Friday, 31 August 2018

Road trip!

The Oxford English Dictionary defines adventure as ‘an unusual and exciting or daring experience’.  There is often an urge to compartmentalise people or experiences.  I think it’s important to ensure that adventure is kept as broad as possible.  Adventure can be a truly daring, exciting and potentially hazardous experience but who defines that?  The person doing or the person watching?  
I’m firmly in the camp of adventure being a self defined activity.  
There are so many things that can then be done with the after effect being a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.  Clearly for some that will be climbing the North face of the Eiger.  For many more it will be an activity that took them out of the norm with exposure to the new or different.

This year my wife Lesley and I had to clear a family house in Austria.  It had the potential to be an upsetting experience, one that we needed to get done as quickly as possible then move on.  The option of flying out from the UK, doing a few days work then flying back was the simple one.  However it left little in the way of positives.  
We were keen to find some good in the situation (and needed to bring back a few personal items) so settled on the idea of making a road trip of it.  There is so much of Europe that we have not seen and what better way of getting some ideas for future trips than to make one.  
Rather than fly we decided to drive down to Northern Austria over a week, visit some cities and towns that took our fancy and get a sense of places we might want to spend more time around in the future.

Ill admit this was not necessarily daring but it was, for us, unusual and it promised to be the sort of excitement born of new and different experience rather than pumping adrenaline.  For us therefore this qualified as an adventure.

I love the idea of loading a rucksack, canoe or car with the basics and setting off independently.  Ill admit I would rather be self powered but we had to take a vehicle.  The feeling of just leaving the front door and not having to conform to mass transport timetables is a good one though.  
A drive to the coast, a ferry and a short drive later we were in Ghent.  A charming city with beautiful medieval buildings.

We had undertaken to spend no more than a couple of hours on the road each day.  After a taster of Belgium, a country whose small towns and cities I now want to see more of, we were on the road again and within a couple of hours we were in Cologne.  I had a definite sense that Northern Europeans go South in August and this city, like everywhere we stopped, was less crowded or frantic than I expect cities to be.  Rebuilt after the war Cologne still retains some of its charm and there is a heap of ancient Roman history to soak up (provided you don’t turn up on a Monday when the museums are shut!).

After two nights and a drive we had our next stop.  Wurzburg, on the Main river, the centre of the Franconian wine region.  A reminder of Europes highly civilised relationship with alcohol!
Wurzburgs (in)famous 'wine bridge'.

The Prince Bishops castle, Wurzburg.

Our final day heading South brought us to the Danube West of Linz and our base for a couple of days of house clearing.  I’ve visited this area many times.  Cyclists will have passed through pedalling the river to Vienna, Budapest and beyond as one day I plan to do.  It remains a calm, pretty and friendly region with great opportunities for walking in the Bohemian Forest just a few miles away.

After a busy three days of house clearing, visits to recycling centres and car loading we headed for home.  After a brief overnight stop in Regensburg and a longer drive then normal we overnighted in Koblenz.  This city at the confluence of the Rhine and the Moselle rivers offers great potential for further visits and can act as a base for a ride or trek along the Rheinstieg trail through a UNESCO world heritage region.

Cable cars across the Rhine

With appetite whetted for a return we headed for Brugge.  Famous again for its medieval buildings, canals and something called beer!
Beer flight in Brugge

Ten days after setting off we returned home.  A short trip by many adventurers standards.  A very gentle trip compared to some parts of the world.  However we were reminded of the beauty and history of what is effectively our own back yard.  I was also inspired to visit places just a drive or train journey away.  The cities of Belgium and the low countries.  The major Rivers of Europe, most with long distance trails alongside them.  The tranquility and beauty of central Europe away from the ‘stag night cities’.  I think all of those offer opportunities for ‘adventure’ in what to me has to be the widest sense of the word.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Sometimes its about the journey

There is a saying that when life hands you lemons make a gin and tonic!  So when injury and work dictated a shorter adventure we made the most of the journey rather than the destination.

From humble solo microadventures a couple of years ago trips are now developing with other like minded individuals.  I am lucky enough to have access to a house in the UK Lake District and have agreed to start getting there for a couple of long weekends a year with good friends Steve and Carl.  As April approached I started to look at an itinerary.  I thought it was important to make the most of our relatively short time together with as much ground travelled as possible.  A good long walk up something or to a feature was going to be the mark of success. 

As our agreed weekend arrived however plans had to be changed and, what for me was a bit of an epiphany, took place.  Steve was struggling to get time off from work so had to travel separately with only Saturday to spend out and about.  On top of that he was struggling with a knee injury that precluded long distance walking or travelling on difficult terrain.  I also had to meet someone on the Saturday morning to discuss some work on the house where we were staying.  I also forgot my walking boots !  This meant whatever I walked had to be suitable for trail shoes.  Overall things were looking like a bit of a washout but we were all loathe to cancel a rare trip away.

As luck would have it I found a newspaper article (The Times) with a relatively straightforward walk of less than five miles to Haystacks from the top of Honister pass.  Whilst there would be some height to gain much of it would already be below us and the route followed mining paths for much of the way with no exposed walking which, if I’m honest, always leaves me feeling very uncomfortable.

So, we arrived at Honister Pass just before lunch with the whole afternoon to travel a relatively short distance.  This changed the whole approach to the day.  Far from wanting to crack on to achieve great things I adopted the mindset of enjoying the journey rather than focusing on the destination.  Many people will be well ahead of me in developing this attitude but as someone who has always focused on the end having to be better than the beginning and achieved only after hard work this was a liberating mindset.

Parking behind the Youth Hostel (for free thanks to NT membership!) we set off at a leisurely amble pretty much due West along the dismantled tramway which served the surrounding, mainly disused slate quarries.  We were blessed with fine, clear weather with only the slightest of breezes.  Knowing how quickly the weather can change in the hills we stopped after less than half an hour to enjoy lunch.  As you tuck in to a pork pie on a hillside far from work and the stresses of daily life you quickly start to appreciate how important trips away, even short ones, are to well being.

Lunch finished and with the weather improving we carried on with the heights of Grey Knotts to our left.  Dropping down briefly to cross the stream near Little Round How we carried on to Blackbeck Tarn.  Again we took our time looking North between the Crags to the valley of Buttermere well below us.  I began to appreciate how fresh I felt not having trekked up from the valley floor.  I know it would have been satisfying but there is something equally satisfying about enjoying a pretty view feeling fresh. 

It was as we headed North West for the final kilometer to the top of Haystacks that the highlight of the day took place.  The breeze had dropped and the sun was getting equal billing with the light cloud.  We turned a corner to Innominate Tarn which was flat calm and totally quiet.  In absolute silence we were treated to the reflection of the sky and the distant heights of Pillar in the totally flat waters of the tarn.  I know Wainwright was moved by the beauty of Haystacks and had his ashes spread there.  Seeing the tarn as it was that day I can understand why.  The calm, tranquil majesty matched any cathedral I have visited.  We all tried to capture the moment and having done so just stopped and enjoyed the moment speaking only in whispers to avoid breaking the spell.  How glad I was that circumstances had dictated a short, no pressure walk.  

We had all the time we wanted to enjoy the experience without the need to make for the next way point.  That feeling of calm and tranquillity followed us to the top of Haystacks which is really a series of tops with stunning views of the surrounding peaks and valleys.

Having spent as long as we wanted admiring the view we had a leisurely descent via the Southern edge of Blackbeck tarn and the Northern contours of Grey Knotts back to the disused mining path and the car park.  The slower pace allowed us to watch birds of prey circling and Steves gimlet eye to pick up the remains of their catches including tiny bones and teeth in droppings that we would have just marched past if we’d had a schedule to keep.

As if on cue the weather began to turn as we reached the car in the late afternoon.  Emphasising even more the treat we had just been given of a fine afternoons leisurely walk with time to really savour the beauty of the fells.

Steve had to leave for work the following morning.  Moved by our experience Carl and I agreed on a short walk to Rannerdale Knotts on the South of Buttermere.  Reaching a high point we looked towards Haystacks and our discussion turned to plans for future visits.  We both agreed they would be more about shorter, quality exploration of this stunning landscape than trying to pack too much in and miss the majesty.  With that came the realisation, perhaps late, that it is all about the journey.  

Saturday, 14 April 2018


How many of us have seen that post from a stranger - ‘anyone fancy getting together for an adventure’ and hovered the finger over the keyboard for a moment before moving on?  I know I have on many occasions.  In many ways its unsurprising in a world of internet stalkers and on line threats that the adventurous spirit we try to apply to our normal lives does not always transfer to our on line ones.

The root of my April 2018 microadventure began with a simple reach out on the Berkshire microadventure Facebook group just after Christmas.  Perhaps it was the fact that New Year plans were still in gestation that made me click yes to a meet up for coffee.  Whatever the unseen motivator I can only say that taking a small risk can lead to big rewards.  A few as yet unknown souls also seemed to grasp the potential opportunities of a New Year and one cold January Sunday afternoon eight of us, a mix of genders, age and outdoors experience met up for a chat.  Unsurprisingly really we all got on, seemed normal and enjoyed the opportunity to chat over mutual interest.  In effect following the common sense advice readily available on how to meet on line contacts for the first time paid off.  Discussion finally turned to the prospect of a group night out on a hill, already spotted by one of our number, and the principal was agreed.

Its remarkable how once the initial challenge of meeting is overcome like minded people can progress common objectives.  Inevitably finding a commonly available date took us forward a month or two but in early April six of us met up at a pub just outside Reading.  Again safety in numbers for those who may have had remaining concerns about going off in to the dark with a group of strangers!  A drink and a meal allowed any possible final concerns to disappear and as dusk fell off we went. 

Overall a night on a hill is a simple but satisfying experience.  Spending it with others who share that simple satisfaction helps magnify it I think.  One of our number had a title for our first adventure which absolutely summed things up.  ‘Kambwesi’, meaning ‘a coming together’.
The dawn brought its usual understated beauty and as is always the case a short overnight trip felt like a great deal more.  On this occasion it opened up the future opportunities that having like minded people to call on presents.

Social media is often criticised but it can have great value.  It gives people the opportunity to adventurously reach out and others the opportunity, if they’re equally adventurous, to respond. 

Go to the video courtesy of Tim:-