Herm

Please note: this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

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As I mentioned in my earlier post from Jersey, I really wanted to visit at least one of the smaller Channel Islands on my trip. Only 20 minutes on the ferry from Guernsey, where I stayed for the second part of my trip, Herm is the perfect day excursion to experience another side to Channel Island life. Boats run daily, and tickets can be bought from the Trident kiosk between the Weighbridge Clock Tower and the harbour.

Peter Wood, a retired army major, arrived in Herm in 1949 and set about transforming it into his idea of paradise. As the island’s tenant he owned the hotel, pub, shops and cattle. His successors have continued his work since he passed away in 1998. Their lease expires in 2050.

Rules are strict in Herm. You are not allowed to play radio in the open, there are no cars on the island (although the locals do use quad bikes to transport cargo) and, apart from for the children who live there, cycling is forbidden. However, as the island is only 500 acres in size, and you can walk around the whole thing in less than two hours, the transport restrictions at least shouldn’t bother you.

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Unless you’re happy staying in the Harbour Port, home to the tavern and a handful of eating options, Herm is only for the active. Although there are varying grades of difficulty to the multitude of paths that crisscross the island, to see anything worthwhile you will have to walk up steep hills and along cliff paths. Turquoise signs tell you how many minutes it takes to reach the sites. DSC_0194

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I decided to turn left at the port and circumnavigate the island, sticking to the coastal path as much as possible and then finally cut across the middle to the main village. With that route I could cover pretty much everything to see on the island.

The first site of interest is the small, two-person cemetery that was created when the cholera epidemic of 1832 claimed two victims travelling on a passing ship. Further along the path, I found Robert’s Cross and the remains of a prehistoric tomb.

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All the scenery on Herm is exceptionally beautiful, but the northeast coast makes it hard to believe you are still in the British Isles. On a sunny day, which I was lucky to have, stepping on to Shell Beach is like stepping into another, tropical world. Indeed, this beach has the highest incidence of sunburn in the Channel Islands. The name Shell Beach comes from the many varieties of shells that gravitate here from all over the world. If you want to know more about the shells you find, the beach cafe sells guide books. The much smaller, but still beautiful, Belvoir Bay is another popular sunbathing spot.

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From Belvoir Bay, a lot of people take the path inland through the main village where the islanders live. I stuck to the coastal path back round to the port and explored the much quieter south of the island. The landscape is totally different on this part of the island. The cliff top paths can be quite treacherous in places, and it was so quiet I could hardly believe I’d just been on a beach packed with sunbathers. I saw hardly any other walkers on this stretch of the coast, I could see why the local puffins choose to live there.

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Once back in the port, I was pretty tired. But I couldn’t come to Herm without seeing everything, so I braced myself for one last hill to the main village. There are only 10 families that live on Herm, so it’s small even by regular village standards. The little cluster of houses is a fascinating insight into what it must be like to live in such a small community. Halfway up the hill to the village, someone had the great idea of developing an area of woodland that makes a much more scenic route than the main path. It at least helped to distract me from the steep hill.

Info

Ferry from Guernsey to Herm: £13.50 return

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The Taff Trail

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We are extremely lucky here in Cardiff. We live in a beautiful capital city with all the amenities and facilities that you would expect to find in such a place, but we also have some amazing green spaces to explore and relax in. Standing in front of the Millennium Stadium and looking up the River Taff, you’d be forgiven for thinking Bute Park is completely surrounded by the city. However, it hides a secret that is there to be found by those willing to venture a bit further.

The Taff Trail, as the name suggests, follows the River Taff from Cardiff all the way up to Brecon, a whopping 55 miles. I’d love to be able to tell you that I’ve walked, or even cycled, the whole route. Alas, for now, the first stage from Bute Park to Llandaff North will have to do.

Most of the trail allows you to forget that you’re anywhere near an urban centre, although the occasional tall building and the spire of Llandaf Cathedral peeping above the treetops don’t let you completely forget. Your surroundings change with every twist and turn of the path as you walk past tree carvings, under roads through beautiful gardens. On the day of my walk we were enjoying some hot, sunny weather and lots of the local kids were cooling off in the weir, daring each other to jump of the bridge.

My Dad and I are already planning to catch a train to Llandaf and tackle the next section of the trail, and I’m hoping to cycle to Castell Coch (8 miles from Cardiff) next time we have some good weather.

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Travel theme: Pathways

Ailsa’s travel theme this week is Pathways. Click here to see more entries.

This theme really got me thinking. Ironically, I guess you could say I had two pathways to choose from. On the one hand, I could go down the literal route and choose images of pathways I’ve physically walked down. On the other hand, I could take a philosophical approach and consider the pathways in life that I have had to choose from in the past.

The latter of the two options gets incredibly complicated for me. I have taken so many pathways in my life, and create many new options for myself on a daily basis. At the moment, for example, I’m trying to decide on a career change. There are about 10 different jobs that I’m researching and considering, all in different industries.

So, I decided to go down the more literal route.

One of the things I’ve tried to do more of this year is walk. Although the Welsh weather has been against me, I’ve managed to get out a few times already. Below are some photos of pathways I took on recent walking trips to Brecon and Bala.

The Bala Challenge (Almost)

If ever I needed proof that us Brits are conditioned to persevere in adverse weather conditons, my adventure in North Wales last weekend is it.

A good friend of mine, Catherine, invited me to join her on the Bala Challenge, which she has completed three times in previous years.

There are a few different options to taking part in the challenge, and we opted to attempt the most difficult, a 20 mile (32km) mountain walk with a total ascent of 1250m.

Cath’s fiance Ant decided to come along for the weeked as well, and whereas they opted to drive up on the Saturday morning (the day of the challenge), I travelled up on the Friday evening and booked myself into Bala Backpackers. Even though I live in Wales, I always forget how long it takes to get anywhere here. The equivalent distance of Cardiff to Bala in England would only take you a couple of hours. As we don’t really have motorways in Wales (certainly none in mid-Wales) and a lot of areas are very remote with small, winding mountain roads, when you’re travelling around the Welsh countryside it makes it feel a lot bigger than it looks on the map.

The consolation to the long drives is the breathtaking scenery. Bala is situated on the southern edge of Snowdonia national park, one of the most stunning landscapes we have here in the UK. Even though I was running (very) late, I couldn’t help but be calmed by the colours of the mountains as the sun disappeared behind them. Four and a half hours later, I arrived in Bala with a huge smile on my face. After apologising to the lady who owns the hostel for my lateness (who by the way was very lovely and understanding), she gave me the guided tour and I settled in to get some rest before my big walk the next day. It’s very rare that I come across a hostel so well maintained and organised as Bala Backpackers. I’ve stayed in hostels all over the world, and there’s nothing more annoying than finding everything you needed on the last day. At Bala Backpackers, nothing is left to chance. The hostel has excellent facilities, comfortable communal areas with books and games and is generally very clean. There are lots of extras you can add on to your stay should you choose to. Are your room mates snoring too loudly? Then buy some earplugs at reception. Forgotten your shopping bag? (we don’t use free disposable bags in Wales) These too can be bought, proceeds going to a local charity. You can rent bedding, left over toiletries are available in the bathroom and there’s even a drying room to leave your wet and muddy gear after walking/climbing/kayaking… (delete as appropriate). I didn’t know it yet, but the drying room was going to come in very useful to me.

The town shares its name with Lake Bala, the largest natural lake in Wales. Bala Lake is surrounded by three mountain ranges – Berwyn, Aran and Arenig, and the challenge takes you on a circuit around the whole lake.

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Lake Bala

At 7am the next morning, I got up, ate breakfast and got ready for the walk. The weather forecast had predicted spells of sun and rain, and it was already looking cloudy so I layered up with thermals and waterproofs and put spare hat, socks, gloves, thermal top and waterproof jacket in my backpack.

The 20 mile walk is expected to take 7-10 hours, and you have to start between 8 and 9am. There are three parts to the challenge – 8 miles along one side of the lake to Llanuwchllyn, 6 miles to the summit of Aran (600m) and back down again, and a further six miles back round the other side of the lake to Bala. This last six miles includes something known as ‘death hill’, allegedly the toughest part of the route, especially after already walking over 15 miles. If you are late for any of the checkpoints, you have to pull out and be driven back to Bala as there is a strict time limit of 10 hours.

I met Cath and Ant at the leisure centre, the start point, and at 8.25am we set off. The weather was against us from the start. Although there were patches of sunshine, those threatening clouds soon started to release rain on to us which made the already tricky terrain almost impossible to cross in parts. Add to that the fact that Wales has already had too much rain this year, and that the snow only melted off the mountains a couple of weeks ago, and the boggy marshland that Snowdonia is famous for was like its own little lake district. I started off trying to avoid getting my feet wet. I soon gave in, though, and my boots had about an inch of water in them from mile 5 onwards.

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We soon realised that we’d made a rookie mistake. All the other walkers had those handy plastic map wallets to keep their directions in. We didn’t, and it wasn’t long before the rain started to dissovle the paper in our hands. Not that we could understand the directions anyway. The organisers of the event seemed to assume that everyone would understand the code they used.

AH 200m. LS, BR then diagonal across field to G.

eh?

After a couple of miles we’d figured out most of the abbreviations:

Ahead 200m. Ladder Style, Bear Right then diagonal across field to Gate.

After 8 miles of squelching through bogs, traversing barb wire fencing, balancing on logs and sliding down muddy slopes, we made it to the first checkpoint at Llanuwchllyn railway station. Whilst we stopped to eat our sandwiches and change our wet clothes, the sun patch that we had seen making its way around the lake decided to shine on us for a bit.

I couldn't resist taking this shot - how often do you get to stand right in the middle of the track for long enough to take a photo?
I couldn’t resist taking this shot – how often do you get to stand right in the middle of the track for long enough to take a photo?

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After spraining his ankle on the first stage of the walk, Ant decided to drop out at this point and head back to Bala on the steam train. Myself and Cath battled on and set off to tackle Aran. As we knew we were already running late, we decided to push ahead and get to the summit as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the Welsh weather had other ideas. It took every ounce of energy I had to try and step forward whilst the horizontal wind seemed intent on pushing me to the left. The rain didn’t stop, and was sooned joined by hailstones. It was like trying to walk up a mountain whilst someone threw gravel at your face. We started to get a little nervous when the thunder started, and prayed we were near the top. Just as I was about to give up hope, we spotted a two-man tent about 200m ahead. The checkpoint! According to what little was left of our directions, the views are stunning from the top of Aran. I’d love to show you some photos, but even if I had been able to see much, it was just too wet to get the camera out.

The walk down was just as tricky as it had been going up. The ‘path’ was more of a river and the marshland was getting wetter by the minute.

We’d decided that although we were wet, cold and tired, we wanted to continue on the final six miles when we reached the bottom of Aran. Sadly, we were met by two volunteers in Llanuwchllyn who informed us that we’d missed the checkpoint by over an hour and would have to be driven back to Bala.

Before leaving the next morning, I stopped to take a photo of Aran in slightly clearer weather
Before leaving the next morning, I stopped to take a photo of Aran in slightly clearer weather

Although I was disappointed to not have completed the challenge, I was determined to not let the failure get me down. I will return next year, and I will complete the walk. All 20 miles of it.

Pen y Fan (Almost)

Just a 40 minute drive from Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, is Pen y Fan, the highest peak in South Wales. Standing 886 metres (2,907 ft) above sea level, Pen y Fan and it’s neighbour Corn Ddu are also known as Cadair Arthur (‘Arthur’s Seat’). On Saturday, I found myself with a group of my colleagues, attempting to walk to the top of this stunning hill.

Later this year, one of our managers is climbing Ben Nevis to raise money for charity. As part of her training, she is aiming to climb one mountain a month, and asked for volunteers to join her in Brecon to attempt Pen y Fan.

We had been warned about the adverse weather conditions up there at the moment. Although we have had nowhere near as much snow as our neighbours in North Wales, there is still snow on our hills left behind from January. We decided to push on though, and we couldn’t have picked a better day to do it. The sun was shining, it was not cold (I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was actually warm) and it wasn’t raining.

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Looking down the valley, towards Cardiff

As we started to see the first signs of the snow, it dawned on us just how bad the conditions might be nearer the top.

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Looking towards the border into England

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Corn Ddu in the distance (Pen y Fan is behind Corn Ddu)

Quite a few people were using crampons and ice picks to reach the top of Corn Ddu. Most, like us, scrambled bambi-style and tried to stay in previous hikers’ footprints to avoid sliding all the way back down to the bottom again.

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The view of Pen y Fan from Corn Ddu

Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the top of Pen y Fan on this occasion. As you can see from the above photo, there was quite a lot of snow. It wasn’t fresh snow, either, so was very hard-packed and like an ice-rink in places. We considered carrying on to Pen y Fan, but figured that, although we’d probably get to the top, we’d struggle to get back down again. I’ll definitely be going back in the summer to give it another go.