Archive for March 2016

Fun in the Winter Sun   10 comments

Back to late January for some rather nice photos of mountains, snow, selfies and over-indulgence

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For the first time I went for a whole week’s skiing when fresh snow never fell. Not great for off piste powder skiing but rather good for cruising in the sunshine and topping up the tan.

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Obligatory selfie

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Ski bums

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Blue skies

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Cold beers

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And some skiing

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Snow-capped peaks as far as the eye can see

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A proper mans drink and a ladies tea cup

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Blazing sunshine

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The roof of Europe

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Yet more food

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And we even squeezed in a little more skiing

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Mountains galore

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And a slideshow with video footage thrown in for free…..

Back to Winter in Brecon Beacons   4 comments

I’m done now with being smug about our holiday in the sun over Xmas. What was needed was some proper winter weather, snow, clear blue skies and all that. Not done too bad since the wet and windy first half of the winter.

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This is a walk me and TJS have done many times. Whenever there is snow we always to head to the high Brecon Beacons to take full advantage. The amount of snow caught me out on the drive with the roads completely covered to the outskirts of Merthyr and a very slippery drive up to the car park

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The round of the main high summits of Pen y Fan, Corn du and Cribyn from the south is a fantastic outing if you can look past the crowds on Pen y Fan. It was a glorious morning, cold, clear and crisp.

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As soon as we started the climb the snow became quite surprisingly deep. Very hard work on the steep slopes up to the ridge

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Even harder work along the ridge trying to find the spots where the snow was hard or less deep. Some of the drifts in the peat hags were a few feet deep.

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The forecast had been good for the day but a heavy bank of cloud was moving in fast and we had a few nice sunlight effects before it disappeared for the day

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As we approached the summit of Corn Du the crowds became almost unreal. Most of South Wales seemed to be walking up Pan y Fan from the Storey Arms. Never understood the popularity of this route even allowing for the fact that its on a main road. There are several fine ridges onto the summit and yet this is a dreary boggy trudge.

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There was the usual mix of seasoned walkers and seriously ill-equipped people in wellies, trainers and fashion boots. It takes a real effort of will to tell myself that everyone should be encouraged to explore the mountains and crowds like this are a price probably worth paying if people are out in the mountains rather than festering inside watching TV (something I never do obviously). Just not all at the same time! 🙂

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Once we were on Pen y Fan it became clear there was some kind of challenge walk in progress. Again there were a mix of serious looking walkers and fell runners and lots of people who looked like they wished they had stayed home and festered in front of the TV

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The north face of Pen y Fan also seemed to be in condition for winter climbs and there were several parties in the steep gullies and on alpine style ridges between

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Many people seemed to be out on the slopes to go sledging. Lots of people were dragging sledges around and some people had snowboards, skis and even a converted skateboard (he spent a lot of time on his ar5e in the snow). I later learned that all these people had caused chaos on the main road by parking on the verges. The police ticketed hundreds of people and it was a big local talking point for a few weeks (until more interesting stories about a cat stuck in a tree and the price of silage pride of place)

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Even though the weather had turned very grey we took in Fan y Big as well. This avoids a long trudge back down the track and extended the snowy walking experience

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Quite a contrast with the warm sun and clear skies of Tenerife but to be honest, you can’t beat a decent walk in the snow with a couple of thousand people 🙂

Island in the Sun – Top of the World   6 comments

This was the “big one” as far as me and TJS were concerned.

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An ascent of Spain’s highest peak and easily TJS’s most significant mountain. An afternoon start was all that was needed so a chance for morning in the sun by the pool to get ourselves “in the zone” as it were.

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At 3718m El Teide is a significant eminence in anyone’s book. Much higher than I’d originally thought and even though you can ascend most of the way by cable car a major undertaking to climb if you do it properly. It needed some planning.

Interesting side story is that we’d have some company. My friend JB asked me somewhat pointedly and with a little more than passing interest where we going on holiday at Xmas, where we’d be staying, that sort of thing when met up a couple of months earlier. I told him while he looked back at me with a wry smile before telling me they were also heading to Tenerife, at exactly the same time and staying in the same area. Quite a coincidence since I didn’t know they were planning to go and visa versa. We’d made some plans to meet up for a walk but as I’m lumbered, sorry blessed, with two kids (one of whom hates walking) our paths didn’t quite cross (although we did go out for a very fine Tapas meal and they also cooked us a New Years Eve meal as I mentioned previously). However that changed with the El Teide climb

Anyway as I say climbing El Teide takes a bit of planning. Whilst a big mountain it’s relatively easy and you can drive to 2200m (still leaving 1500m though). Problem is that with a cable car to near the summit they operate a permit system to prevent hordes of tourist from trashing the delicate environment that is the summit crater. A check before we went revealed, probably unsurprisingly, that all permits were taken for about a month either of side of Xmas. Bugger!

I hatched plans to climb it one go through the night or arrive after the last cable car and walk down in the dark. Maybe even bivvy somewhere up near the summit. A little more research revealed a hut near the summit that if you stayed meant you didn’t need a permit. Even better was that there were spaces on January 1st, likely due to the fact people were recovering from New Years Eve excesses. I booked online within minutes and told J&A to do the same before places were sold out. Phew! We had a plan. In the event staying at the refuge doesn’t actually “waive” your need for a permit. It simply means that you are high enough and close enough to the summit to reach it before the day’s first cable car that carries the staff who police the permit. Also has the other major advantage that you can see the sunrise from this most iconic of mountains, well worth the effort as you’ll see.

So we had our plan and around 2:30 we were dropped off by TBF ready to begin our ascent

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The start of the walk is along a broad track/road, easy of gradient and effortless under the warm sun. One thing about having to plan a walk a month in advance is that you are at the mercy of the weather on that day. Many anxious days were spent watching the forecast, hoping we wouldn’t get a poor day for our big day. Our luck held and the weather was as clear and glorious as it had for most of our holiday

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The trail passes through a mixture of lava, ash and pumice as it wend its way slowly upwards. These dark round lumps are Los Huevos del Teide or the eggs of Teide. I think the technical term is Pyroclasts, lumps of lava blown out during an eruption. Turns out they form rather like the large balls of snow you make when building a snowman. Small balls of lava roll down over the molten stuff collecting more lava that cools and hardens as they continue downhill. This is one of the best examples or so the sign said

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The views down across the caldera were stunning

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We climbed the peak (well the rounded hump) of Montana Blanc form where we could see our objective for the night and the steep climb that preceded it. If you look very closely at the photo below you can just about make out the refuge on the skyline on the left hand edge

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A stop was in order to take on food and energy for the steep climb to the hut

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The views just got better and better as we climbed and the sun went down and played its winter light on the surrounding mountains

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The setting sun gave us our first view of the dramatic effect of El Teide’s shadow cast onto the island. It’s the unique effect of such a uniform shaped peak with nothing else around to interrupt the effect. Great in the evening, amazing at dawn, more to come

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The climb to the Atavista Refuge was easier than it looked, altitude only starting to affect us on the last few zig zags. We check in with the friendly warden, bagged a table in the small communal kitchen and spent the evening eating, drinking hot water and looking at the impressive views outside

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As the sun set outside and El Teide’s shadow slowly faded we were expectant for the summit climb the next day and in my case quite excited to again be climbing a major high summit for the first time in around 20 years since my alpine climbing days of yester-year

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It was a restless night, mountain refuges are almost exclusively noisy, stuffy and snorey if there is such a word. We were up a 5:30 and out walking 15 mins later while everyone else faffed about. It’s a well made path to the cable car station but rough and very tough to follow in the dark.

TJS was finding it very testing indeed, a combination of his first experience of high altitude and the fact that he was still recovering from his virus. At the cable car station he was in pretty bad shape and really suffering. We encouraged him to eat and press on the final few hundred meters to the summit and he gamely gave his all. He wasn’t going to fail at the last hurdle. In truth he coped well and in fact as we approached the summit he seemed to quicken as the older members of the group started to suffer. We made the summit before sunrise just as the first rays of light appeared over Gran Canaria

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It was perishingly cold and we took a few obligatory summit photos before settling down to watch the show

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The famous shadow appears just before the sun seems to pop out from behind Gran Canaria. It’s the largest shadow in the world projected onto the sea and its always triangular in shape even though the mountain is not perfectly symmetrical. Cool eh! I don’t think the photos do it justice as its a very surreal experience to see a mountain casting such a distinct shadow

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The sun started to appear and all was glorious

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The summit crater is pretty small only about 100 feet across and as you can see there are plumes of sulphur gas escaping from the ground all over. A stark reminder that things are still bubbling deep down there. The gas does give some warm, albeit rather smelly way to warm your hands in and the light effects are dramatic

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I’ve been lucky  enough in my younger days to have climbed a few alpine mountains and 4000m peaks. El Teide is very different as its on a island with nothing else around and its seems strange to stand at this altitude and be able to see a coastline and the sea. In the Alps all you can see are other mountains and valleys

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More summit shots as the ever rising sun created images on my SD card and in my mind to last a lifetime. I was worried that the summit might be a bit of circus but the effort to get there is considerable so the numbers are relatively small. In the end, even though there were 50 other people on the summit it was a quiet, reverential and respectful atmosphere as everyone took the scene of wonder in, lost in their own thoughts. Or possibly it was 8am, we’d been up since 5 and it was freezing cold

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As the sun rose, so it delivered what everyone wanted by now which was warmth. We had a very long way to descend and we needed to be off the summit before the permit police arrived. It’s a truly iconic peak to look at and to climb and we were all chuffed that we’d made the summit and seen the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean at New Year. I was pleased that circumstances had led me to Tenerife without ever realising I wanted to visit. Pretty glad I did

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Rather than reverse the way up, we’d chosen a route to traverse Pico Viejo, the second of Tenerife’s “Three Peaks” on the way down. We stopped at the mirador that overlooks it for some food and to admire its shapely features

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Topping out at 3135m it looks like something of a bump on the side of El Teide from below. From above however it reveals its true form. While El Teide has a small crater, Pici Viejo’s is massive. It was originally much higher with the highest parts you can see today the remains of a lava lake long since eroded. It’s truly an impressive site and another of those surprise features of Tenerife that I had no idea was there. I was looking forward to climbing it

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Unfortunately between us and it was a massive lava flow, Los Charcos. We came to realise that crossing a lava flow, even on well made path was very trying and tiresome especially on tired legs. It seemed to take an age to descend through the maze of boulders down to the pumice below Pico Viejo although to be fair it was a good 1000 feet of descent. The novelty of walking through a lava landscape wore off pretty quickly but the views across Pico Viejo to the coast were stunning

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It was with some relief we stepped onto the pumice and climbed to the top of the crater for a sit down and some more food

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Its a vast crater and hugely impressive to sit on the edge. Walk around the rim and even down into the crater itself would be amazing were it not barred and out of bounds. Not a bad place to stop for a rest

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The peak on the right in the photo below is Guajara that we climbed earlier in the trip which gives an idea of how high we still were and how far we still had to go to get down.

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Looking back up to El Teide shows how far we’d already descended including the the tortuous Los Charcos lava field

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1000m of knee-jarring loose descent followed. Much as I grew to love walking this bizarre volcanic landscape I had to admit it wore a bit thin on this day.

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The way down takes you past these dark craters, Les Narices del Teide, quite literally “the nostrils of Teide” which erupted in 1798 creating the immense lava flow behind the crater where the roads forges its route through

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I like the photo below for no reason other than everyone looks totally lost and out of place in this weird moonscape!

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I like this photo as well. Captures the volcanic landscape and smaller cones below as well as being able to see all three of the western Canary Islands of La Gomera, El Hierro and La Palma. Nice one to finish on.This was the last photo before my tiredness took over and determined that I couldn’t be bothered to take any more shots.

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And with that we trudged the last seemingly endless miles through the lava to the car and returned back to Los Gigantes to collect the Funsters (they’d been on a boat trip to see the Dolphins). A tiring an exhausting couple of days but one’s of immense pleasure and fulfillment. There are only a few such volcanic peaks within reach of the average walker and it was a special moment to watch the sunrise from this giant of the Atlantic. Quite hard to be believe it shares the space with a heaving holiday metropolis no less than 30 miles away in both directions.

And that was our Tenerife winter break in the sun. Our last day was a chill down after the endeavours on El Teide. Breakfast and lunch in the sunshine at the villa and an afternoon on the beach

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While I enjoyed the walking immensely, it’s what I do most of the time even through winter. There was just something extra special about sitting on beach in shorts and t-shirt in the warm sunshine in January. So very different from what that time of year brings at home and exactly what we’d all been looking for when we planned the trip

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We had one final glorious sunset to enjoy and one more meal at our favourite restaurant before it was time to pack ready for an early flight back to a wet, windy and flooded UK

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Goes without saying that Tenerife was a huge success for us. Pretty much the perfect destination. The temperatures were perfect, warm enough to laze in the sun, cool enough to enjoy walks without overheating. Endless walking opportunities, rocky peaks to climb, volcanos to watch the sunrise from, beaches to laze on. So much we wanted to see but didn’t have time. Next time

Island in the Sun – North Coast   4 comments

New Years Eve! An excuse to go further afield in our exploration of this island full of surprises. TJS had been up all night with a sickness virus and wasn’t all that keen to come out. I talked him into it as we were heading for the north coast and he’d been keen to see it. The road plummets down an astonishing series of hairpins to the coast. It’s pretty much a cliff and an amazing piece of road, one of many on the island. It pitches up in the small town of Garachico and very lovely it was too.

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The waves were absolutely enormous, all the more impressive in rising from the deepest blue sea. For a moment it looks incredibly inviting for a swim until you realise you’d be smashed to a pulp within seconds

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Its a lovely little town. It was completely destroyed by a lava flow in 1706 but has been lovingly rebuilt in the traditional style. That same lava flow has created deep channels into the sea that make perfect natural rock swimming pools. Well they would if the waves weren’t crashing around them. Everything was roped off for obvious reasons. You wouldn’t last more than a few minutes in the foaming water

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We spent a happy hour watching the waves over a coke and a coffee. Me and TJF went for a stroll around the harbour. Proceedings were enlivened by a drain hole under the harbour wall where the waves were gushing underneath causing a skirt-lifting rush of air every time the waves broke.

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Despite crashing waves the water was still a deep, clear, tropical blue and very fetching

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On our way back to the car we noticed some dark lumps on the rocks that I first thought were seaweed washed up by the waves. Closer inspection with the camera showed they were crabs. Very colourful ones and lots of them. I’m used to spending European sun holidays by the Med which is pretty lifeless. I forgot that this is the Atlantic and teeming with life

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We decided to head west to find somewhere nice for a picnic lunch figuring it might be less busy. It was an inspired idea. The road is spectacular, climbing high above the sea in a series of hairpins then burrowing through the cliffs in a couple of very long dark tunnels. Considering there is only a banana plantation and a lighthouse at the end of the road it seemed an extraordinary effort of engineering. However seeing as it led to a very fine spot at the Punta de Teno we weren’t complaining. Before exploring we sat down on the lava cliffs amongst the cacti for lunch.

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It was stunning spot away from the crowds, albeit a little hot. TJS was still feeling off colour so he stayed in the car

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The contrast was startling. On one side, towering cliffs plummeted down to a relatively calm sea with views back to Los Gigantes.

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On the other side the coast was being smashed by enormous waves. A 20 foot swell I reckoned.

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They formed perfect “white horses” and I was fascinated. As you know I love to surf on my kayak so big waves always grab and hold my attention. These would have given one hell of ride, emphasis on the one as I doubt you’d survive long after one wave

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The other side of the headland was calm and almost tempting for a swim from the jetty. The water was crystal clear and more large crabs scuttled around on the rocks. I just wasn’t sure I could get back onto the steps without a bashing from the swell

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The views from high up by the lighthouse were fantastic

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There was a small man made harbour on the other side and here it was calm and shallow enough for a dip. The beach was a little untidy as it’s a working harbour with all kinds of boat related detritus. Once in the water though it was warm and clear and full of fish life and it was a wonderful swim to end the day

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Even TJS felt well enough to sit outside on the rocks for a while and enjoy the views

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A fantastic spot that we’d picked on a whim and yet another spot to add the treasures Tenerife has to offer

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Rather than head home on the main road we took the one through the NW mountains. It’s a white knuckle ride of hairpins, narrow bends and oncoming traffic. The views however in the late evening light were just stupendous

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Ridges and deep gorges were the order of the day. Paths led off along and down them just aching to be hiked. We only did the Masca gorge on this trip but there is easily a weeks worth superb walking in this corner

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Out to sea you could see the islands of La Palma and La Gomera floating on the sea of cloud and haze

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Inland, as everywhere El Teide and its neighbour Pico Viejo dominate the island

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We stopped off several times to take in the amazing views (and catch our breath from the hair raising drive!)

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As it was New Years Eve we went into Los Gigantes (TJS stayed home and went to bed) where our friends J&A cooked us a lovely meal and we stayed and chatted until it was time for the fireworks. The hotel complexes put on a decent show which of course you can see for free from the balcony of a friends apartment. A fitting finale to a great day and indeed a great year.

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“Should auld acquaintance be forgot” etc etc

Island in the Sun – Volcano Day   9 comments

Time for a family day and an effort to convince TJF that a walk in the mountains was a very fine way to spend a day. The zone of forests between the coast and the high caldera of Las Canadas that we drove through on our first day looked very inviting for a walk so we headed up that way

Once again the air was crisp, clean and pin sharp, just perfect for walking. My guide book had a short walk of around 4 miles around the Volcan de Chinyero that looked ideal for a morning, pre-lunch amble

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Chinyero was the scene of the most recent eruption on Tenerife in 1909 and the path crosses several chaotic lava streams. It’s a very surreal experience made all the more unusual with the realisation that the ground you are crossing is only a 100 years old

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The views across the lava and trees to El Teide and Pico Viejo were very fine

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The scenery is really bizarre. Look upwards and you see the tops of a green forest. Look down and your feet are crunching on lava and ash with almost nothing in the way of grasses or shrubs. I was quite amazed that anything can grow on this landscape. Nature is wonderful in the way it can rapidly colonise the harshest of landscapes

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As the path climbs, the small barren lava cone of Chinyero is revealed. You can’t climb it although I’m not sure if this is because it’s not safe or because its fragile. There was a path to the top but this must be for the geologists who study it – at least that’s what I assumed

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The scenery is a reminder that Tenerife is still technically an active volcanic island. No spewing lava or bubbling mud pots. Its the idea that’s interesting. It may never erupt again. It could erupt tomorrow. I found the juxtaposition of green lush forest and barren lava flows quite beguiling

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It was a lovely easy circular walk that finished it some very large and impressive trees that must have survived the eruption. In fact several trees seemed to still bear the marks of scorching which I assume was from the heat of the lava as it passed nearby. A walk in clear mountain air through pine scented forests around and recently active volcano – very fine indeed

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Learning our lesson from the first day we chose a picnic site in the sun. They do picnic areas well in Tenerife. This one was just up the road and called Chio. It was huge with a vast array of massive wooden tables and even free BBQs to use. Set amongst the trees it was a marvellous spot.

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Indeed it would have been perfect had I remembered a sharp knife to cut the bread, meat cheese and fruit. Improvisation was called for. Seeing as I only fly about twice a year I will never accumulate any useful air miles. My frequent flyer card for Iberia therefore came in much handier as a blade although cutting a chorizo sausage with it was something of a challenge 🙂

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After lunch we needed another volcano fix. Our friends J&A had told us there was a very fine one next to the road a couple of miles away. It was a fine recommendation. Alas I’ve forgotten what it was called and no amount of web-searching has found the name

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It was higher than Chinyero so the views across to Las Canadas, El Teide and Pico Viejo were even better

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It was also a fine viewpoint looking down over the smaller cones that we’d walked amongst in the morning. Chinyero is in the photo below somewhere and you can just see the distant island of La Palma above the clouds

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It was a fine if rather uncomfortable spot to rest and admire the views. Looking again at the images the blue of the sky still takes my breath away. It really was wonderful up there

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As was our routine know we headed down mid afternoon to be down by the beach for a swim before sunset. We went to Playa San Juan (where we’d tried to swim on Xmas Day and been blown back by the Saharan wind). The weather was much kinder but it looked like the sand had been washed away leaving a pebbly beach. I have to say it was bloody hard getting in the water with quite a swell trying to bowl you over whilst you you hobbled over the stones. TBF was knocked over and spent the rest of the experience cursing about it. I thought it was a lovely swim to end the day even if my feet said otherwise as I hobbled back to the safety of my flip-flops

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Another tick in the box for Tenerife. The place was really embedding itself in my soul

Island in the Sun – Roque del Conde   8 comments

More walking to be done. Down in the SW corner are a couple of prominent rocky peaks around 1000m high that dominate the skyline from PdlA. These clearly needed exploring. We dropped the Funsters off in town so me and TJS to hit the mountains. The really dominant peak is Roque Imoque – the pointed one in the photos. As it was a longer walk (we were late getting underway) and looks quite a tricky climb, so we opted for Roque del Conde

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Its quite prominent in its own right with a distinctive flat summit visible from much of this corner of the island

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We parked up in the lovely village of Arona and started the walk, initially along the road but then out into the open countryside. Rather than the semi-industrialised banana groves that pack this corner of the island this was much greener and pastoral. The landscape has been heavily terraced for growing cereal crops although the most abundant species now seems to be cactus. Whatever, it was a very green a lush environment under a dark blue sky and very fetching

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The route takes a nose-dive into the Barranco del Rey, a deep bone-dry gorge that must see some water from time to time judging by its depth

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Roque Imoque holds the attention pretty much all the way

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An easy path than twists through the terraces climbing up towards the higher slopes. and the views across the coast and the lower slopes expands

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Cultivated terraces give way to dense cactus. This variety seemed particularly common

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There is also a good deal of prickly pear. It grows like a pernicious weed when introduced in this sort of climate. I’ve read that it has a higher weight and mass by area than any other plant and is almost impossible to eradicate once it’s taken hold

I’m a particular fan of views from mountains down over towns and cities so I enjoyed casting my gaze over the densely populated coastal strip. Up here where it was peaceful, it’s quite a contrast with the massed ranks of hotels and apartments

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Its then a steep climb up to the top. The weather was just perfect for walking. Warm and sunny without being oppressively hot. It was a delight to stroll to the top in the sun rather than a dash between heavy rain showers that walking in the UK at Christmas normally brings

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The local wildlife came out to say hello

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The summit suddenly appears and it’s a wide expanse of level-ish ground heavily cultivated and terraced. It comes as quite a surprise after the steep rocky slopes to reach it. We found a quiet sunny spot overlooking the edge and El Teide in the distance and scoffed a hearty lunch of meat pasties

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A close up view of Roque Imoque shows just how sharp and rocky it is. If you look closely you can see a couple of people on the summit

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Like all sunny days on a nice mountain its hard to tear yourself away from the summit.

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We made our way down by the same route although a look at map later revealed there are other paths to make a nice circular route. One for the future and you can combine this with Roque Imoque for what would be a superb outing

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On the way down we passed this circular “era”, a threshing area for the cereals grown here in previous times

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It was a marvellous walk through a landscape different to the one’s we’d seen on other days. I just loved the contrast between the blue sky and green vegetation

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Roque Imoque still standing sentinel over the walk as we passed through the Barranco del Rey on the way back to the car

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Only one way to finish off a day like this in the mountains. Down to the coast to join the Funsters on the beach for a refreshing swim in the sea.

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