Norway Part II: Scenic Swimming (and other adventures)

On to our second week, where we headed a little further south towards the Lofoten islands. The archipelago is hugely popular with tourists, even more so since being used as the inspiration for Disney’s Frozen, and it truly is a stunning destination.

We chose not to stay on the islands for a few reasons, mainly because it would have taken us such a long time to drive down to the ‘best’ parts (and then back to the airport in Tromsø); they are disproportionately expensive – even for Norway; and they are packed with other tourists. Instead we stayed near Tjeldsundbrua and just took a day trip down to the first island, Austvågøya.

I had thought that we might regret not staying on the Lofoton islands themselves as they are widely regarded as being well worth seeing, but in reality there was so much to do and see close by that we didn’t regret our decision at all.

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The view above the Tjeldsund Bridge, a good evening stroll from our accommodation

The weather was both better and worse than our first week – we had a couple of beautiful, clear days where the temperature rose to a tropical 17-18 ºC, but we also had several days of non-stop rain and low cloud cover which totally obscured the mountains.

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A ‘ good day’ view

 

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It was even warm enough for a snooze in the sun!

The rain did stop us doing some of the longer walks that we had planned, but we still managed to get out and about.

 

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Walls of cloud were unfortunately all too common a sight in week two

 

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When you’re already soaked through, you can stand as close to waterfalls as you like!

Thankfully, the good days really were good, and we made the most of them. I’m a huge fan of wild swimming and I was determined to take a dip in the Arctic Ocean. When we came across this beach, I couldn’t resist…100_1752.JPGOkay, so I won’t pretend the water was in any way warm (‘refreshing’ would be putting it mildly), but I think this wins the award for my most scenic swim so far, hands down.100_1766.JPG100_1779.JPGWhile I was off splashing around, Sam got a good look at some of the native plants growing along the coast.

 

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A cloudberry – a Norwegian delicacy. Sadly, nowhere near ripe, so we made do with a tasty jar of jam from last year’s crop

Something that I wasn’t expecting to be particularly impressed by was the Norwegian flora, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! The more eagle-eyed observers of Part I might have noticed the abundance of cow parsley in my photos, but anybody visiting this part of the world couldn’t help but to spot flowers in every direction – at road verges, by the coast, on the mountains, and in the marshes. They were wonderful.100_1486.JPG100_1455.JPG100_1466.JPG100_1450.JPG100_1463.JPGSadly, the fauna wasn’t quite so impressive – after watching porpoises in the fjord on our very first night in Norway we had high hopes, but we peaked a bit too soon and saw practically no other wildlife (mammals at least) for the next two weeks. The bird-life put on a slightly better show, and we were treated to an eagle gliding above us for quite a while, as well as many, many songbirds.

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Sadly, the only bird we managed to get a picture of was the not-all-that-exciting northern wheatear

Some of the wildlife wasn’t quite so welcome, and although we’d been warned about mosquitoes and midges, we were mostly bothered by larger housefly-type-flies. Yeuch.

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A small fraction of our very ardent admirers…

 

 

 

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A wonderful view that we couldn’t stop to enjoy thanks to swarms of flies

All of the above pictures (flies included) were taken within an hour’s drive from our apartment. We did make one trip down to Lofoten, and it was stunning, but in all honesty, it was just too busy for us.

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Our first view of Lofoten

We headed over to the Svolvær area, thinking that in such a touristy spot we’d have lots of signposted walks to choose from, but either we were looking in the wrong places or there really aren’t many of them around. We finally found one simply heading ‘To the mountain’ which we thought could be promising, but it ended up being one of the weirdest walks I’ve ever done. For starters, the path was tough, and dangerously narrow. For the first piece of ascent we weren’t walking, but scrambling, with both of us having to use our hands constantly to pull ourselves up. Despite this being really strenuous going, there were hundreds of people on the path, varying from those in serious hiking/climbing gear to those in jeans and trainers. Hmm. 

We realised later on that we were on the route to the both the Devil’s Gate, or Djevelporten, and Svolværgeita, two of the most photographed spots on the islands – that would explain it then!100_1821.JPGAs neither of us has a wonderful track record with vertigo, and neither of us fancied queuing for half an hour to pose on Djevelporten, we decided to call it a day and head back down. The scenery was impressive, but no more so really than some of the views we’d seen over the past two weeks, and I didn’t feel that it warranted so many more people visiting. I’m not complaining too much though, as it leaves more wilderness for us to explore in other places!

There were many things that I loved about our holiday, and I have never been anywhere before that boasts such amazing scenery in every direction. We both feel that we barely scratched the surface when it comes to discovering Northern Norway, and although I don’t think we’ll be returning next year (I would really like some warm sunshine next summer!), we will definitely be returning.100_1700.JPG

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Norway Part I: Senja Wilderness

So, the event of the year has finally happened! We’ve been planning our holiday to Norway for months, and July 1st seemed to take an awfully long time to arrive.

We spent two fantastic weeks in the north of Norway, way inside the Arctic Circle, and I’ve decided to write a separate blog for each week, mainly because I have hundreds of photos and trying to condense them into one coherent blog was proving impossible.

Northern Norway has some fairly popular tourist spots, and although we wanted to experience some of them, two weeks spent with hundreds of other people isn’t really our style, so our first week was spent exploring some of the areas that many others ignore.

We stayed on the small-ish island of Dyrøya, and although it only has an area of 20 square miles, we managed to fill two whole days without needing to leave the island. Looking at the scenery, it’s not too difficult to see why…

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The view across the fjord from our accomodation, taken at 11:30 pm thanks to the wonderful Midnight Sun

100_1530.JPG100_1438.JPGThere was plenty to do off the island as well, and we spent a day on the islands of Rolla and Andørja. This was our first big trip out, where we were treated to some of the ‘wonderful’ Norwegian weather. Although we had blue skies, low-lying clouds hung frustratingly around the peaks, never quite allowing us the full view.100_1470.JPG100_1478.JPGDespite the cloud cover, the scenery was spectacular. Andørja in particular was an impressive place – it has eleven peaks over 1000m despite only having an area of about 50 square miles.100_1500 (2).JPGNot wanting to risk climbing all the way up to be treated to a view of the clouds, we instead skirted around the edge of the island, enjoying the foothills and the coastline.100_1508 (2).JPGWe were also treated to one of the slightly more bizarre aspects of Norway, which was the sheer quantity of bicycle sculptures.100_1520.JPGThe above picture was definitely one of the more extreme versions, but at least one house in every village we passed had a pastel painted bike somewhere on their property, more often than not with a basket of flowers at the front. I can’t say it was something I was expecting to see, but I loved it.

Although we were in a relatively quiet part of Norway, there were still touristy spots around, and we spent a long day on Senja (the second largest island in Norway, and gaining in popularity) packing as much in as we could. The Norwegian government have designated certain roads across the country as National Tourist Routes, where they combine some of the most spectacular scenery with infrastructure designed to encourage tourists (view-points, places to eat, etc.), and we decided to follow the one on the west coast of Senja. We thought the road would be packed (and I imagine that in certain parts of the country they are), but we were pleasantly surprised by how quiet it was, often having the viewpoints to ourselves.

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The beautiful white sand beach at Ersfjordstranda

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Ersfjordstranda again, and the only public toilet I’ve ever been in that looked like it might launch itself into orbit at any minute!

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Tungenest boardwalk, leading to the Okshornan peaks

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View of the Okshornan peaks, or the ‘Devil’s Teeth’ – described as ‘slightly rugged’ by the information boards

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The slightly vertigo-inducing viewing platform at Bergsbotn

Some aspects of the tourist route weren’t quite so scenic, and we couldn’t drive past the world’s biggest troll – Senjatrollet – without stopping to take a look.100_1631.JPGHmm, on second thoughts, I think I’d rather stick to the mountains and fjords…

After meandering down the coast all morning, we turned inland and headed to Ånderdalen National Park for a quick walk. Despite being in an area popular with hikers, we actually struggled to find marked walks, but luckily came across one to the small peak of Langdalsryggen. Although we had only moved inland by a few miles, we were surprised at how much the landscape changed – there was very little greenery, and much more snow than we were expecting.100_1662.JPG100_1654.JPG100_1668.JPGThe weather was cold (I was very grateful for the kind gift of a couple of snoods!) and overcast, but the scenery was stunning and I’d love to go back and climb some of the higher peaks in the future.

This was our last full day of week one, and my personal favourite. Sam can’t quite decide between the beauty of Senja, or the quieter, totally unspoilt wilderness of Rolla and Andørja – I suppose we’ll just have to go back and take another look!100_1679.JPG

And I would walk 500 miles

The halfway point! My aim was to complete the first 500 miles by the time we fly to Norway on the 1st July, and I managed to get there with over two weeks to spare.

Hitting the halfway point is a fairly obvious time to reflect on how I’ve found the challenge over the last six months, and I think it’s fair to say that so far I have no complaints.100_1297.JPGSome aspects of the challenge haven’t been anything out of the ordinary – Sam and I have always enjoyed walking and our weekends for the past few years have generally been taken up with long walks, so that’s nothing new to us, but it’s the shorter walks in the evenings that are proving more challenging.

Although we’re both well ahead of target, I’m conscious of how much more difficult it will be to keep ahead of the curve as the year progresses, so it’s really important to us to notch up as many as possible in the next couple of months while the light is so good.

I quite often find that once I’m home from work and have eaten I really don’t want to strap on my boots and head out the door – but I suppose it wouldn’t be a challenge if it were all easy! Once I’m outside though, I never regret being there, and many of the evening walks have actually been the most interesting.

Just some of the things that we’ve spotted over the last month of evening walking: a barn owl hunting in the fields along the Downs Link, the goslings growing up rapidly, a kingfisher flitting amongst the dragonflies, deer quietly grazing in the fields behind the house, and (my favourite) two otters playing in the Adur.

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Goslings prove to be much easier to photograph than otters…

We’ve also enjoyed watching spring turn into summer, and have been making the most of the brilliant weather we’ve been having.100_1313.JPG100_1304.JPG100_1249.JPGIt’s possible that setting out on a long walk in 30 degree heat wasn’t the best idea we’ve ever had, so what better way to cool down than with some homemade whinberry ice cream?100_1360.JPG100_1387.JPG100_1396 (2).JPGThis was made using the last bag of whinberries in the freezer, left over from last year’s pickings – now there’s room to add more in a few weeks time!

Foraging is something that I absolutely love to do – I enjoy stumbling across something growing wild and being able to take it home to make something tasty, all the while covering off more miles. This year we’ve branched out from our usual fruit, nuts, and berries and have recently made elderflower cordial (followed very quickly by elderflower sorbet – can anybody tell we’ve bought a new ice cream maker?!). Mmm.100_1323.JPG100_1229.JPGI must admit that I’m a bit clueless about all of the hundreds of other wild plants that I could be enjoying, so I’ve just bought myself this book to educate myself and I can’t wait to try it out!

The #walk1000miles challenge is definitely encouraging my foraging, but it has led us to neglect our garden quite significantly. Never ones to do things by halves, Sam and I have also taken up vegetable gardening this year having never grown anything before. Although we really haven’t had quite as much time to dedicate to it as we’d like, so far we’ve been fairly disaster free and are enjoying the early crops of courgettes, as well as the never-ending salad leaves and herbs.100_1332.JPG

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The first ‘Burgess Vine’ squash has appeared, quickly followed by several more

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The ‘Golden California Wonder’ pepper has started to set (one) fruit

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After a slow start, the aubergine is now so big that I had to remove it from the greenhouse to get a decent photo

I haven’t forgotten about the rest of my New Year’s Resolutions either, although many of them link into other quite nicely – I doubt we’d have made our new ‘food’ of elderflower cordial had we not spotted the flowers while walking one evening for example. Sam’s in charge of this month’s ‘special’ weekend so I’m waiting to see what he has planned (I’m betting on it involving my walking boots…).

I love how much time I’m spending outdoors and it has been lovely to discover new places, both close to home and further afield. This half of the year has flown by, and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself – here’s to the next six!

Asturian Adventures

Almost exactly a year ago, Sam’s parents moved to Asturias in northern Spain, which means wonderful holidays for us! It really is a stunning part of the world – within the space of 20 minutes you could be halfway up a mountain, wandering through lush green forests, or exploring one of the many beaches along the rugged coastline. Our long weekend there last week managed to make the most of the variety in scenery, taking in a new environment every day.

We started close to the border of Galicia, walking along a shady stream up to a waterfall. This part of the world is often referred to as ‘Green Spain’, and it’s not hard to see why! The trees, not content with colour provided from their leaves, are draped in lichens and mosses giving the whole area a gorgeous hue.

KODAK Digital Still Camera100_0841.JPG100_0843.JPG100_0858.JPGThere was once a thriving community here, and their buildings and miles of dry stone walls stand testament to the generations of people who lived and traded in the valley.100_0856.JPG100_0902.JPGNow long abandoned, the woods are home to smaller and fluffier residents…100_0891 (2).JPGFollowing on from our gentle woodland walk, the next day we headed to the wilderness of Somiedo. This is apparently one of the best places in Asturias to spot brown bears, although we weren’t lucky enough to spot any. Despite the disappointing lack of bears, Somiedo had more than enough for us to look at and enjoy.100_1005 (3).JPG100_1022.JPG100_0985 (2).JPGSam and I first visited Somiedo last September when the trees were beginning show off their autumnal colours. Roger and Lis visited earlier this year when the snow completely blanketed the valley and the lakes were frozen over, giving the mountains even more of a dramatic appearance. This time around, although spring was well underway in valley, the snow had only just gone from the high paths where we walked and the first flowers were just beginning to appear in the sub-alpine meadows above the lakes. Judging by all the new shoots that we could see, in a couple of months the pathways will be a mass of stunning summer colour just waiting to be discovered. Somiedo truly is spectacular in all seasons.

Descending from the hilltops, our last day was spent exploring the coastline of la Playa del Silencio. I’m happy on any beach at any time of year, and have great memories of windswept coastal walks during winter, as well as splashing around in the sea in summertime, but this beach really is something special. As well as the clear blue water, it also features some interesting geology, along with a selection of rock-pools that are home to sea urchins and anemones.

We stayed for hours, and the only disappointing part was that I hadn’t taken my swimming stuff – it was pretty cold, but I think I’d have managed just fine in such a beautiful setting.100_1035 (2).JPG100_1080 (2).JPG100_1097 (2).JPG100_1039.JPG100_1045.JPG100_1068.JPG100_1049 (2).JPG100_1067.JPGUnsurprisingly given both the fantastic scenery and the great company, we had an absolutely wonderful break and have returned feeling very rested and relaxed – just what we needed!

¡Muchas gracias!

Back on Track

When I started the #walk1000miles challenge in January, I got off to a flying start and even thought it might not be quite challenging enough. Ah, how are the mighty fallen! Starting a new job combined with the dark, cold evenings meant that practically no mid-week walking took place, and I quickly fell way behind target.

My lowest point came on the 17th March at a huge 50 miles behind where I needed to be. Once the clocks changed though and I became a little less tired, suddenly it seemed much easier to put my boots on and head outside.

As Spring gets well underway, there have been lots of new appearances for us to enjoy. The bluebells are out in force, carpeting the woods with their gorgeous colour. We found it impossible to properly capture their rich bluey-purple hue and the sheer quantity of them – I’ve never seen so many bulbs in one place.100_0598.JPG100_0646 (2).JPGKODAK Digital Still CameraThe pond has been disappointing us with its total lack of otter activity for months, but there are some new arrivals who are trying their best to make up for it!100_0687 (2).JPGUnfortunately for the little goslings, we also spotted Mr Fox prowling around the neighbouring field – I think Mr and Mrs Goose need to keep their eyes open for the foreseeable future..!100_0671 (2).JPGThe pond is going to be a regular destination for the next few weeks as I expect that we’ll be seeing ducklings appearing soon, and hopefully we’ll be able to watch the goslings develop as well.

The better weather and the prospect of new developments in the plant and wildlife world has made it much easier to get outside and go that little bit further every day. I only managed 48 miles in February, increasing to 77 in March, but I’ve already walked 103 miles in April with a full week left to go.

I’m very happy to say that as of Saturday, I’m now back on target with my miles for the first time since January 31st, and have clocked over 300 so far this year. I’m aiming to have reached the halfway point by the time we head off to Norway at the beginning of July so there’s still a long way to go – I’d better get my boots back on!

Touring the Tors

It seems like quite a long time since our last planned ‘special’ weekend – I suppose that’s what we get for not spacing our plans evenly. However, this weekend was most definitely worth the wait!

Sam and I are quite lucky in that both of our birthdays usually fall around Bank Holidays, so we can nearly always plan something good to do. This year, Sam’s birthday fell on Good Friday, and to celebrate I took him for a long weekend away on Dartmoor.

Dartmoor has always appealed to me; I love bleak, unforgiving landscapes where I can walk for miles without seeing another soul, and the moors have all of the above in spades.

We arrived mid-afternoon on the Friday, so before heading out onto the moorland we visited Okehampton Castle, because – let’s face it – with me in charge of the itenerary we could hardly ignore it.100_0214.JPGI can’t say either of us were blown away by the ruin though; I think the castle has the (unwelcome) distinction of having the most uneventful history of any that I’ve visited. It has seen no battles, hosted no armies, waged no wars, but it does have some very well preserved garderobes. I wish I was joking, but the medieval facilities were the star feature of the audio-guide, taking up nearly half of the commentary..!

The next day, after a scrumptious breakfast (we stayed at Okeside Cottage B&B and I can’t recommend their breakfasts highly enough) we drove out to Meldon Reservoir and headed up onto the moor.100_0459 (2).JPGAt first, we were a little disappointed because we could hear a lot of traffic which detracted somewhat from the ‘wilderness’ aspect of the walk, but as we headed further south we thankfully lost the noise from the road.

The landscape was exactly as I’d pictured it – bleak, barren, and boggy. Oh, and utterly beautiful.100_0306.JPG100_0343.JPG100_0358.JPG100_0347.JPGWe were lucky with the weather and although it was cloudy and very blustery we did see some sunshine and blue skies. From the Reservoir we climbed up to Yes Tor and then across to High Willhays, the highest point on Dartmoor (and yes, we did carry up a stone each from the bottom to add to the cairn).100_0387 (3).JPGWe also had a chance to ‘road-test’ our new walking socks! Sam’s Mum, Lis, is a very talented lady and has dyed, spun, and knitted our gorgeous walking socks. We’re very pleased to report that as well as being super cozy, we managed 15 miles without even the hint of a blister. Thank you!100_0491 (2).JPGBefore setting out, I’d read all sorts of horror stories about the dangers of the mists and the mires and was worried that we were totally unprepared for such an environment. Sam, with his usual level-headedness, was not so worried – and while I’m sure that in bad weather it would be incredibly easy to lose your way, on our bright and clear day there was really nothing to worry about. Once off the Tors we mainly stuck to the army tracks as they made the going so much faster, and we made a fantastic 15 mile circular walk, taking in views of Ockerton Court Pool, West and East Mill Tors, and Rowtor.100_0440.JPGWe were heading home on the Sunday and couldn’t do another long walk, so planned to take an easy route around Cosdon Hill and Little Hound Tor. On the map, there was a clear footpath marked that would take us on a circular route from South Zeal and back at the car in time for lunch. Hmm – I thought it seemed too good to be true and it was. There are no other paths marked on the map, but in reality the area was a maze of criss-crossing tracks in every direction, and of course there wasn’t a single waymarker in sight. Oh, and the path that we were supposed to be following turned out to be more like a stream…100_0496.JPGDespite the difficulties with the terrain, the route we did end up taking was spectacular. Along with enjoying far-reaching views, we also got to experience some of Dartmoor’s human history. I love prehistoric remains; hill forts, barrows, and ancient settlements all fascinate me, but my absolute favourite are the standing stones and stone circles that were constructed millennia ago.

Part of my enjoyment comes from the mystery of the remains; I think it’s possible to make some fairly educated guesses as to why they were built, but we still don’t know – and personally, I wouldn’t really want to.

Dartmoor is full of ancient stone circles, menhirs, and stone rows and our walk took us past all three. The first feature that we came to was the stone row known as either ‘the Graveyard’ or ‘the Cemetery’.100_0482.JPGAlthough the day was clear, it was very windy and cold which made me appreciate even more the effort that it would have taken to build the row. It’s thought that it may have been longer at one point and there are also (at least) two burial chambers associated with it but the stones have seemingly been taken to build walls and gateposts. I’m very glad that at least some of it remains.

We then headed further south towards Little Hound Tor and after some bog-hopping came to the stone circle – and it was worth every muddy boot and detour.100_0524.JPGVery near to the circle was a menhir, the Whit Moor Stone (okay, so it’s not a true menhir as it is most likely associated with the circle, but it’s good enough for me) which I loved.100_0528 (2).JPGI have never seen anyone yet when coming across a menhir that has not resisted the urge to reach out and touch it”

While researching the stones, I came across the above sentence on the Legendary Dartmoor website and it really resonated with me. I stood and admired the view for ages, and maintained a contact with the stone the whole time. All of the stones that we saw seemed to be such an integral part of the moorland, highlighting how this landscape has been inspiring people for thousands of years. I still can’t believe the effort that it would have taken to stand large boulders of granite on end in such inhospitable terrain; regardless of the reason why they’re there, I know that they meant a great deal to the people at the time.

After taking in our fill of the scenery, we headed back to South Zeal. On the way down the hill I was struck by the contrast in the wild beauty of Dartmoor and the gentle, rolling green fields down below. The moor itself seems to be unchanging, remaining distant and remote from the rapidly altering world below as it has done for many, many years.

I think we’ll be back.100_0544.JPG

Springing into Spring

The year seems to be flying by, and I’ve been left asking myself what on earth happened to March?! Everything seemed to get slightly derailed last month – blogging fell by the wayside, I stopped making any kind of progress with my miles, and I started to settle back into my old cozy routines – argh!

With the changing clocks however has come a renewed effort to stick to my New Year’s Resolutions (is there anybody else out there still keeping up with theirs?!), and things are starting to look up! On the 17th March, I was 49 miles below target, and wondering how I was ever going to claw back any distance. As of today, I’m 21 miles below target, and have averaged 3.8 miles per day since mid-March. There’s still some way to go before I get into the green – unlike Sam who is a very respectable 15 miles above target – but it’s definitely a move in the right direction.100_0097.JPGThe extra hour of light in the evening is definitely helping, as is the beautiful weather we’ve had over the last couple of weeks. I’ve always loved this time of year; there’s something so special about watching plants that have lain dormant for months suddenly spring to life, and in many ways this really feels like the actual beginning of the year.

Having a garden of our own for the first time makes it even more exciting as we watch all of the hidden bulbs appear and start to see our new seedlings establish themselves. Here are a few pictures of all the things we’ve been enjoying over the last couple of weeks.

Hello Spring!

Homeward Bound

Sam and I both grew up in Mid Wales, and although we are now very used to the South-East, for me at least Wales still feels like home.

Last weekend we took a quick trip up to visit my Mum and were lucky enough to have great weather so managed to get in a couple of good walks despite having a five hour drive each way.

On the Saturday we walked up to Rodney’s Pillar, a local landmark that can be seen for miles around. The Pillar was built on top of the Breidden Hill to commemorate the victories of Admiral Rodney, who used oak timber from Montgomeryshire to build his fleet.

The walk up to the column is short but fairly steep; the Breidden hill is 367 m high – not exactly a mammoth peak, but a good deal higher than anything that we have down in West Sussex, making it a good leg stretch to get to the top. My resident geologist tells me that the Breidden (and the other four hills that make up its chain) are volcanic in origin, made of hard, igneous rock that allows them to sit high above the Severn flood plain.

Annoyingly, we’d forgotten to pack the camera so I had to make do with my phone, but it’s hard to make this view look bad whatever equipment you’re using! Although the hill isn’t especially high, it gives a fantastic panorama in all directions and it’s easy to see why this is a popular walking spot.IMG_20170401_160733438_HDR.jpgIMG_20170401_160852022_HDR.jpgIMG_20170401_161411714.jpgTowards the west we could see into Snowdonia, although Snowdon itself and Cadair Idris were both wreathed in cloud. The Shropshire hills dominated the south-easterly view, and to the north-east we could see the foothills of the Pennines. There is also a trig point at the summit, so I was a happy bunny!IMG_20170401_160745052_HDR.jpgOn the Sunday we only had time for a short walk in the morning before heading home, so we took a quick stroll through the grounds of Powis Castle. Sam used to work in the restaurant as a chef making the cakes and desserts while we were at school and in university holidays, so it’s a very familiar building to him!IMG_20170402_095106752_HDR.jpgWe wandered through the deer park (although sadly didn’t see any deer this time) and back along the canal into Welshpool.IMG_20170402_094527592_HDR.jpgIMG_20170402_101404199_HDR.jpgI’ve done this walk – or variations of it – quite a few times when living in Welshpool, and I’d always just taken it for granted that I could simply step out of my front door and be in such picturesque surroundings. There’s so much in the area that I either haven’t done (or haven’t done enough) despite years of living there, and now that I’m based so far away I really regret it. Thankfully, Mum is still there so we can visit often, continue to explore, and try and make up for all of the times that we’ve taken the area for granted.

Thanks Mum!IMG_20170401_161154232.jpg

Romans Revisited

We’ve had Sam’s parents staying with us for a couple of days en route to their home in Spain, so we thought we’d combine their company with our ‘special weekend’ for March. It’s always nice for us to have people to stay, especially when they’re not familiar with the area and we can enjoy sharing some of our favourite places.

Just like us, Roger and Lis are keen walkers so there was no question of what we’d be doing with them – it was just a case of which walk to pick!

As it was our special weekend we also wanted to incorporate an interesting stop into our walk, and decided to continue our Roman theme from February with a visit to Bignor Roman Villa.

Although I really enjoyed visiting Fishbourne, for me Bignor is the firm favourite, partly due to the setting (this is most definitely not in the middle of a housing estate!).108_3790.JPGThe Villa is smaller than Fishbourne, and I suppose it could be argued that none of the mosaics are quite as impressive as ‘Cupid on a Dolphin’, but the whole set-up feels far more informal and friendly which suits us perfectly. The Villa has remained in the same family since its discovery in 1811, and they’ve managed to avoid any kind of corporate feel which sometimes detracts from historic monuments. I’ve found that a lot of local people haven’t really heard of it, unlike Fishbourne which I’d say is recognised by nearly everybody as one of the leading sites of Roman remains in Britain.

The mosaics themselves are stunning. The craftsmanship is so impressive; it’s hard to believe that the Villa disappeared from all knowledge and was hidden for hundreds of years.108_3841 (2).JPG108_3830 (2).JPG108_3802.JPG108_3826 (2).JPGBignor also provides several picnic benches in the grounds, so we made the most of the sunshine  and ate outside (this was the first walk I’ve done this year without a hat and scarf, and I had to carry my coat most of the way – I think it must finally be spring!). I’d packed some curried sweet potato and pea pasties, made using Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s wonderful rough puff pastry recipe, as well as whinberry muffins and some more home-grown Spanish kiwis. Mmm.108_3791.JPG108_3793.JPGThe walk itself was lovely; we parked at the top of the hill which made quite a change, and walked down into Bignor before climbing back up and following the ridge until we arrived back at the car park. I’ve been rambling on about hints of spring in my last couple of posts, but this weekend really felt like spring was out in full force. The fields were full of lambs; daffodils and primroses were brightening up the hedgerows; and we even saw a herd of wild deer happily grazing in the middle of a field (unfortunately, the only angle I could get included a telegraph wire, but I took the picture anyway).108_3780.JPG108_3850.JPG108_3846.JPGWalking on the Downs on days like this makes it easy to understand why the Romans settled here. The land is green and fertile, with the gentle hills providing protection from any wind and rain blowing in from the coast. The Villa in its heyday would have been spectacular, and I’m so thankful that enough of it has been preserved to allow us to admire it today. There is so much history packed into the landscape here and I don’t think I’ll ever be tired of finding out about how people from across the ages have left their mark on the land.108_3761.JPG

Windswept Wanderings

As well as being behind with my walking miles, I’m now seriously behind with writing about said miles! Oops.

Backtrack to a couple of weeks ago, where despite the wind and rain caused by ‘Storm Doris’ we managed to get out for a couple of good walks. We re-attempted our abandoned walk of a few weeks ago and this time successfully completed the loop on the Downs overlooking Lewes.

Doris was causing a fair bit of chaos and the Downs were windier than we expected, although the rain only came in showers so we at least managed to enjoy the view in sections. The hints of spring from a couple of weeks before were becoming more obvious, with daffodils and snowdrops making an appearance.108_3600.JPG108_3604.JPGWe could see quite a long way from the top, although we didn’t stop to enjoy the views for very long (or take many photos, as it was proving a bit difficult to hold the camera steady!).108_3611.JPG108_3617.JPG108_3618.JPGNext time, we’ll try and visit without gale force winds and rain. Who knows, maybe third time lucky?108_3602.JPGLast week, we managed to dodge the showers completely and had a great ten mile walk on the Downs nearer to home. We started from a car park just below Chanctonbury Ring and headed across the hills towards Cissbury Ring. We’d not actually been to Cissbury Ring before although we’ve walked past it a few times. Bizarrely – and quite embarrassingly – I’d somehow managed to miss the fact that it features the remains of whopping great big Iron Age hill fort (I’ve since found out it’s the largest in Sussex and the second largest in England).

Our pictures don’t really do it justice unfortunately; the ramparts and the defensive ditch would have been huge and they really stand out in the landscape as something man made.108_3648.JPG(For anybody interested, the National Trust have a great aerial photo on their website https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cissbury-ring which gives a much better perspective)

The climb up to the top was gentle and short, so we were very pleasantly surprised to see such far reaching views in every direction.108_3661.JPG108_3665.JPG108_3671.JPGAlthough the views were stunning, the wind was still quite bitter and after a refreshing kiwi snack (grown by Sam’s parents in Spain – thank you!) we set a brisk pace back down the hill towards home.108_3675.JPGHaving managed to miss Cissbury Ring up until now, I think I’ll be making up for lost time and visiting again soon!