The French Connection – Accrobranche   2 comments

We love the tree climbing adventure parks in France (called Accrobranche over there) and its a mainstay of any visit. We have them in the UK but the courses are inferior and shorter and the cost much higher so we fill our boots when we are over the channel.

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These places are everywhere in France and even though we had a couple just a few miles away from our campsite we travelled across the Dordogne countryside to one we’ve visited many times now. At only £16 each for a full days entertainment with friendly staff and challenging courses, its well worth the extra drive.

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This year we had the added “fun” of heavy rain just before we arrived making the obstacles somewhat more slippery than normal.

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Here is the inestimable “J-Dog” (no idea where that nickname comes from – her kids assigned it) tackling one of the many zip wires.

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TBFs lack of height can make these things a little more challenging although she’s easily the best of the adults at this stuff.

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The kids taking a break from the action.

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One of my favourites, the Tarzan swing onto the cargo net.

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Anyone who has ever done of these course will tell you that the toughest obstacle are the infamous “strirrups”.

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While dangling in mid-air you have to reach forward and place one foot in a stirrup and then remove the other foot and move forward. Believe me, its much, much harder than it sounds or looks (hence the reason I dipped out this time and am taking the photos from below)

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TJF making it look easy.

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The last course is short but very hard indeed and only a few hardy souls tackle it. This year it was just the DBs who made it look all rather easy.

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Fantastic day out as always.

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The French Connection – Chateau de Bonaguil   10 comments

We did have the odd cloudy day with a bit of rain in our week of hot sunshine. Such days demand an outing and all of us are suckers for a good castle. Luckily this area of France has a plentiful supply. There are several near the campsite but they tend to be very busy. I suggested a 45 minute drive across the pleasant and empty countryside to a cracking castle my family have visited before, the Chateau de Bonaguil.

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Its a classic castle much like the one’s I used to draw as a kid. Battlements, passages, towers, staircases. Ruined enough to let your imagination run free, but with enough left intact for a good explore. A great way to spend and hour or two on a cloudy afternoon.

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Its built in a commanding position on a spur of limestone rock overlooking a forested valley. The architects used that position to great effect and it would have taken some military might to take it down.

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The views from the various towers and battlements were superb.

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Lots of nooks and crannies to explore.

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And an impressive construction when looked from the bottom to the highest point.

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The added excitement of underground tunnels where they used to store food and prisoners.

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One of the massive towers.

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The terrace was a great place to get further impressions of its bulk.

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Our happy band of campers and castlers.

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The top of the Donjon or keep.

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Spectacular views over the rest of the countryside and castle. I’m always torn by whether I prefer to see the castle as it is today and use my imagination to see what it was like in its prime, or whether I’d love to see one of these castles restored in its full glory.

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TJF can look stylish in any setting.

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TJS looks like the quintessential student in any setting.

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The entrance over the massive bridge into the heart of the fortress.

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A fine way to spend an afternoon.

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Posted September 12, 2020 by surfnslide in Castles, Dordogne, France

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The French Connection – Dordogne Camping   12 comments

After a hugely successful trip a couple of years back, our little “camping friends” team decided on another trip back to the same places this summer.

We were all booked up months before all this Covid madness started and ever since our spirits have been up and down almost weekly as to whether we’d be able to go or not. As the summer progressed it looked like things were settling down, “Air Bridges” were opened in including France and all looked good.

Then as we were less than a week to go, Covid cases in France started to rise and it seemed possible if not likely that France would be removed from the Air Bridge list and our trip would be off. As the travel date approached it became clear the rules would only change after our departure date. On that basis, assuming that nothing was certain with our current haphazard government and accepting the fact we may have two weeks quarantine when we got back we decided to go for it. In addition we were heading to rural France on small quiet campsites which felt safer than a crowded British beach for example.

It was a stressful few days leading up to departure but once we were underway the focus was on having as good a time as we could. It was a heatwave when we left although we hit some heavy showers on the way that spread to the rest of the country and marked the end of the good summer weather in the UK.

We all met up very excited at Portsmouth for our overnight ferry to Sty Malo.

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The Sherpa gang ready to go.

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The sail out of Portsmouth is an interesting one, past several large navy ships.

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And Portsmouth Harbour including the Spinnaker Tower.

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A gorgeous sunset saw us on our way.

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Including this amazing light show with the sun creating an endless shadow behind this cloud.

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We gathered on deck for a picnic tea and to kick the holiday off.

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It soon grew too cold to sit outside so while most went to their cabins and bed, Me TJS and Mark enjoyed a couple of leisurely beers to aid sleep (that’s my excuse). Brittany Ferries had the whole Covid situation very well planned and it was an excellent crossing. We saw almost nothing of St Malo due to a dense fog when we arrived but we were on the road and on our way within 15 minutes of the ship docking bang on time.

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Its a long drive to the Dordogne but we travelled in convoy and had several stops for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea that are always fun and help make the journey bearable. Unlike the 1am arrival last time, this time we were able to complete the journey and get ourselves set up before it got dark and more importantly before heavy thunderstorms hit. Just enough time for a couple of cheeky beers before bedtime.

Next day however was a stunner, hot sunny with gorgeous blue skies.

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We quickly settled into a routine of not doing much. Swimming, eating, a few short walks, sunbathing and generally lazing about.

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Every morning was a walk along the lane by the river Ceou that flows through the campsite and down to the bakery to collect the bread and breakfast croissants.

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The Ceou is small spring-fed tributary of the Dordogne. Its stunningly clear and an inviting blue-green colour. Less inviting is the temperature which is startlingly cold. Luckily the weather has been hot and sunny on both our visits which makes the cold water refreshing.

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These two photos are taken from the bridge downstream of the campsite at the Moulin de Mel where we spent a lot of time. The river is still, deep and clear and there are jumps from the bridge to add to the entertainment. I was also rather pleased to see a snake swimming across the river here.

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The next two are from the deep pool on the campsite which has its own small waterfalls and a jumping platform. The site also has a Swimming Pool. It’s always busy but we prefer the clear cold water of the river to the extent that only a couple of our group have ever been to the pool.

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The site has a small bar and restaurant and we had a lovely meal on one of early evenings there. Most French campsites I’ve stayed on have some form of takeaway service so you rarely have to cook.

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Above the campsite is a long line of limestone cliffs with caves that are great for both exploration and messing about as well as great views down over the Ceou Valley.

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DB Junior peeping from one of the caves. TBF managed to fall into a hole in one of the caves. Luckily a potentially nasty fall was broken by a Dangerous Brother and a packet of crisps acting as an air bag.

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The campsite from above.

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Castelnaud and its chateau.

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The campsite swimming pool. Our pitches are in the trees behind.

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The open pastures behind the campsite.

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Early morning view of the chateau on one of my bakery walks.

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The river pool sunbathing area.

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We took a quite ridiculous amount of inflatables between us and had great fun wrapping our killer whale in rings and trying to ride it!

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A short video of DB Jr successfully riding the combined “raft”.

A few views from around the campsite.

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Its a really well provisioned and laid out campsite. France does camping so much better than we do in the UK, at least in my very limited experience.

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Overlooked by the limestone cliffs and with a clear stream running through it, pretty much perfect.

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Hot Air Ballooning seems to be big business here. They drift overhead most mornings and evenings. We had a chance to watch them inflate and take off on one evening.

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I’m guessing its very expensive but its fascinating watching them.

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One of the balloons took off quickly into the sky but the other two seemed to have difficulty getting fully airborne and seem to float very close to the trees. Seemed to work out well in the end though.

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Our main focus however was in and on the water. The Ceou is beautiful as it follows a lazy course through the valley. We discovered more pools for swimming upstream and downstream and had many trips along it either walking, swimming or floating down on inflatables.

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These final few images are again from the bridge at the Moulin de Mel where we ended up on many occasions.

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It’s a wonderful place for a swim and teeming with wildlife. One of my favourite spots.

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After many trips to various places in southern France we worked out that access to water is essential in the hot summer. Even though the post has a “Dordogne” title we spent almost all of our time here and loved every minute of it.

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A few more specific posts to come and this was only the first part of our trip. The Dordogne Valley is a busy place but this valley only a mile from the main river is quiet, rural and unspoilt (as are huge tracts of France if you can be bothered to seek them out). Our routine of an easy paced life with lots of swimming, eating and simple pleasures was just the tonic in this most troubled of years.

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Seaside Fun   9 comments

A couple of posts for days out on the beach. First few were from a windy trip down to Rest Bay in South Wales for some surf kayaking with THO. TBF came along as well as did Mrs THO. The tide was fully in when we met up and as eating out is tricky we had an al fresco fry up in the car park followed by a walk along the coast.

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Its a rather nice stretch of coast that I’ve never explored before as I only take to the water when I’m here.

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It was wild and windy but we had a fine time especially as THO brought his lovely dog Mac along. Walks are always more fun with a dog especially when they are friendly little fellas like Mac.

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We did eventually get in the water and the surfing was excellent. Another chance to meet up with friends we hadn’t seen for ages due to lockdown.

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The following weekend was TJFs birthday. We had been planning a meal out but with our summer holiday coming up we didn’t want to visit a busy restaurant a few days before and end up in isolation and not be able to travel if we were contact traced for the virus. Searching for a day out that all of us could enjoy we settled on day at Weston Super Mare

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The weather was much better than forecast with plenty of sunshine if a bit windy. We parked up at the far southern end of the beach on the sand near Breen Down with a view to walking up the beach all the way to the far end and back along the Promenade.

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I haven’t been to Weston since I was a kid and have vague memories of a rather tatty place with mud instead of sand and of watching the Red Arrows perform their aerial stunts from the beach.

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In those days Weston was about the nearest resort for anyone living in the Midlands so it was a sort of pilgrimage to head there. Its not somewhere to go for a swim as its really on the Severn Estuary rather than the coast.

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What I hadn’t realised was that there is a good deal of walking around here and Been Down looked especially fine and I now have a plan to come down here and walk out onto its rocky headland. You can also see one of the two islands that sit out in the estuary, Steep Holm, to the left in the photo below.

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The tide goes out miles here so a visit to see the sea was out of the question although there were some brave souls miles out there trying to find it.

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We enjoyed a very fine walk along the firm sand up to the heart of the resort and pier. Even though it was a sunny weekend there was no crowding at all on the beach. We avoided the busy spots like the pleasure park and the pier as masks were needed. TJF does not like wearing a mask to the extent she finds it distressing so we avoided that sort of place

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Looking back down the beach to Breen Down.

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At the north end of the beach they have created a tidal pool for anyone who fancies a swim. It looked cold and murky and I don’t think I’d want to swim in it but people were and having a good time into the bargain.

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We found a takeaway chip shop – a really rather good one – for lunch on the sea front that also included me and TJS taking on a challenge to eat far too many deep fried donuts. I didn’t eat for the rest of the day!

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Then a long stroll back down the Promenade heading towards the car.

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More fine views of the beach and the headlands.

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I’ve been meaning to head back to take a look at Weston ever since we moved to Herefordshire. That was 16 years ago so it took a while. Its altogether a more pleasant place than I remember and well worth a visit and a stroll especially on a nice sunny summer day. A grand day out.

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The Return of Camping!   12 comments

The first weekend of the school holidays is a regular get together for our friends up in North Wales. That wasn’t an option this year as campsites in Wales were still closed but TBF did some research and came up with a very good alternative and the very nice site, Sytche Farm near Much Wenlock in Shropshire.

Forecast wasn’t the best for Saturday but after a wet morning it dried up and we managed a pleasant, short stroll up on to Wenlock Edge.

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And a wander around Much Wenlock itself, a very nice little town indeed. Just as well we got out as the evening was atrocious, heavy sweeping drizzle that soaked everyone and everything. We were all cowered under my canopy as we were not yet allowed in each others tents.

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The next day was a complete contrast. Blue skies and warm sunshine. My new air-canopy looking rather fetching in the morning sun.

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Time for extended games of Kubb. Mentioned many times and a fixture of our gatherings. Chucking sticks at blocks of wood has never been so much fun.

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Lunch in the sun before deciding we needed some proper exercise and a walk over the fields and hills to Ironbridge.

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Whilst not exactly thrilling the fields and woods were very pleasant and undemanding at least in an up and down sort of way.

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It was demanding in a distance sort of way though. A 10 mile+ round trip in fact.

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Worth it to see one of the UK’s more famous sites. Its not the most impressive bridge you’ll ever see but the idea is, the first – well – iron bridge.

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Its actually rather a pretty spot, if a little touristy.

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Although calling it a gorge is rather overplaying its hand a little.

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I came here when I was a kid and I’m sure the bridge was black and you could drive over it. That’s long since been stopped obviously.

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Its an iconic structure though and given more time (and with no pandemic) it would be good explore further and visit some of the many industrial museums in the area.

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As it was we had a long walk back, a BBQ to set fire to and it was already well past 5pm. A return route and a fast pace to ensure we had the BBQ before it go too cold. A fail there, once the sun went down it was freezing but clear and a good time was had by all even wrapped in duvets and jackets.

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A morning wander around the town, church and Guild Hall in Much Wenlock.

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For our afternoon walk we drove to the Wrekin. Despite it being a very prominent local landmark (and the fact that “going round the Wrekin” is a common phrase in my Black Country homeland – it means taking the longest possible route) I’d never been up.

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A massive oversight as its lofty height and isolated position provides 360 spectacular panoramas. You can see as far as the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia, Cheshire and the Peak District.

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It was busy and we were lucky to secure a parking spot but well worth it as the skies were clear and the views just magnificent.

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It even has some rocky tors for a DB to explore and make everyone else nervous.

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We decided to make a circular walk by heading off the far end and returning through the forest. Much quieter other than main route and a perfect plan in every regard apart from the fact the path down was steep, loose and rather unpleasant, especially if you slip and land on your bum as TBH did. Very painful indeed.

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Back to the site for more evening Kubb and a new woods and sticks game called Molke.

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The last day we packed up, everyone else headed home but we had a short drive back so managed to fit in some more activity. We drove over to the Stiperstones, had a picnic by the The Bog (nicer spot than it sounds) and then went for walk along the ridge.

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It had clouded over but the effects were quite impressive.

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And then main ridge always delivers a fine walk (even if the path is one of the most rocky and awkward I know)

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Time was short (TJS had a train to catch) so just a walk past of the Devils Chair ridge.

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The Wrekin on the skyline in the distance.

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Normally our group gatherings tend to be up north leaving us with a very long drive home at the end of the day. This time we packed up the trailer, fitted in a picnic lunch and decent walk and were still home in time for tea.

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A great weekend and after so long in lockdown and seeing friends through Zoom, it was fantastic to meet up in person and have some fun. Long overdue.

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Back to Wales at Last!   8 comments

It had been quite a challenge looking out from my bedroom to the Black Mountains and Wales and realising they were out of bounds. Necessary of course but we were pleased that the reopening of the National Park coincided with a decent weekend of weather. Keen to avoid the busy spots we headed to the Black Mountain for one of our favourite walks.

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Parking up in the east, following the infant river Tawe up towards Lyn y Fan Fawr/Fach and a circuit of the high peaks and edges

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Intermittently cloudy and cool punctuating the sunny spells we walked on briskly looking for a spot for breakfast.

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We eventually found a grassy shelf with a tremendous view over most of mid-Wales.

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With a backdrop of the impressive edges of the Black Mountain.

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I’ve really taken to the idea of breakfast in the hills. Makes the effort of carrying all the stuff around worth it when you have a view like this.

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The shores of Llyn y Fan Fach were busy (only relatively) so we pressed on to the top. The view along the edges over the lake is truly magnificent.

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Followed by what looks like a long walk along the edges but in fact the walking is so grand and easy its over all too quickly.

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The sunny spells had increased and the air was amazingly clear. We could see a whole range of Welsh hills as far as southern Snowdonia. Looking the other way the view across the Gower towards Devon was equally fine. Looking closely I saw land out in the horizon – I could see the Lundy island out to the west of Devon. Must be close to 70 miles away – amazing.

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We decided another long stop for a cuppa was in order on the highest point.

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More sensational views, this time across Llyn y Fan Fawr, my favourite mountain lake.

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On the way down you pass an impressive gully and narrow earthy arête that makes for a great photo foreground.

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We had a brief stop by the shore for a paddle – well I did anyway. A truly superb spot.

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The weather was just getting better and better and the Afon Tawe has some wonderful, if rather small pools that looked inviting for a dip.

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We saw no point in turning down that invitation. It was brief and very cold but nothing beats a wild swim in the mountains.

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It felt good to be back.

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A Weekend Away At Last   23 comments

For us in rural Herefordshire the Lockdown was not as challenging as it must have been for millions of others. Those in big crowded cities, living in small houses and flats with no outdoor space and the only escape, crowded parks with as many people keen too judge as there were people trying to make the best of things. My heart went out to them while we were immensely lucky to live in a small country village and in a house with a large garden.

What we did miss was the chance to get away for weekends and see our friends of many years standing. We missed our regular May Day gathering but had filled the gap with a regular Zoom meeting on a Sunday for chats and quizzes.

TJS wanted to head back to Lancaster for a few weeks to see friends (socially distanced of course) and I suggested to the Silverdale Massive we could meet up for a walk to make a day of things. After a brief discussion we agreed that if we were cautious and careful we could stay over for a weekend under the new rules at that time so we jumped at the chance of a weekend away and a chance to spend some time with people other than ourselves.

After the glorious weather of Lockdown, the weather has reverted to type and Saturday was awful, damp cold and grey. No matter at all for a weekend with the gang. Outdoor walks were replaced with plenty of relaxing, cooking, drinking endless tea, eating endless good food and playing board games.

The Sunday was much better

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After reading many of Mark’s recent posts about the Gait Barrows nature reserve and me insisting he’d never taken me there, I was very keen to see it this time.

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We had a fine wander over the fields and across more new paths I’m sure I’d never walked on. As I say many times when we visit, this area seems to have limitless paths and stunning little corners such that I don’t think you could ever tire of walking here.

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Its packed with interesting stuff and I can now add Gait barrows to that list.

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The limestone pavement here is in my opinion quite extraordinary and one of the most impressive I’ve seen.

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It lies at a very gentle angle its surface is quite astonishingly smooth and uniform, carved out with what I assume are rainwater channels.

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I was absolutely fascinated and mesmerised in equal measure and as always the photos don’t really do it justice.

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Mark, has an in depth knowledge of all the various rare and interesting plants that inhabit this unique ecosystem. I need to record these walks so I can remember all the information he divulges.

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Even though the weather was far from settled and summery, there is always a chance for lie down!

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Another of those plants and associated insects pointed out that I do not remember the names of. What I do remember is that the plant is poisonous and therefore so is the caterpillar. His bright markings a clear warning not to eat me!

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A perfect Limestone feature to use as a toilet!

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We spent a good while just wandering about, learning (and promptly forgetting) new stuff. We took numerous paths in varying directions to the extent I was completely disorientated by the end. Luckily our local experts have “the knowledge”.

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Clouds were gathering so time to head back for lunch.

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Hawes Water (no not that one) is somewhere I have been many times and its a lovely spot. It looks like a shallow reedy lake so I was surprised when Mark told me is actually a large limestone solution hollow and quite deep.

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A walk around its shores and nearby fields is always a pleasure. Our timing was perfection as the rains came just as we reached the house.

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We had another chance for a walk in the afternoon and time for another classic round over Heald Brow, down to Jenny Brown’s Point and back via Jack Scout and Woodwell.

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The weather looked a whole lot more threatening and I was sure we were heading for a soaking at some point but again it never materialised until just as we got back.

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The tide was fully out and the expansive sands of Morecambe Bay revealed.

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There was a group of people way out in the Bay, not something I’d ever want to do without a guide. The tide comes in frighteningly quickly and there are far too many tales of people paying the ultimate price for errors.

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A real tonic to be able to spend our first weekend away for several months. The weather wasn’t the best but no matter, a fine time was had by all

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Back to the Malverns   12 comments

Another day of showers and another day where a half day stroll was in order. Wales was still closed for business so we headed east to the Malverns. These can be really busy on a weekend but a bit of local knowledge tells you the southern end is quiet and just as lovely as the more popular parts further north. We parked up in Hollybush and strode out across the fields under bright sunshine.

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We came across this charming little thatched gatehouse on our way onto the Three Choirs Way (whatever that is – another of the ever growing list of themed walks).

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Like a little Hobbit House from this side.

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The views across the Vale of Evesham to the Cotswolds and Bredon Hill were superb.

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On to our first hill and the most southerly of the Malverns, Chase End Hill.

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What the Malverns lack in height in they more than make up for in up and down and steepness. Even on this short 7 mile stroll we clocked up over 2000 feet of ascent.

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On to the second hill of the day, the wonderfully named Ragged Stone Hill. A really steep little blighter with tremendous views.

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It was chilly and windy up here. I had more clothing layers on that when I’d last walked this part in February last year!

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Our next summit, Midsummer Hill with the main Malverns ridge in the distance.

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Clouds and showers over the Severn Valley and Estuary.

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The obelisk on an unnamed summit just off the ridge. A memorial to some posh Victorian family members I’d never heard of.

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No photos from Midsummer Hill as it was insanely windy on top.

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We managed a brief sit down in grass out of the wind for the mandatory cuppa and snack.

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We’d thought about maybe heading a little further down the ridge or across the common to the car. Dark clouds were gathering and we were spattered by a rain shower so we decided we’d done enough walking and headed directly back to the car. In the end the shower never really amounted to anything major despite the very dark skies. On the way back we took a look at Gullet Quarry and its lake, a well known wild swimming spot. They’ve now closed it off with loads of warning signs, barbed wire and anti-vandal paint. To be honest the water looked a bit murky and not all that inviting for a swim.

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You don’t need to walk the main ridge with its crowds, tea-shops and busy road crossings to enjoy the best of this range of hills.

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Back to the Mountains   17 comments

Wales and its mountains have been out of bounds during lockdown, frustrating when you can see them from your garden as your local hills. We’ve enjoyed exploring Shropshire and the Marches but we were eager for some mountain time. There is a short piece of the Black Mountains, Black Hill, that’s neither in Wales or the National Park and we stayed away as we felt that was in the right spirit. Having seen pictures of people walking the ridge eventually on a showery day we decided to give it a go.

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It was quite busy in the small parking area but we found a spot down the hill to park up. Our luck with the weather ran out and we were caught by a heavy shower as we set off.

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Short-lived though and soon we were in sunny intervals and some cracking views.

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Its a fine ridge, the only truly “narrow” ridge in South Wales (these things are relative, its just a walk with the odd rocky step.

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It was windy and it felt great to be back in my local mountains again.

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Despite the busy car park we only saw a few people out and about, it didn’t really feel any busier than when we’ve walked up here before. Everyone was polite, pleasant and respectful of social distancing.

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Storms passing through Monmouthshire.

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TBF enjoying the walk.

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Looking back along the Cats Back ridge

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The small pond on Black Hill summit

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We were caught in a heavy and squally shower and as the ridge from here heads into Wales we took the path back down the Olchon Valley.

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The sun came out again and the valley looked resplendently verdant, albeit due to the surging tide of bracken.

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Only a short walk for few hours on a Sunday but refreshing and revitalising.

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Wales is now open again so hoping to head back for a longer mountain walk over the coming weekend.

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More Garway Hill   12 comments

Whilst my local mountains in Wales have been closed off, Garway Hill became my release valve for a high level walk and views to keep me sane.

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This one was taken after dropping TJF in town for a socially distanced meet up in the park with one of her friends. We thought we could grab a walk in between drop off and pick up.

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Another day with heavy showers forecast but we were lucky again and avoided a soaking even though there were clearly damps spells about. We even managed a cheeky summit beer – a very nice Brewdog Lock-Down Lager!

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More bracken starting to rear its head.

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Some of the paths I use on this walk will shortly disappear until winter when it dies back.

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We had time to take the longer route, down the ridge, back along the lane and cutting back across the fields to the open common land.

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An enjoyable if short walk.

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Next day I was on my own while the rest of family visited my Mum-in-Law. I took a long ride out to see if could cycle all the way to the top of a local hill (a missing Marilyn) called Burton Hill.

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I managed it with some stiles to haul the bike over and few interesting moments on a muddy path riding on slick tyres. The photo below gives flavour of what trying to find summits in these out of the way places can be like! Steep hard work on the way up but a fabulous long downhill ride back down!

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