Archive for February 2012

Not enough time….   8 comments

I remember the halcyon days of the autumn. Nokia told me they no longer wanted my services so I downed tools and devoted some much-needed time to getting outdoors, blogging about it and reading other people’s tales. Now I’m having to work properly for a living I don’t get out as often as I’d like and when I do I struggle to find the time to write-up my blog and read everyone elses. I have 3 or 4 draft posts I need to get out and I have nearly 100 unread posts in my Google reader.

Me and D went out and finally climbed Pen y Fan for the first time (for D anyway) last weekend

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I’ve bought some new gear which I need to review. A JetBoil stove which I’ve already tested and is top drawer and a new Rab waterproof jacket (or whatever the 21st century term is) which I haven’t used in anger yet. Reviews to follow.

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And I’ve just realised I’ve passed my blog first birthday without any celebration

And top it off I’m off to the Southern Highlands of Scotland for a long weekend tomorrow so with some luck another 3 days on the hills which of course will be added to my backblog (see what I did there)

So lots of work to do when I get back and hopefully some stories to tell

Have a great weekend one and all

Posted February 29, 2012 by surfnslide in Reviews, Walking

Chester – Romans and Animals   14 comments

Jane was SAD!

Well she gets SAD at this time of year – Seasonally Affected Disorder – unlike me who revels in cold weather and snow, she hates it and hates this time of year. She’s more a summer and sunshine kind of person. To help her deal with this crippling, debilitating and little understood problem we decided on a little weekend away. The people at Premier Inns were offering rooms including breakfast for the family for £50 so we decided to head to Chester. D has always wanted to see the walls and the Roman remains and the whole family love the zoo so we thought it was a decent choice.

We parked up down by the river and took a stroll towards the walls.

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River Dee

It would be lovely down here in summer but it was biting cold today so we pressed on along the walls which pretty much encircle the city.

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Chester Walls by the Roman Gardens

The amphitheatre is one of Chester’s crowning glories and despite the fact it’s surrounded by the main road and only half visible (the other half is still buried) it’s quite impressive and the kids liked it. Apparently archeologists had been looking for it for years – how could a Roman legion as big as Chester not have one but it was only found by chance when the school (the one built on top of it) archeology professor started poking around when they were building an extension. If you can block out the traffic noise you can get a feel for the place.

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Amphitheatre

We pressed on around the walls to the famous Eastgate clock, said to be the most photographed clock in England after Big Ben. It’s rather impressive in its own way and overlooks the famous Rows shopping area.

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Eastgate Clock

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Eastgate

We walked around the rest of the walls past the cathedral and the Roodee racecourse and took a stroll into the city for a wander around the Rows and a cuppa.

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Chester Cathedral

It was to say the least bitterly cold, grey and dreary in Chester so perhaps that contributed to my feeling that Chester was a disappointing experience for me. It’s the first time I’ve been since I was a kid so my memory is perhaps a little tainted but the walk around the walls just brought forth a huge sense of frustration. There are several sections closed for repairs that are festooned with a lattice-work of scaffolding. I appreciate that these things need maintenance and winter is the best time, but surely a rolling program rather than all at once would be better. Add to that the insensitive use of galvanised steel, and unsympathetic development (a modern glass fronted “New Look” clothes store entrance on the wall anyone?) and it just reminds me that in Britain we don’t always treat our archeological treasures and history with quite the reverence and protection that we should. Take the famous amphitheatre. Once discovered it took years of battles and protestations to the authorities before they reluctantly decided NOT to build the main road over the top of it. I’ve visited a few similar sized towns and cities in France like Chester and while there is always an urban sprawl outside the heart of the place, they seem much better preserved and seem to be able to survive without High Street chain stores and their “brand” protruding from every historic building. There I’ve had my say now!

On a cold day in winter there is only so much city wandering the Jones family can take so we strolled briskly back along the walls to the car taking another look at the amphitheatre before heading off to our hotel for a nice meal in the Blue Cap pub and restaurant next door, big thanks to the staff there for looking after us and I can strongly recommend the food – top-notch

Chester Zoo the next day. I think it’s the largest in the UK and if you like this kind of thing (and we do) is a pretty decent place. As we were only 20 minutes away we were in pretty much as it opened. It really is huge and you do need a full day to see it if you want to “bag” all the animals as it were. It was a rather strange experience to see lions, tigers and the like all prowling around in frosty weather and some of the more exotic animals chose to stay inside. We walked around pretty much non-stop and only just managed to see all the animals and that was without stopping to take in any of the informative talks. If you do take the family here then I suggest that you plan it so that you take in the animals you really want to see and the interesting talks, it’s too big to do everything in a day even if you arrive when it opens.

I’ve posted a few photos below and one of my usual slide shows. Highlights for us were, the bats (they fly around within inches of you occasionally brushing against you), the tiger and her two cubs, the giraffes, the elephants, the butterfly house and the monster python who opened his massive jaws full width while were looking at him.

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Cheetah

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Tiger and cubs

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Humboldt Penguin

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Some kind of python - he was BIG!

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A yellow snake (who am I - David Attenborough!)

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Giraffes - L's favourite

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L and the butterfly, or possibly a moth

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Indian elephant

A very cold weekend but a nice little break from the usual routine and Jane isn’t SAD anymore 🙂

Craig y Cilau – Slippery when white   16 comments

A bit behind with my blogging again so here’s a little walk report from a couple of weeks back

I’ve not been out for a proper walk for a while now. Since I went off skiing without the family for a week I thought for the next few weekends at least they needed some quality time with me. That and the fact that I’m trying to keep their interest in walking going means I’m taking on some shorter walks at the moment whilst still trying to get out on the hills to some degree.

This walk is one I’ve had my eye on since we moved down this way in 2002 but never got around to. It’s an area of limestone edge tucked away between the Black Mountains and the industrial Welsh valleys to the south. With interest in all things speleological I’m a bit of a fan of Limestone scenery and this walk didn’t disappoint.

Craig y Cilau, 4.7 miles, 1,200 feet of ascent

There had been an armageddon style forecast of heavy snow for the previous night so we had made some provisional plans to go sledging. However all that materialised was a couple of inches of very wet slush so we thought a walk would be a better plan. We parked up just above the village of Llangattock, near Crickhowell and set off on a walk taken from my Jarrold pathfinder guide They are pretty good books for exploring the areas away from the obvious mountains if you ignore their propensity for pointless detours to villages and pubs – I’m all for a pint on walk from time to time but not at the expense of detouring from and missing out a fine walking route.

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Slipperiness begins...

Where was I? Yes off for a walk. As soon as we set off we realised that said few inches of wet slush was treacherously slippery, a feature that would come to dominate most of the day. The walk starts by dropping (read slithering) steeply down into the Cilau valley. As we turned across a steep slope to pick up the path heading above the river I slipped onto my a*se into a very pleasant combination of watery snow and brown mud that left an interesting coloured mark on my trousers. As they say in Viz “luckily I saw the funny side”, well I didn’t really but you get the idea.

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Frozen Field

The stroll across the fields towards Llangattock was very pleasant with thin sunshine lighting up the Sugar Loaf ahead and glimpses of the limestone world we’d be reaching later.

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The Sugar Loaf

We talked about our holiday plans for the rest of this year which will be pretty much the same as last year (if it ain’t broke don’t try to fix it) and also about the possibility of a “special” holiday somewhere far away in a couple of years.

The path eventually drops down to the Brecon and Monmouthshire Canal where the Pathfinder guide takes in an extra mile to walk through the village of Llangattock. We decided to cut the corner and got our canal kicks from a very short 10 yard stretch between bridges. They are repairing this section so it had been drained of water giving the kids a chance to really how the canal was constructed and just how much mud collects in them.

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Family by the Canal Bridge

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Frozen Canal

Leaving the canal the walk heads up along an old tramway that used to carry stone down from the quarries, towards Craig y Cilau and reaches the “crux pitch” of the walk. There is an incline that was used to lower the wagons loaded with stone down to the trams to carry them to the wharf on the canal at Llangattock. It’s arrow straight and very steep and I thought the kids were going to plod up at an inconceivably slow pace. Always ready to prove me wrong they both raced up it leaving both me and Jane trailing in their wake.

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Kids leaving me and Jane trailing

At the top before the second incline section up to the edge the route emerges from the trees and there was a very nicely sited bench with views across the Usk Valley to the Black Mountains. Can’t waste opportunities like that so we sat down for a second lunch and as is the habit now, brewed up a fresh cup of tea for me and Jane. Sitting with a cuppa looking at snow dusted mountains watching the kids play in the snow with no-one else about, life was pretty good just then.

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Tea time

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Happy families

Refreshed we carried on up the second incline to the bottom of the cliffs. From here the route follows another old quarry tramway that takes and almost level traverse under the cliffs. It’s a truly stunning stroll along what at times is quite a precarious path but never that difficult although today it was made interesting in the snow.

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Tramway path

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Usk Valley and Black Mountains

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Tramway path

The area is riddled with cliffs and caves and the edges had some wonderful ice falls on them. The kids were particularly interested in these while my interest was piqued by the numerous caves that clearly needed exploring.

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Ice falls on the cliffs

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Ice falls on the cliffs

The sun was out by this stage bathing the edges with low sunlight and creating some lovely effects.

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Jane and L on the slippery stuff

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Arty tree shot

The path then heads back down onto the lower slopes and this path was absolutely lethal, with everyone slithering and sliding and taking ages to get down. Just before the final climb to the car the path traverses a really unusual and very boggy meadow that gave long lingering views back across the escarpment.

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Surprise Meadow

The whole area reminded me of the limestone escarpment near Llangollen we’d visited earlier in the year

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Pen Cerrig Calch

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The Sugar Loaf

Another new route and another cracker. It would be a wonderful walk on a summer’s day with lots of opportunities to linger in the sunshine. I’ll be back. Enjoy the musical slide-show and big thanks to David over at Luachmhor for recommending the music of Ludovico Einaudi – cracking background to some wonderful scenery.

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