Tag Archives: Europe

Camino Portugués de Costa – Spain – Days 10, 11 & 12

In late August 2020, with the world still under the heel of the COVID-19 pandemic, I walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino de Santiago over 12 days.

Back to Days 6, 7, 8 & 9

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Day 10 – Pontevedra to Caldas De Reis – Spain – 21.3km
Today the trail was quite straightforward following the road out of Pontevedra. As usual, I was on the lookout for breakfast and found a cafe popular with peregrinos. But there I ran into a dutch lady I’d met in the Porto Albergue the night before I’d begun my Camino. It was refreshing to hear English being spoken fluently again and not the occasional forced second or third language.

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While the Camino Portugués has some views, much of the experience is cultural or spiritual, and it’s known for the camaraderie between pilgrims. However, due to COVID, few English speakers were tempted to this side of Europe. This and Americans not already resident in the EU weren’t allowed at all. This has led my Camino to be a contemplative and somewhat solitary experience.

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Once out of Pontevedra it was a quick march through country roads before several kilometres of slow climbing on a dirt path before heading back into villages. The trail led me past fields of grapevines, and even taking me under some.

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There were few views today on the way to Caldas de Reis, and tonight I have a room to myself in a hostel. Caldas de Reis is a town known for its hot springs. In many places along the trail, there are washing pools with running water for pilgrims to clean their clothes or rest weary feet in the cool water. In Caldas de Reis, however, I found a pool filled from a hot spring. It was heaven and great for the leg muscles. I saw others using it too, some stripping down to their underwear and getting right in.

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Day 11 – Caldas De Reis to Padrón – Spain – 18.9km

After eating the breakfast left for me by my hosts, I headed out across Caldas del Reis on quiet streets as it’s Domingo – Sunday.

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I found a coffee and took it with me as I headed out of town, tossing the cup in the last bin I saw. For the next few kilometres, the path climbed 150m, although it wasn’t intense, and in the cool wind, the climbing kept me warm. Today, the first part of the trail is mainly dirt and runs through forest, so not a lot to see.

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I passed a rest stop hankering for a coffee, but it was so full of waiting pilgrims I decided to push on. The path weaved across a highway before running beside a motorway until Valga where it began to descend through villages with fields of grapevines, corn and other crops.

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Still hankering for a coffee, I stopped at a cafe in San Miguel de Valga. While I was there, a Dutch guy arrived, and we got talking. After having an early lunch, we left the cafe and chatted for the last few kilometres before arriving in the outskirts of Padrón, barely remembering the walk. There was a large Sunday market going on in town and masses of people everywhere. With the current COVID threat in Spain, this made me nervous, so and I suggested we take a less direct route through town. At the end of the market areas, we went out separate ways, and I located my hostel before heading out to explore.

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Padrón is a classic little town with a central old town like many places across Europe. In my exploration, I ran into the Dutch guy once more, and we sat for a beer and some food before he headed off to his hostel outside of town.

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Day 12 – Padrón to Santiago de Compostela – Spain – 25.6km

On the final day on this latest adventure, I headed out from the hostel and along the dark streets of Padrón. Today, I’d read, would be one of the less interesting days, as the trail begins the slow climb into Santiago de Compostela and right from the beginning the urban sprawl began. After five kilometres, I arrived at A Escravitude, where I found this Igrexa.

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For the next 15 or so kilometres, I walked through leafy suburbs on thin roads making my way uphill towards the centre of the city.

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From here there are few views, and those are mainly of low hills and tree-covered suburbs.

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When I entered the main built-up area of the city, the path led me along the main drag. With more stone buildings around, the heat rose, and I found a vending station to buy a drink. The road then led me up to the Central Park, which in turn led me into Cidade Vella – Old Town in Galician. Cidade Vella in Santiago is rather large and is a spiderweb of walkways with many shops, restaurants and cafes. I found my way to the official ending point of the walk and emerged in the grand square to perhaps 20 groups of pilgrims spread out in front of the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela.

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I found a shady spot at the back of the square and sat down for a rest, watching pilgrims in the square languish about taking photos as more groups arrived. After my break, I located the pilgrim office, filled out the relevant online form and collected my official certificates of completion. I then located my hostel and checked in before returning to find lunch. Later, I got a late afternoon photo of the cathedral.

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I then ran into a Spanish girl who I’d seen walking and discovered she spoke English. I sat down for some beers with her and another Spanish guy. Later that evening, we gathered a group of Spanish people, some who could speak English, and went for dinner and more beers. Much fun was had.

I spent the next day wandering around the old town of Santiago and eating local food. While it’s served many places, I located a suitable place to try to Pulpo – Octopus – which I rather enjoyed.

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Final Impressions of Camino Portugués de Costa

I have completed two hikes this year, and this would have been my first had COVID not caused it be moved after the Tour du Mont Blanc. This was a long-distance, low altitude, cultural experience with some views, while the TMB was a challenging, high peak climbing, massive mountain hike with amazing views. While I very much enjoyed the cultural experience of the Camino, it would have been better to do it first as the TMB took away some of its grandeur. That and with many English speakers avoiding the region meant fewer friendships were made and more of a lonely experience.

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But, in the spirit of the Camino, it was still an enjoyable cultural experience. It opened my eyes to the beauty of northern Portugal, and allowed me to experience Spain. The food in both countries was amazing and the people friendly and understanding of my low level of Spanish. I have studied the language to a beginner level and it was enough to survive, but it has pushed me to reach the next level before I head to Spain for my next Camino, the Camino Frances in a year.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Camino Portugués de Costa – Spain Days 6, 7, 8 & 9

In late August 2020, with the world still under the heel of the COVID-19 pandemic, I walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino de Santiago over 12 days.

Back to Days 3, 4 & 5

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Day 6 – Villadesuso to Baiona – Spain – 14.6km

I left the Albergue looking for coffee and breakfast as I walked through the Villadesuso with nice views of the coast. I then ran into a Portuguese couple I’ve seen for the past two days and walked with them to Mougás, 2km away, where I found a cafe. After eating, I continued on along the side of the road, occasionally dipping down to the seaside before climbing back again. I met a carver outside his shop who was very friendly and offered me a stamp for my credential. We chatted for a bit, and I bought a Camino shell from him for my pack.

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I continued along the coast, and when I reached the village of As Mariñas, with its small lighthouse, the trail climbed a hill. It was again nice to climb something, but it wasn’t difficult.

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On the other side, the trail led down into the edge of a built-up area with views out onto the bay.

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Further along and found the Portuguese couple at a pilgrim rest area. We walked on together for 3km before arriving into Baiona, a large tourist town on the beach. They continued on while I located my Albergue and showered before heading into town for lunch and a beer.

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Afterward, I explored the tight streets, investigated the front of the castle on the peninsula, including the beaches on each side. I then went for a walk to the end of the bay, where I climbed a hill to the statue of the Virgin Mary – Virgen de la Roca.

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The height also gave me great views across the bay.

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Day 7 – Baiona to Vigo – Spain – 30km

As much of today will be a slow process of walking into increasingly built-up urban sprawl, I was prepared for a boring day. I walked out of my hostel, and along the road to a local cafe for coffee, before finding a panaderia for some fresh baked goods. I then walked down the coastline road to the end of the shops before following it inland and up the hill towards A Ramallosa. After several kilometres through back streets, I came to Nigrán and, on the far side of a roundabout, found the statue of a pilgrim.

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After Nigrán, the path began to climb but remained in the sprawl. As before, the height offered some views, this time across the bay of Ría de Vigo to two large islands, Illa de San Martiño and Illa de Monteagudo.

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The path continued along, giving more views of the islands, but grew more steadily built up. I rounded the edge of the bay and entered the main built-up areas after Coruxo and began to see tall buildings in the distance. For much of the rest of the day, I walked through busy central city streets and roads. There is a fair amount to explore in Vigo, but it was hot, and I was footsore from all the pavement, so didn’t hang around. I then discovered my hostel was in the old town, a fair way away from the trail, so put my head down and marched on. I eventually arrived to find my hostel in what appeared to be a run-down area with plenty of graffiti and empty buildings. But after checking into the hostel and showering, I went for a wander. I turned a corner and came out on an open area filled with cafes, and on the far side, it opened into a large commercial area.

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I hung around the area, chilling out at a restaurant, enjoying people watching and seeing the culture of the area as I drank beer. When darkness fell, other bars and restaurants opened, including a pizza place. I have enjoyed local food but had a hankering I just had to sate.

Day 8 – Vigo to Redondela – Spain – 17.5km

After breakfast in a local cafe, I headed a couple of kilometres up the hill back to the main path and continued on. The heat started early today, but it’s only a short day, so I wasn’t in a hurry. Over the next couple of kilometres, the path climbed up to about 150m and stayed there for much of the rest of the day, allowing me to enjoy the views along the way.

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The trail and the views continued as I walked through the higher urban areas.

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The pavement joined Senda de Agua – water track – a dirt path through the forest, past a small waterfall, and this painted rock.

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After several hundred meters, the track came out into the suburbs again, giving a view of Ponte de Rande before disappearing back into the forest.

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I began descending and emerged at another urban area near a church – the Igrexa parroquial de Santo André de Cedeira – with another view across the harbour.

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From there, it was all downhill into Redondela, which is the official end to the Portuguese Coastal Camino. But this isn’t the end of my walk, the Central Route from Porto also stops here, and this is the trail I’ll follow the rest of the way to Santiago. The heat is apparent, and so is the fact the two trails have connected, as there are many more pilgrims on the streets and in cafes.

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After finding my Albergue, I showered and headed back into town, where I found the Celtic Lead Irish Bar and enjoyed lunch and a couple of beers. I then met up with a Portuguese couple I’d crossed paths with since Esposende, and we wandered the hot streets before finding our way back to the Celtic Luad for more beer.

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Day 9 – Redondela to Pontevedra – Spain – 19.7km

As I prepared for today’s walk, I watched several groups of pilgrims go past in the dark outside the hostel. I’m up early today as it’s going to be another hot one. And now I’m on the Central Route, the number of pilgrims has noticeably increased. I head out and follow the cobbled town roads on my way out of town. After passing several peregrinos, I stopped on the main road for breakfast and a coffee. I then raced on along the road for a short time before coming to a street vendor selling fruit and drinks, but more importantly, offering stamps. I stopped for another coffee before heading off again, passing a group of five Spanish girls on the side of a busy highway. The path then led through a small village with a pair of Albergues and yet more pilgrims. The hard road turned to a dirt road surrounded by trees and began climbing slowly as it made its way around the end of the Ria de Vigo bay.

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The trail headed back into a built-up area before heading down a steep downhill to the main road. At the end of the bay, I came into the village of Arcade and crossed the river that fed into the bay.

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On the bridge, I ran into the Portuguese couple. I walked with them for the rest of the day following the road through several villages as we made our way to Pontevedra, the capital city of Galicia. We stayed in the same Albergue and after showering we walked around the city to see its sights, two grand churches…

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…a bridge, a convent, and the ruins of an ancient church.

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Next, Days 10, 11 & 12, where I finish my pilgrimage in Santiago de Compostela.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Camino Portugués de Costa – Portugal & Spain – Days 3, 4 & 5

In late August 2020, with the world still under the heel of the COVID-19 pandemic, I walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino de Santiago over 12 days.

Back to Days 0, 1 & 2

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Day 3 – Esposende to Viana Do Castelo – Portugal – 28.5km

With yet another hot day coming, I headed out from the hostel and quickly found a coffee and breakfast. I then headed to the beach and followed the wooden boardwalk along the seaside. It was just early enough for holidaymakers to begin making their way down to the beach. But, it would also be the last beach I’d see for the rest of the day as the path cut inland through suburban roads to the town of Marinhas.

I then followed backroads through several villages, with only the occasional view of the ocean. I came through the township of Belinho and crossed the main road, heading between two buildings with interesting stonework. The houses here are all very different, many are covered in patterned tiles or stonework. I’m told the tiling is very common in Northern Portugal.

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I continued on for another couple of kilometres making my way to the Rio Neiva after which there is a stiff climb, the first on this hike. However, a recent flood had wiped out the bridge, so a detour took me well down towards the coast to another one. On the other side, the path led me back up the hill where I passed the Italian walkers I’d met the day before. I then climbed a hill near Castelo do Neiva, a church with a fair view along the coast and ocean.

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The trail then led me up over a small peak – 155m – then through a eucalyptus forest where a sign pointed me to a house and a stamp. On the other side of the hill, I came to a large old monastery, Mosterio de São Romão de Neiva, where I stopped at a pilgrim’s stop for some water. There are many Pilgrim stops along the trail, with stone seats, water fonts, and sometimes pools to wash clothes or dip hot feet into.

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Then, after the township of Chafé, I climbed a steep set of roads and came down with a view of Viana do Castelo across the Rio Lima, including the church on the hill, Santuário de Santá Luzia.

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And a closer look…

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I crossed Ponte Eiffel, a bridge built by Gustave Eiffel, I’m sure I don’t need to mention any of his other projects. The bridge is near a kilometre long with a thin walkway on either side. My accommodation was right on the other side, so I got a good shot of it from the other side, including the bay.

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At the hostel, I had originally booked a bed in a 20-bed room, but due to COVID, they had closed it, upgrading me for free to a room with four beds, which I had all to myself.

Day 4 – Viana Do Castelo to Caminha – Portugal – 28.4km

After breakfast at the hostel, I headed out through town following the high route, which passed below the Santuário. After a couple of kilometres on the same kind of road with only the occasional view, I decided to detour down to the beachfront, where I passed the remnants of several windmills. With the wind off the ocean, it was cooler than on the higher path.

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Then after an hour, I climbed the hill at Carreço back to the higher road for another impending climb. As the Camino has few ascents, I treasured any climbs as they usually come with views.

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On the other side of the hill, I walked into the town of Âncora and then to the beach – Praia de Âncora. With the heat continuing to rise, I again enjoyed the cool ocean breeze.

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I followed the trail along the beach for a couple of kilometres into Moledo where I had my first sight of Spain and Monte de Santa Tregá.

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I followed the road around and into town where I spied the word “stamp” in yellow on the ground along with an arrow pointing to a balcony. On it, a strange man was smiling at me and offered me a stamp which he assured me was free. We chatted for a bit before I again headed on. The remaining 5km into Caminha was a flat and straight road. That evening I ate a cheese and sausage platter for dinner – why not – before going for some beers with an Italian guy I’d run into a couple of times. But, like many others I’d met in Portugal, he wasn’t crossing into Spain due to the much higher COVID rate.

Day 5 – Caminha to Villadesuso – Spain – 20.2km

As it’s Monday, the ferry to Spain doesn’t run, but the guy at the Albergue told me I could catch a water taxi from 8 AM. I went down to the harbour at 9 AM, but no-one was there.

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I went for a coffee, and when I came back, other pilgrims were also waiting – two Spanish guys and a Swiss girl. Eventually, the four of us were able to catch a water taxi across the harbour.

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We arrived in the sleepy town of Camposancos, where the path took us up the hill. It didn’t climb too far before heading us down again to A Guarda, a seaside town with plenty of charm. Now I’m in Spain, the clocks have gone forward an hour, and it’s already lunchtime. But by the time I got to the end of the town, I’d neglected to get anything so decided to get something at the next village. I left A Guarda passing a beach with some topless ladies, something I discovered is common in Spain.

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There is no longer wooden boardwalks, the trail is now along a rocky path. Also, Spain has a more strict mask-wearing policy, so I have to be more vigilant. The trail led me along beside the sea for sometime before climbing up to the road, then a couple of kilometres further on returned me back to the beach.

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After 6km I came to Portecelo, but there were no shops in the village, so I kept walking. After another 6km I arrived in Oia where there were 2 restaurants, but as it was only mid-afternoon, I grabbed a bag of potato chips and a coke. 4km further on was my stop for the night, Villadesuso and I got settled into the Albergue.

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Compared to Portugal, the Spanish speak less English, so it was time to put my Spanish lessons to the test. I found a restaurant in a hotel with special peregrinos rates: €15 for 4 courses, including a drink. However, the waitress spoke no English, but I managed to get by with my limited vocabulary and even managed a short conversation. Then it was back to the hostel and bed.

Next, Days 6, 7, 8 & 9, where I drink at an Irish bar Spanish style and reach the capital of Galicia.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Camino Portugués de Costa – Portugal – Days 0, 1 & 2

In late August 2020, with the world still under the heel of the COVID-19 pandemic, I flew to Portugal to begin the Portuguese Camino de Santiago. The route I chose begins in the city of Porto and runs along the coast to the border of Spain, where it makes its way slowly inland to Santiago de Compostela.

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The total length of the route is 280km, which I plan to complete over 12 days. Unlike the Tour du Mont Blanc, which I completed recently, Camino Portugués do Costa is fairly flat, so it will be more of a daily hike for distance than massive climbs. And, before water, my pack will be between 9kg and 10kg. Except for the first day, the trail is well marked, either with the symbol of the shell with an arrow or just a yellow arrow.

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Day 0 – Porto Arrival
I arrived in Porto the day before the hike and was collected by a regional workmate. From the airport, he took me on a tour of the city, showing me several sights, including this temple in Gaia north of the city. The haze is actually fog.

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We then stopped at a top seafood restaurant for some local delicacies, cod patties, squid, and sardines asadas. Amazing. My workmate then dropped me off at my Albergue. After booking in, I went for a walk and found this church – Igreja do Carmo – with its tiled facade.

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That evening, I hung out with a slowly growing group of employees, new pilgrims, and other recent arrivals. We drank beer and waited as an asada – BBQ – was prepared with salted beef. Then, a dozen of us crowded around a table and enjoyed a great dinner. Afterwards, a fire was stoked, and we sat around drinking more beer while an American guy played guitar.

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Overall a great experience, and this even before I’d started walking.

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Day 1 – Porto to Vila do Conde – Portugal – 33.2km

As I went to bed later than expected, I woke late – 7 AM – and went down to pack. I’m usually more prepared at night, so it takes less time in the morning, but last night was fun. By 8, I was ready to head out. As I’m walking the coastal track – Senda Litoral – along the river to the beach and along the beachfront to Vila do Conde, my official start point is the Cathedral. I walked downhill to the Cathedral, adding an extra 2.7km to my route, stopping on the way for breakfast and a coffee. The below Monument to Bishop Pedro Pitões is at the front of the 12th-century religious site.

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I then found my way down to the river and followed the road around to and past the Ponte da Arrábida bridge watching some old fashion streetcars run back and forth along the tracks.

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After 6.3km, I arrived at Foz do Douro, where the river meets the sea, and followed the boardwalk along the waterfront in front of houses and the Parque da Cidade. Next to the port, I spied the first beach. On the other side of the port, I passed the industrial part of the city, another beach, and a massive refinery. Then, after walking 20km, I finally left the confines of Porto city at Boa Nova Lighthouse and stopped for lunch at a local restaurant.

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For the rest of the day, I walked along wooden boardwalks above the sand, slowly making my way north. From time to time, I passed small quaint seaside villages in classic Northern Portuguese style, the outer walls of the houses covered with tiles.

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At one point, a fog rolled in blocking views out to sea and further along the beach. There’s a cold current running along this region of Portugal, and on a hot day, the fog rolls up the beach. It’s odd, as I associate fog with cold days, but the sunbathers don’t seem to mind, although there’s not much swimming going on.

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I eventually headed inland and crossed a bridge into Vila do Conde, where I quickly found the hostel. After 37.5km, I was footsore and ready for a shower. A few buildings down I relaxed with a large beer before going for a brief walk around town. It didn’t take me long to realise walking more after today’s long walk was just silly, so I headed back to rest and prepare tomorrow.

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Day 2 – Vila do Conde to Esposende – Portugal – 24.4km

Well rested, I headed out in the morning, following a side road to a cafe where I stopped for breakfast and a coffee. I then followed a road towards the ocean, crossed at a tiled mural began along the beachfront.

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Much of the coastline in front of Vila do Conde is a beach, but when the town ends, so does the sand.

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The rocky coastline continued for several kilometres before the trail took me inland. I followed a series of back roads through farmed fields and long white greenhouses with only the occasional view of the sea. Without the constant breeze from the Atlantic Ocean, the heat became more apparent. For the second day, it was clear blue skies and sunshine, weather that would last for the duration of my time on the Iberian Peninsula. The road continued on through the township of Apúlia, where I discovered a break room for pilgrims. It was simply a small room with a pair of vending machines, some seats, and the all-important stamp. To officially complete the hike, I need to get 2 stamps a day in my credential – also known as the pilgrim passport, so any opportunity to get stamps is welcomed.

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And in one of the vending machines, I was surprised to see beer, but I bought snacks and coke instead. While I was there, a large group of Italian pilgrims arrived. They seemed suddenly interested when they discovered there was a stamp and, ignoring social distancing, crowded inside. I chatted for a bit with some English speakers before heading off. As the pilgrimage was initially a religious experience, the trail wends its way past numerous churches every day.

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The trail then led me through a forest on a dirt road before coming to the small township of Fão where I crossed Rio Cávado. On the other side, I followed a side road into Esposende, where I found my hostel wasn’t open for another 2 hours. I hung around in town, had lunch, and enjoyed the weather down near the river. For dinner, I tried something I’d been told about called Francesinha Especial.

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This feast is a triple-decker sandwich made with a meat paddy, steak, ham, beef sausage, and chorizo, lavished with melted cheese and topped with a fried egg. The entire thing is smothered in a special sauce and served with fries.

Next, Days 3, 4 & 5, where I see a church on a hill and cross into Spain.

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.

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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

Snowdon and the Ranger Trail – Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Snowdon is the tallest mountain in Wales and of all the British Isles south of Scotland. At 1085m above sea level, it’s not really that tall, but with the sharp ridges leading to it having claimed many deaths over the years, its height is nothing to be scoffed at. However, while there are dangerous routes up it, there is also a tourist route directly from Llanberis, which is why it is a popular climb. So, today I will be climbing it with 35+ people from my Meetup.com group, plus, no doubt many others thinking of doing the same.

When I woke this morning it was raining, Murphy’s Law considering the UK has had pristine weather for the past two months.

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After breakfast, we all congregated outside in the cold preparing mentally for the climb ahead. And once we were ready, we began up the road I had come down the day before. This allowed me to get a morning shot of Moel Eilio, the main peak from yesterday’s hike.

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With a group this size, hiking becomes more of a social event, but I knew that would be the case before I signed up. With the wind buffeting us already, we continued to a gate on the side of the road and headed out across the slightly soggy grassy fields heading towards where the Snowdon train line meets its first stop. Ahead of us, Snowdon was ominously obscured by clouds.

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Once across the tracks, we climbed up the Llanberis Trail, the tourist route mentioned earlier. This trail is wide and is mainly laid with large flat stones or shale rock. And, it is what I call ‘Disneyland’ when looking up (or down) the trail lines of people can be seen climbing as if they were waiting in line for a ride. Here, looking back along the trail after a brief rain, with the Czech girl who would become my hiking partner for the day.

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The climb was not difficult, with a steady climb from the beginning which can be progressed with a plodding walk. We fought the elements the entire time, with the wind gusting into our faces. We plugged away in our little groups along the trail, passing people both climbing and returning, including three walkers ‘driving’ RC 4x4s along the trail. We stopped briefly at Halfway House, a cafe at the midpoint of the walk, but it quickly grew cold, so we pushed on.

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The next stage of the climb was more difficult, it began to rain briefly but thankfully not for long. The wind, however, seemed to pick up, tearing at our clothing, but we plodded on. People came and went from my small group, but my Czech walking partner and I kept pace. The climb grew steeper and colder as we went, but we pushed on at speed, the cold and howling wind winning over our slowly tiring legs. We pushed up past Clogwyn Station, the last train station before Summit Station, and looked out along a flat area with the small lake of Llyn Du r Arddu just hidden from our view.

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The wind picked up again as did the steepness, and at one point, the Czech girl, another girl and I formed a human chain so as not to be torn from the mountain. We pushed on and finally gained the top of the steep section, and under a thin train bridge. On the other side, there was some respite from the wind and good views along a valley called Cwm Glas Bach before the cold pushed us to continue. 1800m to go.

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The grade became the steepest it had been, clouds began flowing over us giving everything a foggy look. We pushed on, with great gusts of wind flowing over us and we were forced to stop each time we felt the large blast coming. The steepness gave up a little, and the trail flattened out, but the wind seemed to grow stronger. We trudged on as we reached 1000m above sea level and the trail continued between a set of ragged rocks and the train tracks. The wind was at torturous levels, and deep in the cloud, with no idea how much further the trail went, it felt like we were walking forever. We struggled on for the last few hundred metres and finally arrived at the summit. The last couple of metres of a climb to the very top, we virtually crawled these last couple of steps, I hung onto my Czech companion to ensure she did not fly away.

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Near the top is the Summit Station with a cafe and gift store. When we entered, we found nearly a hundred people crammed inside the large area with an enormous window looking out to one side of the summit. We found a place to stand and ate the lunch the hostel had provided us. But as it was freezing even in the crowded room, we did not stay long and decided to head down again.

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There are several ways down the mountain, and my walking partner and I decided to split from the group and follow the Ranger’s Trail. This cut beneath a range called the Clogwyn Coch and above the Lyyn Fyynnon-y-gwas reservoir. The trail led us down a rocky trail with the wind dragging us sideways, zig-zagging down towards this reservoir. There were fewer people on the path, so it felt more like being in the wilderness, and as we got to the bottom of the valley, the wind subsided, and we stopped for a rest.

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For the next 2km, we walked along a flat trail in this beautiful setting, with few people, until we came to the trail I had walked along at the end of my hike yesterday. Then for the final 4km back to the hostel, we saw no-one. This allowed us to have a long chat about things while enjoying the remainder of the walk, and to top it off, the sun finally emerged from the clouds.

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Overall, while it felt like a ‘Disneyland’ of a walk, it was still a hard slog all the way to the top, battling against the wind and occasional icy rain. Descending was easier and with good company, friendly conversation and amazing scenery, we arrived back at the hostel ready for showers and a relax.

Tomorrow, it’s back to London on the train.

Moel Eilio – Snowdonia National Park, Wales

This morning I packed up the little room I’d been staying in at Bangor University and headed for the bus stop for the  45 minutes ride to Llanberis (pronounced Clanberis). But I was late for the direct bus, so ended up finding an alternative route via Caernarfon. I arrived in Llanberis to find a classic adventure town with many adventure stores, pubs and cafes. I stopped off for lunch and read up on the today’s hike – Moel Eilio.

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After a coffee, I headed out and up a road near the hostel I’d be staying at later that evening. I followed a road up to the left and after a short climb stopped to take a photo of Snowdon, covered in clouds on the centre right of the below photo.

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The road ended at a series of ruined stone houses. I climbed a ladder-stile and heading up into grassy fields with small groups of sheep. I walked along a vehicle track, called Bwlch y Groes, as it rose towards some disused quarries. From here there are great views down on Lyn Padarn (the lake beside Llanberis), the adventure town hidden by the small mound of Ty n y Mynydd. You have to love these Welsh names.

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Near here there was once an old Iron Age settlement and a hill fort, but little remained of either. The other end of Lyn Padarn.

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I then peered at the peak of Moel Eilio up ahead, still a decent climb away and plodded on.

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From a distance, Moel Eilio does not look very steep, but as I grew closer, the main peak pushed up ahead. I stopped at the base for a brief rest and saw the only other walker I had seen so far. I began the steep climb, pausing here and there for a quick breather before continuing. About halfway up the steep climb, it started to rain. This pushed me to get to the top as quickly as I could, which was now covered in low clouds. When I got to the top, the rain was coming harder, and I found a stone shelter similar to that which I had seen at the top of the Drum the day before, although the walls of this one were taller. As the rain seemed to be blown across the top of Moel Eilio, when I ducked into the roofless shelter, I was fairly well protected from it.

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I sat for a while to wait out the rain and to rest. But when it didn’t seem ready to stop anytime soon, I decided to push on and hope at lower altitudes it would clear up. In the mist, I followed the trail to the edge of the peak and down the other side. It did not take long to come out of the cloud and to see the path crossing more hills ahead, one unnamed and two others, Foel Gron and Foel Goch, in the distance.

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As I climbed down, off to my right, I could see the Menai Straight splitting the island of Anglesea from the Welsh mainland, its mouth opening into the Irish Sea.

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Then from the top of the unnamed hill, I got a better look along the valley to Llanberis and Llyn Padarn, with the smaller Llyn Dwythwch at the base of the hills. I continued on up Foel Gron, a fair climb but nothing too strenuous.

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At the top, I could see down the other side of the range to Llyn Cwellyn reservoir and the small mountains on the other side.

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The final climb up Foel Goch gave great retrospective views across at Moel Eilio, now no longer covered in cloud.

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The trail then cut steeply down a trail to the fairly pronounced Ranger Trail. I made my way deftly down the steep hill to eventually arrive at the Ranger Trail where I passed a French man who was heading to Llanberis.

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I followed the trail for four kilometres along the side of the valley. But after ten minutes or so, it began to rain. So, on went, the pack cover and I marched on to finally arrive soaked and ready for a shower.

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Other than the two spots of rain during the walk, the Moel Eilio could be described as a hidden gem. It is not as high as many of the mountain walks around it, but still had plenty of excellent views, began and finished at Llanberis, and was mostly empty, with tourists opting for the larger Snowdon nearby.

After a shower, I drank a refreshing cider. Then once more of my group arrived, we headed down into Llanberis for dinner and a few more drinks.

Tomorrow, we hit up the big one. Snowdon.

Aber Falls and Drum – Snowdonia National Park, Wales

This week I am in Snowdonia National Park, Northern Wales. But, instead of doing a grand circuit, as I usually do, I have three separate day-walks at the northern end of the national park.

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Today, I merged two smaller walks into one longer one to give me a full day of walking.

Aber Falls – 3 miles / 4.8 km

The first walk of the day, to the Aber Falls, is probably one of the easier walks in Snowdonia. It is also a popular tourist walk, so I was expecting plenty of families.

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I headed out from the cafe in the brilliant midday sun, along a short path to a road and on the small village roads for about a kilometre to the Aber Falls carpark. As I had expected, the carpark was full, and from what I could tell, there was another carpark nearby which was the same. As my goal is to get away from people and get into the wilderness, I quick marched along the wide shingle and dirt trail, passing picnic benches and groups of families hanging out in the sun.

With temperatures in the high 30s back in London, I was glad it was cooler up here, although it was still set to be a scorcher of a day in the mid-20s. I marched quickly along the trail passing through small clumps of trees on a path that rose gently yet remained flat enough for wheelchairs.

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After another kilometre and a half, I finally climbed a rise and saw the thin ribbon waterfall. It has been hot and dry for many weeks here in the UK, so the waterfall was less than it should be.

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I walked on for several minutes until I came to the base of the falls. Groups of people sat along the stream leading away from the falls, enjoying the weather and cool water. When I got to the base, I climbed to the far side for a closer look. Unfortunately, because the sun was right above the cliffs, it was impossible to get a good photo of the entire waterfall.

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Then after a few minutes rest in the shade, I quick marched my way back along the trail, stopping to chat briefly to an older gentleman in a mobility scooter before arriving back at the car park.

Drum and Llyn Anafon – 6.75 miles / 10.7km

From the Aber Falls car park, I walked along a sometimes steep thin road for 2 km until I came to another carpark, this one empty. An empty car park is a good sign, there will be few people on the trail. I rested for lunch on a large rock in the sun as there was no shelter. Above me was the colourful peak of Foel Dduartl, my return trail obvious across its front.

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I climbed a rocky trail for several hundred metres towards a set of power lines and a rock fence. I cut right at the North Wales Path and followed the power lines steadily uphill. The peaks of Foel Dduartl and Foel Ganol to my right were emblazoned with autumn colours even though it felt most decidedly summer.

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The path continued steadily uphill for more than a kilometre under the power lines. If it were not for those power lines, it would feel decidedly wilderness. Close enough for me.

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Off to my left, as I climbed, the Irish Sea in all its blueness.

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After 2km, I turned right onto a wide and easy trail that again continued the long climb this time fairly directly to Drum (pronounced Drim) in the distance. Here I passed the only other walker I would see on this trail. I headed further on the trail as it grew steeper but nothing too strenuous, the sun beating down on me as I walked. To my right, the Llyn Anafon reservoir.

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While an open sky is excellent for views, the sun is not your friend on a summer hike. The direct sunlight can be draining, and today was no exception. As I neared the summit of Drum, the trail grew steeper, and I had to push myself step after step to climb higher. Eventually, I made it to the top and stared back at the valley below, the Irish Sea beyond.

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I crossed a ladder stile and took in the view from the other side of Drum down to the sea.

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At the top is a round cairn shelter, although it didn’t look like a pleasant place to sit in the heat. So I found a soft grassy patch on the far side and lay down for a ten-minute nap.

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When I got up again, I was besieged by a horde of flies which seemed to buzz around behind me. I flapped them away as best I could, but they kept returning. So, I donned my pack and hat, crossed the ladder stile and headed off.

The initial part of my return hike did not actually follow a trail down the hill, but simply struck off down towards Llyn Anafon reservoir, aiming for the broad service track. Thankfully from the dry weather, the ground was not soggy. I edged my way down the side of the hill for several hundred metres, zigzagging back and forth to avoid sheep until I eventually arrived at the lake.

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My descent from there was fairly steady, following the outlet of the reservoir – Afon Anafon – beneath the peaks I had climbed on the way up. The colours still stood out as I went, almost fading from deep green to the autumn colours as I headed towards the base of Foel Dduartl.

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And then it was onto the blue of the Irish Sea again as I rounded the base of the peak and returned to the empty carpark. I stopped for a brief rest before marching the 3km back to the bus stop at Abergwyngregyn. Then it was back to Bangor, where I made my way to the local Wetherspoons for a well-deserved cider.

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Overall, the Aber Falls and Drum were a good pair of walks to add together on a sun-drenched day. Tomorrow, I head by bus to Llanberis and do a smaller local circuit before my group arrives to climb Snowdon.

London, England – Impressions

It’s no secret that London is the capital of England, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Empire. It’s less known that London is a leading global metropolis, is one of the world’s leading financial centres and is one of the most expensive cities in the world.

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After sixteen months of travelling, I’ve stopped off in the United Kingdom to rest and work for six months before I embark on a trip through Asia. But one cannot come to London without taking in some of the city’s sights. And with the most efficient public transport system I’ve come across, including The Tubes – the oldest and second longest underground rail system in the world – it’s easy to get around.

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During my time here I’ve explored many places and have come to enjoy London’s quaint and stunning architecture. Even the basic streets with their signature english brickwork are something to behold.

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Then there are the many prominent buildings such as Saint Paul’s Cathedral, which has been rebuilt four times since it’s original construction in 604 A.D.

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Westminster Abbey, site of many royal weddings…

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Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the Queen of England…

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The castle that is The Tower of London, built almost 950 years ago and used primary as a prison for much of that time…

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The Tower Bridge, often mistakenly called London Bridge, which is the name of the next bridge along the River Thames…

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Big Ben, the nickname of the Palace of Westminster’s clock tower, renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012…

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The other end of the Palace of Westminster, commonly known as the House of Parliament…

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and the Royal Albert Hall…

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Modern London is not just a city of venerable architecture but a fusion of old and new with structures such as The Shard…

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The Gherkin…

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O2, originally known as The Millennium Dome…

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And of course the London Eye…

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While the weather in London isn’t always the best, when the sun does come out the parks throughout the city are busy with people taking in every bit of sunlight on rentable deck chairs. This is seen in all three of the central city’s major parks: Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park and Regent’s Park.

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It’s easy to get sucked into life in London and it’s no wonder many who come here find it difficult to leave. The cultural scene is huge, with dozens of high-end stage productions showing at any given time, famous bands playing somewhere in the city every other night, and the many famous art galleries and museums scattered throughout the city. Including the National Art Gallery with its giant blue cock.

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With the world’s largest airport system, London is reportedly the world’s most visited city. And with the diverse societies of Europe and North-Africa on its doorstep, it’s not surprising that the city is a jumping off point, something I intend to explore in the future.

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There are many facets of life in London with so many nationalities represented here, although it’s difficult to find the actual british people among the crowds of foreigners. This makes the city a cultural melting pot and adding to its appeal.

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Finally, nothing reeks London more than a red double-decker bus with a Doctor Who advert on the side.

Next I head north to Manchester.

The World Wanderer