I didn’t get to Buggerru

For my last couple of days in Sardinia I visited the West coast. The first day I went to the Phoenician and then Roman city of Tharros, which was attractive, with some well preserved roman roads in a lovely setting on the edge of the sea.

Looking down one of the roman roads into the centre of Tharros.

The second day I did a more substantial walk which I originally planned to be between the tiny village of Porto Masua and the irresistibly-named Buggerru (that’s a soft ‘g’, in case you’re wondering). I sadly didn’t make it as far as Buggerru, but it was a brilliant walk anyway.

It started at the beach in the former mining town of Masua, and the idea was to walk along a road until I found a path that climbed up to the clifftops above. Unfortunately, I managed to miss the path and ended up at the end of the road, where a “helpful” local clearly took me for a climber rather than a walker and sent me up the climbers’ path, that hugged the cliff foot, avoided a buttress via a cave that passed through it, and then scrambled up a rocky gully. From there I pressed ahead, knowing there was a path somewhere above me, and after 15 minutes or so of crawling through bushes I popped out on the path I should have been on all along. The story of my whole trip to Sardinia, really!

Looking down on the Pan di Zuccero.

Once I’d found a proper path the walk was great, with fantastic views along the coast and the offshore island of Pan di Zuccero. I met up with a friendly Italian and he and I walked most of the day together. The path followed the sea, but usually at the top of a cliff. It dropped to sea level at the spectacular Canal Grande, a long, steep sided valley that ended at a rocky beach with a natural tunnel through the headland, and at Cala Domestica, a rather disappointing sandy beach where we elected to turn back as it was clear by then that we wouldn’t reach Buggerru and return while the bar on the beach at Masua was still open.

The arch/tunnel through the headland at Canal Grande.

The views were just as good on the way back, and this time I got to take the proper path back to the road, and hence to the bar.

Yes, there were other people around! This is Haymo, the Italian I spent the day walking with.

Both nights I stayed at Agriturismo – the Italian equivalent of a farm stay – Sa Rocca, an absolutely superb place in a little valley with no other houses, and just a flock of sheep with bells around their necks to disturb the peace. The rooms were nice, but the highlight was the fantastic food. €20 got you a meal with 5 or 6 different starters, plus pasta, main, and dessert with wine and a digestivo included as well, and the food was excellent! They even coped with my lousy Italian. I must have kept going on about it during the walk because the Italian I’d walked with decided to stay there as well the second night!

The Pan di Zuccero as the sun set.

How to trash a pair of trail shoes in three hours

Half way up the East coast of Sardinia is Pedra Longa, a spectacular rock pinnacle at the edge of the sea, with a road that descends in a series of hairpins to finish at the foot of the rock. Pedra Longa is the start of the Selvagio Blu, a 4-6 day trek along the coast that features indistinct trails, scrambles and fairly easy rock climbs, abseils, beaches, cliffs, and lots and lots of very sharp limestone underfoot. I’d already done a bit of the Selvagio Blu on the trip to Cala Goloritze, but I’d decided not to attempt the whole thing on this trip in part because I didn’t fancy the technical bits on my own. However, since there isn’t any technical stuff on the first couple of days I thought I’d find out what it was like.

Looking back at Pedra Longa and Punta Argennas shortly after setting off.

And it turns out, the first half of the first day was fine, with a nice scenic route along the coast, followed by a spectacular climb up the “cengia”, a kind of ramp tht runs diagonally up the cliffs of Punta Giradili to a farm at the top. From there I headed out to the viewpoint on top of Punta Giradili, which was over sharp limestone, but had lots of cairns and paint spots to mark the way.

The view from the summit of Punta Giradili.

After that I thought I’d continue on the Selvagio Blu route and see how far I got, in part hoping to catch up with a pair of Germans who were staying at the Lemon House and had left the day before and planned to camp the first night at the top of the ramp. However, the limestone got steadily sharper, the paint spots less frequent, and pretty soon I was just pushing between prickly bushes on knife edge limestone, and on the rare occasion I saw a paint spot or cairn I usually couldn’t see the next one. A couple of hours of this stuff took all the tread off the front of my trail shoes, which had been new for this trip!

Eventually I reached an old shepherd’s hut (which appeared to have gone) which had a track to it that led to a dirt road. At that point I abandoned the Selvaggio Blu, headed up the nearest hill for a view up the coast, and then took the track, then the road back to the farm and returned down the cengia and, with a short stop at the beach, headed back to Pedra Longa for a well earned beer in the bar with a Swiss couple I met on the way.

The summit of Su Runcu Sa Coggina, my eventual turning around point.

The next day I did the bit of mountains and coast south of Pedra Longa. Starting from Santa Maria Navarrese I climbed up into the mountains between there and Pedra Longa and up Monte Oro, the highest peak in that area. The view from the top was lovely, so I sat and had an early lunch before descending to and along the road down to Pedra Longa.

The view from my hotel. The following day I was that kayaker!
Looking towards Lotzerai from the summit of Monte Oro.

I spent some time watching climbers on a particularly attractive route, then explored the Cava Litografica, a quarry for limestone so fine grained it was used for lithography (and also for London paving stones, apparently) before heading to Pedra Longa and back to my beach from the day before for a swim. A rather short swim, as it turned out, because the water was very cold.

My swimming beach. Not much sand, but lovely clear water.

From there I returned to Santa Maria Navarrese along the coastal track, with lovely views back to Pedra Longa behind me. Back at my hotel I had a snorkel off the rocks, but by then the sea had got a bit rough and the sun was behind the hills, so I didn’t stay long.

A day on the water in Sardinia

Much as I’ve been enjoying the walking and running, I couldn’t spend the whole holiday doing that so I had arranged a half day kayak tour. The tour was along the same stretch of coast I’d walked the day before, from Santa Maria Navaresse to Pedra Longa, but since the trail didn’t go down to the sea anywhere, it was a completely new perspective to see it from the water.

I’d arranged the trip with Cardedu Kayaks, and I have to say, the kayaks were excellent and Francesco, the guide, was great. After a quick lesson on shore, we launched, and once he saw I was vaguely competent he left me to get on with it. He must have thought I was ok as he took me through several narrow gaps between the rocks where good control of the kayak was essential.

The coastline featured a fascinating range of rocks. Photo: Francesco from Cardedu Kayak.

Francesco talked about the geology and wildlife as we paddled along in and out of the rocks. The views were fantastic, with Pedra Longa slowly getting closer, and the cliffs of Punta Giradili and Punta Argennas looming in front.

The turning around point was just before the impressive pinnacle of Pedra Longa. Photo: Francesco from Cardedu Kayak.

We stopped for a short break on a beach just before Pedra Longa, before taking a more direct route back to Santa Maria Navaresse. It was a brilliant trip, with stunning views, interesting conversation with Francesco, and the clearest blue sea I’ve seen anywhere. I’d thoroughly recommend a trip with Cardedu Kayaks to anyone visiting that part of Sardinia.

Our rest stop before the return. Stunning scenery everywhere!

In the afternoon I spent some time snorkelling off the rocks below my hotel, then walked into town and along the beach. Plus, of course, a gelato in town.

Dinner and flowers

I had thought​ that the meal organised by a local bar for the people in the B&B would be the culinary highlight of the trip. I hadn’t counted on the fantastic festival in the nearby town of Girasole.

The dinner in Lotzerai was very nice – a starter of prosciutto and salsiccia, then culurgionis, pasta stuffed with potato and mint in a tomato sauce (a Sardinian speciality), and then roasted pork – but the festival was something else!

Dinner for the inhabitants of the B&B.

Girasole had clearly gone to town – there were stalls selling jewelry, sweets, toys, kitchen things…, And about 20 different food places, many of which were set up in people’s gardens. I went on the Saturday and the Sunday, and had two completely different meals. I (over two nights) had melted fontina cheese on flatbreads, deep fried pastry puffs, grilled tuna, Sea Urchin, pasta with mutton, the potato and mint things again, spicy octopus, and roast mutton. It was fabulous. At the same time, there was music, traditional dancing, and most bizarre of all, a group dressed in goat skins, with antlers on their heads, soot-covered faces and bones hanging on their backs that banged as they walked, that marched through the village and danced around a fire. Amazing!

Culurgionis, pasta stuffed with potato and mint. Yum!
Roasting mutton.

Since I know my parents will be interested, I’ve also put a few flower pictures in. April is a brilliant time to visit Sardinia as everything is in flower. The hills are full of rock roses and ??? with ??? under the trees. I still can’t believe how quiet it is.

Butterfly orchid?
Cyclamen are everywhere at the moment.
Masses of Asphodel.
A lake full of aquatic buttercups.
Some kind of bee orchid.

When guidebooks go bad…

Have you ever done a walk where the guidebook seems to have gone to a completely different place? This was one of those days: when the guide said “stay on a narrow, sometimes unclear path that leads you between ancient oak trees” I would have said “traverse across a desperately steep scree slope on faint goat tracks; beware of the goats showering rocks on you”. Maybe I didn’t find the same route, but it started and finished at the same places, although the guide claimed there was a shepherd’s hut in between.

Pleasant oak woodland or horrendous scree?

Anyway, the place was the Serra Oseli, on the East side of Codula Luna, again in the Supramonte of Sardinia, and apart from trackless, goat-filled scree, it had plenty to offer. It set off traversing a wooded hillside before climbing to yet another shepherd’s hut, this one tucked under an overhang on a beautiful spur. After this came the scree,  followed by an awkward descent down scree, at the bottom of which I stopped for lunch with a friendly lizard, having reached a track that provided a reassuring escape route if things ahead continued in a similar vein.

The attractive lizard I shared lunch with.

Happily, they didn’t. The scree was less steep, and the path had been reinforced so apart from a small scramble up a rockface, travel was swift to the next sight, the outlet of the short, narrow, but impressively tall Gorroppeddu gorge. I scrambled up it as far as I could,  but was stopped by a step I thought I could probably climb, but might not be able to get back down. Little did I know that it would take 2 hours to get to the other side of the step!

The awkward step in Gorroppeddu gorge. Two hours later I’d be at the top of this.

After the gorge scramble progress was swift to another hut, at Cuile ‘e Ghirovai. This was again under an overhang, and clearly some shepherd really wanted to get to the top, as they had constructed a spectacular route featuring a rock and juniper log staircase up the rockface (known locally as a “Scale ‘e Fustes”). 

The unlikely Scale ‘e Fustes constructed by the shepherds.

From the top, the path pretty much vanished into the vegetation, and clearly the guidebook anticipated this as they made it clear which col to aim for. After some searching for cairns, I gave up and made for the col over very sharp limestone, and met the path I’d been looking for there. The col led into a pocket valley that was the catchment for the gorge, so I headed for the lowest point, which featured a grove of lovely old Yew trees. From there I scrambled down the same gorge I’d scrambled up earlier until again stopped by a step I couldn’t easily descend. Interestingly, I found two dug cave entrances on the way down.

The Yew trees and gorge entrance from the top.

After the gorge I headed out of the valley over another col, at which I took a quick detour to the top of the Serr Oseli ridge I’d been circumnavigating all day, before a lovely long trail run back to the car.

The ridge I’d spent all day circumnavigating.

Gola de Su Gorropu, a very deep gorge

With rain forecast for the afternoon, I decided on a shorter route with hopefully no scrambling which could be tricky on wet limestone. The walk I chose was to the top end of the Gola de Su Gorropu, apparently one of deepest gorges in Europe. It started off through pretty woodland with wild peonies and other flowers,  before heading over steep limestone, past the picturesque local shepherd’s huts and using some of their unlikely pathways built of juniper logs supporting stones. Eventually (after I’d spent quite a while traversing the valley side having lost the path) I headed down towards the dry riverbed in the bottom of the valley, led by a prominent hut on the other side, and managed to locate the route down and up the steep sided canyon.

The shepherd’s path, supported across the steep rock by juniper branches.

From there I carried on on a much clearer track, past a massive old Yew tree and a bronze age passage grave, or Giant’s Tomb as they call them here, before starting to descend into the Gorropu gorge itself. Just before the steep part of the descent a side trail led to Sa Pischina, a pool of water with massive overhangs on two sides and a spout for a waterfall to plunge into it when the river is flowing.

Sa Pischina from under the biggest overhang. Too bad the waterfall wasn’t running!

The descent into the gorge was fantastic, with another pool below and the deepest part of the canyon in the distance, all picked out in horizontal layers of limestone. Remarkably, for such a spectacular walk, at this point I met the only other hiker I would see all day, a German woman who was returning from the canyon floor as I was descending.

Gorropu gorge on the descent.

The track reached the riverbed at the pool, and I stopped for lunch before exploring the canyon. Downstream I got to a vertical drop into a deep pool, with a cable leading around the side. Unfortunately I hadn’t brought a climbing harness so I left that for another day. I then headed up the side canyon that was the end of the valley I’d been walking down earlier. I was hoping to reach a waterfall issuing from a cave entrance high above, but as I was scrambling up to the foot of it, the rain started and I decided the rocks was much to slippery to remain there once it got wet, so beat a hasty retreat.

The pretty pool where the path, and the valley I’d been following, meets the main Gorropu canyon.

The route back was supposed to be the reverse of the way there, but when I got to the point where I needed to cross the valley it was raining pretty hard and, concerned by the possibility of traversing long distances on wet rock I instead opted for a long, boring, and featureless slog along a dirt road back to my car. The only interest on the return was when the now quite heavy rain turned to snow for a while. I arrived back at the car just before the German woman, who told me the other trail had been fine in the rain, so all that boring running on the road was for nothing.

Looking down the side canyon. It’s amazing where the juniper trees manage to grow.

This evening I’ve been invited by the B&B host to a typical Sardinian meal, at which, so he says, there will be enormous amounts of food, so it’s good that I’m currently starving, having been trying to resist the urge to eat since the end of the hike.

The Wild Blue of Sardinia

I’m in Sardinia for a few days holiday, staying at the wonderful Lemon House in Lotzerai and spending my days trail running, hiking and whatever comes along. Lotzerai is at the south of the Supramonte, home of the Selvagio Blu trail, and while I decided not to do all of that, I’m doing some of the bits that don’t involve abseils or climbing where I’d really need to have a partner. For my first full day I decided on a nice looking loop in the Supramonte from the Golgo plateau down to the famous beach of Cala Goloritze and its rock pinnacle.

The start (after paying €6 entry) was on a rocky path that climbed over a low col with the first glimpse of the sea then steeply descending under oak trees into a canyon that led down to the beach. The sides were spectacular vertical limestone cliffs, and it was a glorious run, dropping 600m or so to the end, where a staircase had been built to give access to the beach.

Heading down the canyon to the beach at Cala Goloritze.

There was a pretty big swell, with waves crashing on the rocks and very little beach to be seen – definitely not swimming conditions – but the view was fantastic and it was a lovely spot to sit, watch the waves and have lunch.

The beach at Cala Goloritze and the famous pinnacle.

Afterwards I headed back up the canyon and then up a side canyon to eventually climb steeply up to a magnificent viewpoint at Punta Salinas that looked out over the pinnacle, the beach and the Gulf of Orosei. As with most of the smaller trails around here, route finding was pretty challenging, so a certain amount of scrambling and pushing through the vegetation was needed to get there from the main path, and yet I followed a perfectly obvious path back.

Looking down to Cala Goloritze from Punta Salinas.

From Punta Salinas I headed inland, past a traditional shepherd’s hut, over a saddle, and then down a very steep and rocky descent to some interesting Bronze Age ruins and back to my car. This really was a great walk – it felt like there was something to see around every corner.

A traditional shepherd’s hut.

Welsh 3000s and Remembering an old Friend

When I was about ten, my parents along with another family with similar aged kids, decided they should take us tramping (multi-day backpacking for non-New Zealanders). That summer, my parents, my brother and I, along with Graeme and Win and their kids spent a glorious seven days in Nelson Lakes National Park. The next year, we went for ten days, and this continued every summer until I went to university and got a job. Those are, without a doubt, among the most vivid memories of my childhood – being woken up by Keas in the little patch of woodland behind Upper Traverse Hut; crossing the Wangapeka Saddle in torrential rain and hail, with all the rivers in flood; eating sardines on cabin bread for breakfast at Coldwater Creek because it was all the food we had left.

Graeme made a huge impression on me during those summers with his humour, his confidence in any situation, and his evening stories of 20 day trips to the Arawata Valley and elsewhere. I learned about bush-craft from Graeme, how to back-country camp, proper hut etiquette, and how to lead a group and make decisions so nobody got lost or was asked to do more than they could. I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be as confident and competent in the outdoors as I am without Graeme’s influence.

Sadly, Graeme died last week, so it seemed appropriate to dedicate my weekend’s adventure to his memory. Without him, I’m sure I wouldn’t have spent Sunday doing the Welsh 3000’s challenge – summiting all the 3000+ ft peaks in Wales in 24 hours – solo and unsupported, and as a circuit rather than the usual one way trip. Graeme, I think, would have loved the spectacular mountain scenery, as well as the challenge of a really long day out in the hills.

First light on the Crib Goch ridge, with Garnedd Ugain and Snowdon behind.
First light on the Crib Goch ridge, with Garnedd Ugain and Snowdon behind.

I camped overnight between Pen Y Pass and the foot of the Crib Goch ridge so as to get an early start. At 5:30 I was packed up and ready for the first peak of the day – Crib Goch, with it’s tricky scramble to start, and then knife edge ridge with massive exposure on either side. Even at that time it was surprisingly busy, mostly with other people attempting the challenge. The ridge was slow, but after that things sped up with quick ascents of Garnedd Ugain and Snowdon, then the steep descent to Nant Peris, 950m below. After that was the long slow ascent of Elidir Fawr, which I reached four hours after setting off, and where I met up with a group of fell runners. I ran with them over Y Garn, and down to the lake at Llyn y Cwn, then as they headed up Glyder Fawr, I descended to the road at Ogwen Cottage for a well earned sausage roll and a bit of a break before my third big climb of the day.

Y Garn summit, with Pen yr Ole Wen and the Carnedds behind. Five down, ten to go...
Y Garn summit, with Pen yr Ole Wen and the Carnedds behind. Five down, ten to go…

Pen yr Ole Wen was the next peak, but the route from Ogwen Cottage was horrendous, with an indistinct trail, some serious scrambling, and just unrelenting steepness for 700m of ascent. However, from the summit, the whole Carnedd ridge was stretched out in front, with peaks every km or so – at that stage I’d done six peaks in seven hours, but the ridge promised quicker progress for a while. After a short break to recover, I set off again, and quickly reached Carnedd Dafydd, then the long flat ridge to the foot of Carnedd Llewelyn. Since I would be coming back this way, I left that one for the return and traversed around to Yr Elen, stuck out on its own on a side ridge. Then back to the main ridge and on to Foel Grach, Garnedd Uchaf and finally Foel-Fras, my turning around point.

Looking back the way I'd come from the summit of Carnedd Dafydd. Pen yr Ole Wen is directly behind, with Snowdon and Crib Goch on the skyline.
Looking back the way I’d come from the summit of Carnedd Dafydd. Pen yr Ole Wen is directly behind, with Snowdon and Crib Goch on the skyline.

By this stage I was feeling pretty tired, so was only running the gentle downhill sections, but fortunately there were quite a few of them! I returned along the ridge, picked up Carnedd Llewelyn, then dropped off the side to the stream below Ffynnon Lloer and so to the road. That left me three peaks left to do, Tryfan, Glyder Fach, and Glyder Fawr. I decided I was too tired for the scrambling approach to Tryfan, so opted for Heather Terrace and approaching the summit from the South. Unfortunately, tiredness was really kicking in at this point and I missed the main route to Heather Terrace, and rather than going back decided to follow an indistinct track that was climbing in the right direction. This worked, but with a bit more scrambling than I’d planned given my tired legs. Despite arriving at the summit just before 7pm (13 and a half hours after starting), there was still a crowd at the top – I hate to think how busy it must have been earlier in the day! From Tryfan there’s a very steep scree climb to Glyder Fach – I was glad to be going up instead of down – and then an easy wander along the ridge, bathed in the last of the sunshine, to my last peak, Glyder Fawr. 14 hours, 55 minutes after starting I had finished the peaks!

The summit of Tryfan. Number 13 out of 15!
The summit of Tryfan. Number 13 out of 15!

The descent to Pen Y Pass was long and tedious, and my knees were quite sore by then. I finished the loop just over 16 hours after starting. A very big day out, but a challenge that I’ve been thinking about for quite a while conquered!

I thought about Graeme a lot on the way around. He had a big influence on me, and I undoubtedly wouldn’t be the outdoors person I am today without him. I’ll always remember those sunny (and occasionally not) summer days tramping in the New Zealand bush. Thank you, Graeme.

Celebrating on the final peak, Glyder Fawr. Sorry about the picture - there was nobody else up there to take it!
Celebrating on the final peak, Glyder Fawr. Sorry about the picture – there was nobody else up there to take it!