Outdoor Excursions

It's amazing how things develop. After all, this blog started out as a news section for the rest of the website. With encouragement from readers, it has become a place for relating my countryside wanderings and musings about the world of outdoor activity. Walking, cycling and photography all are part of what I do out-of-doors and, hopefully, they will continue to inspire me to keep adding entries on here. Of course, there needs to be something of interest to you, dear reader, too and I hope that's the case. Thanks for coming.

Category: Spain

Reeling in some leap years

Thursday, February 27th, 2020

There was a series on Irish television called “Reeling in the Years” where each program covered happenings in a certain year in the past using archive footage. The concept may not have been all that original though the focus of Irish events gave it a certain uniqueness. It was the sort of light television programming that could be repeated endlessly should a vacant slot need occupying.

Of course, that is not how I tend to view the entries on here and I often struggle to complete a trip report as I have been doing for a while with a day spent along Derbyshire’s Great Ridge in the autumn of 2017. Sometimes, what should produce a timely report can gain the feel of an archive item.

Nevertheless, 2020 is a leap year and a very rainy, snowy and windy February gains an extra day; it is hard to believe that we were basking in unseasonably warm sunshine just over a year ago. Perhaps, it is little wonder then that I often state that we get weather instead of seasons and such is the defining characteristic of a maritime climate.

January and February often are the quieter months of the year so there is some time for looking back and a little forward planning. Thus, I take this opportunity to cast my mind back over leap years from a outdoor wandering vantage point since that stops me at 2000 when I commenced my working life after formal education.

By 2004, my pedestrian hill wandering had come into being with Scotland being a major focus along with England and Wales. The year itself was terrible from a weather standpoint with the summer being a washout. Only some flexibility at work allowed me to snatch a drier interlude to go north to Lorn and Lochaber to make the most of a fleeting opportunity.

2008 then was the third calendar year for this blog and saw a high point in my Scottish rambling. Until very recently, a week in August spent among some of the Western Isles became my most adventurous escapade ever. Skye was a staging point and I managed to avoid much of the rain that came from a stalled front lying across Ireland, England and Scotland. It now seems surreal that there was some glorious weather to be enjoyed on Harris, Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist.

The occasional good fortune of those islands again manifested itself in 2012 when they in fact endured a drought while the the rest of Britain has the wettest summer ever. It was only the dryness of the Outer Hebrides that stopped the year going down in records as being wetter than in 2000, a year that I hardly regard as being that rainy at all though there were autumn deluges. The differences in weather were missed in 2012, not only because of a certain weather myopia but also because the heavy workload of 2011 had drained me to the point that energy for planning a return to the Western Isles just was not there.

By 2016, major changes were taking place in my life after the passing of both my parents. These were becoming evident in 2012 and the combination of a busy working life and ongoing inheritance works became enough to break me. One saving grace was that I started exploring elsewhere in Europe and that began in 2015. 2016 saw an extended weekend spent in each of Austria and Norway while there also was a mid-winter break in Mallorca. It was the latter than really taught me a lesson with a heavy cold and the others might have been but palliative care for an ongoing malaise. Changes were coming.

As I look back, it is tempting to think that leap years are not always the best for me though I now reckon that they were not as bad as I might have thought them at the time. 2020 could prove no different but that remains to be seen. Changes are continuing and I now work for myself so overseas and other excursions can continue alongside the other things that need doing. Only time will show what chances are available.

Overflow

Thursday, January 31st, 2019

Quite how I never considered how life’s affairs refuse to fit within calendar years is beyond me because I have several examples to recall. Even though the aspiration of closing off things for a year end persists, that does not mean that it is remotely realistic. Accepting such continuity may be the best course even if some decry what they call drift.

There are times when the end of a year only adds items to a to do list for the next. That happened me in 2017 and it caused me to get much done about my Irish business last year. 2016 was one of those years when closure was sought because of a mix of continuing grieving, an unappealing job and looming deadline for the probation of my late father’s estate. It became a forlorn hope and influenced how things went in 2017.

Still, many years enjoy quiet starts and 2018 became one of those. It allowed me to rethink my career and choose self-employment as the way out of what I perceived to be career doldrums. In contrast, this year has seen a collision between unfinished work form last year with new plans for this year and unexpected matters. Leaving things flow in preference to filling supposedly empty time with tasks now looks the wiser course.

Even so, I have got to attending the Adventure Travel Show and Destinations in the same January weekend. The first of these carried me to the London Olympia for attendance of talks and gawping at stands. The next day saw me head to Manchester’s EventCity for the second when more of the same ensured. Leaflets were snaffled in numbers in an effort to look in on possibilities eschewed by my preference for independent travelling. The act might be more like one of education rather than the change of course that it might suggest.

Continuation also underlay my mid-Winter escape to Tenerife with its beginning in the dying days of 2018 and ending in the start of 2019. After what befell me on my 2016 Mallorcan trip, acclimatisation was a hallmark this time around and it worked. No ill-effects blighted the start of 2019 apart from eating stale food on my return and that only lasted around twelve hours. Other mid-Winter possibilities are more likely than they once were.

Though most base themselves in the south-west of the island, I plumped for the quieter north-east and Santa Cruz was where I stayed. New Year’s Eve saw me potter into the city’s neighbouring hills while New Year’s Day allowed for a more adventurous circuit around Igueste de San Andrés than I expected. Parque Nacional del Teide got a visit too with some pottering about Roques del Garcia within sight of El Teide itself. The higher altitude did little to restrict my activities but I had reigned in any enthusiasm in any event.

The parched countryside played host to larger versions of the sort of cacti that my late mother would have had as indoor potted plants. Poinsettias grew out of doors with help from flowerbed irrigation and came in different colours too. Both these observations were reminders of the important of bringing ample quantities of water on any walks in the subtropical winter heat.

Adjusting to a cold climate after this took some time but it has happened and a recent spell of snow is a reminder that the warmer days of spring and summer are a bit away yet. That gives time for some planning of additional exploring and the current political travails need escaping for a while and it is as yet unclear what they will mean for overseas explorations. Meanwhile, I hope to do more domestic exploring than a recent day trip to Lincoln.

A mid-winter Mediterranean escape: Part 3

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

One subject that I purposely left out of the previous part of this trilogy of posts regarding my 2016 trip to Mallorca was what started to take hold of me on the bus journey back from Sollér to Palma. The day had me wondering if had been underdressed on my walk up and down Barranc de Biniaraix. The summer-like weather was out of keeping with my usual wintertime experiences so my being clad in little more than shirt and trousers for much of the time felt odd.

Feeling Less Strong than Usual

What I probably had neglected to do was acclimatise to the new conditions. Instead, I went from place to place as I set about getting to know the island and, on that bus journey from Sollér to Palma, I began to feel signs of a sore throat with my brain starting to race into fears of falling ill. Quite whether this was something that I had picked up on the journey to Mallorca or whether I had thought myself into it is an open question. There might have been a mix of the two but the symptoms became real enough.

The result was that Thursday night was not as restful as I would have wanted and the ideal thing to do might have been to take a rest day around Palma on Friday. However, such was my state of mind that such a design was not to satisfy me. The chance to go pottering around Port d’Andratx won out in spite of my less than optimal physical state. Slower strolling up and down gentler gradients was my decided compromise for a day with much sunshine and more cloud cover.

Pottering around Port d’Andratx

My day around Port d’Andratx was to involve another encounter with the GR 221, this time at its south-western extremity. The buses there and back stopped in more places with many being tourist hotspots for more leisurely activities than what I was pursuing. That may for a busier trip on the outbound journey but that was no intrusion because my destination turned out to be a quiet spot and exactly what I needed for my own form of gentler activity.

Even so, I had it in mind to walk from Port d’Andratx to Sant Elm with views of the island of Sa Dragonera along the way. There may have been concerns about infrequent buses from the latter to Palma but I decided to give it a go anyway. Thus, I set off around the quays on what felt like a summer day. Pleasure craft lay docked while all around was mostly quiet and I kept walking.

Road leading up from Port d'Andratx, Mallorca, Spain

In time, the gradients were to steepen but I was following a road with many switchback bends so progress was steady. At times, I found paths through tree cover that got me out of the strong sunshine for brief episodes; any relief that they gave was relished. Building works were to be heard yet my quest was to take me away from built-up surroundings, at least for a while.

Trail near Port d'Andratx, Mallorca, Spain

Finding the GR 221 trail and staying on its route needed some care. Apart from the constraints of available maps, there were tracks and trails leading in various directions so the inattentive and undisciplined easily could have gone astray for signage was absent. That was not my destiny though so I got to reach those sought after wilder surroundings, as dessicated though they appeared to me. It felt as if any supposed proximity to houses was an illusion.

Sa Dragonera & Sant Elm, Mallorca, Spain

After a while, I took to locating myself according to nearby hill tops even if more striking ones in the more distant east proved less easy to identify. Closer ones like Puig d’en Ric and Pintal Vermell were much easier to recognise. As it happened, my journey took me to the top of the latter with its views of the sea and the island of Sa Dragonera. Sant Elm was on show too and seemed tantalisingly close.

Port d'Andratx, Mallorca, Spain

However, the path that I need to drop onto a track leading there was not obvious on the ground and I had exhausted my quota of risk taking for the day. Consequently, I decided to return to Port d’Andratx after contenting myself with the sights that I had savoured. On the way back, I purposely veered onto a lower track to get a different perspective but I seem to remember a height gain cost for that before that final descent of the day commenced.

All in all, a good walk had been gained despite various challenges and an afternoon departure ensured a timely return to Palma. The outing had continued the theme of exploration of Mallorcan coastal and mountain scenery that had brought so many rewards. While thoughts of my imminent departure from the island were not to be scotched, there was some time for rest and a further slowing of pace before I did so.

Departure

Friday night was taken slowly as was Saturday morning. Given that I had an evening flight back to Manchester, I stayed in the hotel as long as I could on Saturday. When I left there, the mild sunny day meant I could lounge near the cathedral and its precincts until I needed to go to the airport.

As I did so, my possession of a larger camera ensured that I was asked to make photos of others with their devices. People photography may not be my thing but the list still included a German group and an English lady seeking a photo of her wearing a certain t-shirt for someone in her home country. Though these snappers may not have such demanding needs, I always wonder if my efforts suffice. In fact, they generally do just that.

There were opportunities for photos of my own too and the time came for catching a bus to the airport to start my journey home. Given that this was New Year’s Eve, I opted for a stay in a hotel near Manchester Airport in preference to a possibly expensive taxi ride home. Given how tired I was on my arrival, that probably was just as well and it allowed me a leisurely journey home on the first day of 2017.

Afterwards

January 2017 was to see me battle that cold for a few days more until it left me just before I went to Ireland to sort out some business there. This was the end of the time-boxed inheritance works though some overshot the January deadline but they could be completed in their own time. Other matters came before them in priority and such things as a springtime sabbatical, eventual career break and subsequent career alteration lay in the future. It was now time to sort out my working life so I could manage my Irish interests while keeping my emotional health in order.

Overseas journeying continued with trips to Norway and Sweden though nothing like that has happened in 2018 aside from a longer recreational trip to Ireland last month. A more settled working life may help me to start those overseas trips again and the prospect of a mid-winter sunshine break has come to mind again. Possible choices include a hiking break on one of the Canary Islands or various city stays like Rome or even Singapore. The actual decision will be revealed at the right time and that is not now.

Lessons have been learned from the Mallorcan trip so any new mid-winter escapade will be less packed with objectives. Time for acclimatisation is a must given any differences between winter climates and that applies even more so for any antipodean outing where the seasons are opposite to our own in the northern hemisphere. Life’s adventure continues and the Mallorcan trip has taught me a lot as will any future ones like it.

Travel Arrangements

Return flights between Manchester and Palma de Mallorca. Return bus journeys to and from Port Pollença, Sóller and Port d’Andratx.

A mid-winter Mediterranean escape: Part 2

Monday, December 10th, 2018

Sometimes, writing comes easy and there are other times when it is harder. Writing up my Mallorcan escapade from nearly two years ago has become one of the latter for a number of reasons. Some of these are emotional given the time on which I am reflecting and I also have distracted myself with technical matters such as moving this and other websites to faster servers. The added speed may prove noticeable but any rough edges should be ironed out by now.

With that out of the way, it is not before time that I commenced the telling the second part of what became a trilogy when I realised the scale of the task. This was not planned quite like Tim Robinson’s duology regarding the Aran Islands or his trilogy about Connemara. Even with his planning, the difficulty in writing the Aran Island books is evident and it offers some reassurance regarding any challenge overcome in writing this piece.

Addressing an Omission

The first part of the trip report dealt with a certain amount of familiarisation that preceded the deeper explorations described here but I had failed to use the slacker pace of that day to address a packing oversight that needed sorting. What I had managed to do is arrive somewhere with near continuously strong daytime sunshine without having a hat to use while walking. The fact that the lapse did not dawn on me until the end of my second day on the island might have something to say about my state of mind at the time and how life had been going in 2016.

The outcome was that I had one extra thing to do before setting off for Sóller. Thankfully, these internet-enabled days allowed me to find an outdoors shop where the requisite purchase was made. However, instead of a broad rimmed hat like what I usually wear in such circumstances, I ended up with a peaked cap with a drop down sun veil at the back. Its appearance reminded me of the sort of garb worn in desert warfare films but it was to do what I asked of it.

Not so Late a Start

The added retail activity had me thinking that it had delayed my departure for Sóller more than was ideal. However, there are reasons why I now discount such a possibility. The realisation that the clock on my main DSLR had advanced to more then ninety minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean Time is among these. Having it set to British Summer Time is one thing but the added advance beyond this was another so I now decided that timing. Inspection of bus timetables and the time recorded on my GPS receiver track support my new thinking.

Being closer to the equator than my usual British and Irish haunts made for longer hours of daylight and stronger sunshine. The latter of these made my new hat a necessity while the former allowed me more time for hiking. Having the sun rise around 08:00 is not so different from my home turf but its setting around 17:30 is the bigger help with an added ninety minutes of daylight walking time.

Now, I reckon that I left Palma for Sóller around 11:00 and I chose the more scenic bus route on the outbound leg of my return journey. This went around by the coast and is more scenic than the alternative that goes through a tunnel. Roads are narrow though and the heady drops down to the sea are in view so this also is best considered as a way for more adventurous drivers or locals to be going. For a first visit, the bus trip was a good introduction to this part of the island and I must have arrived in Sóller around 12:15.

Finding a More Direct Way to Go

Once in Sóller, my mind was set on exiting the place in search of more natural surroundings. Along the way, I passed a church near a central square before ambling through narrow lanes boxed in by multi-storey buildings bedecked with shuttered windows. Even of a winter’s day, I could see the purpose behind such a design with its added shade from the bright sunshine of a hot summer’s day. That thought was to recur later on in the walk.

Ripening citrus fruit near Sollér, Mallorca, Spain

For whatever reason, I considered that my route to Biniaraix was a haphazard one. While there was one inadvertent dogleg added, it now looks the more direct way to have taken and I found just how circuitous the GR221 could be later in the day. My supposed deviation also introduced me to the sight of ripening orange and lemon groves as well as the effect of heat-haze on views of more distant craggy limestone eminences.

A Climb Begins in Earnest

Sign for Barranc de Biniaraix and Cúber, Biniaraix, Mallorca, Spain

At Biniaraix, I finally joined the route of the GR221 and headed into those wilder surroundings that I so desired. The track was quiet too so I had plenty of those much craved episodes of solitude. What I did not realise back then was that the word “barranc” means gorge yet I certainly realised that a steep ascent awaited me. The track was well engineered all the way as it wound up the slopes so footing never proved problematic.

For whatever reason, my mind began to turn to thinking about traders of old who might have used tracks like these regardless of the gradients. A good surface would have helped with that and that was another consideration given such toil. Would the added shade have been a factor in building such a route given how hot summer days can be in this part of the world? Such mental meanderings took away from any shortfall in photographic activity until sufficient height had been gained.

Looking towards Cap Gros, Port de Sóller, Mallorca, Spain

After those shaded zigzags, I again emerged into sunshine and benefited from the wider views that opened up at the same time. Though afflicted by heat haze, they extended as far as the coastline and some signs of the otherwise obscured Port de Sóller were there to be spotted while Sóller showed itself far more confidingly at one point. Sunlit limestone crags lay above and around me so they also became targets for my camera, as challenging as the mix of bright white rock and often dessicated vegetation proved. This was a refrain that would recur at other times during my stay in Mallorca.

Any such thinking was set aside as I took in the surrounding sites when the ground levelled off and I closed in on my turning point of L’Ofre. A gate lay across the track advising walkers to stay on the trail in Spanish, an ever familiar trail in any language. In fact, a farm lay in front of me but keeping left brought me to quieter spot where I could linger awhile.

Puig de l'Ofre & Puig de na Maria, Biniaraix, Mallorca, Spain

Some lunch was taken within sight of such eminences as Puig de l’Ofre and Puig de na Maria. The first of these reached above 1000 metres above sea level while the second failed to reach 900 metres of altitude. This was a high and rugged place with a cross placed by the local Confraternity of the Holy Shroud in 2008, if Google Translate made an accurate translation of the inscription on the plaque on its rugged concrete base.

Plaque at base of Cross at L'Ofre, Biniaraix, Mallorca, Spain

Weathered sign on cross at L'Ofre, Biniaraix, Mallorca, Spain

That Catalan was suggested by the online translation tool was no surprise but the attempt on translating an inscription on the cross itself did not meet with as much success. The best way to express it was that any food taken in front of the cross would last a walker the rest of their journey and that more or less is what my lunch did for me that day.

Because of the time of year, my own itinerary was not to take in Embassament de Cubér, a reservoir in otherwise natural looking surroundings, as many a guidebook advises. There was no seasonal bus service running that would allowed me avoid adding a descent and subsequent re-ascent to the height that I already had gained. My time also was limited by the available hours of daylight so I was happy to begin my return to Sollér and there was no question of feeling short-changed.

An Alternative Return Route

In the event, the return route was a variation of the outbound so that helped for a change of scenery on the way. The first of two deviations was chosen near Can Catí and an initially appealing path turned rougher as I continued along its length. That did not matter as it kept me higher for longer and only featured adventurous descents near its rejoined of the track following by the GR 221. All the while, light was fading and my memory features a recollection of overcast skies though I cannot confirm if that was the case.

Even so, I stuck with GR 221 after passing through Biniaraix to sample what I had missed earlier in the day. This was a roundabout way to go in ever more declining light but it still was possible to see why it went this way. Expansive views abounded in contrast to what was offered by the gorge section. Sollér’s central church could be as clearly seen as the craggy mountains that lie all around the place. If it had been brighter, I might have made photos but those faded memories are enough for me.

Signs for Fornalutx may have been tempting on another time but that added too much of a diversion so I was happy to shortened the distance to Sollér. That was just as well since it practically was dark when I met with its outskirts so I was happy to make my way to the bus stop through well lit streets. After a wait, the bus for Palma arrived and I was back at my hotel at a reasonable hour. The day had been a good one.

Travel Arrangements

Return bus journey between Palma and Sóller.

A mid-winter Mediterranean escape: Part 1

Friday, November 16th, 2018

This time two years ago, I was in the business of surveying numerous locations for a momentary mid-winter escape to a warmer climate before settling on Mallorca after a chat with my brother that allowed me to build up the necessary courage. Another motivation was that I wanted to do something different between Christmas and New Year. A planned trip to Ireland in the same period in 2015 was aborted when grief hit me with a vengeance. After that experience, I was all the more determined to ensure that Christmas 2016 felt very different.

After a Christmas period laden with plenty of local walking that got as far as Tegg’s Nose on St. Stephen’s Day (or Boxing Day as some know it), I headed off to Mallorca in an effort to make a hard break in the run of things. Having sunny weather all the time was a novelty for me as I took the sights around Palma as well as heading out for walks around Port de Pollença, Sóller and Port d’Andratx. That ensured that I enjoyed a mixture of coastal and hill walking together with a feeling of leaving normal life after me. It might have worked too well for a cold slowed my beginning to 2017 while it felt for a long time like it was refusing to leave me. Other than that, the getaway was exactly what I needed to snap me out of a mental rut into which I have fallen.

Arrival

Unlike previous overseas excursions and even Irish ones these days, I arrived in Palma de Mallorca at night. The pre-booked shuttle to my hotel was not to be found so a taxi was hailed for the purpose. Noting the fare incrementing on the metre, I wondered how much this was going to cost and it was with some relief that the floodlit Cathedral of Santa Maria came into view and my hotel was not far from there. Even with the darkness, I was lured out of doors in an act of exploration and that included pottering about the said cathedral with its opulent flying buttresses and other medieval architectural flourishes. As I returned to the hotel for the night, the stage was set for a daytime sighting next morning. Temperatures had been very mild too so this was about to be the start of an unusual experience for me.

Around Palma and Port Pollença

Part of that oddness was the fact that there was one sunny day after another. Having lived on maritime islands where sunny spells are as finite as they are occasional, this was striking. Being precious about episodes of sunshine means that there is a tendency to rush around in order to make the best of them. What I probably more needed at the time was to slow down and let things flow at a gentler pace.

Parc de la Mar, Palma, Mallorca, Spain

Instead, I set about exploring Palma as I done with so many other places. It might have taken a while for the route between the hotel and the bus station to gel in my memory after embarking on several circuitous itineraries but the way to Palma’s cathedral saw no such errors. It seemed that a straight route to the dominating edifice was hard for anyone not to find. The bright sunshine felt at odds with the time of year and the pale stonework only amplified its effects.

Pottering about the edifice and its environs kept me going for the whole morning and many a photo was made of near and far. Eventually, it could not hold me for I wanted to see more of the island. To do that, I needed to seek out the city bus station.

That was done in a customary meandering manner and I discovered that it was an underground operation with the island’s mainline trains leaving from the same place as its bright red and yellow interurban buses. The curious cycling of train departures through different languages; English was among them though the idea of German being included along with something more local like Spanish or Catalan appeals to me even if my memory cannot confirm it as being a fact.

Once I got my bearings around the interchange’s subterranean construction, I got something to eat there and then headed back to my hotel, possibly to organise myself before travelling further afield. On returning to the transport hub, I caught a bus to Port de Pollença for an afternoon visit. Before I even arrived in Mallorca, train travel had been rejected due its restricted reach; it hardly went near the mountain areas that I wished to explore.

The sunlit Serra de Tramuntana accompanied my northward journey but this was not to be a day for their exploration. Instead, the northern coast was my intended destination and I admired what I passed on the way there. Once in Port de Pollença, I made for the coast and pottered along the shoreline as workmen attended to one of the houses along there. It may have felt like summer to me but the place was far from bring thronged thronged and I had ample time to survey what lay around Badia de Pollença.

Na Blanca, Port de Pollença, Mallorca, Spain

Sign for Camí del Caló, Port de Pollença, Mallorca, Spain

Most of that involved road and footway tramping since this was not a day for more adventurous wandering. In hindsight, there might have been a tempting short off-road stroll to be had but I fancied seeing if I could get a closer look at the Península de Formentor. Along the way, there was time for photos and for realising the limitations of the map loaded on my GPS receiver. It did not help that I was in the vicinity of a military facility so I followed the MA-2210 around its switchback bends to gain some height before leaving it on a path signed for El Caló for a wilder feel. The escape did not last long for I did not fancy losing height to reach the shore only to have to gain it again. Instead, I stopped a while before starting to retrace my steps back to civilisation again.

Port de Pollença proved confusing to negotiate and I very nearly missed a bus back to Palma but for an observant and facilitating driver. There could have been a two hour wait for the next departure so I was appreciative and the bus took a slightly different route too since it called at Cala Sant Vicenç. Light was fading on the way back to Palma and I made a roundabout way back to the hotel too; it took time for the way there from the transport interchange to become engrained in my mind. The explorations of ensuing days were to ensure that and they are the subjects of subsequent parts of this trilogy.

Travel Arrangements

Outbound flight from Manchester to Palma de Mallorca. Return bus journey to Port Pollença.