Martin

Martin

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Saturday 28 June 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 4 - A Welcome Pause In Fontan/Saorge

Saorge from the south

Plan: Rest Day

Actual: Rest Day around Camp Site at Fontan - 460 metres
Visit to interesting village of Saorge.
2 km, 50 metres ascent.

Best bit: Just chilling out.

Cumulative to date (planned in brackets):
63 km (53), 4220 metres ascent (3600), 25 hours (roughly!) walking (25).
No of summits visited: 2

Checked messages today:

Best of luck with the Wild Camping Saga, to those involved. I did notice the PM's office's derisory response to the petition before I left.

Thank you, John, for your words of encouragement from Timperley.

Thank you, Alan, for your words of - for want of a better one - jealousy! We don't pretend to be 'lightweight' as we have all the gear for 2 months in the Alps, and on this section we have had to carry lots of water. It's quite sweaty in 30-35C, even without 15 kg on your back! Hopefully some of the maps will be posted home as we go along, but we don't have the luxury of a local base or any 'stashes'. We have light but comfy kit, and my sack is certainly lighter than in the Pyrenees 4 years ago. It needs to be - I've slowed down since then.
And Alan, 35 years of hard graft and a big investment in a couple of children (how else would we have got to Liverpool for 5.30 am?), has surely earned the right to tramp around in 30+C temperatures with 15+kg aloft!?!

Must be mad!

Today Dave Oliver cheekily tried to impress us with tales of sunshine and good walks in the Pyrenees. We know he gets more holiday than we do but at least it was a case of 'touché' on this occasion! Hi Dave, we know you haven't time to read this.

Sounds like the weather is ripe for an Andy Howell Pyrenees Experience...

After a leisurely morning in Fontan we hitched a lift with a nice Parisien couple who had recently relocated to Nice, for the short ride through the nasty tunnel to Saorge.
It didn't take long to recce tomorrow's exit route from here, then we seemed to get stuck in Bar Lou Pountin, where it was 33C in the shade.

When the going gets tough....

Sue found a fountain to cool her feet.

We agree that the title of this blog could be misleading (it already is for anyone Googling 'Postcards of Timperley' - and believe me, such people exist!).
So, I've tried to amend it.

Now back at camp we have established that the nearby restaurant that said 'Opening 28 June' has in fact opened. So we'll be along there shortly to comply with Sue's high carbohydrate regime in preparation for the next 3 days, which sound challenging in this heat! Beer is very high carb, I keep telling her...

Kit report:
3 long hot days in brand new Asolo Fugitives. They feel like slippers.
X-socks - a last minute purchase from Bob and Rose. Excellent for comfort and drying qualities. Sue needs some....

Next Day
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Friday 27 June 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 3 - Some Unexpected Hurdles (UHs)

A street in Saorge

Plan: Rif Biv Testa d'Alpe to Fontan - 19 km, 600 metres ascent, 8 hours

Actual: Fly Camp to Camp Site at Fontan - 460 metres
24 km, 1100 metres ascent, 10.3 hours including 2 hours breaks.

Best bit: Hot showers and cold beers at the end of the day.

UH No 1: We woke up to the buzzing of flies at Colla Sgora. But at least it was only 24C!

Today's path started on the broad track through lovely forest that the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri has adopted as its route. This follows the border, the small border stones being marked '1947' on the French side and being numbered (we passed numbers 390 to 386 or so) on the Italian side. A foot long grass snake lay on the path. It moved quite quickly when I tried to pick it up.

UH No 2: A piece of string across the path near Bivi Testa d'Alpe (we never did find the 'Bivi') seemed to ask us to go a different way. Obligingly we took an alternative route and actually got to the summit of Tête d'Alpe (1587 metres - highest point yet). But the signpost to this spot had been taken down and the path was faint. Our plan to continue along the path (which of course was clearly marked on our French map - and was in France) was foiled by deep thicket, so we considered our options then returned to the string.

After having spent an hour sidestepping this flimsy obstacle, our brew up by the path junction to Breil was most welcome.

Here we decided not to visit Breil but to continue along the AV and descend indirectly to Saorge.

The forest path was delightful and from now on the flies slowly subsided. We saw no other walkers today, but at our turn off the AV there were a few cars with picnickers, one of whom was carrying a crutch and a collecting basket. We were curious.
'What are you collecting?'
'Nothing' insisted the woman 'the basket is empty.'

Our path to Collette du Mont Agu was an ancient donkey trail through the woods, built to a high standard many years ago. Nowadays it is not on a GR or AV route and doesn't even have a number. So it is not maintained, with fallen trees and other debris presenting minor obstacles. Occasional yellow paint flashes on trees reminded us that we were on this path, though at one point we did need to retrace to find the flashes.

Lunch in the shade at the Collette, where the path met the well maintained GR52A at an excellent viewpoint, was a high point of the day.

We had decided not to drop directly to Saorge but to head down to the Roya gorge and walk along the canyon side to Saorge. We descended to the sound of thunder, with a few drops of rain. It was sunny on the coast and black in the mountains to the north. We were on the edge today, and it came to nothing. That will not always be the case on this trip.

UH No 3: On reaching the GR52A junction with the gorge path we joined the route of Via Alpina Path R158.
The Via Alpina is a richly funded (millions of Euros) project spanning the Alps.
We should have been alerted by their sparse description of the route - 'This stage leaves Breil on the valley balcony path above the Roya valley to Saorge, a hanging village typical of the Mediterranean hinterland.'
The section from our path junction to Saorge was described as taking 45 minutes, with 9 metres ascent.
The Via Alpina staff who wrote this should be forced to walk it with 15 kg rucksacks after a hard day. It took us 2 hours and my altimeter recorded 350 metres of ascent to the top of the spectacular ancient village.
The French map, the top of which we walk off at Saorge, shows the mythical Via Alpina route, whereas the Italian map - we are just on the edge of our first Italian map - is more accurate.
We hope the Italian maps will be as accurate in Italy as this one is in France!

We did get a few glimpses of the gorge, and the approach to Saorge was stunning.

The cans of orange juice were also most welcome, as we had exhausted today's supply to 2 litres of water each (we normally carry only 1 litre, but springs are scarce here.

UH No 4: We planned to camp at Fontan. The path leading to Fontan, which we never properly found, would have involved significant further ascent. So we walked down the road. This was fine apart from a 400 metre tunnel with no footpath. At least it was well lit, with little traffic.

The camp site is small and quiet, between the river and the road. The ground is grassy but stony, and the facilities are sparse but more than adequate for us and two lots of car campers. The restaurant next door doesn't open until tomorrow, but there's another one in the village.

UH No 5: After cleaning off 3 days of grime we headed off to the restaurant. A man greeted us at the door at 7.30.
Great.
He was locking up.
At least there was a bar open, to aid our rehydration as we headed back to camp to our emergency rations of soup, pasta and tuna. We didn't expect to have to call on them quite so early in the trip!

Next Day
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Friday, 27 June 2008

Thursday 26 June 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 2 - Lovely Italian Villages and a Steep Climb

Early morning view into Italy from Rif P Gambino

Plan: Rif Patrick Gambino to Biv Testa d'Alpe - 24 km, 1750 metres ascent, 9 hours (note adjustment from spreadsheet, which missed a section!)

Actual: Camp by bijou Rifugio to Col Sgora - 1063 metres
18 km, 1300 metres ascent 9.5 hours including 1.5 hours breaks.

Best bit: Cool tranquillity outside Rifugio this morning.

Everything is very green here, at a time when it's normally brown, according to Luca, the guardian at Rif P Gambino. He told us the weather had been really bad until a week ago, when the sun had come out.

The sun blazed on us today.

This morning's mainly downhill route (back down to 140 metres) passed through 3 lovely Italian villages. First we met a friendly Swedish family at the café in Olivetta, then we reached Fanghetto by a rough path not on our French map. Seemingly passing through a catacomb under this village an excellent balcony path led to the pretty and well serviced village of Airole, where we enjoyed an alfresco lunch in the cool square.

Our afternoon's route lay steeply up a donkey track from the square at 140 metres, to a broad ridge at 1100 metres before dropping to Col Sgora, where at 5 pm we were pleased to find an unexpected water supply. In fact we were surprised to find Col Sgora, as it's marked in a different place on our map.

We saw no other hikers this afternoon. I wonder why? The temperature was 35C as we left the square, and we recorded 37C on the 1100 metre ridge. It was humid as well.

Quite hard work really, so what with my planning estimate cock-up we were glad to stop where we did.

Apart from the flies, that is. They had joined us on the ascent in ever increasing swarms and they spent the evening with us, only subsiding when the sun went down. But for them we would have had a lovely time on this grassy terrace with fine views east into Italy.

But the flies were debilitating and the tent, for a while, was like a sauna, so blogging not possible. Hence the delay in this transmission. Sorry!

On the ridge our attention wandered briefly from the flies and the heat to a fine specimen of Lizard Orchid. Neither of us had seen one before.

Next Day
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Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Wednesday 25 June 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - A Stunning Start

The view back to Menton from Col du Berceau

Plan: Camp site in Menton to Rif Patrick Gambino - 14 km, 1500 metres ascent, 7 hours.

Actual: Hot Camp Site to Camping outside Rif Patrick Gambino
15 km, 1550 metres ascent 8.25 hours including 2 hours breaks.

Best bit: Shady lunch spot (only 24C) after a hot climb (min 30C)

An excellent mountain day after a hot night (neither sleeping bags nor their liners were needed) despite starting on a beach by the Med.

Good paths, well signed, got us up to Col du Berceau (not on our map) for lunch at over 1000 metres, high above the distant Cote d'Azur.

Here, in a lovely shady spot with fine views, we met three Frenchmen, the only walkers seen all day.

After a short descent we left the GR52 path and headed up to the border and the lovely, well graded 'Balcons de la Cote d'Azur' path.

We left this briefly to bag the 1380 metre summit of Monte Grammondo. Graham Illing (who won't read this) would be impressed; others who do read it may just shake their heads...

After recording our feat in the visitors book and optimistically noting our destination as Saas Fee, we went back down to the balcony path. This led through lovely woodland (we could have been on the path from Gradbach to Lud's Church) down to the Rifugio, outside which we are camped.

Here we found our first water since leaving Menton, and a friendly guardian who poured us cups of mint tea and supplied biscuits within seconds of our arrival. We are his only guests tonight, but he won't charge us for camping, and we want to cook some of our own weighty provisions, so we are trying to boost his coffers by consuming his supplies of Birra Moretti.

Hic!

So, a fabulous day, despite having drippingly lugged 15 kilo rucksacks up 1500 metres under clear blue skies and a sun that beat down relentlessly at over 30C. In the days ahead we will have fond memories of this heat.

Next Day
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Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Tuesday 24 June 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Prologue No 2

In a Menton coffee shop, and at Camping St Michael

Plan: Menton to Camping Fleur de Mai - 2 km, 100 metres ascent, 1 hour.

Actual: Menton (Madone) to Camping St Michel (€13)

4 km, 220 metres ascent (including back to town for a meal), approx 2 hours.

Mike got us efficiently to Liverpool, then security tried their best:

1. To confiscate our MSR Superfly stove, and

2. To delay us from getting on the plane, simply by not getting people through fast enough.

Sue skillfully negotiated the stove on board (by licking it greedily), and we paid an extra £2 each to get in a fast lane that saw us through security just in time.

The flight saw us transcribing addresses from a bulky list, into new notebooks, one of which has now disappeared. The bulky list was binned in the meantime, so if you don't get a postcard please don't be as upset as we are to have lost the notebook.

Nice airport was efficient, and we exited the airport about 20 minutes after landing. The 11am bus got us to Menton by lunchtime, and some nice people in a small café saved us the trouble of going to our planned camp site - Fleur de Mai - 'C'est fermé' they said. So we are now luxuriating at the Municipal site, Camping St Michel, a steamy 110 metre ascent from Menton.

It's just about bearable - 31C in the shade.

We'll venture back into town shortly for a meal and provisions, before setting off on our ramble tomorrow.

The weather (to use Alan Sloman's words - and make him jealous) is 'perfick'.

Next Day

Monday 23 June 2008 - An Italian Border Route - Prologue No 1

It has been a busy day!

The kit that was strewn around the house was relocated to an upstairs bedroom (me - shown above), and to the dining room (Sue).

It has been stuffed into containers and is ready to go - Mike is picking us up at 5 am to take us to Liverpool airport for the flight to Nice. He's possibly the only rock guitarist in the world ready to get up at 4.30 am to provide a taxi service for his dad. Thanks Mike!

I've started a web page - here - that will be added to in due course when we return. It currently just links to our kit list, a spreadsheet of our planned itinerary, and our detailed itinerary.

It will be interesting to see whether or not these plans, based on my perusal of a few maps, bear any relation to what happens in reality.

Anyway, it's getting on for 1 am, so time to call it a day. We'll be trying to post short blogs when we get a phone signal, and we plan to write the trip up in more detail and add some photos after we return home in August.

In the meantime, we welcome any comments and observations - you never know, we may find an occasional internet cafe in which to view them.

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Sunday, 22 June 2008

Saturday 21 June 2008 - A 200th Birthday Party

This was the day that Chris, Colin, Jessica, Martin and Phil had chosen to celebrate their 40th birthdays. The venue was Gradbach Youth Hostel, near Buxton. It had been rented for the weekend.

After a sociable Friday evening, Sue and I co-opted 6 others to join us on a 25 km stroll, initially by the River Dane to the Ship Inn (point 3 on the route shown below) at Danebridge.

It was too early for lunch, so we continued past alpaca and horses along some lesser known paths of the Peak District to the Ryles Inn near Langley (point 4) for beer and soup (we’d had large breakfasts). By now we had spent much time in wet fields and everybody’s feet were soaked. Apart from mine – I could gloat in my new boots, which passed the 25 km on day 1 test with almost flying colours – I just have a slight rub on one ankle tendon.

Then we headed along the Gritstone trail to Ridgegate Reservoir for a second lunch (there was limited seating here) before heading past Trentabank and a few neatly stacked logs, and up Shutlingsloe. Not for the first time since I started writing these pages.

Today the ‘Matterhorn of Cheshire’ was in a cloud, so we headed quickly down towards the Crag Inn (point 9) before going up and over again, past a very nice looking house, to Three Shire Heads.

Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire greet each other at this pleasant spot, where a huge piece of fungus protruded from a tree, and everyone seemed happy to rest.

From here it was an easy downhill stroll back to the youth hostel for a rather sparse and drizzly BBQ, plus beer and a ceili in the thin long ground floor room of the old mill. Curiously, a stuffed wallaby sat in one window - they roamed wild hereabouts for many years until the 1990s (see here), and a signpost outside rather bizarrely pointed to Eskdale Green and Muncaster Head!

Here’s our route for the day – 25 km with over 1000 metres of ascent, taking us 8 hours including 1½ hours stops – an excellent day out despite some indifferent weather.


Now then, shouldn’t we be getting ready to go to the Alps?…
Panic!