff appeared on schedule ready for their photo opportunity. More than one ascent of 200 steps had me puffing. 

Eventually I dropped into Boscastle. What a shock, packed with tourists and gift shops. The cafes by the quay were all full so I walked into the village and found a less twee place who did me beans on toast.

Leaving about 3pm I met up with the lady again as she walked out of the port to collect her car, she wished me well for the ‘short’ stretch into Tintagel. Motto, Always listen to the locals. I missed out the diversion to Willapark headland with its white lookout post. Valley streams were crossed on footbridges, steps climbed and rocky sea stacks seen. Ahead was the headland at Tintagel, the castle I could see was a hotel not the famous ruins.

A feature along this stretch were the Cornish walls of well crafted stones often in zig zag patterns, ‘curzyway’.

Passing a prominent caravan site I started meeting people walking back from a day in Tintagel they had varying estimates of the distance I had to go. First into the steep attractive Rocky Valley with its stream heading to the sea and then another dip with steps, I never seemed to get closer. Perhaps I should have taken a short cut into the village but I found myself back on the beach under Tintagel Head. The castle grounds were closing for the day, all was Arthurian but there is little to substantiate the claims but who cares in the pursuit of commercial tourism.

A trail up to the village and I was installed in a room in the appropriately named The Cornishman. It was soon dark, there are no easy days on the SW path.

 

SW COASTAL PATH – A BUSY STRETCH.

Bude – Crackington Haven.

The bus services between some of these Cornish villages is fairly regular which may explain the number of people enjoying this stretch of the path today, the weather was good too. First thing this morning I was drawn by the aroma of freshly baked bread into a bakery for a coffee and pasty. I was not impressed with Bude last night but this morning as I wandered out through the old town and past the canal area things improved. I passed The Bude Light, which is illustrated on the OS 190 Map cover, a millennium project to commemorate an early oil lamp invented by Sir Goldsworthy Gurney in the mid 1800’s. Apparently this multicoloured monument is lit internally at night, shame I didn’t realise.     After a long chat to a sprightly Octogenarian I began the climb up to the prominent Storm Tower on Compass Point. This gave a view back over Bude Bay to yesterday’s walk and views ahead to more and more headlands.

To be honest the walking this morning to Widemouth Bay was easy, more Downlike than rugged Cornwall. A road ran alongside and I was soon walking through car parks in the bay. there wasn’t much activity in the sea but plenty of dog walkers out. They all seemed to head for the cafe I took morning coffee in, the result was chaos with constant barking and unruly dogs knocking over tables and drinks. The walk now changed character with some of the steepest sections I’d come across, unrelenting all the way to the end. There wasn’t much happening in sleepy Wanson where I took to a steep road for awhile. A couple of blondes in an open top Merc stopped for a chat to pass the time. Back on the headland path I met a man walking the whole LEJG route, he was taking short cuts and diversions away from the coast to make his journey easier. Up here a couple of parapenters were making the most of the thermals. They had views back over Widemouth Bay and even distant Dartmoor. The only place to sit for lunch was on a stile and this prompted a steady stream of walkers to disturb me. Several were staying in Bude and having forays each day onto the coastal path using buses to link up. A family were making slow progress because of the father’s knee problems, the steep ups and more so the downs are not knee friendly and this section had some really steep climbs. There was a green interlude at Dizzard in oak woods, this is NT land as are many sections of the coast which I had forgotten to mention. Then three more headlands and valleys to negotiate, I lost count of the number of steps.From the last high point, Pencannow, Crackington Haven eventually came into view and a lovely rake took me down to holiday cottages and my hotel for the night. The tide was out and people were enjoying teas in the cafes before departing. That is the good thing about this path and finding accommodation on it – in the evenings the places revert back to their quiet existences.

 

I’ve met some lovely couples today all enthusing about this coast. It is good to see so many people out walking and appreciating our national heritage.  The stairs up to my room, the final steps of the day, in the Coombe Barton Inn were creaky and my room a bit lopsided. I’m looking forward to some good Cornish beer and food.