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The Great Glen Way, Scottish Highlands, Scotland – Part 3

In June 2019, I decided to walk the 6-day Great Glen Way, a 79 mile / 126 km walk from one side of Scotland to the other along The Great Glen fault which separates Scotland roughly in two.

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By Ayack – fr:Ayack – Own work :Topography: NASA Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM3 v.2) data (public domain);Reference used for confirmation for the additional data: ViaMichelin;Locator map: File:Saint Kilda archipelago topographic map-fr.SVG (modified) created by Sting., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8860318

Back to Part 2

Day 5 – Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit – 13.5 miles / 23.5 km
This morning I left behind the father and son walkers I’d run into on most days so far. The father’s foot had packed it in, and they were finishing the walk there. It had rained overnight, again, and I packed a wet tent as I had several times before. I walked out of the camping ground back up to the low route. I walked the mile back to the junction I’d come down off the moors on yesterday. I continued walking, the rain taking a break and I came down to the bridge across to Invermoriston. I took a quick photo down the river…

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I walked 100m down the road to the cafe and a full Scottish Breakfast and coffee. After breakfast, I headed out and up several hairpins on an old country road to the top of the ridge and then higher along a trail beside a fence.

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For the next few kilometres, the trail followed the fence or dipped down into the forest only to return again. The rain came and went, but it was not heavy. During the hours I spend atop the ridge line, I saw no one else. I was hidden away from Loch Ness for much of it but came past the ViewRanger, a piece of art built on the side of the hill. 

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I continued across the moors for several more kilometres, clouds hanging low at times.

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Then I came to the Troll Bridge and crossed it furtively but without assault, into the forest again where I continued.

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On several occasions, I came to parts where there should have been a view, but the clouds were too low over Loch Ness. Then, as if it knew I wanted to see the loch, the clouds lifted slightly and finally…

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At the end of the 11km, I headed across some fields on a trail to a farm road as it again began to pour with rain. I found a little shelter someone had put out with things for sale for walkers.

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I put on the pace along the sealed road averaging about a km every 10 min along the 4km stretch of road.

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The road dove steeply downhill, and Drumnadrochit came into view. The trail them cut through a forest as it headed down towards the river before coming out onto the camping ground I’d be staying in for that night.

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After pitching my tent, showering and washing my clothes, the sun came out, and I headed across to the local pub for dinner and a well-deserved cider.

Day 6 – Drumnadrochit to Inverness – 18 miles / 28.8 km
It didn’t rain overnight and when I woke there was s thin mist over the camping ground. And, by the time I had packed the sky was blue and the sun was out. After 5 days in the rain, the final longest day was to be spent in the sun. But I was not so lucky that my tent wasn’t wet, the dew and mist had ensured I would still be packing a wet tent.

Once packed, I headed to a cafe for a big Scottish breakfast but was disappointed there was no haggis, I’ve become quite fond of it on this trip. After breakfast, I headed out through Drumnadrochit along the main highway past Drambuie farm and up a hill that gave good views back across Loch Ness…

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…and the ruins of Urquhart castle.

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I continued on along the trail and into the forest with continuing good views.

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The trail climbed for the next 2km, sometimes steeply until it eventually came out into the moors only to cut into the forest again shortly after. After the hard climb up the ridge, the trail flattened out and remained that way for much the rest of the day.

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I passed a farm and stopped to tend to blister forming when I noted the farmer struggling to get a trolley onto a trailer. So I put my boot back on and gave him a hand. After my good deed for the day, I set out again along the farm road, across a highway and onto a thin track. Along the side of the track, I started to see signs of an eco cafe, so stopped off for an expensive coffee and cake in the middle of nowhere. After the break, I arrived at another road…

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…and quick marched the 4 km until it merged with a dirt trail. Dark clouds seemed to come, but no rain eventuated.

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The dirt trail ran for a mile before diving into a forest and on a slow descent over 5km until I saw Beauty Firth, a stretch of sea off the coast of Inverness.
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Then I rounded a hill and Inverness itself came into view. I followed a fairly steep hill down towards it.

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I crossed near a golf course to the canal where I walked for 3 km, crossing the Ness Islands and eventually ending the trail at Inverness Castle, near the centre of the city.

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I discovered my hostel 50 metres from the castle and checked in for a well-deserved shower. Once clean and in fresh clothes I located a Wetherspoons for dinner and, of course, a cider or three.

Day A – Inverness

I found it cheaper to stay in Inverness the night on Saturday before flying out on Sunday. I wandered around the town a little but decided against doing the tourist thing. Instead, I rested my feet and body after the hike. Saturday night, however, there was a music festival in town, so all of the pubs and restaurants were very busy. I hung out about the hostel and read a lot relaxing and watching a movie with a few people in the common room.

Overall
The Great Glen Way is a good hike, but not a great hike. The first three days a spent on the flat walking beside the canal or lake. But it is the last three days where the real hiking begins. While the climbs were not high, it gave plenty of views when they were available.

The major issue with the hike was the amount of rain, but it is Scotland in June, so you just have to go with it. It was nice to have the sun on the final day. The other issue is the general lack of food options along the way, which is likely something I should have planned better for. I survived and enjoyed my time.

In a couple of weeks, I head back up to Scotland for another six-day hike, The Isle of Arran.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

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The Great Glen Way, Scottish Highlands, Scotland – Part 2

In June 2019, I decided to walk the 6-day Great Glen Way, a 79 mile / 126 km walk from one side of Scotland to the other along The Great Glen fault which separates Scotland roughly in two.

534px-great_glen_way_map-en.svg-2019-06-10-14-02.png
By Ayack – fr:Ayack – Own work :Topography: NASA Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM3 v.2) data (public domain);Reference used for confirmation for the additional data: ViaMichelin;Locator map: File:Saint Kilda archipelago topographic map-fr.svg (modified) created by Sting., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8860318

Back to Part 1

Day 3 – Laggan to Fort Augustus – 15 miles / 24 km
After a night in the softest bed ever, a great relief after 2 days of hiking, I set out from the hostel and ran into the two ladies I’d been chatting to most of the night before. We then walked to a local cafe a few hundred metres off the trail for breakfast and coffee. On the way, we stopped to take a photo of Loch Oich as we crossed on a swing bridge.

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After eating, we headed back to the trail and began climbing the hill. As we walked and chatted we all but reached the top without noticing the climb, heading around a curve of the hill and heading back down. At the base of the path, the pair continued north while I split off to the east where I ran into the group of older walkers from the day before. I chatted with them as we crossed into Invergarry, where I stopped to look for lunch options. I didn’t find anything suitable after a quarter of an hour, so continued on.

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I climbed the path, a set of hairpin lanes that led up the to a forest road which I followed as it curved around above the loch. It wound its way through forest trails for some time as it slowly descended back towards loch level before climbing again into the forest. It was here I ran into the groups of older walkers and chatted to one of the group leaders until the path was wide enough for me to pass.

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I came down to the A82 highway and followed it around to the swing bridge across the canal. Off to my left was the Oich bridge, an old now-closed bridge. On the swing bridge, I noted a sign for a cafe half a mile off along the A82. It was off the trail, but I was hungry, so I made the walk up the hill. After passing several signs over the 15-minute walk, I arrived to find it was closed Tuesday – Thursday. So I walked back to the swing bridge and took a break without eating. It was here I noticed a couple of what I thought were ticks on my leg. With tweezers, I removed them even though they had not dug in; I didn’t see any other the entire hike.

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After the break, I marched on alongside Loch Oich as the skies began to clear. It was six kilometres to Fort Augustus. As I walked, I noticed I was on a path between the Caledonia Canal and the River Oich. They came very close on several occasions, and I even crossed a weir that allowed water to run off from the Canal into the river if it was too high.

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After an hours march, I arrived in Fort Augustus and located my camping ground. I set up my tent beside the father and son walkers I’d met on the first day and once done headed into town with them to a pub for dinner and a cider or three.

Day 4 – Fort Augustus to Invermoriston high route – 8.5 miles / 13.5km
After enjoying five ciders last night, I slept very well, somehow managing about 10 hours. But when I did wake in the night, it was raining, heavily at times. It continued into the morning. Today is the shortest leg of the six days; I held out until it stopped raining for as long as I could before packing up and heading out into town for breakfast. At the locks, I looked down the canal towards Loch Ness.
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After breakfast, I headed out through town along a stretch of road still under construction until I found the trail and followed it up a hill into the forest.

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The climb was short and one of the first real climbs of the hike. I came out into a new forest road and followed this for about a kilometre until the high route began. The trail cut up the hill with switchbacks and steep climbs. It finally felt like I was hiking after so much loch and canal-side walking. After about five hundred metres, I came out of the forest and onto open ground. While the rain had stopped, the clouds hung low over the moors.

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After about a kilometre the trail disappeared into the low clouds, and I came across the older walking group again. I stopped for a brief chat before pushing on. The low hanging clouds over the loch and the moors gave only the occasional view.

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The trail continued for another 4 kilometres through open ground before dropping down into the forest again. After several switchbacks, the trail descended very steeply. With shaking legs under the weight, I contemplated taking out my walking poles. This was, after all, why I’d brought them, but I decided to suck it up and just did it.

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At the bottom, the trail met with the lower route, but instead of following it to Invermoriston I headed the other way, back towards Fort Augustus. I walked along the low route for two kilometres as it again started to rain. The low route is simply a fairly flat forest road with no views and is very boring. It would be good for cyclists, but hikers would find little of interest here.

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I soon found the side trail leading down to the camping site where I arranged to hand my tent in the drying room. While I waited for the rain to stop and my tent to dry, I showered. When I pitched my tent, I noted across the grassy camping area, the father and son walkers I’d met several times through the walk. With little in the way of food options nearby, I bought some noodles and a can of peaches from the camping ground shop and nestled into the tent with my Kindle to read for the evening.

Next, days 5 and 6 of The Great Glen Way.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

The Great Glen Way, Scottish Highlands, Scotland – Part 1

In June 2019, I decided to walk the 6-day Great Glen Way, a 79 mile / 126 km walk from one side of Scotland to the other along The Great Glen fault which separates Scotland roughly in two.

534px-great_glen_way_map-en.svg-2019-06-10-13-40.png
By Ayack – fr:Ayack – Own work :Topography: NASA Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM3 v.2) data (public domain);Reference used for confirmation for the additional data: ViaMichelin;Locator map: File:Saint Kilda archipelago topographic map-fr.svg (modified) created by Sting., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8860318

Day 0 – London to Fort William

To get to the beginning of the hike, I took a 75-minute EasyJet flight to Glasgow and a 4-hour Scot Train to Fort William. It was an easy and relaxing journey with great views across the western side of Scotland including a leg through Loch Lommonds & The Trossachs National Park.

Fort William is a small township nestled beneath Ben Nevis, UK’s largest mountain. It’s a friendly place with several stores focused on adventures and hiking, along with several whisky stores. I also managed to stay at the Fort William Hostel on its 10th anniversary weekend, so got a free dinner and several beers.

Day 1 – Fort William to Gairlochy – 10 miles / 16 km
I headed out from the hostel in the rain and down to get some last supplies and have some lunch before beginning the walk. From the centre of town, I followed the trail past an underwater centre and along a canal, crossing at a train bridge.

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The path followed the bay around, through Inverlochy, Lochyside and Caol. If these are suburbs or villages absorbed into the larger town, I’m not sure. I looked back across the harbour back at Fort William with the cloud covered Ben Nevis to one side.

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I rounded a football field and came to the beginning of the Caledonian Canal, the canal that connected the three lochs across Scotland, allowing boat travel from one side to the other. I passed Neptune’s staircase, a series of nine locks climbing up the canal. The trail followed beside the canal for 11 kilometres. It was rainy and a little boring, so I just put my head down and just marched. There were pretty points along the canal, very green because of the regular rains.

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Towards the end, I stopped for a chat with a couple of guys – father and son – who were wild camping near the canal. I then headed a kilometre and a half along a road to my campsite, where I pitched my tent next to a couple of ladies. In the UK, when hiking, I’ve usually ‘glamped’ – staying in hostels, BNBs, pubs or hotels. This time I decided to pull out my tent and camp four nights of this 6-day hike. This meant I was carrying a full pack at 20 kg, including drinking water. I’ve carried heavier many times, so it wasn’t a problem. As I walked, I passed Meall Bhanbhaidh, a peak that was easier to walk past than to pronounce…

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On most other UK hikes there is a pub every 5km, so I figured I’d pick up food along the trail. I soon discovered the error in this. After leaving Fort William, there were no shops, cafes or restaurants. I got to my campsite with only a packet of breakfast biscuits. Thankfully, I’d found a restaurant a mile further along the road, so after showering, I began the walk. It turned out to be fairly expensive, but I had to eat. No doubt this would not be the last food issue I’d have. On the way back, 100m from the campsite it poured with rain. Yay, Scotland!

Day 2 – Gairlochy to Laggan – 13 miles / 21 km
It rained for much of the night and continued for most of the morning. Thankfully, it stopped long enough for me to take down my sopping tent. I walked the mile back to the loch, crossed to the other side and followed the logical route alongside only to walk a couple of hundred metres to a dead end where a sign conveniently told me as much. I headed back to the bridge and continued up a road. The rain came, and I knuckled down with my waterproof jacket’s hood up. The trail headed off the road and up through a light Conifer forest for a while before again crossing the road and headed down near Loch Lochy.

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After a long walk through the forest, the trail came back to the road and continued for some time. I passed the small villages of Achnacarry, Bunarkaig and eventually Clunes, but there were no shops in any of these locales. For breakfast, all I’d eaten was three breakfast biscuits and no coffee. At Clunes, with no other options, I ate the last 2 breakfast biscuits before heading up onto a dirt forest road. On the long walk alongside the loch I passed the carving of a falcon on a wooden stump.

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For more than 10 km, the dirt road continued just above the loch covered with dark clouds. I finally stopped for a break near the end of the dirt road, and as I sat on my pack, a group of old walkers came past.

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After the break I marched on, easily passing the older walkers before heading onto a road and around to the Laggan Locks. I followed a trail on the other side for a mile to the road, then back 300m to the Great Glen Hostel, where I ran into the two ladies I’d camped beside at Gairlochy. Since we were 2 hours early for the hostel, we sat in the common room and chatted, something that went on well into the night.

Next, Days 3 and 4 of The Great Glen Way.

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