In a previous post I told of my planned trip to the Galloway forest this Easter. When I began planning I’d imagined it would be a springtime adventure. As you may have noticed we’re in the depths of winter. This changes things somewhat.
My original plans were for a three day, lightweight, tarp camping trip then a couple more days in the woods. Because of the weather I’ve decided to take a load more gear and be prepared for full on winter conditions. The most likely activities now are day walks and maybe a night or two in bothies. Maybe on snowshoes but perhaps on normal boots. I can’t say for definite until I’m there…
I visited the Galloway first park earlier this year. It was my first visit and I’m hooked. Since I came back I ordered the OS maps and googled for inspiration.
I’m hoping for a week-long trip, probably in the spring (hopefully before the midge season).
At the moment I think the plan is drive to Loch Trool and leave the car for a few days and explore Merrick and the surrounding area. I’m thinking a three day round trip then resupply and set off again. At the moment I don’t know if I’ll include cycling in my trip, just for a change of activity.
If I take the bike then I’ve got miles of trails to explore too.
After some more study of the maps I’m beginning to form a plan. I think Easter is when I’ll go, unless further research tells me that is into midge season. I think I’ll try a route from Loch Trool over the Merrick and north towards Tunskeen bothy, near loch Macaterick. Spend the night there then head roughly east, through the forest to the Rhinns of Kells and south over Corserine and the ridge. Another night in the woods somewhere before heading back to Loch Trool.
What I’ll do after this I haven’t decided. Either a couple of days cycling, some days walls or another overnighter in the area south west of Clatteringshaws.
There don’t seem to be to many blog post or forum posts about this area so detailed information is limited. Its quite exciting really, a bit of mystery in an otherwise we’ll planned walk!
When I get a day to myself I like to spend it either walking on the hills or mooching about town. I used to go to Leeds to fulfil my mooching needs but this time I decided to start at home and go into Bradford. There is something of a renaissance beginning in Bradford, still in an embryonic stage but extant nonetheless.
For those unfamiliar with the term ‘mooching’ -for me at least us to wander aimlessly doing as I choose. No fixed plans of activities or locations, only a vague idea such as lunch in a pub, visit a museum. That sort of thing.
This easter break I have been very lucky indeed and spent two days mooching. This then is an account of things to in Bradford city centre if you’ve some free time.
The main activity that I had planned for today was to visit the National Media Museum and see the rest of the “life online” exhibition (i had been in a couple of days earlier with my family but toddlers and 4 year olds don’t make it ready to read the info in the gallery!)
Life online is the first exhibition in the works to look at how the internet has shaped our lives.
The gallery has examples of the humongous, slow dial up modems and the computers where it began. Video clips and text about the people who got us here.
I’m reasonably knowledgeable about internet things but I found it fascinating. It is also evident that it was put together by people who ‘get’ the internet with subtle references and hat tips to rick rolling and other memes.
The media museum is free to enter and one of the most popular museums in the country.
To get back into the city ‘proper’ it is a short walk from the museum through the recently opened City Park with its mirror pool and urban garden.
It was getting on for lunch time by this point and time to find a cafe. (though the museum does have a good quality and reasonably priced cafe itself).
At the top end of town (Bradford is quite hilly!) is Northgate and my lunch destination “cafe bleu”. I hadn’t visited before but went there on a recommendation. The cafe is small and smart and has been awarded 5 stars by council inspectors. Lunch was a latte and a goat’s cheese and red onion chutney panini. (about £6) the coffee was good and the panini well filled, with melting cheese oozing out. Delicious. Even the salad was good, no limp iceberg here!
A short walk from cafe bleu is the Sparrow. A ‘ bier cafe’ which opened about a year shop and had already been awarded ‘Camra pub of the season’ and got a listing in the guardian.
Though Bradford had no shortage of good ‘ale pubs’ the sparrow is a little bit different and attracts write a diverse clientele. On my visit other than myself there were an older couple enjoying a light lunch of a plate of ‘morlinky’ (a cured sausage similar to kabanos) with pickles and relish (£2.20) with their pint, an English literature student who was photographing the city and assorted others on their lunch break from work in nearby offices.
Despite my delicious lunch I couldn’t resist a plate of cured meats and cheese (£3) to accompany my pint(s). What I hadn’t realized from my taster glass was that the IPA I’d ordered was 6%abv. Oh well. There went the afternoon.
Prices in the sparrow are surprisingly reasonable – Comparable to other city centre venues. A pint of real ale is about £2.70-£3.00
It looks ‘trendy’ with the walls bedecked with art from local artists and the foreign beers on draught and in bottles. But it is friendly and welcoming and not at all cliquey.
At any one time it has 4 real asked on traditional pumps with another 5 ‘quality beers’ on keg. None of your default John Smith’s/Tetley’s nonsense here!
After my light refreshment it was back to City Park and the Bradford 1 art gallery. The gallery is housed in the Centenary Square building, also home to Lloyds and sSarbucks. It is council owned and entry is free.
At the time of my visit there was an exhibition of street art including a couple of pieces by Banksy.
(I’m by no stretch an expert on art, really quite a thicky when it comes to things artistic. I’m quite happy to accept that I ‘just don’t get it’ as long as you accept a lot of it is pretentious scribbling.)
Anyway, the contents of this particular exhibition were attractive enough, interesting in places, odd in others. I can imagine that if you do ‘get’ art then it would be more than a ten minute visit. The impressions gallery was closed for setting up a new exhibition at the time of my visit.
Thursday 24th June
From our wild camp at 1995m we ascended to the border ridge. It was cold and windy. Just over the ridge is a small lake encircled by steep banks of snow and scree.
A scramble down loose rock got us to the shore and then an easy flat walk around the lake. The final hurdle was a thin ice-bridge blocking our way. Helen chose stepping-stones close to the waters edge. I climbed up and over the rocks. Daz initially followed me but couldn’t reach the same holds as I could due to the difference in our heights. Attempting a ‘third way’ he ended up caught between rock and ice. Much to my amusement. After removing his pack and taking his Lekis he was on his way. We climbed out of the bowl of Ibon de Bernatuero and began the descent to Bujuaruelo, under the summit of Alto Crapera.
The path was well-worn ad obvious, making its way ever downward through scree to alpine meadow and eventually to lowland fields and forest. Here the track seemed to end. We searched and tried a way through the forest but to no avail. After a fruitless hour we walked back uphill to a small un-wardened refuge we passed on the way down. We saw a path on the left (Eastern) side of the valley and made our way over to it. We descended the valley towards Bujuaruelo and the path got twistier and steeper -seemingly endless descent until we arrived, exhausted at the river. Daz was missing so we went straight for the bar. We found his pack next to a bench and him at the bar.
Wednesday 23rd June
Breakfast of coffee and pain au chocolat. Packed up the camp, it amazes me how it all fits into the three packs. We set off along the road out of Gavarnie in the direction from which we arrived 2 days previously. Having seen the Ossoue valley from a height we decided to follow the road to the dam. This also spared us the hairpins up the GR10. The walk along the road wasn’t too bad -very warm though, bright sunshine and little breeze. We stopped for lunch when the road and river became a similar height. An hour spent under a tree for sandwiches and sweets. Further up the Ossoue valley we took a side track up to the Cabane de Lourdes, a pleasing little cabin on the mountainside. Passing this we entered a high side-valley which would lead us to Spain.
We climbed up to about 2000m which was quite close to the valley head wall which forms the French/Spanish border. We took off the packs and rested a while on some warm rocks. A snack of instant soup was made in our ‘kitchen’ -a sheltered area among large boulders -just right for cooking. At about 7pm we pitched the tents on some flattish ground between cow-pats. Dinner was cod and potato stew -lovely!
After dinner we took to the tents as the air was cooling. Tomorrow we’ll be in Spain.
Tuesday 22nd June
A rest day in Gavarnie. Ate, drank, ambled about, admired the view. Overall a very pleasant day. Pushed the boundaries of MSR cookery with a delicious pasta dish -jamon, chorizo, shallots, lots of garlic, tomatoes and butter. Also made garlic bread.
Gavarnie has 3 main populations; Locals, Tourists and Horses -four if you include the ever-annoying flies. The horses provide tourist rides to the cirque. Every morning they walk down to the road -seemingly unguided and every evening they walk back up into the hills.
The day dawned clear and bright. Ish. We decided against our planned-from-the-comfort-of-a-sofa idea of anascent of Petit Vignemale because of the snow and our lack of crampons. Instead we followed the GR10 down to the Ossoue lake. Snow and scree and a 1000m descent. When we made it to flat ground we had lunch by a large boulder over the course of an hour. 2 Brits on their way down from Vignemale stopped for a chat (small world moment: Months later I met one of the men when I visited Astra Zeneca in Loughborough!) We packed up our gear and wandered on. Climbing up the GR10/HRP we decided to head for Gavarnie instead of crossing into Spain as Daz had fallen, hurting his wrist and damaging his watch. The GR10 follows the pattern of the road, but about 500m higher up the valley. We stumbled into Gavarnie at about 7.30pm absolutely exhausted. The two Brits we spoke to at lunchtime were already at the camp site. Just as we got the tents up the rain came down hard. We went for a beer and then straight to bed.
We went for a non-existant 8am bus to Pont D’espagne. Had croissants and coffee in a cafe then took a taxi to the road head. A long hairpinned road with a great deal of ascent got us to the end of the road. After 5 minutes walking we arrived at the chair lift up into the mountains.
From the top of the telesiege it was a short walk to lac de Gaube -very misty. Two hours later we reached the refuge Oulettes de Gaube. After a brief lunch stop we once again set off, this time Bayesellence which was over a high col at around 3000m. The route was advertised as 2.5hours on the way markers. It took us about 4.5 hours because of the thick mist and snow covered ground. We met up with a Frenchman, Anthonie who joined us for the crossing of the col. We followed foot prints in the snow and GR10 way markings all the way. It was exhausting work for our first day out. We arrived at Bayesellence at about 6.30pm, and stayed for the night paying for dinner, bed and breakfast.
*This blog post is another transcription of notes written in my journal at the time. Intended as a more permanent record than a tatty notebook*
Departures: Saturday 19th June
Hold luggage: 32kg
Daz searched by customs officer at Stansted airport. No burger king here, drat.
On arrival at Pau in Southern France we took a taxi to the train station. Helen was sent on a fuel foraging mission. She returned with a couple of bottles of ‘Essence C’ which turned out to be a dry cleaning fluid!
We took a train to Lourdes – the noted Catholic Theme Park. There was what appeared to be a large war remembrance parade going on. All restaurants were closed except for McDonalds.
No evident departure point at the coach station for the coach to Cauterets. We only just made it in time!
Stayed in ‘les Gleres’ campsite in Cauterets. Good facilities, terrible pitches -all rocks. We could barely put the pegs in. We pitched next to a loud river it was very misty.
In both of my previous trips to the Picos de Europa I have flown from Liverpool to Madrid (Easyjet). From Madrid I have taken either the train or the coach -about 5 hours travel either way. This time I flew Stansted to Asturias (Easyjet).
Train Travel in Spain: The national network, RENFE run a decent service with different levels of train. Express and stopping services. Their website has full (and up to date) information. http://www.renfe.es A quick look has suggested that currently a ticket is about €50 (one way) from Madrid to Oviedo. It is then €7.50 by coach to the city bus station (Airport is 50km out of town!)
Coach travel in Spain: This is a much more comfortable option than coach travel in the UK. ALSA run an excellent service both nationwide and within regions. Their coaches are clean, comfortable and air conditioned! They have several levels of service, some coaches having 3 seats to a row instead of 4, voucher for food at the rest stop on a long trip. Another quick check suggests that a one way ticket for the coach is €32 for the economy (6 hour) trip or €51 for the Supra+ (which includes WiFi) and is direct from the airport terminal. http://www.alsa.es
However you arrive in Oviedo onward travel is probably easiest by coach, again its ALSA here. Cangas de Onis, Arenas de Cabrales and Panes are all served directly (these are the three main towns at the northern edge of the Picos) Other parts of the national park can be reached by local services from these towns (Potes and Fuente De for example).
The coach to Cangas de Onis is about 1hr30 and cost €6.25
Getting into the National Park: From Cangas de Onis there is a frequent bus service to Los Lagos de Covadonga (which takes out a 20km hike with a massive ascent) running from about 9am until 7pm. €7.50 return (the only ticket sold at the bottom) Getting out again is about €3.50 from the ticket office in Buferrera car park. To my knowledge there is no bus service from Arenas de Cabrales to Poncebos. It is about 1hr30 to walk to road head at Poncebos from where it is a couple of hours walk to Bulnes (Since I last visited this part of the range the Funicular to Bulnes has opened to there may well be a bus to Poncebos to support this).
At Fuente De there is a cable car which speeds you up to the mountains. Its not cheating, its efficient! This gets you to within a short walk of Horcados Rojos.
Accommodation: Cangas and Arenas have plenty of hotels and hostels. Cangas isn’t that cheap though. Both also have camp sites (Cangas is at Soto de Cangas, about 4km away)
On the south side of the mountains Cain, Posada de Valdeon and Fuente De have Hotels, Hostels and Albergues.
Within the mountains Bulnes has a couple of places to stay also there are mountain refuges and bothies marked on the maps. The refuges are very reasonable for accommodation though eating does put the cost up considerably. For example, Refugio de Vegarredonda is €12 per night or about €35 with evening meal and breakfast too. -This is the maximum price, BMC membership or membership of the Spanish or Asturian equivalent knocks quite a lot off the price. All refuges have about the same prices.
Bothies are free but can get crowded and have no facilities beyond shelter.
Camping is only permitted above 1600m, ‘bivouac style’ which means tent up not more than 1 hour before sunset and down not more than one hour after sunrise though in practice as long as you’re not taking the mickey no one seems to mind. Refuges have a ‘no camping’ sign outside them though on the wall of one there was a document stating a law says the number of campers cannot exceed 10% of max capacity of the refuge.