Thurstaston

I don’t get to see the sea very often so, with being up on the Wirral peninsula for a few days around Christmas, I was keen to take a stroll along the shore.

Originally the plan was for Lauren and I to walk around three sides of the Wirral from Birkenhead to Caldy taking in views of the River Mersey, the Irish Sea and the River Dee. However events conspired against us being able to take on this 18 mile or so walk.

Instead we decided on a shorter walk along the shoreline of the River Dee to Thurstaston and then back over the hills to Caldy.

The weather was bitterly cold and I wished I’d worn another layer or two. There was no breeze, so it could have been considerably colder if there was a strong wind to fight against.

The first leg of the walk was along the beach to Thurstaston. The beach had remnants of snow and the stranded sea water was frozen in small puddles awaiting the tide to return.

The views of the estuary were just spectacular. In all the years I have walked along the shoreline I have never seen it looking quite so impressive as this day when the hazy winter sun was low in the sky and glinting off the frozen undulations in the sand.

After arriving at Thurstaston visitor centre we wandered for a short distance along the old disused train line from West Kirby to Hooton before leaving it for a path signposted “The Dungeons”.

The Dungeons weren’t very exciting. There were no emaciated prisoners or sadistic torturers. Just a cutting in the sandstone with a small cave and a little waterfall. The waterfall was fairly pretty with it being frozen.

Next up was a trip to the top of Thurstaston hill taking in great views of the River Dee estuary.

From the “summit”, it was a short stretch to Thor’s Rock (a favourite clambering place for kids) and then a little longer on to Royden Park. We were treated to the sight of a couple of tiny steam trains chugging around the park carrying a few cold-looking passengers.

At Royden Park, the proximity of the Farmers Arms was too near to ignore so we had a quick 20 mins drinks stop. A thoroughly excellent pint of Bombardier was effortlessly consumed by me – the best pint I had during my stay on the Wirral.

The final journey was back down a new path for me towards Calday Grange Grammar School and then over Caldy hill. We made a small detour to nosey in on the massive houses on Caldy hill that seem to pass hands from one overpaid (Liverpool) footballer to the next.

Duration 4:34 hours
Distance 8.2 miles
Path (Google Earth)

Milton to Clayhithe

The weather was fantastic for mid-October, so I took advantage of the blue skies and warm sun and walked from Milton to Clayhithe, via Horningsea and Milton Country Park.

The temperature was incredibly warm and it felt like it must be the last day of summer for 2010.

Here’s the River Cam near Horningsea:

And one of the old quarry lakes in Milton Country Park:

Duration 2:09 hours
Distance 8.4 miles
Path (Google Earth)

Ely

We went for this walk near Ely for 3 reasons; 1) we hadn’t done it before, 2) Ely is not far from Cambridge, and 3) a walking guide book marked this as one of their most difficult.

This walk from Ely to Little Downham is mind numbingly dull. I hope never to have to do it again and would not wish its incredible dullness on anyone else. The countryside around Ely can be very bland and this walk managed to find the blandest highlights. For much of it, we seemed to be walking along straight paths, with nothing of interest to pass or even see in the distance.

Over the entire duration we walked through just one village, and our excitement at finding a nice little village pub evaporated when it had a “closed for refurbishment” notice on the door.

Half of the walk was along muddy paths – how the paths were this muddy after a prolonged dry spell was a mystery to us. The other half of the walk was along roads which guided us past some new and characterless housing estates on the outskirts of the town. The route even took us across the busy A10 without the luxury of any sort of crossing point.

Ely itself does have some picturesque spots, notably around the enormous cathedral and down at the river marina and waterfront. We treasured the moments in the walk that took us past these landmarks and gave us something to show interest in.

Why this walk was given the guide book’s most difficult rating is beyond me. The only reason had to be that it was 11 miles long which for some people may make it a little long. However we did the walking part in a few minutes over 3 hours (=avoiding the temptation to jog around in order to get it over with more quickly), so it was not even a full half day’s walk.

For reference, the guide book was “Cambridgeshire and the Fens: Walks (Pathfinder Guide)”. I can only imagine that the author has never walked the route – and made it up entirely by looking at Ordnance Survey maps from the comfort of their sofa in front of a log fire.

It was pointed out that throughout the whole walk we had not met any other walkers. This, we considered, was a bad sign. In the peaks of North Wales I have always been a little disappointed to see other walkers since they can spoil the tranquillity. On this walk, we were desperate to see other walkers to reassure ourselves that we were not the only fools spending 3 or 4 hours of their life walking around such an uninspiring part of England.

Duration 4:09 hours
Distance 11.0 miles
Path (Google Earth)

Kalymnos 2010

For Carmel and I, this was our third trip to Kalymnos, which I think makes us sound old and boring, but there are three good reasons for our repeated visits.

  1. Minimal Brits. The hotel we prefer is the Hotel Elies in Elies, which is not an area overrun by tourists, tacky bars and British restaurants, so massively suits us. For the second year running we were the only English speaking people in the hotel, with the majority being Greek. Even if the other guests are tourists, the fact that they aren’t British tourists adds a great deal to our enjoyment of the place.
  2. Diving. We can go diving (not uncommon for Greece), but what makes this special is that the single PADI dive instructor on the island is a really friendly and easy going girl called Tiia. She manages to make our progress through the various diving certifications fairly effortless and a lot of fun.
  3. Walking. The island, more than many other Greek islands, has a plethora of walking tracks. The highest point is just short of 700m and there are many tracks up and down the different peaks. We have done a few of the walks, but looking at the map there are many more for us to do.

And it is extremely pretty.

Diving

One of the massive attractions with Kalymnos is the ease with which we can go diving there. There is only one PADI dive school, the Kalymnos Dive Centre, and that is situated in the hotel that we prefer to stay at.

We spent 4 days of our week’s trip last year doing diving, so this time we planned to do just 2 days of the activity. We met with Tiia, the dive instructor, and organised to get our Adventure Diver qualification. This entailed doing 3 adventure-class dives from a selection of about 15. The next qualification up was the Advanced Open Water Diver which required 5 adventure-class dives including navigation and deep water diving as mandatory.

For this trip we decided to do the navigation course (to help towards the Advanced qualification the next time), the underwater photography and the fish identification courses. Each course involved an hour or two of discussion/theory and then a single dive.

Each diving session normally accommodates 2 dives, so to make our 3 selected dives up to a total of 4, we decided to start with a refresher dive so that we could remember how to breathe and operate everything underwater.

The first dive was our refresher dive and I didn’t realise how essential this was. Carmel was very keen on it as after 12 months on dry land she felt a little nervous about being underwater. I thought we’d cope fine, but was fairly wrong in my assumption. On splashing in backwards into the water, the first thing I managed to do was hyperventilate such that I could not control my breathing with my head underwater. Carmel and Tiia did not notice this as Carmel was having her own assorted issues, and fortunately within a few minutes my body had gained enough confidence in the scuba apparatus to allow me to breathe underwater. The dive was good fun and we just swam around gently near a reef. A fair amount of time was spent ensuring Carmel was comfortable equalising at the different depths, as her body seems to find this trickier than mine.

The second dive was what we considered the serious one. This was the underwater navigation dive and primarily consisted of two activities. The first was counting our fin kicks over a distance of 10 metres. The second was navigating in a square using an initial compass heading and then turning 90 degrees right (left for Carmel) after 10 fin kicks. This was tricky. Not only did we have to hold a compass out straight with one hand, we also had to hold our slate with the directions on. The problem was the sea floor which was angled up towards the nearby rocks. This meant that we needed a third hand to control our buoyancy – and since neither Carmel nor I had a third hand it meant that we got very distracted by the task of keeping ourselves from scraping along the rocky bottom and finding our direction. I managed to swim the square and end up within about 3 metres of the start – not really very great. Carmel, on the other hand, managed to swim just 3 sides of the square and end up 3 metres from the start. By the time she had swum the 4th side of the square she was in danger of being mixed up in the breakers crashing against the rock face at the surface. Oh well, we did enough to pass the dive course.

The third dive was to get our underwater photography certification. The theory part ensured we knew about apertures, shutter speeds, ISO modes etc. But after learning all this Tiia then turned on the camera’s built-in underwater mode. We were joined on this dive, and the next one, by Monica – an American friend of Tiia’s who was earning her keep on the island by massaging weary climbers in the climbing resort of Massouri. Underwater we each took various photos with different compositions and lighting so that we could see the differences later. The hardest thing for me was trying to keep steady while getting close up to a moving fish and taking the shot – there was a lot to think about it! The only problem with the photography was that the camera’s waterproof housing had a large lens covering which got in the way of the camera’s flash. This caused a very noticeable shadow on photos of close-up subjects.

At the end of our diving sessions we had progressed to be certified PADI Adventure divers. It is always nice to progress towards a qualification, so we were quite pleased to have achieved more than just having a few purposeless dives. Our next challenge is to do two more adventure dives (one of which has to be Deep Diving, i.e. 30+m) and gain our Advanced Open Water qualification.

Walking

Another aspect of Kalymnos that we really enjoy is the selection of walks available. We dedicated two separate days to walking and enjoyed our exploring.

For the first day we decided to climb to the top of Telendos (459m) on a nearby island. Telendos used to be attached to the mainland a thousand years or so ago, but a massive earthquake flooded the low lying land and it became an island. The understanding is that the island’s original capital was sunk during the earthquake, and the sea between Kalymnos and Telendos remains protected against diving to preserve any artefacts that are still down there.

We had walked half way to the top of the little island a year earlier, but considered ourselves short of daylight when the path became unclear for the final section. This time we set off in plenty of time and had summited by midday. The final path that we could not find the previous year was still hard to find, but when we looked carefully many little cairns guided our way up a very step and scrambly ascent to the summit. At the top the views were fabulous on a clear and sunny day.

Duration 8:01 hours
Distance 9.3 miles
Path (Google Earth)

Our second day of walking took us to the highest point on the island. We had done this walk on 3 previous visits but we really enjoyed it. To make this walk a little more interesting we decided to extend it by walking over the mountain into the far valley and then walking back over a different mountain to the island’s port at Pothia.

The walk to the top of Profitis Ilias (679m) was straightforward, but Carmel was struggling in the searing heat during the ascent and was not her sprightly normal self. After walking down the long path towards Vathi we arrived at the start of the path back over to Pothia. The path started off being fairly difficult to find (no routes are signposted, of course) but within a hundred metres or so it became clear that we were following a fairly well preserved original stone path built hundreds of years ago. Apparently Greece used to have many of these stone paths, called kalderimis, but many have recently been removed to allow vehicles to use the routes. Given how long was obviously spent making the paths, their removal seems absolutely criminal to us.

The weather was incredibly hot – far too hot for walking up barren mountains with no shade. Carmel was really struggling and had to be kicked up the final 20 mins of ascent. But the views from the top of the pass, that the path followed, were pretty perfect as we sat and watched ships come and go from the port from our high vantage point.

Duration 6:04 hours
Distance 8.3 miles
Path (Google Earth)

Other

Aside from the days diving and walking we took life pretty easy. On one of the days we went on an organised boat trip to a couple of nearby islands.

On the way out of Pothia we were treated to the sight of dolphins who were feeding near the fish farms. Apparently they had stayed for most of the summer rather than just the normal couple of weeks, and we agreed that this was nice of them.

Duration 4:53 hours
Distance 23 miles
Path (Google Earth)

Moel Siabod

Moel Siabod is a slightly isolated mountain in Snowdonia in that there is quite a walk from it to its nearest neighbour peak. However it apparently does allow you to view 13 of the 14 highest peaks in Wales from its summit. We thought we’d give its 872m a go as something slightly energetic to do over the bank holiday weekend.

We stayed in the Gwdyr Hotel which was not particularly special in any respect. It was polite without being friendly and seemed to be unsure of what style of hotel it was. The room was fine, but the big spacious and empty bar was in desperate need of some attention and would not be a very appealing place to spend the evening. The town of Betws-y-Coed, where the hotel is situated, has many hotels so I don’t think we’ll be staying in this place again.

My Dad had chosen this walk for Carmel and I, and met us for breakfast. Wynn also had also travelled to Betws-y-Coed, but had chosen to try out a lowland walk he had spotted in the paper. We started walking at 9:30am after parking the car near Pont Cyfng at the Bryn Glo cafe.

The route we chose took us around the mountain from the north east to the south east before we started our actual ascent. The sun that had accompanied us at the start of the walk was looking more and more likely to leave us as we walked around the base of the mountain. When it started raining the three of us took the opportunity to put our waterproofs on. Just jackets would suffice in the intermittent showers we thought.

The first stage of the ascent was up through a small pine forest following a stream to Llyn y Foel. The forest was fairly full of mushrooms – vegetation that I rarely see in such quantities and in such variety. There were some decent and poisonous looking red ones and some bigger browny ones. I briefly wished I knew more about mushrooms, but luckily the feeling passed and I’m quite content to refer to them as red and brown varieties.

Coming out of the forest, the path become much steeper as we ascended to the Llyn y Foel lake. It didn’t take too long, and with a few short breaks we were soon at the lake.

From the lake our route took us up the south ridge towards the summit. This route requires quite a bit of scrambling as there is no well-trodden path. The scrambling was as difficult as we wanted it to be, with plenty of easy choices if we didn’t fancy the more tricky climbs. Very little of the scramble up the ridge is exposed, so we felt comfortable to test our scrambling skills without having to deal with a very rational fear of falling off the ridge.

As we clambered over rocks and boulders and pulled ourselves up through little gulleys we found our views of the lake below becoming obscured by the cloud that had made its permanent residence over the summit. It was around this point that the intermittent rain become more consistent and we started getting properly wet.

Every now and again, though, we had the excuse to pause our climb to look down on the lake which by now was a long way beneath us.

As we approached the top of the summit the cloud became much thicker and we could not see too far ahead. The rain was really getting to us now and we were looking forward to the summit and then starting our descent.

We saw the summit for the first time about 25m before we got there. The cloud at the top was thick, and the wind extremely strong and blowing rain and hail into our faces. The temperature was ridiculously low for an August bank holiday and my hands were becoming numb without any gloves. Carmel and I battled against the wind to the trigonometry point marking the official summit and then waited a few minutes in the battering wind for my Dad to arrive. The photo we took at the summit was like most of our British summit photos – in cloud and with us being tested by the elements.

From the summit we wandered around a little. It is easy to get disoriented in the cloud as the summit plateau is quite large and featureless. Carmel and I were relying on my Dad for the route and it was a little disconcerting when we headed off in the wrong direction before he asked if we had a compass and a map since he had neither. While I had a map, I had no compass, but I was aware of the direction we had come from and the GPS device that I had could indicate the direction we were walking in. However I did curse the compass in the device that had never worked properly. So along with the need for head-torches, from a previous lesson we had learned, we have now added compasses to our list of essential walking equipment.

The path down from the summit was fairly straight forward, but we were really quite cold and miserable. Around this point my socks became sodden with water and I realised that a waterproof jacket had not been sufficient weather protection. The rain had soaked through my lightweight trousers, which was not a problem, but had then soaked my socks, which was a problem. By half way down the mountain all three of us were squelching with every step. None of us had waterproof trousers or gaiters on – but all of us were stupidly carrying them in our backpacks.

The walk down did seem to take a while and we didn’t talk much. We were all too wet and bedraggled. The highlight of the day had certainly been the scramble up the ridge to the summit. This was really great fun, and contained very little of the fear that accompanies me on Crib Goch. I later vowed to give Tryfan a climb next year, having already climbed Bristly Ridge many years ago. Wynn volunteered to guide us up there, much to my Dad’s horror.

Oh, we obviously have absolutely no first hand experience of how many of the highest peaks in Wales you could see from the summit. Absolutely no idea.

Duration 5:30 hours
Distance 8.3 miles
Path (Google Earth)