Hiking From Grindelwald to Zermatt – A Long Walk in the Alps Revisited

During the summer of 2007 I hiked through the Swiss Alps from Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland to Zermatt in the Valais and wrote A Long Walk in the Alps about my experiences along the way. The story’s been out as a paperback for ages but I just got around to dragging it into the 21st century and publishing it as an e-book so there was a good excuse to look at all the old photos from the trip and share a few of them on here.

Grindelwald and the Eiger

The start point was the village of Grindelwald beneath the peaks of the Fiescherhorner 4049m and the Eiger 3970m to the top right

Schilthorn from the Eiger Trail

Looking across the depths of the Lauterbrunnen valley from the top of the Eiger Trail above Eigergletscher. The Schilthorn is just right of center above the village of Murren with the pass of the Sefeinenfurka to its left which the route crosses

Jungfrau from Wengen

The view from my balcony in Wengen. Evening alpenglow lights the 4153m Jungfrau peak while shadows overtake the Lauterbrunnen valley down to the right.

Bernese Oberland peaks

Looking back from the top of the 2612m Sefeinenfurka Pass to the Wetterhorn, Eiger Monch and Jungfrau as the route leaves the spectacular Jungfrau Region and descends to the Kiental

Bernese Oberland valley

After the heights of the Sefeinenfurka the route descends to the peaceful green pastures of the Kiental

In the Kandertal

Tranquil lake right behind my hotel at Kandersteg


The wild high country of the Gemmi Pass where I crossed the Bernese Oberland from the Kandertal to the Rhone Valley. This pass at 2314m is on the continental divide between northern and southern Europe


The village of Gruben in the beautiful and unspoilt valley of the Turtmanntal. This valley is the closest one gets to a wilderness area in the alps and is the start point for the Augstbordpass

augstbordpass summit

At 2894m the Augstbordpass was the highest point of my route from Grindelwald to Zermatt. From here the route descends to St Niklaus in the Mattertal.

Jungen in the Valais

The alpine village of Jungen on its grassy shelf high above the Mattertal.


Garden at Randa in the Mattertal. The pace of life in this Valaisian village is well represented by the sleeping goat

Europaweg to Zermatt

The spectacular path known as the Europaweg which contours high above the Mattertal heading to Zermatt at its head. The view here is looking back along the trail towards the Dom which at 4545m is one of the highest peaks of the Alps

The Matterhorn in cloud

The famous peak of the Matterhorn 4478m scrapes the clouds as the Europaweg trail begins its descent to Zermatt

Schwarzsee and Maria Zum Schnee

The tiny chapel of Maria zum Schnee – Maria of the Snows – nestles at 2583m beside the atmospheric Schwarzsee at the foot of the Matterhorn’s final pyramid. This is the top end of the Matterhorn Trail and the end of my route.

Matterhorn north face

Walking down the Matterhorn Trail from Schwarzsee to Zmutt and finally to Zermatt. Here at just above the midway point are spectacular views of the Matterhorn’s north face

Looking back it’s easy to forget the hardship of carrying my pack up the Sefeinenfurka in the blazing sun of a mini heatwave only days after shivering in the snow atop the Schilthorn but on balance I’d do the route again tomorrow – well not tomorrow as it’s still winter but sometime soon.

The rest of the photos are on my alpine trails blog along with a page per day route description while the full story is now available on e-book (with free preview of course) from Amazon (kindle) in the UK and US or from Smashwords if you need another format. In the meantime instead of wandering the hills for days on end I have been helping to look after the kids whilst working on the Yuri Medev stories; the first of which, The Colonel of Krasnoyarsk is now available with a free preview on this blog as well as at the US and UK Kindle stores.

As for more trips like this… well it’s harder to organize with the kids the ages they are but I’ve had the maps out again and the Pyrenees are looking a possibility… then again I haven’t been to Austria yet. For the immediate future though it’s me in front of the TV for the next two weeks as it’s that Winter Olympics time again – Enjoy SOCHI 2014 and I’m very jealous of anyone who’s going!

Pete Buckley February 2014

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Dreaming of a White Christmas? Here’s Skiddaw in November Instead…

There were a few flakes of snow just now – well sleet but I guess it’s close – falling outside or rather being blown in ahead of yet another of the heavy rain showers barrelling in from the North Atlantic. Any dreams of a White Christmas here in the UK are rapidly fading so for a suitably seasonal post – with some snow – here’s a few photos from a walk up Skiddaw I did just over a month ago in early November.

Skiddaw in snow

The path from Underskiddaw is the easiest and quickest way to England’s fourth highest summit

Sun and snow in the Lake District

A snowy scene at the col just before the final rise to the summit of Skiddaw

Skiddaw summit

The sun and snow leant an alpine summer feel to the summit – the wind was cold though

View of Blencathra from Skiddaw

The far side of Skiddaw is high remote country compared to Keswick. The picture shows Blencathra from the summit.

This route from Underskiddaw known as the Tourist Route is not the best way to Skiddaw; that being the Longside Edge Route from the North West – but it is the quickest and easiest. Besides you don’t get too many days like this – especially at this time of year – and I enjoyed a walk in warm sunshine without too many tourists up to 3054 feet where an icy wind reminded me that it wasn’t summer in the Alps after all but November in the Lake District.

Happy Christmas…

Pete Buckley Dec 2013

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The Colonel of Krasnoyarsk – Chapter One

A free preview of my first novel The Colonel of Krasnoyarsk isYuri Medev The Colonel of Krasnoyarsk already available at Kindle and Smashwords, but several people have asked me why it wasn’t on here too. Thinking about it, that made a lot of sense so here’s chapter one of the story. There’s a short introduction before this in the book. At some stage I will also post profiles of the main characters in the story though it is at the moment uncertain when I’ll actually get around to doing that and not just talking about it. I guess at least I won’t have to go up a mountain in the rain or snow for that one but there will be some of that too. Hope people like it; the introduction by the way is now on my new Goodreads blog.

Chapter One

The American Airlines Boeing 767 broke through the cloud ceiling at about 4000 feet but the man seated in the aisle seat just in front of the exit was denied the aerial view of New York City and Long Island Sound as the pilot made a banking turn to begin their final approach into JFK. He felt relaxed and didn’t think of what lay ahead, preferring instead to observe his fellow passengers; the large man seated next to him was clearly in fear of flying and looked as though he would rather be somewhere else, the man in a suit two rows in front was drunk – as were several other passengers – and the blonde stewardess kept looking at him when she thought he wasn’t looking himself.

Despite his features bearing witness to many Siberian winters and the harsh mountain sun of Chechnya, he looked much younger than his thirty nine years with his brown eyes and youthful face giving an air that appeared determined but not unkind and the stewardess who served him was intrigued by his dark looks and calm polite manner:

The name on his boarding card was Stefan Romanski and he looked to be in his early thirties. He wore a plain dark blue baseball cap and she could see that his dark hair at the sides had been shaved recently and she wondered whether he was in the Military – on the one occasion he had left his seat on the flight from London he had walked with the confident upright gait of a soldier. He looked a shade under six foot; was of a slim but wiry build and clearly very fit. She had been further impressed by the fact that he had drunk only black tea and bottled water on the long flight when several of the passengers in her charge were already drunk even though it was only mid afternoon in New York.

 The mystery man gave her a little smile and she was embarrassed that he’d caught her looking at him. She smiled back and continued to serve the businessman two rows in front with bourbon. He was reading a leading article in the New York Times about the recent increased activity of Russian spies in the City. She thought all that had gone away with the end of the Cold War…

Earlier that morning Colonel Yuri Medev had left London Heathrow in a rainstorm after arriving there from Krakow in Poland and was now near the end of a three day journey from his current base of Krasnoyarsk in Siberia.

The British passport he carried declared him to be Stefan Romanski – a Polish immigrant to the UK – which was the reason for his diversion to those countries. His identity would be scrutinised more if he arrived on the Moscow flight. His English was excellent but heavily accented and he would not have passed for an American or an Englishman, hence the Polish identity.

He thought back over the events that had brought him here which had begun even before the raid on the Mafia gang’s apartment in Krasnoyarsk a month earlier. Medev was a colonel in the GRU or Military Intelligence and until recently had been a commander of Russia’s elite Special Forces known as the GRU Spetsnaz.

When that division had been reorganised and no longer came under the directive of GRU, Medev had effectively become a full time intelligence officer though he retained his attachment to the Special Forces and was still able to participate in some operations. Most colonels of his age did not choose to get involved in the action to the extent that he did but then again most colonels of his age did not climb mountains and go cross country skiing for fun. Perhaps it was a subconscious effort to deny that he was approaching forty years old but he still got involved as much as he could.

His superiors too were happy to still encourage his direct involvement. They were quite aware that his experience with Special Forces went back many years to when he was with VDV the Airborne Division; long before he was even recruited by Intelligence. They recognised the value of that experience as well as the fact that most of the men would follow Medev anywhere whether they were ordered to or not.

He glanced up from his comfortable seat to see that the stewardess was heading back up the cabin presumably to get more drinks for the passengers seated in front of him. She had nice legs he thought and wondered idly whether she went running or to a gym. The engine tone decreased, meaning the pilot had reduced power again for their approach.

Officially he had been in his new job for several months but this was his first mission as a GRU agent and not as a Spetsnaz Commander. He thought about the noisy military transports he was used to flying on compared to this and the fact that when he reached his destination today there would be nobody trying to kill him – luxury.

Normally a criminal case such as this would not have involved the GRU at all once the gang had been located and the raid completed but there was an unusual difference here which had come to light with the investigation into the activities of the gang leaders they had apprehended at the apartment. He remembered studying the list of items found there which included a large sum in US dollars – in itself not unusual with these people – passports from the US and UK along with those from a number of other EU countries – chiefly Romania and Poland.

A large quantity of cocaine had been found at another location in the city after the questioning of those who had been arrested but other than that the inventory had all the hallmarks of people trafficking. It was something else that had come out in the questioning of the gang members that made this case unusual. They all maintained that the main people they did business with were based not in any Russian city but in the United States. It was this apparent US connection that had aroused the interest of his organisation.

The man in the seat next to him visibly tensed as the aircraft hit a patch of mild turbulence and Yuri observed with interest that he closed his eyes each time the aircraft gave a lurch. He supposed he was being unfair in his assessment; he had jumped from more aircraft than most people ever fly in and flying in these modern jets with no one trying to shoot him down gave him no fear at all. In fact he found it a relaxing occupation and staying awake was his biggest challenge. Of course there was always the possibility of terrorism…

When questioned further about an American involvement to their operations two names kept coming up; That of Jim Bergman – though none of the detainees seemed to know anything about him – and a man known simply as Nikovich. No-one seemed to know anything much about him either – or at least they were not saying; apart from the fact that both men were based in New York and to their knowledge had never even visited Russia.

Further investigation had revealed that Bergman was an agent of the American FBI and somehow mixed up with this gang though he appeared to be some kind of go between rather than any sort of leader. They concluded that he was probably a corrupt agent in the pay of Nikovich though it could not be discounted – as Yuri himself had pointed out – that he could be working under cover. There was no information at all forthcoming on Nikovich.

As the investigation had continued along these lines Medev’s immediate superior General Koriakin had asked for a meeting to discuss with him the course of action to be taken. This had been seven days before he’d boarded this flight though the meeting was as clear in his mind as if it had been that morning.

He had left his apartment in the officers’ accommodation block and walked across the base to meet with Koriakin in his office. It had been a day of pleasant sunshine but the shade was cool – by September summer has left Siberia – two soldiers saluted him as he walked at his usual brisk pace towards Koriakin’s office. He touched his cap back to them and continued to the General’s office.

His mood was buoyant and was helped by the soldiers; there had been recognition on their faces – they had not simply saluted his uniform and senior rank. He felt proud that the men of the base respected him and dare he say it even liked him. These two had certainly looked pleased to see him and not simply saluted out of a sense of duty. This happened a lot with Colonel Medev.

General Koriakin was tall and lean like Medev but his hair was much lighter and tinged with grey though neither man looked their true age or showed any sign of putting on weight like many of their age and rank. Both believed in staying as fit as the young soldiers they commanded and they often – voluntarily – shared their training regimes which won them the respect and admiration of the men.

“Yuri” beamed Koriakin at the younger man. “We have more news from Moscow.”

“What is the latest?” he replied curiously.

 Koriakin had given him details of the watch their agents in New York had placed on Bergman, one of the US suspects.

He was indeed an agent of the FBI though nothing else had been found to link him to the gang in Krasnoyarsk. The name of Nikolai Nikovich had come up on US court records relating to a recent organised crime case that Bergman had been involved with so there was a link between the two men after all. Nikovich had been acquitted by the court on several counts of conspiracy to murder and human trafficking. He was described by the American press as being connected to the Russian Mafia though no reference to him was found on FSB files or those of the police in any of the major Russian cities.

The investigation at home though had revealed some more about those operations. The people from the apartment were involved in the trafficking of young girls who were promised passports and jobs in the US and Western Europe in return for payment. When they got there, their new lives turned out to be rather different than expected and the promised jobs ranged from prostitution to working for a pittance in illegal factories.

This was nothing new for Russian and Eastern European mafia groups but Yuri still thought this human trafficking that amounted to a modern day slave trade was a most despicable crime and wished his unit had killed more of the gang during the raid. The group with which Bergman and Nikovich were involved in New York appeared to be the recipient of these girls. As payment the New York gang were sending cash and consignments of cocaine to Russia which was much in demand by the increased number of rich businessmen here – a new development.

“So – if the American FBI had the confessions from our Apartment Gang they would have probably have convicted Nikovich. It seems as though lack of provable evidence was the obstacle.”

“That may be true but we don’t currently cooperate on that level with the US” returned the General “perhaps we should consider it in certain cases.”  Yuri couldn’t help thinking that his phrase “in certain cases” could be replaced with “when it suits us” but he agreed with what Koriakin had said.

It was true though and both men realised it whatever their outward views on the matter. If the gangs were now cooperating internationally then their law enforcement had to do the same – at least to a degree – or the criminals would have the advantage. As for corruption, that was still a problem here so why not in the US too.

It had been decided though that the priority was to find Nikovich who was almost certainly the leader of the New York organisation. He clearly had Russian connections despite there being no trace of him in Criminal Records in the FSB and if allowed to continue he would find another gang and simply start up again. There was too much money at stake.

The Krasnoyarsk Gang had been responsible for the deaths of several police officers and civilians to say nothing of the girls sent abroad on false promises before Medev’s Special Forces had stormed into their hideout to spoil the party. No-one wanted to go through all that again and he had to be stopped so Yuri was not surprised when the General gave him his instructions to go to New York.

“Bergman is our only connection to Nikovich and as he is unlikely to agree to tell us everything, we must find out what we can. We must start with his computer and his apartment. If he is working for Nikovich, any records will be there. He would not keep them on an FBI computer or at their office.”

Koriakin had made it clear to Yuri that he was not ordering him to go and that another agent could be found if necessary but he stressed that it would be an opportunity to directly attack the people trafficking gangs knowing that the younger man was always going to accept such a mission. It was then that the general hinted at a second part to his assignment.

“What does this second job involve?” Yuri asked with a look that could be described as cynical.

“It just needs someone in place on the ground – I will elaborate soon but it is much less risky than finding Nikovich. And that job should be straightforward too – we just want the hard drive from Bergman’s computer. Our tech people will decode what is on there and then we will issue further instructions regarding Nikovich; you just need to get into his apartment and steal it.” It was clear to Yuri that those further instructions would probably involve the termination of Nikovich just as soon as they had enough proof to justify it. He also wondered what the second job could involve as any of their agents currently in New York could steal a hard drive. Most of them would know what to do with it too.

He had a vague suspicion that the mystery job was the real reason behind sending someone to the States and that the Bergman hard drive thing had been to get him to volunteer because it was an attack on the people smuggling gangs. If he himself had been unwittingly hand picked for this job it meant that whoever had ordered it considered it of top level importance and secrecy. Despite the lack of information he trusted Koriakin and believed him as to the level of risk.

There was a dull clunk somewhere below the cabin floor as the landing gear went down. The man next to Yuri had his eyes shut and he gripped the arm of his seat tightly.

“We will be just fine” Yuri said to him in English in a calm voice. The man said nothing but appeared to relax slightly. The aircraft made a perfect landing and the pilot engaged reverse thrust to rapidly slow their hundred and fifty mile an hour dash along the runway.

 His British passport gave no problems at US immigration – it shouldn’t have done being genuine – and he went through the security checks without incident so he was soon at the taxi rank awaiting a ride to his hotel which was situated near the theatre district of the city.

It was definitely still summer here and he felt over dressed in his pale grey sweatshirt, matching combat trousers and baseball cap. Once they were off the freeway and into the city the traffic was as bad as he’d seen anywhere – well apart from Moscow and he hardly ever went there – and he didn’t envy the taxi driver as he weaved in and out of the speeding cars avoiding grid locked lanes at junctions and talking constantly.

“Can we go via Broadway” Yuri butted in to the driver’s relentless jabbering.

“Sure – you like the theatre? You’ll be taking in a show while you’re here then?”

“Yes I hope to.” replied Yuri who actually knew nothing whatsoever about theatre but he knew Broadway to be a short distance from his hotel and he wanted to be sure that his taxi was not being followed.

Satisfied after the short diversion that he had no tail, he paid the driver using cash and walked up the steps of the hotel carrying his baggage which consisted of a single large rucksack weighing fifty pounds. He went up the steps two at a time and through into reception where the blonde woman on the desk greeted him with a pleasant smile. Soft jazz music played in the background and the marble floored room was filled with an impressive array of plants.

“Mr Romanski, a letter arrived for you” she said, handing him a brown envelope with what felt like a greetings card inside, as he filled out the form. He set off for his room choosing to take the stairs after his long internment on the aircraft.

“Can I take your bag for you sir?” enquired a bellboy

“Thanks – but I think I can manage okay myself.” The man’s expectant puppy like look turned almost to a scowl which Yuri returned with a beaming smile before jogging up the stairs to his room three floors up. The man had been after earning a tip.

One of the keys he recovered from the piece of corrugated cardboard in the envelope opened the locker matching the number printed on it at the nearest Subway station and Yuri took the cardboard shoebox contained within back to his hotel room to open. The contents included a 9mm Glock pistol with silencer, a box containing 200 rounds of ammunition, a small transponder device or bug and a portable hard drive.

In addition there was a modified but ordinary looking cell phone, several maps of locations in the city and of a small town just to the North, some photos of a smartly dressed blond man and ten thousand dollars in cash. More curiously there was a small plastic bag containing a large number of what appeared to be small lights similar to those used on a Christmas tree though they were not connected by a wire. Yuri had absolutely no idea as to their purpose.

As he wondered at the lights he noticed a map showing an area far to the North East and close to the Canadian frontier – almost certainly the second part of the mission; maybe the lights were for use there. Yuri wondered more about what it involved as the kit he’d received made it fairly clear what was expected of him here. He glanced at the photographs – he would have to think about Bergman soon but first of all he would get his bearings and have a look at where he was staying…

If you enjoyed that please consider downloading the full version from the Kindle US or UK stores or Smashwords.com (where most e-reader formats are supported) A good old fashioned is also available from both Amazon links.

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Walking in Wales – Y Lliwedd and Snowdon

Mountain hiking has always been one of my favorite activities so it’s also perhaps a good thing that the weather is also an interest as the one certainty with venturing into the hills is that you will encounter lots of different types of weather; most of which are going to make you either cold or wet or both. Not all mountain conditions are so hostile however and just occasionally one encounters conditions that are not only benign but also beautiful.

Snowdon and the Miners track

Snowdon from Llyn Llydaw just off the Miners Track from Pen y Pass. The route heads along just behind the skyline ridge

This temperature inversion which I walked through in North Wales on the way  from Pen y Gwryd to Snowdon fell into the latter category. A temperature inversion occurs when a layer of cool air is trapped beneath warmer air so reversing the normal state of affairs that it gets colder the higher you get. On this day in September – this phenomenon is commonest in autumn and winter – I journeyed from grey and overcast skies at low lying Betws y Coed into cool mist and light drizzle between Pen y Gwryd and Pen y Pass (800 to 1200 feet) and finally into warm sunshine over a sea of cloud above about 2500 feet.

Y Lliwedd view

Summit view from Y Lliwedd looking towards the Glyderau and Pen y Pass

Y Lliwedd Snowdon route

This was my lunch spot on the route looking southwards over Wales most of which was below the cloud layer while we had the sunshine

The route I took today was the path from Pen y Gwryd to Pen y Pass and then the Miners track to Llyn Llydaw before which I took the left fork and left that route to scale Y Lliwedd and follow the southern half of the Snowdon Horseshoe route to the summit of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) which at 3560 feet or 1085m is the highest point in Wales. This is the longer but probably easier side of the famous horseshoe; not crossing the knife edge of Crib Goch though there are a few easy scrambles amid rough ground on both sides of Y Lliwedd (898m/2946ft).

Snowdonia cloud sea

Looking south from just below the summit over a sea of clouds. Bottom left is where the Watkin Path meets the South Ridge Route over Bwlch Main

Nantlle Ridge and Llyn Cwellyn

Looking more towards the West with the Nantlle Ridge visible on the left and Llyn Cwellyn bottom right. The sea can be made out in the far distance

The final ascent up to Snowdon was steep but on a much wider path called the Watkin Path which ascends from Nantgwynant. More awesome views over a sea of cloud that spread out to the South greeted me on reaching the South Ridge where there is a stone pillar. The summit, which lies a short way up the ridge from here, was in a higher cloud layer so the views vanished once more.

Lakes of Snowdon

Descending the Pyg Track back below the clouds with Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw seen ahead and below

The route down is a case of following the path beside the railway until you reach the col between Snowdon and the next peak Carnedd Ugain aka Crib y Ddysgl. The top of the Pyg and Miners’ Tracks is marked by another stone pillar and descends steep and rugged slopes initially on stone steps. Following the railway path goes to Llanberis which though a pleasant enough town is almost seven miles from where I’d left the car.

A word about parking – it is now £10 to park at Pen y Pass for over 4 hours (£5 for under) a cynical move as the average person will take closer to 5 hours for the return trip to Snowdon. The new parking areas near Pen y Gwryd are much cheaper and the lay byes further along the road are free.

Pete Buckley October 2013

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Views of Iona and Mull

Here are some views of the small but beautiful island of Iona from this summer. Iona is situated in the Western Isles of Scotland or the Hebrides just off the west coast of  Mull and is best known as the landing place of St Columba who is accredited with bringing Christianity to Scotland after founding the monastery here in the year 563. Indeed today there is a thriving Christian community here centered on the now restored abbey and people journey to the island from afar on pilgrimages.

Coach loads of tourists also make the journey but head to the beaches of Iona and you will find some of the peace and serenity that would have abounded in Columba’s day.

North Iona beach

The open sandy beaches at the northern end of the island look out over the North Atlantic

Coastline of Iona

The coastal grassland gives way to white sand and blue ocean

The centre of the island rises to the hill of Dun I which though only just over 100m in height gives an expansive vista of the Atlantic and the coast of Mull.

Mull and Iona

Looking across the sound to Mull from the highest point of Iona.

The Abbey of Iona

Iona Abbey seen from the path to Dun I

Hebridean weather

We were caught by this rainstorm on the way back to the village.

Heading back past the Abbey to the village the road goes south for a short distance before heading west to the other side of the island where can be found the Bay at the Back of the Ocean – I love that name.

The nunnery Iona

The old nunnery near the village dates from the twelfth century

beaches of the Hebrides

South of the Village on the east side of the island we found this beach

View from Iona golf course

The view from the links golf course on the West of Iona – even more stunning than Turrnberry

Pete Buckley August 2013

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Book Review – Walking in the Auvergne

Most visitors to France will be familiar with the popular holiday destinations of the Loire and Dordogne valleys; yet only a small percentage of these tourists will have visited the much less frequented region of the Auvergne where both of those great rivers begin their lives in the mountains of the Massif Central.

This land of big skies and far horizons in the southern half of Central France is home to mountains of over 1800m in height as well as spectacular river gorges, rolling sub alpine meadows and timeless rural villages; yet it receives a fraction of the visitors that head every summer to the Alps or the Pyrenees.

Walking in the Auvergne by Rachel Crolla and Carl McKeating is a comprehensive guide to this fascinating and beautiful region and is up to the usual high standard of Cicerone guidebooks. The authors have clearly spent a lot of time exploring the Auvergne’s mountains, valleys and villages and there is a wealth of background information on each part of the region as well as maps, photographs and detailed information on each of the 42 walks described. Included here are the main summits of Mont Dore, Cantal and Puy de Dome as well as lesser known parts of the region.

When I visited the Auvergne and Massif Central myself, the only information I had was a map and some local guides in French so this guidebook would have come in very useful indeed and looking at some of the walking routes described – which range incidentally from easy family walks to mountain hikes – I am sorely tempted to go back and explore further as it seemed I missed quite a bit!

A must for any walker planning to visit the Auvergne.

Pete Buckley July 2013

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The Lake District by Bike – the Wilds of Ennerdale

In the far west of the Lake District, two valleys stand out for their wildness and natural grandeur; the mountain glen of Wasdale beneath England’s highest peaks and lonely Ennerdale; just over the mountains to the North. In the case of Wasdale, a single narrow road leads alongside the shores of Wastwater to the tiny hamlet of Wasdale Head but at Ennerdale, the road only reaches to the lower end of Ennerdale Water from where a rough track continues to the remote head of the dale.

The valley was once cloaked by extensive coniferous plantations and these still remain to a small extent though much of the district is being returned to the Wild and Ennerdale today has a feel that is as much of the Scottish Highlands as it is of the Lakes. From the roadhead at Bowness Knott it is 6 miles or 10km to Black Sail Youth Hostel below Haystacks and Great Gable at the end of the track and one chilly day in March I set out on my bike to ride there.

Ennerdale Water from the bike trail

The trail passes some delightful sheltered bays along the lake shore

Ennerdale bridleway

The lower part of the trail is easy and not too rough for most bikes

The route from Bowness Knott begins along an easy track running beside Ennerdale Water by some beautiful little bays sheltered by trees. Until Ennerdale Youth Hostel is passed (the larger one at Gillerthwaite as opposed to Black Sail), there are few hills to speak of though beyond the gate the forest road begins its ascent towards the mountains that rise tantalisingly through the forest ahead. The start point is about 350 feet asl and the finish close to 1000 ft so a few uphills are inevitable.

It was Spring down here in the shelter of the valley but winter still clung to the mountains that rose ahead.  The views down valley were no less impressive; a wild beauty seemingly untouched by man and shaped only by nature. It was in fact exploited for forestry but that has left a different mark to the sheep farming that shaped the more familiar Lakeland landscapes.

Pillar from the Ennerdale bridleway

Pillar and the Rock were particulary impressive from here

Ennerdale from the bike trail

The upper part of Ennerdale has a real wilderness feel to it

Presently, after a steep and rough section of track, the valley ahead opened out to reveal Great Gable and Kirk Fell at its headwall while nearer – beneath the peak of Haystacks – was Black Sail Youth Hostel.

After a gate, the last section of path is rougher still though not steep and today I even had to negotiate a shallow snow drift which I managed without falling off. At Black Sail there is shelter and tea and coffee making facilities (please leave a donation) though if you want to stay here you need to book with the YHA.

Youth Hostel at Black Sail

Black Sail Youth Hostel and the end of the ride. This has to be one of the best destinations for a bike ride

Great Gable from Black Sail Hut

The remote head of Ennerdale from Black Sail Youth Hostel with Great Gable (centre)

This is a great short ride to a wonderful location and like the Elan Valley route in Wales should not be beyond the ability of the average cyclist on a mountain bike or hybrid. Road tyres would struggle here I think! Return the same way or turn left at the gate below the hostel to follow the track on the other side o the River Liza – it rejoins the main one lower down.

Any attempts to cycle out over the end of the valley (Black Sail Pass, Beck Head or Windy Gap) should be left to the serious MTB enthusiast – all ways are mountain paths great for walking but I’ve never done them on a bike… nor will I be doing so any time soon.

Pete Buckley June 2013

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