Champagne & the Great War – weird extremes, Luxury & Suffering

On the way home from the Briançon we broke the journey down by calling in on the Champagne region to find out if any deals were to be had. They were! We grabbed a box of six bottles of Canard – Duchêne for much much less than we pay back in the UK. 🙂

Pete and Zac trying to decide if life would be better if we drank champagne every day?
Grape vines destined to become Canard-Duchene champagne!

We stayed the night for free in one of those amazing French municipal aire camping sites, then our plan was to go on to explore a few of the Great War memorial sites the next day. With the centenary of the end of the Great War getting so close it seemed pertinent that we finally gave some time to explore this area having passed it by so many times…

I think everyone should be made to spend a short while in this area. It is incredibly sobering to get just the merest of feelings of what it was like, how many people died, and what we have today in part thanks to these sacrifices.

The only tree, a hornbeam, to survive the devastation at Devil’s Wood

Now they are almost tranquil amongst the replanted trees, imagine fighting in these trenches – a couple of feet deeper, reinforced with wood, steel, sandbags, etc. and with bullets flying overhead, shells exploding all around and with the mud etc. then raining down – what a life, or death.

It makes me mad that one of the biggest peace projects of all time – the European Union – is being threatened by shallow minded and bitter baby-boomers who will throw this all away, at any cost, to service their misguided (and lied to) impressions.

Country Fest at Crooklands

Last night there was another terror attack in London. The terrorists want to disrupt our way of life, but we won’t let that happen. In a small part of the north west of England, very far away from any thoughts of terrorism, a very traditional British summer festival takes place – the Country Fest at Crooklands.

A bit smaller than the Westmorland Show, but lots to see. One of the best bits for me are the kites, which you can see from the motorway and must attract lots of inquisitive people.

Pete and Zac enjoying the sunny day.

But they weren’t the only things flying through the air. There was a display of motorbike acrobatics by Bold Dog. They were fantastic.

A summersault.
Arial acrobatics.
All three in the air at once.

There were some tractors…

Of course there had to be tractors.
A tractor with flowers.

And tug of war…

The women Tug of War
The women showing some strength.
Men’s tug of war.

And of course, some refreshments.

A cheeky beer with an Angus Beef Burger.

It was a good day out.

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.

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.

My first train adventure

Today I had an adventure of a different kind…

My Tisha Person (who I love very much) took me out on a walk. I was very excited, as usual, but we were not going in the normal direction.

We went up some stairs and I found myself on a raised bit, looking down on some metal bars.

Zac on the platform at Staveley Station.

We waited around for what seemed like ages and ages (10 minutes) and more people arrived which got me very excited because I wanted to say hello to everyone.

Eventually there was a noise getting louder and a thing arrived. Apparently it’s called a train.

My Tisha person picked me up and we got on it!!

OMG!!! It started moving, but I was ok because I was on my Tisha person’s lap (I do love her a lot).

Zac on Tisha’s lap.

I looked out of the window, then decided to sniff around the floor for a bit, but I decided the view out of the window was better.

Zac looking out of the window as we approach Kendal.

All too quickly the adventure was over… but that led to another adventure. A much longer walk.