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.
My perusal of a recent copy of TGO magazine brought me across a few possibilities in an issue having the strapline "Walk the World" on its cover. When it comes to overseas journeying, I tend to take what alpinists might call a centrist approach. What I mean is that I have a habit of basing myself in one location and exploring that and places situated around and about it. The other approach would be to go from place to place on an itinerary.
Certainly, my usual approach makes it much easier to organise a trip and it matters more when I am going further away from home: just book somewhere to stay and sort out how to travel there and back again. After that, it is possible to concentrate on finding one’s feet and experiencing any local delights to a deeper level than you would if moving from place to place. It also works well for independent travelling and that is what I did before the pandemic came our way.
There are many trips to Scotland and the Isle of Man where I have taken the centrist approach and it has come in handy for overseas escapades featuring Iceland, Switzerland, Austria, Spain and Canada. One notable exception has been Norway but, even there, I have limited my stopping points and there was a time that I traipsed from place to place around Scotland too.
Thus, the list of possible base "camps" for European excursions in that recent issue of TGO caught my eye. Two places on the lists have seen my footfall already: Innsbruck in Austria and Sóller in Mallorca. The first of these has an embarrassment of riches surrounding it that easily caused quandaries during my extended weekend stay during May 2016. The others need to remain on file for the future. They include Senja in Norway, Gavarnie in the Pyrenees, Sotres in Picos de Europa, Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites and Bled in Slovenia. All are near to the type of countryside that I relish so they could be worth seeking should opportunities arise.
In a similar vein, Outside also listed the best mountain towns in the U.S.A. and this too struck a chord with me since I have had designs on exploring American mountain country for a while. For example, the prospect of spending time around Denver and Boulder in Colorado during the summer of 2020 foundered because of the pandemic. So, getting a wider list could be helpful and there are twenty-four entries. The source article is behind a paywall but it is worth becoming a paid subscriber to get a list like this.
The possibilities include Cordova in Alaska, Sedona in Arizona, Bentonville in Arkansas, Truckee in California, Durango & Telluride in Colorado, Stanley in Idaho, Copper Harbor in Michigan, Bozeman & Whitefish in Montana, Asheville in North Carolina, North Conway in New Hampshire, Taos in New Mexico, Lake Placid in New York, Bend in Oregan, Spearfish in South Dakota, Chattanooga in Tennessee, Terlingua in Texas, Park City in Utah, Stowe in Vermont, Roanoke in Virginia, Leavenworth in Washington State, Davis in West Virginia and Jackson in Wyoming. Here, I have ordered things by state so you will need to go to the article to get their ordering and the details that they supply for there is a lot to uncover about these. Many already are places that I have checked out but others are not.
It is all very fine to have lists of locations but there are other considerations like accessibility using public transport and the availability and cost of accommodation. Some locations are sure to be well known and hence will be busy places so knowing quieter times like shoulder seasons will prove useful as could using the services of a travel company. Of course, you cannot go anywhere without having the ideas in the first place.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Return flights between Manchester and Palma de Mallorca. Return bus journeys to and from Port Pollença, Sóller and Port d’Andratx.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.