Col du Granon Walk

As part of the efforts to get acclimatised ready for the Etape du Tour – we had a great medium length walk with Steve, Sandra, Laetitia, and Zac from the 2413m high Col du Granon.

Pete and Steve contemplating the route to take from the Col du Ganon
Steve and Laetitia checking out the panorama with help from the “Table de Orientation”

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.

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.

Helm Crag Circuit

Saturday’s lovely wall-to-wall sunshine was a perfect invite to get us out of the house and get further down Laetitia’s road back to full fitness. We went from Grasmere up Steel Fell, over Calf Crag, Gibson Knott, and finished at Helm Crag.

It feels like the rock climbing season is just around the corner with this kind of weather. It’s always a shame not get out for some fine Scottish winter climbing, but I’m happy to miss winter out of the calendar altogether if we can zoom straight in to spring…