Puccini, porcini, pesto, pasta and the Alpi Apuane – ciao Annie

With a British summer of searing sunshine and blue skies a distant memory it was time to track down the ever considered but never explored mountains of Tuscany.  3 hours on a nifty BA flight, a chaotic Pisa airport, a 10 minute bus trip and the Leaning Tower all pillars and posts was before us..

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

A swift Moretti, a slice of pizza, a riverside gelato and it was all aboard for a taxi ride to the magnificent mountains of Garfagnana where we were greeted with a sun setting across the mountains.

Swimming pool of Tuscany at sunset

A quick dip, well I wanted a swimming gala but sadly no one was playing, then down to the farmhouse of the agriturismo Braccicorti – hello Rupert and Angela, for a hearty Tuscan supper and a few not quite so fine glasses of the local vino rosso.  Ouch.

Garfagnana, Tuscany, Tuscan walks

Morning mist in the valleys

Fab early morning with a little inversion and Incredible views across the valley, vineyards heavy with grapes, figs on the trees, chestnuts, nectarines, apples, plums and more.  This was like an exotic version of Kent, but more than a tad warmer.

A view of vines set to the mountains

Surrounded by produce – all ready for the eating.

Sunday saw a jolly little stride out through the valleys and up into one or two Tuscan villages, a church here a church there but never too far from a glass of birra or a powerful espresso, but as far from Starbucks or Costa as you can get…..no complaints here.

View of Tuscan rooftops

Tuscan tiled roofs viewed from the ramparts of Castiglione

Pania di Corfino was on the agenda for Team Blighty, with a hunt for wild boar and chestnuts, had I misheard?  No matter on we crashed through the  heavily wooded and very beautiful Orecchiella Park breaking out to an impressive open summit – no great pics, sorry.  A ‘nice’ but not challenging day with a sun drenched café finish in town.

Bilberry fields surround Monte Prado

Bilberries, the leaves as scarlet as it is possible to be

Having found no Porcini thus far, plenty of locals plundering the woodland tho’, a punishing climb across the Bilberry fields it was, oh and apparently more Porcini woodland, uh huh.  Monte Prado and the Apennine ridge on the border of Toscana and Emilia Romana a stunning display and beyond anything I have seen even the boldest of Lake District seasons did not compare.

The intrepid guide Clare, season-after-season but even she had never had a season like this.  The downside is the berries are teeny weeny and even the locals need special devices to pick sufficient to make the tiniest pot of jam…. The walk to the summit was easily followed and well worth the effort.

Bilberry fields en route to Monte Prado


Exhausted by the hills it was time for some culture – and with a toot toot of the local train – we were Lucca bound.  A little known but ancient Etruscan city, once ruled by Napoleon’s sister and the birthplace of Puccini, a Pope and a number of other well knowns.  Protected by high ancient walls and filled with interesting buildings of ages past but most importantly host to some of the best grub in the region – this city is well worth a visit.

A statue of Puccing in Lucca

Puccini – resting outside his museum

But enough of this nonsense we were here to march and march we would.  Boots squeezed on and a stride out to Campocatino and on up to the hermits cave.  A seemingly easy walk, but we managed to take a few off pistes, the worst culminating in a challenging clamber across a mushroom clad wood, no porcini, with hidden precipices all trying to lure us their way.

At last some locally sourced Porcini, not picked by us, but purchased by us for a pirate’s ransom.  Delicious.

A pastoral village in Tuscany

Campocatino shepherd’s village

This is an area well worth exploring, known for its bike trails as well as its walking.  The locals have shot most of the birds and the wildlife has suffered too.  Gradually the focus is changing so cross fingers the wildlife will start to return.  The landscapes remain incredible, the hospitality better than France, the food locally sourced, generally fabulous and not insanely priced.

Visit when you can.  It really is well worth a little of your time.

The Borrowdale, all peaks, pikes, pies and Via Ferrata extreme….

View of ropes above Fleetwith Pike's Via Ferrata London, a great city, but not in the hard heat of a blistering summer – where to go and what to do?  Scafell Pike, Ben Nevis or Snowdon?  All three or maybe just two and a few Wainwrights….off we go. Sun shining, Costa on board, a 06.30 start and a swift 275 miles later we were on Snowdon’s foothills by 12.00.  Parking is a fiasco if you arrive after 09.00 – oops – oh well.  Up to the top, down to the bottom, a swim in the lake and a night at the fine (well acceptable) YHA.

Snowdon from the top

Snowdon and a cracking view..

A shame to leave such a beautiful landscape so soon but the Lakes were calling. A few hundred miles and Kiln How in the Borrowdale hove into view, glorious and right next to the famed Scafell Hotel (see C2C blog).  Day one – Rigghead Quarries, High Spy, Maiden Moore, Cat Bells, down to Keswick and back along Derwent Water to the Grange Bridge Cottage tea rooms for best scone this side of Kent.  Cracking day, circular and very achievable.

Buttermere lake

Glorious evening under Haystacks and looking out to the start of C2C

The route to Honister, to reach Haystacks and a dip in Buttermere, is easily found from Rosthwaite, but was beyond our not to honed navigational skills and the maps, compasses and GPS were mostly misunderstood,  so an extended march via Fleetwith Pike it was.  Haystacks rarely a great challenge but always an iconic hill sitting low amongst a  fearsome ring of Lakeland monsters.

Waterfall by Haystacks

Alessandra Scola barefoot and bold…

On-on and a little bit of Via Ferrata extreme, wow, a breath-taking, scare making, screech inducing trip above Honister.  The biggest knee tremble I have ever encountered on UK soil and I would thoroughly recommend it.

View of the Burma Bridge at Fleetwith Pike

Great adventure. Safe but scary. Do it.

Time for a relax so it had to be the corridor route up Scafell – a nice, fairly challenging, usually people scarce route.  For once the role of walk leader came naturally, well having picked up some stray Geordie lads, poorly attired, highly sweaty and in need of some firm direction I simply had to.

Trips to Grasmere and Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage – fantastic, the walking shops of Ambleside – awesome and the ever faithful Dog and Gun – delicious, my love of the Lakes remains alive and well.  A staycation well worth doing again-and-again.

Grasmere with phone box and fells

Grasmere – lovely little village

60 miles across the Limestone way and beyond – sounds like a plan…

….a plan bought to fruition over the long winter, many miles scheduled but sadly not the Four Seasons….pah.  As the bank holiday drew closer the loaded backpacks, 20 mile days and nights tripping the light fantastic in Britain’s historic  “youth” hostels seemed less-and-less of a good idea.

The Limestone way, a nifty little route littered with historic sites and stories – Roman and Victorian in abundance but with Domesday mentions and more besides.  Britain may be at the nub end of austerity but there is plenty to do and well worth a few days of your time.

Annie Nunan togged in outdoor gear en route from Hope

Nunan sets the pace …

Hope station (optimistic) saw the merry band don their packs to take a leg warming 3 mile route march to the YHA at Losehill Hall.  Navigator nerves and a denied attempt at jumping over the wall meant an additional mile, don’t be fooled, just move the big wooden fence and shimmy on in.  One of the best hostels in the UK with glorious and original Victorian manor house features – not bad for £20.00.  Austerity I love you!  A quick jaunt to Castleton for an average supper, chips-on-chips-on-pie-on-chips at the George Hotel, take time to look around far better can be had.

Peak District May 2013 (29)

A sluggish 09.30 start under the watchful eye of Mam Tor and we hit Castleton and the Limestone Way.  After a slippery scramble up Cave Dale, past Peveril Castle and a posse of DofE grumpy teens we were on our way.  A day’s walk across dry stone walled field-after-field each surrounded by its own army of late season daffodils was delightful.  All Derby Dales and limestone hills, not too stretching in spite of a few up-and-downs.  The Angler’s Rest, a riverside, and CAMRA, pub strategically placed en-route meant this was a balanced if rolling, Storm Brewery’s Silk of Amnesia,  18 mile stroll.

Old stone farm building on the fields of the Peaks

En-route to Youlgreave

After another chip (triple fried) and pint stop (Peak district diet) at the still fab Old Smithy in Moneyash, we were promised a night of B&B luxury at the Old Bakery, Youlgreave, well maybe not luxury but better than a YHA.  A quick supper at the Farmyard Inn chips (groan) pints (of wine) and a landlady who should have been a stand-up made this a night to remember and thoroughly recommended.

Up at the crackle and straight down to the river – swift or slow always a sight worth a snap – with the sun rising in the sky our day began – 20 Miles to Ilam….the fine wine of the Farmyard was making its mark, ouch.  Our first stop was Robin Hood’s Stride and a bizarre hermits cave, (not really worth the detour).

Trees with little hearts strung up overlooking Peak District

Funny little tree love thing going on

Some evidence of Limestone quarrying but little to nothing of the old lead mining was seen as we pushed on towards Bonsall for a snack at the King’s Head (1677 wow) very Charles 1st tho’ run by an abrupt, but amusing, Danish lady.  Some fairly chunky hills but as we neared Ilam we were met with magnificent moss marbled hues bouncing off the great pyramid that is Dovedale.

Dovedale in the low light of Spring

Dovedale in the low Spring light – beautiful

Got kids, feeling broke, get yourselves up to Ilam YHA.  An historic hall donated to the nation’s youth by the McDougal (flour) family in 1935 and right on the doorstep of the Limestone Way and Dovedale.

A view of Ilam Hall

Ilam Hall – yes a YHA ….

Dawn broke and with yet another sunny day the 16 miler to Uttoxeter seemed a breeze, or so we thought.  Check out that map as our little detours meant it was closer to 20, ouch.  But with the best pub lunch on any walk yet all was not lost.

A picture of lunch at the Duncombe Arms

Camembert, rosemary, garlic and a pint. Loving this walk.

The Limestone Way is not the biggest challenge you will face but it is a walk with complexity and history, great landlords and a few fine pints along the way.  A few more pictures to whet your appetite.

Flowers under the Peak Dales

Flowers under the Peak Dales

Dovedale in the low evening light

Dovedale in the low evening light

On the outskirts of Youlgreave

On the outskirts of Youlgreave

The mizzling mists of Moneyash, a bite of Bakewell tart and a snooze at the YHA …. good grief…

A wretched winter for walking so far, an adventure to the Peaks might satiate the needs of my ever greedy legs, so in spite of a forecast not to die for off we set. The silver steed once more into the breach for a swift 200 miles or so up to the YHA at Youlgreave.

Youth Hostel what were we thinking, £35.00 for three nights including my grub I know I was thinking crikey that’s cheap.

A picture of a walk along the river near Lathkill Dale

The sun is there but the mud is winning.

Image of a tree in the early morning mist in the Peak District

Glorious early morning mist above Youlgreave

Friday saw a morning full of mist and mood, a muddy stumble across the snowy dales with half the paths now rivers a walk that we would all remember.  Tough country attire would have done the trick, not for the flimsy modern tech fabrics, a good ole’ Harris Tweed jacket and some clunky wellie boots were the order of the day.  (We all had flimsy tech….ooops).

An image of a footpath which is now a river hear Alport

The footpath, now a river, forget the Goretex boots only Hunters would do…

This is a great area – just as you give in to the rain the sun makes a dash for the high sky and even tea shops seem to serve a pint, the Old Smithy at Monyash and their Derby oatcakes one of the best examples.  Delicious.  The multitude of river bank walks serve to highlight the industry of our Victorian forebears their water management evident across the entrances to the various mines that lined our path.

Picture of fungus that looks like ears

A “listening tree” strange little earlike fungus – is it “Jew’s Ear”?.

Back to Youlgreave for a pint at the Bull, luckily we were just in time for the weekly folk music gathering?  If I were bold I would question the gene pool of the locals, a strange crowd indeed with the recorders out, the harmonicas drawn, the catterwalling began, with a grimace here and a gurn there it was very much time to leave.  No worries Youlgreave has three pubs, off to the Farmyard Inn we went.

Picture of barbed wire with misty fields behind - Peak District

Escape from the Bull’s Head complete we had a glorious day in the mud of the dales

Picture of a tree and a wall with a misty valley above Youlgreave

Mist in the valleys around Youlgreave

A few days in the Peaks, very easy drive up from London, great hospitality, walks that are easy to navigate, amazing Victorian infrastructure to support past mining needs.  If all else fails you can nip across to Bakewell for a tart or to Chatsworth to visit the home of the Duke of Devonshire and his Mitford sister wife.

Snow-sleet-ice and a 5 star lunch ahead it would be rude not to…Montreuil here we come

Setting off for Le Touquet in the trusted steed, a beaten up Mitsubishi Outlander, wondering whether the very grey sky was hinting at more snow to come…ummmm my previous trip out had seen a selection of Sevenoaks finest beasts, Mercedes, Beamers and Bentleys doing their mechanical interpretation of Skating on Ice….twits.

Snowy roads in Kent

Snowtastic bob-sleigh roads of Kent

Nothing ventured…off to Le Touquet it was for Alessandra and Annie.  Straight down the M20, onto the Shuttle and boom France in 35 minutes.  Crumbs they are closer than I thought.

A quick dash to Montreuil sur Mer (no longer on the mer though).  A great little fortified, village with narrow cobbled streets and a range of gastronomic stunners.  Previously ruled by both the Brits and the Spanish now firmly and delightfully French.

Picture of Langoustine Starter

Le Patio – followed the locals to this  joint – brilliant

Montreuil – spot on – for a winter afternoon stroll around the ramparts, a quick look at the wine shops and a nod to the Wine Society before we hit the road crossing vast snow covered hills to arrive at Paris sur Plage aka Le Touquet and the Thalasso treats of our spa.

Jumping on the beach at Le Touquet

Jumping for joy – miles of snow covered beaches downtown Le Touquet

The spa is brilliant.  Massive salt water pool, steamy hamman and zillions of very fat French men walking around in dressing gowns and slippers with chihuahua’s in their designer man bags.

Summer prices will be evil but Ale, bargain hunter, snapped up a great price…yee ha.

The beach at Le Touquet with snow on the sand

Snow and ice with a temperature of -x but wow.

The walks, the sand, the beach sailing, the parapenting, the horses….my idea of heaven.  After a ten miler, 50 lengths of the pool, and a quick jog in the gym it was off to “A Table” for an 8 Euro bottle of wine, quality non-stop!

Sunday on the beach at Le Touquet

Cannot imagine a better Sunday than striding up this glorious beach, before heading out to Etaples

Next stop Etaples and the apallingly named, Planete Ocean, for the best fish this side of, well Le Touquet I guess.  Not cheap but wow.   Oysters, scallops and a glutton of bouillabaisse.

Etaples fishermen's stalls being redeveloped

Too cold for the fishermen to sell their fish today?

This is such an easy trip for those of us in the South.  Le Shuttle from less than £100, hotels from less than £50, if you remember the supermarkets are closed on Sunday you may even be lucky enough to nab some cheap Bordeaux, Dijon and Remoulade……oh dear.

Annie on the beach at Le Touquet

What a trip. Even the locals were nice. Do it you know you want to.

Medieval Medinas, Atlas at Altitude and Sunsets at Essaouria – Annie hits the peaks in Morroco

The UK summer, other than those glorious Olympic weeks, had been a tad disappointing – so it was time to find some sun, sea and snow……..3 hour flight, 36 degrees, no Euro in sight and hills of 4200 metres, St Tropez without the yachts, Marrakech  oh yes.

After a stupidly early but perfectly good Easy Jet flight and an insane and over priced (100 dh max) “grand taxi” ride that dumped us in the midst of the medina we had arrived…..or had we?  Dragging our bags, whilst chasing a string of small boys, Mohammed, Mohammed and you got it Mohammed, all communicating via a busy bush telegraph, down a series of dusty alleys…..the searing, smoggy heat of the medina all mopeds, mules and  madness finally led to this calm paradise, Riad Anyssates, gawjus.

The heart of the Medina, glorious colours, smells and atmosphere

The Medieval Medina with blacksmiths, charcoal makers, wool dyers, all manner of “fine” food and of course the tanners, provides a quite staggering impact on all your senses, worth a visit but if you are buying check do your prices and bargain hard.  The Ben Youssef Madrasa nice and cool in the midday sun – quiet, calm and very photogenic – highly recommended.

14th Century Islamic College in the heart of the Medina – lovely

Time for a taxi to the high Atlas.  Hurrah.  Imlil in three hours and off to find the Refuge,  350 metres and up to the right, nope that wasn’t it.  Ooooops miscalculation, 5 hours and over a 1000 metres later we arrived, dusty and tired and just a little nervous about the snow that had settled on the surrounding peaks, the peaks we would be climbing in the morning – wardrobe malfunction.  Ummm

OMG – Mount Toubkal has snow on it – t-shirts & shorts may not quite cut it….

The Refuge is glorious with its simplicity all wood burning stoves and cold showers……..but don’t expect a bottle of wine.  Kit disaster averted – jacket hired, wooly hats donated and pjs under our shorts  – our fab Berber guide, Mohammed helped us hit the 6 am deadline with time to spare.   As the sun rose behind us we marched past, well everyone,  faster-and-faster, harder-and-harder what was going on?

Outstanding views but shifting shale and altitude make it harder than it might be – well worth the effort.

Ah – turns out we were the only ones who were doing the up and all the way back down in a day…..ooops second miscalculation.  Eleven hours later and with the help of a sturdy mule for Alessandra, we made it….off to the beach.

Lots of mules for hire to carry luggage, beer, water wine and of course tired trekkers….LOL

Medieval medinas maybe but a very modern bus service, Supratours, less than a tenner each and 3 hours later we were downtown Essaouira.  All Atlantic and dramatic, this is a busy fishing port rather than a coral sand beach but plenty of top grade hotels / riads with pools / gyms  and spas and sunsets to die for.

Best bar / the Taros, best restaurant just try any of the seafood joints on the front or down by the port, remember this is the Atlantic so big bold cold water fish.

Nice little “ring fenced” beach spot – nice beer and a sea bass to go. Just Do It.

A slightly different tale from Rufus….more a travelogue than a giggle.  Get yourselves over to Morocco – it won’t go away but why waste your holiday hours by waiting.

London 2012 to “Inspire a generation” pah. Annie was inspired to sit on her bum: in a stadium, in a park, on the sofa, by the road….

Road race (yes race not rage), Hockey, Athletics and even Handball (the French won – not ideal), Snow Patrol, the Stereophonics, Paulo Nuttini and yes Duran Duran (Le Bon still in tight white jeans).  Was this the best two weeks of my life – well I didn’t see the Spice Girls or Boris out-discoing Cameron but yes I think it was.

A glorious day at the stadium – marshmallows at the ready

The coverage was immense but not sure that the pictures of the Olympic Park have done justice to the gardeners involved, yes you heard me…a little Blake to sum it up.

To see a world in a grain of sand
and a heaven in a wild flower,
hold infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in an hour

Waterpolo and just a few blooms

But it was not all about the park, a picnic by the side of the road with bro’ to get just a little bit too close to the cyclists….A Million spectators and Annie was lucky enough to be one of them.

Life threatening experience by the         road-side

Ummm not the brightest idea to attempt to drive to Box Hill but Mothy enjoyed the 2 mile walk in his flip flops….I think?

Glorious colours and the sun never stopped….Handball here we come…

The volunteers were awsome, even giving me some free corp’ tickets for the handball finals.  Yee ha.  Had to sit in the French Quarter (lots of garlic).

Purportedly the biggest McDonalds in the world – loved the brollies – hate the grub.

Love the fact that the glorious and inspiring Mo has dedicated his twin golds to his new twin daughters…but the biggest roar of the day together with standing ovation went to Sarah Attar from Saudi Arabia.

Mo Farah – tricky heat but wow.

…and finally…yes I bought an Olympic inspired twin set without pearls.  Pink and Purple setting me off in the smaller than expected but none-the-less magnificent stadium.

My Olympics was all I expected and perhaps a little bit more.  Bring on the Paralympics I cannot wait.

Stunning seats in a stunning stadium. Lucky lucky me.

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