Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Saturday, 1 September 2018

'Summer in the Alps' - Day 37 - Santa Maria to Baita Luleta, a B&B in Italy, near Livigno

Early morning rain and the prospect of another short day left us puzzled as to why we had ordered breakfast for 7.30! We took our time, settled up with Janine, collected our bikes from the barn, and set off in light drizzle at 9.15. Chasa Jaro was certainly a good place to stay. Full of character.

The 900 metre ascent to Doss Radond (2234 metres) covered 9km and took me nearly two and a half hours. Richard was much quicker, and had got cold waiting. His feet, in shoes still wet from yesterday, remained cool all day. At my slower pace, and quite a bit of the 900 metres ascent involved pushing my bike, I remained comfortably warm. Keen Targhee shoes, and ankle gaiters, ensured that my feet remained dry and warm.

I was surprised to see a goldfinch near the high point.

An easy descent down a rough track to Alp Sprella was pretty enjoyable in improving weather, then a left fork took us down classic singletrack to Passo Val Mora. I've been in similar places before, but for Richard this was some of the best mountain biking he'd ever experienced. The route traverses dramatic scree slopes laden with vertiginous excitement, and passes through forests of dwarf pine trees, as it progresses high above the raging torrent in Val Mora.

After that we zoomed along to Giacomo Lake and found a signpost to Livigno. Richard had started up the track before I had a chance to nominate Giacomo Café as a suitable spot for a breather. Four cyclists had passed us and headed to that fleshpot, a flat kilometre off our route, and I would really have liked to follow them. Never mind...

A push/ride got us slowly up to the final summit of the day, Passo di Val Alpisella, 2268 metres. I had to return after starting the descent, to pick up my sunglasses. Some deja vu involved there!

The descent to Lake Livigno was steep and loose. Care needed. Yesterday's descent down a gravel track could be taken at 20 mph; today was a test for the brakes and at closer to 10 mph. Still good fun.

We were rewarded with coffees at the Ponte delle Capre rifugio by the lake. The smelly toilets detracted from this experience.

During the day we saw quite a few walkers and cyclists, not put off by the disappointing weather. Drizzly at times, with high peaks swathed in cloud. Fine for mountain biking though.

Our final task was to locate the B&B booked by Markus. Google maps came to the rescue and saw us pushing our bikes up a final steep hill, a couple of km outside Livigno, to Baita Luleta. The place was deserted but a phone call soon had someone arriving to sort us out. A slightly weird place. Tea making equipment but no suitable cups until we managed to find some in the kitchen; a shower that generates cramp unless you're a contortionist, and various other quirks.

The place is supposed to be full tonight, but we've seen no other guests.

Dinner was procured a few minutes down the road at Rifugio la Calcheira, where half a dozen staff stood around and cocked up our order. When the correct food did arrive, it was very good. The technique for serving wine was one that we hadn't encountered before and involved the waiter sneaking off with a few millilitres before pouring us some to taste.

A pleasant evening was enjoyed by all. Richard had chats with Joe and Diana, and Sue called from Tuoi hut. "Have you been cycling today?" I thought she asked. It wasn't a good line and the call ended quite quickly, after which I was unable to interpret her question, as Richard and I are specifically on a cycling trip - route 444 in the Swiss National Park. That's what it says on the can. So why are we now in Italy? Such are the mysteries of the Engadine.

Today's pictures:
Leaving Santa Maria
A drizzly morning in Val Vau
Doss Radond - 2234 metres
Richard at Passo di Val Alpisella - 2268 metres
Livigno

Wildlife Report:
Wheatear
Black Redstart
Redstart
Goldfinch
Marmot
Goats etc
Red Squirrel
Dipper
Lots of Bellflowers including harebell and fairy bells
Eyebright
Lots more flowers
Grey wagtails
Assorted tits (no fondling) 

Friday, 31 August 2018

'Summer in the Alps' - Day 37 - Scuol to Santa Maria

As predicted, we woke to steady rain. Not the best weather for a bike ride over a 2251 metre pass (me and Richard) or for a walk to a mountain hut at 2250 metres (Sue). But we did it.

The original plan was for Richard and me to set off with our old friend Markus, who would drive over from Dornbirn, at lunch time. But the forecast showed heavier rain after lunch, so after a bit of toing and froing we decided it would be best if Richard and I set off earlier and Markus would join us at Santa Maria for the rest of the trip.

Whilst Sue made her way to visit Markus's sister Silke at the Chamanna Tuoi mountain hut where she works, Richard picked up a Trek hire bike and I rescued my Stumpy from the car boot.

Then we embarked on a 3+ hour ascent from 1200 metres to 2251 metres, plus some undulations. Mainly tarmac, then gravel up to the hamlet of S. Charl, where we paused for a coffee at a convenient hostelry. At the start of the ascent we encountered a group of 21 people doing a similar route to us. They were faster than me, so we didn't see them again. We did however establish that the group included two Brits and they were on an annual bonding bike ride for employees of an international sanitary ware company. Their company includes Twyfords.

After S. Charl the track continued gently up to the high point, narrowing after passing a farmhouse to a singletrack section that was quite fun. Effort was required to avoid having to push in a few places.

Eventually we reached the 2251 metre high point. In his state of delirious excitement, Richard pushed on before realising I wasn't there. I'd stopped to admire the scenery and take the fourth picture of today's quintet.

After a bit of steep gravel, the descent to Santa Maria was fast and uneventful. It had been drizzling for most of the 37 km ride, which included about 1200 metres ascent and took us four and a quarter hours including stops. Less than an hour of that had been spent going downhill - fun but cooling.

Our next task was to find Chasa Jaro, a B&B booked by Markus. We had heard from him during the ride. Due to the route from Dornbirn expecting to be cut off by floods/landslides/avalanches and sundry Acts of God he had cancelled his room and won't be joining us. The weather here is thankfully much better than that! We also discovered that Sue may be the only person staying at the Tuoi hut tonight as everyone else has cancelled. Silke will be her personal chef.

Finding the B&B was an amusing episode. We stopped at a café and enquired about it. Various members of staff scratched their heads. The name and address was written down and they moved off to the back to make further enquiries. We thought we might be some way from our destination. Then a smiling lady appeared and took me to a window. Just outside was a 'Bed & Breakfast sign. "There" was all she needed to say.

After an hour and a half in the café we wandered over to the B&B, which has the aura of an old multistorey barn with ancient fittings and creaky, bare floorboards. It's rather quaint. A nice place to stay.

Downstairs is a bar and restaurant. We have taken advantage of both.
Calanda beer, soups and lasagne.

Today's pictures:
The morning view from Scuol
Lunch by the trail
The view ahead, beyond S. Charl
Looking back from the start of the descent
2.15 - time for coffee and cake

Wildlife Report (Richard insists):
Cows (wild?) With bells
Nutcrackers
Miniature horses
Grey wagtails
Flowers (need Sue)
Flock of crows (upset when we passed)

Thursday, 30 August 2018

'Summer in the Alps' - Day 36 - Heidelberg to Scuol

We will never match the scope and variety of Andrea and Thomas's breakfasts. Meats, cheeses, breads, fruits, jams and yogurts in abundance, with boiled eggs for those with spare stomach space.

Fantastic. That set us up for today's 300 mile drive into and out of rainy Austria, to the village of Scuol in the Engadine area of Switzerland.

We rendezvoused successfully with Richard and after a bit of faffing we found a car park for the Skoda to rest up in for a few days, and our apartment at Chasa Valär. Very nice it is too. 

After some communication with Markus in Dornbirn, we fixed a plan for tomorrow, when the photos from Scuol may not look quite as scenic as those shown below. The first two were taken from the café by the Co-op, and the bottom one, looking up to the Lischana Hut that we visited on a previous trip, was taken from our balcony.

Dinner was supplied by Curuna Hotel's pizzaria. Sue's credit card took a minor beating... 

'Summer in the Alps' - Day 35 - Namur to Heidelberg

After a morning of exploration in Namur, we timed our departure to coincide with a bit of rain that fell as we drove slowly to Heidelberg, some 250 miles away.

An evening and a half day in Namur wasn't sufficient. We will have to return for a full day at the citadel, which has a history dating back many centuries, in this area where the River Meuse is joined by its River Sambre tributary. We wandered around the citadel, enjoying the views from its elevated position. However, we missed out quite a lot, including the tunnels that can only be visited on a guided tour, the timings of which didn't fit in with our need to move on. So after our 5 km meander around the citadel we adjourned for coffee and croissants before collecting our bags from the friendly hotel and our car from the Q park.

By 5 pm we were enjoying a pot of tea in Heidelberg (well, to be precise, Peterstal) with Andrea and Thomas. Andrea's cake, manufactured especially for the occasion, was packed with blueberries. Delicious. Thanks Andrea.

Three bus stops up the valley towards Wilhelmsfeld took us to the start of a good woodland walk leading back to their house. En route we encountered a tower with a viewing platform 36 metres and 192 steps above us. We were followed up it by a group of three runners. Great views from the top although we could feel a bit of dampness coming from the direction of Namur. Thankfully we were back at home enjoying beer o'clock before the damp could penetrate anything.

Spâtzle and goulash was delicious, washed down with some silky red wine.

Thanks again for your hospitality, Andrea and Thomas.

Today's pictures:
Djoseph & Francwès - two folk characters that humorously embody the easy living held so dear by the people of Namur
A view from the Citadel at Namur, featuring the 'Bonnet de prêtre' (Searching for Utopia) sculpture
A detail of the Citadel, which Napoleon  named 'Europe's biggest ant hill'
Later, an ant hill near Heidelberg
The tower near Wilhelmsfeld

Note: these entries are sadly being unhealthily influenced by Sue's current book club offering, Ray Monday Chandler's 'The Long Goodbye', which I am finding something of a distraction. 

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

'Summer in the Alps' - Day 34 - Wokingham to Namur

We reached Namur this afternoon in lovely sunny weather after an uneventful 265 mile drive, including another efficient tunnel crossing under the Channel. With the unrestricted speed signs glaring at us from the M25's overhead gantries it was all feet to the accelerator to avoid baulking the other traffic. So we reached the terminal an hour early and were offered the 10.20 rather than the 11.20 train with no extra charge. At least we had time to grab a coffee in the terminal building before our final call - unlike our last two visits!

We chose a toll free route towards the Alps, which in truth we haven't seen today. Bear with us for that. This took us past Lille and into Belgium. Fast roads apart from one set of roadworks. No incidents. In fact the only incidents so far are minor difficulties like leaving the passports at home (luckily Sue asked me if I had them shortly after we had left Timperley, she usually just assumes I have them), misplaced medicine (found in the car), misplaced power adaptors (found in the car).

So we are doing alright at present despite the foreign object (my bike) that is trying to take over the car boot, and my failure to pack in a sensible manner.

A walk around Namur revealed a large but not unpleasant town at a river junction with a huge citadel, a cathedral, several large churches, and much construction work including a new bridge over the river. Blue 'Boris Bikes' are plentiful, and there's some tasteful graffiti.

Our hotel - the nicely refurbished Grand Hotel de Flandre - is directly opposite the grand facade of the railway station, the bottom two pictures having been taken from the same spot.

Beer o'clock was soon upon us and dinner was taken at the Phat Thai restaurant just around the corner. An excellent meal despite the necessary sacrifice of several chickens.

Today's pictures were all taken in Namur:
Graffiti
The river and the Citadel
Cathedral (shut this evening - dates from Kingdom come)
Station, and across the road
Our hotel

Monday, 27 August 2018

Jill and James

Thanks go to these two stalwarts of UMIST's hiking club for putting us up and feeding us for a couple of nights, and transporting us silently to a point from which the intricacies of their local path network could be negotiated with confidence.

'Summer in the Alps' - Days 32 and 33 - Timperley to Wokingham

Hello from Wokingham, from where we have enjoyed a day out with Jill and James, joined briefly by Ian and Julia, all ex UMIST friends of mine.

Yesterday's 'Day 32' drive south was a complete contrast to our 'Day 0' journey on 1 July. The burning heat of that day was replaced by steady rain that resulted in the cancellation of the Moto GP at Silverstone. That resulted in minor traffic delays from disappointed spectators returning home, but in the main it was an easy 204 mile journey, via lunch with Sue's parents in Solihull.

Today we headed off in Sue's new car to Christmas Common, gateway to the Reading Alps (aka The Chilterns). Our 11.5 km stroll to the Fox & Hounds passed through pleasant woodland with fields of cows and red kites, plus a mewing buzzard, to the small village of Northend for a cake and pie stop on a bench. That refuelled us for the ascent to the pub, where we were greeted by Ian and Julia, who readers may recall we met up with back in July.

Thanks for the drinks, Ian. Wasps were drowning and the lavender was almost overpowering...

Whilst James pottered back to the car, the rest of us resumed our Alpine stravaig by way of the Watlington Hill loop. Lunch was taken on a bench with a view to the north west to Didcot Power Station and across the sub-alpine landscape. Very pleasant, on a warm summer's day.

After parting with Ian and Julia, who were on their way home from a folk festival, the four of us adjourned to Henley for a walk with the hordes along the River Thames as far as Marsh Lock, before returning to Henley's flower laden streets for al fresco ice creams and tea after our 3 km bash. A wooden four bedroom house on a small island was up for sale for £900,000.

Then it was back to chez J & J for another relaxing evening with good food and wine.

What a nice way to start a trip.

Today's pictures should be self explanatory. 

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Saturday 25 August 2018 – Wythenshawe parkrun number 353

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Just a few pictures from Saturday’s parkrun, which took place in damper conditions than of late, with some moisture-laden grass to slow us down, though the overnight rain had ceased by the time we needed to cycle down to the Park.

Above – work continues on the Hall, but there has been indiscernible progress over the last few months. It’s now two and a half years since the fire.

Meanwhile, Oliver continues to oversee proceedings and, aided by Run Director Charlie and Head Honcho Andy, he personally welcomed all 230 of today’s runners.

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Owen was as enthusiastic as ever, seen here warming up for his weekly dose of quality exercise.

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This was Jane’s second parkrun. She got round in an hour and eight minutes, helped by stalwart Syd and by today’s two Tail Walkers, Sue and Kathryn.

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The parkrun is as important for people like Jane, who we hope will return for some more PB performances, as it is for some of the faster runners, including those trying to follow the blue vests of the Winston Runners club members who were pacing at 25, 30 and 35 minutes.

Thanks go to Winston Runners, pictured below with some hangers on, for providing today’s marshals and pacers.

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Full results are here.

And there was even a bit of cake!

That’s our last run for a while. Let’s see what else we can get up to?