Monday, 27 October 2014

Walking in Devon, England


About 18 months ago, having tired of the hustle and bustle of busy London, my wife and I moved to the coastal town of Torquay in Devon, about three hours by rail south-west of London. I soon learnt that there was plenty of local good walking to be enjoyed.

The South West Coastal Path is a long-distance walking trail that begins at Minehead on the Somerset Coast, then follows the foot of England around Land's End in Cornwall, along the coast of Devon overlooking the English Channel, and finishes its 630 mile (1,014 km) journey at Poole Harbour in the county of Dorset. The walk is rated by Lonely Planet as one of the top walks to be found anywhere in the world, and has been voted Britain's best walk by readers of Walk magazine.

I've only walked a small portion of the path—Dartmouth to Sidmouth—51miles (82 km), but it's been a wonderful experience so far. I've done other long distance coastal walks in Australia—around the rugged west coast of Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia, and the wild and muddy South Coast Track in Tasmania. Both those walks were true wilderness experiences. 

The South West Coastal Path never approaches anything close to wilderness, but it does give you an appreciation of the English seascape that most people don't get to experience. You pass around dramatic cliffs, overlook rocky islands, plunge into thick forests and stroll along pleasant stretches of sandy beach. 

The Jurassic Coast, between Exmouth and Studland, is a highlight of this section of the walk, and is the only natural World Heritage Site in England. I was taken by its high red cliffs and eroding sea stacks, which reminded me of the dramatic limestone landforms overlooked by the Great Ocean Road in Victoria.

The path is well-graded and undemanding for fit walkers, and track maintenance is excellent at every stage—this path attracts a lot of walkers, year round. Unlike walking in Australia, don't worry about carrying a tent, and a litre of drinking water is usually sufficient, as the path passes through many coastal towns on the way—large and small— at regular intervals. These towns are a large part of the attraction of this walk. Each has its own character and history (England has LOTS of history!) and each town you pass through adds a further dimension to the walk. Entering a town from the coast on foot is a very different experience from simply arriving by car. This way you manage to gain a fresh perspective and appreciation for each town you pass through.

I chose to walk the path in easy, bite-size portions—a full day afoot— and this has worked well for me so far. But many people take a week's holiday and walk daily sections, staying overnight in any town that takes their fancy. As in Australia, summer offers far more time for walking and side excursions. Winter walking in England can be very limiting, as daylight only fully emerges around 9.00am, then slowly recedes again at 3.30pm! 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Summer in the Swiss Alps


A few summers ago I spent a lovely couple of days in the Swiss village of Zermatt at the foot of the Matterhorn. My wife joined me and also my son and daughter-in-law. The weather was perfect and the wildflowers were in bloom everywhere. It was my second visit to the Matterhorn — the first was during winter when everything was snowed under, so it was a very different landscape this time.

For me, the Matterhorn represents the very epitome of a rugged alpine peak, and its dynamic, almost geometrically-perfect pyramid shape makes it the most instantly recognisable peak in the world, and not just on Toblerone chocolate! There are some delightful walks in the region, all very do-able for anyone with the reasonable use of his or her legs without having to resort to serious mountaineering techniques. If you're vertically challenged, it's difficult to find any flat ground around Zermatt, but no matter which route you choose you'll be rewarded with sweeping views.

Part of the mystique that surrounds the Matterhorn has to do with Edward Whymper's fascination with the mountain and his successful first ever ascent in 1865, only to be followed by tragedy on the descent when four of his men fell to their deaths. Whypmer's book Scrambles Amongst the Alps is recommended reading, as is a visit to the Museum in Zermatt where the notorious 'broken rope' and other memorabilia from the 1865 ascent are on public display.

To get a feel for the mountain we left early one morning and made our way up from the Black Lake. The ascent is reasonably straight-forward along a narrow, winding mountain path, accompanied by dizzying drops for hundreds of metres. There are so many of these mountain paths around Zermatt that normal fencing and health and safety requirements we see in Australia are impossible to maintain in this landscape. The rock underfoot is essentially shale and slate in a constant state of flaking, so care needs to be taken with foot placement. We climbed as high as the Hornli Ridge and got tremendous views of the Matterhorn soaring majestically above us, its peak cutting through cloud, and down to the Matterhorn Glacier far below.

Frenchmans Cap has often been called 'Australia's Matterhorn' and there is a similarity in the striking physical appearance of both mountains. But there the comparison ends —apart from the huge difference in height — 4,478 metres compared to 1,446 metres — both mountains have a history and attraction that is uniquely its own. So if you love mountains, the Matterhorn should be on your short list of places to visit on your next European holiday. It's a magnetic and magical place that you'll want to return to again and again.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Three days at Cradle Mountain

I just got back from three days at Cradle Mountain.

I walked in from the Dove Lake carpark over Hanson's Peak, then around the other side of Cradle where I'd forgotten how pretty all those pencil pines are down in that little valley, and arrived at Scott-Kilvert Hut.

The next day I went off-track down to a little lake behind Kitchen Hut called Suttons Tarn, then scrambled up a loose scree sloped choked with fagus to an area called Little Plateau. I explored this all day and it was fascinating. I went right up opposite Barn Bluff and Mt Inglis and looked down into Fury Gorge. I saw eagles soaring on thermals high above Fury Gorge and also at Dove Lake.

The final day I climbed back up to the saddle near Little Horn and down around Twisted Lakes and Lake Hanson to the carpark, and back to Hobart. It reminded me of that wet trip we did with Kate and Rich when they were young, only I did it in reverse. I even visited that emergency hut near Twisted Lakes where we sought shelter and where I fired up the stove for a hot drink back in 1990.

The weather at Cradle was perfect for the first two days but closed in on the last, with strong, gusty winds and rain storms. Below are a few snaps from the walk.

Off to Queenstown next for another launch and a climb to Raglan Hut.

Launceston launch

Thanks to all of you who came along to the Devonport and Launceston launch. Below are a few pictures from the event.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Sydney Launch of Frenchmans Cap

A few pictures from Saturdays book launch at Gleebooks, Sydney. Thank you to all of those who attended and especially to Rob Pallin for his kind words.

I'm now off to Hobart for a month of launches and bush rambling in Tassie!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Frenchmans Cap - Story of a Mountain

Welcome! November and December will mark the launch of my latest book, Frenchmans Cap - Story of a Mountain. This book has been many years in the making and it's great to see it finally come to fruition. I think you'll find that the wait has been worthwhile. Many people helped me make this book possible and I hope to be able to celebrate with you at one of the Australian launches - and even in London if you happen to be in that part of the world!

Here's a list of dates and venues for the Australian launches:

SYDNEY - Saturday, 10 November, 3.30pm at Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Rd, NSW 2037 (to be launched by Robert Pallin).
DEVONPORT - Wednesday, 14 November, 5.30pm, Devonport Library, 21 Oldaker St, Devonport, TAS 7310 (to be launched by Chris Binks).
LAUNCESTON - Friday, 16 November, 6pm, Petrarch's Bookshop, 89 Brisbane st, Launceston, TAS 7250 (to be launched by Nic Haygarth).
QUEENSTOWN - Friday, 23 November, 6pm, Queenstown Scout Hall, 15 Bowes St, Queeenstown, TAS 7467 (to be launched by Terry Reid).
HOBART - Thursday, 6 December, 5.30pm, Fullers Bookshop, 131 Collins St, Hobart, TAS 7000 (to be launched Bob Brown).
ADELAIDE - Monday, 17 December, 6pm, SA Writers' Centre, 2nd Floor, 187 Rundle St, Adelaide, SA 5000 (to be launched by Peter Roberts-Thomson).

LONDON - Thursday, 7 February, 6pm, The Downer Room, Australia House, Strand, London WC2B 4LA UK (to be launched by His Excellency Mr Mike Rann CNZM, Australian High Commissioner).