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The Inn Way to the Lake District, England – Part 3

Day 3 – Braithwaite to Buttermere – 11 miles (17.7km) – 5 hours

The good news today is that it didn’t rain. It did think about it a couple of times, but the waterworks never eventuated. I was thankful, as my boots had struggled to fully dry during both of the previous nights, even in the hostel’s dry rooms. And, on another positive note, today will be the shortest and easiest day of this hike.

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My overnight hotel had a late check-out, but I still managed to get away at 10. I walked though the village and found a place to buy a sandwich for lunch. Then, 100m out of the town I found the trail and headed out along it. At a suitable point, not far along the path, I stopped and looked back to Braithwaite.

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The trail was thin with brambles and thorn bushes on either side, but I came away unscratched. After some time the thin path met a road that followed the valley around to the right following Coledale Beck.

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One part of hiking I enjoy is the mystery of what I find along the way and as I followed the road around I was met with Force Crag at the end of the valley. The thought that crossed my mind was, ‘I have to climb that?’

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Things at a distance always look worse than they really are and as I got closer to the valley’s end, I could see the trail leading up the hill beside it. It still looked rather thin and precarious, but again, things appear worse from a distance.

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To follow the trail, I had to cross the river on stepping-stones, before climbing the hill, which I found easier than I had expected. While it had looked thin from a distance, you could have driven a 4×4 vehicle up the rocky trail. At the top, I looked back along the valley.

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And once at the top, the trail continues up the hill beyond, zigzagging to the top of the pass between Sand Hill and Crag Hill.

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A series of people came over the top as I climbed, and one guy told me it was very windy at the top. I took heed and near the top put my jacket on. I wear my coat backwards unless it’s raining heavily. This is to mainly protect against the wind and keep me warm, while not adding to the sweat running down my back. And, should I get too warm, I can pull my arms out without losing the wind protection at the front.

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When I got to the top, it was indeed very windy. I looked down the other side and could see Liza Beck as it made its way along Gasgale Gill. I followed the trail down, fighting against the wind as I went.

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The trail was not an easy walk, at many places was covered in slate, and with parts that had slipped away. While I was not very high above the stream, at many places I was still forced to hang on to whatever I could just to get past.

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Two-thirds of the way down Loweswater and the peak beyond came into view. Finally, I exited the valley and came out on green paddocks. I crossed a major road and followed a trail through a small wood. I came out at a carpark at the other end and followed the road for a short distance to Loweswater village, where there’s an inn.

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The sky decided it might be a good time to rain, so I stopped for a break and a cider. By the time I’d finished, the sun was out again, so I wasted little time heading off again. Across the valley, I could see the Gill I had come from beginning to look menaced by clouds.

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Ahead of me, Crummock Water came into view as I came over a small hill. The trail cut along the base of a ridge line, although the path itself was straightforward to follow and not particularly difficult.

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Towards the end, I passed the Low Long Crag that jutted out into the lake, a mini peninsula with a beach on each side.

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Not long after I arrived at Buttermere village and spent some time wandering around trying to find the YHA. When I got there, I found I could not check in until 5, so I headed back down into the village for a cider.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

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The Inn Way to the Lake District, England – Part 1

Day 1 – Ambleside to Rosthwaite – 13 miles (21km) – 8 hours

There is only one word that can describe today, drizzle. This was the forecast for the day, and that’s it turned out. While I’ve had spells of rain on other hikes, such as when I climbed Snowdon, today it rained all day. This constant wetness put some of my gear to the test, but I’m glad I invested in dry bags, as my pack cover did a fairly average job at keeping things in my pack dry.

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I left my accommodation late this morning, my packing taking longer than I had hoped. When I did get away, there was already a slight drizzle. The YHA Ambleside is a kilometre from central Ambleside, and this added extra distance to the day. When I got into town, I found more adventure stores than I could count. I stopped at the local Tesco to pick up some zip lock bags to protect my phone, then I headed north following a major road. After a while, I was led across Rydal Park and with some of the fells just beginning to be covered in clouds.

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At the far end of the park is Rydal, a quaint little village that I swept quickly through. I followed a stony trail, gently gaining altitude as I climbed around a hill called Nab Scar. To my left, I began to see Rydal Water coming more into view, with Heron Island in the centre.

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The trail continued to ascend slowly, passing the occasional cottage. The path then cut north and began to climb towards Alcock Tarn, a small mountain lake. As I got higher, I looked down onto Grasmere Lake.

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Alongside the lake near the village of Town End there was a gathering of some kind, a race day perhaps, based on the voices coming off the PA system.

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In the weather, my GPS tracker seemed on the fritz, so I followed the map as best as I could in the weather. At one point, as I climbed, I could hear the baying of dogs from above. I stopped, and more than a dozen dogs, all of the same breed, came screaming down the hill, leaping the trail as it went. I am not sure where they were going, but they were going there in a hurry. After some time and much climbing, I eventually make it to Alcock Tarn.

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While the climb was fairly steep, the descent was worse as the stones were slippery. This forced me to take my time as I made my way down. After a time I eventually came down into the township of Grassmere. Like Ambleside, it was bloated with tourists, with many cafes and other places tourists like to go. It is, after all, school holidays and a bank holiday weekend.

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As I passed through Grassmere, I came across a paddock filled with black sheep. I had seen the occasional black sheep during my many walks in England, but this one paddock looked like something had gone wrong. A sheep death march or something.

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At the other side of the village, I crossed a footbridge over Basedale Beck and out onto a path made from large cobbles. In the distance, I got my first sight of where another Beck came down out of the hills.

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I cross some paddocks, and then followed a trail along a stonewall under Jackdaw Crag, again the Beck coming down out of the hills was visible in the distance.

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The climb was long and somewhat arduous, but in the ever-present rain, I slogged on, my little umbrella doing wonders. I climbed higher up Far Easedale Gill, the rain coming harder and the hills around me disappearing into the mist. I pushed on unable to see how much further I had to go. When I got to the top, it was a brief flat area before I began climbing Greenup Edge. In the rain, it was not difficult, only long. Eventually, I did get to the top to a long plateau of boggy ground.

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It was here I got a little lost, my GPS was working, but in the mist, I could not find the correct trail. I followed the path ahead of me, but the squelching of my boots that were by now completely filled with water was not fun.

I did eventually find the trail and found that there was a series of cairns set up by previous walkers. As I walked, I heard a shout and looked up to see five people rushing towards me, so I stopped. When they arrived, they were very pleased to see me. It seems, they had been lost for a couple of hours in the mist, and I was the first person they had seen. Thankfully, I was on the correct trail and gave them some advice on how to get to Grassmere.

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At the top of a crag, I looked down the Greenup Gill. As I began my descent into the valley, I noticed someone climbing towards me. When he arrived, I stopped for a chat. It was a South African guy who had lived in New Zealand for several years. I gave him the same ‘follow the cairns’ advice I had given the previous group, and he set off again. The wind had picked up, so I put down my umbrella and for the first time in the day, took out my walking poles. Slippery stones are dangerous, and I did not wish to hurt myself on my first day of seven.

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The Stonethwaite Beck was running fast due to recent rain. I crossed on a footbridge where another river joined it, crossed that second river and followed a stony road around past a cottage.

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After another kilometre, and passing through Stonethwaite, I finally arrived at my accommodation for the night. A long hard walk in the rain, but that’s what you sometimes get, at least it was not as bad as it could have been.

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.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Central Plateau, New Zealand

Mount Tongariro is one of several volcanos in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s the northernmost of the three volcanic cones just to the south of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake.

Mount Tongariro is also the location of one of the most popular hikes in New Zealand: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is a 19.4 kilometre hike that climbs over the Tongariro massif, past the summit of both Tongariro and Ngauruhoe.

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Map is © Copyright Tongariro Alpine Crossing Please visit that site for more information.

A group of us decided to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing towards the end of the season. We made arrangements and drove down from Auckland on Friday night with the intentions of climbing early Saturday morning. The four-hour drive turned into five and a half as we left during Auckland’s rush hour. We arrived late in the evening and bedded down for the night with alarms set.

A Bad Start
When we awoke on Saturday Morning it was raining and didn’t look pleasant. We went for breakfast and waited to find out if the we could still do the walk. The answer came back a resounding no. The rain and strong winds meant the mountain was closed. All we could do was hang out for the day and hope for better weather on Sunday.

What Tongariro should look like, apparently…
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Ominous News
We were up and had breakfast early on Sunday but the weather still didn’t look great. The mountain was still not visible from our lodgings and when our driver arrived he had bad news. He believed the mountain was again closed and wouldn’t take us, leaving us a little downhearted. We asked the owner of the lodge and he was unconvinced. He rang another driver who confirmed the mountain was in fact open and would take us up.

We were driven to the trailhead in the rain with trepidation, but with the number of other vehicles heading up, it seemed others would also be braving it.

Trailhead – Mangetapopo Carpark – 1100m
We began at the Mangetapopo carpark in a slight drizzle. There were no views of the massif or much else due to the low cloud. The trail was a mix of mud, stones, wooden platforms and people. There were hundreds of others doing the track with us. If this many were doing it on a bleak day, who could guess how busy it would be on a clear one.

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The walk was easy and for the first seven or so kilometres we barely noticed the 250m climb towards Soda Springs. I walked in a quick dry sports singlet, my hiking zip-off shorts and boots. The drizzle was constant but not heavy and I was fairly warm. Others wore long pants and full Gore-tex jackets.

Soda Springs – 1350m
At Soda Springs there is a warning sign: STOP! Are you really prepared? It suggested it was going to get difficult and to turn back if you weren’t prepared. As I waited for my group, I watched several people get to the sign, stare at it for a while and then turn back. With the drizzle picking up I put on a rain poncho over my singlet and began the climb.

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It became more rugged, with a rough dirt trail and steps weaving up the side of the mountain towards South Crater. The drizzle continued and the climb became more a little more difficult, but not by much. After a while of steady climbing we began seeing people returning along with trail with warnings of how bad it was higher up.

With the constant drizzle and the warnings I was tempted to turn back. Why do a climb when you can’t see anything the entire time? You climb for the views and the experience, but the only experience would be a wet cloudy one. I put on a jumper under my rain poncho and we continued on.

South Crater – 1650m
We climbed onto the area described as South Crater and out of the wind. With visibility around 20m we walked on the flat for a while, happy for the rest from climbing.

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Red Crater – 1886m
After the mud flats of South Crater we began up the ridge and discovered the wind that had been putting everyone off. It was blowing an absolute gale and you could see the drizzle sweeping over the ridge into the cloudy nothingness. I was not surprised people had turned back but since we’d come this far it seemed silly to head back. We pushed on, dodging between rocky outcrops so as not to be blown off.

We reached the top but couldn’t see anything so just kept walking, beginning the plunge down the other side, some members of our group going arse-over-tit on the slippery silt.

Emerald Lakes – 1730m
The small Emerald Lakes would have been amazing to view from higher up but they only appeared out of the gloom when we were 10m above them. It was still good to see something other than dirt, rock and rain. By now we were completely soaked, we continued on down.

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Not far below the Emerald Lakes we came to the Blue Lake covered in the same clouds.

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Ketetahi – 1456m
After several switchbacks we finally emerged from the clouds to see the Ketetahi Hut. The drizzle let up but the wind did not. We stopped briefly for a snack before pressing on.

For the next part of the trek we were in open ground along a winding trail. Since a great many people had turned back, we only saw two other groups on the way down. Then having spent much of the day hidden in clouds we finally got some views. Lake Rotoaira appeared and we even got the occasional glimpse of Lake Taupo beyond.

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Ketetahi Car Park 800m
With 4km to the car park the trail dove into rainforest and grew warmer. We crossed a river on a wooden walkway and eventually arrived at the trail’s end after what seemed a lot longer than 45 minutes the sign had suggested.

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Overall, due to the weather, out Tongariro Alpine Crossing was disappointing mainly of the lack of views. In the rain and cold, the hike didn’t feel overly difficult. It took us only 5.5 hours of the suggested 8 hours and of the 2.5 litres of water I took with me, I came out with more than 2.

Perhaps it would have been more difficult in direct sunlight, but I’ll have to come back another time to see. Maybe the next time I’m in New Zealand.

The Trail Wanderer

3-day Trek, Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar

Most hikes to Inle Lake start at Kalaw, a township about an hour west of Inle Lake. Most buses stop at Kalaw on the way through dropping off tourists to do the hike. The tour company will take your pack and arrange for it to be waiting for you at your hotel at the other end.

But, if you’re like me and don’t like the idea of handing over your Macbook and other electronics to a random stranger hoping it will all appear at the other end, then the bus continues on to Nyaung Shwe, the main tourist town of Inle Lake. Once there you can find your hotel and make arrangements to have your things put in a locker before arranging a bus back to Kalaw.

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There are plenty of trekking guides in Kalaw but for some reason I was drawn past all the others to Sam’s Family Restaurant and Trekking. They gave me the options of different lengths of trek, from 1 to 3 days and the prices depending on number of people in the group, from 1 to 6 people. Of course, the more the people, the lower the price.

You are then asked to come back the night before the trek to meet the others in your group. With group treks it’s important to get the right group. The group I was to go with seemed nice people and were from all across Europe. We were given a vague trek plan and shown our route on a map. Here is a vague approximation of the route although ours was slightly different.

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Day 1

It had rained overnight, which didn’t bode well for the trek. On top of that, as my room at the guesthouse was above the kitchen, I was awakened at 4.30am by someone messing around with pots and pans. Then, as if to ensure I had no hope of getting back to sleep, the water pump beside the kitchen started. At least the rain had stopped.

After breakfast, I headed down to Sam’s Family Restaurant at the allotted 8.30am time to get ready for the trek. But when I got there I found that I’d been put into a different group. My new group did not seem as friendly as the other and contained three Israelis and two French girls.

We began walking through the streets of Kalaw, avoiding motorbikes as we went. We then headed out onto a dirt road through houses with plentiful flower gardens.

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I stopped to take photos as the rest of the group chatted away. This was when the realisation hit me that my five hiking companions were all talkers. So, I hung out at the back to try to enjoy the sounds of nature without having to listen to the constant dribble of human voices. This is, after all, why I started hiking alone all that time ago.

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Finally, after a short time we left the sound of engines and motorbikes behind and started out along a dirt trail. The track led us through an evergreen forest for an hour with several short climbs.

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As we went we passed a couple of rice paddies hidden among the trees.

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After an hour in the forest we arrived at a reservoir where we stopped to rest and watch some locals fishing.

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After our rest and a banana, we headed back into the forest for forty-five minutes with more climbing, although nothing too strenuous. We eventually reached a view-point high on the side of the hill above a green tea plantation.

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Ten minutes further on we stopped at a Nepali Restaurant which allowed more great views while we ate our vegetarian curries. After sitting briefly with my group, I discovered they preferred to chat together in their own languages. As I was the only native english speaker I decided to sit with my original group who were more willing to talk in a common language.

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After lunch we walked further along the ridge until we met a group of local ladies from the Paung tribe of the Hin Kai Kung village who were heading to work in the tea plantation. They were more than happy to pose for some photos with us.

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We walked around the end of the valley following a dirt road and came through their village nestled high on the hilltop opposite our viewpoint lunch spot.

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Once past the village, we descended downhill on the dirt road for nearly an hour. I was enjoying being out in nature again after so long and as I had for most of the day I dropped back far enough that I could barely hear the ongoing loud chatter of my group.

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We again passed several paddy fields on the way to the railway line. We then walked along the sleepers for forty minutes, not worried about oncoming trains as they move so slowly there would have been plenty of time to get out of the way.

We then stopped for a 15-minute break in the disused railway station of the Nyin Dirk village of the Daung people, which is now a cafe type eatery. After the rest we walked on through paddy fields towards our stopping point.

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With about an hour to go the sky opened up and it poured on us. This left us with a muddy climb through hills.

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This made the last part of the day longer and harder. Soaked through we eventually made it to the Sat Sky Kong village of the Daung Tribe where we were able to put our packs down and change into dry clothing. I grabbed a beer from the local store before dinner, which was amazing, several different plates with curries and other vegetable dishes, all with rice. After dinner, we hung out in the kitchen with our guide, the cook and two of the owners, drinking the local Myanmar rum. Then we sunk into a sleep at around 9.30pm.

Day 2

The roosters began at 5.00am but only for ten minutes before falling silent again. We continued to doze until 7am when breakfast was brought into our room consisting of french toast, fruit and coffee. I learned that the french call french toast ‘toast’ although Paen Perdu better describes what we know.

After breakfast we prepared to leave, stopping for some of the group to buy fresh water at the store while the rest of us looked out over the village paddy fields.

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We headed out of the Sat Sky Kong village around 8.30am on a wide dirt road, with some puddles.

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As we walked, we noted the plentiful paddy fields were in many stages of being planted. Some were being tilled and it was from this we learned the value of buffalo to these people. They can be a cheaper, self-sustaining but much slower version of the motorbike.

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But for the most part it is the strength of the buffalo that is treasured. A single buffalo can till a field quickly and easily while would take two oxen to do the same work in slower time. Buffalos are not cheap, each costing about US$2,500, so they are well looked after and usually not eaten. Here the farmer is giving his buffalo a bath and by the sounds coming from the buffalo, it was enjoying it immensely.

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After two and a half hours of walking we stopped for a green tea break in the Kyatsu village of the Baro tribe. Then it was off again along the dirt road through more paddy fields. After talking constantly and loudly throughout the first part of the day causing me to drop back again to be able to hear nature, the Israelis seemed to run out of things to talk about and decided to listen to music instead, singing along for the rest of the day.

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While it did not rain before lunch there was a low haze over the mountains. There is a sense of mystery about a landscape cloaked in clouds.

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We arrived in the Nan Dhin village of the Daung Yo tribe for lunch at a cafe-like eatery. There were two other groups there already, the group I had almost begun with and another I had not met before. I hung out with the french girls in my group and chatted as we ate.

It poured during lunch but thankfully the store sold rain ponchos. While I have a jacket it no longer resists the rain, as I learned during the last hour of day one. The rain poncho was too long, so I cut it down to a better size. This amused the staff although they were even more amused when several other members of the groups bought and cut down their ponchos as well. But as soon as we set out after lunch the rain stopped. We followed a red dirt road across more fields, the Israelis singing away loudly to the amusement of any locals we came across.

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Beyond stopping for an occasional five-minute break here and there, we did not take an afternoon break but plodded along the red dirt road towards the low mountains in the distance, passing small settlements and people working in the fields.

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About an hour before we were due to stop for the day we finally left the road and headed across some muddy tracks through paddy fields. It was around then that it began sporadically raining which caused the mud to be, well, more muddy. This put a damper on the last part of the day and made the mud sticky and heavy on tired legs.

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By the time we reached the Partu Park village of the Daung Th tribe most of us were over the day. We just wanted to get to the room, put our packs down, take our boots off and get a beer. So that was pretty much what we did. The other group had arrived before we had, so I joked around with them a little. Then over dinner, a fish curry and vegetables, the Israelis went off into a discussion in hebrew, the french girls went off in a discussion in french and I was left to myself. So, tired after the day I went to bed.

Day 3

At breakfast the discussion again split into the three language groups. This brought me to a decision to ask to walk with the other group. With several european nationalities among them including Denmark, Holland, Spain and Belgium they predominantly spoke in the common english language.

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Hiking with a friendly and inclusive group makes a lot of difference. This and the fact that much of the day was spent walking along trails through the mountains instead of dirt roads led me to regard day three the best day of the hike.

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We stopped briefly at another Kyatsu village for the Baro tribe before starting our descent towards the plateau where Inle Lake resides.

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We passed the Inle Region checkpoint where we had to pay US$10, but as I had already got a ticket on my initial visit I did not have to pay again. We stopped for a longer green tea break at the Nan Yart village of the Baro tribe where we saw two other groups that we had not seen before.

Then after the break we headed further down the valley to the first views of the lake.

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Along the way we passed this tree, a cousin to the Bodhi tree, the enlightened tree from India the buddha would sit under. This one is over one hundred and fifty years old.

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Then we headed through the pass to the plateau with views of the Inle Lake.

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We stopped for lunch at the Donenay village of the Innthar tribe where my original group was also having lunch. I sat with the group I’d walked with on day three and rested for thirty minutes before a ten minute walk to the boats that would take us across Inle Lake to the township of Nyaung Shwe.

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During the first part of the hour-long trip across the lake we saw fishermen laying nets and steering their boats with their feet.

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With the occasional boat similar to ours racing past.

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And mountains on both sides covered in ominous rain clouds.

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During the last half of the boat ride those ominous clouds opened up and it poured with rain, so we donned our cut-down ponchos until we were delivered to the jetty.

That evening I met up with my group from day 3 for pizza, european food after days of local food. I had the Tutti Pizza, which I call the ‘Monk Pizza’… one with everything.

Overall, other than ending up with the wrong group, the trek was not bad. The last day was definitely the highlight although the surroundings for most of the trek were amazing. It was great to be out in nature again as it’s been 18 months since my last hike which was to Ciudad Perdida in the Jungles of Northern Colombia.

Then with a heavily blistered foot and a little toe with an infection, I hung out in Nyaung Shwe for a couple of days before heading north to Mandalay.

The Lone Trail Wanderer