A road trip into Scotland

The next day I said farewell to my cottage and set off on a long driving tour into the Scottish borders and then back to Northumbria in England.   I first made a small detour to see the north western part of the Lake District, around Keswick and Buttermere.  This turned out to be a bad idea – the weather was poor, and with the arrival of the weekend, lots of other motorists had the same idea.  I spent most of the time squeezing past oncoming vehicles on the tiny roads rather than looking at the scenery, but I did stop to take a photo of beautiful Buttermere in the rain.

Buttermere in the rain

From there I headed straight north up the M6 into Scotland, leaving the motorway at Moffat.  This was a pretty little town, and much less touristy than the Lake District. Scotland had not fully emerged from its Coronavirus lockdown, so some shops were closed and everyone wore masks. I searched hard for a tea or coffee room, like there are all over the Lake District, but couldn’t find even one. In Scotland people seem to do their drinking in pubs (which were open) and drink beer rather than coffee at lunch time.  I also had to search hard for somewhere to buy lunch, but finally found a bakery. After many communication problems caused by face masks and the owner’s broad Scottish accent, I finally managed to order three scones.  A final communication issue arose when I couldn’t believe the price – only £1.65 in total. You’d pay that per scone in London. 

From Moffat I headed off along a country road, through rolling, empty hills. The straight and broad road was a relief after the twisty roads of the Lake District.  I stopped briefly – along with what looked like half of the local borders population – at a local beauty spot called the Mare’s Tail, where there is a pretty waterfall.

Me wtih the Mare’s Tail in the background

Then I headed on through Selkirk to Abbottsford Castle, the home of Sir Walter Scott (author of many classic British novels, such as Ivanhoe and Rob Roy).  The castle was still closed (Coronavirus again) but I spent a very pleasant half hour strolling through the beautiful gardens.

Sir Walter Scott’s castle and garden at Abbottsford

From Abbottsford, I headed on to Melrose, yet another pretty borders town with a nice central square and ruined abbey.

Melrose – pretty town but no tea room!

 I searched again in vain for a tea-room, but there were none, not even closed ones. One pub was open, but was full and wouldn’t let me in.  Just outside of Melrose I visited another local beauty spot called Scott’s View- three hills rising out of rolling Scottish countryside.  It was a beautiful sight in the late afternoon sun.

Scott’s view

Last on my Scottish excursion was Kelso, another small market-town.  All these towns seem to be built to the same pattern, with a pretty central square and ruined abbey.  I arrived after five o’clock so had no hopes of finding a coffee room open (I didn’t even see a closed one) but did I stumble across a Co-op and stocked up on some snacks and some cans of cold latte to help me drive the remaining two hours to my hotel.

The abbey at Kelso

From Kelso my route took me back south to England.  I passed through Jedburgh, which was also supposed to be worth visiting – but it was late and I’d seen enough pretty town squares and ruined abbeys for the day.  The border with England was marked by a Scottish flag and large “Goodbye from Scotland” sign on the Scottish side….and a small inscription “England” on a stone on the other side.

Enthusiasm for the border seems to be rather different between the Scots and the English…

The road continued through rolling hills of the Northumberland National Park and yielded one further interesting detour to see a part of Hadrian’s Wall. 

Nearly 2000 years old

Hmm, small………Not nearly as impressive as the Great Wall of China (see my very first blog for a description of this), but given that it is nearly 2000 years old it’s still remarkable.  Apparently, there are more extensive sections elsewhere but unfortunately my route didn’t go past them.  I finally arrived at my hotel in Hexham at around 8pm.  I’d picked a really nice hotel, facing………yes, another medieval abbey, only this time still in use as a church.  I had a quick stroll around town – another pretty place, very similar to the others I had visited – before enjoying a surprisingly sophisticated dinner in my hotel’s restaurant.

An unplanned excursion and one last hike

Thursday’s weather forecast was for more grey cloud and some light rain, so I decided to do a short low level walk instead of climbing another peak.  However, I missed the turning off the main road to the start of the walk and found myself on the road to Barrow. I made a quick decision not to turn back but to carry on and do a driving tour first before the walk. The road left the mountains and then followed a pretty coastal route, before reaching Barrow. I  had expected the city to be poor, and suffering from the collapse of the British shipbuilding industry, but instead it seemed quite active, and had some fine and well-maintained Victorian architecture from its glory days.  On the road back from Barrow I noticed a sign for Furness Abbey, so I decided to visit that.  The abbey used to be the second biggest in England, but was destroyed in the Reformation by Henry VIII.  The remaining ruins were very atmospheric – it helped greatly that I was almost the only visitor. I enjoyed my sandwich lunch  at a pretty spot by a small stream.  By the time I’d finished visiting, there wasn’t time to do my originally planned walk any more, so I headed back to the cottage.

Furness abbey ruins
Where I had my lunch
Shades of green….

Friday was my last full day in the cottage, and I opted for another classic walk – climbing the Langdale Pikes in the very middle of the Lake District.  I took a roundabout drive to get there, taking the smaller rounds around the west of Lake Windermere.  These turned out to be winding and very narrow, and a real test of my driving skills.  One compensation of my route was the opportunity to visit Hawkshead, a pretty small village with many very nice tea shops.

One of two pretty tea shops I visited in Hawkshead
On the road to the Langdale Pikes

The hike up to the Langdale Pikes was almost as enjoyable as Helvellyn.  The walk started up a broad valley, surrounding ahead and on each side by  almost sheer mountains, with the distinctive dome-shaped Langdale Pikes on my right. 

The view at the start of the walk
Looking back along the valley before starting the climb

Then I climbed up alongside a stream to a plateau, with views out to Scafell to the west.  Next came another climb to Pike o’Stickle mountain and a short, easy, hands and feet scramble up to the top.  The view from there was the very best I’d seen so far – a sheer drop on two sides, views back down the valley to the east, to Scafell to the north west and as far as the sea to the  south-west.  There were even seagulls for company, gliding effortlessly in the stiff breeze. 

The view from the top

The walk was supposed to continue with a climbing of the other “pikes”,  but it was getting late – all that time I spent having tea and cakes in the morning! I thought the view would be pretty much the same from all of the others, so I took a short-cut back down the mountain. I arrived back at the car park in bright sunshine and was very happy to find a nice pub with a beer garden and views of the mountains. I toasted my latest climbing success with a lager shandy and suddenly remembered that this was the first day of the week when I hadn’t rained at all.

A quiet day at home and a day at Grasmere

The weather forecast of Tuesday was cloud ad rain, so I stayed at home recovering from my conquest of Helvellyn and enjoying the cottage.  I did a little local walk from the cottage to a small nature reserve which apparently was the home to nine types of rare moss. 

All this rain makes for thick moss

Wednesday’s weather was better, and I drove out to a village called Grasmere for another hill walk.   I was now becoming very familiar with Lake District Hill walk – there is usually a bit of walking up a gentle slope alongside a pretty stream, and then a steep climb to enjoy the view from the top of a mountain.  Then a long descent, that at the end becomes more tiring (on the knees especially) than the climb. 

The easy start to today’s walk
Now the climb….

Today’s walk followed this standard pattern but was enriched by some unexpected company.  About half way up the climb, I saw a famer using his dogs to herd sheep down the hill. It was an interesting site and three of the four dogs did their work professionally. The fourth one was more interested in making friends with me.  The farmer shouted “Ned, come on!” several times, but then gave up on his youngest dog team member and headed down the hill.  I continued my walk up with Ned playfully running ahead of me, behind me, or following at my side. 

Ned shows the way across a stream

When I took a rest to catch my breath, he’d roll around beside me on his back, tummy in the air, expecting a tickle.   Ned followed me all the way to the top of the hill, from where  the usual spectacular view was enhanced by a glimpse of the sea to the west. 

I enjoyed Ned’s company but was getting a bit worried – surely the farmer would want him back?  What would do I if he followed me all the way back to Grasmere, I couldn’t take him with me.  In the end Ned solved the problem himself but attaching himself to another couple of walkers I met on the way down.  I hurried off  downhill and out of sight before he changed his mind.

On the way back home, I stopped in an upmarket supermarket and bought some excellent lamb and red wine for my dinner in the front of the wood fire.

Conquering Helvellyn

Undeterred by my “practice” walk, today I resolved to climb Helvellyn by the famous Striding Edge route.  The weather forecast for the rest of the week didn’t look promising, and this was the only day I was sure of getting some sun. Striding Edge can be dangerously slippery in the rain, so it was today or never. 

I parked my car in a village on Ullswater lake, and set off on a well-marked path, part of a steady stream of other walkers.  The path led steadily up grassy hills, with fine views back across Ullswater. After I reached the crest of the first hill,  a magnificent vista opened up of the high fells, with the massive bulk of Helvellyn looming up in the distance. The summit looked very far away and very high.  On each side of the mountain a steep ridge led up – Striding Edge, my way up, to the left, and Swirral Edge, my return route to the right. 

The view back to Ullswater

I’d climbed Helvellyn once before by a different route and looked down on these “edges”, wondering how anyone could possibly walk along them but when I got closer and could see the path along Striding Edge, I felt a bit reassured. 

Start of Striding Edge with Helvellyn summit in the distance
Negotiating Striding Edge
Looking back along the Edge

There was indeed a steep drop on both sides, but by being careful and holding on with both hands, it was possible to clamber over or around the ridge. 

View from a rock platform

Occasional flat platforms in the rock gave me a chance to catch my breath, admire the stunning views over the fells, and see how other climbers were doing. Some had obviously been here many times and progressed fearlessly and quickly, but most proceeded as slowly and cautiously as I did.  Eventually I reached the end of the ridge, from where I had to scramble with my hands to the summit up a steep rocky slope.  I was rewarded by a spectacular view back down the mountain, over the Edges and back to Ullswater.  

Made it! View from the top of Helvellyn

Although the climb was bigger than the first day – Helvellyn is 950m high – the good weather, the more gradual slope at the beginning and the excitement of negotiating Striding Edge meant that it felt  much easier.  I had a quick sandwich lunch at the shelter at the top, admiring the view, before the increasing cold (the sun was now hidden in cloud) encouraged me to start the return trip down Swirral Edge. This ridge required much less hand and foot climbing and I was soon back on a grassy slope.

The way down via Swirral Edge

My trekking guidebook encouraged me to make one last climb up to a small isolated peak called Catstye Cam – from where the view was possibly even better than before, because you could see the sheer cliff under the summit of Helvellyn. What’s more, the sun had returned and unlike the main summit, there were no people. I sat down for a break and to take in the stunning scenery.   

View from Catstye Cam

From Catstye Cam, the trip back seemed longer than the climb up and even became a bit boring at the end, but my spirits rose when the village came into sight.  I arrived just after 5pm and was amazed that all the tea shops had already closed, but this didn’t detract from a great feeling of achievement at having completed one of England’s classic hikes.

Return to the Lake District

Since Coronavirus has made international travel difficult – quarantine rules apply even for a teddy bear unlikely to be susceptible to a human virus – this year  I stayed at home for my summer holiday. I returned to the Lake District, which I first visited around 15 years ago. Since then my travels have taken me all around the world – from Kamchatka to Kyrgyzstan, and from Ireland to Iran. Out of the all these places, I have a list of a few places that I would return to –  the world is big, and there are so many places to see, so a place has to be very special to make it on to the “return” list.  The Lake District is firmly on the list, and this year seemed like the best time to visit it a second time.

My first day was a long but smooth drive up the M40 and M6 to my holiday cottage. The owner’s directions warned that it was remote, that the roads were full of potholes, and that SatNav should not be trusted – all of which turned out to be correct.  It was raining but I could already appreciate the pretty scenery as a I left the M6 onto the Kendal-Windermere road, and then found an unnumbered narrow road that led to the tiny village of Winster.  From there a bumpy track led  to our cottage,  a traditional building next to a stream at the bottom of a wooded hill, facing a bright green flowery meadow.  It was getting late to I unpacked and settled down to dinner (I’d brought a lot of food with me from London) and a glass of wine in front of the big wood fire.

My cottage (NOT the day I arrived…..)

The next day I planned a practice short walk to prepare for more ambitious treks later in the week.  Low clouds hung in the sky, but the weather forecast promised some sun later in the morning before a return of heavier clouds and rain in the afternoon.  I picked a walk from my book graded 2 out of 5 for difficulty and supposed to last around 4 hours – such that I should be finished before the rain came.   I had yet to learn two facts of Lake District life. Firstly the weather forecast should not be taken literally and  is only a broad indication of the types of weather you might meet during the day. Whatever happens, they will always be some sort of rain, whether it be a short shower, prolonged drizzle, or powerful storm.  Secondly,  there are no easy strolls in the hills – any hill walk will always involve a steep climb of several hundred metres. The Lake District’s mountains sound puny by international standards – the highest, Scafell Pike, is only 978 m high – but the starting point for any walk is always close to sea level, so climbing any peak will always involve lots of very steep climbing.  Both of these truths hit me on my first walk. Initially the path from the car park followed the shores of a lake – or tarn, as they are called here – accompanied by a soft and bearable drizzle. 

Then the route went relentlessly up a very steep grassy hill – I am guessing that the slope was 1 in 2 – and a strong wind transformed the gentle drizzle into a nagging, penetrating rain.   I reached the top soaked with the heavy sweat that builds up under waterproofs during intense exertion. The promised spectacular view was partially hidden by the clouds, and the cold wind encouraged me to move on quickly rather than stand and enjoy it. 

Cold Teddy…

The guidebook offered me a short-cut to finish the walk early, which I took gladly. On regaining my car, the sun promised by the weather forecast finally arrived – a few hours later than forecast. On the way home I decided to pop into Winster’s local pub. I was expecting something old and traditional and quiet, but whilst the outside of the building indeed looked traditional the inside was modern, cheap, and noisily crowded with people finishing Sunday lunch. To further dampen the experience, I was offered a pen at the bar and asked to write down my contact details in case there was a Covid 19 case in the pub and I needed to be traced. I looked at the cheap, heavily used biro that the barman was holding out to me and which every other pub visitor had presumably handled. I found my own pen and signed with that instead.  I found a table as far away as possible from other visitors and hurried to finish my beer – the whole experience felt very remote from the traditional English pub visit that I love, and I didn’t stay long. Although my first day hadn’t been a great success, I sat down to a nice meal and drink in my cozy cottage and hoped for better things the next day.

Goodbye to the Canary Islands

The next day I enjoyed a late breakfast. It was the penultimate day of my holiday and today I was going to drive around the north and west coasts of the island to a different hotel, located near Tenerife South airport. My first port of call was the town of Icod de los Vinos, a pleasant old town mostly famous for its huge and ancient dragon tree. Legends say it is 1000 years old, but botanists put its age as close to 500 years – still not bad for a tree, and much better than any human or bear.  The dragon tree is the symbol of the Canary Island and a good example of the exotic flora that grows here.

Icod’s famous dragon tree

Icod is firmly on the route of tourist groups touring around the island, although away from the main square and the view of the dragon tree, and into the quite little side roads, the tourist crowds disappear and the town is pleasantly relaxed. From Icod, the road led along the coast to Garachico, another pleasant old town. As usual it had a central square with cafes and an old church.

Garachico with its square and church

I carried on around the North-West coast; every town seemed to have its own “centro historico” with a church and a square. Even the ones that weren’t mentioned in my guidebook were very pleasant – maybe better than the popular towns even, since there were no tourists.  Eventually the road led inland and up steep hills. This was the very north-west tip of Tenerife and the beautiful but wild countryside combined with the mist rolling in from the sea gave me a sad feeling, like reaching the end of the world.  I had been following the news back home over the past days and thought of the thousands of people affected by the coronavirus outbreak, many of whom were confined to their homes.  I wondered what lay in store for me on my return to London.

the end of the world?

The road carried on up, twisting and turning along the hill side through strange and colourful plantations and past small houses, occasionally offering a spectacular view of the steep slope down to the sea.

strange hill…wonder what caused the cuts in the hillside?

At the very top of the ascent was a mirador with a café looking out over the town of Masca, far down in the valley below. It was a great place to sit and recover from the rather difficult driving on the mountain roads, especially since now the sun had appeared from behind the mist and low clouds.

looking at Masca from the north

After my break, the road led down into Masca and then relentlessly up.  Every 100 metres there was a hairpin bend on a steep slope, and I often had to stop to let other cars past on the narrow track.  Once I met a bus, but fortunately the driver was patient and very used to the road; as soon as I had given him enough space, he nimbly squeezed around me, avoiding the side of my car by less than an inch. When I reached the top, I was sweating from anxiety, as is if I had walked all that way up.  

the view of Masca from the south and the tortuous road I had just driven

The next part of my route was an uninteresting main road that turned into a motorway.  After an hour I turned off to drive back into the hills, to my last hotel, Casa Alberto, which was outside a small village far from anywhere. My holiday home turned out to be enormous – with big living room, wood fire and two balconies. The common areas of the hotel were laid out in a garden of orange trees, with a heady sweet scent of orange blossom.  I picked a couple of deliciously tasty oranges and flopped down onto a bed to enjoy them.  One of the great things about the Canary Islands is the pleasant temperature all year round – 20 to 25C in daytime – ideal for lazing around or sitting on the terrace of a café. I attracted the interest of the hotel’s cat, who, it seemed, had never met a teddy bear before.

The next day I enjoyed the garden and orange blossom in the morning, before heading off to the airport.  There, chaos reigned; Spain had just announced the closure of all schools, bars and restaurants in two days’ time, so a lot of people wanted to get back, but some of the flights in- and out- bound were cancelled and most of the rest (including mine) were delayed by several hours. During the wait I wrote my blog and thought about what might await me in London, where the coronavirus outbreak, although less bad than in Spain and Italy, seemed to be taking off.  Adding the three-hour delay to a four-hour flight, I eventually arrived home at around 1am, with very happy memories of the Canary Islands and a feeling of foreboding about what was to come.

That’s all – each day’s blog was published a few days after the events it describes. This will be probably be my last blog for a while – I had great plans in spring and summer, but it looks like I will be stuck at home in London.  Still, I was lucky – I could have my holiday exactly as planned and got back just in time before everything closed in Spain.  Not everyone has been this lucky, and my thoughts are with those who are sick, or have sick loved ones, or who are simply stuck at home under curfew. I hope you all stay safe and healthy, wherever you are, and that my blog can cheer up these difficult times and help you look forward to all the great things life has to offer once things return to normal.  

Yours,

Trouspinet

Lazy Day in La Laguna

Today I visited the ancient city of La Laguna. This town was founded in 1496, shortly after the Spanish conquest, and for a while was the capital of the whole Canary Islands.   The city is full of old churches, pedestrian streets, and old town houses with magnificent flowery courtyards inside.

First, I visited the Church of Nuestra Señora de La Concepción, the oldest church in the Canary Islands. I was dismayed that in La Laguna the churches charge for entry and post very assertive doormen to bar entry to anyone without a ticket – in my country entry to a church is free on principle. But I still stumped up 2€ to visit the bell tower, with nice views over the old town, and the church interior, which was a bit plain and not worth my euros!

The bell tower of the Church of the Conception

After that I simply roamed around the town to see what I could find, occasionally checking with my guidebook where I was. My next stop was a former monastery, which now housed an art gallery and a separate school. 

The entrance to the art gallery was through a beautiful cloister, in the centre of which was a garden with beautiful tropical plants.  There was an exhibition of paintings by a local artist, Pino Ojeda, and I really liked here work.

A painting by Pino Ojeda

After that I continued my stroll, checking out the other churches (from the outside – they didn’t get my entrance fee, nor the money I’d normally invest in lighting candles for my loved ones) and other historical buildings.

One of the historic buildings – the town hall

I stopped frequently – first for coffee, then for a cold drink in the grounds of the former casino.

The garden of the casino – the beer is non-alcoholic, honest!

Finally I stopped for a late lunch in a café on the main square where a talented guitarist was playing.

La Laguna is really made for chilling out, drinking coffee and watching the world go by, something I think I’d earned the right to do after trekking on La Palma, La Gomera and Mount Teide. However, there is only so much coffee and low alcohol beer a little bear can drink, and in the mid-afternoon I set off back to my hotel.

In the evening I tried some typical local food in a “Tasca” – a cheap local restaurant. The décor was very simple, and most of the food was good.

Beans and chick peas for my starter

I couldn’t resist trying another of the local fish specialities, “Cherne” which apparently translates as “wreckfish” in English, although it isn’t served anywhere other than here. It had a very strange salty and oily taste – no surprise it doesn’t get exported. Like parrotfish, it is not something I’d order again, but my motto has always been that if you never try new things, you never know what you are missing.  To take the taste of the fish away I had a very nice local desert and headed back to the hotel for bed.

Teddy on Teide

The next day I had to fly to Tenerife for the final leg of my holiday.  For some reason I couldn’t sleep in my La Gomera holiday home, so in the morning I was very tired as I drove to the airport and didn’t really enjoy the short flight. In Tenerife, baggage return and car hire were again very efficient, and I was quickly on my way to my hotel. I soon realised that Tenerife was completely different to La Palma or La Gomera – the area around the airport was heavily developed, and although they even had a motorway, it was jammed solid.  My navigator took me around busy back roads to my next destination, the town of La Orotava.  I was very relieved when I could park my car directly in front of the hotel.  I was even more happy with the hotel itself – called the Alhambra, it was a rich merchant’s house that had been designed by a well-known architect in the 1920s in Arabic style.

The owner of the hotel was very nice, and very enthusiastic about his property. He asked if we had a minute. I just wanted to go to my room and sleep, but it seemed rude to say no, so I listened to his passionate explanation of a large modern mural on one of the walls.  I have to admit I didn’t like the painting at all and could only understand half of his explanation in Spanish. I nodded politely occasionally. When our host finally stopped talking, I turned to head upstairs, but he stopped me and asked if I had just one more “momento”. I made a sign that I wanted to sleep, which seemed to disappoint him. The room was really nice with a great view of the town and Mount Teide. 

I slept for an hour and then headed out to explore La Orotava – it was a lovely colonial town dating from the 1700s, with many interesting old buildings and churches.

In the centre was a pretty park with a view of Mount Teide

I also found the Casa de los Balcones, an iconic building for the city.  On the street side, there were pretty wooden balconies, and inside was a small museum.

I bought ham, cheese and wine from the local supermarket and enjoyed dinner in my room, with a nice sunset view of the town with the volcano overlooking it.

The next day I got up early because I had booked the first cable car up Mount Teide at 9am, meaning I had to leave the hotel at eight.  Fresh coffee and a lovely sunrise over the town helped me wake up.

The drive to the cable car station was initially up very steep hills, and then along the plain inside the huge volcano caldera. In the centre of the caldera is the tall cone of the volcano. The cable car takes you nearly to the top, but you have to walk the last 400m.  From the upper cable car station I found the path leading up, but was stopped by a park warden who asked to see my permit and ID.  I duly handed over a print-out of my emailed permit and my driving licence. He looked at both suspiciously – I don’t suppose many teddy bears visit, and it was probably the first driving licence issued from the darkest Peruvian jungle  that he’d ever seen.  But eventually the man uttered a grunt of acceptance and allowed me through.  I was first onto the path and hurried up to get to the top first and have the views to myself.  Mount Teide is 3700m high and people used to think it was the highest mountain in Europe.  Mont Blanc and other peaks in the Alps of course are much higher, but since Teide rises up steeply straight from the sea, it looks enormous and it is understandable that people made this mistake. The air was thin and I was soon panting for breath, but I am used to high altitude from the jungles of Peru and made it to the top a few minutes ahead of the two young human climbers who passed the checkpoint after me.  At the summit the views were amazing, whichever way you looked:

The view to the South
The view to the East

From the very summit I climbed back down to the cable car station. I passed a few other tourists, some serious hikers with proper boots and warm clothing………and some horribly unfit looking people in t-shirts, who were gasping for breath and shivering in the cold (my phone said it was +3C).  From the station I then walked part of a different route that led to the old crater, for a different perspective. 

The view to the West and the old crater, La Gomera in the background

The path was initially easy but soon became very rocky. Although it was possible to walk all the way down the volcano and then back along the road to the car, I was cold and the rest of the path looked like a scramble over volcanic boulders – hard for  human, never mind a small teddy. So instead I enjoyed the view and then took the cable car back down.  Back at the base station, the car park, which had been deserted at 9am, was now packed, and there was a big queue to take the cable car up.

I drove a bit further into the Teide caldera to visit a formation of strangely shaped volcanic rocks near the visitors’ centre.  

The area was swarming with tourists, and parking was difficult. After a short hike around the rocks I headed back home, admiring the lunar landscapes.   I got back to my hotel in the early afternoon.  I was feeling a bit lazy – the walks were not very long but were steep and at high altitude. So I enjoyed sitting in the hotel’s garden and listening to the happy noise of children playing in the school next door as a I dozed on a sunchair.   That night I had more cheese, ham and wine and was treated to another spectacular sunset.

Tired Teddy – Hiking on La Gomera

Today was hiking day.  I chose Ruta 18, the big circular walk around the Garajonay Park, which started from one of the miradors I had visited the day before.  On my map I judged it was about 6km, so even with some up and down walking I should be done quickly and have time to drive around the island a bit more.

I drove up the valley road again and through the long tunnel into the park.  At the mirador, I found signposts for route 18, but was a bit surprised that they said it was 14km long and should take 7 hours…. The hike started easily enough, along the top of a mountain ridge with fine views of Los Roques in the bright sunlight…..

Then the path headed up a steep hill to yet more miradors with views, before diving down into a dense forest.  The cool of the forest was a pleasant change after the heat of the exposed mountain side.

After a while there was a clearing with a tables and picnic area, where I met a little feathered friend. I offered him some biscuit crumbs.

Me with my backpack feeding my friend

Twenty minutes later,  I got to a junction with three different options.  The signs showing the path had disappeared, and I wasn’t sure which way to go.  I picked the path that seemed to be heading in the right direction, towards the main road crossing the island, and walked for about 20 minutes. It was a paved track for cars, and I was encouraged that one or two cars did indeed drive past – surely this was the way to the main road? My phone initially showed I was going the right way, but then the little blob showing my location veered away back into the heart of the national park and away from where I wanted to go. I carried on anyway, hoping the path might change direction, and was very happy when I saw a parking area up ahead. Surely a sign that I was on a main route?   My happiness was short-lived though, when I realised I was back at the picnic area where I’d fed the bird some 40 minutes ago. 

I looked at my “tedimeter” – 10km already, and I was only just over half-way through the walk. I was hot and tired. I carefully studied the maps provided on the signposts in the picnic area, realised my mistake and set off again.  At the confusing junction I took another paved track that led steeply up, and this eventually took me to the main road and finally a sign saying that I was indeed back on route 18.

The path crossed the road and led back into the forest. It went steeply up, but the knowledge that I was back on the right path and only a couple of km from the end gave me a renewed bust of energy.

Suddenly the path opened up to the most spectacular view yet of Los Roques, so I sat down for a short break and to finish the last of my water.  

It was a fitting reward for my efforts. Back at the car my “tedimeter” said I had walked 16km – so the signs were right, 14km plus my detour.  The twists and turns and ups and downs had doubled the length compared to what my map seemed to show. It was lot more than I had expected, and I headed home for dinner a rather tired teddy bear.

La Gomera by car

I had two full days to enjoy La Gomera. Today I decided to explore the island by car and to look for good places to  hike on the next day.  The car hire company has said the car was fully insured except for damage to tyres caused by driving over rocks on the road. I soon understood why – the whole island is one steep extinct volcano that has been eroding away into the sea for the past few million years. The most visible sign of this erosion are great sweeping valleys, where rain dropping on the top of the mountains washes down to the sea.  But another sign is the frequent little piles of rock in the road from small landslides.

At first I drove up the mountain on the south side of the island – the landscapes were stark and dry.

Then I crossed through a tunnel to the east side of the island, which receives clouds blown in by the trade winds, which blow from east to west at this latitude – which is why Columbus sailed south to the Canary Islands before setting off for America.  As the clouds rise up the mountain they drop a steady supply of rain, meaning this side of the island is usually wet and supports luxuriant vegetation.  

The road took me to the Bailadero “mirador” (viewing point) which I had been targeting on my walk yesterday.  I was lucky that today there was less wind, meaning the clouds didn’t reach very far up the mountain, and the views of Los Roques were really spectacular.

I realised that it was a good decision to turn back on yesterday’s walk, since I was still a long way away from my destination.  From the mirador there was a pretty short walk through an atmospheric forest, whose trees were covered with thick moss and whose leaves and branches were wet with moisture from the clouds. 

After that walk, the road continued up the central ridge right on top of the island.  There I found yet more “miradors” with beautiful views north, south and east.

From the mountain ridge I drove to the south west corner of La Gomera, back into a bone-dry, lunar landscape of great eroding valleys.

I drove all the way down to the sea to have lunch at La Gomera’s main resort, Valle Gran Rey.  This was supposed to the richest part of the island, but still looked slightly run down.  Still, I had a nice octopus salad in a café on the seafront and after lunch ventured onto the beach for a paddle. The black sand had absorbed the heat of the sun and was very hot for little paws, so I ran to the sea…….which was very cold.  Maybe my short paddle wasn’t worth getting black sand all over my paws and in my fur, but at least I can say that if have been in the sea!

Next I drove back up to the centre of La Gomera and around the west and north of the island; the road sometimes followed the coast, and sometimes wound deep inland to worm its way around the deep valleys.  La Gomera is very beautiful, and its scenery very varied. Every few kilometres there was another mirador to admire a different island landscape.  

Although the island  is small – it’s roughly a circle with radius 5-6km – with the winding roads and frequent stops to admire the views, driving around it took a whole day and it was late afternoon by the time I got back home.  I settled down on my terrace with a glass of local wine to write my blog, and then had a very good steak from the local market for dinner.

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