Wednesday, 30 September 2015

New Beginnings - Briançon

Day One, Crag One, Route One
 A steady journey via the Hull to Zeebrugge ferry and a 10 hour drove and we rolled into Briançon - a place I have never visited.
My 65th birthday passed on the way south - must admit that was one milestone I wasn't looking forward to - but onwards and upwards I guess. As the saying goes 'getting old is no fun but it is better than the alternative"!
We have rented a ski apartment for three weeks and first signs are very encouraging, the weather has been good, the place is quiet and I managed 25 routes in the first three days on five separate cliffs - all new to me which was great.
The Col de Galibier - 8200'
The city is said to be the highest in Europe at just over 4000' and it is ringed by some amazing fortifications - we have made a start on exploring this intriguing area.
The weather varies between absolutely glorious and a bit on the cool side - record low so far 0C - not sure if this is the norm for here, time will tell!
One week on and we have had a complete mixed bag of weather from hot to cold, rain to snow, thunderstorms and wind - not much chance of getting bored with it. The route tally is now up to 40 and I have lost track of the number of different rock types I have climbed on - variety is the spice of life.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Getting Over That Hill

Plateau de Beille

The month in Scandinavia was brilliant and the 12 days back Ariège have been very pleasant, it is effortless slotting back into the easy-going groove here. We are still managing to find new areas to explore, and as ever the place is pretty much deserted.
 But time presses on, it is September already and we need to think about plans for the winter.
Climbing near the Spanish border
Initially we are headed back to the UK on Tuesday for just a week - time to visit dentists, opticians, parents and attend the OWPG's  annual bash up in Northumberland. Then we will be loading up the car and heading south for the Briançon/Orpierre area for about six weeks. These are two areas which are well regarded but about which I know very little. I am looking forward to getting a few solid weeks on the rock and getting fit. Beyond that nothing is fixed but we may manage a slider to Kalymnos once all the crowds have gone. By mid-December we should be back in the Ariège so I can start work on the new Lofoten guide which hopefully is due out sometime next year
Two weeks ago was the 50th Anniversary of my first ever climbing trip (Scugdale - North York Moors) and the night we sail from Hull to Zeebrugge is my 65th Birthday - where did all that time all go?
A Quick Update - I assumed we would have Tuesday to sort and pack the car ready for the off on Wednesday - but Sherri informed me that is my Birthday Present Day - Prestwold Hall where I will be driving a Porsche 911, an Aston Martin, a Ferrari and Lamborghini - not sure the Scoobie will ever seem the same again!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Narvik - Away from it All

Spectacular Presten from the sea
We had just over a week in Lofoten and the weather was perfect - in fact almost a bit warm on occasions. With it being the tail-end of the season everywhere was nice and quiet and as ever Thorbjørn organised us some superb accommodation in a quiet corner of Henningsvaer. We cracked on with the crag photography - the highlight was a boat ride out one evening with Jonas and his four year old lad (in a rather small boat) to get some shots of Presten from the sea as photos from the land are always very foreshortened. The light was rather poor when we set off but right on time the sun came out and I got a great set of shots.
Eidtind from the slabs
The forecast was for the weather to deteriorate towards the weekend (three weeks without rain so no complaints) so we left Lofoten and headed for the Narvik area for a few days of exploring the astounding granite peaks that pepper the area.
We started with a walk up the huge slabs on Stortinden - as amazing a setting as anywhere in Europe.
We met a solitary Norwegian guy on the mountain and we was rather surprised to meet English people in the area - apparently we are are a bit of a rarity!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Wandering Out in the Far (North) West

Beach on Andøya
Almost two weeks since we left the UK and we have finally landed in Lofoten. Overall the weather has been pretty pleasant, though the last couple of days have seen the establishment of a classic Arctic high pressure system - I'm not sure how we always manage to bring the sun with us but we aren't complaining - it was almost too warm today!
We spent three days up on Andøya, the most northerly of the whole group of islands and well off the normal tourist trail. It was quiet with some superb beaches and deserted mountains.
Lofoten perfection
The journey down to Lofoten was a delight, almost deserted roads and an on-time ferry crossing, with fantastic weather and the usual magnificent scenery. Lofoten is busier than the other islands, in particular with Germans and Italians in big (often huge) camper-wagons - I guess the news of the beauty and serenity of the place has spread far and wide.
Our main objective is to start rephotographing the cliffs for a new version of out award winning Lofoten Rock guide book which is due to sell out next year. Whilst the weather is so benign we need to crack on - making hay!

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Ever Northwards

The Open Road
 Summer rolls around again and with it the usual issue of where to go to avoid the heat and the crowds - the whole of Europe on holiday at the same time - what a barmy idea.
Then Thorbjørn told me the Lofoten guidebook would probably sell out next year and a plan was hatched.
Kiruna and the remains of Iron Mountain
We did some checking and as ever getting to Arctic Norway cost a fortune, but some research showed we could get to Skellefteå in Northern Sweden for £40 and car hire there was 1/4 of the cost of Norway so sorted!
As ever, travelling in Scandanavia is brilliant, with good roads and little traffic, and although the speed limits are a bit slow progress is usually pretty steady
We had a couple days around Skellefteå then drove the five hours to the town of Kiruna in Arctic Sweden - an odd spot built around the two iron ore mountains that they are gradually removing.
The weather has been fine so far and the wildlife is interesting, Arctic Hare, Reindeer, Elk and Weasel on the tick-list so far. Next it is on towards Norway with a car full of cheap Swedish petrol, food and booze!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Way Out West

Another glorious beach way out west
We have been in Ireland for almost two weeks now and to be honest it has been a real tonic. The weather has been a bit mixed, though we only lost one full day to rain, and the best days have been simply stunning.
The magnificent rock scenery of the Burren
The main tourist destinations are usually rammed, with coach-loads of grockles milling about whilst the buses block the roads, then the load up and drive along with a huge queue behind them. The obvious key is to avoid the hot-spots - which suites us just fine.
We have walked lots of stunning deserted beaches, explore the massive Cliffs of Moher and wandered around the limestone wonderland of the Burren.
For accommodation we have used a mixture of B and Bs (usually excellent, especially the Full Irish breakfasts) and more typical Hostels which are a bit more 'down-market' but are also less expensive and super friendly.
The people are great - Irish hospitality really has to be experienced to be believed - I'm not sure why they are all so cheerful but we do like it!

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Luck of the Irish

The endless expanse of Inch Beach - Dingle Bay
So the summer rolls around and once again we are faced with the annual conundrum of what to do in July and August - much of the UK is very busy and with unsettled weather whereas the Continent is just as busy and hot too!
Many years ago we spent a great week climbing at the Burren on the west coast of Galway - a beautiful part of the world with great folks, so we thought that a reprise might fill a couple of weeks.
The ferry was £500+ return for a crossing that takes less than two hours. RyanAir were offering flights from Manchester to Shannon for £5 each - a bit of a no-brainer then - especially as car-hire was less than £110 for a couple of weeks.
Emerald woods on the Emerald Isle
Two days in and we have visited the amazing beach at Inch on Dingle Bay and spent a day wandering around the Killarney Lake District. The weather has been a little bit of what the Irish call 'soft' - but it hasn't stopped us getting stuff done. The people are exceptionally cheerful and friendly which is great and starting each day with 'Full Irish' gives us enough fuel to make it through to the evening without the need to eat again - so we haven't needed to visit an Irish pub - yet!