Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015 - A Retrospective

It has been a busy year:

Arctic Sweden
Buis les Baronnais

back to Kalymnos
and back to Ariège - for the full circle.

 And not forgetting the odd day in the UK

530+ routes climbed, a best-selling book published, some great places visited and times spent with good friends - lets try and do it all again next year.


Friday, 18 December 2015

Friday, 4 December 2015

Winter - Kind Of!

Babis Bar, Myrties - there are worse places to spend December
 Almost three weeks back at Babis Bar - winters spent in Greece never pale. The place was still a teeny bit busy when we arrived, but for the past 10 days it has been almost completely deserted - we have had cliffs to ourselves that are normally packed in the high season.
I have continued to work on a Rockfax App for smart-phones to the climbing on Kalymnos - it has been a long running project - several years so far and counting.
We hired a boat and took a ride out to get some photos of the South Face of Telendos - a very pleasant way to spend an early December day.
Fresh fish and Greens/Reds courtesy of Babis
I'll be pleased to get the App finished and get on with a 'proper' book - Lofoten is next in line. I am looking forward to getting stuck into it and there is little doubt where we will have to spend next summer - but that is no real hardship.
A couple more weeks in the Greek sunshine then back to Ariège and the mountains of the Pyrenees - it is  such a great place to work as it is so quiet, and of course the weather and scenery are pretty good too!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Back To Basics

White Cat's rather sad ears after surgery
The week in Ariège was very pleasant, and (as ever) very quiet, we did a bit of climbing a bit of walking and a lot of taking it easy. Our long-term 'pet', White Cat had a nasty growth on her ear which we had noticed last time and assumed it was scab from fighting - but it was actually a tumour due to sun exposure. We showed photos to the vet on Saturday, and she was booked in for 8:30 Monday morning. For a couple of days she was in a sorry state but by the time left - five days later - she was well on the way to recovery. By the time her hair grows back she will be as good as new (-ish). Interestingly the number tattooed into her ear told the vet 'she' was 10 years old and actually a 'he'!
Kalymnos Sunset - same as it ever was
Then is was a quick flight to Stansted, a too short night in the Raddison, then onwards to Athens - for £20 each). We caught the late boat over to Kalymnos, and were in Babis Bar in time for a beer and chill. Unusually the Bar is still pretty full - perhaps we should have kept quiet about how good Kalymnos is in November!!!!!
Day One: four easy routes on Sea Breeze - in the breeze - and a perfect Kalymnos sunset, it is great to be back.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Round the Circle

Festival of Ancient Fruits - Orpierre
We left Orpierre after the camp-site closed for the season - last day of October - and headed to Buis les Barronies, two and a half years since we were last there. Orpierre was an 'interesting' experience, we will probably go there again but only at a quieter time of the year - it was so busy it really detracted from what is a lovely part of the world. One of the highlights was the last weekend when 'The Festival of Ancient Fruits" took place, a celebration of ancient crops and skills - it was nice that the whole thing wasn't filled with people sell tat.  There was barrel-making, knife-sharpening, apple pressing, wine, nuts, lavender, fungi, and a real sense of history - most enjoyable.
Sikarate, Baume Rousse, 5c, 37m, 16 clips 
We only had a short spell at Buis this time around and the weather was a little mixed though I got three days climbing done, including a glorious day on Baume Rousse. Then it was on the road again and back Ariége a couple of months after we last left.
Chez Arran was deserted - well apart form the cats of course. White Cat's ear had deteriorate markedly since we were last here - we took a photo the vets and she confirmed it is a kind of cancer common in white cats and triggered by sunshine so she is booked in first thing Monday morning for a bit of cosmetic surgery!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Orpierre in the Fall

Climbing in the gorge at Sisteron

A rest-day walk - high above Orpierre
After a very pleasant three weeks in Briançon we loaded up the cars and drove a steady two hours to arrive at the fabled Orpiérre - another well known climbing destination that had escaped my attention completely over the years. The reason for its fame, and the associated downsides soon became all to apparent, a) it was busy - really busy, b) the cliffs were packed, c) a lot of the routes were horrible polished. It also turned out we had arrived at the start of the busiest 10 days in the whole year; the place is too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter and ‘just right’ around October half term!
I guess the place is a victim of its own success - the number of 'live-in' wagons in the various car-parks and many really large groups of climbers spoil the place for us a bit - though the answer is to visit at another time, like we have learnt to do with Kalymnos.
Any way, it is a lovely spot and with a bit of dodging around we managed to get plenty of climbing done, around Orpiérre and a little further afield.
Sadly the camp-site shuts for the winter this weekend and we are being ejected from our cosy (and quite posh) caravan - so the question has to be - where next?

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!

Friday, 26 June 2015

Back to Basics, Back to Blighty

The National Cycling Arena - Impressive!

We have been back to the UK - a week now and could best be described as an odd mixture of drab and hectic; the weather has been very un-June-like, cool grey and breezy and we have been really, really busy - the contrast to out 'normal' life is quite extreme.
I have managed just a single day out on the Grit so far - with the usual suspects and we have also squeezed in several walks in attempt to keep fit, locally or a little further afield - including a brisk evening round of the Burbage Valley.
A Burbage Round - a classic leg stretcher
I spent a day at the National Cycling Arena, attending a symposium by the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild on "the Future of Outdoor Publishing" and there was an element of 'doom and gloom' about the whole thing, though at Rockfax we seem to be bucking the trend of falling sales and shrinking markets for print editions of many of the outdoor titles  - long may it continue.
We have booked a month in northern Sweden and Norway for August - that should be a bit different from the hot and sunny south. When we checked the prices, flying into Sweden and hiring a car there was about 1/4 of the cost of the same deal in Norway - that's a no-brainer then - Lofoten here we come!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Pyrenean Peace and Quiet

Plateau de Beille - 7000' and 'cool'.
So it was back to (one of) our favourite places - the Ariège. Colin has been dispatched over the mountains and we have had a very pleasant and quiet week in the mountains. It is mid-June and the place is still virtually deserted; the various camp-sites and other business here must have an incredibly short season in which to make their money which is just fine by us - we should be out of the way before the hoards arrive.

Andorra - in the mountains
It has been warm to hot and a quite thundery but we been heading up high to escape the worst of the heat. So it is homeward(?) in two weeks to catch our breath and think about what to do with the summer - Ireland and Northern Norway have been thrown into the hat so far - let's see what the weather Gods throw our way.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Corsican Reprise

Grand Dalle Rt 2 at Bavella
 We visited Corsica last September for the first time and were impressed by the great scenery, quality climbing and general quietness. A return visited was pencilled in and so a week ago we collected Colin (reinforcements) flew Toulouse > Bastia, collected the hire-car and headed back to the Residencia de Canella in the south-east corner of the island.

The Col de Bavella and its superb Corsican Pines.
One week in and it has been as excellent as hoped for though climbing at the Col de Bavella has required a bit of application - one day it was blowing a gale, one day we got soaked and the third visit was a Bank Holiday with its attendant crowds - we got routes done on each occasion so all was well.

Sherri doing a bit of 'coasteering'.
On the one(!) rest day we explored the local area, there are some great beaches and some interesting scrambles. We have one week left and are moving round to the south-east coast tomorrow - a new area so that should be great. On the way we are going to have a poke around the bouldering on the headland of Capineru. We don't really 'do' bouldering but it looks great in the photos so must be worth an hour or two of our time.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Pootling around the Pelopennese

Climbing up on Didemon at 3500'
 After six weeks on Kalymnos we were ready to try somewhere a bit different so a short flight to Athens and a brief drive west found us at the impressive old Hotel Cokkinis where we spent three days exploring the area and doing a bit of climbing.
Wheat fields -
not what you expect to see in Greece
Then it was a three hour drive past the impressive gash of the Corinth Canal (thronged - it was a Bank Holiday) and onwards to Argolis - the easternmost finger of the big peninsula of the Pelopennese. We had an excellent 8 days there, exploring the ancient history, the superb deserted beaches and the rather good sport climbing. We never saw another climber; indeed the area appears to be virtually unknown to British climbers which is odd considering the high quality routes, on a good variety of cliffs in a relatively compact area and a classic Greek holiday setting. We stopped in a superb hotel (the Blue Beach) right on the seashore and for a very reasonable price - for most of the week we were the only guests which is just how we like it.
Flashy hire-car and wind-farm
Finally it was up-sticks and thee hour drive back to Athens in time for an afternoon flight to Stansted and a night in the Raddison  - time for a little bit of luxury - a bath, a TV (not that there was much on) Internet in bed and l-o-n-g bath. Sunday started with the 'meg-breakfast' then an easy flight down to Carcassonne and onwards to Chez Arran for a brief rest. It is great to be back in the mountains.
And in just over a week we are headed back to Corsica.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Kalymnos - Winding Down

Kastri Castle with Olive Press

Homeward to Telendos
 Our six weeks on Kalymnos are almost up and it is time to think about moving on as the summer season is bearing down on us. The first few weeks here were quite unsettled but we got plenty done and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the place.
For the past two week we have had Colin and Andy here - a very pleasant and mellow time was had by all. We visited a good variety of crags - always chosen by seeing which venues had the least number of scooter parked there! The weather for the whole of their stay was superb, warm and sunny, often with a cooling breeze, but never too hot and no rain. I ticked my 100th route of the trip just after they left - that includes around 35 I had never done before - they get harder to find as time goes by.
Andy hanging around
Tomorrow we head to Athens and the Pelopenes area for somewhere completely different - the climbing looks pretty good so watch this space for a report. After that it is onwards back to the Ariège for a short break then  to Corsica. We were very impressed with the place last autumn and this time will have Colin in tow which should result in more routes, harder routes and hopefully some multipitch fun.

Can't wait!

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Kaly Dreaming

Arginonta - waiting for the season to begin
Almost three weeks back on 'the island' and life has been very pleasant, despite some fairly unsettled weather which is unusual for this place. We have managed to climb every other day or thereabouts and done almost 50 routes: a good start to get back into the climbing groove and grow some thicker skin on my finger-ends.
Andy Nicholson and Colin are arriving next weekend so presumably we will have a couple of weeks of galloping around like maniacs getting plenty of routes done and hopefully get to visit a few of the newer cliffs.

Classic Kalymnos sunset
It seems quieter here than any other year - there are quite a few climbers about but there have been a lot less low-cost flights from northern Europe flying into Kos so that has reduced the options for getting here easily.

After the guys have gone home we are headed to the Peleponees - the big peninsula to the west of Athens - we have heard good things about it and always like to visit new places - and after that maybe back to Corsica because we like to visit old place too!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Eastward for Easter

Up near Styx - amongst the greenery
We bailed out of the Ariège and cruised across France - a steady nine hours - for the evening boat out of St Malo - by lunch-time the following day we were back in Sheffield for a hectic five days.
Telendos from Massouri
A week after leaving Chez Arran and were established back in Kalymnos. The winter has been the worst in living memory according to the reports with lots of rain and near continuous northerly gales battering the island. In the week since we arrived we have had a couple of wet days but also some glorious sunshine. On the plus side the rain has meant that everything is looking really green, the flowers are out and there is a real feeling of spring every where. It may be a while before all the tufas dry out but I am sure we will cope.
Eastern Grit was finished and sent to the printers whilst we were in the UK - that should be in the shops in three weeks - just too late for Easter, but I expect demand will be high with the previous version having been out of print for three months.
I have time on my hands which is a rare thing -I am sure I will be able to find a project or two to keep me busy.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Into the Sunrise

Plateau de Beille: -6C and blowing a hoolie
Eleven weeks in the mountains and it is time to think about moving on - heading east to a small rocky Greek island. Last year we left at the end of March, parked up the car in Ariège and flew Carcasonne to Stansted to Kos for about £30 each. This year we will get the car home 1st and stick it in the garage - we might be in Greece for quite a while!
The weather this winter hasn't been quite a good as normal - much better than the UK of course, but not quite the settled warm spells of previous years. Despite that we have kept ourselves pretty busy and fit with lots of short walks up in the hills - as is usual around here we hardly ever see a soul.
Great views above Saurat
The book is being tied down now with less than two weeks until it goes of to the printers. Currently it is looking pretty good - 560 pages, (Rockfax's biggest ever book) 4000 route and 36 graded lists - that should keep most folks happy for years. 
We have six days in the UK then onwards to Kalymnos  - the winter there has been unusually unsettled too, cool, damp and very windy - I am sure it will sort itself out over the next two weeks.
Long-term friends Andy Nicholson and Colin Binks are coming out in April so I have a couple of weeks to get fit and grow some skin - can't wait!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Spring is in the Air

Plateau de Beille
It is nine weeks since we left the UK - the time has zipped by as it always does down here in the mountains. We have passed time in the usual ways, walking, climbing, snow-shoeing and working.
The days have drawn out nicely, when we arrived the sun went off the village at 1:30 in the afternoon, now it is nearer 4:00 - almost time for the 1st BBQ of the year!
Auzat - mint February conditions
Only three more weeks now until we head back to the UK for five days (a bit too long but we will doubtless cope) then onwards to Kalymnos for the spring season. It will be nice to have a few weeks there before the crowds start to arrive around Easter time.
Unusually we have no plans beyond Kalymnos - though there are plenty of options. I would like to go back to Corsica, there is all the new stuff Aris's Greek guide and of course there a big chunks of France that are in prime conditions in the later spring. A final possibility is a flight up to Northern Norway for a few weeks of midnight sun - time will tell.
 It is always nice to have options.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Eastern Promise

Eastern Grit 3 - Wharncliffe to Black Rocks

Millstone sample page
Great news - almost two years to the day since I dropped the 1st photo-topo into the Eastern Grit template the book is just about finished and it has turned into a bit of a monster. Currently with all the layout tied down it weights in at a massive 560 pages - it will be the biggest Rockfax ever. It should be headed to the printers in the middle of next month so should be available in the shops in good time for the spring season.
Stanage sample page
Alan James has worked his magic on my text, topos and photos - and the whole thing is looking exceptional.
This time round the book will continue 4000 routes, amazingly that is over a thousand more than the last version and double the content of Peak Grit East - the book that started it all.
It is filled with some great action shots, the best set of cragshots ever seen and over 30 ticklists - from pretty easy for anyone to complete all the way up to almost impossible for anyone to complete.It will have full index this time round, an extensive introduction and all the usual Rockfax whistles and bells.
Quite what I am going to do with my time now that my baby has left the nest remain a bit of a mystery, though I'm sure I'll think of something.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Cragging at La Clape - Off the Beaten Track

Deserted beaches that run for miles
 We decided after six weeks in the Ariège we fancied a change for a few days so loaded up the car and headed to Gruissan, on the coast near Narbonne, about 2 hours drive away. The forecast was for cold and a little unsettled but we thought we would give it a go anyway. The area isn't a main-stream climbing venue but there are half a dozen small cliffs scattered amongst the vineyards with 300+ routes, a pamphlet style guide book available from the Tourist Info in Gruissan (€16) and some superb beaches.
Typical climbing at La Clape - 100m from the car
Despite the cool weather - it never got above 9C - the crags are all very sheltered and conditions were perfect. We climbed on four different cliffs and ticked off 21 routes. The grades felt a little tough and the crags nearest the parking spots were polished - but that is the same the world over.
For somewhere a little different it was well worth a visit - I think we will be back.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Wanderings and Wonderings

Almost five weeks we have been in the Pyrenees now - the weather has been amazing - only a couple of wet days - today being one of them - in the whole of that time. Checking back with the UK on occasions it has looked a thoroughly miserable winter with extended periods of persistent wind and rain - I'm glad we have the option to be 'elsewhere'.
We have done a lot of local walks, exploring the immediate area and a little further afield - a nice gentle way of getting fit. As ever the whole area is exceptionally quiet. There are plans to have a few days away over near the coast to visit a different area and get some climbing - the forecast looks a bit mix, so it will be a case of suck it and see.
Eastern Grit Sample Page
I have pressed on with Eastern Grit at this end and Alan James has been doing the final layout back in Sheffield and the whole project is moving along so fast, it still looks like we will go to the printers in early March - that will be two years and one month from dropping the 1st topo into place.
Now what am I going to do with all that spare time?

An aside: Alan said that Rockfax sold its 250,000th book in December - my contribution to that total was just over 78,000 books - not bad in just over 12 years.

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...