Adventures, Cycling

Isle of Wight Cycle Tour

 

 

 

Two days. Two bikes. Bank Holiday Weekend. Last adventure of the summer?

Two small Ortlieb panniers (made for the front, but I use them on the rear) fit all my gear with plenty of space to spare. Stayed in a great loft room with friendly hosts and delicious breakfast (AirBnB) in Totland Bay (near Freshwater) and about half-way around the island. Very scenic part of the island with tall chalky cliffs.

Signposted route around the island for bikes so easy navigation. Gently rolling terrain with a few steeper climbs. 50-65km/day of cycling each day.

First cycle tour. Great fun.

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Adventures, Europe, Tour du Mont Blanc

Tour du Mont Blanc: my gear list

Day 1

 

My gear list: very comfortable (comfort over weight!), for sleeping and being fed in huts

Clothing

  •  Zamberlain gore-tex boots (most people were wearing trail shoes and next time I’ll do the same unless it is cold, ie, snowy spring or late-autumn). I’d also pack flip flops as not all huts had crocs and it was a bit embarrassing being barefoot in the village restaurants.
  • Patagonia down jacket (in its stuff sack), next time I would take a light fleece instead as the huts were warm.
  • eVent rain jacket (waterproof, but my lightest one)
  • Marmot waterproof pants (I almost brought my water resistant pair, but was glad for these!)
  • North Face zip-off pants (too heavy and I’ll leave behind next time and bring a second pair of shorts and long tights)
  • Running shorts
  • Base layer bottom (REI mid-weight)
  • Long-sleeve base layer top (REI mid-weight)
  • Synthetic t-shirts (two, but wish I had three as I used one exclusively for hut wear and had to wash my hiking one most days and put it on wet in the morning)
  • Synthetic sleeveless running top
  • Wool sleeveless base layer (sleeping/hut wear)
  • Socks x 4 (one light liner pair for wearing in the huts, three mid-weight hiking socks, eg, smart wool)
  • Beanie
  • Cap (running) with good brim
  • Gloves (light pair, but I used them a few times and was glad to have them with me)
  • Sports bras (2)
  • Underwear (4)

Other

  • 40L pack: much too big. Next time will go with a 30L, which is what my partner used
  • Dry bags x 3: used to sort my clothing, gear and food. Particularly useful for rainy days as I didn’t have to empty all the pack’s internal pockets as they were already sorted in weather proof bags
  • Sleeping bag liner (poly cotton, didn’t miss not splurging on the silk at all): the dorms were mostly very warm so pure cotton may have been slightly better as more breathable.
  • Head lamp with extra batteries
  • GPS with extra batteries (used the GPS in the mist, but mostly didn’t really need it as the track was well sign-posted).
  • Map (very useful back-up and fun for reading at night and planning. It also shows the variants, which may not be on your GPS map)
  • Emergency blanket and first aid kit
  • Ear plugs (absolutely essential for dorm rooms. There were a tonne of chainsaw snorers!)
  • Blister pack (if you are hiking in boots, pack a few of these. Trail shoes are less likely to cause blisters.)
  • Sunscreen (50ml bottle was not enough and had to buy more en route)
  • Chapstick with SPF
  • Toothbrush and paste
  • Disinfectant wipes (not used)
  • Moisturiser (face)
  • Shampoo (100ml bottle lasted the whole trip)
  • Kindle with two books pre-loaded, but I wish I’d brought three (some huts had WiFi but the connection was often too poor to add books).
  • Nalgene 1L water bottle (wish I’d brought my camelbak instead so I didn’t have to pause for a drink so much)
  • Granola bars, chocolate covered pretzels, candy, mule bars (bring your favourites as you may not find them en route, the huts mostly only stocked bars of chocolate, which is not my favourite hiking fuel. The larger villages have supermarkets where you can restock).
  • Empty plastic bags (for rubbish and wet/dirty clothes).

It probably all-together weighed about 8kgs including the pack (but excluding the boots).

 

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Adventures, Mountains, Tour du Mont Blanc

Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc

 

 

On the way to Lac Blanc (short variant)

I’m always looking for long hikes where I can sleep up high in the mountains. This summer’s big adventure took me to the Alps in Europe. They’re special. You can hike, eat well (French cheese, Italian pasta), stay in mountain huts and enjoy the best scenery for days and days (or even months) all while carrying a super light pack. You don’t even need hiking boots (trail shoes are all the craze) or a sleeping bag. It is a perfect summer activity for those of us who live in small city apartments. No need to store tents, big packs, boots, etc. Get yourselves a 30L pack and some trail shoes and you’re all set. Well almost.

Choose the Tour du Mont Blanc. Take 10-12 days to do it and it leaves you with enough travel and recovery days at either end while only taking a two week vacation. Another popular route is from Chamonix to Zermatt (the Haute Route), which is a bit longer and you may struggle to have a weekend to recover before going back to work if you want to stick to two weeks off. Also, it doesn’t have as many mountain huts so you’re mostly sleeping in the valley villages. There are plenty of village sleeping options on the Tour du Mont Blanc as well though. It is nice to do it occasionally during the walk so you can stock up on supplies.

What you’ll see: glaciers are everywhere, chamois, marmots, wildflowers of every possible colour (the alpine meadows were in full bloom in mid-July), the tallest mountain in Europe and the beautiful range it sits in, cows with bells, dogs with bells (everything moving has a bell on it!), mossy forests, fast flowing rivers, and tiny stone/wood villages (my favourite was in the Swiss section).

Wildflowers!

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Where to stay: if you want to be up high in the mountains for the sunsets (and sunrises!), then stay in the refuges (mountain huts). I particularly enjoyed those at around 2,000m to 2,400m (highest on the track). I didn’t go off-track to any of the super high ones, but they did look spectacular if you had the right skills to get to them. Most of the refuges include dinner and breakfast (half pension/demi pension) rates averaging at about 45 Euros per night (ranging from 30-55 Euros) for a dorm room, much less if you go without the meals. Not all the huts had self-serve cooking facilities so if you’re cooking for yourself, you may need to carry a stove or eat cold food. You can often buy a la carte options so you could play it by ear. Or, you can have your hot meal for lunch (which isn’t included in demi pension anyways) — there were usually huts with food at a convenient lunch stopping time.

Hot showers are often included (yes, there are hot showers!) and there was a hot shower at every hut I stayed at (except for a cold one at Bonhomme because it was a rainy day and the water is solar heated). You can book many of these online or make reservations over the phone (most wardens speak English, but everyone speaks French).

Refuge Bertone

Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme Refuge

When to go: I started the Tour in mid-July, which was perfect timing for the wildflowers. The weather was mostly sunny, warm, and settled (although a few rainy days) with highs ranging in the valleys up to 33C, but much cooler high up (still t-shirt weather, until you stop!). Not warm enough for glacial lake swims, but I don’t think it ever would be! Most of the snow had melted and there were only a few patches in a couple sections of the hike. These were easily passed through with lots of footprints to follow. Also, if you time it well, you can watch the Tour de France cycling while you’re close by — maybe the finish in Paris?

Check out my next posts on my route and gear, as well as day-by-day imagery. 

 

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London

The Green Chain and Waterlink Way Loop: an introduction to leafy South-East London

On a rainy bank holiday in late-May after just moving to South-East London, I decided to explore my new neighborhood. In my three days resident here, I had already managed to spot the Green Chain signs and just could not resist setting off, despite the forecast for rain and the boxes still strewn around the house.

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The Green Chain Walk is a 50 mile route connecting green spaces throughout South East London. I chose to do the Nunhead Cemetary to Crystal Palace section (5.5 miles) and to make it a loop, join up with the Waterlink Way following the River Poole back up to Nunhead/Brockley.

With a rain jacket, cross trainers, and a fully charged phone with the last section of the green chain walk cached, I was out the door by early afternoon. That’s the beauty of doing an urban walk, you can leave your house later in the day with time to fit in a big brunch to fuel your walk.

The first greenspace is Nunhead Cemetery, which the woods have reclaimed since its abandonment in the 1960s-70s. It is full of elaborate headstones peaking out beneath all the wild growth. Birdsong and fluttering wings follow you through the reserve. It started to rain slightly, but the high branches provided enough shelter to keep me dry. A great place for a walk on a rainy day.

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From there it goes into a short leafy residential area to the Camberwell New and Old Cemeteries, full of roses. If you’re in a hurry, you could skip this bit and go straight on to One Tree Hill. Yes, there is a hill in inner London and it has stunning views over the city. You can even see St Paul’s Cathedral. If you have a stroller or prefer to avoid steps you can go through the beautiful Brenchley gardens instead (this option is signposted). By that point, I was really impressed with the signage. It is possibly the best I’ve come across. I didn’t need to use my map once and I’m completely new to South London.
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There are some more hills leading through residential areas to the Horniman Museum gardens. To the museum would be a great walk that’s accessible for families with strollers. After the museum, the trails through Sydenham Wood are full of steps and steep bits.

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The Cox Trail uses an old railway line, which was beautiful and largely empty. It was such a treat having the woods to myself. Something that never happened while living near Victoria Park in the East. This section was a definite highlight of the walk, and I am very pleased that it is so close to home.

Crystal Palace Park was easily reached within 2 hours at quite a slow pace with lots of stops for pictures. I did however, keep to the track despite all the temptations to explore the myriad of trails in the various greenspaces along the way. You could easily double that time, if you wished, and take advantage of all the trail opportunities. I’d recommend at least exploring more of Nunhead Cemetery while you’re there.

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From Crystal Palace, I headed across the residential area to the Pool River, leaving the Green Chain Walk behind. The best place to start is from Lower Sydenham, near the Station. It’s called the Waterlink Way and continues all the way to Greenwich.

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The River is the first I’ve seen in London and the track is very well maintained. Look out for a narrow dirt track off the main route that follows close to the river for a more scenic option. Again, this was a really quiet and peaceful walk. The Waterlink Way would be perfect for bikes too. A nice place to ride without car or people traffic, unlike the busy canal routes in the East.

From the Waterlink Way, you can cut across to Brockley’s Hilly Fields, also with good views. Stop for a coffee and cake at one of nice cafes in Brockley. Or, grab picnic supplies from the supermarkets on the corner of St Asaph Rd, including a nice little organic shop and a Sainsburys. Then continue up to Telegraph Hill Park, about ten minutes from Brockley Station and enjoy a well deserved rest on the benches overlooking London. A better view than Primrose Hill.

There were some nice picnic spots en route and I discovered a lot of blackberry patches to return to in autumn. It was a great half-day out totaling about 5 hours of walking over approximately ten miles.

You can find this walk and other short walks through the ebook The Insider’s Guide to Walking in London (available for free download).

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London

Cool summer evening stroll

Today was cool and rainy so I headed for the tree covered cemetery in Nunhead. The wind had at least subsided, but a light jacket was still needed.

With the rain, everything is so green and was beautiful in the soft light. Too bad my cell phone camera struggled to capture it.

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London

Richmond Park perimeter: the Tamsin Trail

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Richmond Park is one of London’s best known parks. The Tamsin Trail follows its perimeter, for a total of about 7.5 miles. The Park is also one of the most popular and was packed on a sunny Sunday afternoon in mid-Summer. It was warm and there wasn’t a lot of shade and the trail was busy with mountain bikes (you could get by with a road bike in dry weather). There were however wide open vistas of grasslands and patches of wood, a creek that appeared to be free-flowing, and the best of all, deer. As I walked, I made sure to scan the horizon for antlers, but the deer were easy to spot. Just look for a bunch of people stopped with their cameras. The deer were all huddled under a shaded tree and not at all bothered by the bikes and dogs going by.

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This was my second visit to Richmond Park and quite different than my first which was in late-Autumn/early-Winter. It was a cool day and I had the Park largely to myself. The deer were grazing out in the open and the trees were bare.

In both seasons the Park is beautiful, but I do prefer having it to myself. It can take a while to get to on public transport from East London, but if you’re in the West, it won’t take long at all. It is well served by the tube, Overground and buses. The walk from Richmond Station is really nice too. There are multiple gates so you can come through from Wimbledon or many other entry points.

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