Laetitia is working in Prague this week, another tour as a tutor on the Lead with Impact course. And so another great opportunity for me to take advantage and get to see parts of Europe I really don’t think I’d visit in normal circumstances… More “Prague”

12 years to Criffel

….ever since we moved to Cumbria in fact. Although it is no distance as the crow flies, about 12 miles, without wings (or a boat) it is a relatively long trip. One has to go inland beyond Carlisle, then north to cross the Solway Firth at the first available bridge (since the more local one was taken out by an ice berg in c.1938), and then continue to Dumfries to cross the river Nith, before turning south to arrive a few miles due north of where you started.

Unfortunately we managed to choose the one recent day when the Criffel was swathed in cloud. As we approached it began to rain quite heavily so we started the expedition in the teashop at New Abbey – the very same tea shop that featured in an expedition to Sweetheart Abbey in August last year. Again we did not actually have cake so there is no cake photo. 🙁

It was still raining as we left but a mile or so away in the car park this stopped, so off we went. I had been planning a bit of an expedition but then I discovered it is only a 5 km walk from the car park to the summit, albeit a steep 500m ascent within that distance. It’s possible to do a ridge walk but the weather really wasn’t right for that so we didn’t bother. I actually used my compass on the summit but we did get a few brief views.

Sarah gets a glimpse of the Nith estuary on the way down
Anna takes a bearing at the summit cairn

There was time to pay a visit to another place that has been on my tick list for ages: Caerlaverock Castle. It is only across the Nith from Criffel but you have to drive north up the true right bank, cross again at Dumfries, and drive south along the other bank. We stopped on the way for a cuppa at a rather nice new tea shop funded by Euro-money, with glass walls giving a great view across the smooth river. A closer look disclosed that the current was actually very strong; it would have been a mistake to fall in.

Looking west across the river Nith

I forgot to take a cake photo, sorry.

Caerlaverock Castle was worth the journey, it’s very attractive and interesting. (There is also a tea shop but we did not need more cake at that point.)

Here was the scene of an important siege in 1300 when the Hammer of the Scots, Edward I, subdued the fortress in 2 days. This is known about in great detail because of the survival of a contemporary manuscript. (Seven years later Edward died on the Solway Plain, a few miles from where we live and there is a monument to this event on the marshes.) Another important siege took place in the Civil War – after which the castle’s defences were destroyed for ever.

The castle is also very unusual in being triangular. Although I could not get a photo to show that – Terry and his microlight would have been useful – there is a picture of the castle here…

So: poor weather but a nice day out. And it made a change to be walking rather than running up a hill!

Weekend Without Plans

Once I work in Romania for a year I have the chance to travel around the country. But traveling here is not easy because of the legendary bad infrastructure. So for last weekend I did not make any travel plans, on the contrary, I planned to stay home and just do nothing. But already on Friday evening the map somehow got in front of me (it must have creeped there very quietly) and I was thinking about where to go. But I could not decide. There are so many nice places to see, Romania is full of mostly unspoiled (due to the lack of infrastructure, so it has its upsides) nature, hills, and historical sights. So I was at a loss. And then I remembered a Hungarian movie about 1956 where the family decided to emigrate but they could not decide where. So they got the map in front of them and the husband randomly pointed at a place with his eyes closed. (Of course, it was Mongolia!) So I did the same thing. I used only the map of Romania so I was relatively safe. I pointed at a nice mountain area, called Retezat which has peaks well over 2000 metres, its highest peak is over 2400.
The only problem is that it’s 400 km from Bucharest, a 6 hour drive. So I got accommodation in a nearby town where some famous Hungarian kings lived. You might have heard of King Mathias. Huneodara (Vajdahunyad is the Hungarian name) used to be part of the Hungarian kingdom and it has a beautiful gothic castle which was rebuilt by János (John) Hunyadi in the 15th century, later by his son Mátyás (Mathias) and many others. The original was built in the 13th century but not much of it can be noticed in its current form. It is much bigger and nicer than the Dracula castle.

The Castle of Vajdahunyad

It was very nice walking through this old building, it is fairly nicely renovated, especially the prison. Too bad I could not photograph the sounds they played, next to a description of all the most cruel torture methods of the Middle Ages (like cutting off a limb for stealing a hen), they tried to make it more lifelike with playing horroristic screams. It was rather funny than scary.

The scary prison
Funny gargoyles

For the next day I planned a nice hike up to Lake Bucura that is in the Retezat mountains, 2000 metres high. The only problem with my plans this weekend was that I never got to realize them … so I drove all the way to the start of my approximately 10 hours hike quite early, it was only 40 km but took more than an hour. It was when I stopped the car that I realized that I had left my phone in the hotel. So I had to go back for it … It just did not make sense to start the hike 2.5 hours later because I would have never made it in daylight. So again, I had to change plans. I picked a nice lake on my way home, I would drive there, walk around a bit, take it easy. Well, by now you can imagine that I ended up elsewhere … I just missed the road to the lake.

I ended up in the Godeanu Mountains driving all the way into the woods on a very scenic road. When the road became a dirt road I decided not to risk ruining the car and I got out for a nice walk, looking at some peaks ove 2000 metres on my way. This time I did not have a chance to climb them but maybe one day when I plan something else …

Retezat Mountains from the distance. This time I didn’t hike there
Iorgovanu Peak (2014m) which I could see all the way when walking in the Godeanu Mountains

I wonder if there’s any climbing here, this peak looks quite tempting.

And here comes the obligatory dog picture, he was the keeper of the Hunyadi Castle.


I have spent the last 11 weeks working in Jersey.

For our international readers, this is a small island (9 miles x 5 miles) closer to France than England. Jersey isn’t actually part of the UK, but it is a “possession of the Crown”. In other words, Jersey has its own tax and legislation, but tends to follow English law and should be defended by the UK.

Despite it’s size, it has an interesting history and is really quite an interesting place to visit.
People in the UK know Jersey for its (in no particular order):

Now I have spent 11 weeks in Jersey, I also know the island for its

  • Sunshine and heat
  • Wonderful people
  • Wind and rain
  • Excellent hostelries
  • Beautiful beaches and coast walks
  • Quiet country lanes
  • Fantastic cuisine
  • Very cheap Apple store
  • Oh, and of course, some not bad climbing

Here are a few highlights…

Beaches and Castles
Jersey has some beautiful beaches and amazing castles…

Mont Orgueil Castle, Gorey
An evening stroll on Gorey beach
Elizabeth Castle - named after Elizabeth I and the home to Sir Walter Raleigh while he was Governor of Jersey. You can walk to the castle at low tide.
Grosnez Castle, a ruined 14th century castle just above some classic sea cliff climbing

The Jersey War Tunnels
The Jersey War Tunnels is a museum all about Jersey under German occupation during the Second World War. It is quite interesting…

  • Half the population left before the Germans arrived
  • There were four Germans to every islander during the occupation
  • Strict curfew and German law was enforced. Riding two abreast, having more than one dog and all forms of fishing were eventually banned.
  • Thousands of Russian and Spanish slaves, and Polish, North African the Dutch forced labour were brought to Jersey to build sea walls, gun emplacements and underground works
  • Jersey became a fortress – the tunnels were originally created as a barracks and ammunition store and later converted to a hospital awaiting the expected casualties of war. The hospital was never used.
  • Residents not born in Jersey, Jews and other persona non grata were eventually deported to German prisoner of war camps or concentration camps
  • Jersey was bypassed during the French liberation and almost starved
Entrance to the War Tunnels
The Chanel Islands will NOT be defended.
German defences along the north west coast - also just above some classic climbing. Sark and Guernsey are on the horizon.

The Climbing
Most of the climbing is along the north west coast and the south west coast. We were a bit unfortunate with the tide times over the weekend, but we got a good look at most of what was on offer.

Pete checking the descent to Rabbit's Head, one of the sea cliffs
Studying the guidebook at The Dangle Dell with a German gun tower on the headland
Pete on Buster Corner Direct
Laetitia on Layoff
Guns Cliff - with German canons
Looking down the barrel of a gun
The Pinnacle with Neolithic site. The main climbing is on the other side, but I forgot to take pictures.
Sark and Guernsey on the horizon

And finally – eat, drink and be merry
As I’ve said, Jersey has very many fine restaurants and pubs and I managed to visit quite a few.

The Cock and Bottle, providing very tasty Liberation Ale
Delicious desert at the Oyster Box, St Brelade’s Bay

Jersey is a good place to visit and not so expensive to get to – you can fly from Blackpool for under £30, which is gonna be cheaper than driving to Cornwall. As a climbing venue – it’s not too bad. As with all granite sea cliffs, it takes a while to get used to the rock, so you might feel a bit disappointed with a weekend visit. There isn’t a huge amount of routes to choose from, but plenty to keep you occupied for a week or so, and you’ll never have to queue. We only saw two other climbers.


For our final day in Germany we planned a trip to Battert near Baden-Baden. We’d been here before on our previous trip and had really enjoyed the more familiar volcanic rocks. So much more like climbing at home in the Lakes than the sandstone climbing in the Pfalz. However, as soon as we joined the motorway we realised we were in trouble! With no way off and no way back we were stuck in the mother of all traffic jams! 🙁

Unfortunately this seems to be a regular feature of driving on the autobahn – every trip to Germany I’ve ever had has at some point included being stuck for hours in a terrible traffic jam. What does this say about the in-famous German lack of motorway speed limits?

Autobahn traffic jam - we spent nearly two hours stationary!
Luckily we had our books with us to read...

However, we did finally make it to the climbing at Battert. Although we were very hot – it was a shocking 31°C! And we were very short on time – having to get back to Frankfurt for our evening flight home. Although we did get some climbing done and we also had a chance to explore the Altes Schloss (Baden-Baden’s Castle) before running away to the airport (hoping for no traffic jams). But not before one last cake – Apfelküchle. :yum: :yum:

Laetitia climbing at the Battert - in the melting 31°C heat!
Laetitia at the Altes Schloss

Yummy Apfelküchle (Apple Fritters?)