Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Saturday 16 November 2013 - Mynydd Anelog and Mynydd Rhiw

Jon left for Gairloch after breakfast, from where he plans to visit the Hebridean island of Longa tomorrow. 

Meanwhile, R&J had arrived last night, with armfuls of alcohol that is now severely depleted.

The Lleyn Peninsula was on the promised agenda, so that's where we headed. Just as well, as the higher sanctuaries of Snowdonia were engulfed by low cloud. 

The walk up Mynydd Anelog from a chapel to the south was short and uneventful. Apart from the sun dispatching searchlight like beams in an attempt to locate Bardsey Island.

The upper picture shows Bardsey from the summit, with ripping currents and a flashing lighthouse. 

A mum with two children arrived just as we left to descend through late flowering but very wind stunted gorse. Soon we were on the Wales Coast Path, heading south. Like most coast paths, this one undulated strenuously between rocky shores and precipitous cliffs.

Lunch was taken in a strange place next to a grassy meadow, selected by Sue shortly after we'd passed a well preserved coastguard's cottage that was closed in 1990.

Then a short road walk past some Brummies who had mislaid the coast path, some Aussies amused by our indecision and a woman who seemed amused by everything, saw us back at the car after this 8 km circuit with 250 metres ascent, in around 3 hours.

A brief transit found us parked up on a wide lane in Rhiw, from where the ascent of Mynydd Rhiw would be arduous in a hurricane with cows blowing past at 60 mph. In today's benign conditions however, we reached the summit in thirty minutes. In the dull conditions photography was rather challenging, so I've filtered the image of the summit view.

Continuing in a clockwise circuit, a selection of encounters featured friendly locals, blocked paths, surprised snipes, crow mobbed buzzards, ancient cromlechs, burial chambers and axe factories, multi coloured sheep, a deep bog on another brush with the Wales Coast Path, and gradually fading light, not to mention a few brummies.

The afternoon's tally was another 9 km, with 250 metres ascent, in around 2.5 hours.

This was a fine day out in a beautiful part of the world. 

Friday 15 November 2013 - Mynydd Mawr and Moel Tryfan

A grey day with cloud slowly descending over Snowdonia drew us to these two modest hills. It was a wise choice. We escaped the cloud and enjoyed another rain free day.

After parking opposite the chapel in Drws-y-coed, a pleasant switchback path guided us gently up Mynydd Mawr. We were the only people on today's hills. From the summit ridge we enjoyed fine views across the precipitous crags of Craig y Bere to the Nantlle ridge (pictured).

Lunch on the 698 metre summit was followed by an amble north west towards the disused quarries and mines of Moel Tryfan. The descending layer of cloud pursued us relentlessly. 

Moel Tryfan (pictured below) is a HuMP (hundred metre prominence). Jon 'collects' them. It's a fine hill with a distinctive rocky prominence.  Charles Darwin visited on 26 June 1842. The hill has played a part in the development of the Glacial Theory, as it has been established that during the Ice Age, 20,000 to 30,000 years ago, the Irish Sea ice and the Welsh ice vied for position in this area.

On our approach to the huge cleft left by the mining, we came upon a rock labyrinth reminiscent of that in Kate Mosse's eponymous book. Sue then proved it was actually a maze, by wrestling her way to the centre. 

A short walk down to the small village of Fron, past grotty farms and fly-tipped debris, as well as copious remnants of quarrying activities, got us back to the B4418 at Nantlle, from where a short walk found us back at the car. 

We'd enjoyed an excellent 15 km circuit, with about 700 metres ascent, taking around 5.5 hours.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Thursday 14 November 2013 - Moel-y-gest (262 metres)

This fine little hill overlooking Porthmadog makes for an interesting half day excursion. 

Today I chose the north eastern ascent route from the A497, rising steeply through woodland before reaching a low crest at around 100 metres. Then an undulating path, with optional scrambling, rises to the main summit ridge. It's all of a kilometre along the rocky ramparts to the summit cairn. At only 262 metres, it's a hill that punches far above its weight. 

Good views towards Snowdonia's high peaks (pictured) vie with those over Tremadog Bay, albeit the latter is somewhat blighted by Black Rock Sands' massive caravan park. 

A lone person following me up had disappeared by the time I turned to leave the summit, on a fine afternoon with surprisingly little of the forecast wind.

The path was easily misplaced, so for the second day running my descent took rather longer than my ascent, which today had occupied just an hour. 

Heading down the south east slopes past lingering blooms of heather, I passed through an area of static caravans before descending to the Wales Coast Path beyond Garth, passing posh houses and Madog Boat Yard before reaching the cottage shortly before dusk and rain set in.

Two minutes later Jon and Sue arrived from a day of 'hill bagging' on the Lleyn Peninsula, where they had found some cool, strong winds. 

My walk had been about 7 km, with 300 metres ascent, taking 2.5 hours.

Very satisfying after a longish drive with a selection of obstacles provided first by a cloud burst and then by flash rally cars masquerading as Sunday afternoon chicanes!

Wednesday 13 November - The Great Outdoors Awards 2013

An SOS from car less Carey saw me picking him up from BMC HQ in Didsbury and wrestling with the M60's rush hour traffic, arriving eventually at Burgundy's Wine Bar too late for any meaningful nibbles but in plenty of time for the free bar.

It was good to catch up with Carey, who I probably hadn't seen since our 2011 trip to Turkey.  Though the long tale of woe concerning his lost car keys was rather painful to hear.

I was representing both Bridge of Gaur Guest House and Alpenstock, Stockport's premier outdoors retailer, at the awards ceremony. Neither expected to receive awards; their 'award' being the satisfaction of being nominated, then shortlisted together with other worthy contenders.

Others needed consoling when their names didn't feature in Daniel and Emily's double act. They are pictured above during the ceremony (devious editing has been required given my phone's inadequate flash).

I'll insert details of the winners when I get home, but for me this event is more an opportunity to enjoy a beer with old friends and new. It was good to see Andy Howell, who had been so generous in his review of my book, and much of the evening was spent with Sue and Ali, who were so disappointed when their Newtonmore Independent Hostel failed to gain the Best Accommodation award.

A nearby Italian restaurant came to the culinary rescue for eight of us, leaving Emily stranded in the foodless wine bar. The Great Outdoors Magazine's editor, newly returned from maternity leave, had others to please.

All in all, an excellent evening, well worth the effort of attending. 

Wednesday 13 November 2013 - Moel y Dyniewyd

Whilst Jon and Sue headed south to bag one of Jon's few remaining Welsh Marilyns, I headed to Beddgelert for what I planned to be a short stroll up to the sub 400 metre summit of Moel y Dyniewyd. 

The soft early morning sunlight was soon replaced by duller conditions as cloud swept in from the south west. But it didn't rain. I headed from a convenient lay-by past Sygun Copper Mine - closed, but its miniature waterwheel was whirring energetically - along a good path signed to Cwm Bychan.

Fires and an area of hillside that appeared to be a scene of devastation were explained by a National Trust sign: "We are working to clear the rhododendron ponticum that is taking over the hillside and killing the native plants."

Grib Ddu was soon reached, from which my targeted summit wasn't much more than a further kilometre, over fairly rough but not unpleasant ground. There are lots of paths hereabouts, very few of which are marked on my Harveys 1:40000 map. I seemed to bypass most of them, and my route also included some scrambling. 

So it was a pleasure to reach the summit after an hour and a half, just beating the cloud that was billowing in. Today's photo was taken from that summit, looking in the Nantmor direction.

Time for elevenses in a sheltered spot that obviated the need to supplement my t-shirt and fleece with anything windproof. 

I'd expected a quick descent, but I missed the path to Beddgelert and finished up traversing the ridge to Nantmor. An interesting route, with steep crags blocking any descent to the west, and with a final descent beside a high wall over precipitous ground, finally emerging on the Cym Bychan path that would have been a more sensible and much safer option. I reached that path with some relief, as the other elderly gents on the hill had disappeared, as had the search and rescue helicopter that had been monitoring my progress down the cliff.

A pleasant stroll from Aberglaslyn, beside Afon Glaslyn, with foamy water and autumn colours trying hard to be vibrant under the grey sky, saw me back in Beddgelert by 1.30 pm after this 11.5 km stroll with about 400 metres ascent, in a shade under 4 hours.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Tuesday 12 November 2013 (pm) - Manod Mawr

A surprise car park on the outskirts of Blaenau Ffestiniog provided an excellent base for this afternoon's ascent of Manod Mawr. 

It was a blazing hot summer's afternoon. Seemed like it anyway. A narrow path led east from Congl-y-wal through farmland. A long conversation with the elderly farmer and his weary sheepdog revealed that he had been up here yesterday trying to round up his sheep in the fog. Today he was able to find them.

After helpfully pointing out our route, Farmer Jones sidled off on his ATV and left us to the mercy of the gently ascending path. 

There was a direct route, but in deference to Jon's health we didn't take it. 

Slate quarries dominated the scene.  Allt-fawr and its serpentine ridge were lit by the afternoon sun to our west. Llyn Manod came and went. A Snowdonian panorama was displayed before us, albeit with the occasional doormat of cloud. 

Various birds of indeterminate breeds teased us with their intermittent presence. Plovers? Perhaps not. 

Large chunks of erratic quartz littered the hill, providing easy landmarks by which to descend by the same route. At the 661 metre summit a defunct trig point revealed its survey bolt still in position despite the pillar being long gone.

The silence was broken as we descended. Two fighter jets practicing dog fighting vied with the local quarry's blasting intentions. 

Q: Was that a sonic boom or a sonic blast?
A: Thunder.

After that we romped back down to the car park, completing our walk of 7 km and 400 metres ascent in around 2.5 hours, in very pleasing late afternoon light.

Sue's a rare, if not reluctant, cook. All credit to her for the excellent turkey burgers she prepared later.

Tuesday 12 November 2013 (am) - Allt-fawr - 698 metres

Jon is a Marilyn bagger. He has now climbed 1263 of these 'Relative Hills'. So he has 294 left to climb.

(A 'Marilyn' is a hill that is 500 feet higher than the surrounding ground on all sides.)

Today's first objective was this fine little hill, accessed from the A470 just north of Blaenau Ffestiniog, below the Crimea Pass.

In a complete contrast to yesterday, it dawned bright and sunny, though Snowdonia's 3000 ft summits remained under a grey hearthrug all day.

So it was an ideal day on which to restrict our ambitions to around 700 metres. The ascent soon revealed an unexpectedly picturesque switchback ridge that led us gently to the summit. A cool breeze joined us about half way up, but it was far from unpleasant. 

Allt-fawr's summit is the little visited high point of an extensive plateau on which the iconic mountain, Cnicht, is probably the best known peak. The views from Allt-fawr extend over Snowdonia,  with Moel Siabod standing dominantly above Dolwyddelan Castle. Snowdon lies beyond the distinctive profile of Cnicht, which from here looks to be the highest point on the plateau. The 'heighters' would have us believe otherwise.

After chatting to a chap who was continuing to Cnicht and enjoying tea and shortbread on the summit, we wandered down to Llyn Iwerddon, the 'Blaenau Ffestiniog Lido', with its adjacent steam room. Lower down,  we lunched beside an air shaft for the railway far below, before returning to the car along a pleasantly grassy path.

This was a lovely 5.5 km circuit, with about 400 metres ascent, taking us a leisurely 4 hours or so.

Excellent. 

Monday, 11 November 2013

A Wet Day in Porthmadog

Here's the view from the balcony of our home for the week in South Snowdon Wharf. 

The cloud came and went at the level of the houses. Rain lashed the harbour. A walk up a nearby hill was vetoed.

Instead, Sue and I enjoyed a rather damp 11 km circuit via Tremadog, sussing out restaurant opportunities for later. By the time we got back, Jon was waiting outside the house, and we were soon to be found with a selection of curries and Cobra beer in A Passage to India.

At least today I've taken advantage of the chance to edit around 600 photos from the TGO Challenge in May!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

A Pyrenean Adventure – The Book

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My first book is out, thanks largely to TGO Challenger Humphrey Weightman, who I discovered on my return from the Pyrenees had re-formatted this blog into book form.

The very limited print run arrived on 31 October, when a small ‘launch party’ was held with a few friends, several fizzy bottles, and a huge carrot cake.

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I’ve sent copies to many of the people we met along the way, and we received this lovely response from Yolaine, Pierre, Chantal and Joël in Annecy. Wonderful.

Celebrations in Annecy

The book is available by emailing me at martin@topwalks.com.

Prices are as follows:
Hand delivery - £10.00
UK + P&P - £12.00
Europe + P&P - £15.70
USA etc + P&P - £18.00

Anyone who buys a copy may also have a pdf version, and if you want just the pdf version the price is £5.00. Payment is currently by cheque or bank transfer, but I plan also to set up a Paypal account. (When we get back from a week away.)

Currently I’m aware of just one review, here – from Andy Howell. In fact, I rather like that review, so whilst the link verifies its efficacy, I’m reiterating it below:

Review: A Pyrenean Adventure, Martin Banfield

The growth of the internet and low cost digital technology has seen an explosion in ‘self publishing’ over the last decade. I’ve reviewed a number of self-published books here and a few of them have gone on to be very popular. In all honesty, I do receive some pretty dreadful, self-published, books but this one, my friends, is a little gem.

Martin Banfield is a friend of mine, fellow blogger, hill walker, Pyrenean aficionado and TGO Challenger. This summer Martin walked the full length of the GR10, the long distance footpath on the French side of the Pyrenees. For much of the walk he was accompanied by his wife Sue and on other occasions his walking companions were a mixture of old and new friends; one of the great things about trails such as these is that you make many new friends as you walk.

Martin blogs as he walks, something that I have never been comfortable at doing. At the end of each day he sits down and writes his journal on his smartphone. When he has a phone signal he turns his trail prose into blog posts, enhancing them with the photographs that he has taken on that very same smartphone. The result of this technique is that the walking experience is shared with friends — real and virtual — in almost real time.

The further Martin walked this summer the more this blog became a shared journey. Regular contributors added to the fun and humour of the trip and others who dipped in and out clearly took inspiration from Martin’s walk.

As the walk progressed I remember writing a post here describing Martin’s journal as one of the best, current, reads on the net. Reading this now is a reminder of how right that observation was! Another fan of Martin’s walk was another TGO Challenger and print designer Humphrey Weightman. Humphrey was fascinated by what he saw emerging from Martin’s blog and decided that it would work — posts, reader comments and all — as a book. Humphrey knocked up some drafts and dummies and when Martin returned from France he found these proofs waiting for him at home.

The two of them decided that the experiment had worked and over a few weeks Martin tidied up the text a little and spent a little time processing his photographs. Humphrey then laid down the page design, commissioned printers and — hey presto — this book was born.

The book takes the form of an A4, bound, soft cover. The larger A4 format works really well allowing most of the day entries and the accompanying photos and reader comments to sit on one page. I can’t remember a blog — comments and all — laid out like this before, but the formula really works. This is a more polished version of the blog (still available online) but the text has lost none of its spontaneity, vibrancy and humour.

The many photographs that illustrate the adventure are well composed and provide readers with a real insight as to how these mountains look and work. The quality of the photographs are quite remarkable given that they were composed on a smartphone. But it is in the reading that this book delights. It is a real account of a real walk, not an account of great heroics or death defying stunts, but the kind of experience that is well within the reach of all of us.

If you are thinking of walking in the Pyrenees — planning anything from a full traverse to a week’s leisurely rambling — this book will give you a very good idea of what to expect. Writer Kev Reynolds has recently said (in his new collection of memories from a life of mountain walking) the more he reflects on his adventures the more he recognises that great trips are made up of encounters with people and not just the appreciation of the sheer beauty of the landscape. Martin captures this trail comradeship really well here. We meet many new people along the trail and share with Martin his joy of meeting them again a little further on. There are some lovely vignettes of the town and villages along the trail and stories of wonderful hospitality received from Inns and mountain hotels along the way.

The trail is illuminated well as you would expect but Martin also shares with us the look and feel of the villages in which he stays to resupply and take a break. There is humour and quirkiness here, not least in Martin’s sub project to document the variety of tractors that are found along the Pyrenean ridge.

Over the last few years Steve Cracknell has had some success with his own account his walk along the GR10 (If Only You Walk Long Enough) and I’ve no doubt that Martin’s book delight many in the same way. The idea to publish the text and the comments is a master stroke as, if you missed the trek at the time, you can still share the adventure as it evolved while also experiencing the banter between Martin and those who were following the trip.

I know many of you still appreciate the look and feel of the printed book and that many of you are happy hunting down titles from specialist shops and suppliers. To get hold of a copy email Martin directly at: martin@topwalks.com

The book costs £12 and this includes post and packaging. European delivery costs £15.70 and shipping to USA and other international destinations will cost £18. Martin accepts payment by cheque or bank transfer. Anyone who buys a copy of the book will also be given a PDF version for their ereader if they request it. The initial print run is limited — so get in quickly! This is a lovely, lovely book that will sit well in any personal library of mountain literature.

Just that one review makes it all worth while! Thanks Andy.



























Friday 8 November 2013 – Rivington’s Towers

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I organise a monthly (or so) evening walk. They aren’t particularly popular, but they get me out and I enjoy them, so who cares?

Anyway, we were down at Wythenshawe Parkrun one sunny morning earlier this year, when some assembled youngsters and enthusiastic parents cajoled me into arranging an extra walk in addition to the traditional Christmas stroll up Shutlingsloe (coming up on 17 December).

Rivington Pike was duly chosen, and the circular walk from the Barn to the Pigeon Tower and Rivington Tower has been reported on these pages before, for example here.

It’s an easy 4 mile stroll, taking about an hour and a half.

Tonight it was raining. Quite hard at times. The youngsters’ enthusiasm, and that of their parents, had waned or been forgotten. So it was just Sue and I who set off past the hall, pictured above, for something of a splodge.

My waterproof camera did come in handy for the following two pictures, from which you may gather it was a little damp up at Rivington Tower.

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At least we weren’t in cloud – you can see the mast on Winter Hill through the rain.  Sue was actually very happy – she had needed to unchain herself from her desk.

A refreshing outing, though we did feel the wimpy children had made a good call as they may not have enjoyed the slippery rocks and deep puddles…

Monday 4 November 2013 – In Search of the River Medlock

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Some considerable time ago I volunteered to lead one East Lancashire LDWA’s Wednesday walks. Since it was to be on 20 November I chose what I hoped would be an easyish route, given the requirement to make it 15 to 16 miles.

So how about Stretford to Oldham? I called it a ‘Medlock Meander’. Details are here – this link may disappear after 20 November.

Anyway, I thought I’d better do a recce, so I set off in lovely weather in search of the River. Before that, the Bridgewater Canal threw a curved ball at me after I failed to notice a diversion sign. It’s a good job the extra 2+ km that resulted was alone and not with an angry group of walkers!

The canal led me through Manchester (taking great care to follow the Ashton Canal and not the one to Rochdale), past City’s football stadium to Philips Park, where at last I found the River Medlock. In a culvert.

From here it was a very pleasant walk to Oldham, although after various mistakes and diversions I managed to cover nearly 32 km, which I fear is more like 20 miles than 15 miles!

It’ll be ‘alright on the night’, as they say. 

A Big Birthday Party

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Last Friday, 1 November, saw us in Tewkesbury celebrating Julia’s (pictured on the left above, with her friend Liz on the right) 80th birthday. Congratulations Julia.

We should see more of Julia in the Dolomites next summer.  We met on my first trip to the Himalayas in 1997.

We were also celebrating Julia’s granddaughter’s 18th birthday. Megan is pictured below, sitting on my left, whilst to my right is Liz’s husband Dave, who has kindly sent me a couple of videos – ‘The Longest Climb’ that I’ll enjoy watching when I have a couple of hours free. Thanks Dave.

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Megan won’t be joining us in the Dolomites, though she loves the Via Ferrata routes, as she has now flown to Sydney for a year in Australia(ish) before she goes to Manchester University, when we hope she will call in for the occasional Sunday dinner.

Not forgetting, it was also Megan’s dad Ian’s 50th birthday. Ian is pictured below with his younger daughter Lexi, and he confirmed that reaching the advanced age of 50 has made him no less voluble! Sorry Ian! He’s too busy at work to come to the Dolomites next summer. A shame.

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Sue and Caroline were also there, but they must have been taking the pictures.  It was a lovely evening, all too short.

We hope to see you all again soon, and wish Megan well in Australia.

A Walk in the Clouds – Fifty Years Among the Mountains – Kev Reynolds

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This is a lovely book, in which mountain guidebook guru Kev Reynolds relates 75 short stories covering a few of his more memorable experiences in the Alps, Pyrenees, Himalayas and elsewhere.

It’s a delightful and very easy book to read, with skilfully composed prose and a real feeling for the scenarios portrayed.

When I finished reading it I wanted to start again from the beginning.

Strongly recommended for a Christmas list or an immediate click on the £12.95 button on this link.