Sunday, 29 May 2011

A change of pace...

No long walk for me this weekend, instead tomorrow morning I will be running the Bupa 10k in London. Before a became a hill/mountain walker (am I allowed to call myself that yet?) running was my thing. I'm not claiming that I was ever that great/fast at it but it was certainly where my efforts were focussed. Sadly, as I'm now focussed on alternative training it has been some time since I've done any serious running so I'm definately not expecting a personal best tomorrow.

I've been taking the chance over the last few days to review my kit list. When I first signed up to the challenge I embarked on a bit of a 'kit buying frenzy' but in recent months my enthusiasm for mountain related shopping has waned so it's probably about time to look at it again, so I don't have a mad rush in September. A typical kit list seems to consist of:

Walking boots - done
At least 3 pairs walking socks - I have 2
Back pack - done
Walking poles -
Base layer - done, but not specifically bought for this
Mid layer - done
Waterproof coat - done
Waterproofs (legs) -
Compass - done
Small fist aid kit - done
Hydration pack - done
Hat & gloves -
Survival bag -
Head torch and batteries/spare bulb -
Sunglasses, suncream, insect repellant, food etc - buy nearer the time

Actually, looking at that I have to say I'm not nearly as concerned as I thought I'd be, not a huge amount left to do. I guess that means training needs to remain my main focus!

Speaking of training, I have come to the conclusion that I would like the opportunity to do a bit more 'real' hill/mountain walking so I think I'm going to look into options for going away somewhere hilly for a weekend soon. Not confident I'm going to be able to persuade friends to come along with me so I think I'll be looking at organised coach trips etc....

For now though I'm going to settle down to read the copy of 'Trail' magazine (think I'm becoming a geek) which I found in the supermarket today blazened with the headline 'Get fit for the 3 peaks - the one month plan that works wherever you walk', here's hoping.......

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Portugal walk 3 - Foia

The third, and final, walk during my stay in Portugal was a walk up, and of course back down, the Algarve's highest mountain Foia. Foia is part of the Monchique mountains and stands at just under 3000ft, so slightly smaller than Scafell, the shortest of the mountains I will encounter during my challenge. This was the first opportunity I have had to tackle a 'real' mountain so I was really looking forward to seeing how I fared.

We started the walk in the small town of Monchique and followed our guidebook directions which led us onto a number of mountain paths right up to the summit. The route, and its scenery, were lovely, the path out of Monchique was particularly steep meaning that wonderful views of the town soon opened up. Much of the route was accompianied by lovely forest smells, in particular eucalyptus, which added a great dimension to the journey. Small portions of the route led us through forest but the majority of the landscape was open and unshaded, giving us little respite from the 28 degree heat.


There is no denying it, the walk was tough. The combination of steeper than expected paths and the heat was a real challenge and there were definate parts on the way up that I really struggled. Despite this however, I do feel more optimistic about the real challenge. The point is I managed it, in conditions far warmer than I'm ever likely to expect on the real route so I do feel confident that, with continued training, I should get there.

Reaching the top of Foia was a great feeling, and even better was finding the cafe and gift shop! Unfortunately the gift shop did not offer the 'I climbed Foia' t-shirt that I was so hoping for but nonetheless I did purchase a small momento. There is a road that leads all the way up to the top of Foia and the summit was reasonably busy with others enjoying views of the Algarve. It did appear however that we were the only ones who had tackled the whole walk up so we did enjoy a brief moment of smugness at that point!

slightly hazy view from the summit

The walk back down Foia seemed significantly easier than the route up and we completed it in a much quicker time. There was a slightly hairy moment when we heard several claps of thunder echoing through the hills, followed by particularly heavy rain. I quite enjoyed the opportunity to try out my new rain coat and the rain cover for my backpack. I was however the only one in our group of 4 who had brought waterproofs and the fact that even my bag had a coat didn't make me the most popular member of the group for those ten minutes!

I had hoped to take some walking poles with me on my trip to Portugal. You may have seen in an earlier blog post that my previous attempts at using walking poles left me feeling somewhat uncoordinated. The plan had been that I would test whether I found them more useful when it came to hills, unfortunately the prohibitive cost of taking poles on my flight meant that I wasn't able to test this theory. I did however find myself a rather spectacular stick (I was disappointed to leave it behind!) to use as an alternative. I have to say I did find it useful, particularly to help with balance on the descent so my current feeling is that maybe I'm just too uncoordinated for two poles, but maybe just the one would be a useful addition to my walking kit, something I need to investigate further I feel....

All in all, despite the difficulties, this was a great walk and I think it will turn out to be one of the most influential walks of my training, a chance to really push myself and get and idea of what training I need to do. It was also a great achievement to reach the top of a 'proper' mountain and I'm looking forward to doing that a lot more times over the next few months!

the top of the mountain!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Portugal walk 2 - Praia da Luz to Lagos

This walk followed the cliff top path between Praia da Luz and Lagos. The total distance for this walk was 6.17 miles, although I should confess early on that this was done at a somewhat leisurely pace with a number of stops at cafes, and at one point the beach, along the way.

As we drove towards the start point of Praia da Luz we found we were being followed by some rather ominous looking rain clouds, perhaps suggesting that it wasn't the best day for a coastal walk. The rain cloud certainly seemed to follow us for most of the day, although the most rain we saw were a few light drops occasionally, and in fact we got some good periods of sunshine for much of the walk.

We started off with and drink on the seafront at Praia da Luz before tacking the walk to the concrete obelisk at top of the cliffs which begins the walk out of Luz. The 'slope' to the obelisk is particularly steep and much of it involves scrambling rather than walking. At the time this was exhausting but made it worth it for the spectacular views, and cakes, when we reached the top!

even steeper than it looks

The route then continued more or less tracing the Algarve coastline through to our end point of Lagos. Along the way we stopped at a couple of cafes for refreshments, for a walk down to look at a grotto at
Ponta de Piedade and for an extended beach stop at  Praia de Dona Ana.
From here it was only a short walk into our end point in Lagos so it was a relief to replace the walking boots at this point with more beach friendly flip flops. Incidentially, while speaking of my walking boots, I did find that my boots got a lot muddier than anyone elses. The only reason I can think of for this must be that they give me a greater sense of security, so I'm happy to take the more direct, muddy routes. I am rather pleased though to now have muddy boots, I suddenly feel like a 'proper' walker rather than the rookie with the shiney new kit!
The guidebook for this walk did warn to be cautious of aggressive dogs (we didn't encounter any) and bulldozers which, prior to the walk, I thought was an odd thing to warn of. However, the curse of the vague instructions (see last walk) in the guidebook did mean that we found ourselves taking a wrong turn and walking straight across a building site, which indeed was populated with many bulldozers....
beware bulldozers....

Although the relaxed pace probably didn't make this the most effective training walk I've ever done it was nonetheless a lovely route and seeing the GPS route map afterwards, and being able to see the clear, albeit small, line of coast we covered gave a real sense of achievement.

Portugal walk 1 - Mata de Conceicao

I've spent the last week in Portugal - a holiday certainly but a holiday themed around getting some 3 Peaks training in, particularly on hills, something, as I've mentioned before, that is difficult to find locally.

different scenery than usual

The first walk, on my first full day there, should have been somewhere between 4-5miles but ended up as a 3.75 miler in Tavira National Forest (or Mata de Conceicao). The reason for the disparity in distance was a combination between the slightly vague guidebook walking directions, and our inability to follow them correctly. The walk should have taken us through a forest, alongside a river, and uphill to a 'trig point' before bringing us back to the start point. Our mistake came when we picked the incorrect one of two paths we could have taken - the book instructed us that the trig point should be on our right, which it was. It only dawned on us some time later that it would also have been on the right had we taken the other path..... We were however very proud of ourselves for finding our way back safely and withough incident. (well, other than a slightly hairy moment when we had to pass what at first appeared to be abandoned chests of drawers. Sadly the increasingly ominious hum as we got closer told us that it was in fact a large collection of bee hives - looking back on my GPS device this was unsurprisingly the part of the walk which saw the fastest pace.)

scary bee hives

Nonetheless this was a lovely walk which some great scenery. When I arrived in Portugal the weather was somewhat dubious, I flew in after what had been described to me as an 'apocalyptic' storm. The weather had warmed up significantly in time for the walk which was a welcome development. Slightly disappointingly however the heavy rain had turned what I suspect are usually glistening rivers to a brown, muddy colour. An early part of the walk involved crossing a ford. It appears that usually there are stepping stones to use. However, the rains had swollen the river to such an extent that these stones were now covered with water. Excited about the opportunity to finally test out the waterproofness of my walking boots I waded through first. Unfortunately the water was so deep that it came over the top of my boots, leaving me with wet, muddy feet, boots and socks for the remainder of the walk.

crossing the (deeper than it should be ) ford....

Tuesday, 17 May 2011


Last weekend's walk (Sunday) was a little bit shorter than most, total of 7.35miles. It should have been 4 miles out then 4 miles back, however when turning round we failed to take into account our moment of etting lost in an electric fence surrounded field, meaning our return journey was shorter than the outward leg.

We chose to explore the first part of the Tas Valley Walk, a footpath which goes from Eaton in Norwich to Attleborough. It was a nice walk, but it's fair to say it isn't one of my favourites. Much of the route is on road and there are certain parts which feel decidedly non-countryside.....

oh I do like to be in the countryside.....

The big issue for me however was that when we had sections of  'real' countryside there was a significant prevalance of cows along the route. Usually when looking for potential routes I tend to try to avoid the ones that tell you that the walk takes you through fields of grazing cattle, sadly this one didn't warn me of this feature. I just find it rather disconcerting to be wandering through a field to suddenly be confronted with a herd of cows, an irrational fear maybe but I'm just not a fan. The first cow field we went through contained a lot of staring cows with their calves, but they didn't seem particularly interested in coming near us. The second field however had particulaly large, angry looking cows in it so I was quite pleased that we reached the 4 mile turning round mark before we had to turn back. Quite a shock then around 2 miles back when a previously cowless field had inherited some cows in our absence. At first we felt quite nervous as a few started to come towards us so was quite pleased when, seemingly more scared of us than me of them, they all turned and ran as far away from us as they could.

scary cows???

I managed to get three other people to join me on this walk, no mean feat given that we'd all had a late night following parties/going out. So thank you to Hetal, Tony and Tom for joining me, particularly Hetal for getting stuck in a spring-loaded kissing-gate!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Hello, is it me you're looking for....?

The song lyric doesn't really have a lot to do with this weekend's walk, except to say that I love how everyone I pass on my coutryside walks seems to want to say hello. Today my walk started with a friendly greeting from a topless Worzel Gummige look-a-like, what more could a person want?!

Today's walk was from Cantley to Brundall, via Buckenham and Strumpshaw. I got the train from Norwich to Cantley and headed down to the river, from here there is an elevated footpath which follows the river to the left, and the grazing marshes of Cantley and Buckenham Marshes to the right. The marshes are full of cows and swans, an odd combination I must say. There were some amazing views of the Norfolk countryside along the way, although it did remind me just how flat Norfolk is, maybe not the best training ground for a hillwalking challenge.

and they say Norfolk's flat....

The walk itself must be a bird watchers paradise. Sadly I'm no bird watcher so struggled to identify anything other than swans, geese and heron, but there were definately lots of other interesting species for the more bird-educated eye to spot. Saw several swans with their nests and was careful to steer clear, wondering if it's an urban legend of not that swans can break your arm. Also saw a few hare (or is it hares?) running across the path in front of me and also nearly got mown down by a pheasant!

Throughout the guide books that suggested this route you are warned to watch out for flooded paths, given the recent hot dry spell this wasn't an issue for me, rather the opposite in fact. The dry weather had left the path extremely dry, so much so it was cracking all over the place, opening up large holes into which my foot slipped on more than one occasion. Visions of a Norfolk broads version of 127 hours washing over me I made sure I walked very cautiously....
taking care to avoid falling down a hole....

Just after Buckenham Drainage Mill the path took me towards Buckenham train station, via a small bird hide. From there it was a mile or so further on to Strumpshaw Fen (over the train line) then through Strumpshaw village to Brundall. All in all a 7 mile walk, shorter than I have been doing but still very enjoyable. The weather wasn't as consistently sunny as it has been for the last few weeks but still very warm, the breeze making a welcome appearance from time to time. So the weekly walks part of my training seems to be going ok, just need to try and up the gym visits, seem to be averaging 2 visits a week, rather than the 3 or 4 I'm aiming for. Did notice through today's walk though that my pace is steadily increasing without any real effort on my part so the training is starting to have an impact on my fitness.

Monday, 2 May 2011

A walk of two halves.....

I took advantage of the glorious sunny weather yesterday to fit in a 10.4 mile walk, amazing weather for the time of year, check out the sky.....

The walk took us (me and two housemates) along Wherrymans Way, the long distance footpath that runs from Norwich to Great Yarmouth, and I have to say what a lovely route it is. We started in Norwich at Whittlingham Country Park and walked, in the most part along the river, through to Brammerton (past a lovely looking pub that I would love to visit on a future walk) and ultimately through to Surlingham. Here we stopped and walked back the way we came - not wanting to contend with Sunday train services we decided the 'there and back' approach was best. I would love to explore Wherrymans Way further though as the views and surrounding were fantastic (except for the clay pigeon shoot we passed - the noises from this did make us a little nervous). I'm trying to find someone who might like to tackle the full 30 miles of this route with me - so far no takers.....
Sadly one element of the walk is something I would not like to repeat, that would be the couple of minutes, just out of Norwich, it takes to walk past a sewage treatment plant. A few posts previosuly I wrote of one walk where we took the wrong route and found our path bloacked by a sewage outlet pipe, I think I've found its source. I really don't think I could put into words just how bad the smell was, I'm just grateful I didn't do this walk the weekend before when it was a lot warmer.....still, an adventure I suppose.