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June 7, 2002

Walk to San Salvador

I've been doing quite a bit of walking in Mallorca recently, and today I
kept up this good habit by catching a bus to Felanitx and hiking up to the
mountain-top monastery of San Salvador. The walk used to be a pilgrimage up
the mountain, and as you follow the path there are stations of the cross at
intervals until you reach the church itself. It was something of a surprise,
however, on reaching the top and walking into the 13th Century monastery not
to hear hymns being sung, but to be greeted instead by 'The Bangles' being
played at full volume. Maybe the Catholic church has changed since I was
last there. The view itself was incredible though, looking out over
virtually all of the island, and onto Menorca in the distance.

My plan was to walk back to Porto Colom, and equipped with some maps I'd
picked up in Palma a couple of days ago, I confidently set off down the far
side of the mountain. Half-way down though, I was stopped by a large gate
surrounded by six no-trespassing signs, and so was forced to turn around and
climb back up to the summit then return to Felanitx. There, I waited for the
last bus in a bar and looked on in amazement as a Chinese woman cleaned the
gaming machine out of 160euros. Once she'd left with her winnings, I noticed
there was a bullfight on the essential television that every Spanish bar has
in the corner. Now, bullfights to me have always been one of those bizarre
things that Spain still has and no-one else in the world really understands
why it's allowed to survive. A bit like the USA has George Bush. Then you
tell yourself that it's part of their cultural identity, and you stop
thinking about it. So today, the same thought process went through my head,
but there was nothing else to look at in the bar so I found myself looking
back at the tv and watching the bullfight. I was really hoping that the bull
would win, but whenever it got close to the guy, a horserider would come
over and stab it with a long spear. At one point the bull turned and killed
one of the horses - live on tv as people ate dinner! Finally, the bull had
bled so much that it just fell over and was dragged off by a team of horses
with its' legs still kicking. I began to wonder where else in the world an
animal being killed could make primetime television, but couldn't come up
with anything so went off in search of my bus.

November 29, 2002

Skating Rink

The skating rink has opened once again for the winter in the centre of Copenhagen, so it's time for me to dust off my skates and go and embarrass myself there again!

December 10, 2002

Skating & Caffeine

This afternoon I went skating in Kongens Nytorv, one of Copenhagen's main squares, which they put an ice rink into every winter. Apart from the fact that you get all these five year-olds showing off and flying past you, it felt like the right thing to be doing in December, and took my mind off wondering why I'm spending it freezing in a country where the sun only seems to come up for 20 minutes a day. Video of it here (2.8Mb).

Afterwards I went to Espresso House for a coffee to warm up. The two most boring men in the world, however, were sitting in the seats next to me. Not only were they insanely boring but they were loud and American so it was impossible to ignore them. I was once proudly told that Americans are taught to project their voices; whoever is teaching them this - can you please stop? Their conversation was more like they were preaching to the room than talking to each other and went something like,
"I believe in objective reality... without governments there would be no corporations"
"blah, blah, blah...blah, blah, blah..."
I guessed that they were here to protest at the EU meeting in Copenhagen this week as all sorts of bizarre and dull people are beginning to appear in town. It's worrying that the protesters these days are even more boring than the politicians.

November 19, 2003

St Ives to Zennor Walk

St Ives is such a lovely place, with its sandy harbour, small lanes, and laid-back atmosphere that I decided to stay here today. I contacted Simon and he drove over this morning and we started the day off with a visit to the Tate Gallery Cornwall which is housed in a lovely, purpose built building on the seafront. St Ives is a big surfing destination - it's normal to pass people walking down the main street in a wetsuit with a surfboard under their arm, and the gallery overlooks one of the surf beaches and has to be one of the best locations of any gallery I've been to. It's mild enough to walk around here without a jacket on even though it's November and there were people surfing as we went into the Tate. Most of the collection is changed around a couple of times a year but still it contains a wide spectrum of modern art by lots of famous artists.

Once we'd satisfied ourselves of culture we had a coffee and some lunch by the harbour then set off hiking on the south-west coastal path. It was fairly hilly but the views were fantastic as we walked along the cliffs. At one point we sat down by the edge and spotted some seals playing in the breaking waves below us so took had a break and watched them for a while. Afterwards, we carried on walking until we reached the village of Zennor, where we stopped off in the pub then caught the bus back to St Ives.

April 12, 2004

Coastal Walking

Simon drove up to Bristol on Sunday and we've spent the last two days walking some of the south-west coastal path from it's official beginning in Minehead. I'm fairly knackered tonight after it, however, so I'm going to crash out and I'll fill in the details tomorrow.

April 13, 2004

Minehead to Porlock Walk

We left the van on Minehead's beach front, not far from the eyesore of Butlin's concentration camp, and prepared to begin the official start of the south west coastal path. Though we'd walked some sections previously we decided that it was time to take it a bit more seriously and make an official start. So Simon brought out the red ribbon, we asked some unsuspecting passers-by to hold the other end whilst someone else took a photo of us cutting it next to the monument which marks the beginning of the trail. The monument itself, an hallucinogenic large pair of hands holding an enormous map, is a fairly recent addition to the route, and we both agreed that without it we'd never have found the starting point.

Off we strode, full of vigour, determination, and with mind altering pasties in hand for sustenance, the path left the seafront with it's pissed and bored population milling around for the bank holiday, and instantly leapt up the nearest hill all the way onto Exmoor.

This part of the path appeared to be a bit of a rollercoaster as it climbed up the moorland, then suddenly plunged into a valley. The views, however, were stunning, and we sat looking out over the Bristol Channel to Wales admiringly. Surprisingly, although it was easter, hardly anyone else seemed to be walking the route, and I'd expected to be behind lines of people like it is in the Lake District.

One of the hobbies around Minehead seems to be setting fire to things, and as we walked past scorched signs and burned hillsides we expected to meet pyromaniacs at any moment and be torched alive. We eventually came to a fork in the path, and decided to choose the 'rugged path', which followed the cliff edge. Since we were out to walk the coastal path, we figured, it was time to get a bit fundamental about it, and actively follow the coast.

Soon we found ourselves on Bossington Hill, high up and looking out over Porlock Bay. It was getting late, however, so realising that it would be difficult to find a bus or taxi on Easter Sunday to take us back to Minehead, we descended the hill, found a bridleway, and followed it back to the road to Minehead.

Back at the beginning of the trail, we found 'Jaws' fish and chip shop, which, apparently unchanged since the 70's with it's sitting area in the back of the shop, was just like chip shops used to be. We had a lovely supper, and Simon and I discussed where best to spend the night.

We opted to park on a track close to Selworthy Beacon, and I was introduced to Stealth Camping in Simon's modified Mercedes Sprinter. Looking like a plain van on the outside, the interior is fully kitted out with a double bed, sink, toilet and fridge, cleverly designed to enable you to park up and sleep anywhere without arousing any of the suspicions that a campervan or hippymobile would.

April 14, 2004

Porlock to Lynmouth Walk

We awoke fully rested in the morning and set off early through the woods, past deer and rabbits, and along the shingle beach of Porlock Bay. The village of Porlock Weir was very pretty, with it's cottages by the sea and a glassblower making vases in a shed on the front whilst listening to trance music. The path returned to the wood, climbed another hill, and crossed a private toll road (one pound per car to be paid at the old gatehouse) into Yearnor Wood. A little further on we came to Culbone Church, which, nestled in the forest, is in the Domesday Book and the Guinness Book of Records as the smallest church in England.

Soon after we came to another fork in the path, and mistakenly, from what we later heard, opted for the more inland route rather than the 'permissable' path which ran closer to the coastline and is, allegedly, more pleasant. We spent some time walking along farm tracks, through farmland, and fields with newly born lambs - one of which could only have been half an hour old, as the path meandered up and down the hills.

Finally, it joined onto the main road at the international border between Somerset and Devon, and there in front of us was the Exmoor Park visitors centre selling cold drinks and ice cream. We hurried towards it, but unfortunately they saw us coming, quickly turned the sign to closed, and locked the door. Disappointed and pissed off at them keeping us away from the ice cream, we had no other choice but to return to the forest and hope that someone from Minehead would come along and exact revenge on the building.

The path, however, immediately improved, and wound it's way through lovely woods and along the edge of cliffs, high above the sea. We passed a few other people, which was a novelty, then sat down and had our sandwiches in the sun. We were beginning to feel tired and sore, but knowing it wasn't far to Lynmouth where we planned to finish for the day, we pressed on.

The path eventually re-appeared from the woods, we followed a route suitable for mountain goats around Foreland Point lighthouse, and then Lynmouth came into view. We climbed over one more hilltop then descended into its river valley and entered the town from there. Lynmouth became famous after 90 million tons of water cascaded down it's valley in 1952, killing 35 people. Only a few years ago it came out that the British government had secretly been carrying out rain-making experiments (BBC news) in the area days before.

Nevertheless, it was good to be there, and we passed a sign extoling that the cliffs we had just walked over were the highest in Britain. We bought ourselves an ice cream, which, at 4.20 for two cones, obviously had to be the most expensive ice cream in Britain as well. I did my best to extract that full value of pleasure from mine and then the bus appeared and we stumbled on board, tired and sore.

April 27, 2004

More South West Coastal Path

Last week in Cornwall, Simon and I continued our crusade to knock off more miles on the coastal path, walking the sections from Coverack to Falmouth, and from Padstow to the aptly named Booby's Bay.

Both days began dry but then the drizzle started, getting gradually heavier until, by the afternoon, we were soaked through. The walk from Coverack on the Lizard Peninsula in the south of Cornwall was through lush, rolling countryside and past sleepy village cottages with Range Rovers and Ferraris on their drives. We caught the ferry across the Helford river, which seems like a lovely place to moor a boat, and after eight hours of walking, finally got to the outskirts of Falmouth.

The section on the north coast was very different as we walked along the wide, sandy shores outside Padstow then followed a high, rocky coastline with big Atlantic breakers rolling in from the sea. We stood watching surfers sitting on their boards in one of the bays, then Simon, who's just bought himself a board (sorry, I mean stick) quizzed a couple of them on surf vocab and the best place to buy a Custard Point.

Back in the hills we passed within ten metres of a hawk eating it's newly caught prey on a rock, unconcerned by our presence as we continued along the path. The wind was picking up by this time and walking into it became punishing, like constantly walking uphill, rain stinging our faces. By mid-afternoon we crossed a long sandy beach, found a Booby's Bay, and decided that it was probably a good place to stop and get to know.

By the time we reached the shelter of the van our feet were sore and we were looking for something to perk us up so we decided to try Rick Stein's fish and chip shop. We drove around the centre of the town, past his expensive restaurants with their six month waiting lists for a table, his patisserie, the Rick Stein shop, his cooking school, and all the other businesses he owns in the town. No surprise really that the locals now call it Padstein. Finally, we found his fish and chip shop down by the fishing boats on the edge of town and we waited for it to open.

Minutes after the doors were unlocked the place was queued out. Somewhat shocked by it's popularity, we joined everyone else and waited to place our order. Simon had the gurney and I opted for a straightforward haddock with chips. We weren't disappointed, the fish was lovely and the portions were big - a far cry from your usual corner fish and chip shop, and certainly one of the nicest fish suppers I've ever had.

Suitably fulfilled, we drove to Newquay and went for a pint. The town was deserted, however, in the way that only a holiday destination can feel out of season so we didn't hang around for long. I had to get up for my early morning flight to London the next day so we parked the stealth camper by the lovely Porth Reservoir and enjoyed a peaceful night's rest.

July 26, 2005

Back on the Path

I was dazed from a lack of sleep as I wandered out of Newquay Airport to be met by Simon, on his knees, bearing a Cornish pastie, the traditional welcome. We'd planned to continue walking more of the South West Coast Footpath, and so, after a day or two of rest, we set off in the van for Par. It was a hot, sunny day as we parked at Par Sands and set off determinedly across the beach, which was busy with people sunbathing, towards Polkerris. The path then climbed up into the hills until we reached Gribbin Head, and decided that we deserved a lunch break next the massive daymark tower. The view was beautiful, and just downhill from us was where Daphne Du Marier once lived, and the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock's film, The Birds when one day she watched a flock of seagulls swooping around a tractor.

The path hugged the grass-topped cliffs until it brought us into the pretty town of Fowey. Here, we had to catch a passenger ferry across the estuary, which, needless to say, we'd just missed, so, with time to spare, we wandered through the town, which, as it was summer, was busy with tourists sitting around eating ice cream. Eventually, the ferry came and, although we were getting low on food and drinking water, we walked past the shop on the other side of the river where we were dropped off. This would turn out to be the last shop we would pass that day.

After Fowey River we climbed almost vertically up the steep hill of Polruan, the houses sitting almost on top of each other on the slope. This turned out to be the beginning of the toughest part of the day's walk; from here the path climbed up cliffs then dropped down to sea level over and over again. The scenery was stunning, with rugged cliffs, and isolated sandy coves, but it was tough going in the heat, especially with our water running low.

Simon and I were both very glad when, as day turned to evening, we rounded the final point and saw Polperro ahead of us. We went straight into a pub which bore the wonderful signs; Dog Friendly, and, No Prams or Pushchairs, on the door, and relaxed our aching limbs over a nice, cold pint.

of Fowey section
Map of Polkerris to Fowey section
Photo guide to this section

July 29, 2005

Torcross to Dartmouth

We made an early start and drove out to the village of Torcross for the next section of our walk. After paying a ridiculous £5.50 to park at the beach and getting some worried looks from passers-by as I was wearing my shemagh to keep the sun off my neck, we set off across the terrifically named Slapton Sands. 3500 civilians were moved out of their homes and farms during the Second World War so the area could be used to practice the D-Day landings. Unfortunately, the training went very wrong, hundreds died, and it was all covered up by the US military.

It was already quite hot, and fishing boats were motoring close to the shore, checking out the talent on the nudist part of the beach. The path climbed up the cliffs, and soon we found ourselves on the newest section of the footpath; rather than follow the main road, it takes a long, new, wooden footbridge across a stream then continues through fields, with a fantastic view along the coast. The association seems very proud of this new stretch they've managed to acquire, and impressive as it is, it was a bit overdeveloped for me, looking more like a disabled-friendly forest walk than a rural footpath - but then I think trekking should be about wading through shoulder deep water with your pack above your head!

This was one of the few sections where we passed other people walking - even though it was a weekend in July, it seemed as though hardly anyone was using the longest footpath in Britain. We continued on past Blackpool Beach - not the famous Blackpool, but still as busy, then we were back on our own, walking through the fields. As we began to approach Dartmouth, the waters were getting busier and busier with sailing boats, but most of the lovely anchorages we were passing were empty as most people were so busy sailing. We rounded Blackstone Point, passing some overprotective parents who were forcing their children to wear lifejackets for playing on the rocks, and Dartmouth Castle came into view.

From there the scenery became more built up, and we passed stunning homes with private jetties and boathouses next to the River Dart. Everything about Dartmouth screams of yachties, and the town is dominated by Dartmouth Naval College, overlooking the estuary. It's a pretty town, but smaller than I'd expected it to be, and soon we'd walked around the centre and decided to head back to the van at our starting point.

Our plan was to spend the night stealth camping in the van (which is fully fitted out for living in, but appears to be a normal Mercedes van to the untrained eye), then continue walking the next day. We drove down some lanes that were more hedge than road and, eventually, found the lovely village of Beesands, where we parked at the beach, had a pint in the pub, and spent a lovely night right next to the sea.

Satellite view of walk (nearly)

August 2, 2005

Salcombe to Torcross

Our next section of walk began in Salcombe, the most southerly town in Devon, and a favourite sailing destination on the south coast. We grabbed an overpriced fried breakfast in a harbourside cafe which appeared from the prices to cater almost exclusively to the yachtie crowd then set off to buy some sandwiches to take with us for lunch. After a bit of hunting around we were told that, bizarelly, the town doesn't have a supermarket, and as there was only one convenience store far away, we just decided to set off.

We caught the ferry, which is really little more than a small wooden boat, across the river, walked around Mill Bay, and climbed up into the woods, wondering where we'd next manage to eat. We passed one sole couple walking their dog, then the landscape became more rugged, the trees stopped, and we were alone. As the weather had been so good recently, we were wearing t-shirts and weren't carrying jackets so naturally the wind picked up and it soon began to piss down. We stumbled on past Prawle Point, where some art has been cut into the vegetation on the hillside - but we couldn't figure out what it was - then past a lovely, secluded beach at Sharpers Head. A very fit couple sped past running at this point as we sat eating chocolate, having a break, making us feel very out of shape.

The wind and rain continued until we were totally drenched, pushing through the wet undergrowth until finally the lighthouse on Start Point came into view. Trinity House, which oversees lighthouses and marine navigation in Britain describes it as, "one of the most exposed peninsulas on the English Coast", and it certainly felt like it as we walked through the rain along the barren cliffs. As soon as we passed Start Point, however, the wind dropped, the rain stopped, and the sun came out. In the distance we could see the village of Beesands, where we'd spent the previous night, and we began to dream of sitting down to a lovely fish lunch in the Cricket Inn pub there.

We marched into the pub, however, and were destroyed when the girl behind the bar took great joy in telling us that they'd stopped serving food ten minutes earlier. We tried to plead with her by telling stories of our great hardship, but she didn't care, and suggested we eat some peanuts. We sat starving, drinking our pints, as our opinions of the pub being a lovely, happy place quickly vanished, then we set off in a daze on the last section of the walk.

After one more monumentous hill we descended into Tolcross and desperately hunted down some sausage sandwiches to keep us conscious. It was hot and sunny by now but we were wet and tired. I took my permanently wet socks off to reveal swollen, pink feet that looked like they were suffering from some tropical disease. Such is the pleasure of long distance walking.

November 27, 2005

Goatfell, Arran

Goatfell, ArranOn Saturday, Colin and I caught the train out of Glasgow and headed to Ardrossan for the ferry across to the peacefulness of the Isle of Arran. The forecast had been pretty bad for the weekend but, apart from it being windy, the sun was shining and it was turning out to be a lovely day. The ferry crossing was only an hour, and disembarking at the town of Brodick, we rented a couple of bikes and cycled southwards down the coast with the wind behind us. It felt good to be out of Glasgow and in the fresh air, but Arran isn't the flattest place in the world and some of the hills were fairly tough going.

At the south of the island we left the bikes and walked through the woods to 'Giants Grave', an ancient site that looks like large, stone-lined burial places, in a clearing surrounded by a dark, eerie forest. The sun was going down by now, and after a few Blair Witch jokes we realised we didn't have enough time to make it to the nearby waterfalls, so returned to the bikes and cycled to the town of Lamlash. There, we grabbed a pub meal that was so bad that my stomach ignored me for the rest of the weekend and we ended up back at the hostel for an early night.

This morning we were out cycling at 09:00, stopping on the way for a sausage sandwich before heading on towards the island's highest mountain, Goatfell, which we intended to climb. Leaving the bikes at the beginning of the path, we climbed higher and higher through the forest until the route opened out into a wide expanse of heather and a beautiful view out across Brodick and the Firth of Clyde. We pushed on as the path became steeper and ascended onto a high ridge running up towards the summit. It was getting colder and as we climbed higher the path was becoming frozen and snow-covered as we crossed over to the north face of the mountain and icy wind howled in from the sea.

It was a tough climb, but finally we reached the summit at 874m and stepped into Arctic conditions. The peak was covered in ice, shaped by the bitterly cold wind that was strong enough to blow you off. We pulled our hoods up, put on gloves, and after a brief look around, ducked down behind some rocks for shelter to eat lunch. The view, however, was absolutely stunning. The air was clear, and apart from clouds that would occasionally blow through, shrouding the peak and us completely, we had an incredible panoramic view of the west coast of Scotland. To the south-west we looked across the Mull of Kintyre to the Irish coastline fifty miles away, to the north, the snow-covered mountains of the Highlands, whilst in east we could see Glasgow and the hills of Fife in the distance.

In the end, the cold drove us back down. We climbed a short way below the summit, and sat in shelter from the wind, enjoying the view for a while longer before slowly making our way back down to sea level and returning to Brodick. The evening ferry was just docking as we arrived and by this time we were both quite exhausted. Standing on deck we watched as Arran slipped away in the evening twilight, and we returned, once again, to the mainland and city life.

December 8, 2005

Ilfracombe to Woolacombe

After Scotland I flew down to Bristol, spent an evening with Chris and Berit, then Simon appeared in the morning and we headed off to continue walking some more of the South West Coast Path.

We parked in Ilfracombe and, after a visit to the overstaffed but deserted tourist office housed in an odd building known as Madonna's Tits (due to it's twin pointed roofs), we headed off into the unknown. Simon had provisioned well for the walk by packing some 8.6% lager, which we opened half-way up the first hill, helping to bring a jovial mood to the hike but possibly not helping us walk any faster.

Shortly afterwards, walking through a field, Simon shouted, "Mine! Mine!" and sprinted ahead. Surprised to discover that landowners had begun mining their fields to deter walkers, all was made clear when Simon brandished a new Tilly hat (value £47) which had just been lying in the field waiting for him. It was even a perfect fit and he was so overjoyed by his find that he was smiling for the rest of the week thinking of his terrific luck.

We walked on through the village of Lee, which we had considered calling our destination, but fuelled on by the Special Brew we chose to head on up the steep cliffs and on towards Woolacombe. Partly because we'd made a late start in the day, and possibly due to the beer drinking, dusk was quickly moving in but all we had to do, we reasoned, was follow the path along the cliff edge avoiding the sheer drop into the Atlantic until it took us right into the town of Woolacombe. This soon proved to be more difficult than we had imagined, and we spent the last hour of the walk stumbling blindly around through undergrowth and into the town dump, looking for the long lost Coastal Path.

Finally, we made it into the glaring streetlights of Woolacombe with even enough time to rest our weary legs in the pub and have a pint before catching the last bus back to where the van was parked.

December 11, 2005

Croyde to Barnstable

We spent the night overlooking Woolacombe Sands, risking a £50 parking fine if we were caught, and with torrential rain hammering down on the van roof. It looked as if the next day was going to be wet as well, but undeterred, we drove into Barnstable and hunted down a cafe where we had a lovely fried breakfast before heading off by bus to our starting point for the day in Croyde (leaving the Woolacombe Sands section for a summer's day).

It was pissing down as we sat on the bus, making the scenery look miserable, but as we stepped off in Croyde, the rain went off and we began walking. As usual, we hardly passed anyone at all on the path - especially now that it was winter, and soon we arrived on the huge beach of Saunton Sands. Here, we chose to walk the fundamentalist route down the beach, rather than the shorter 'official' route somewhat inland, though we would later regret this decision somewhat. Saunton Sands really is a beautiful area, though it's privately owned and covered in signs warning and informing you not to attempt to do anything even mildly interesting or you'll be fined. Riding a kite buggy warrants a £2000 fine, and even partial nudity seems equally frowned upon. Simon and I, therefore, kept all of our clothes on.

Lovely as it seems, there comes a time, however, when walking down an empty sand beach, with an unchanging perspective, your feet sinking in with every step, finally becomes boring. Saunton Sands seemed to go on forever. When finally we rounded the point, Barnstaple, our target for the day, was still far out of sight.

The path now embarked on a huge detour all the way around the inlet to Velator, which seemed to have a thriving liveaboard community, and even a few people living in old buses by the road. By this time, however, it was beginning to get dark, and it felt as if we'd spent hours following the coast, making hardly any headway at all to Barnstaple. The route was tarmac all the way from now on, making our last hours of walking incredible dull and uninteresting. The day's walk was described in the guidebook as easy, but the slow lack of progress and flat landscape made it seem much harder than the cliff route we'd done the day before. By the time we got into Barnstable it was dark and it felt like it had been a tough slog of a day, though incredibly the rain had stayed off.

March 25, 2006

Constantine Bay to Newquay

Simon and I set off from the wonderfully named Booby's Bay (or Constantine Bay) late on a Saturday afternoon, and after walking next to the sandy shore for a while, climbed high up onto the cliffs. As it was the weekend and we'd been walking for over twenty minutes, we felt we deserved a beer break, and sat on a bench, drinking and looking down the stunning, rugged coastline. It was an easy walk to Portcothan Bay, where we'd left the other car, and, as we were both starving by this time, decided that a visit to Rick Stein's fish and chip shop in Padstow was required.

As usual, the fish and chips were amazing - really the best fish and chips I've had anywhere. With a wide selection of different fish, it's somewhere between a regular fish and chip shop and a fish restaurant - you can either get a takeaway from the counter, or pay a couple of pounds more and have table service. We decided to splash out, and sat down to a lovely meal and a couple of pints.

After a night of stealth camping in the van right down by the beach at Constantine Bay, we woke to a wonderful view across the sands before driving back to Porthcothan to continue the walk. It was still early when we began walking, with a cold wind blowing behind us as we made our way around the cove and up the cliffs. Again, the views were stunning as we were high up, looking out across the sea.

Stumbling up the steep hill to the National Trust land of Carnewas, we found a gem of a tearoom there inside an old cottage. After waiting in the cold for a while, they opened up early to let us in, serving fantastic bacon sandwiches, and lovely home-made cake that was the highlight of my day.

We continued along the cliff-top path with full stomachs, passing people kite-surfing below is in Watergate Bay, and I felt it was one of the most enjoyable parts of the path we'd walked so far. Finally, we reached the run-down suburbs of Newquay, but thanks to Simon following the guidebook, we realised that as it was low tide, we could go down to the beach at Lusty Glaze, and follow it around the cliff bottom, avoiding going through Newquay itself.

After so much lovely walking in the countryside, we realised just how much we dislike Newquay, and this was compounded when we returned to the car we'd parked there to find that someone had attacked both of it's wing mirrors.

Ice Camping

Now that I've been back in Finland for a couple of weeks I thought I'd liven up my weekend by going camping on one of the islands out in the frozen Baltic. It was only about -7c when I left the flat and I reckoned it wouldn't be much colder than winter camping in Scotland so I packed my gear and walked down to the beach.

The sky was clear and the moon was just rising above the horizon, shining bright red over the ice as I made it down to the frozen sea and began walking out to the islands. It's quite normal to go walking on the ice during the Finnish winter - the Finns even drive their cars out there when the ice is very thick. As it was quite dark, however, I couldn't see any thin patches until I was right on top of them. There was nobody around for miles and I listened to the creaking and groaning of the ice beneath my footsteps as I made my way further and further from land.

I began to have thoughts of falling through the ice with my backpack dragging me down to the bottom, freezing to death before I could have time to drown. Although, according to the Finns, it's allegedly not a bad way to go, I decided to unfasten my backpack and carry it over one shoulder just in case I took a dip.

Soon, however, I reached the island, which strangely in a country where you're normally allowed to camp anywhere, had 'no camping' signs on it. Obviously, I was going to ignore these. Trying to follow a path through the woods, I kept losing it and straying off into knee-deep snow in the darkness of the forest. The best place to camp seemed to be on the south side of the island, with a view across the ice, and I began putting up the tent. Illogically, I'd left my snow stakes on the boat in Spain, and it took some practice to get the pegs to stay in the solid ice, but soon enough I had the tent up and I jumped inside.

Needless to say I slept with all my clothes on and hoped that the tent would warm up like a snow-hole. Instead, I woke in the middle of the night to find that the temperature inside and outside had plummeted by another five or ten degrees. It was very cold. I reached for a drink of water but my water bottle had turned to solid ice. Maybe a 3-season sleeping bag wasn't quite enough for these conditions so I put on my down jacket and slept inside that in the sleeping bag.

I woke in the morning, which in itself was a pleasant surprise, to find people passing right by the tent on skis, and snowmobiles shattering the peacefulness. I had breakfast inside the tent, and apart from the end of my thumb turning black, I was happy to have survived the bitterly cold night without any injuries.

February 27, 2008

Adam's Peak

Mick and I decided to trek up Adams Peak the other day to photograph the pilgrims watching sunrise, a tradition which has gone on for a thousand years. Unfortunately, this meant having to get up at 2am and spend three or four hours hauling ourselves and camera gear up thousands of steps to the summit. Stranger still, we thought it would be easy.

It felt rather odd to be heading out for a walk in the middle of the night as we left the hotel under a full moon. Poya Day, the traditional time for pilgrims to make the journey had been the day before so at least we wouldn't have to endure the long queues behind thousands of people staggering up the steps. We walked through the town of Dalhousie which lies at the beginning of the climb - a strange place that seems to exist solely of shops selling tat. Plastic Buddhas sat next to Bob Marley posters, knock-off Reebok sweaters and plastic dog ornaments on either side of the town's only road - not exactly what you'd expect to see on a pilgrimage route.

Gradually the tourist shops thinned out and the path began to climb - 'path' not really being an accurate term for the six foot wide concrete track with streetlights that winds it's way up the mountain. As the irregular, concrete steps became steeper we rounded a bend to see a wall of stairs in front of us and the realisation of what we'd let ourselves in for hit home. The peak loomed eerily above our heads, it's lights surrounded by stars and looking very distant from where we stood. It was going to be a hard night.

As we climbed ever higher, our early enthusiasm waned as the endless steps became harder to tackle in the thin air. We slowed to a crawl as we took each step slower and slower, trying to keep plodding on in the still night. Frogs sang from close to the path and somewhere in the dark a stream rushed down the hill. Every so often we'd come to a tea room made from scraps of wood and blue plastic sheets where a huge teapot would sit on a gas ring steaming away and chickpeas boiled in a pot. We knew that if we stopped to eat we'd never make it to the top so we sat on a bench looking wistfully at the food, wondering why we'd let ourselves in for this torture.

We began to pass other people, which was reassuring as it meant we weren't the slowest climbers on the path. Everyone seemed to be surprised by how tough it was. The view by now was quite stunning as the moon lit the landscape below us and clouds lay in pockets between the hills. Somehow the view from that height was inspiring, making us feel as if we were getting somewhere, and we began to get a bit more into the climb.

Finally, after three hours of climbing step after step, we looked up to see the temple above us. We'd expected a stunning, golden palace but it was just a concrete box. We covered those last steps in a daze and found ourselves in the lower part of the temple with pilgrims sleeping around us. We were just about to congratulate ourselves on making it to the summit when we looked up and read the sign.

'No Photography'