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

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.

London was getting tiresome, mountain leaderene Annie needed a hill to climb..Snowdon again go on then…

Week-after-week of rain soaked rolling fields were having an impact, the gym was more attractive than a march, well something needed to be done.  The Spanish (Mar) The Brazilian (Alessandra) the Welsh (Mochyn Bach) had all pursuaded me it was to be Snowdon, not at all sure this ranked as a challenge but Nunan gave in.  One rule – I got to do the cooking and there was to be nothing vegetarian about it (sorry Alessandra).

View from the cottage – Mar had the fear

Cottage booked, Polo serviced (MG not suitable), shopping done, sat nav setup, we were off….250 miles later…sat nav confused, cottage not found, tummies feeling empty….15 miles of handbrake turns later we arrived.  (Note to self a postcode is not an address).

After a fine pub supper at Betws-y-Coed,  and some truly dreadful “live skiffle” music it was back to a toasty fire to get ready for the big climb.

It begins – a glorious people free climb but those clouds looked a bit serious.

The team had done a little training but realised that hopping and skipping along 10 mile home counties hikes was not quite the same as clambering up the pride of Wales in a rain storm.  (Best local weather check here).  Annie had a little more under her belt ready for the marathon walk in September, sponsor me…

A little time to shoot the breeze en route I took a few snaps with my new camera….sadly none were brilliant…in fact none were even average but I include them here anyway.

A budding Snowdon on Snowdon LOL

No views due to fog, so scenes from the summit include only Mar’s fingertips clutching on for dear life….a fear of heights became evident at the last five metres, bizarre (no empathy here).

“I never wanted to get to the top…..” Said after two hours twenty minutes climbing, good grief

But wait….not all was lost….Mochyn Bach, aka Amanda, told us that the pub used as the base for first 1953 Everest team was around the corner.  A pint of lager and a bit of history well come on then.  Pen-Y-Gwryd a really great little place full of history and atmosphere.  The staff were a little too European (i.e. not Welsh) but this place is really worth a stop.

Everest team’s relics ….these boots were made for climbing

The real deal, yes this was the kit they used in 1953

Snowdon really is a nice little hill for the uninitiated so don’t be scared and get yourself off to Wales for a bit of a scramble.

In case you didn’t know – Annie thinks Britain is beautiful

This will be a confused tale of multiple walks, starting with a stride out on the Purbecks of Dorset, up into Essex for a sharp trot around Audley End, a quick jaunt over to Haslemere (a very cute town), a few bike recces on the Pilgrim’s Way and a final leg stretcher in Knole, May had certainly delivered.

Torrential rain, hail, fog, floods and drought – it’s been a tough start to the year – but….it got a whole lot better…for a bit?

Wow – sunsets glowing ruby red, glades of grasshopper green, skies as blue as a Tory rosette (struggling now I know but better than referencing Maggie’s eyeshadow)…what a month.

Leaving the sea behind, the countryside is still a wow.

The Isle of Purbeck, green-upon-green with swathes of yellow, stunning.

Glorious blossom at Knole

Back up to Knole, blossom abundant and swaggering along trees and hedgerows.

Ummmm but not all good, Rufus had been a bit of a slacker, preferring to hang out with the young Alfie than do Home Counties walks, so Annie had resorted to stealing the gorgeous Lilia for the glorious Haslemere circular, check out this short version.

Haslemere deserved a short back and sides ey Lilia…

Audley End, a fine house indeed, but possibly not worth the £12.50 entry fee, just enjoy the views, daffodils, historic houses, cricket and cream teas…oh.. and check out the renowned (not really) Saffron Trail, yes Saffron Walden was the heart of the Saffron trade in Britain.

Audley End

As the wet weather threatens to return, good for the fish but not the Jubilee, the walks will continue, maybe not with Oakleys perched, but as I always say –

Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but about learning to dance in the rain….so come on get out there, a fabulous year so far and I think its going to get even better.

Annie needed an adventure…the threat of sunshine and the Jurassic coast with Jilly Flower…let’s do it..

The merry month of May had turned out not to be any more merry than April….my motto might be..”life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but about learning to dance in the rain”….but enough….dancing in the rain is well cracked, I now want to limbo in the sun.OMG Rufus get your paws tidied the sun is out and the Purbecks are begging to be conquered.

Ahoy there sailor…water water everywhere but not a drop….

The ferry from Sandbanks takes a few minutes which is disappointing for some as there is a naturist beach just to the left….no pictures available!

Cycling, kayaking, walking…this Isle is buzzing with people doing, doing, doing…..my turn now.  Twenty minutes later Kelly, Annie and Jill were on track from The Square and Compass pub at Worth Matravers, famed for their ukele festival (no thanks).

The Jurassic coast, noted for fossils, dinosaur and more

With an England Hockey player and a PE Teacher, Kelly surely no more than 16 years old, as companions it was clear Annie was going to struggle to be King of the Hill today…..or was she…

England 0 – Annie 1 …. now for Kelly

The coastal sections are pretty hilly, luckily the night out on the tiles had not yet taken place so with clear heads and athletic bodies…..ummm well….the team made good progress.

Nunan looking like a reclusive film star who rates herself a bit too highly, Thompson looking a little…well tired LOL

Kayaks, sailboats and windsurfers were out in abundance, my picture seems to have missed all of them, next trip planned is deffo boats, last shot of the sea and inland it was..

Arriving at the obligatory  Clavells tea rooms at Kimmeridge Annie remembered her body was a temple, the athletes both had fully loaded cream teas…ok ok..I snuck a pint of cider.

Kimmeridge home of the monster cream tea..

A bit of blue sky thinking…

I suspect this would not have been as fab if the sun had not been shining but it was so a great little 15 mile circular.  Could not recommend this area more – go on – about three hours drive from London….amazing.

%d bloggers like this: