Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Happy Christmas and All the Best for 2015

Diamonds on the Beach - Iceland

Another year rolls round, and it has been a busy one - about six weeks in the UK and forty four weeks elsewhere. Highlights? Well all of it really but Iceland, Corsica and Santorini were new and great, whereas Kalymnos and Ariège were the same as ever - and great too.

If you read this, I wish you 

All The Best For The Next 12 Months

Monday, 8 December 2014

Home - Where's That Then?

Kalymnos - Bye For Now
Two months in Greece have been great but we need to be in the Ariège for Christmas so it was time to pack our stuff in the dustbins and haul them down to Babis's cellar once again. We flew out of Kalymnos's tiny airport for the first time which was great and so convenient - less than an hour and a half after leaving the bar we were in Athens.
EasyJet to Manchester and we booked  a night in Bewleys Hotel at the airport - that was a culture shock, internet in bed, a bath, a TV and a huge complimentary breakfast - Welcome Home :-)

Of course we are technically homeless as some 'friends of friend' are stopping in our flat, we will call in to collect the car, and some warm clothes, and shack up at Christine's place.

It is going to be a busy week!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Winter is here - and so are We

Bumpy Crossing in the Taxi Boat
I have lost track of time a bit, it is a Greek thing! We left the UK about two months ago and have been on Kalymnos about 5 weeks (or so Sherri tells me). We have just had a spell of "Proper Winter Weather" with a cold strong northerly blowing for a week - it was generally dry and bright - but it does leave you battered and chilled. The apartments are designed to be cool in the summer which can make them really cold in the winter - I was reduced to using a hot-water bottle on a couple of occasions. Great to report that things are back to normal now - 20C and wall to wall sunshine.
The climbing continues to be as great as ever - 99 routes on Kalymnos at the last count - and 61 of them were new.
Only one week to go now, then back to the UK for long enough to do a few jobs, load the car and head for the Pyrenees - that WILL be different!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Kaly Tally is on the Up

Two and a half weeks back in Kalymnos - it was quite busy when we arrive but has cleared out nicely - exactly has hoped for. Colin has been here for just 10 days and we have climbed on most of them. We have made a point of visiting cliffs we haven't been to before, and have ended up visiting some great cliffs, Pallionisos, Lambda and Prohitis Andreas to name but three. My tally for individual routes climbed on Kalymnos has gone up past 600 - not bad considering when we 1st came here six years ago I wasn't sure there was enough to keep me busy for a month.
Colin on Pockets 6a+, a new offering at Pailionisos Bay Crag
Another week before Colin goes home, lets see what other venues we can dig out - variety is the spice of life.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Back and Forth

Santorini was great - very different but a nice mixture of culture, climbing and chilling. Then it was all over - a five minute drive to the airport and two 35 minute flights and we were back in Kalymnos - easy as pie. With it being the last week in October it is still too busy for our liking, several airlines are flying later this year, tempting people to stop further into the autumn.
Hopefully this weekend will see a big clear-out and we can get down to our normlal winter routine.
Colin arrives on Monday for a couple of weeks - all ready for some 'warm rock' - I have a good itinerary sorted for him; lots of newish venues. It is a few years since he has been - let's hope the Aegean weather plays ball.

40+ folks climbing at Dolphin Bay - isn't time for you lot to go home yet?

Friday, 17 October 2014

Santorini Surprise

Santorini - Spectacular or What?
With the chaos that is the annual Kalymnos Climbing Festival we though we would try somewhere different for 10 days - waiting for all the party-goers to head homewards. I have always fancied a visit to the volcanic island of Santorini so flights were booked (£20 each and off we went. Just before we headed south Sherri found some info on climbing on the island so a quick repack was in order to get a rope and 10 quickdraws in.
The main town of Fira is in a magnificent setting but it is a bit too Disneyland for us. Fortunately there are many nice quite  spots away from the hubbub - and as ever the locals and the weather are both great.
Cragging at Kamari - a bit warm but great
So far we have found some cats, had two days on the rock, been out for a meal, swam in the sea - and we have only been here 48 hours.
The climbing is good, on sharp but well-bolted limestone and the grades are not very Kalymnos like - obviously the locals have missed a trick there!
Loads more to see and do before we head off to Babis Bar in a week's time.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Ariège Again - But Briefly

The village from one of our local walks

Back the Ariège - we have had a pleasant and mellow 10 days after all the rushing around on Corsica. As ever the whole area is quiet - it has a bit of the feel of a time-warp, the rest of the world rushes on by but this quiet little bubble manages to sidestep the hurly-burly.

Sherri up at glorious Soulcem
Monty cruising at Auzat
We have done a bit of climbing, a lot of walking and plenty of taking it easy. Monty and Hillary have been here for a few days, a change from their usual haunts in Provence - all the signs are that they are very impressed with the area and the climbing.
I have pressed on with the new Eastern Grit guidebook, due out early next year, and it it looking pretty good. Currently it is around 530 pages and contains 4000 route - more than double the size and route content of the 'Original and Best' Peak Grit East - the book that started the revolution. 
So it is onward - back to the UK for a week then Santorini - en-route to Kalymnos - winter draws on.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Corsica - A Tasty Treat

Sherri and just another Corsican beach
Corsica is a place I have fancied visiting for years although it has always been a tricky spot to get too. Factoring in the rumours of crowds and roasting hot summer temperatures; these potential 'flies the ointment' have kept us away.
In the event coming with Easyjet (€20 each) and out of the main summer season season has solved the conundrum neatly.
The granite walls of central Corsica - stunning
It is warmer than we would prefer (up to 28C so far), but the island is a stunning place, and offers the easy option of a drive up into the fantastic granite mountains to escape the worst of the heat - on the Col de Bavella (4000') it has been about 8C cooler than on the coast.
The beaches are magnificent and largely deserted but it is the climbing that has been the great surprise, well bolted routes on perfect granite and with grades towards the softer end of the spectrum which is always nice. I have been over-indulging a bit - brilliant!
After a great week in the south-east we packed up and drove through the central mountains a to a new base near Calvi in the north-west corner of the island. It turns out that this area is even more spectacular, with granite mountains, superb white beaches and more excellent climbing - I think we will be back sooner rather than later.
Calvi at sunset - an amazing place

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Autumn - Time for a Change

Graham on Nemes Pas Harry - E1 5b - Bamford

September rolls round, the leaves are starting to turn and there has even been a bit of chill in the air. Climbing on the grit has been a real pleasure, but despite this, it is time for us to think about heading off.
We didn't have anything booked until mid-October that being Santorini on the way to Kalymnos (£25 from Manchester) so we did a bit of discussing and I mentioned maybe we could fit in a 10 day slider to Corsica, a place I have always fancied visiting. Sherri admitted that after we discussed it a month ago she had already booked a couple of flights, but hadn't mentioned it as I appeared to go a bit 'cool' on the idea - at £20 each, it sounds like she made a good move. From Corsica we are headed to Chez Arran for 10 days before returning home to pack the bags for our annual visit to Kalymnos.
New wheels - Subaru Forester XT

Autumn is usually my time for car buying, a Subaru Forester this time. Not my usual style of vehicle but the price was right, it should do OK in the Ariege's snowy winter peaks, and as ever - a change is as good as a rest. It looks a bit agricultural but there is a 2.0L turbocharged power-plant under the bonnet churning out 250bhp - enough to embarrass more exotic machinery.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Peak Puntering - Same as it Ever Was

10 Days back in the UK - life goes on much as normal, a pleasant mix of jobs, climbing and work. The weather has been the usual frustrating British summer, unpredictable enough to ensure we have managed to get wet on several occasions.  The forecasters would have you believe that it has been unusual for August - but I don't think so: showery and cool much of the time, and horribly midgey out on the Grit whenever the wind dropped - just what we expect from a 'Normal British Summer'.
Above: Colin tiptoeing up Concave Wall
Climbing with the standard team has been fun, some social times, lots of banter and some great routes - on the Grit when the weather allows - and bolt clipping on the Limestone when not - at least we have managed to avoid going 'Indoors" so far.
Below: Sherri heading for Skinningrove 

In reality we are both waiting for the Autumn to arrive so we can head away south to our other life. In the mean-time we drove 'up North' for a few day, to stop in Sherri's mums flat in Saltburn. A change is always as good as a rest and we had an excellent few days including a day's climbing at the Wainstones and some great walks exploring the coastline, escaping the poor weather that everywhere else suffered. Back in Sheffield and we have booked a flight to Santorini for mid-October - winter is calling.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Normandy Wisdom

 As the summer rolls on we thought we would try somewhere different so we loaded up the car and caught the ferry to Le Havre to spend a bit of time in Normandy and possibly Brittany. In the event Hurricane Bertha had other ideas and camping proved to be a bit of a challenging, with high winds and some pretty impressive rainstorms.
We did some climbing on some interesting cliffs and explored the area around the delightful town of Domfront. We thought we might press on towards Brittany but the forecast remains very unsettled, so we have about-faced and headed back towards Calais and the UK. No rush to get 'home' - we will have to see what the weather throws in this direction.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Back to Britain and on to Brittany

Our 10 days back in the UK have been very pleasant, there has been a taste of 'real summer' which has been great, allowing be to get some cragshots of a few out of the way places. On top of that I have been out climbing with the 'usual suspects' a couple of times and we have been up north for a few days to our parents, all of whom a chugging on in the same old fashion.

Left - the Victorian water-powered funicular at Saltburn by the Sea

With the whole of the summer to go at we have decided to try somewhere a bit different so we are Brittany bound next week to sample a part of the world we have never visited. We will pack the camping/fishing/climbing gear into the big black car and head south west - someone  once said Variety is the Spice of Life - I think they had a point.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Iceland to A Hot Land

Left: Haifoss - Iceland's 2nd tallest waterfall

Iceland was really rather good, nice to be somewhere different and break out of the usual circuit, it was getting busy as July and their high season arrived so we headed south briefly. Six days in the UK and a bit of work on Eastern Grit 3 then back to the Ariège - possibly our favourite spot of all.
Colin was in tow and the plan wass to get a bit of climbing done so we started on the superb granite of Auzat - a quick half-a-dozen fitted the bill perfectly. Despite our worries it wasn't too hot though 30C is forecast for the weekend - very different from Iceland's average of around 12C!

It gradually warmed up to a steamy 36C towards the end of the trip, but we had six great days on the rock - an equal mix of limestone and granite - and did a bunch of routes that I hadn't done before which is always a bonus. We also bumped into long-time friend Andy Nicholson who was on a three week motorbiking tour of France - rather him than me!

Right: Colin steaming up a stiff F6a at Ax les Thermes 

In the event we had to move out of Chez Arran as they were full, so the four of us booked into a Gite in Les Cabannes for a couple of nights which was perfect, tales were told, we climbed, did a bit of reminiscing and drank plenty of cold beer - a good result all round.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Iceland - Two Weeks In and Counting

We rolled back around Reykjavik yesterday after a lazy two weeks circumnavigating Iceland. We appear to have been lucky with the weather, no real rain until we got back to the airport (pretty wet now though) to swap our comfy Kia C'eed for a teeny noisy bouncy Suzuki Jimny that might (and might not!) take us off-road.
As expected the scenery has been great, the locals friendly, the hostels superb and the sense of space and light quite magnificent. The tourist traps are normally packed but once you leave them behind it is rare to see another vehicle, the contrast between Iceland and the UK couldn't be more extreme.
We have been bird spotting (lots of new species), beach combing, whale watching, fishing, wandering in the wilderness and just taking it easy - one week to go then back to the crowds - Blighty that is!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Iceland - First Impressions

Easy as that, we had a night in the Manchester Hilton (courtesy of Air-Miles - no way would we shell-out £150+ for a bedroom) then an easy 2:10 flight saw us in Reykjavik at 8:00 in the morning, bleary eyed but a bit excited. With all day to kill we collect the hire car and headed into the hills to visit Thingvellir, an ancient Viking settlement on the central rift and home to the world's 1st parliament.
Evening saw us at the Selfoss Bed and Breakfast - oddly that is the name of the place - they don't actually do breakfasts!
Day two and we did a bit of touristing, visiting a couple of spectacular waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss (pictured) and the even more impressive Skogafoss.
First thoughts; mild weather, 24hr daylight, friendly locals, amazing scenery (and better to come I'm sure) and a bit less expensive than we had anticipated - especially on the booze front, which is nice!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Moving On Up

Three weeks back in the Ariège now - we always find it oddly easy to get settled here, such is the easy-going atmosphere of the place. We have done a little bit of climbing (cheers Colin), quite a bit of walking and even more of taking it easy - which has been great.

Left: Sherri and me with White Cat on guard - catching some evening sunshine

All change now though, Thursday it is a 5+ hour journey to Bilbao to catch the ferry back to the UK. Friday will probably be the usual grimness of battling through the UK's gridlocked motorways to get back "home" (an odd concept). Then we will have two whole days in Sheffield before we have to get over to Manchester for a flight to Iceland very early Tuesday morning - a 90 minutes flight northwards should find us somewhere very different!!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Mum's Gone To Iceland!

The escape from Kalymnos was as easy as ever, though Kos airport was a shocker, dozens of huge coaches being boarded by hundreds of pale Brits inbound and a similar number of lobster red ones headed the other way!
Ariège is as pleasant as ever, so much greener than when we left, but still lovely and quiet. Colin rolled up on his way back north so we had a couple of days on the rock - he is climbing as well as ever despite his long enforced lay-off.

Left: Colin whizzing up an undergraded F5+ route above Ax les Thermes

The big news is that we have abandoned plans for Australia - somehow it never felt quite right so we finally bit the bullet. British Airways refunded both the ticket price and our air-miles at the press of a button and we booked two flights to Iceland (with EasyJet) for early June - so it is all change from 33C and crocodiles to 11C and mosquitoes! It is a place I have always fancied getting to know so a trip to Decathlon was in order for waterproof trousers, and some warm weather gear.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Summer's Almost Here

Two weeks ago it felt like spring was on the way, now it feels like summer is just around the corner. It has been a hot and sweaty fortnight, with a wind from the south, the odd thunderstorm (with very red and sandy rain) and an almost continuous cloud cap on Telendos, with the moisture squeezed out by the rising air providing for some great sunsets.

Left: Telendos with its cloud cap

Today the wind swung to the north, freshening things up beautifully - the Meltemi has arrived. The climbers have arrived too - in their hoards - with 100+ scooters today scattered along the road from Arhi to Arginonda.
Long time friend Tony Welsh (aka Welsh Tony) has had his 1st week on Kalymnos, suffice to say he is impressed with the island, the climbing, the weather, the locals - pretty much everything in fact - so no surprises there then!
80 routes so far, including quite a batch I haven't done before which is always good. Tuesday sees us heading back to the peace and quiet of the Ariège - via a night in the UK - the Stansted Radison and a bath - that will be novel!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Spring's Sprung

Three week in, 50 routes ticked, a couple of showery days - but as ever Kalymnos has been superb. We met up with long time mate Andy Nicholson (he was a lodger of mine a thousand years ago) and he dragged me up a few climbs I hadn't done before which was great.
As forecast the place has become pretty busy but hopefully by the weekend a lot of the 'tourists' (as we like to call them) will have had their Easter break and will be headed back north.
The Easter Celebrations in Pothia were spectacular and very noisy - we had to move away from the main 'dynamite throwing' area with ears ringing - crazy!
It has been very hot - 26C one day - but it is supposed to cool down over the next few days which would be great - having said that a bit of heat and humidity is probably good practice for Singapore and Darwin!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Back to Kalymnos - easy as pie!

We flew Carcassonne to Stansted (€20 each) - a night in the Raddison (posh!) then an evening flight from Stansted to Kos (£20 each).  That left us time for a beer in a bar in Mastichari before catching the late night ferry across to the island. Sitting outside on the upper deck was my (dopy) idea, the soaring starry sky was great but we arrived wind blasted and chilled; as ever it was great to be back. Spring is well established and at the moment things are pretty quiet. Doubtless the hoards will begin to arrive over the next 10 days - lets hope it doesn't get too busy.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Kalymnos Calling

100 days we have been in Ariège now - how time flies! It has been a much milder winter than last year with hardly any snow falling down at Chez Arran, which once again has proved a fantastically quiet place to spend time.
I have made huge progress with the next version on Eastern Grit which means I can ease back a bit and get some more climbing done.
I can almost feel the crinkly sharp Kalymnos limestone on my fingers, and the hot Greek sun on my back. Looking forward to sunsets on the terrace, Mythos and Metaxa in the bar - hooking up with old friends and easing back into island life.
The plan had been to return to the UK before we headed East, but Sherri found flights from Carcassonne to Stansted for €20 and Stansted to Kos for £20 - so one night in the UK (the Raddison!!) and onwards - can't wait!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Spring is Springing

Three quiet months since we rolled up to Chez Arran and suddenly there is a change in the air, the days are drawing out, the whole place has become busy (French Winter Holidays?) and suddenly it has turned warm sunny and dry - with a great forecast.

Photo right: a wander up a small hill behind Foix

Three weeks left - and then off to Kalymnos for a couple of months, looking forward to it already. We visited last spring, and it was great - warm, quiet and amazingly green. We are not too sure how we are going to get there - we have a flight booked from Stansted to Kos  (one of RyanAir's amazing £20 each deals) on April 1st, but whether we
go home 1st, or fly from here is still up for discussion.

Photo right: one more day on snow-shoes 

When the weather has been unsettled I have been proofing the new RockFax Peak Bouldering guide - it looks superb and big too at over 500 pages - I'll need to ensure that Peak Grit East 3 is up to the same standard - something to keep me occupied in Australia maybe?  :-)

Sunday, 23 February 2014

A Flier

My father's 90th birthday and vague hope of getting some of the missing crag shots for Eastern Grit III persuaded us 'home' for a quick week - though I'm not sure Sherri was totally convinced. We said a sad farewell to the cats and just a few hours later were in a wet and cold Liverpool. Friday was a half-decent (for February) day so it was Curbar with Graham and Steve - in the event I got all the shots I wanted and we even got a couple of routes done. Saturday was an early start, a surprise for my parents (who thought we were in France) and a big get-together for the Craggs/Ramsey Clan and then onward to Sherri's mum in Saltburn for yet more food and more being talked at.
Sunday was back to Sheffield, a damp day so a chance for a bit of getting organised. The three days we had left, had a half-decent forecast and in the event I photographed some of Baslow and Gardoms, as well all of Chatsworth, Agden and Cratcliffe - turns out it was the driest spell for over two months.

Of course the big news is that we have booked flights to Singapore for June as part of planning a trip to Australia - only a 1st step as the whole idea is a bit scary/daunting - but all journeys have to start somewhere and just booking part of it gives us the option of changing our minds!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Winter Wanderings

Almost eight weeks have passed since we rolled up to Chez Arran in the wonderful Ariège, already the days are starting to lengthen and the 1st signs of Spring are on the way. We had our 1st visitors in the shape of long-time friends Steve and Sue Warwick. They were very pleased to leave the grotty weather of the UK (the wettest winter for centuries if the hype is to be believed) and do some snow-shoeing, climbing and walking in the mountains.

Top: Chouila snow-shoeing

Bottom: Mas d'Azil Cave

Before they arrived we visited the amazing Mas d'Azil cave to the north-east of Foix. The area has been inhabited for more than 30,000 years and the scale of the cave - with its road running right through it - is amazing.

I have cracked on with Eastern Grit 3 - looks like I might finish it several months early - so with that being the case, I'll be looking for a new project quite soon!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Ariége - it's Business as Usual

Six weeks now and life has been much the same as ever, quiet and mild - but mainly quiet. We have plodded in the snow, climbed on a variety of crags and even been caving.
Life at Chez Arran revolves around working on Eastern Grit, playing Wiff Waff and enjoying the company of the cats.

Eastern Grit (Ver 3) is starting to look really good - even though I say it myself - the deadline of later this year is easily within reach - I might even have to find something else to keep me busy in the meantime.

Also on the publishing front, the skiing book produced by Thorbjorn/Jonas has arrived and it looks quite superb - even the proofing is of the highest standard :-)

The cats continue to be a delight - I never really considered myself a pet/animal person - but times change, or maybe I just never realised. Either way, they are a pleasure to be around, despite the odd scratch - certainly more pleasant than you average 'uman!

Top - Brilliant snowshoeing conditions at Beille
Middle - Comfy cats
Bottom - bats in the belfrey

Monday, 13 January 2014

A Month in the Mountains

Four weeks since we hauled up at Chez Arran, and it has been great. John and Anne have been away in Thailand for almost three weeks, so we have been in charge of the place, keeping the guests happy and the cats fed. The weather has been very pleasant, giving us the option for snowshoeing, walking, climbing or just taking it easy - all pretty pleasant. We even had a session on a snow-mobile up in Andorra - which was superb, though we did manage to turn the thing over which was a surprise to us and the instructor!

On the odd damp day I have pressed on with Eastern Grit, the third version of the book that started my relationship with Rockfax back in 2001 - it is starting to look a bit good.  12 years on from that Genesis and with eight books currently in print we have a bit of freedom to travel and work where-ever suites us. With that being the case we have been doing a bit of planning and might try something a bit different this summer; Iceland, Australia and Canada are the current shortlist - I sometimes I think I enjoy the planning almost as much as traveling so have been keeping busy.

 Right top to bottom: 

1) a walk around Verdun with Sinsat behind
2) Skidoo fun - Andorra
3) Sample Froggatt page from Eastern Grit III
4) White wilderness at Choula 

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Back to the Ariège

Almost a week in the UK then it was off again - a horrendous drive through the UK's choked roads in the pissing rain (a truly unpleasant experience) saw us to Porthsmouth. A choppy crossing got us into St Malo for dawn then it was a steady eight hours on the French motorway system (a joy) and just before dusk we were back - White Cat even met us in the car park with an indignant "and where do you think you have you been".
A couple of weeks in and it has been the same as ever; a pleasant and mellow place to be. There was a big fall of snow 10 days before we arrived, but since then it has been mostly dry and bright. We climbed, walked, snowshoed and had a bit of downtime.
It is good to be back.

A month in Switzerland

Gornergrat - rammed A month passed in Switzerland and it has been very pleasant, climbing, hiking, chilling and even doing a bit of to...