This year’s Scotland meet was excellent, with mainly good weather and plenty of munros and other summits climbed, as well as some scrambles. Unfortunately, several people who had expressed interest could not attend for various reasons, leaving just two of us to enjoy it. Max had already spent a few days on Skye then went on to the comfortable Forest Way bunkhouse near Braemore Junction, a few miles south of Ullapool, and I joined him on the Sunday, having flown to Inverness and driven from there.
The forecast for Sunday, the first day, was for low cloud and possible rain so we had considered a low walk. However, as the morning looked bright, we headed towards Stac Pollaidh, which was out of the cloud at 613m. We were early enough to have it to ourselves until late morning, so we took the path to the eastern end, did an unnecessary but fun scramble on the two end sections then traversed most of the ridge. Luckily it was dry and fairly warm so the rock was pleasant. The final scramble to the summit could be done either via a small chimney or on the face of a rock pillar – so it had to be done twice, just to make sure all routes were explored, before we returned to the descent via the full ridge. The traverse path around the base was also worthwhile as the views were wonderful. Since there was still plenty of time to spare, we did a short walk to the coast on the way back, where we saw stone chats and heard plenty of cuckoos.
The next day saw classic Scottish cloud down to almost sea level and steady rain all day, so there was no hurry to get out. I wanted to visit a longstanding friend of my brother who lives near Dundonnell and luckily this was the only day she was free. Before going to visit her, we walked along the north side of Little Loch Broom to the village of Scoraig. The village is very interesting as it has no road access at all, though it houses some 70 people and includes a school, an information point in a lighthouse and a jetty. All of the 25 houses have wind generators and some people run businesses such as violin making from there, as well as crofting. Later we visited my brother’s friend on the other side of the loch, who also keeps sheep, spins and dyes the wool and has had a house built with timber from her own patch of forest.
The following day was dry, but with cloud on the higher tops, so we chose Cul Mor, the lowest of our intended summits (849m). Getting there and ascending to the main summit was very straightforward, but the cloud came down just before we reached the top. So some messing about with compass in the mist was required to find a secondary summit along the ridge (which gave the opportunity for minor scrambling on some slabby sandstone shelves) and the descent. We descended a different way, across to another peak (An Laogh) and saw a mountain hare on the way, as well as a group of about eight deer. No other people were around all day. We finished in good time, so visited the gear shop in Ullapool and later the Dundonnell hotel, which had lovely views of hills bathed in sunshine. The late evening sun is one of the joys of being this far north at this time of year.
After this the weather improved markedly, with clear tops and much sunshine. Our next objective was a group of munros in the Fannich range, just south of the bunkhouse. Max had done the Western ridge previously, so we headed for those on the East side of the same valley (Sgurr nan Each 923m., Sgurr nan Clach Geala 1093m. and Meall a Chrasgaidh 934m.) which comprise about half of the long day described in the Cicerone guide. We added another one, Sgurr Mor (1110m.), making a total of four munros that day. The hardest part was the long walk up the valley to start the ascent. We were supposed to follow a track and then a stalkers’ path but missed a river crossing (which was not very obvious), so had to stumble through rough ground and peat groughs to reach the saddle. Once onto the ridge it became much easier, and we were able to do the first couple of munros by lunchtime and take in the other two without any difficulty. There were large patches of snow remaining on the north side but we only needed to walk across some small sections (though one of us chose to find extra snow to wade in just for fun!). The views were extensive in all directions, including the distinctive shapes of An Teallach and Suilven. The descent off the final hillside was acceptable, through grass and heather, then we found the river crossing we had missed earlier. This was not without interest, and it was hard to imaging crossing there in wetter conditions when the river was higher. That evening we went to a waterfront pub in Ullapool which had live music and a good atmosphere, as well as a view of the harbour and hills.
The last full day was warm and sunny throughout, so we both needed to take extra water. The initial plan was to do Ben More Assynt (998m) and Conival (987m), but Max added the suggestion of a scramble on the north ridge of Conival to make a more interesting approach. We made an early start and parked at Inchnadamp, taking a track then a good path up the valley. The main path heads up to a col on the left, but we crossed the river Traligill towards the col between Conival and Breabag. This took longer than expected, as the valley narrowed into a rocky cleft, through which we had to find a route, crossing the stream at intervals.
On the way we saw a couple of ptarmigan quite close by and a lone deer. At the col, nothing resembled the guidebook description so we carried on for a while, looking at the ridge above, and stopped for a snack at a viewpoint. On approaching the ridge from there, we suddenly found the pools and shelf described in the book and were able to start up the scramble. Just as described, there were sections of nice warm rock, with good holds and friction and a few ‘delicate’ moves. Later it led over three towers, one with an interesting slab and the others with ways over the crest. The ridge finished just at the top of the mountain, a very suitable place for lunch with views over the far north-western area of Scotland.
The top of Conival was a different world, as there were several groups of people, who had come up by the main path, making it quite busy by northern Scotland standards. We found a good viewpoint for a lunch stop, then continued along the ridge to the two summits of Ben More Assynt. These tops are covered in broken white quartzite rocks, which were quite dazzling in the strong sunlight. We took pictures of the views all around before returning to the top of Conival and following the main descent path. We managed to miss part of the ridge path when it went over a small outcrop so had a more difficult descent to the valley path than intended. We finally reached the car after 8½ hours, feeling suitably tired, but very satisfied.
In the morning I just had time to take a short walk along the river near the bunkhouse, as we had been advised to look at a few bridges that had been designed and built by the engineer who built the Forth rail bridge, who used these as design models. This made an interesting diversion before setting off for the airport.
We were lucky to have such good weather this year, as northern Scotland was warm and dry for weeks on end. Those who could not come missed out on a great experience. We are already discussing the possibilities for next year, so hope that more people will attend.
Present: Max Peacock, Judy Renshaw.
Report by Judy Renshaw
Fourteen attendees at the Bunkbarn and adjacent pub this year, plus two in a good B&B billet near Buxton, and two on a caravan site the other side of the hill. The usual eclectic mix of regulars and first timers, plus three day visitors.
The attendees were James and Belinda Baldwin, Margaret and Mike O'Dwyer, Dick Murton and Lyn Warriss, Judy Renshaw, Don Hodge, Margaret Moore, Mike Goodyer, Heather Eddowes, Dave Matthews, Paul Stock, Ed Bramley, Myles O’Reilly, Andy Hayes, Andy Burton, and a potential new full member Chris Lund.
Friday afternoon saw the O'Dwyers and I arrive at the Royal Oak mid afternoon, and set off to organise Margaret a bike from Parsley Hay cycle hire. There followed a short 12 mile cycle ride along the Tissington Trail to Hartington signal box and beyond, before returning to Parsley Hay for handlebar and seat adjustment, and then ontp the pub to await the arrival of the others.
Between 6pm and 7pm members began to gather at the Royal Oak in time for a beer, and the dash to the ever welcoming fish and chip shop at Longnor.
The view of the upper Dove valley as you negotiate the first hairpin bend down towards Crowdecote is still one of the finest unspoilt road views of this part of Derbyshire and neighbouring Staffordshire. A pint in the Packhorse Arms at Crowdecote on our way back allowed me to speak to Mick the licensee, and provisionally book us in for dinner on Sunday night.
Saturday saw Ed and Chris join us early doors at the Bunkbarn, and for the various parties to decide what they were doing over ablutions and breakfast. Mike and Ed (on his new bike) set off on a 60 miler, James, Belinda and Lyn set off for a walk along the Roaches, Paul, Myles and Chris did a 20k walk from the pub over towards Monyash.(See separate reports at the end, Editor) Marcus and Michele climbed at Birchens Edge, and the rest of us set off on a 20 mile bike ride from the pub onto the Monsal Trail, taking a cross country route down to Ashford in the Water, where we sat and had lunch on the riverbank, and back over the hill by Sheldon village to Parsley Hay for Margaret 'O' to return her bike, and MJG to have a broken spoke replaced. The young man doing the repair described Mike's bike wheel as a bit of a pringle which he managed to retrue for a fiver.
Back to the Royal Oak for tea and cake and to hear what others had been up to. The usual suspects assisted me in putting up my old eight berth Vango family tent flysheet on the campsite, and everyone gathered there for a drink in the evening sun before adjoining to the Oak Room for our dinner and a couple of beers to finish. (For those who have helped me put up this tent over the years, friends and family included, you will all be pleased to know that it has gone to my charity NPAC for some lucky refugee far far away to toil over. Lucky them someone said?)
Sunday morning saw Steve Caulton and Michele and Marcus arrive and tuck into a Royal Oak big breakfast, and Andy Hayes joined us at short notice too. Michele and Marcus went climbing at Harboro Rocks, whilst the rest of us drove over to just below Mam Tor and walked half of the Edale Horseshoe. Turning left up onto Rushup Edge meant we weren't walking with the crowds. What ensued in my opinion was a classic Edale skyline walk in nigh on perfect weather in the company of friends who I have tromped these hills with many times in our formative years.
The boggy path as you turn towards the Jacobs ladder area has been stone-slabbed out as have some of the more worn parts heading up onto the edge of the Kinder Scout plateau,and after a short lunchstop sat on the heather in full sun we joined many more walkers enjoying the rock outcrops dotted all along this part of Kinder, all with individual names like the Pagoda and the aptly named Woolpacks.
Negotiating our way past Crowden Tower and the brook of the same name we made our way down the Grindsbrook which I have never seen so empty of water in its upper reaches, and on into Edale village past the Nags Head (traditional start of the Pennine Way), Paul had a look in but it was rammed, so an ice cream and a cold drink sufficed for most. Heather and Dave set the gold standard by fitting in afternoon tea and cake in Coopers Barn cafe.
We then all pressed on up underneath Mam Tor to the road gap and down to the cars. The drivers got us back in good time to get cleaned up and ready for dinner at the Packhorse where we all sat in the back garden looking across the Dove valley towards Longnor enjoying some of Mick's fine selection of ales until we were called for dinner.
Bank Holiday Monday morning saw Mike O'Dwyer celebrate his 65th Birthday, and your Committee locked in the Oak Room in earnest deliberation for a little over an hour before everyone went their separate ways. Dave and Heather went off cycling again, James and Belinda walked on Parkhouse and Chrome Hill, and Ed, Mike, Paul, Myles and I walked from the pub north along the High Peak trail to where an enterprising young farmer from Pomeroy had set himself up with a modern ice-cream van in the neighbouring field selling his farms homemade ice-creams to passersby. Onto High Wheeldon top for its 360 degree views of the area, down to the BMC owned limestone crag, Aldery Cliff, and into Earl Sterndale for a pint sat outside the Quiet Woman pub, before walking back across the fields to Hurdlow Grange and back onto the trail to the pub. A quick decamp, tea and cake to finish the weekend and home we all went.
Report by Andy Burton
Additional thoughts from attendees:
Mike O'Dwyer writes:
On the Saturday Ed Bramley and I set off on a 65 mile circular route, with 10,000 feet gain in high over the ride. The weather was very pleasant, warm, with a light breeze, the breeze became a headwind irrespective of the direction of travel. The route was fantastic showing Derbyshire off, with rolling hills, beautiful valleys and of course some steep, in fact very steep climbs.
The route took in: Chelmorton, Taddington, Millers Dale, Wheston, Peak Forrest, Perry Foot, Castleton, Bradwell, Wardlow, Little Longstone, Ashford, Youlgreave, Brassington, Bradbourne, Parwich and Hartington.
The ride took about 6.5 hours and the Royal Oak showers were very much appreciated.From James Baldwin:
The meet was initially all but cancelled. Roger and Phillip rightly deciding not to attempt the road north from Manchester via Shap Fell and the M74 both of which were seriously advised against by police and motoring organisations.
John on the other hand flying up from London could bypass this initial obstacle and our intention was to collect John at Edinburgh Airport in the late afternoon and set off up north for Killin. The weather forecast indicated heavy snow that evening with low temperatures giving rise to poor driving conditions. As the prospect of driving in the dark with heavy snow on possibly untreated roads did not appeal, we decided to abort and spend the night at home in East Lothian. Although the Edinburgh bypass had been clear on the way over to the airport to collect John it was covered in about one or two inches of snow on the way back and reduced to a single track each way with swirling heavy snow in the dark making driving difficult.
After our unscheduled hold up, we set off next morning with reasonable driving conditions up the A9, to keep to the east of the worst weather, however conditions steadily deteriorated after passing through Aberfeldy heading west. The road along the north side of Loch Tay had barely been tracked, single track most of the way. Passing any vehicles from the opposite direction was done at low speed, running into the thick cover at the sides of the road. After a pleasant light lunch in Killin we walked round to the bridge on the Falls of Dochart then on round the opposite bank of the river returning to Killin via the old railway viaduct and hence on to the hotel. (Bridge of Lochay Hotel).The day was terminated with an excellent dinner followed by nightcaps in a comfortable small lounge by a roaring fire.
Next morning with a temperature of around -5 degrees, necessitating a bit of scraping of windscreen we headed off for the hills. All the side roads were blocked by thick snow and ice making it difficult to access the hills so we returned to the hotel, left the car and headed off up Glen Lochay on foot. We took a side road which rose up through the trees and eventually enabled us to get on to the hills. We made reasonable progress after leaving the track up to one of the lower ridges giving us fair views over the surrounding Glen and the tops on the West end of the Tarmachan ridge. The sky was broken with blue and the odd snow flurry, but no wind. We observed several herds of Red Deer on the hill, easy to spot against the snow. Returning we took the alternative west road back down the Glen arriving back at the hotel as the light almost faded. We did see a further two large stags helping themselves to fodder put out for the sheep. We had been out for more than five hours.
On Friday morning we awoke to an overnight dump of snow and again low temperatures. We had intended returning home via the Glen Ogle pass to Lochearnhead and then south. Doing a walk on route. However we learned that a lorry had jack-knifed closing the road. We therefore decided to head east along Loch Tay to Pitlochry, and head for Ben Vrackie. The going was slow at first but the roads improved further east. We walked up the track from which we had good views to the west and of the summit against a blue sky. On reaching the lochan the summit now looked less than inviting with mist enveloping it. As we were running out of time to ensure John could catch his flight south we retraced our steps to the car and headed for Edinburgh.
An enjoyable few days with good weather in the main and some exciting driving.
Present: John Dempster, Jim & Margaret Strachan
Report by Jim Strachan
We had a convivial gathering of members and friends in the days between Christmas and New Year. As usual, people arrived and left on different days but for a time there were some 9 or 10 people in the hut, with Mike and Marian also popping in occasionally. It rained a fair amount while we were there, but on some other days it was clearer and enabled people to get onto the higher fells.
Howard and Richard did a local walk towards Brotherswater one day before the rest of us arrived, then Andy and friends from Nottinghamshire were there for a couple of days, as were Don and I.
On the Saturday Richard, Don and I went over some lower hills in St John’s in the Vale, which is a good option for a wet and windy day as it is low but has interesting views and makes a good circuit.
We parked at the north end of Low Rigg, went over both this top and also High Rigg, including numerous intermediate summits, and returned by a path on the East side. In this area the wind was not overly strong, and the rain only intermittent. At times we saw several groups of local people walking and Landrovers parked on the road, then later saw a pack of hounds out on the fell.
Andy and company went up to Angle Tarn in rain and wind and descended via Hayeswater. We heard later that 12 year old Ruby was one of the strongest walkers in the group!
The next day Don and I investigated part of the newly marked ‘Ullswater Way’ along the West side of the lake. In the main, this links together existing paths with regular waymark posts. The southern section includes a long established path close to the lake and continues with a newly created section beyond Glenridding to Aira Force. It then goes over Gowbarrow, following at some distance away from the lake, to below Little Mell Fell.
We began just south of this point, taking another footpath to join the main route, as we had already explored the earlier sections on various occasions. Once we had found our way through the campsite (with some difficulty) and through a wet field, we were on the waymarked path through Bennethead and Wray to Waterfoot Farm. After this there was a new section of path to Pooley Bridge. Although direction finding was easy, due to the markers, most of the path was extremely muddy, with some sections going up and down very slippery fields. The few people that we met along the way also commented on the mud and one person was covered in it, having slid down a particularly muddy field. Since it was still raining when we reached Pooley Bridge, we took advantage of the very good bus shelter in the centre to have our sandwiches and watch the activities of the town. As often happens, the ferries were cancelled due to high winds. We returned on a path closer to the lake, below several hotels and activity centres, which was less muddy but not continuous as you have to walk along short stretches of road. It made an interesting day out without going too far or too high.
Most of the others did indoor activities that day, except Howard who went up to Red tarn and back via Glenridding and Patterdale. John Kentish of AC and his friend Diana arrived before we left, and went out with Marian and Mike the next day.
Overall, the meet was relaxed, friendly and everyone enjoyed themselves, making a good opportunity for a break from the Christmas and New Year festivities.
Present: Richard Hampshire, Howard Telford, Andy Burton, Claire, Ruby, Jane, Jos, Don Hodge, Judy Renshaw. (Also John Kentish (AC) and Diana, Mike and Marian)
Report by Judy Renshaw
Eight participants gathered on the Friday evening at the Highland Hotel in Strathpeffer. Saturday morning dawned with the appearance of promising weather so we were all anxious to “head for the hills” soon after breakfast.
On the Saturday, Margaret and Jim drove west to Glen Carron and climbed Moruisg (928m) in fair weather, until reaching the summit ridge where they encountered very strong winds making walking difficult. Rain on the descent ensured they arrived back at the car in a rather damp state. They had a good day nonetheless.
Marj, John, Jay and Peter climbed a Graham, Carn na Coinnic (673m), by a good estate road
from Bridgend in Strathconon that was followed up to around 600m then a traverse up boggy
ground to the summit. Descent was by the same route. The weather was warm and windy,
but manageable except near summit where the wind was cold and strong but the group
found shelter just below the summit for lunch.
They then drove to the end of the public road and walked along the glen westwards and back for a mile or so.
Roger and I climbed a Corbett, An Sidhean (814m), from the Monar dam in upper Glen Strathfarrar. This hill is situated in very remote country north of Loch Monar and the summit area does have that feeling of remoteness. Our route was along Loch Monar’s north shore past Monar Lodge. Very wet underfoot and windy on the summit.
This area is the location for Iain Thomson’s book, “Isolation Shepherd”. He moved to Strathmore on Loch Monar in the 1950s with his young family and the book is a moving and interesting account of the shepherd’s life. Well worth reading. Alas, his home was submerged under the waters of Loch Monar when it was later dammed for a hydro scheme.
On the Sunday Margaret, Jim, Jay and Peter had a pleasant drive up Strathconon to just
short of Inverchoran Farm, where they left the car. The party climbed another Graham,
Beinn Mheadhoin (663m), by a stalker’s path and very old cairns all the way to the summit,
again in fair weather and with extensive views from the summit. A strong buffeting wind soon
brought in heavy rain clouds and a hurried descent. Again, they had a very wet interlude
necessitating the donning of over-trousers after they were already wet, this was a more
prolonged episode of wind and rain. Wet and soggy, they drove back down the glen taking a
detour over the dam on a small side road to Contin.
Then a walk around upper Strathpeffer to admire the architecture of the Victorian villas, before supper.
Marj and John opted for a “low level” excursion on the Sunday, they took a lovely, windy walk on Dornoch beach.
Roger and I climbed another Corbett, Little Wyvis (764m), on the Sunday. The weather would best be described as “gloomy” with the top shrouded in cloud and a very strong, cold wind which hastened our descent from the summit cairn. Very wet underfoot.
An excellent weekend where the walking, the accommodation and the company was most agreeable despite the mixed weather.
Present: Peter Farrington, Marj and John Foster, Roger James, Margaret and Jim Strachan, Jay Turner, Philip Hands
Report by Philip Hands
I can’t believe that it’s a year already since our last visit to the Brecon Beacons, but there we were to enjoy them again. The meet was held once again at the New Inn at Bwlch which is a Bunkhouse with ensuite pub!
As if by magic the Friday afternoon walk participants all arrived at the Bunkhouse within five minutes of one another. Amazing considering they were coming from Devon, Hampshire, Wiltshire and Nottinghamshire. Once we had deposited our bags in the rooms we set off on what is fast becoming a Friday afternoon fixture walk. This walk leaves Bwlch via a path past the old church, now someone’s home, to reach the ridge which passes to the east of Llangors Lake. The weather was kind with sun and clouds allowing us to view the north edge of the Brecon Beacons winding its way to the west and the Black Mountains to the east. The ridge is approximately 5km in length from Bwlch to the pass at the far end. We stopped for lunch at the small pond just off the summit of Mynydd Llangorse.
There are splendid views across to southern Herefordshire countryside. At the pass at the far end of the ridge we took the rather muddy bridleway south along the bottom of eastern slope of the ridge until we could regain the ridge via a steep path. We retraced our steps back to the Bunkhouse for the evening meal and some refreshments with the remaining weekend participants.
On Saturday we decided to try a different approach to ascending the major Beacons peaks. We drove to the car park at the northern end of the Celn Cwm Llwch ridge, just south of Brecon.
After a dodgy start (my fault) we made our way onto the ridge and followed it to the top of Pen y Fan. Once again the weather had been reasonably kind with an overcast day but still giving cloud free summits. The view from the top of this very popular mountain is amazing in all directions. However, you have to share it with around 50 or so like minded individuals.
We followed the normal Brecon Beacons horseshoe path to the summit of Cribyn. At the summit the team split with the majority following the horseshoe path to Fan y Big and three intrepid adventurers (gluttons for punishment) who went down the Bryn Teg ridge for a while before cutting down to the old roman road to follow it back to the pass between Cribyn and Fan y Big. The group rejoined on the summit of Fan y Big and then descended the Cefn Cyff ridge to its northern end.
Unfortunately the group split by accident taking two routes back to the car park. One via the roads with occasional footpaths and the others via a longer path which followed the tips of the northern ridges. The later route involved a very dodgy “ford” crossing. Once reunited at the car park we returned to the Bunkhouse for some much needed sustenance.
On Sunday we left the Bunkhouse to travel to Gospel Pass for a walk involving Offas Dyke. Amazingly we managed to get all our cars parked in the small upper car park and set off towards Hay Bluff.
At the summit we headed south east along the Offas Dyke path. After approximately 4.5km we reached the pile of stones and headed west on the path to the bottom of the valley containing Llanthony Priory.
Lunch was taken in the valley and then we followed the path up to the western ridge at Blacksmiths Stones. The well trodden path north east passes Twyn Talycefn and allows views of the Grwyne Fawr reservoir. Once we reached the northern edge of the Black Mountains we made our way to the summit of Twmpa (Lord Herefords Knob). On arrival at the summit we were met by the most spectacular view of the suns rays shining through the clouds which had drawn quite a crowd.
We made our way back to the car park at Gospel Pass for our fond farewells after an extremely busy weekend which had culminated in quite a late finish. I would like to thank all of the meet participants and thank them for their enjoyable company. I’m already looking forward to our next Brecon Beacons meet but how do I manage to top those walks?
Present: Paul Stock, Andy Burton, Steve Caulton, Mike Goodyer, Belinda and James Baldwin, Heather Eddowes, Mary Eddowes, Myles O'Reilly, Jonny Dixon, Daniel Albert, Rachel Howlett, Dave Matthews, Nanette Archer
Report by Paul Stock
It was decided that we would not do too much travelling to reach the starts of the two walks. On Saturday we took the picturesque bus ride from Beer to Sidmouth. This is no ordinary bus ride as it goes via Branscombe, which involves narrow lanes with about 6 inches space between the bus and hedges. This problem is compounded by bends and steep hills so not much fun for approaching vehicles but entertaining to us passengers admiring the driver’s negotiating skills.
We took the coastal path back to Beer a distance of 9 miles so not far but described in the guide as severe then strenuous as there are high cliffs intersected by deep narrow valleys. In all we climbed 925 metres so quite like a mountain day. Unlike a mountain day we enjoyed our sandwiches on the beach.
On Sunday we drove westwards to Bowd north of Sidmouth for a shorter walk up to Harpford Common enabling those with time to make the journey on. There were many fine views of coast and countryside. Hedges and pasture were still in their summer glory so we were surrounded by splendid greenness as well as blackberries to keep our energy up.
We had clearness on both days. On Saturday we did have to don waterproofs for a little while but the rain was nothing like that forecasted. It had been yet another good ABM Meet.
Present: Antonia Barlen, John Dempster, Heather Eddowes, David, Margaret Moore, Max and Vivien Peacock, Dinah Nichols, James and Belinda Baldwin
Report by Belinda Baldwin
I had previously visited the Pirin mountains with a friend who has an apartment in Bansko, the main town, and had met Liz Alderson who has recently set up a new company for trekking and other activities, Pirin Adventures. It seemed like an ideal opportunity for ABMSAC members to experience these mountains with people who know them, who could provide support, logistics and accommodation.
Marian and Mike spent a couple of days in Sofia, the capital, to recover from the early morning flight and look around, before most of us went out to Bulgaria. Liz met us at Sofia airport, picked up Marian and Mike then took us to Bansko where we stayed in comfortable rooms in apartments adjacent to hers. Some people had a look around town that afternoon (and managed to find a suitable bar) while the rest of us settled in, had tea and cake and went over the itinerary for the week. We were provided with excellent dinners every night, a more than adequate breakfast and food to pack up for lunch every day, as well as tea and cake in the afternoons.
Every day but one was sunny and warm, so most people wore shorts much of the time. The first day turned out to be the longest, as we went quite slowly with many stops and it all took longer than anticipated. We started at the Vihren hut at the top of a long mountain road. There were many people and cars, as it was a Sunday, but they gradually dispersed as we went further away from the road. A good path took us up into a valley with several beautiful lakes, then up to a col. Liz and her dog, Charlie, came with us part of the way before turning back but the two people working with her, Niki and Hristo, came with us all the way.
The next day was an easier walk so we managed to be better organised, with an informal split into a faster and a slower group, with Niki and Hristo taking turns to join each group. We started lower down near the west side of Bansko at Predel, where Liz dropped us off, then she took one car round and walked across with Charlie to collect the other one later. We went up through forest for a few hours, had several rest stops in sunny places and found masses of raspberries near a river. Ed managed to get a photo of an eagle in flight, which had been circling above. We came to a col with views and descended to a valley then over a saddle to the Yavarov hut, where we all tried the local Bulgarian tea. Liz had driven up a long track and took most people down in the car. Ed, Niki, Hristo and I did a rapid descent on a forest path for 45 minutes to collect the second car and managed to arrive back at base just before the others.
We had intended to do a challenging route the next day along the Concheto ridge from Yavarov, but the weather prevented us from achieving this. The forecast was for very strong wind and low cloud but it kept changing so we headed up to the Vihren hut to attempt it from the other end. The cloud was very low, obscuring the ridge and all the main peaks and the wind strong. This was the only day we needed warm clothes and waterproofs. Ed and I set off with Niki and Charlie the dog (but Charlie was determined to go back from the start so Niki had to go down to return him to Liz). As it turned out, he had made the right decision, since we only managed to get as far as the saddle, where the wind was blowing us over and gusting even more strongly, with horizontal rain in our faces making it hard to see. We went up the first part then turned back, meeting the others somewhere below the saddle. The only other group we had met attempting to go up had also turned back. Lower down it was pleasant enough to stop for lunch in a sheltered place, before meeting up with Marian who had done some sketching from a viewpoint nearby. Back in Bansko it was still warm and sunny so a relaxing afternoon was had by all, reading, sketching and drying clothes in the sun.
The following day was intended to be a rest day but, since we had rested a fair amount already and had failed to do Vihren, the highest peak (2914m), four of us felt like having a go at it. Liz very kindly lent us her second car and Ed volunteered to drive it up the mountain road, so we set off at our usual early time. Since it was a weekday there were no crowds at the hut this time. We went up the path that was already familiar, now with sunshine and views, and made good time to the summit, 15 minutes less than the guide time, including several rests. We descended part way and found a good sheltered spot for lunch near the saddle. We then explored the next minor peak, Hvoynati (2635m), and its ridge before returning down the main path. Marian and Mike had taken the cable car and walked from there to a hut at Bandaritsa for lunch. That evening we ate at a very nice restaurant in town, where we had some typical Bulgarian dishes, plenty of salads and side dishes, wine and beer for an absurdly cheap price.
For the last two days we did an excursion to a more remote area of the Pirin and stayed overnight in the Tevno Esero Hut. We set off once again from the Vihren hut, with Liz and Charlie accompanying us as far as the main ridge above the lakes. The weather was great, sunshine and a little cloud. We took a path past the ‘frog lake’ and a long lake, and stopped for an early lunch before ascending a couple of boulder fields to the ridge.
The hut is in a spectacular position among the high mountains, on the edge of a small lake. What it lacks in facilities it makes up for in the setting, so people took plenty of photos, including some of the stars at night. There were a couple of other groups at the hut but it was not full. Dinner in the hut was adequate but unexciting.
The morning temperature was not far above freezing so a cold wash was somewhat bracing. After a fairly early start and breakfast of sort-of fried dough breads with honey, a Bulgarian hut speciality (I opted to eat supplies I had brought with me instead), we set off up to a ridge on the other side. There were some boulder fields to cross but shorter than yesterday’s. We passed more lakes and through valleys, below the peak of Bezbog to the lake and hut of the same name, in time for lunch.
After a rest, it was a leisurely walk down through forest to a lower hut, where Liz and Charlie were waiting for us. That evening we had a very jovial dinner, with excellent food as usual, and said our goodbyes to Hristo, Niki and Liz, who had organised such a great week for us.
We gave them some bottles of vodka as a thank you and hope we may meet again some time.
Present: Mike Parsons, Marian Parsons, Ed Bramley, David Seddon, Myles O’Reilly, Judy Renshaw
Support provided by Liz Alderson and Pirin Adventures, with assistance from Niki and Hristo. Hristo also provides accommodation in the Rhodope mountains (see website for ‘visitRhodopes’).
Five of us made it to the hut for this week. Max arrived on the Monday and stayed most of the week, Heather, Dave and I were there from Wednesday to Friday and Howard joined us on the Thursday and stayed a few days. We had a very enjoyable time in excellent company and managed some very good days out in the hills. The weather was a mix of very good and partly wet days, better than might have been expected on the basis of this month so far, and almost always better than the forecast.
We woke on Thursday to bright sunshine and clear hills so Helvellyn had to be visited (Dave’s first time there!). We took the ridge route by Birkhouse Moor, which has some of my favourite views over Ullswater, up to Swirral Edge and were on top for an early lunch in the shelter. The crowds were amassing on Striding Edge, so we were glad not to be among them or queueing for the ‘bad step’.
The next morning was not nearly as good, with steady rain for some hours in the morning, so many changes of plan were made. After much discussion, Heather and Dave took the steamer to Howtown and walked back along the lake, Max took the bus to Pooley Bridge to walk back along the new lakeside path on the West side and Howard went to do one of more obscure Wainwright tops near Bassenthwaite. I put off the decision for a while by visiting the local art exhibition in Glenridding in which many of Marian’s paintings were on display; it was well worth a visit. Then I went over most of the various tops on Place Fell having gone up via the Hare Shaw path. The weather improved from about midday onwards, making it an enjoyable walk with pretty good views.
The evenings were almost busy as the days, with some work in the hut, including making decisions about the pictures on the walls. After a pub meal on Wednesday we played a new card game of Heather’s (a kind of complicated version of Snap) which was challenging and fun. The next evening saw us all sorting through all of the reading material on the bookshelves, sifting and deciding what to keep.
Present: Heather Eddowes, Dave Matthews, Max Peacock, Howard Templeton, Judy Renshaw
Report by Judy Renshaw
This year’s hotel meet based in Selva Gardena was attended by 34 members, the most on any hotel summer meet since the club’s centenary in 2009. Fortunately the sunshine stayed with us the whole week, and this, combined with the beautiful setting, variety of walks, and excellent hotel, made the meet a great success. Despite the attraction of Ötzi the Iceman being in the museum at nearby Bolzano, very few of us managed a visit, although some did go there in the days before or after the meet.
The Val Gardena is a stunningly beautiful part of the Dolomites, with the rocky spire of Sasso Lungo towering over Selva, the highest village in the valley. Santa Cristina and Ortisei are slightly lower, and the three villages are linked by frequent buses, with lifts rising to above 2000m. With hardly any of the group still under 70, this meant that even those who no longer wanted to walk uphill, or who had difficulty with the downhill, could walk at a high altitude and enjoy the lovely views. The Cicerone and Kompass guide books, together with Doris at the hotel, gave us plenty of ideas of where to go, and with walks for all abilities we were spoilt for choice.
The Hotel Astor proved a great find, in a central yet quiet location close to the bus stop, lifts and shops. It was a small family-run hotel, and apart from one other couple, we had it to ourselves. But despite its size, all the rooms were large, with lovely views onto the mountains, and the dining-room was airy and spacious. Doris and her parents were excellent hosts, and Doris was a fount of knowledge on the mountain trails, having run them since she was a teenager. Even 12-year old Lucas helped at the reception, and played the accordion for us on our last evening. The dining-room was run with impeccable efficiency by the friendly Romanian waiter Riki, who had been coming over to work at the hotel for several years, and we started every day with a copious breakfast, including eggs and bacon for those who wanted. Dinner was a 5-course marathon with lots of choice, culminating in a special Tyrolean meal on our last evening.
The Val Gardena was originally part of the Austrian South Tyrol, but was ceded to Italy in 1919 after the First World War. Although Italian is now the first language, German is still widely spoken, as is Ladin, a Latin based language similar to Romansch. This took a while to get used to as the road signs were in three languages, whereas the Tabacco maps used the Italian names, and the Kompass the German. Thus the Val Gardena is also known as Grödental, Selva as Wolkenstein and Ortisei as St Ulrich. But I found the names of the mountains and huts more difficult, as when I had previously visited the valley on Alasdair’s two Dolomites treks, we consistently used the German names. The two nearest and most dramatic mountains were then the Langkoffel and Plattkofel, although now the Italian names are more commonly used and they are referred to as Sasso Lungo and Sasso Piatto, while the Geisler are now known as the Odle. I never did quite come to terms with the names of the huts!
We were warned that it might rain on the afternoon of our first day, and so decided on a fairly short walk, in order to get acquainted with the area and to get acclimatised. Thus a group of 25 of us set off on the bus to Ortisei and the chair lifts up to Mont de Sëura. From there it was a fairly flat walk along to the Comici hut, with lovely views of Sassolungo towering above us and the peaks of the Odle on the opposite side of the valley. Some stopped for refreshments at the hut, but most of us continued to the Sella pass, arriving there at noon, before the rain set in. On seeing a strange-looking lift going up from there, several of us decided to take it. The cabins were small and pale yellow, only big enough for two when standing, and our arms were grabbed by two men who ran alongside to help each of us in. The lift moved very slowly up the steep rock face before ejecting us into a hail-storm at Forcella Sassolungo and the Toni Demetz hut at the top.
On a later date, Niels Doble and four others decided to walk up the stony slopes from the Rifugio Vicenza to Forcella Sassolungo, and then down the steep descent on other side, below the ‘coffins’. Both the ascent and descent were steep and stony, over rubble and scree, and Geoff and Pauline Causey elected to avoid the knee-jarring descent by taking the lift down to the Sella pass, arriving in time to have the excitement of bumping into Reinhold Messner, who lives in the area.
The weather was more settled on the second day, and we were almost as large a group who set off for the new funicular railway above Ortisei. We were speedily transported 800m up to 2107m, from where we set off westwards, past the Rasciesa hut, towards the small chapel and cross at Rasciesa di Fuori. From here the views were magnificent, looking northwards towards the Ortler, Cevedale and Adamello-Presanella, and south across to the Sciliar massif above Alpe di Siusi, Sassolungo and Sasso Piatto, with the Sella group to the east. From the cross a lovely balcony path, with the same glorious views, wound back to the east, but higher up, towards the Brogles pass and down to the Brogles hut for lunch.
By the third day members had found their own walking pace, as well as working out the bus and lift systems, so from then on we set out in smaller groups. Many walks could be made from Selva itself, and there were lovely walks linking the three villages. One giving the best views was the high path between Santa Cristina and Ortisei, up to the crucifix on the plateau of Sëura-Sas-Alm. On the way up we found both wine-red martagon and delicate white St Bernard lilies, and a small clump of fragrant, ground-hugging daphne cneorum. Just below the high point was a café, even recommended by Tripadvisor, in an idyllic setting, an ideal lunch spot with delicious apfel strudel and glorious views across to the towering Sassolungo and Sciliar massif. The descent to Ortisei led past St Jakob’s church, the oldest in the valley, with lovely 12th century frescoes.
Several of us had been on Alasdair’s hut-to-hut treks in the valley, and for us it was a chance to re-visit places we had been to before. One of my best memories of the 2001 trek was walking on the beautiful Alpe di Siusi, the largest cultivated mountain pasture in Central Europe, and on different days several of us caught the chair lift from Ortisei up to the plateau. The complete circuit of 22 kms all round it was made by eight of us, a long though glorious day across grassy meadows, with lovely views and flowers all the way. We started by walking south towards the Sciliar massif and Kompatsch, where we had started the 2001 trek, and then turned east to skirt the northern slopes of Sasso Piatto, finally turning north towards the peaks of the Odle at the Zallinger hut, unfortunately not an option for a beer stop as it was being renovated. We arrived at Monte Pana just in time catch the last chair-lift of the day, and four of the group treated themselves to a taxi back to our hotel.
Another walk which followed part of our 2001 route was the Friedrich August Weg, created in 1911 to connect the Sella pass to the Alpe di Siusi. The path was named after the last king of Saxony, a renowned mountaineer who was a frequent visitor to the Dolomites before World War I, and there is a large wooden statue of him outside the hut bearing his name at the start of the walk. The path is very popular as it gives spectacular views of the huge rocky spires of Sasso Piatto as it skirts below them to reach the Sasso Piatto hut, a good lunch stop. After this the path turns northwards, with wonderful views towards the Alpe di Siusi. The whole tour continues back round to the Sella pass, but most of us cut it short, by-passing the Vicenza hut and returning to Santa Cristina on the Mont de Sëura lift, after a glorious day out.
Bill and Rosie took the same route along the Friedrich August Weg as the rest of us, but in addition climbed the peak of Sasso Piatto, at 22954m the highest point reached on the meet. They described it as a steep and unrelenting climb of about 660 meters from the hut, up the south-west ridge, the only real difficulty being loose rock on the trail, which required a slow and careful descent. Views from the summit were spectacular, especially of Sassolungo to the northeast and of Alpe di Suisi to the west.
The Dolomites are well known for the number of mountain huts which provide frequent refreshment stops on all the walks, and those of us on the 2001 trek will never forget Terry Shaw, on his first ABMSAC meet, stopping at every one he passed for a beer! This time we made somewhat less frequent refreshment stops at the huts we passed, but they also provided a destination for some of our walks. Several of us were keen to visit the Firenze hut, originally known as the Regensburger hut, built in 1888 and the oldest in the valley. This was due north of Selva, about 500m up an easy track winding above the village, although most of us walked down to it from the top of the Col Raiser lift.
Another hut, also due north of Selva in the Puez-Odle nature park, was the higher Stevia hut, discovered by James and Belinda Baldwin early in the week. They walked up to it from the valley, but others later in the week accessed it from the top of the Col Raiser lift. All who went there commented on its lovely location, looking straight down into the beautiful Val Lunga. Bill and Rosie took a much longer route from Col Raiser to reach the hut, turning east to climb their second peak of the week, the Col da la Piëres, 2,747m, col being the Ladin word for hill. They reported that although there was a good path to the summit, the final approach was steep and airy, with fixed cables along the most exposed stretches. The flat summit commanded a stunning 360° panorama, and from there a grassy ridge with abundant edelweiss led down to the Stevia hut.
The whole of the Val Gardena was a flower-lovers paradise, the most frequently found being black vanilla and fragrant orchids, globe flowers, mountain avens, alpine asters, small blue bladder gentians and tiny pink alpine gysophila clinging to the rocks. One of the valleys with the greatest variety of flowers was the Val Chedul, also in the Puez-Odle park east of Selva. Some of us accessed the valley from the top of the Dantercëpies lift from Selva, while others reversed this route and walked up, taking the lift down. From the top of the lift the path contoured past Jimmy’s hut, visited by most of our group at one time or another, and then wound up a steep and stony scree slope, secured with wooden steps, to reach the Forcella Cir.
On the final day of the meet Jay Turner led a fitter group on a long but exciting walk from the Gardena pass into the upper Val de Merscia. They started across flowery meadows, past lovely orange lilies, to the Forcelles hut for their first coffee of the day, and then cut off on a narrow path into the Stella Alpina valley and up stony slopes past the dried up lake bed of Lech Ciampëi to the Forcella di Ciampëi, the narrow separation between the Val de Merscia and Val Lunga. The stony path into the Val Lunga looked most uninviting, so they decided instead to cross the plateau to the Forcella Crespëina with its large crucifix, and to return via the Forcella Cir at the top of the Val Chedul. From there they took the same route they had taken on a previous day to Jimmy’s and the Dantercëpies lift back to Selva - a long but rewarding day.
The nearest walk from the hotel was into the Val Lunga, and most of us walked at least part of the way up this lovely valley. One day we took the higher path from Selva, the ‘via crucis’, which contoured past 15 beautifully carved stations of the cross to the chapel. Half way along was Wolkenstein castle, now in ruins, which had once guarded the valley. Orange lilies grew here too, and it was here that Geoff and Janet Bone found the floral highlight of the week, the rare devil’s claw growing high on the cliff at the side of the castle. Geoff went back a few times to photograph its development, and by the end of our stay seven more of us had been to look at it, finding several more plants in flower as the week went on.
Another flower-studded walk was Farrer’s Bindelweg, starting at the Pordoi pass. Elizabeth Wells had taken the bus here earlier in the week, having visited in past years, and after the meet had ended, a small group of those who stayed on caught the bus here too. While John Dempster and Dinah, together with Geoff and Janet, took a lift up towards Piz Boè, which John and Dinah had climbed in 2006 from the Pisciadü hut, Alan and I turned south towards the Col de Cuch and then east along the Vièl dal Pan, the old ‘bread’ route used by grain smugglers in the Middle Ages to avoid taxes of the Venetian Republic. This was the Bindelweg, and Farrer had written of the extraordinary variety of flowers here in his 1913 book on the Dolomites. We discovered many of those he spoke of, including Monte Baldo’s anemone and Moretti’s bellflower, rare even in the Dolomites. We were no longer in the Val Gardena but on the other side of the Sella group, and as we walked along we had glorious views of the snow-covered Marmolada, the highest peak in the Dolomites.