Ticking Over

It’s been a while since my last post (partly due to the fact that the internet was down in my flat – not ideal), but what a lot has happened!

First of all, I had a delightful week or so in Devon with my family, which was a great chance to relax a while away from work.  We were staying in a small town near Kingsbridge, and basically just enjoyed the scenery.  The house we rented had brilliant sea views, and my father and I went on a long hike along the coast one day.  We also went to several pubs, one of which has beams nabbed from a wreck of one of the ships from the Spanish Armada in 1588.  We also planned to go sea fishing with some family friends who were holidaying in the same village at the same time on their fishing boat, but unfortunately the sea was too rough (due to the wind).  Ah well, such is life.

Back in Surrey, things have been going well.  A couple of other new grads started two weeks ago, so they’ve been settling in.  I’ve spent a lot of my free weekends in London seeing various friends, and it’s been a lot of fun catching up with them all.

RS and I built our new computers last Tuesday which was enormous fun.  Quite tense at some stages (mainly the installation of the cpu and cpu cooler), but luckily it all works well.

Work wise, everything’s great.  The job is still really interesting and enjoyable, so that’s rather lucky.  I should be going on a business trip soon, so that should be rather exciting!

Advertisements

Adventures in the Wilderness

Well, I’m back from Scotland, and have started my new job.  What better time to reminisce over the holidays?  As a result without any further ado, I’ll talk about my Scottish adventure.

AW and I planned a few months ago to visit the most remote pub on the island of Great Britain.  It’s in a small town called Inverie, and is accessible only by boat, or a 30 odd mile hike.  Obviously we decided to hike in, and then get the boat out (stopping overnight to enjoy the pub itself of course).

After getting the overnight train from Euston to Glasgow, then another train from Glasgow to Glenfinnan (with the viaduct of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets fame), we started our walk around 1pm.

The famous Glenfinnan viaduct

The famous Glenfinnan viaduct

The scenery was wonderful, but the weather was cloudy with light drizzle. The route was fairly simple, and essentially took us up a glen, over a pass, then back down the other side.  Unfortunately for us, the weather turned at the summit of the pass, and once we’d crossed over the other side, we were completely drenched, owing to the heavy rain and strong winds.  At around 7pm, we finally got down the second glen, when we were faced with having to ford a very deep and fast flowing river.  It took us quite a while to decide where to cross, and it was about knee deep (resulting in a total drenching)!  The challenge that immediately followed was to cross an area of land described by a sign as “dangerous bog”, which was rather reassuring. It was certainly a bog (I personally can vouch for this as I ended up thigh deep in it on several occasions)!  Anyway, we eventually got to where we were going to camp, but the weather was still horrendous, so instead we elected to push on through a forest to a bothy.

A'Chuil bothy and the surrounding countryside

A’Chuil bothy and the surrounding countryside

Upon reaching the bothy, we were ecstatic, and we quickly made ourselves at home and had some tea (after collecting water from the river outside).  There was one other occupant inside, a man called Dave who had done the walk many times, amongst lots of others in the area.  We chatted until 11pm or so, after which we went to sleep (after leaving some chocolate buttons out for the resident mice).

The next day dawned, and we packed and left.  The destination for this day was another bothy, around 7 miles away, and over another pass.  Luckily the weather was much better, with sunny spells instead. The first part of the route involved crossing yet another bog (and once more I fell in it rather deeply), but after that, there weren’t too many troubles.  Descending down from the pass at around 4ish was amazing, and the view was breathtaking (with the sun shining down over Loch Nevis – the sea loch where the bothy was on the shore of).

Loch Nevis

Loch Nevis

We reached the bothy at around half 6 or so, and therefore enjoyed a rather relaxing evening (with Dave who had arrived a few hours earlier) sitting outside in the sunshine, in the middle of nowhere, at peace with nature.  It was delightful.

Sourlies Bothy

Sourlies Bothy

The route the following day was subject to the tides (as the path went over the beach), and as a result, we had to leave at 6am. However, I’d been up since around half 3 owing to the mice who sounded like they were having an enormous party under the sleeping platform. We left just as the sun broke over the mountains, giving yet another beautiful view.

Sunrise over the Scottish Mountains

Sunrise over the Scottish Mountains

AW and I stopped at around half 7 to grab a quick breakfast on the road, as immediately after, there was a 600m ascent.  After breakfast, and what seemed like the longest climb in history, we made it to the top, and looked down the next and final valley.

The view towards Inverie

The view towards Inverie

We could see the village of Inverie (which is also on the edge of Loch Nevis), but it was a good 6 miles away still.  Having made it to the top, we rewarded ourselves with a long rest, and had some delicious (and ice cold) water from the mountain spring we were sitting beside.

That's what spring water actually looks like

That’s what spring water actually looks like

Then we hastened on, down the long valley to go to the village. Around 3 hours later, we finally arrived in Inverie absolutely knackered.

Not a walk for the fainthearted!

Not a walk for the fainthearted!

We dumped our stuff at the bunkhouse where we were staying, had a rather good shower, and headed out into the town.  First on the agenda (for it was only 1pm at this stage), was some lunch.  The pub wasn’t open until 3, so we elected to snack at the tearoom where we had an enormous pot of tea and a large sandwich (I chose cheese and haggis).

Cheese and haggis baguette.  Ideal!

Cheese and haggis baguette. Ideal!

After that, we moved to the pub, and enjoyed a few pints outside (until the midgies got too bad – they’d been plaguing us the whole trip to be honest, but that’s to be expected).

The most remote pub in Britain!

The most remote pub in Britain!

Supper time soon rolled around, and I decided to eat scallops (collected from Loch Nevis, so it couldn’t get more local).

Scallops from the Loch!

Scallops from the Loch!

After that, and a few more pints of course, it was bed time, which was great (as we actually had proper beds this time)!  We woke early the next morning, and caught the ferry to Mallaig, from which we got the train all the way home.

The ferry back to civilisation.

The ferry back to civilisation.

It was a great holiday, very challenging, but exceptionally rewarding (especially with respect to the scenery).  All in all though, let’s be honest, it was just a pub walk!

 

Travel Concept #1 – The Islands of Western Scotland

Right, so this blog has a lot of travel stuff on it, and I’m back in that procrastinatorial mindset.  The result is that I’ve created a new category of posts – ooooo, exciting!  Basically I’ll just write down ideas I have for journeys I’d like to do at some point.  So, what’s the first one I hear you ask?  Well, read on and find out.

I’ve long had a love of islands.  I’m not sure why, but they always fascinate me.  Their close relationship to the sea, and the communities that live on them.  I guess it’s not a particular surprise, given that I’ve lived on an (admittedly fairly large) island my whole life, and the UK is by definition, and island nation.  A few years ago, Martin Clunes did a series of three documentaries about the smaller islands around the UK (watch them on YouTube here, they are excellent).

Anyway, I’ve been told that the islands off the west coast of Scotland are beautiful (and I’ve visited Skye and Arran already.  They were simply stunning, so it’s safe to assume that the others are equally great, and it’d be marvellous to go back to those two islands anyway). But all the best trips need a purpose.  Fortunately, whilst in the depths of procrastination, it struck me.  What’s Scotland famous for? Whisky.  Obviously.  So, why not merge a trip to the Scottish islands with a tour of all their respective distilleries?  A quick search online later, and I had the complete list of distilleries.  13 in total, spread over six islands (Arran, Islay, Jura, Lewis/Harris, Mull, and Skye).  A few minutes after that, and the route was planned, with the ferries all worked out.

A trip to Harris and Lewis would give me the chance to visit the Callanish Standing Stones, which is something I’ve wanted to do for quite a long time.  They’re essentially similar to Stonehenge, but far less touristy and in a much more picturesque location!  The geology of this part of the world is amazing too.  I had a trip to Arran in Part IA, Skye in Part II, and have also studied Mull extensively in Part IB. Lewis is home to the oldest rocks in the UK – the Lewisian Gneiss (at a whopping 2.7 billion years old).  A sample of the Lewisian Gneiss also happens to be my favourite one in my rock collection (admittedly I collected it from Skye, but the rock type is the same)!

Now all I need are nine days free and a car with a decent sized boot!

So, without further ado, here’s the concept:

Island Distillery Itinerary (click to enlarge)

Island Distillery Itinerary (click to enlarge) – ferry prices include two people and a car

A Cheeky Ramble

I’ve been thinking about doing this for a long time, and after graduation seemed like the perfect time to start ticking off fun travel things.  I mentioned it to AW, and he seemed very keen, so we’ll be going together.  What is it I hear you ask?  Well, it’s a walk to the most remote pub on the island of Great Britain.  Called the Old Forge, it is situated on the remote Knoydart Peninsula in the highlands (just opposite the Isle of Skye).  It’ll take three days to walk there from the nearest town (Glenfinnan), camping for two nights along the way (one wild camping in a tent, the other, if it’s not full, in a bothy). You’ll definitely recognise Glenfinnan, or rather, its railway viaduct. It’s this bridge from the Harry Potter film series, and is where scenes like this were filmed.  As me and AW will be getting the train to the start of the walk, we’ll get to travel over it, which will be great!

One of the benefits of walking in the Scottish Highlands in the summer is the long days.  Owing to its high latitude, in the summer, sunrise is around 04:30, with sunset taking place well past 22:00, so there’s a lot of time for walking!  The maps are faultless in the UK, courtesy of the Ordnance Survey, founded in 1791 to make detailed maps of the whole country.  The remoteness of the Highlands means that you’re almost always alone in beautiful mountains.  The only downside is that it usually rains, and there is a rather significant population of midges, ticks, and other delightful insects that enjoy eating you.

Once me and AW make it to the town of Inverie, and have enjoyed a celebratory pint and pub supper, the next morning, we’ll have to head back.  We won’t be walking out though, but instead getting a boat across the sea loch to Mallaig, before getting the train back to the Home Counties.

All that remains now is to finalise the details and book everything up!

(If you’re interested in the route we’re planning to follow, the route described on this excellent blog here is what we’ll be aiming to emulate).

PS:  The geology is pretty interesting around here too, so that’s an added bonus!

Special Edition: Easter Island – The Summary (or The Boring One About Logistics)

Summary of the posts:

1 – Arriving on Easter Island

Sites visited: Hanga Roa

2 – Exploring the South West

Sites visited: Ana Kai Tangata, Rano Kao, Orongo, Vai Atare, Vinapu

3 – A Tour of the North and East

Sites visited: Anakena, Papa Vaka, Tongariki, Rano Raraku, Huri A Urenga

4 – The West Coast and Interior

Sites visited: Tahai, Hanga Kio’e, Ana Te Pora, Ana Kakenga, Puna Pau, Akivi, Ana Te Pahu

5 – A Delightful Stroll in the Countryside

Sites visited: Hanga Roa Museum, Poike, Vai A Heva

Having detailed my activities for each day on this marvellous island, I feel that it’d be appropriate to summarise the more tedious side of things (like logistics), in case anyone reading this fancies planning a holiday there (which you definitely definitely need to do)! (In case you were wondering why there’s no post for Day 6, it’s because it consisted of me waking up, packing, and going to the airport, which isn’t really that exciting)!

First of all, flights.  These are available from Lan Chile from Santiago Airport “Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez” (SCL) to Easter Island Airport “Aeropuerto Internacional Mataveri” (IPC).  Price is about £500-£600 ish (and you get loads of air miles from BA too).

Accommodation is pretty handy.  I stayed at Residencial Vaianny, and got a private double room with private bathroom for about £20/night.

The hostel put me in touch with Christophe the excellent tour guide. I’ve already linked to his website, but for the sake of completeness, the link is here.  A private tour will cost between around £30 and £45, (half day and full day respectively per person).  However, when a car costs about £30 to hire for the whole day (excluding petrol), a tour guide is infinitely more economical (as not only is all the transport included, but the knowledge of the sites is too).  If you do book a tour with Christophe and have places that you’d especially like to see, then that’s no problem (it’s a private tour, you can see what you like)!

The guide book I got while I was there, but books in Chile are expensive.  Buy it from Amazon before you go, it’s cheaper.  If you aren’t doing a tour, then it’s well worth getting, as personally I found it more informative than the official leaflets.  Also, it tells you about various places before, so you can decide which ones you’d like to visit (handy for when organising tours).

There is a lot of choice of places to eat, but food is expensive when compared to the mainland (or much more similar to London prices). A main course will probably set you back about £10 (so buying cheap food from the supermarket helps save money – I lived off a 500g bag of crisps for two days, not healthy, but very good value!).

Finally, you have to pay for an entry ticket to the Easter Island National Park to visit Orongo or Rano Raraku.  This can be done upon arrival at the airport.  A ticket (for non-Chilean nationals) costs about £40.

Anyway, sadly this posts concludes my series about my holiday to Easter Island, but if you have any further questions, feel free to ask me through the Suggestions Box page.

 

Special Edition: A Delightful Stroll in the Countryside (Day 5)

The final full day dawned, which was a shame.  There were still lots of sites I wanted to visit, but I’d run out of time.  On the upside, it gives me the perfect excuse to return some day!

Anyway, HC and I decided to spend the morning visiting the museum, and shopping for souvenirs, as that was a rather important thing neither of us had done.  The first point was the museum, which was fascinating.  It had several very interesting artifacts on display, including weapons and stoneworking tools, but those that were most interesting were the (copies) of rongorongo tablets, and an original moai eye.  People have spent their whole careers studying rongorongo, but the salient facts are that it is an undeciphered script, found only on 26 tablets (which were found on the island).  Nobody knows what it means.

An original moai eye

An original moai eye

We went to the artisanal market, and I ended up buying a small model moai.  I couldn’t not really, and I knew that if I didn’t, I’d definitely regret it!  For those of you who will inevitably wonder if I named him, the answer is yes.  I christened him Tim.

After the shopping, and a brief lunch, Christophe appeared once more, and drove us both (as HC accepted my offer of joining me on another trip) to the North Eastern end of the island, the Poike peninsula.  It is inaccessible to vehicles, and so you have to walk (or ride) to explore the area.  As a result, it’s seldom visited.

There are various archæological sites on the peninsula, some of which are completely unique.  One on the itinerary today was one such unique one. It is called Vai A Heva, and is a statue that has a large mouth in which to collect water, carved into the side of the mountain.

Vai A Heva

Vai A Heva

A little farther up the mountain was a very tiny cave (you essentially had to curl into a ball to get inside), but inside the cave was another petroglyph of Make Make.

Make Make petroglyph

Make Make petroglyph

We continued walking, and reached the summit.  At this point, we were very lucky with the weather, and the sun came out, to give the most amazing view.  Looking west, you could see most of the island, and from one coast to the other.  It was awe inspiring.

What a great view! (Click to enlarge)

What a great view! (Click to enlarge)

With the view having been seen, it was time to head down the mountain, and return to the hostel.  It was an excellent finale to an excellent holiday.

Special Edition: The West Coast and Interior (Day 4)

After having such an insightful tour with Christophe the day before, and having a great desire to see as many archæological sites as possible while on the island, I’d emailed him to arrange two half day tours.  One was to several sites to the west and centre of the island, while the other (which is going to be the subject of Day 5’s instalment) was for a hike around the Poike peninsula (the peninsula in the photo from the plane in the post entitled “Special Edition: Arriving on Easter Island (Day 1)”).

Anyway, before the half day tour (which started at 3 in the afternoon), I went for a walk with some of the people from the hostel. One of them only came as far as the first site of the day, called Tahai. There were several platforms here, one of which has a moai with modern eyes installed (after archæologists discovered fragments of an original eye on Anakena beach).

The moai with eyes at Tahai

The moai with eyes at Tahai

An interesting aside is that I was talking to Christophe (my guide from yesterday) about this, and he said he spoke to the archæologist who discovered it – a native Easter Islander.  Apparently the archæologist didn’t realise what it was, but showed it to his grandfather, who promptly told him that it was a moai eye (as he remembered the time when lots of them had eyes).

Tahai

Tahai

At this point, one of the hostel people left, and it was just me and the other (HC) who continued onwards.  A little farther down the coast was Hanga Kio’e.  Here stood a solitary moai, which, according to the book, was one of the final platforms and moai to be built.

We continued onwards, hoping to reach Te Peu, but without any success (as we were fighting a losing battle against time – we had to be back at the hostel by 3 to have the tour).  I’d invited HC to join me on it, as she wanted to see one of the sights that it involved anyway.

Turning back (probably only 10 minutes from Te Peu with the benefit of hindsight), we stopped off at a cave called Ana Te Pora, which was interesting, and had a stone bed in it.

The next cave along (back in the direction of Hanga Roa), was called Ana Kakenga, which had two large openings facing the ocean which was beautiful.  However, the entrance to the cave is very small and narrow (with a low ceiling), and also pitch black (and therefore not suitable for those with claustrophobia).

Looking out of Ana Kakenga at the Pacific Ocean, and some rocky islets

Looking out of Ana Kakenga at the Pacific Ocean, and some rocky islets

Upon returning to Hanga Roa, and having a quick lunch, HC and I got ready for our afternoon tour.  Sure enough, at 3 o’clock, Christophe appeared, and we went off to the first site.

The site in question is called Puna Pau, and is the quarry where the topknots (Pukao) were made.  These topknots are the red “hat like” objects on top of some of the moai.  You can see one clear example in the first image in this post.  There are three different designs of these, which either represent a feathered headdress, tied up long hair, or a bandana like thing.  Those you see upon the moai are just balancing, they are not cemented or attached in any way.  Overall, only about 100 were ever made (including those abandoned in the quarry).

Abandoned Pukao at Puna Pau

Abandoned Pukao at Puna Pau

The next place to visit was Akivi, which is an inland platform consisting of seven moai.  This platform is unique in being the only one where the moai face out to sea, rather than inland.

Akivi

Akivi

The final stop for the day was a cave called Ana Te Pahu, which, like all the caves I visited, are former lava tubes.  Inside was an interesting petroglyph to Make Make, who was the god related to the birdman cult.  Also in the cave were several ferns which were endemic to Easter Island (and only to Easter Island), which was pretty interesting.

Make Make petroglyph

Make Make petroglyph

With the tour over, we were dropped back in the hostel, where we relaxed.  HC and I went for a walk along the shore in Hanga Roa just as the sun was setting.  This gave the perfect opportunity for a sun-setting-behind-a-moai photo, which was too good to miss!

DSCF6331

After wandering around for a while, we decided to get some supper at a French restaurant, whose proprietor was described to us in a way that made him sound like Basil Fawlty (a character from Fawlty Towers – which, for the benefit of my foreign friends, is probably the most famous British comedy programme on television that has ever been made) – although we never met said proprietor, so sadly couldn’t confirm personally alas!

Anyway, we ordered a massive paella to share, which was full of delicious seafood (lobster, scallops, mussels, clams, prawns, various types of fish, etc.).  It was very big, and very filling, and very nice! Feeling delightfully full, we called it a night, and headed back to the hostel to sleep.

It was ridiculously big, but so nice!

It was ridiculously big, but so nice!