Elan Ramble: 6-10 June 2018
In 1890 the needy City Council of Birmingham acquired seventy square miles of mid-Wales to collect rainwater to supply their rapidly expanding city. By 1904 they had skillfully built four dams to collect the water and seventy miles of pipeline, tunnels and culverts to transfer the water by gravity to serve the population and industrial heart of Birmingham. Delayed by two world wars they later built an impressive fifth dam higher up on the river Claerwen to supplement the system which was inaugurated by Her Majesty the Queen in 1952 as her first public engagement after becoming the monarch.
Looking down on two of the upper reservoirs in the Elan Valley
A byproduct of their efforts was to create a wonderful area of natural beauty and ecology with plants, birds and wildlife which has remained largely unspoilt for over a century. The area was chosen for its geology and because its average annual rainfall is 70 inches, approximately twice the national average. The thirty H&G Ramblers arriving in Rhayader in bright sunshine would never have imagined that as we set off for a six mile circular walk through fields, woods and beside streams to the west of the town centre.
Later we moved on to the Elan Valley Lodge, our base for the stay providing excellent food and accommodation. The lodge had been built as the school for the newly constructed village for workers needed for the maintenance of the dams in 1904. The school closed in 1974 as the population dwindled but had been purchased and restored in 1984 as an activity centre providing ensuite accommodation, good home cooked meals and very pleasant welcoming staff.
Each day we were offered a choice of a six or twelve mile walks visiting all the dams over the five days. Fortunately the sun shone for four out of the five days providing stunning vistas of green fields, hills and woodland. Wild flowers were in abundance. On the first we walked south from the Lodge through woods and open pasture flanking Caban-coch Reservoir before continuing along the south side of the Claerwen River to the foot of the Claerwen Dam where we ate our picnic lunches. A Peregrine Falcon was possibly sighted along with curlew, osprey, buzzards, red kites and many others. Dippers abounded on the rivers.
Fortified by lunch we climbed the steep embankment of the dam for magnificent views of the reservoir to the north and the valley to the south.
Returning across Craig Fawr and into Coel Coed (Wood) tired walkers were inspired by the sight of a lonely ice-cream van waiting at Garreg-ddu Dam only to be deflated when it drove away two minutes before our arrival. The short walkers got there in time and enjoyed very welcome ice creams. That evening we were challenged by a devilish quiz set by Alan Reeves which took the whole holiday to unravel.
Low cloud dominated the third day as we walked north to Esgair Penygarreg where we all had to imagine the fantastic view we would have enjoyed if it had not been blanked out by drizzle.The fourth day was another bright sunny one. We were driven to Penygarreg Dam. We walked up the old construction railway track to Craig Goch Dam and then north-east across open mountainside before turning south-east towards Rhayader and home along tracks winding through woodland and pasture full of wild flowers, passing Laura Ashley’s former house on the way.
The final day for those who still had the time and energy included a challenging walk in sunshine up the Rhiwnant valley across rough open and in places boggy common land to the impressive cairn at Drygarn Fawr marking the edge of the water authority’s catchment area. Others who liked the idea of a more relaxing walk visited a nature reserve north of Rhayader on the Wye Valley Walk. Both were fitting end to a glorious week organised so well by Alie and Wim Hagerdoorn and administered by Peter Stone. Thank you. We should do it again.
Cyprus in Spring
The end of April saw a group of 18 embark on our first overseas trip of 2018, ably led by Bruce and Marilyn. We met in Kyrenia in the Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus as some of the group had travelled out early to visit the southern Greek part of the divided island. Although we missed the best of the spring flowers there were still lots around and the weather was glorious (in contrast to the cold and rain in other parts of the Mediterranean such as Italy and Spain!). Most of us even swam in the sea on several occasions!
We started with three nights in the picturesque port of Kyrenia staying in the old town in what Trip Adviser describes as a ‘quirky’ hotel! Our guide was wonderfully knowledgeable treating us to mini lectures on the ecology, history, archaeology, politics and everyday life as we travelled on our bus to the start of the walks. We thought he was teasing us when he told us that our bus had been the Arsenal football team bus, but the Arsenal badge was still proudly in place. It must have been some time ago!
The first walk from Kyrenia took us to the far north west of the island, Cape Kormakitis where we duly photographed ourselves at the start of a long distance route that extends to the extreme north east of the island at Cape Andreas. We did get to this easterly point, but must confess that the bulk of themiles were done on the bus as we transferred to our second hotel in Karpaz. Two hills walks followed with the second involving a steep climb up to St. Hilarion Castle, one of the chain of crusader castles on the spectacular coastal range that runs along the north coast of Cyprus. The ruins of Bellapais Monastery provided a glorious setting for the Kyrenia Music festival and some of us had a wonderful evening watching sunset over the mountains as we ate a lavish fish mezze, then listened to a classical concert in the restored monastery refectory.
Our second hotel was a complete contrast – set in a lovely garden in peaceful countryside. We walked along beaches, crossed the Cyprus ‘Panhandle’ from coast to coast, examined ancient monasteries and churches and swam from quiet sandy beaches overlooked by beachside restaurants for the non swimmers! Our last night was a musical evening with Bruce on his guitar and our talented driver on a traditional Cypriot stringed instrument (a Saz), playinging folk music and songs
The trip was over for 6 of our party but 12 returned to Kyrenia for another 3 days of sightseeing and a full day boat trip along the coast. Thanks very much to Bruce and Marilyn for organising such an enjoyable trip!
Isle of Wight, April 2018
A group of 36 H&G Ramblers enjoyed a break on the Isle of Wight in April. Based at Norton Grange, a Warner Leisure Hotel overlooking the Solent near the port of Yarmouth, we could choose from 2 or 3 walks each day and depending on the walk chosen were able to visit such Island attractions as Carisbrooke Castle, the Tennyson Trail, Tennyson Down and his monument, Alum Bay and the Needles amongst other places of interest. The weather was reasonably kind to us, the heavy drizzle on our first day giving way to low cloud and a beautiful, sunny day midweek, ideal for those of us enjoying the views over Freshwater Bay.
On Tuesday the long walk started from near Carisbrooke castle. We followed a section of the Tennyson Trail to Freshwater Bay where we cut inland and walked through lanes and muddy fields back to Norton Grange.
On Wednesday, which was bright and sunny, the long and middle walks followed the same route from south of St Catherine’s Down, with Catherine's’ Oratory (Pepperpot) at 593 ft and further across the downs to the Hoy Monument at 525 ft. The walk took us into the beautiful Wydcombe valley through Stenbury Manor grounds and then ascended the hill to the high point of the island on Stenbury Down. The "short" walkers (led by Graham) did not make the highest point but we still had fabulous views over the countryside. The route back went via Niton with a tea stop for some before heading back to the car park.
On Thursday the long walk started at the lovely village of Brightstone, then followed the southern coast which is renown both for its views and the abundant fossils. Most of the coast path was downland and in many areas the constant erosion was very noticeable as the path has been moved inland. We had lunch at Freshwater Bay before rejoining the Tennyson Trail up to the Tennyson Monument at 482 ft and along the ridge to the Needles. We visited the Battery, now owned by the NT, which was extremely interesting, before descending to Alum Bay where some of us caught the bus back to Norton Grange. A few intrepid walkers carried on by foot all the way back.
Norton Grange proved to be a very good choice as a base with comfortable accommodation, an excellent menu and the opportunity for the young at heart to show off their dancing skills during the evening entertainment!
A sincere thank you to Peter, Susan, Brian and Graham for leading the walks and planning a perfect break - apart from the MUD that is!
Shirley Corti and Inge M ikkelsen
Chantry House Lecture
Great way to spend a January evening!
This was the verdict of the most of the 58 people who came to our annual Chantry House Lecture.
Another successful event; what a great evening we all had! We enjoyed a glass of wine and a fantastic selection of finger food. For the first time in the lecture history we offered tea and coffee at the end and many people stayed to enjoy this and chat about the lecture and with the speaker. According to the feedback from members, the evening was a great success.
Our speaker this year was Nigel Adams from The Countryside Management, in Christmas Common. He gave a very interesting talk with slides and video on hedge laying, the various types of hedges and the wider countryside management. Apparently there are ancient, species rich hedges and more modern, usually hawthorn hedges. A count of species in an ancient hedge revealed up to 3000 species! Hedges often have a magic height; there is a limit to how high you can reach cutting the hedge and still look over it. The best time for trimming hedges is February, so the hedge can produce flower and berries and get some time to recover. We learned about different styles of hedges: the Midlands style, a strong/solid asymmetrical hedge; the West Midlands style in sheep areas; the Derbyshire hedge which lacks a top of twisted hazel as many of the others have. Prince Charles is actively involved in hedge laying and has apparently said that the actual hands-on work reminds him of “chopping the press”. We learned that cutting the hedges by machine at the same height every year is not good for the hedges as the bottom stems will grow older without the flow of nutrients coming in, eventually dying and leaving gaps in the hedges. It is best to have a three year cutting cycle and older hedges need rejuvenating. Nigel also talked about his interest in scything, even introducing Prince Charles to this. Scything has a positive effect of the number of wild flowers and is used at Aston Rowant.
A good way to spend a January evening!
Carol Service walk and lunch December 2017
We had a lovely day for our annual walk, carol service and Christmas lunch on Tuesday 19 Secember. Around 50 of us met at The Highwayman at Exlade Street for a choice of 3 walks in the Stoke Row area. The carol service was held in the chapel at Stoke Row, a new venue for the group, then we walked back to The Highwayman for an excellent lunch.We had a lovely day for our annual walk, carol service and Christmas lunch on Tuesday 19 Secember. Around 50 of us met at The Highwayman at Exlade Street for a choice of 3 walks in the Stoke Row area. The carol service was held in the chapel at Stoke Row, a new venue for the group, then we walked back to The Highwayman for an excellent lunch. Quantocks weekend in September
The Quantocks are lovely hills with a surprisingly large range of countryside in a small area. A group of 30 H&G Ramblers enjoyed a great long weekend at Combe House Hotel in Holcombe in September. The hotel is at end of the road in a beautiful combe surrounded by steep wooded hills. From the hotel a range of paths lead up to the open hilltops and ridges with wonderful views over the estuary of the River Parrrett to Stackpole, Bridgewater Bay and South Wales in the distance. The area was favoured by poets of the Romantic period. Samuel Coleridge had a cottage nearby at Nether Stowey, which we went to see, and Wordsworth was a frequent visitor to the area.
Despite main organiser and walk leader Susan Maguire being on crutches following an accident, we were still able to enjoy a choice of 3 walks each day as Inge Mikkelsen took over leading Susan’s walks. Ray Maguire and Dave Morris were the other walk leaders. An afternoon walk on the first day took us to the highest point in the Quantocks where we enjoyed the wonderful views. The second day’s walks included the visit to Coleridge’s cottage and also took in open hills and natural forest as we came back along the combe paths to the hotel. Saturday’s walk choice took us up into the hills for more big skies and far reaching views, taking in parts of the Coleridge Way. Sunday’s morning walks included a stretch along the coast which has some fascinating geological features. We came together for an excellent pub lunch before heading home.
Walks weren’t the only things we enjoyed on this trip. Susan had arranged speakers on two of the nights. A Quantock Ranger gave an illustrated presentation on the natural history of the area and two members of the Coleridge society told us about the lives and activities of the poets who had lived and visited the area. Most of us hadn’t realised just how much walking Coleridge did. Hearing how far he walked on a regular basis made our walks seem very mild in comparison! Both speakers answered lots of questions from the interested audience and we went into dinner on each night feeling well informed and well entertained!
Thanks to all the organisers and walk leaders, Susan, Ray, David, Janice, Barbara and Inge.
Susan adds: Although I wasn't able to participate fully in the weekend I had a thoroughly enjoyable time. I could wave everyone off on walks, welcome them back, join the tea on the lawn outside the hotel and participate fully with the evening's activities. It was such a pleasure being with a group of people who were enjoying each other's company.
The Gritstone Trail
I have always enjoyed walking in the Peak District but had never visited the western edge on the borders of Cheshire and Derbyshire. The Gritstone Trail follows the geological boundary between the softer rocks of the Cheshire plain and the harder gritstone of the Peak District - Cheshire's Peak District. The 35 miles hilly trail is wonderfully varied following the gritstone ridges with great views of the Cheshire plain to the mountains of Wales. The trail runs from Disley, south of Manchester, to Kidsgrove near Stoke on Trent. We walked it over 3 days and can thoroughly recommend it.
Great day out today on our second joint walk with Disabled Ramblers. We met at Nettlebed for a 7 miles walk. I was amazed at the rough tracks that the mobility scooters and their drivers navigated with ease! At one point we were confronted with a pipe digging crew and a trench across the road. Not even that stopped us! We detoured off-road into a field then beat a path back to the road on the other side of the trench! We have the third of our joint walks on 27 September. Do come and join us!
Northumberland in June
While Henley was sweltering in a heatwave in June, 29 of us were enjoying a week of more mixed weather conditions walking in the Belford area of Northumberland. We stayed at the Bluebell Hotel and walked the spectacular coastline and in the hills of the Northumberland National park.
Here are a few of the comments from those who were there:
There were many highlights on this holiday but
especially memorable were:
- walking the Pilgrims Way across the sands from Lindisfarne and the boat trip to the Farne Islands viewing the seals and the vast colonies of nesting seabirds, including puffins and their chicks. The walk through the Northumberland national park and the views from high ground on the Cheviots of the surrounding countryside were spectacular. The coastal castles were particularly stunning.
- Visiting Lindisfarne and walking back across the sands was magical.
- A lot of walking, we were grateful for the food breaks, thanks to Alie and Wim for the lifts – woof woof! (Reg and Ruby, border collies who came on all the walks)
- Difficult to point to anything specific as the whole holiday was so good!
- The day that sticks in my mind is the trip to Lindisfarne even though we had rain in the morning and I didn’t do the Pilgrim’s Way – a day everyone will remember.
- The walks in the national park were spectacular and so different from the coastal walks.
- Memorable moments for me- watching the dolphins from the beach at Bamburgh, walking barefoot across the sands along the Pilgrim Route, sheltering from the wind in an old sheepfold and listening to a skylark.
- Memorable for me - searching for a "lost" path amidst head high bracken, fallen trees and thick undergrowth but having to turn back. Peanut wagging her tail in happiness at being with her walking friends. Talking to the locals in the bar after the walks and learning about life in Belford. Striding out with Wim on a 16 mile walk and feeling the wind in my hair
- I enjoyed it so much. Highlights were walking from Holy Island over the Pilgrims Way and walking on the moors with great views in Northumberland National Park. And the group worked so well together the whole week! Excellent. Zou niet beter kunnen (meaning, Could not be better).... This shows how we mix languages all the time!
and from everyone: we are so grateful to Alie and Wim for the huge amount of effort they put into making this such a great holiday in every way
Springtime in Sunny Sicily
Early May saw 19 Henley & Goring Ramblers set out on our latest overseas adventure: a walking holiday in Sicily. Our destination was the picturesque historic town of Cefalu, on Sicily’s Tyrrhenian northern coast, where we were ideally placed for excursions into the Madonie Mountains regional park.
Our guide for the first week was the adorable Carmelina Ricciardello, who is Sicilian Experience (www.sicilianexperience.com); we couldn’t have wished for a more capable guide. There are very few footpaths and hiking routes mapped in this part of Sicily, but Carmelina walks hundreds of miles a year in the region and knows all the best routes. Initially we walked some lower level paths to find our feet, but then steadily moved to the higher mountains between 1200 and 1600 m, where we were rewarded with spectacular all round views towards the Aeolian Islands and Mount Etna. Along the way we met some wonderful characters: Julio the goatherd, who demonstrated how to make cheese the traditional way in his hut in the mountains, with lots of tasting at all stages of the process; Mimmo the wine maker and restaurateur, who makes wine for use in his restaurant. Mimmo provided us with one of the most memorable meals of our trip as we sat on the sunny terrace with spectacular views of the sea far below, and, with typical Sicilian hospitality was still offering us another glass of wine when Carmelina dragged us back to our coach! We were treated to a display of traditional falconry skills in the high meadows of the Madonie (by another Mimmo!), and a wonderful refreshment stop in delightful Castelbuono to taste proper Sicilian ice cream and almond pastries.
We had five walking days, doing between 6-8 miles per day with ascents / descents of 400-600m. On our “rest day”, many opted to take the train to Palermo and visit the historic palaces and richly decorated churches. The highlight was the Cathedral of Monreale, where every available surface is decorated with spectacular mosaics depicting biblical tales.
Our week passed all too quickly, and we said an emotional farewell to Carmelina, who had quickly become our friend and had shared with us her passion for Sicilian history and culture. We moved on to Giardini Naxos, in the shadow of Mt Etna, and close to the city of Taormina. Here we continued our activity-packed days with an excellent guided walking tour around historic Taormina, and for many of us, a trip up Mt Etna.
Some of the unexpected experiences: arriving in Cefalu as the Giro d’Italia cycle race approached, meaning that the town centre was closed, and we had to drag our cases the final kilometre to our hotel! And touring Taormina in virtual lockdown ahead of the G7 Summit; almost as many soldiers and police on view as tourists!
We would all like to thank Peter Stone for his organisation and leadership before and throughout the trip (and, on the walks, for the endless supply of mints!)
Wye Valley in May 2017
We had a great week's walking in the Wye Valley. We were welcomed by members of the Ross-on-Wye 'Walkers are Welcome' group who devised and led our walks programme for the week. They organised and led two varied and interesting walks each day, even providing home made gingerbread or welsh cakes on some of the walks! We re very grateful to them for showing us their lovely area. We hope to be able to return the compliment one day and show them that our Chilterns provide good walking and interesting sights too!
Walking the Oxfordshire Way
A group of up to 23 H&G Ramblers have been walking the Oxfordshire Way in stages once a month on Saturdays starting in Bourton on the Water and ending in Henley. We finished on 18 March 2017. Stages varied from 8.3 to 11.5 miles. The walk took us through areas of outstanding natural beauty in the Cotswolds and the Chilterns. We used taxis to get us from where we parked to the start of the walk and different people took on the job of organising transport and refreshments for the different stages. The end of the walk was marked by the 21 who walked the last stage by raising a glass of bubbly on the banks of the Thames at Henley. We then moved on to the Chocolate Theatre Café across the road for well-earned refreshments!
While we have been walking the route we have also been doing our bit to help with path checking and maintenance. Led by Susan Maguire, who has been noting problems and issues for a report on the route, we have been cleaning signs replacing broken signs, clipping vegetation and noting minor problems. Other Oxfordshire groups will be also doing their bit to ensure that the whole length of the Oxfordshire Way is clearly waymarked, minor obstacles cleared and places where more major clearing is needed identified.
Jim Prior, Area Path wardens’ Coordinator, has asked Susan to pass on thanks to the walkers in our group who have wielded their secateurs, wet wipes and hammers to good effect
Which Way the Wyche Way?
We tackled the Wyche Way over four weekends between October 2016 and March 2017. Waymarking was rather sparse on some sections so Which way the Wyche Way? became a pun too often repeated!
The 79 miles trail starts at Kington on Offa’s Dyke and ends at Broadway Tower in the Cotswolds. We did an extra section in the Cotswolds and finished at Moreton in the Marsh.. We had 20 plus walkers on each of the sections: Kington to Bodenham in October; Bodenham to Great Malvern in November; Great Malvern to Ashton under Hill in February; Ashton under Hill to Moreton in the Marsh in March.
The start of the walk in Kington
Several of the group took the opportunity of travelling on a Friday and visiting something of interest en route – the Christmas market in Worcester, Tewkesbury Abbey, and various National Trust properties. We usually had longer and shorter versions of the walk so people were dropped off at different starting points and we met up for a pub lunch before walking the last part of each stage together.
A high point in the Malverns
The best parts of the trail are the stages in the Malverns and the Cotswolds. Although the sections between Kington and Malvern are not without interest there is a lot of flat farmland to cover and in winter a lot of very sticky mud to plough through! The trail does not follow a natural feature but joins up a number of existing paths and some road sections. It is not always easy to follow. Would I recommend doing the trail? Those in our group who have done Offa’s Dyke, various trails in the Malverns and the Cotswold Way do not think the Wyche Way as a whole measures up to these older trails. It lacks the natural line, continuity and spectacular scenery of Offa’s Dyke and the Malverns and the variety and picture postcard villages of the Costwolds. However, although it may not be as good as some other trails it was a most enjoyable four weekends for our group.
H&G at the Henley Christmas Market
For the first time we had a stall at the Henley Christmas Market in December 2016. We ran a competition, 'Guess how far Father Christmas walked!' with a route marked out on a large scale map. There were 65 entries with many close to the answer, which was 37.6 miles.
First prize with a guess of 38 miles was Katerina Vojtechovska from Henley. She won a foldable rucksack. Melanie Grindes from Caversham came a close second with a guess of 37 miles and she won a Ramblers' water bottle. Adam, from Henley, aged 5, and Eva from Binfield, aged 8, jointly won third prize with a guess of 39 miles. Their prizes were reindeer hats.
Christmas Carol Walk, Service and Lunch
Here we are, gathering before the start of the walk
A choice of two walks, a carol service especially for H&G members at a lovely country church, then a warming winter lunch at a local pub - not a bad way to spend a December day!
Around 40 H&G members (and a few guests) met at The Crown at Pishill for the annual carol service walk, this year in the lovely Stonor valley. We could choose either of two different length and paced walks, both of which led us back to Pishill Church for a traditional readings and carol service. Bruce's solo of 'In the Bleak Midwinter' sounded wonderful in the acoustics of the tiny church and the rest of us joined in for rousing renditions of familiar carols. Lunch, at The Crown, was a warming winter special and, judging by the empty plates, was much appreciated. A good day out!
AGM November 2016
Our AGMs are more fun than the average. We held our AGM and social evening in November with almost 60 people attending. We were greeted with a glass of wine before the official business started. We have two new committee members, one taking over as Events Team Coordinator and the other taking over the Footpaths Officer's role. We are grateful for all the work done by the two members who stood down from these roles. Official business over, we saw a picture show of the Rambling Year and trips planned for 2017. Then came a super sit-down supper brilliantly organised by the Events Team. Very enjoyable evening!
H&G trip to Alresford, Hampshire October 2016
On the first morning a group of eighteen of us limbered up on a short, pretty valley walk from Selborne, near to Gilbert White’s Museum, through meadows and ponds, past the Short and Long Lythes, then back for a pub lunch, of course! In the afternoon we were ready to complete our “figure of eight” walk through Selborne Hangar. We had stunning views in the sunshine across the valley, enhanced by the autumnal woodland colours.
After a very pleasant evening meal at the Swan Hotel Alresford, and fully rested, we set out the next day for another walk from Exton via Old Winchester Hill, an ancient hill fort. The earliest settlement here was during the Bronze Age about 3,800 years ago. There are supposed to be spectacular views over to the New Forest and the Isle of Wight; sadly on this occasion it was a bit misty so these views will be saved for another visit! The walk concluded with a pub lunch.
All in all we had had an excellent trip away, thanks to our effective walk leaders, Brian Maunder and David Morris, and overall organiser Peter Stone. Alresford is fairly close to where we live but many of us had not walked in that area of the countryside before. The area is well worth exploring some more.
White to Dark in Derbyshire
Stunning views from Stannage Edge
On a dry and sunny weekend in October a group of 11 ramblers walked the beautiful and varied White to Dark route in the Peak District. The three day walk, organised by H&G, starts at Bakewell and ends at Hope. The trail follows the River Wye to Monsal Head then through the newly opened Headstone Tunnel, across the viaduct and on to Arkwright’s famous Cressbrook Dale Mill and the picturesque village of Litton.
The second day’s walk goes through Eyam, the famous plague village then over wild moorland landscape to Hathersage. Next, on day 3, comes the climb to Stannage Edge with wonderful all round views before descending to Ladybower reservoir, famous as the site of practice runs by the Dambuster’s squadron. The final climb is up Win Hill with more great views, this time over the Hope Valley, before the descent into the valley and the end of the trail.
On the trail near Eyam
We can highly recommend this route: just 30 miles of glorious varied countryside with many things of interest on the way.
One of several mountain lakes in the Pirin Mountains above Banya that we visited
Twenty three H&G Ramblers left Heathrow early on a cool September morning and landed in Sofia airport in scorching midday sun. Heading away from the airport in high spirits it wasn't long before we spotted something that looked remarkably like our old friend Didcot Power Station rising out of a flat and hazy plain. Had we really just flown across the whole of Europe? All doubts evaporated as we travelled for another two sweltering hours along a brand new, EU branded motorway through an arid landscape with a dramatic backdrop of high purple mountains.
Visiting the old Turkish bath at Banya not far from our hotel in Bulgaria
For most of us the priority on reaching our destination was simply to unpack the bathing costume and head straight for the hotel's open air pool for a refreshing cool swim. Refreshing? Cool? Oh no, this pool was filled directly from spring water that gushed out of the hillside at a steady 54 degrees F. It was welcome nonetheless and as the week wore on and the weather cooled a little it was sheer bliss to ease our tired muscles each evening by swimming with friends in this sparklingly clean communal warm bath. Some of us managed a daily breakfast swim too.
The week unfolded with a variety of walks to suit our various energy levels. Some chose to stroll through pine forests and explore the villages, others took to the high mountains reaching isolated lakes after steep climbs over rocky terrain. One day our guide allowed us to cheat just a little by taking a lengthy chair lift to a high start point. But that too was a challenge; some of us find it difficult enough to slide off a chair lift on skis .... but in walking boots? We need not have worried; a team of burly Bulgarian men were on hand to lift us bodily from our seats and set us back on our feet. Whichever path was chosen, it was spectacular, exhilarating and a journey not only over the ground but also back in time. In the mountains we met shepherds guarding small flocks of sheep or a herd of tinkling cows. On the lower cultivated fields there was barely a tractor to be seen, horses drew the ploughs, and men swung scythes. On the roads our minibus frequently overtook horse drawn carts transporting firewood for the winter and in the villages the bean harvest was spread over hot pavements to dry - a promise of tasty winter soups to come. Life may be hard in the Bulgarian countryside, but there is also fun to be had. Each house had a pergola festooned with grapes destined to be distilled into a strong liquor to help while away those cold winter days. On the hilltops we often came across large barbeque sites with fire pits, benches and tables where the whole village could gather to celebrate a special occasion. These party sites are clearly well used and often incorporate a small colourful church, hand built and skilfully decorated by the villagers.
A walk in the Pirin Mountains. The white tops of the mountains are marble
One of the many sources of interest of the trip was finding out where Bulgaria features in Europe’s past and to see that so much of it remains. Our hotel swimming pool, fed by the warm mineral springs of the valley, is a direct successor to the still standing Turkish and Bulgar bath houses in the village of Banya, The baths are themselves successors of the Roman baths with their vaulted roofs, stone lined pools and wall niches for keeping the bathers’ belongings. Roman emperors loved the region and recent excavations in Sofia when the metro was built have revealed extensive evidence of the prosperity of the province of Thrace.
The highest peak in the area, Vihren Peak.
One of our group got to the summit
After a week in the mountains we headed back along that brand new motorway to spend a couple of days in the capital Sofia. Soon we were stepping out of our Tardis minibus straight into the twenty first century. Sofia is full of the young people who no longer live in their grandparents’ villages. Like them we swapped forest paths for city streets as we visited the many spectacular churches where every inch of the walls are covered in colourful icons and a thousand candles illuminate the gold leaf. We were visiting this city of young people on a Bulgarian public holiday weekend, so the churches were busy with weddings. Clearly if you get married in a tourist attraction you must tolerate a few extra tourist onlookers. When it comes to buggies and baby clothes the shopping centre offers everything from Prada to New Look.
Bulgaria is indeed a land of contrasts. It is also a country looking confidently to the future while proudly respecting its past. Sofia is built directly on the site of Serdica, a significant Roman city. Paved streets, houses of all sizes, a town gate, a bath house were uncovered and left in situ next to the metro station, shopping arcades and higher modern street level. As we took a subway to cross under a busy modern street, we were able to walk over the flagstones of a Roman road past the carefully preserved remains of Roman villas. It is a surreal experience to wait for a train in the ultra-modern metro station alongside artefacts unearthed in the building, having just walked past Roman walls on the way down!
Bulgaria is indeed moving on - it still has mountains to climb, both physically and metaphorically - but onward and upward.......
Mair Hunt and Ruth Gibson October 2016
Norfolk Broads trip July 2016
A new member asks to join H&G Ramblers
on their walking and boating trip to Norfolk!
When considering holidays at the beginning of the year, I thought a walking holiday would be a good idea, but I was a bit worried about my level of fitness. When I saw that the Henley & Goring group were organising a trip to the Norfolk Broads and that they still had a single cabin available that seemed like the perfect solution. I was not disappointed.
The week began ominously with thunder, lightning and hail on the first evening, but from then on we had almost perfect weather. Alie’s planned walks had to be revised as high water levels made it impossible to go under the bridge at Potter Heigham but flexibility was the key, and a quick look at the map and rearrangement of the order of the walks meant that all was still possible.
The walking was surprisingly varied; some was along reeded river banks, some across agricultural land, some through woodland areas and some along the bracing east coast beaches. Poppies and wild flowers were in abundance and the board walks across swampy areas and nature reserves revealed many different kinds of wild life. We managed to spot some elusive Swallowtail butterflies.
Thecommodation on the boat was a tight fit for 8 of us but team work proved the key to managing and it helped that we ate out every night. The boat provided a pleasant day’s cruising for those who did not want to walk every day.
In all a very successful trip; thanks to Alie for organising the walks, Wim for piloting the boat and Peter for having the original idea.
Further walking holidays are definitely on my to-do list now.
H&G weekend at Dartmouth
View over the Dart estuary from the path
on the way back from Greenway
Walking along the south west coast, in the sunshine, with good friends is hard to beat! H & G’s long weekend trip to Stoke Fleming near Dartmouth in April certainly met the high expectations of the 32 walkers who were offered a variety of walks led by Susan, Ray and Barbara.
We arrived in the rain at the NT Coleton Fishacre on the first day. Both Ray’s and Susan’s walks took us along the coast with, despite the weather being not the best, spectacular views across the sea. There was time at the end to visit the house (wonderful art deco interiors) and gardens. Barbara’s short walk allowed more time for looking at the house and exploring the spectacular gardens that spill down from the house to the sea. It was a very promising start to the weekend. When we got to the hotel there was time for a swim / sauna / jacuzzi in the hotel’s leisure facility.
On the Saturday we could again choose between three walks. Ray’s group took the bus to Townsall then walked the Dart Trail to Dittisham. The views were stunning. Crossing the Dart by ferry to Greenway House, former summer home of Agatha Christie, the group then walked back to Dartmouth on a high level path with spectacular views of the Dart estuary. There was time to explore the town before returning to Stoke Fleming along the coastal path. Susan’s group had a day of walking, river trip and sightseeing. The group walked from the hotel along the coastal path to Dartmouth where there was time to buy delicious hot pasties before catching a boat for the half hour trip up the river to Greenway. The house sits high above the river so the views are wonderful, as are the gardens. The house is filled with personal collections of every kind and it was easy to imagine Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple summing up the latest murder mystery round the fire in the living room. We had a lovely walk following the river back to Kingswear to catch the ferry across to where the bus took us back to our most comfortable hotel in Stoke Fleming. Barbara’s group followed the same route as Susan’s except that they had more time to explore Greenway as they returned to Dartmouth by river boat.
Sunday arrived with promises of yet more sunny walks, this time west along the coastline. Susan’s group took a taxi to East Portlemouth with its wonderful views across the estuary to Salcombe. The coastal path back towards Dartmouth has lots of ups and downs and is rocky in many places. Ray’s group went by cars to Torcross then walked to Start Point lighthouse and down to the beach for a picnic. Both groups had time to find out about Hallsands, a lost village that disappeared into the sea after the beach was removed to provide material for improving naval facilities in Plymouth. The villagers had a long hard fight to get compensation. At Torcross the Second World War tank in the car park which was dredged up from the sea, is a solemn reminder of the Second World War tragedy at Slapton Sands where over 900 American soldiers lost their lives when German E-boats got among the unprotected landing craft carrying out training for the D-Day landings.
In the evening after an excellent dinner there a talk by local man Barry Morris who had lived in Stoke Fleming all his life. His relaxed style with its mixture of factual information, stories about the area and anecdotes about his family’s background and experiences in the area, made for an enjoyable and interesting after dinner entertainment.
We finished the weekend with everyone heading for Blackpool Sands by longer or shorter routes but all with some short sharp ups and downs as we crossed the steep narrow valleys running down to the sea. We had lunch at the Venus Cafe on the beach front before heading home after a perfect and relaxed break. Many thanks from all of us to organisers Susan, Ray and Barbara!
Self-catering walking trip in the Brecon Beacons
The ‘Diving Board’, Brecon Beacons
Glebe Barn near Crickhowell is a luxurious converted barn with en suite accommodation for 11 people. We spent a weekend there in March and enjoyed splendid weather and even more splendid walks. Arriving late afternoon on a Friday we soon settled in finding everything we could need in the well-appointed kitchen and enjoyed the comfort of a large sitting and dining area.
We took full advantage of the fine weather on both Saturday and Sunday to do long walks in the mountains. There was snow on the tops which made for slow going in places as the snow was melting and had puddles of water beneath the deceptively firm surface! Those with gaiters were the sensible ones; others got melting snow in their boots! The open ridges and wonderful views made for memorable walking. The ‘diving board' – a rock jutting out over a drop at the end of a ridge was an obvious place for photos for those who do not suffer from vertigo and the ‘dragon’s back’ provided an exhilarating ridge walk back to the valley.
We saw a large flock of sheep high on the slopes following what we took to be the shepherd. It turned out that he was just a walker like us. Clearly the sheep liked the look of him. He was hoping they wouldn’t follow him much further – what do you do with a couple of hundred sheep when you get back to your hotel!
We liked the place and the area so much that we are thinking of organising another trip next year.
Long distance trails with Henley & Goring group
Spring 2016 saw Henley and Goring group complete the final stages of three long distance trails that we had been walking on a monthly basis for quite some time!
Thames Path walkers reach the Barrier after 184 miles – only to find the café and visitors’ centre were shut!
The longest at 194 miles, the Thames Path, was started in September 2014; the Roman Way, at 174 miles was also started in 2014, in October. Both these trails were done as day walks once a month. The Cotswold Way, just over 100 miles, was walked over five 2015/16 winter weekends. Some people did every stage but others were able to dip in and out doing as many stages as they wished. Numbers on stages ranged from 6 -16 regulars on the Roman Way and the Thames Path to 20 plus on the Cotswold Way weekends. H&G members made up the majority of the walkers but we were joined by people from other Oxfordshire, Berkshire and London groups for some of the stages.
Henley and Goring group have done a lot of long distance trails over the years. Walkers take it in turn to organise the stages. This involves checking who wants to walk that stage, arranging transport (public when possible but taxis when in remoter rural areas), finding cafes for end of walk refreshments, finding and booking accommodation for the weekend walks and ensuring that everyone knows the time and place to meet and when they need to bring a picnic.
The three trails are very different and each has its distinct appeal. Although many of the stretches of the Thames Path are well known to us and the path as a whole had been walked before by some, it is still a wonderful walk full of interest. We did it in 19 sections and found something to enjoy at every stage from the quiet meadows of the infant river and the wide lakes of the Cotswold Water Park, to the swiftly changing urban landscapes of London. There is almost too much to take in – too much history, too many wonderful vistas and buildings, so that the commonest comment from walkers was: We’ll have to come back here so we can see this properly! I think we’ve got ideas for a few more themed walks in the future!
The Cotswold Way is also well known and indeed Henley & Goring have done it before so this time we did it in reverse – from west to east. Despite its familiarity the Cotswold scenery never ceases to delight and the villages to charm.
Walking the Cotswold Way
People may be less familiar with the Roman Way. This trail, described in a book published in 2009 by Oxfordshire rambler, Elaine Steane, is a 174 mile triangular walk on public rights of way following Roman roads through Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Berkshire. The southern corner of the triangle is Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum), the northern corner is Bicester (Alchester) and the western corner is Cirencester (Corinium). The route passes the sites of Roman military forts, villas and bath houses, Donnington Castle, Blenheim Palace and other grand estates, ancient barns, Grims Bank, Iron Age forts, too many historic churches to count, sections of the Thames and Severn and the Kennet and Avon canals, Otmoor Nature Reserve and much more. And that is not counting the flora and fauna – birds, butterflies, ancient trees, flowers, deer - something of interest for everyone.
So, having completed these 3 routes, did we going to rest on our laurels? No:
We walked The Ridgeway in 10 stages as day walks once a month and have completed several stages of the Oxfordshire Way (67 miles from Bourton on the Water to Henley) in the autumn. For our winter weekend walks we are tackling the Wyche Way, a new long distance path that links two national trails, Offa’s Dyke Path and the Cotswold Way. The walk starts at Kington in Herefordshire and ends at the Broadway Tower in the Cotswolds. We thought we might be running out of long distance walks but Alie, our Chairman, found 11 more routes in the south ranging from 75 to 137 miles for us to choose from. We should be able to keep walking for a few years yet!
Joan Clark. 2016
Henley and Goring Ramblers beat the Big Pathwatch deadline!
Earlier this year Ramblers announced an ambitious project: the biggest campaign ever to protect and improve our glorious paths in England and Wales. The idea was to get volunteers to walk every footpath in the country and report on their state. Volunteers were asked to adopt a grid square on the Ordnance Survey map and, wherever they walked, to use a handy app or use internet to report what they found. It could be a wonky bridge, a locked gate, a flooded path or a fallen tree. Ramblers, working in conjunction with other interested parties (in our case Oxfordshire Council and the Chiltern Society Path Maintenance Volunteers), who would then try to get it fixed. They would also celebrate the wonderful things seen – like a beautiful view or amazing wildlife. The aim is to keep our paths open for everyone to enjoy. A target was set to complete the survey by the end of December.
Henley and Goring Ramblers were allocated 259 grid squares to walk and report on. The last grid square in our area was completed before Christmas!
Checking the kissing gate paid for by H&G members – no problems for Big Path watch checkers on this path!
485 features were reported in. Some were things needing improvement, such as fallen trees, poor signage and muddy paths. Many more related to beautiful views, benches, places to eat and interesting flora. Henley and Goring Ramblers found that their paths are generally well maintained. They are certainly well loved both by local walkers and by many others who come from far and wide to enjoy them. We are lucky in our area to have wonderful scenery and a rich network of paths which are generally well maintained and signposted. This is largely thanks to volunteer path wardens and the Chiltern Society path maintenance volunteers who work hard all year round to clear paths, replace wobbly stiles with kissing gates and hence enhance access to our lovely countryside.
A big thankyou to all Big Path Watch volunteers
Chantry House lecture: The Miller of Mapledurham
Our lecturer this year was the Miller of Mapledurham who gave us a fascinating insight into the history, restoration and current activities of the Mill.
The Miller of Mapledurham answers questions after the Chantry House lecture
So interesting was his talk that we arranged a follow-up visit to the Mill in our summer programme (on August 21). We’ll combined the visit with a 5 miles walk from Caversham to the Mill and a boat trip back.