A Fun Walk on the Gower (or Gwr).

A 13.5 mile, 22 km walk through one of the most beautiful beaches/wild spots in the UK. It combines beaches with hills and heather in a unique walk. This is a fairly strenuous walk, at least when the temperatures reach 28 (90ish). There’s a decent amount of climbing, but no truly long epic climbs (the total climb, about 2400 feet or 740 metres, is most of the way up Snowdon).


The Gower is about a 2 hour drive from Bristol and an hour from Cardiff. We started about 9 in the morning to miss the rush-hour traffic, stopped at a bakery on the way, and ate our lunch (Pasty’s and bread-pudding) at the National trust car park (3.50 for all day, Oxwich bay is 2.00). The picture above shows the view from near the top. The tide was out so we climbed down and around the Great Tor. The day was exceedingly clear, so sunscreen would have been a good idea. Hindsight is 20/20. The UV in the UK can be surprisingly strong, even stronger than in the American South.


After that we climbed up onto the Gower path which follows the spine of the peninsula. There’s some free parking where the path crosses the main road.


This shows our progress. We’re parked at the top of the cliffs in the centre left. The dim blue line at the horizon is Devon.


We ran into the first of three Duke of Edinborough crews on this hill. They (the program) seriously need to look at lighter weight pack gear. One of the girl’s packs was forty pounds or so for a short trip. Hers was on the light side. I gave them some Philmont advice (It’s not a race and “Hydrate or die!”) for hiking in the heat.  My brother-in-law’s dogs found their own way to deal with the heat.


Then we climbed down to Oxwich. We refilled our water bottles at a tap in the campsite – which they may not approve of, but what they don’t know won’t hurt them. (It’s a lovely site, but does not take pets). We also stopped at the store for a choc-ice, which was well-received.

IMGP4230 The tide was now in, which the dogs enjoyed. It also meant we had a digression on the way back. Unless we wanted to swim. (We considered it.)IMGP4231



This is an example of a large blue jellyfish that was washed up on shore. There were at least three other species in the water. Most of them don’t sting.



IMGP4241Three cliffs bay with the tide in.

IMGP4239 Pennard Castle. It’s in the middle of a golf course, so visit with caution (and keep an ear out for ‘fore’).IMGP4242

This last picture shows one of the sandy climbs. Climbing a sandy bluff is much harder work than climbing a stoney path.

A Yank’s Guide to the UK part 3, Footpaths.

You may have noticed that I like to walk. Maybe it’s all those trailmaps I’ve posted. (A big thank you to this site for their help with tracks.)

Anyway one of the joys of the UK is the public footpaths or rights of way. They’re designated with red dashed lines on the 1:50000 landranger series and green dashed, dotted and other lines on the 1:25000 explorer series from the ordnance survey. The symbols are a little different from the USGS maps, but close enough that if you can read one, you can read the other. Like the US maps they have a blue background grid that is a kilometer grid based on a zero point. (Canada does something similar, and shares the datum with the USA, but they sometimes use an older one that’s about 300 meters off. Be warned.) The British use their own national grid that is similar to the US one, but based on their own origin. You’ll see numbers like SN339486 which refers to a specific location. You can interpolate the numbers from the map, enter them into your gps and find a specific neolithic stone circle on a heath in Exmoor. (it was literally a circle of small stones.)

In England, the footpaths generally go where the map says they are. There are exceptions, but if you navigate stile to stile, you’ll be OK. DSC_0975 The picture shows a style on a typically beautiful summer day. Or perhaps one good enough to be typical. Many of the styles are gates, and the rule is to leave the gate the way you found it.

Many of the footpaths follow historic tracks or roads. Often these are sunken lanesIMGP4135 where the effort of expanding them for even a single track ‘metalled’ (paved) road would exceed the effort needed to just build a new road nearby. These paths can be ancient. The ridgeway that runs from near Reading to south of Bath dates to the time of the pyramids. It’s sort of exciting to walk on a road that was old and in use when Julius Caesar was a boy.

The public footpaths can go through people’s back gardens – including quite famous people’s back gardens. (There’s a rock star near Dorchester (near Oxford), whose back garden is crossed by one.)


IMGP2631The footpaths often cross fields with livestock. Cows are a real hazard. They are not the calm sweet animals from cartoons and milk advertisements. Big and sometimes ornery, especially the beef cattle which are not handled by people on a routine basis, they need to be treated with respect. Every now and then someone who doesn’t treat them with respect gets trampled. Sheep are extremely common, but other than decorating the trail in their own unique manner, not much of a bother. There are also a fair number of horses, especially in wilder areas.

Wales, however, is another story. 10-july-13 While there are plenty of footpaths and they are marked on the maps, they are often not there in reality. This map from 2013 shows our path … digressing from the footpath. What started as a gentle walk to a pub in a nearby town, became an almost epic journey as we worked our way around closed footpaths. We took the bus home.

Trail conditions range from smooth and dry, to bogs, and on to mud pits. The paths can be wide and easy walking or narrow and filled with nettles. Fortunately, outside of Kew Gardens, there’s no poison ivy.

Water sources are few, and you will need to be prepared. I’ll put it up in another post, but my wife and I did Snowdon last week. We were prepared, and needed to be. It wasn’t a bad climb, but the temperature changed from a balmy 20C at the base to about 5C at the top, in dense fog, dripping wet. Hypothermia was a real risk. Especially as you’d be damp from sweating on the climb. So we carried rain gear, winter coats, dry change of clothes, my backcountry first aid kit (which contains a space blanket for a bivy), water, and extra food. We needed the warm clothes by the time we arrived at the top. The point of this is that you have to do your research and be prepared for what you may encounter.

Things I collect. #lifebookswriting

Things I collect


So many things, dust, bugs, rejection letters, but really miles (All right EU, kilometres), miles and peaks.

I started walking as a boy, serious walking that is. I’ve always had a great sense of direction (Funny thing that, the sun setting in the East, let’s keep moving) and a willingness to explore. There aren’t many blank parts of the map, but you can always leave it in its case.

In order to pull this off you need to have endurance rather than stamina. I’ll stop for breath on a hill, and I’m by no means the fastest walker out there. The thing is, tomorrow I can get up and do the same thing over again. When I think about it these are probably good traits for a writer.

With the advent of GPS I’ve even kept tracks.

Here are a few fun ones:

coe_trip This shows a trip I took a few years ago in Henry Coe State Park, in California. I had a business trip and rather than stay in a hotel for a few days to make up my week (and cheaper airfare) I took my backpacking gear along. One of the advantages of lightweight backpacking is you can fit it in a suitcase. I was testing out solo backpacking with an eye to the AT. I was “the backpacker” in the park that weekend. Did I mention it’s only 15 miles or so from San Jose?
edale_walk This is a walk in the Peak District from Hayfield to Edale and back. We missed a train so it went a little longer than usual.


Ellicot_rock_911This is one near home I organized for the scouts.  It was designed for a two-night over 18 miles trip for the backpacking merit badge. It was the first time I tried trail-runners (fancy trainers with vibram soles). I haven’t looked back.



12-july-2016 This one is from this year’s visit to the UK. It’s a warmup for Mt Snowdon. It’s also neat because you visit about 6 disused quarries. There are a many mine-pits on the south side of Moel-yr-hydd, so you have to be careful. It’s so beautiful that I think I’ll try learning Welsh so I can visit after Brexit.

Moel yr-hydd Loop

This is a fine, relatively unused, 7 mile 2000 foot climb walk. The rain finally held off so we grabbed the chance.

The trail map shows the house we’ve hired, but you can park for free near the top of the paved road.

IMGP4198We walked in the original quarry road, along a stream and waterfalls. The people in this picture were getting ready to explore one of the many mines on the mountain.  Off picture, to the left, is a steep hill of tailings and various miner paths that leads up to an abandoned quarry. We came back that way.

DSC_0852 Once inside you skirt a lake and then follow an old road to an abandoned village. There’s a bitter-sweet poem, in Welsh, attached to the start of this slate fence. It says they have a new school, an new pub, an new hotel, and it’s all gone.

DSC_0878 We ate lunch in the middle of the ruins. Our choice dictated by the availability of dry seats.




Following the path uphill, did I mention there’s a lot of that in this hike, you reach another abandoned quarry. It’s only the second of six. The vertical bar in the background, next to a mine opening, is the reliable and dry footpath. How did we find that out? By trying the others.
DSC_0910 When we got here we realized that we didn’t want to walk down Cwm Creosoe.



Following the old gravity slides (only 20% grade or so), leads to a saddle with views like this.

We followed the footpath down. Until it disappeared into a swamp. So we ended up following informal paths (Sheep trails) to a final abandoned quarry. Then after a steep decline, we found the path we came up.

All in all an enjoyable exploration. Just be prepared for bogs, lots of bogs.

A Yank’s Guide to England 2 – Pubs and Food.

It’s 15C, windy and raining, horizontally. Not a great day for exploring mountains. Sounds like a pub is in order.

Pubs are the great British social institution. Dogs and children are welcome, though you do have to smoke in the garden. (I find this a great improvement, but others feel it is an overbearing aspect of the nanny state.) The best are local, almost community centres, that feel like one big family room. The worst are commercial and somewhat impersonal. None are as awful as an American bar. They’re more than just a dispensary for alcoholic beverages. No self-respecting village is without at least one pub.

Originally they were inns and stopping points for the masses. Back before trains when nearly everyone walked, it took more than a few hours to go from one end of the island to the other.  Once King Henry destroyed the Abbeys and Monasteries that housed travellers, public houses evolved to fill that role. While some still do, most pubs now don’t have overnight rooms. You’ll also read about licensing rules and pubs closing at strange hours. These were introduced to help win ‘the war to end all wars.’ The first one of those wars, a hundred years ago. One of the best things labour ever did was to revoke the rules. Now pubs are open when there’s a market for their services. (which means in the country, don’t count on them being open out of hours). By the way, the drinking age is 18.

Pubs come in basically three flavours: free house, brewer associated, and chain. Chain pubs are franchises like McDonalds, reasonable places, but nothing super special. Brewer associated will have a brewer’s name over the door. They get a deal from or may be owned by a brewery. In Berkshire around Reading a fair number of pubs used to have ‘Courage’ over the door which was a nice touch. Free houses are owned outright by the publicans and serve whatever beers they want. Free houses are usually the best, the most idiosyncratic, and typically British you will find. I aim for them, and so should you.

Ordering: Typically you walk up to the bar and wait your turn. There will always be some ‘locals’ i.e. people who haunt the pub as their almost primary residence. You may have to wait a bit to be noticed. Be polite. They will pointedly ignore a ‘loud Yank.’ Beer comes in pints and half pints. Ask for what’s the best bitter and you won’t be disappointed. American beer is lager. A typical ‘lady’s drink’ is lager and lime. You cannot get that in the USA, so even if you’re a bloke, give it a try. Cider is alcoholic. You can get a variety of soft-drinks for the children. The fruit squashes are very sweet. You also would order food here. It’s good manners to know what you’re ordering before you go to the bar. After all other people are waiting for their drinks.

Pub Food:  The French believe the British can’t cook. They also believe chicken is suitable for vegetarians. At least they’ve got something right. The thing about the British and the English in particular is they won’t complain. Some restaurants take advantage of this to serve awful food. The good ones won’t. The British also became accustomed to pretty bloody awful food during an unfortunate event in the middle of the 20th century. And they never were fond of snails – or frogs.

Good pub food can hold its head up with respect to any cuisine in the world. Things to try are: fish and chips, Sausage and chips, and meat pies with or without chips. I’d skip a ploughman’s. They tend to be overpriced. You may be offered ‘mushy peas.’ They are an acquired taste, but you should try them at least once. Never mind that they look like something the cat regurgitated. You may get a chance to have ‘black pudding.’ Take it.

Non Pub-food: 

Pizza has made it to the UK. It’s served as pizzas. Each typically the size of a plate and for one person.

Digestive biscuits are a delight. The base biscuit is similar to graham cracker, and you can (should) get them covered in chocolate. Ginger nuts are another biscuit worth tasting. American children often subsist on digestives when visiting the UK, since everything tastes a little different.

Bacon is different. It has meat in it. Lots of meat. Enjoy it while you can.

Sausage. My in-laws wonder why my wife and I binge on this when we’re here. Especially why we have the inexpensive plain sausages. It’s a unique and addictive flavour. One you can’t get back in the good ol’ USA.

Baked Beans. I only mention this because some people are in for a surprise. I wouldn’t bother with them in the UK. No where near as good as in the USA.

Fruits and Veggies. There’s a huge variety here now. This may change with Brexit. With apples especially, look for varieties that aren’t found in North America. Strawberries are also much nicer than you can get at home.

Cheese. The UK has its own varieties and they are excellent. Try Leicester, Cheshire, Wensleydale, Stilton, and mature (local) Cheddar. The orange brick cheese in the US will pale in comparison.

A Yank’s Guide to the UK, Part 1.

Having invaded the UK this July 4th, I thought I’d post on some of the things that make our motherland, albeit the one we stormed away from different from the USA. Also I’ll give some practical tips. Right now I should add a disclaimer. I’m not responsible for the consequences if you follow them. I repeat, you’re on your own.

This post is about driving.

They drive on the other side of the road. The left, those socialist commies, the left I tell you. Sorry I was channeling my “inner republican.”

But they do drive on the left, and if you are hiring a car it is helpful to know a few tricks.

First, do you need a car? If you are staying in the cities, no. Renting one in London would be exceedingly daft as they have excellent transport and more importantly, huge areas where you need a special permit to drive. Don’t bother. You can get from city to city and to most, but not all, of the touristy spots without your own car.

However, if you’re like us and visiting the non-touristy spots (somehow I doubt my brother and sister in law would appreciate the company) then you’ll need one. Check the deals you can get by booking one when you get your tickets. BA is especially good for this and a car rental with tickets is sometimes cheaper than tickets.

Almost all the cars are manual transmission. I repeat, almost all the cars are manual transmission. You can pay extra for an automatic, but be manly and use the stick. (did I just write that?, yes).  It works very much like it does in the US. Except you use your left hand and remember to reach further left than you think you need to. You’ll find, or at least I do, that the right/left side of the road comes naturally, but there are some gotcha’s.

Turns with islands. You’ll initially want to go down the wrong side. Don’t.

Pedestrians and other road hazards, things like zebra crossings. They’re on the left. You’re used to them being on the right. Make a conscious effort to look in the other side. By the way, not only is it illegal to run down pedestrians, but you have to stop for them. Silly law, but that’s the way it is.

Stop lights. Stop lights go yellow before they turn green. Just like drag strips. It’s good, and I wish they’d do that back home. Of course the idiots in Atlanta would hop the yellow, so perhaps its for the best. The law is to put your car in neutral and set the parking brake when you’re at a stop. The yellow is to tell you to put it in gear. Then expect traffic to shoot off when it turns green. Sort of like at a drag race. By the way, don’t be shocked when your engine stops when you put it out of gear and set the brake. That’s to save petrol, I mean gas.

There is no right turn on red.

The roundabout from Hell (Swindon)

Traffic circles are ubiquitous. There is a rule for them. The vehicle (including bikes, lorries and other cars) on the circle to the right has the right of way. They mean it. If you’re turning left, be in the left lane (or left side of your lane) with the turn signal set. If you’re going straight don’t set your signal, and if you’re turning right, set the turn signal to the right. Then enter the circle and exit at the right time. If you’re turning right, set the signal to left when it’s time to leave the circle. It is ok to go around if you miss your turn. (Not just Yanks do this.)

Turning across traffic. If it’s light, OK. Otherwise don’t. Go with traffic and use the next roundabout (circle) to go the way you want.

The Motorways have a speed limit of 70, except when they don’t. A-roads, B-roads have 60, and other roads 50. Except when posted otherwise. A-roads are sort of like numbered state highways, B-roads are a little smaller, and the others, well they range from quite decent to little more than an “metalled” (paved) track. A warning, in the country or in National Parks, the A-roads can be one lane wide. It makes driving interesting and fun.

Don’t use your horn. It’s not polite. You can however give them the finger.

Enough for now, we have to drive to Tesco’s to pick up a few supplies.


Peak District #travel #photoblog

Time to start planning our summer travel again. One place we stayed a few years ago was in the Peak District, where we rented a house in Hayfield. It’s a small town at the foot of the Kinder Scout. Unfortunately I left my really good camera on the kitchen table at my brother-in-laws, so these were taken with a light-weight water proof olympus that does OK.  Wonder if it’s time to book a return visit?
IMGP3717Dusk, walking back from a pub.

IMGP3787 One of the local customs is “well decorating” and we happened to be at the right time.

IMGP3754The semi-wild sheep are everywhere, in this case near the falls at Kinder Scout.

IMGP3755It was a dry year, what more can I say?




IMGP3931Beware of the Toad.



Canal Boating #travel #England

One thing to do in the UK is canal boating. There are several companies that will hire you a narrow boat, give you the fairly minimal training you need to get started, and let you go. We hired one from the Anglo-Welsh hire company and picked it up near Dundas Aqueduct. It wasn’t hard to arrange this from the US.

The boats are compact, but fully functional and pleasant to live in.

This shows our first mooring, snugged against the bank.

You spend a fair bit of time in the country.IMG_0185


Locks can be interesting.IMG_0081

Slightly scary the first time.IMG_0067

But by the time you’ve done Caen Hill, you’ll be a pro.IMG_0084

Most of the time it’s straightforward. We did run into some difficulty with strong winds one afternoon. (The engines on the narrowboats aren’t exactly powerful and the wind can push the bow around).

It is a fun family trip, though you should be prepared to walk, especially if the locks aren’t far apart.


I didn’t take many pictures of the towns we passed through (Chippenham, Devizes) mostly because they look like typical English cities. I was also somewhat busy with the mechanics of locks and shopping at the time. The small towns were more interesting.



I really like Italy. It’s a disorganized, old, and new place – but one with great food and wine. Just be aware that the trains and buses don’t always run on Sundays. If you can learn a little Italian, then you can get around without too many problems.

These pictures are from Gaeta. I skipped out one afternoon from a scientific meeting to clear my head head and get some fresh air.

This looks like an oil tank, but is a Roman tomb.

Since I didn’t have a map, I took a picture from one of the signs.

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