All posts by Keyman

Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland – Days 7 & 8

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 7 & 8.
Back to days 5 & 6.

Day 7 – La Fouly to Champex – Switzerland – 14km

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After a conversation with yet another Dutch couple at the campground, I discovered the last part of today’s leg will be a bit of a slog. The wife walked it alone last year, and so they are planning to skip the last half of the day by catching the bus from Issert. I certainly wasn’t going to take the bus, but I took note. I walked out of the campground and headed along an open field towards the woods where I would follow an easy slowly descending trail. It was still warm, even early in the day, so I was glad for the shade for the first few kilometres.

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While the views from the Swiss portion are not as good as the other sides, the mountains are still beautiful.

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After a brief climb, the trail hugged the lower slopes of the mountain on a thin path, and one section even had a chain to hold onto, just in case. The trail then headed through the forest, and it felt as if I was walking along a long thin tree-lined avenue – a 1.5km long section of very straight trail with only two bends.

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When I came out, the trail headed onto grassy fields past a Swiss hamlet. It then worked its way towards the village of Praz-de-Fort where I went looking for a cafe and a cold drink. I found the Dutch guy at one also having a drink, so I stopped for a chat.

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I headed off a few minutes after him and came around onto another road with a quaint village ahead where I stopped to retrieve my lunch from my pack. I was preparing to leave when the Dutch girl came along after me. We walked together for a bit, but she stopped in the next village for a break, while I pushed on to Issert.

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A hundred metres after the village the trail cut up a hill made more difficult by the summer heat. Issert sits at 1040m above sea level and my target Champex is at 1500m, not a huge climb compared to other days. The trail went into the forest for shade, but forests have their own humidity, so it is warm either way. As I had been warned, the climb was a slog, with little along the way to see. Someone, however, had carved various animals into tree stumps to give us something to see. There’s a viewpoint along the route, and well worth the wait.

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And another 20m further on there is a water fountain, something common along the trail, with potable water and another view.

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Four kilometres after Issert, I came out of the forest and climbed around the streets of Champex until I found myself above Lac de Champex. I walked to and along it for a kilometre until I reached my campground.

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After pitching my tent, I headed back to the lake, where I ran into the Dutch guy. We found the English couple and the young Dutch couple from the night before, along with (yet) another Dutch couple, the girls from each Dutch couple being sisters. Yes, the Dutch invaded my TMB, but no complaints from me. A large portion of walkers are French who speak various levels of English. The few Italians along the way were similar. The Dutch I met, to a person, were fluent in English, which made it easy to connect with them. Later, after eating with the Dutch guy, everyone got together to play cards, along with an American couple — all good company.

Day 8 – Champex to La Peuty – Switzerland – 14.5km

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The official route today via Alp Bovine is supposed to be a forest walk with some spectacular views. However, there’s a variant, more challenging and with a climb above 2600m, the highest point of my TMB, with unmatched views. Leaving the campground, I followed a path away from the road then turned sharply and followed an irrigation channel. The trail climbed into the forest-covered valley for 1.5km until it came out at the chalets of Relain d’Arpette where I ran into the British couple from the past two evenings. I walked with them for a short time as we slowly climbed through wildflower meadows. They were faster walkers that I, so I wished them well and set my own pace into the grand view ahead.

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After 2km, the trail grew flatter, and I followed the line of mountains up the valley. I eventually saw the point I would be climbing to, the lowest point of the mountainscape to the right of the photo’s centre.

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The trail turned steeper and rockier, and I clicked back into the pace I had perfected over the past 8 days. With my legs used to the effort, the steep climb seemed fairly easy, although the sweat continued to drip from me. Looking back the way I’d come…

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The climb is quite varied, and after a time the trail cut through a massive boulder field. Bouldering is fun, trying to balance while skipping from one to the next. Some find it hard, but it didn’t take me long to work my way past it. There were some snow patches on the mountain and one right on the trail. On the far side a very steep zigzagging path to the crossing point – Fenêtre d’Arpette.

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This last part of the climb was the most difficult, and I stopped after each short zigzag to catch my breath. But still, it didn’t take me long to make it to the top and cast my eye back.

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And of course, the sight you wait for while climbing… the other side. At 2665m, I sat to eat lunch and enjoy the view.

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The greatest problem with climbing something tall is climbing back down again. The trail was quite thin, and after my break, I headed down, slowly. While my legs seemed used to climbing up, they still hadn’t gotten used to the down part. I descended beside the Glacier du Trient, the slick rock below it having once been covered by the glacier. As I continued down, my knees starting letting me know how much fun they were having. And, again annoying to see trail runners bounding down these slopes like they’re running down a short hill.

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The trail hugged the edge of the mountain for a time on a thin trail before zig-zagging down the centre. I continued down for an hour before reaching an old hut where some people had stopped. The person before me was trying the water fountain, but it was only running warm, so I pushed on. Thankfully I found a glacial stream and drank my fill of the sweet cool water. I continued my descent for some time before the trail cut into the forest where I got a good view back up the mountain to the glacier.

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Another hour and I came out at a cafe where several trails met and ran into the American couple from last night. As I’d just run out of my water, I bought a couple of soft drinks and sat with them for a chat. Then with dark clouds looming I headed off. The trail was now flat and had been purposely cut around the side of the mountain as a tourist walk. After 1.5km, I came to a downslope and to the annoyance of my legs, followed it down a zigzag path. Halfway down, I heard thunder and it began to rain lightly. I made it to the campground at La Peuty, not too wet, and ran into some of the others. In the gentle rain, I put up my tent with their help. After a shower, I booked dinner and ended up with the whole group again – British couple, 2 Dutch couples, the Dutch guy and the Dutch girl sitting around the table in a large teepee, eating burgers and drinking whiskey.

Tomorrow I head back into France where I will finish this epic trek. Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland/France – Days 9 & 10.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Tour du Mont Blanc – Italy/Switzerland – Days 5 & 6

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 5 & 6.
Back to days 3 & 4.

Day 5 – Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti – Italy – 11km

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After a good night’s sleep and a massive breakfast at my Airbnb, I head down into the town for last-minute supplies. I stopped to take a photo of where I’d climbed down from yesterday.

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From Courmayeur, the trail follows a steadily climbing road for about 3km before cutting into the forest. Thankfully, my Airbnb at 1250m elevation was halfway along this road, cutting a bit of climbing off my day. At the end of the day, I pushed into the forest and up a fairly steep set of zig-zagging paths. With little to see but trees, I found my zone and got on with the climbing. I eventually came out of the trees at 1850m to great views across Courmayeur.

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A further 100m climb and I stopped briefly at Refugio Giorgio Bertone for a cold drink then climbed the hill above where I stopped for lunch. After eating, I had the difficult decision of whether to take the official route or the higher, harder, variant. After being told by my host’s son last night that the walk into Switzerland would be a hard one, I decided to follow everyone else along the easier route. The trail skirted around the side of the valley at about 2000m and stayed that way for about 5km. Always in its stunning beauty, across the valley, the wall of the massif.

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The trail pushed into the forest and rounded into a gully where Torrente d’Arminaz, a wide and fast-flowing stream ran down the mountainside with a bridge crossing it. As it had been another hot day in the mountains, I found a great spot, got my feet out of my boots and into the icy water. No doubt the sound of my pleasure reverberated along the valley. With no hurry to push on the last couple of kilometres to my rifugio, I hung out at the spot for some time. As I did, other walkers came by, and they too took the opportunity to cool off in the water. Of course, it wouldn’t be right without one of my Dutch companions, this time the Dutch guy, who also got his feet into the water. After a while, we dried off, booted up and headed out.

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The last couple of kilometres were an easy walk, and we came past another Dutch trio, a couple and their son, who I chatted to as we came to final 50m climb up to the Rifugio. It was still early afternoon, and the Rifugio didn’t open until 4pm, so as a group we hung out around the tables chatting in the heat. Because of Coronavirus, the rifugio was only accepting prebookings, so the Dutch guy continued on to find a wild camping spot. After a shower, I hung out with the Dutch family. We drank beer and ate Italian sausage while talking about the trek and admiring the view.

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The father, about my age, had walked this route a couple of times. He had also climbed many of the peaks along the massif. I hung with them during dinner, which was full vegetarian, and then a couple more beers before retiring to bed early in preparation for the coming day.

Day 6 – Rifugio Bonatti to La Fouly – Italy to Switzerland – 17km

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As yesterday was not as hard a day as I’d read, today is supposed to make up for it, with an intense descent, a hard ascent and another long descent. After breakfast, I bid farewell to the Dutch family, another group I wouldn’t see again and headed out around the back of the Refugio. Over the next 3km, there would be some minor climbs and descents, but the massive wall of the massif across the valley stopped me from caring, the beauty and immensity of it.

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I arrived at a farmhouse and saw that the trail cut down the mountain on switchbacks, although nothing too steep or difficult.

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I followed the trail, descending 250m to Chalet Val Ferret, where I stopped for a cold drink. The weather again was warm, but storms were on the forecast later in the day. I followed the river for a short time until I came to the beginning of the first climb, which was crowded with cows. Looking for an alternative route, I followed the road around for a bit before climbing the steep grassy slope, a 350m climb before it flattened out. A short sharp climb took me to Rifugio Elena, which is closed this season. I stopped for a break and a bite to eat before the big climb to come. The view opposite…

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The first signs of dark clouds could be seen as I climbed the at times steep path zigzagging its way up the mountain for another 475m of elevation.

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Since I’ve been climbing for five days, while the sweat is still pouring off me, my legs have grown used to the effort, and again I don’t seem to notice the hardship as much. As I topped Col Val Ferret and the border of Switzerland, I stopped for lunch and to enjoy the view, putting on a jacket in the cooler breeze.

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After eating, and at the first signs of rain, I headed down the other side into Switzerland. The trail flowed gently down into the valley, and I stopped as a Marmot ran across the trail.

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Not long after, the rain came briefly before the heat again rose. I followed the trail down before it zig-zagged a couple of times and came out at a farm, Alpage de la Puele, where I stopped for a cold beer. I continued on down on a green hill that felt reminiscent of everything I’ve ever seen of Switzerland, heading steadily down to a river. I crossed and following a road around into a forest.

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After passing a quaint Swiss village, I cut down to the river again, where I found many piles of stones. I followed the river for some time, then after a short steep climb, I was deposited in La Fouly, a classic looking Swiss village. After pitching my tent at the campground, I headed into town for a beer and dinner.

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I sat alone enjoying a drink on a table next a young British couple and a younger Dutch couple. I was reading my guide book when who should appear but the Dutch girl, who’d already met the two couples. We joined them and began talking about food when an American couple appeared, shortly followed by my friend, the Dutch guy. A good evening was had with the larger group, ending with 4 of us in another bar playing cards. Unfortunately, just as we were leaving, the sky opened in full storm, leaving two of us ran back to the campground.

Next, two more days in Switzerland. Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland – Days 7 & 8.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Tour du Mont Blanc – France/Italy – Days 3 & 4

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 3 & 4.
Back to days 1 & 2.

Day 3 – Les Chapieux to Rifugio Elisabetta – France to Italy – 13.5km

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Today I cross the mountain border into Italy, and the bonjours will change to Buongiornos. From Les Chapieux there’s a bus that cuts out the first 1.5 hours flat walk to La Ville des Glaciers, a small hamlet just before the first climb. My companions from yesterday afternoon went with this option, and that was the last I saw of them. I decided to walk, but before I left, I ran into someone who seemed familiar… the Dutch girl from the beginning of the first day. She was walking with a Polish girl and invited me to tag along.

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The initial part of the trail was only flat for some of the way, but it was fresh walking in the shade of the mountains. From time to time as we walked, we watched a bus running along the road above as it carried people to La Ville des Glaciers.

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About a kilometre past the hamlet the climbing began with many steep switchbacks. We were part way up when we heard an orchestra of bells on the slopes opposite. We watched a herd of cows trotting along the road to the farm as a bus tried to get past. Our climb continued, not as steep as before, but hot under the beating sun. The three of us took several breaks, stopping to drink from glacial springs whenever they appeared. It’s best to drink at higher altitudes, where it hasn’t been polluted by cow dung. The water was fresh, cool and rather moreish.

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We crossed the border at Col de la Seigne (2515m), taking but a short break in the cool breeze, before setting off down the other side, where small patches of snow still clung to the ground.

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The trail down was not painful or strenuous, and we took our time. We passed what appeared to be a museum of sorts, but didn’t stop.

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The gentle slope continued for another hour down to 2165m, where the valley flattened out with tall peaks to either side. The beauty and magnificence is everywhere, all to the soundtrack from the Sound of Music. After a kilometre and a half, we walked past a ruin to see Refugio Elisabetta hung on the mountain above and climbed to it. While this was my stop for the night, the girls stopped for refreshments, but were continuing on.

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Once they’d departed, I showering and hung out in the common room where I got talking to a Dutch guy….

Day 4 – Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur – Italy – 18km

TMB Stage 4

With no huge climb today, I was hopeful of an easier day. After breakfast and coffee with the Dutch guy, the entire Refugio packed up and cleared out like an exodus. We picked our way down the path to the dirt road that would lead us out of the valley. While it was early, the beating sun caused a sweat even though it was a slow descent along the 2.5km of the valley.

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At the end of the valley, we found the path to the first and only climb of the day. Refugio Elisabetta is around 2200mm, with a dip down to 1950m at the end of the valley. The climb would take us up to about 2400m. The trail began steeply but became steadily more gentle as we went. After days of climbing, the muscles in the legs had grown used to the effort. This, along with muscle memory from years of hiking, and the climb didn’t seem so difficult.

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My Dutch companion and I climbed on before taking a rest at a hut. While we were there, I noted a lone figure climbing along the trail behind us and recognised her walk… the Dutch girl. Little did I know, but this was the beginning of the Dutch invasion of my TMB, not that I minded. We had a brief chat before heading off. It didn’t take us long to reach the high point of the trail and standing on the top of the small peak the view along the valley was amazing.

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After a brief rest, we again headed off. For the first hour, the trail followed an easy slope along the side of the mountains. We came to a green area overlooking a small lake and stopped for lunch. From here I thought it would be an easy descent into Courmayeur for the rest of the day. But I was wrong, very wrong.

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After lunch, our little group split, with the Dutch guy taking a different route, and the Dutch girl catching a ski lift. I climbed around past a pair of rifugios, before beginning my descent down the grassy ski fields. With the first sign of rain threatening since I began four days ago, I cut past the top of a ski lift with views of the town below.

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With the mountain behind me blocking the slight wind, the temperature went up, and as I cut into the forest, it grew muggy. I zigzagged down through the trees for the next 2 hours on a steep, dry and dusty path. When the rain finally came, it was glorious, for all of the minute it lasted. With aching knees, I finally reached the bottom a minute or two after the Dutch guy and stopped for a quick drink with him before heading off across Courmayeur to my Airbnb.

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I was thankful to arrive and chatted to my host’s son who could speak English. After the hot day, I drank buckets of water and was able to take a soaking bath. In the evening, I went down into the town for dinner – pizza, of course – and a beer.

Next, after one more day in Italy, I head into Switzerland. Tour du Mont Blanc – Italy/Switzerland – Days 5 & 6.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Tour du Mont Blanc – France – Days 1 & 2

Mont Blanc, nestled on the borders of France, Italy and Switzerland, is the tallest mountain in Western Europe. The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is a 10-day hike circumnavigating the Mont Blanc Massif on a trail 168km long.

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On a slightly rainy day, I flew into Geneva and caught a bus for over an hour to Chamonix, the site of the first Winter Olympics. It would be from this township on the eastern border of France that I would start and finish the hike.

For the next 10 days, I plan to camp in established locations wherever I can, but with a lack of legal camping spots in Italy, I’ve opted for two Refugios and an Airbnb. My pack weight, including 2 litres of water, is around 20kg, while heavy, I’ve been known to carry more. And, as always, I’m hiking solo, however, from what I’d read, I’d likely meet other walkers along the way. It’s high season, but in the time of Coronavirus with many people unable to enter Europe, there should be a lot fewer people. My intended route…

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Day 1 – Les Houches to Les Contamines – France – 14km

TMB Stage 1

After last night’s rain, today began sunny. After a good breakfast, I made my way across Chamonix to the south bus station where I’d been dropped off the day before. The ski town of Chamonix is lively this morning with tourists and locals out and about.

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While there are other walkers on the bus, when it stopped at the arch, the official start point, only two of us got off, a Dutch girl and me. We walked the few minutes through the small village of Les Houches towards the cablecar where everyone else had gotten off. While I headed off with a group of French-speaking guys into the forest for the first climb, the Dutch girl took the cablecar. Over the next handful of kilometres, the steep climb zigzagged up the mountain before opening out with a great view back down the valley. It was a tough climb for the first day, made more difficult by the heat, the rain now a thing of the past.

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The trail continued climbing steeply towards the peak, Col De Voza, 600m above my starting point, passing the cablecar stops for another view.

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From Col de Voza, the trail descended on a wide trail through the forest, then out across rolling green meadows, weaving through several small hamlets on its way towards Le Champel. After midday, and with the heat rising steadily, I found a grassy meadow with a shade tree partway along the valley and took off my boots.

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A little sore from my first day’s rigorous climb, I continued down to Le Champel only to find a steep climb up the hill. I spied a sign to Les Contamines and followed the trail for several kilometres until it came out at the main road, which I followed around to the adventure village of Les Contamines. With my campsite a further 30 minutes along the road, I stopped at a cafe/bar for a couple of cold beers served by a lovely French girl. After my break and in the heat, I followed the path beside a river, through a large activity park for campers, to a massive campground full of holidaying families. I paid and located the TMB camping area which soon filled up. That evening, I walked back to Les Contamines for dinner and another beer.

Day 2 – Les Contamines to La Chapieux – France – 17km

The next morning I headed back to the village for breakfast and some last supplies before heading out from the campground. Little did I know, today would be one of the hardest days of the entire circuit.

TMB Stage 2

From the campground, I walked along the road to a full car park and plenty of day walkers. I passed a church – Notre dame de la Gorge – before following an old Roman road as it climbed into the forest. After yesterday’s hard climb, my legs weren’t happy with me, so I pulled out my walking poles and used them for the rest of the tour. After a moderate climb, I crossed a Roman bridge, peered down into a thin gorge before continuing. After another climb, the forest opened up, giving a brief respite with great views.

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But the respite was indeed short and after Chalet La Balme, began a long, arduous climb. As the days are long, and the weather warm, I took regular opportunities to rest my aching legs. There are plenty of walkers on the trail, and the usual greeting is a warm bonjour, with French being the most common language. But today, through all the French voices, I occasionally heard English spoken. Halfway up the steep valley, the day walkers split off, following a trail to Lacs Jovet, a mountain lake. I climbed on steadily to Col du Bonhomme at the height of 2300m and was hit by a blustery cold wind. I took a break tucked behind a hut with a view of the peak above, one of the Col des Fours.

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Les Contamines is at 1170m, meaning I’d climbed 1100m in elevation so far today, but it wasn’t over. While direct sunlight can drain you, I found the icy wind energising and easily continued the climb around a rocky ridge. I took a moment to peer back at the hut I’d huddled behind.

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I continued around the rocky path, only to see a Marmot scuttle across a rock. It was one of three I saw here.

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Then, after a climb up the side of a small waterfall, I reached Col de la Croix du Bonhomme, the highpoint of the day at 2479m, a total of 1300m climb today. As expected, the views were immense, this one down to the Refuge du Col de la Croix du Bonhomme. I climbed down to the refuge for a well-deserved rest and ended up chatting with a group – a British guy, a Canadian couple and a German girl.

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But the worst was yet to come. Climbing can be hard work, but our legs are more designed for climbing than descending. The five of us began the long steady climb down the mountain towards Les Chapieux, a descent of around 1550m over 5km. Even with hiking poles, it was knee jarring, but the conversation helped take away some of the pain.

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The endless down was causing us all issues, especially when trail runners came galloping past like it was flat terrain. Trail runners often do the full trail over 3 days, and there are plenty of them. We stopped for a break to enjoy the afternoon and rest our knees.

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We finally reached Les Chapieux, and while I was camping, I stopped off at the group’s refuge for a beer but stayed for a four-course meal with them.

In France, it’s common for cows, sheep and goats to have bells that ring at the mere thought of movement. Throughout the night in my tent, my sleep was accompanied by an orchestra of farm animals in the hills.

Next, I head into Italy, Tour du Mont Blanc – France/Italy – Days 3 & 4.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Cardiff, Wales – Impressions

In late January 2020, I headed across to Cardiff for a concert and decided to stay for a couple of days to explore the city. As it’s winter, and Southern Wales, I was expecting rain, and I was not disappointed. But I’m waterproof, and a bit of drizzle wasn’t going to stop me enjoying my stay.

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Cardiff (Caerdydd in Welsh) is the largest city in Wales, but only the 11th largest in the UK. And, as it’s only a 2-hour train ride from London, it’s not that much of a trip. The first thing I noticed when arriving in the Welsh Capital is the number of covered arcades and malls. It’s a great way to explore the city without going out in the rain too often.

Motorpoint Arena
The point of coming to Cardiff was for a concert. Motorpoint Arena was first opened by Shirley Bassey in 1993. But my concert wasn’t as sedate, I was there to see Megadeth and Five Finger Death Punch. Metal, raw and loud. The venue was large, holding 5,500 on the floor. After a very long wait out in the icy conditions to get in the door, I eventually warmed up and enjoyed the concert. The venue, like most in the UK, is heavily sprinkled with alcohol sales points, although the crowds in London feel a little more raucous.

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Principality Stadium
Also known as Millennium Stadium, it is the home of the Welsh Rugby team and was built in 1999 to host the Rugby World Cup. The stadium in it’s latest form was constructed over another park which has a more sentimental note for me. When I was very young, I would sometimes get up at stupid times in the morning with my father to watch the All Blacks play at Cardiff Arms Park. The Six Nations Rugby was just beginning on the day I came back to London.

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Cardiff Castle
You can’t come to Cardiff and not visit Cardiff Castle, and the best was to see it is on a self-guided audio tour. Beneath the entrance and front wall is a small museum called Firing Line, showing the lives of Welsh Soldiers going all the way back to the Bronze Age. Next to the museum is a long bronze wall depicting scenes from Roman times opposite the actual remains of the Roman wall.

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Beneath the other walls are tunnels used during World War 2 as bomb shelters. They are long, dim-lit and eerie. On the far side of the grassy courtyard is the Norman keep surrounded by a moat. Climbing up to it, and then up its main tower gives excellent views across Cardiff.

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Then along one side of the castle grounds are the Castle Apartments and Clock Tower. The self-tour allows access to some of the rooms in this building to see their lavish designs.

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Roath Street Art
While Bristol is home to Banksy, Cardiff is also a hub of street art. With limited time, I chose to walk out to the suburb of Roath to check out the local street art. 2014 was apparently the big year in the suburb for street art. There are many pieces still evident on walls around the area (although some buildings have since been demolished and the artwork lost).

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But while walking the streets of Roath, I discovered hidden back alleys absolutely filled with the less creative street art. By less creative, I refer to large words in different fonts. Sure, it’s art, but is it that creative?

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The Animal Wall
Just along from Cardiff Castle and near the entrance to Bute park are a series of 15 stone animals ‘peering’ over a wall that has come to be known as the Animal Wall. They were based on drawings from the 1300s, were carved in London, and built into the wall in 1887.

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Bute Park
Once the grounds of Cardiff Castle, Bute Park is 130 acres of landscaped gardens and parkland. It runs from the castle at one end, along to Gabalfa Woods at the other. Scattered throughout the park are various sculptures, many made from tree trunks left just for that purpose. There’s also a rock circle just past the castle, the Gorsedd Stones which were placed for the National Eisteddfod (a bardic arts festival) in 1978.

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Welsh National War Memorial
Completed in 1928, the memorial stands in Alexandra Gardens and commemorates the servicemen who died in the First World War. A plaque was added in 1949 to commemorate those who died in World War 2 also. The memorial houses four bronze statues. The three around the base of the main plinth relate the three services, airforce, navy and army, while the figure on the plinth represents Victory.

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City Hall
To avoid the rain, I popped into the City Hall near the War Memorial and stayed to have a look around. I found my way up to the first-floor landing, which is known as the ‘Marble Hall’. Beyond the marble columns, there are nearly two dozen marble statues around the walls. Only one stands in the centre, the figure of Saint David. There are also various paintings around the halls, while most are landscapes, there is one of Prince Charles and another of Princess Diana.

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Cardiff Story Museum
Situated in the middle of the city centre in the old library building, the small museum tells the story of Cardiff. The museum contains more than 3000 donated objects relating to the life and times of Cardiff from its inception to current times. There’s much interesting information on the layout of the city over the years and a look into the lives of people who live there. While it’s small, it’s an excellent way to get to know the city on a rainy day, and it’s entirely free.

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National Museum and Art Gallery
Next to City Hall is the much larger National Museum and Art Gallery. Like the Cardiff Story Museum, it’s free and is something to do when it’s raining. With many large open halls, and several passageways between, there is plenty to see. The gallery holds many paintings by Claude Monet, along with several from Rodin, Van Gogh and several Welsh artists. The museum has an exhibition on the fossil swamps of over 300 million years ago. There are also photography exhibits from several different artists and a detailed history of the universe from the Big Bang to how Cardiff was formed. I managed to lose about three hours wandering around the halls, but at least I stayed dry.

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Cardiff Bay
With a couple hours to spare before my train back to London, I wound my way down to Cardiff Bay for lunch and a quick look around. Thankfully, today I was treated to the sun, a nice farewell for the trip. The bay area houses Mermaid Quay with its plentiful restaurants and cafes, along with the Millennium centre, The Senedd and the Red Dragon Centre, a movie theatre complex.

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Overall impressions
Cardiff is a great small city with just enough of a vibe to make it an enjoyable stay. There is plenty to do for a couple of days in summer or winter. There was more I could have investigated, but due to time and the rain, I didn’t get the chance.

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Next, I’m off to explore Liverpool at Easter,

The World Wanderer

Dublin, Ireland – Impressions

Taking a long weekend in November, I decided to explore the Republic of Ireland’s capital. And, Dublin put on a happy welcome for me with mostly blue skies and sun, although it was still rather cold.

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Dubhlind in Classical Irish means Black Pool, although I didn’t see any black water while I was there. I did, however, come across one rather hungry tree near King’s Inns.

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The city of Dublin officially came into existence in 988 AD, although the Vikings first settled the area 150 years earlier. In the late 1700s it became the second-largest city in the British Empire, but for only a brief period.

The Spire of Dublin
Also known as the Monument of Light, the spire is hard to miss as it stands 120 metres tall at the centre of the city. It sits on the spot of the former Nelson’s Pillar, which was destroyed in an IRA bombing in 1966. It is clearly visible across the city, especially at night, when the top 10 metres light up. This is handy, considering it gets dark at about 4.45pm in November.

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Temple Bar
On the south side of the river, is the cultural quarter of Dublin known as Temple Bar. Originally named after the Temple family, it is now a diverse and popular area, with many bars and restaurants. It was always busy there during my visit, day and night, with plenty of lights and the occasional Leprechaun. There is a great Boxty restaurant about midway down serving the classic Irish boxty dish, well worth trying.

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The River Liffey, By Day and By Night
Dublin is split by the River Liffey which heads out into the Irish Sea across to Anglesea in Northern Wales. The river is crossed by several notable and fanciful bridges – this one is the Samuel Beckett Bridge, beside the glowing blue Convention Centre.

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At night the entire city centre lights up the river in wondrous colours.

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Dublin Discovery Trails
For one of my days in Dublin, I followed 2 of Dublin’s Discovery Trails, from an app of the same name. There are nine different trails to follow, each with up to 15 locations and averaging about 2 hours. Adding to the experience, the app has audio to go along with each location. This allowed me to see more of Dublin than had I come up with my own Itinerary, and I learned more than I would have just by going to the locations. I highly recommend it.

Parnell Square and Remembrance Garden
The Remembrance Garden is in Parnell Square, an arty part of town with the Writer’s Museum and the Modern Art gallery in the vicinity. The garden is shaped like a cross with a sculpture at its head (behind me). It is dedicated to the memory of those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom during more than 7 different uprisings since 1798. Including the Easter Rising and the War of Independence.

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Trinity College
Officially College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, it contains the largest research library in Ireland and is home to the infamous Book of Kells. Some famous people who have studied at the campus were Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker of Dracula fame, Johnathan Swift of Gulliver’s Travels fame, just to name a few.

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Guinness Storehouse
While I wasn’t a big fan of Guinness beer before, I was told that it tastes better in Dublin, and that was indeed what I found. They say it has something to do with the water, but who knows. And of course, Dublin is home to the main brewery, and it would be silly not to take a tour. I learned a lot during my visit, of now only how they brewed the beer, but how they prepared the components to how they made the barrels by hand in the old days. The tour climbs several floors around a circular chamber known as the largest pint glass in the world. It includes a tasting and a free pint at the bar on the 7th floor with panoramic views of the city.

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King’s Inns
King’s Inns is a society renown for being Ireland’s oldest professional and education institute, training barristers-at-law. They built the building below at the top of Henrietta Street in 1800. Henrietta Street is the earliest Georgian sweet in Dublin – Georgian meaning it was built during the reigns of the four King Georges.

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Black Church
Located in the north of the central city, the gothic style church gets its name from the local calp sandstone it was built from. When wet, as is visible on parts of the lower sections, the entire church turns black. While it is no longer consecrated, it was said that if you run around it three times at midnight, you would summon the devil.

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Blessington Street Basin

Known as Dublin’s Secret Garden, it was opened in 1820 as a reservoir and was private property. In 1891 was opened to the public where residents of the area could come and relax, and watch the local wildlife. The swan and duck island in the middle was expended due to the ever-growing population of birds.

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Oscar Wilde & Constance Lloyd

Dublin has numerous statues and sculptures around its streets. But, on the corner of Merrion Square, a large green park on the South East of the city, is a sculpture of the great writer, Oscar Wilde, sitting on a rock. The statue of the naked pregnant woman is his wife, Constance. Across the road from the sculptures, is the house where the pair once lived.

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Christ Church Cathedral & Dublina
The Christ Church was founded around the mid-1000s and has stood to this day, although it did go through a series of renovations 200 years ago. Beneath the Cathedral is an extensive crypt, which now serves as a small museum and shop.

Across the road, and now connected by a foot bridge, is Dublina, the Dublin Museum of Viking and Medieval life. It is rated as the best museum in Dublin, and it was an interesting couple of hours spent getting to know the Viking life and the medieval era that followed. I would recommend it.

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Overall
While I spent three days wandering Dublin checking out different parts, there was so much I missed. It was definitely an interesting city to spend a few days, and somewhat…

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Next time, Cardiff in Southern Wales.

The World Wanderer

Bristol, England – Impressions

For the second day of my weekend in the South West of England, I explored the city of Bristol.

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Bristol is a busy little city and has been rated as one of the UK’s most popular tourist destinations. It was also the port from where the first European since the Vikings to land on North American soil. But, was also the starting point of the Bristol slave trade which took an estimated half a million people from Africa to slavery in the Americas.

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Bristol’s Floating Harbour
Situated on an arm of the River Avon, the Floating Harbour has been sectioned off with water locks to make the water level constant. This has changed the harbour a great deal, it is no longer the great port it once was – that has moved to another location along the River Avon – but is now home to many smaller vessels. On the sides of the port, the warehouses have all been converted to various other uses, such as museums, food halls and bars. There is now also a regular harbour ferry service.

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Bristol Cathedral
Built as an Abbey in the 12th century, it wasn’t converted to a cathedral until Henry VIII’s rein in 1542. The inside of the building was built in the gothic style with a grand choir section in the centre and long Nave to the East. Unfortunately, you cannot climb the towers, as you can in Bath, but the architecture of the insides are far superior to that other cathedral.

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Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
Like many of the cultural locations in Bristol, the museum and art gallery is free to the public. It is larger than I expected, and as I was a little short on time, I was forced to rush through many of the exhibits. Over four floors, there was so much on offer: From ancient Egypt to Assyria, dinosaurs, geology, minerals, gemstones, and much more. All this along with art from French painters, a history of silver objects, ceramics and eastern art. Well worth a visit, but give yourself plenty of time.

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Cabot Tower
The tower was constructed, on Brandon Hill, in the 1890s to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s voyage from Bristol to set foot on the land that would eventually become Canada. The tower is free to the public, offers great 360º views across the city, but can be very busy on the thin sets of stairs.

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M Shed – A Museum of Bristol
Along the banks of the floating harbour, one of the transit sheds on the dock has been converted into a museum dedicated to Bristol. It holds more than 3000 artefacts exploring life and work in the city over the years. It has three main galleries devoted to Bristol Life, Bristol People and Bristol Places. It includes tributes to the likes of Massive Attack, Wallace and Grommit, and other local artists. Like many other cultural areas in Bristol, it’s free.

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Brunel’s SS Great Britain
The SS Great Britain was the largest ship afloat when it launched in 1843. She was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic two years later, it took her 14 days. For 30 years she carried thousands of immigrants to Australia until she was retired to the Falkland Islands to be used as a warehouse and coal hulk. She was scuttled after almost 100 years of service only to be raised in 1970, repaired and towed back to Bristol where she was built. She’s now a museum piece.

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Bristol Street Art
Like many cities around the world, Bristol has its fair share of street art, and not just walls littered with graffiti. Of course, with Banksy as a local street artist, the others have a lot to live up to. I’m not the greatest Banksy fan, but if I had time, I might have taken some of the handful of self-guided tours around the city looking at the remnants of his work. I liked this one, although it’s not one of his.

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Bristol was an interesting and very busy place. I wish I had more time to explore.

Next month, my first trip into Ireland for a long weekend in Dublin.

The World Wanderer.

Bath, England – Impressions

In my ongoing exploration of the UK, I spent a day in the small city of Bath in the county of Somerset in South Western England.

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It was officially made a spa city in 60 AD by the Romans who built the baths and a temple in the river valley. Bath is a pretty city noted for its architecture, but also the golden colour of the stone from which everything is built. The stone, called Bath stone, is a type of limestone found in the region.

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I had initially planned to take the Bath Hop-on Hop-off bus around the city on both routes to get the best views and see the most sites, but due to the rain from Hurricane Lorenzo crossing the region, I made a short, self-directed walking tour instead.

Gregorian Architecture
This is the prominent architectural style in central Bath with many elegant buildings being constructed in this style around the city.

Bath Circus
Circus in Latin means circle, and the Bath Circle is three lines of curved buildings set in a circle around a central circular grassy space. It was apparently inspired by the Colosseum in Rome.

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Royal Crescent
Built about the same time as the circus – circa 1770 it is in a semi-circle with a large park from one side.

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Pulteney Bridge
This bridge is a local landmark crossing the River Avon to join the city of Bath with the Pulteney family lands on the far side. Unlike simple bridges, the Pulteney Bridge was designed with shops across its length on both sides of the street. The bridge stood for 25 years before a flood-damaged the north side which had to be rebuilt.

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Bath Abbey
Built in the 7th century as a medieval abbey church, it is one of the largest pieces of gothic architecture in the West of England. It was rebuilt into a Cathedral in the mid 12th century but was stripped of being a cathedral in the mid-1500s returning again to the status of Abbey. It was reformed once more in the 19th century to its current form.

I took the opportunity to take an abbey tour, including climbing the 200+ steps to the roof. The group stopped off to learn about the bell ringers along with the various mechanisms used to automate them, as monks of the time were rather lazy.

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The Roman Baths
The baths were built over a series of hot springs by the Romans around 60 AD. The hot springs bubble up from deep in the earth at a steady temperature of 46ºC. The baths fell into disrepair when the Romans pulled out of Britain 300 years later. The baths were thought destroyed in the 6th century AD. It was rebuilt in 1200 AD and then entirely redesigned in the 18th century into its current state.

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The baths have a Pump Room beside it as a conference hall and restaurant, while the baths themselves go underground in several large rooms. Tours are expensive, and I chose not to take one, but they take visitors underground to all of the rooms, although people are no longer allowed to bathe in the baths. While I did not take a tour, I did get an up high picture from the top of the cathedral during my tour of that structure.

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The next day I headed up to Bristol for more exploration.

The World Wanderer

Arran Coastal Way, Scotland – Part 3

In late June 2019, I undertook a 6-day coastal hike around the Isle of Arran, my namesake island. This 65 mile / 105 km hike is a circuit of the island starting from the northernmost village and heading inland on several occasions. The weather was scheduled to be amazing with little rain.

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Back to Part 2

Day 5 – Brodick to Corrie – 7 mi / 11.5 km

While today is the shortest day distance-wise, I will be climbing Goatfell with my pack, so it will be one of the more difficult days of the walk. Although as it is just under 900 metres, it should not take too much of the day. After my first full Scottish breakfast for this trip, I set out from the bunkhouse and through Brodick. As I walked, more people came out and began the long slow walk to the Fell.

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The path led around the beach with some sand walking as I went. The Brodick castle standing prominent in the trees off to one side.

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The trail around the bay and up into the trees with a mix of short steep areas and slow gliding climbs. With my march on, I passed several slower climbers. While the trees offered respite from the sun, it also stopped the breeze, so the sweat came heavy. When I finally broke out of the tree line, the cool breeze in itself was worth the climb. I looked back for a view of Brodick.

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As people took breaks, I climbed on as the trail grew rockier and steeper. I crossed a wooden bridge and through a deer gate. I pushed on up the mountain, stopping for the occasional 10-second break before pushing on again. 10 seconds is enough to get the breath back before continuing on. I finally took a longer break where the trail reached a ridge that offered great views back the way I’d come, into the valley beyond and up the final 250 metres to the summit.

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After 10 min I pushed on up the very steep trail with more 10 second breaks, one every 20m until I reached the summit in the glorious sunshine. The views in every direction were amazing and all who had reached the top relaxed and enjoyed the sun.

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After about 30 minutes, I packed up and began the climb down. It didn’t take long to get to the junction, and I continued down the Corrie route. The way down was rockier, but I continued my charge down onto the plateau and across a stream.

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At the edge of the valley, it descended again on rocky steps eventually to a forest…

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…along a dirt track…

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…to a road and down steeply to the main road. I found the first seat I could,  got off my feet and out of my boots. After 10 minutes I headed a further few minutes to the local pub for a cider or three in the sun. I then headed on to Sannox where I would be staying the night, or so I thought. The hotel there was closed, and there were no other food options. I decided to walk the 2km back to Corrie for another cider and to wait for the hotel’s kitchen to open for dinner. After dinner, I headed along to the town hall and pitched my tent, where I had seen a bunch of people doing days earlier. It turns out I couldn’t camp there, so I headed back towards Sannox to a large boulder beside the road where I pitched a wild camp.

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Day 6 – Corrie to Lochranza – 10 mi / 16.5 km

After my night of wild camping, I packed up and headed back to Corrie for breakfast. Today was the shortest day with little to see, but it is expected to be the hottest day of the year also. This is Scotland, so we’re talking 24ºC. I headed out of Corrie and back along the road to Sannox, past the site of my wild camp and on to the beach. I then walked at the top of the beach, along a trail of sand and then dry earth.

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I walked on as the heat increased along with the wind, through a wooded area until I came to the Sannox Burn flowing out to sea. I didn’t see the point of walking a 400m inland and a 300m back when I could just cross on stepping stones. On the other side, I followed a sandy trail past some cliffs.

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On the other side, I followed two women for more than 2km along a rocky trail until it reached a place called quite descriptively “fallen rocks”. Giant rocks had fallen from the ridge a few years back.

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I passed the girls as the trail became more defined, and for the next 3 km, I followed it until it came to Laggan cottage where I popped inside to have a brief look around.

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The trail became more rocky and rugged for much of the rest of the trail except for a 500m stretch of beach called Fairy Dell. It passed a rock formation known as the Cock of Arran. It, apparently, once looked like a male chicken until its head fell off a year or two ago. Now it’s just a rock.

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After a short time, I came around the coast, and Lochranza appeared. Then it was only 30 minutes across the tarmac road around the bay to the ruins of the Lochranza Castle and then on to the Sandwich Shack where I began the walk.

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Overall

The Arran Coastal Way was a great six-day walk. Each day had its special elements all different from previous days. It worked out well for the weather, which likely added to the enjoyment.

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I would definitely recommend this walk, while fairly easy, is still enjoyable.

The Lone Trail Wanderer.

Arran Coastal Way, Scotland – Part 2

In late June 2019, I undertook a 6-day coastal hike around the Isle of Arran, my namesake island. This 65 miles/ 105 km hike is a circuit of the island starting from the northernmost village and heading inland on several occasions. The weather was scheduled to be amazing with little rain.

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Back to Part 1

Day 3 – Pien via Blackwaterfoot to Kildonan – 14.5 mi / 23.5 km

I set out from my campsite and walked the 3.5 km back to Blackwaterfoot, where I stopped for a coffee and a breakfast cheeseburger with haggis. When in Scotland… I headed out along the beach on a mixed track of pebble beach dirt running through long grass. Scotland is tick central, so I made sure to stop every few minutes to check my legs. I still walk on shorts, it’s too hot otherwise, so it’s best to monitor my legs. Nettle sting goes away, so I tend to ignore it, but I’m vigilant with checking for ticks.

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For the next 8 km, I followed the trail around with more of the same. The weather, while supposedly cloudy all day became more sunny and warm along with a nice breeze.

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The trail then split, the easy route heading up to the road while the alternative continued along a more difficult beach track. I, of course, took the more difficult route as it hasn’t really been that strenuous so far. The trail was harder, to find that is, and I found myself crossing a farm and chatting to some quite vocal cows on the way.

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After a while, I came to a driveway that led me up off the beach to the main road. I followed this road for 4 km to Lagg, where I stopped at the cafe for lunch, a coffee, then next door to the hotel for a cider. Then on down to the beach past a 5000-year-old burial mound.

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My next target was Bennan Head, which I had to pass before high tide else I would be stuck. I had monitored the tide times and had aimed to get there with at least an hour to spare. As I came along the beach, it turned into rock hopping, with the seas slowly closing in.

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On the way, Pladda Isle appeared with its lighthouse as did the more distant Ailsa Craig, a volcanic plug poking out from the ocean.

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It was almost two kilometres of rock hopping, but about midway, I came to Bennan Head and Black cave, the largest cave on Arran. With time running out, I decided to climb up the back of the cave to see where it went. Out through the gap and around to a viewpoint. I didn’t stay long, climbing down again and getting on with the walk.

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I rock hopped around the head to the beach before working my way along the beach to Kildonan, my stop for the night where I enjoyed a sunny view from a pub out past the lighthouse to the volcanic island. And, of course, a cider.

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Day 4 – Kildonan to Brodick – 16.5 mi / 27.5 km

Today will be the longest day if the hike. The day started cloudy, and the wind from the night before was still there. This kept the morning cool and more importantly, the midges away. I packed up and headed out of the caravan park along the beach. My first goal today was to get around Dippin head. As I walked, I passed the Kildonan Castle, although it was technically only a watchtower.

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Thankfully the tide was on the way out, but with the boulder field twice as long as Bennan Head yesterday, I soon got fed up with rock hopping. Finally, I came out the other side onto a thistle packed, nettle studded tall grassy trail and headed along the beach to Largybeg.

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Not long after I arrived at Whiting Bay and found a cafe for coffee and brunch. I ran into two ladies who had camped near me overnight and chatted to them about my next leg as they’d come a different way. The view on the way into Whiting Bay with the Holy Island at the end (the mountains to the right).

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I then headed out up into the hills on a steep set of roads that turned into a dirt trail through the woods. I followed this through a section of felled trees to Glenashdale Falls and around to a viewing platform.

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The sky cleared almost completely and stayed that way for the rest of the day. I followed the road first up to a high point with amazing views.

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The road continued on for another 4 km, but I enjoyed the few times when trees offered shade, and I got some respite from the sun. I eventually arrived at the bottom of the road and decided to push on into Lamlash for a cider and a break from the heat. I found a bar and sat out the front with my drink looking out to Holy Island in the bay.

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After the drink, I headed on to Clauchlands Point, 2.5 km from Lamlash and the easternmost tip of the island.

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I rounded the point to be presented with 2 options, the standard trail along the coast all the way to Brodick or the alternative ‘high’ route. Of course, I took the high route. At the top of the first climb, I saw the trail meandered up over the cliff tops working its way higher and higher. This, of course, gave amazing views in all directions.

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I eventually headed downhill come out at a road the would lead me down into Brodick. It would have been another three km to the wild camping spot, and after my long walk and climbs in the sun, I found a bunkhouse and booked. My first bed in 4 days.

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Next days 5 and 6 of the Arran Coastal Way.

The Lone Trail Wanderer