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Brecons Gap Route   4 comments

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Since I decided to give cycling another go I’ve had my eye on what looked like a rather fine round called the Brecons Gap Route. So named as it traverses the gap between Fan y Big and Cribyn in the heart of the Brecon Beacons. It’s a good deal tougher in the mountain section than anything I’ve attempted before but the weather was stunning so I figured I could at least give it a go. I set off from Talybont-on-Usk on a gloriously warm sunny day and headed off on the Taff Trail

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The first section was very rough and bouncy. The Taff trail follows the line of an old railway along the valley – at least that’s what I thought. Turns out the first couple of km follow an old bridleway and it was rough going but not too steep and I coped fine

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As it climbed the views began to open out across the Talybont reservoir

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I wandered onto the dam to take a couple of shots. Stunning I thought

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From there its a very long climb up to the pass above the reservoir. Never steep and by now on the old railway line the going was much smoother. They are clearing away the old plantation so the views were superb. Gave me an excuse to stop many times and admire.

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I passed a few people walking but no-one else on a bike. The Beacons Way follows this stretch and it reminds me why I don’t like following pre-ordained long distance routes. There is a superb high level route that would avoid this long endless trudge on foot, a few hundred foot up above on open ground. In fact the Beacons Way actually descends from where that path starts to pick up the Taff Trail and then climbs back up again to meet it a few km later. Why the route chooses to ignore an obvious high level path in favour of a forest trail is beyond me. This trail is ideal for cycling but not for walking. Each to their own I suppose but the D of E groups I saw seemed not to be enjoying the trudge even on this glorious day

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Seeing as this is the age of the selfie, here’s a very rare picture of yours truly enjoying another photo-rest excuse to stop

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From the high point of the road there is a speedy short descent before the trail curves around towards the main part of the Beacons. From here things get a little tougher

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The trail becomes extremely stony and rutted and while not steep was pretty hard work. I’m pleased to say that other than one short section that drops steeply in and out of a stream, I made it all the way to the “gap” (seen in the centre of the photo below) without needing to push or more importantly, falling off

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I have to admit I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I’d done 15km and close to 500m of ascent and survived to tell the tale. More than that I really enjoyed it – never thought I’d hear myself say that about mountain biking

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I celebrated with a very lengthy stop to have lunch and a brew, chatting to other cyclists as they passed through (this a popular and well-known mountain bike route)

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The descent from the gap gave me my only problem. The first 500m or so is steep and very rough, more like scree than a path. After a couple of nervous attempts I decided discretion was best and pushed for a few minutes. This section really needs a full on, front and rear suspension bike (mine is just a hard-tail). I managed to negotiate my way down carefully. It was wild and bouncy and my bike was making all kinds of rattling noises but again I was very pleased to make it all the way to the road-head without falling off, albeit very much slower than the madcap people taking the descent at full throttle. It must be a hell of an adrenaline rush but if you came off you’d do yourself a really nasty one

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Once on the road its a very fast and steep descent all the way to valley bottom along peaceful wild-flower be-decked country lanes. A real blast. My route back to the car was along the Brecon and Monmouthshire canal. It was superb (and flat!) and gave an excellent last hours wind-down in more peaceful surroundings after the drama of the gap

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The canal has a small aqueduct over the river Usk

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This little bridge just after was picture perfect and I stopped for breather. Nice spot for a picnic I thought. More to follow in a later post

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From there it was an easy cruise along the tow-path. Wild flowers were abundant and the route busy with other cyclists and families enjoying a perfect spring day

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I think TBF would enjoy this part of the ride although definitely not the mountain section! I must fashion a route along the canal and back along the lanes of this quiet corner of the national park

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35km ride in total and a real classic – me, enjoying mountain biking, who’d have thought 🙂

Cycling with the Hardman   18 comments

When I told people about this they were concerned for my welfare. Going cycling with the Hardman is like saying I’m off for a short stroll with John Muir. The Hardman is very serious about his cycling and despite his older years is seriously fit. He’s thin and wiry and in short everything I’m not. This is man who cycled from the coast to the highest road on Tenerife, a relentless unbroken climb of 2400m, in less than 3 hours. I’d agreed to go cycling in the Peak District with him. I sent him several “go easy on me” and “I’m really quite unfit” e-mails in the hope that I might stand a slim chance of returning directly home afterwards rather than via an oxygen tent in a lonely casualty department.

In the event he was a very considerate cycling partner, reducing his speed down to “middle aged mortal” level and allowing me and TBF to survive the experience intact 🙂

In truth the route was an easy one. North along the Tissington Trail, south on the High Peak Trail and back along the roads to the start. After an excellent breakfast at a garden centre (I had to wait for it to open, how sad is that at my age) we parked up the stunning village of Tissington ready for the off.

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It was a cracker of a day. A clear blue sky is the perfect day for a visit to the White Peak. The green fields and the white stone walls seems to radiate light and warmth

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The Tissington Trail is a wonderful vantage point (or stretch to be precise) to view it from on a bike as its elevated. More importantly the ascent is barely noticeable, in effect a flat ride. Perfect for us less fit types

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We made easy and swift progress to Parsley Hay where the views were superb and we celebrated with a cuppa. The White Peak was my local hiking/stomping ground around 15 years ago when I lived near Derby and I used to love it. The mix of open grassy fields and deep limestone dales and gorges was always one of my favourite landscapes and its a real shame I don’t get back there often enough

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Such was the quality of the day we headed up to the far end of the trail to see what it was like

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This section was especially fine and the easy cycling in such wonderful surroundings was a joy. There is plan in motion to link the ends of the Tissington, Monsal and High Peak cycle ways. When complete it will be a quite superb 2 day circuit through some of the finest scenery in the UK

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We headed south and back along the High Peak Trail. Another stop for a snack and a cuppa was in order but this section was exposed to the cold wind. We eventually found a really well sheltered spot just after this man-made causeway, itself really rather impressive

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We left the trail at Brassington and had a rather excellent sweeping fast descent down the road. The price to pay was a short steep hill preceded by a ford (which the Hardman disappointingly refused to cycle through). Me and TBF were well chuffed to make it to the top without needing to push although a couple of stops to admire the scenery were required

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The Hardman, being a more serious cycling type has a disturbing tendency to dress like a MAMIL!

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A final lazy roll back down to Tissington finished a memorable ride of 30 miles. I may at some point start to enjoy cycling (don’t tell anyone)

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Best way to finish off a great day and a superb weekend? A family meal at Wagamamas when we got home. Sorted!

Funster Birthday Weekend – Trevose Head   10 comments

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A coastal walk today to contrast with the moorland walk of the previous day. Before that a nice little photo of our B&B

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We’ve walked many stretches of the coast in the neighbourhood having spent many family holidays down in Cornwall. Trevose Head is one neither of us had done so it seemed an obvious route. Winter had arrived and it was windy and bitterly cold but with a sharp clarity to the air and hopefully not too many showers. We parked up by the beach at Treyarnon Bay, one of our favourites but today we were the only car there

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It was a wonderful morning, crashing waves and a mix of blue skies and threatening clouds

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Along Constantine Bay beach and then past the very splendidly named Boobys Bay

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As you approach the headland there is another “Round Hole” where a sea cave roof has collapsed. Very impressive.

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The walks continue around the headland and past the lighthouse

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As you round the headland the next three coves of Mother Iveys, Harlyn and Trevone Bays come into view

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Mother Iveys Bay is steeply shelving so the waves hit the shore close in making for a great scene of Atlantic aggression.

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As we approached Harlyn Bay we caught a glimpse of a seal and he played in the waves while we watched for a few minutes

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Onto our last beach at Harlyn

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I liked the contrast between the clouds the rippled sand and the seaweed covered rocks

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Back along the lanes to the car and with a seven mile walk I was feeling the knee strain when I got back to the car. We decided that we’d earned a lunch at the very nice cafe at the YHA, soup and cider the order of the day

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We actually managed to go in the sea as well for some kayaking and body boarding fun. Unsurprisingly we had the sea to ourselves what with it being bitterly cold. I wish I’d taken my camera as after one bruising hailstorm the views were sublime.

A cracking day finished off with another meal out, this time at The Basement in Padstow and once again, wonderful food as part of an ongoing birthday treat. A sacrifice I was willing to make 🙂

R & R in Silverdale   4 comments

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A short post based on the few photos I took over this weekend back in September. More in tribute and thanks to Mark and his family for inviting the usual collection of kids young and now getting older and adults already old and trying to be younger, to their home and allowing us to eat their food, untidy their rooms and generally interrupt their busy life. Its a weekend we now always look forward to as a kind of last hurrah before the dark days of winter set in

We did a pretty long on the Saturday. Leighton Moss & Hall and down to Warton (where we met the Yorkshire contingent for a pint and a bowl of chips in a local pub) and then back to Silverdale via Warton Crag. It was an excellent day but as it was a little grey and overcast I took no pictures. It was more a day for catching up and chatting and none the worse for that.

Sunday was day of bright sunny intervals and though there were heavy showers we missed almost all of them on a walk down to Jack Scout and Jenny Brown’s Point. Its one of my favourites and this time took a few snaps to capture the day.

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En route we came across a rope swing that the kids had a great time with (and some adults who should know better)

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The tide was out and the views across Morecambe Bay, the wet sand reflecting the sun, were very fetching

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The kids gathered for a cheery team photo in the very strong and blustery wind, before we went back for yet more food. Eating is a big part of this weekend 🙂

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We enjoyed one final walk between late afternoon lunch and early tea – yet more food – up through Eaves Wood to the Pepperpot. The views across the village and the bay from here are superb and I’m always jealous of the fact that this view is no more than a 15-20 minute stroll from Mark’s front door.

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A fine way to finish another excellent weekend away – big thanks again to the Silverdale crew!

Touring through the Tarn – Downstream   5 comments

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Well if you visit the Gorges du Tarn you better spend a day floating down it. Rather than cycling back to the start, this time I took the easy way out and used the bus. Allowed a brief period to enjoy the views at La Malene

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We’ve done the down stream stretch from La Malene many times so this time we gave the upstream section a go from St Enemie, itself a very fine medieval village where we had lunch a few days before

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This stretch wasn’t as dramatic as the previous trips but it was a good deal quieter.

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An early stop for lunch was what was needed – it takes a while to drop off, drive to the far end and bus back

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It was warm and sunny but a little breezy, more than enough to deter the rather fickle Funsters from taking a dip. Water this cool and clear has to swum in my opinion so I had to take the waters alone

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I let the Funsters loose in the kayak without my guidance and they went round in circles for a few minutes before I took over control and ensured we continued our journey in the right direction

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A fine way to spend a sunny day, floating down a dramatic tree lined gorge, watching the world drift by

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One of the highlights is the village of St Chely du Tarn, perched on cliffs above the river with its own Tufa-lined waterfall

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Predictably I threatened to take the boat under the falls for a refreshing shower but thought better of it

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The Cirque de Pougnadoires is the drama highlight of this stretch but less so than Les Detroits and Cirque des Baumes on the lower stretch. Not too shabby though

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You have make time for plenty of stops to swim and soak up the sunshine. The Funsters are much better at that!

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The Chateau La Caze stands guard over the final long stretch back to La Malene

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A brief bit of fun trying to negotiate a very stony weir and a final swim at La Malene ended a superb day messing about in a boat

Down in the Dordogne – Kayaking in the Sun   6 comments

Of course the main draw of the Dordogne is the river itself and whilst the bridges, lanes and villages give you a feel for it, the best way to experience it is from on the water

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We’re experienced at this now having done the classic Dordogne trip twice (once on a glorious day and once in the rain). We’ve always hired kayaks before but this year I wanted a little more freedom so we bought our own inflatable kayak.

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This means you don’t have to pay out every time you want a trip and start and finish when and where you want. The downside is no free lift back to the start. It was left to yours truly to drive the car to far end and cycle 12 miles or so back to the start (in hot weather on a mainly busy road). Well worth it for extra freedom it gave us

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With all the to and fro we didn’t get started till lunchtime and not long after paddling off we stopped for lunch on one of the many beaches for a picnic and a swim. The Dordogne is justly popular and busy with kayakers but the atmosphere is still fairly peaceful and relaxed and there are numerous places like this to stop, relax and swim in the cool clear waters

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The photo above is our new toy, a Sevylor Alameda for anyone interested and very well it performed on several kayak outings. Despite being big enough to hold 3 people it only takes around 10-15 minutes to unbag and inflate. Its also pretty durable and survived numerous scrapes on beaches and rapids

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The river is slow moving so the pace is nice and easy. It passes some wonderful and classic Dordogne sites. This is the village of La Roque Gageac

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And in the distance is the Chateau de Castelnaud

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We pulled over for short stop, swim and cold drink, for it was a very hot day

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This is the impressive Beynac et Cazenac and its hilltop chateau

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We pulled up near where I’d left the car and took another final evening swim before heading back to the campsite. Much better under a clear blue sky than in the pouring rain!

Down in the Dordogne – Up in the Trees   8 comments

The family have a passion for these tree climbing places. France would appear to be their spiritual home as most places we’ve visited seems to have one nearby. Competition appears to be a healthy thing as most of them are far better and far cheaper than the UK’s own Go Ape franchise that seems to be the only offering.

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This one was by far the cheapest and biggest course we’ve done and also the toughest. A full half a day to get around most of it in 30C temperatures (quite some undertaking for the 50+ age group)

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TJF is a natural, being slim, tall, lithe, athletic with a good sense of balance

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TBF takes pride of place in these photos as me and TJF gave the final course a miss. I’d managed to turn one of the rope bridges upside-down so I was in the bad books. I was pretty much banned from the final few obstacles for being old, incompetent and out of shape

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This did however give me the chance for some action shots of TBF while she outdid most of the people on the course by completing the final and very difficult looking course with aplomb

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Considering her diminutive height she’s rather good at this stuff although she clearly isn’t hampered by hauling around the excess weight I have to deal with 🙂

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As always, a great afternoons entertainment that’s a firm fixture of our French holidays. Thanks to the people at Appel de la Foret for building the course and rescuing middle aged men from activities they should know better than to attempt

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