Category Archives: long distance walking

The Days of Drinking Peat Water or Walking the Affric Kintail Way in Summer Boots in Late Autumn

Affric Kintail Way (AKW) is the newest long-distance walking trail in Scotland. Albeit being only 44 miles (71 km) long, it manages to offer a sense of wander together with a crunchy chunk of wilderness! All you need, is a tiny bit of patience to get out of civilisation and into the more remote areas. But patience is something all walkers have. Right?

Due of my previous engagements (trekking in Uzbekistan :)), my friend and I could not leave for our adventure earlier than at the very end of October. Which is a tricky time when it comes to packing. Winter kit would obviously be over-doing it, but summer kit does not offer enough protection any more. Our main concern was our boots – we are both dearly attached to our “summer alpine” style walking boots which offer about 20-35% protection from the rain only when arduously sprayed with the waterproofer in the morning. And our budgets banned us from getting waterproof boots before our hike, so… Off we went in summer ones!

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Day 1, October 28. From Drumnadrochit to Cannich: 23.34 km

This is the day the internet described as the “boring slog” and the “I should have just skipped this part”. Frankly, I have no idea what those people were going through when out on their walks, since day one was nothing but boring. Just now, when writing this up, I again came across someone’s walking diary where they admit to hating the first 25 miles on AKW. Hmm!? I think it is one of those “it is not what you are going after, it is what are taking with you” mindset things, for sure. Or something more mysterious. But because of all the warnings, we kept a keen eye out for the boring bits to surface and met with none.

We started our walk under the lovely Scottish sun (Kadri and I still are subject to a spooky weather luck every time we cross the Scottish border) (and I am aware it will end one day soon), only to run into a giant redwood within the first half an hour. My very first redwood! And we were just talking about visiting the States only because of them. Their bark was incredibly soft. But above all, they just felt old and strange and happy. What a start!

I managed to see a red squirrel later on, but actually spent the most of my day staring at the clouds. There was something happening which I had never seen in my life – massive rolls of apocalyptic carpets were twirling and floating above our heads, opening up a completely new level of wide for me. They changed the space, somehow, making me feel as if we were completely alone and the world had decided not to collapse yet but was thinking about it.

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You do have to walk on a lot of forestry tracks on day one. At one point, the living trees started howling behind the massive stacks of their felled companions. The howled similarly to a curious wolf or to a dog sentenced to patrol a very small territory. It was scary and heartbreaking. Later, when we were already starting to near Cannich, the forest once again started wailing, and accompanied us with the sound of windows and doors creaking open, as if a slow-motion art movie was taking place around us. Thinking about it later, I obviously understood that it is technically the other way around – doors and windows carry the sound of the forest with them, within them. But still.

In summary, the first day offered good straightforward walking. No chances of getting lost but definitely fewer people than on the first day of West Highland Way, for example. Also, fewer waymarks.

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Day 2, October 29. From Cannich to River Affric Car Park: 19.94 km

Day two of AKW is all about the forest. And about getting the first glimpses of the stunning Glen Affric with little islands poking out of the water and people casually gliding between them in their red kayaks. I was looking at them when walking amongst the trees, wondering whether they lived close and would they be out here in the rain as well. If I knew how to drive I would drive here just for this glen. And their kayaks!

As a side remark: lots of people mention not seeing much of the glen on their way on day two. I think none of them walked it so close to November when a lot of the leaves have already fallen. Because we certainly saw the glen constantly to our right, making our camera sensors buzz with its blue waters.

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Luckily, there is a spot marked as Classic View on the trail, so you don’t have to take detours to see the majestic glen when it first comes into view. I’m pretty chuffed about that spot. Just because I’m such a mountain/hill/forest person, so I never go out of my way to take in the beauty of glens, valleys or waterfalls. But luckily, the older you get, the more beauty you start noticing, so am looking forward to widening my intake of marvels.

The going is once again pretty straightforward but our journey was made magical by having to walk on silvery ground for quite a while. We even suspected frost at places but finally understood that it was just good old pyrite giving the ground the look of an Elvish rug.

All in all, the day starts with quite a long walk on a forestry track but when that is over and you can turn left to descend into the glen, things start getting pretty. First you are greeted by some of the healthiest ferns you will ever meet, and if lucky, dragonflies will take a flying break on your belly as well. And then there are the tree beards – thin moss and lichen curtains hanging from the tree branches. There is also an excellent lunch spot just in the middle of the way at Dog Falls with tables and a river view.

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In the setting sun, we set up camp at the very edge of River Affric Car Park, now also called the most glamorous camp spot of my entire life! Here you have real toilets and picnic tables at your elbow’s reach! I climbed to the viewpoint to see the last shades of the orange light, and once again concurred that life looks magnificent. Soon, the moon was shining bright and the temperature dropped below zero. What else would you want from a night out?

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Day 3, October 30. From River Affric Car Park to Camban bothy: 16.36 km

It took a long time for my friend to fall asleep – her sleeping bag was a bit too thin, as was her mattress. Eventually, she got the survival blanket from her bag and wrapped it around her. Nothing carried should go unused, right? I, however, woke up with a sweaty back in the middle of the night. In my moment of utter cowardice, I had put on too many layers before falling asleep and now had to start lowering the temperature inside my bag. I think the two of us combined probably reached the optimal sleeping temperture. Not a perfect consolation, but almost!

When I zipped open the tent in the morning the world was covered in frost. The outside was warmer than I had guessed. We cooked some porridge under the salmon pink skies and watched the double rainbow lose itself in the glistening trees. I had not planned on waking up in Rivendell but I was not going to run away.

It did take us a lot of time to get going. While this was the most glamorous camping spot of my life, it was also the longest time between waking up and hitting the road. I think we got lost in staring at the sky and trying to capture all the changing shades of it. 🙂

But finally, off we went, with the Alltbeithe Youth Hostel (the remotest youth hostel in the mainland UK) as our lunch spot in mind. Once again, the weather rolled over to the sunny side and the going became straightforward. Today we also met the first people on the road! (We had a little bet going on about this.) Apparently, they had had their tent nearly ripped off by the harsh winds of two nights ago – something we had no idea about (they were walking from a different direction).

There was a single small wind turbine standing not too far from the hostel. Seeing an odd man-made object in nature makes me think of eternity every time.

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After a very nice lunch (today we munched on things Kadri had prepared) things started turning boggier. We kept our eyes on the road, trying not to step on the wrong type of green moss. Soon, I found myself walking in the hoofprints of a deer who had probably used a similar bog avoidance system. There are no waymarks in this part of the trail but you can’t really get lost since most of the forkings lead back to the main trail, so the best thing is just to choose the path that offers the driest ground. And check the map if you feel like your gut and mind are starting to argue.

After all the delightfully winding paths, the Camban bothy came into view. But only after both of us had started seeing mirage houses in the highlands! I know there are records of legendary optical illusions which people see in the deserts, but nothing on the granite stacks making themselves seen as houses, right? I’m pretty certain it is a common occurrence among people with weary legs, and only needs to be researched and written down into a book.

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Aaaand – there was no one else in the bothy! Reading through the logbook we soon came to a realisation that what we were walking in, were probably the only three consecutive non-rainy days of this autumn. And that we had both been talking to the weather gods with the same favour in mind: if you give us dry days at first, we can take anything you show us on the last one. * gulping sounds *

Fair enough, though, Kadri’s boots were properly soaked by now, and there was not enough coal to light a fire, so we did what any normal person would do: a slightly adjusted re-enactment of Bruce Robinson’s Withnail and I. There are few things some plastic bags and foot warming pads can not solve!

Day 4, October 31. From Camban bothy to Morvich: 16.76 km

So! The Camban bothy kind of has a double roof at places, creating a wind tunnel that magnifies some of the sounds. I woke up only once but was then certain that we would be stuck in this bothy for a long time, hiding from the storm. A creepy start to the morning of All Hallows’ Eve, for sure!

But the entire All Hallows’sinister vibe flew out of the door the moment I opened it. Because there was barely a drizzle and absolutely no wind outside! I don’t know about the sound mechanics of the bothy’s roof but it sure does fill your dreams and your reality with some special layers of imagination.

We had our porridge when sitting at a table, this time browsing through the bothy logbook, and me reading Robert MacFarlarne’s The Wild Place. There is valid geeky peace in reading books in locationally suitable settings.

The packing, of course, went quicker indoors, and we were soon on our way. The weather gods had indeed heard us. But at least they had not taken us too seriously. Our last day of AKW was a day of soft, drizzly rain, with a bit of real rain at the very very end of it, when buildings were already in sight. (Eewh, that strange feeling!)

The drizzly rain accompanied us when we crossed all the tiny mountain rivers and walked on the mountainsides covered in fast-moving clouds. These are the night-time dreams of my teenage years, so time gets blown open every time I walk in the clouds. And then there is the feeling of freedom – feeling hunger and contentment at the same time. I think this is my definition.

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The drizzle traveled along with me when I had to climb 20 – 30 meters up hill to find a single crossing point for an especially wide mountain river. Of course, I could see it from afar but did not start planning much before reaching it. I think what nature (and yoga, funnily enough :)) have taught me, is to deal with the things/obstacles/issues when I get to them, and not worry about them too much beforehand. It is not a professional attitude yet, but it seems to be expanding, yay!

The narrow path next to Allt Grannda waterfall finally made me realise that looking at intensely vertical waterfalls from above and below is now definitely pulling me into a vertigo-like state. Especially when that bubbling water comes into your view quite suddenly. So, just to get a picture of the whisky-coloured cauldron, I had to drop my rucksack against the mountainside and press myself very strongly against the mountain as well, and only then reach for the camera.

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Everything changes in seconds in the mountains. The clouds, the wind, the light. For a second, I saw a row of bunnies chasing after each other in high spirits. Silly me! That was just a frothy and bouncy stream with tiny white waves jumping out. Soon afterwards, an actual heron did glide above the River Croe just before the Glenlicht House, so I counted my wildlife spotting a success. The porch of the Glenlicht House provided a lovely spot for lunch, but also notified us of the journey coming to an end. I did not know of the Five Sisters of Kintail yet. Nor that they have beautiful ridge walks on top… This day made me promise that I would return to Glen Shiel.

The last part of the Affric Kintail Way meanders between the striking towers that are the Five Sisters of Kintail. They feel like some oddly powerful children of the mountains of Glen Coe and the Liatach of the Torridon Hills. They are munros, officially, but they send you back towards civilisation in the most awe-inspiring manner.

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So, if I were to write a 4-day hike description about the AKW, it would go as follows:

– Day 1 – stuff looks nice

– Day 2 – everything is getting nicer

– Day 3 – things are getting really beautiful

– Day 4 – omfg, omfg, omfg, omfg

On the last night we slept under a (high and real) roof. Hazel (at Ruarach Guest House) gave us whisky and cake, and a lift to a bus stop in the following morning. The people you meet, eh?

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“Our years hold the times where all and everywhere is always beautiful”, I wrote then turning 30. I don’t know whether it was the release of the inner hippie, but that is time where the most maginificent times of my life started. Even if they mean drinking peat water.

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A glimpse into the vastness of the Tien Shan mountain system, Uzbekistan

So… It happened! Nic and I traveled to Uzbekistan with Adventure Clinic (#Seikluskliinik), and slept on windless mountain plateaus, escaped poisonous snakes, walked in wolf paw prints, woke up to donkeys braying in the night, trekked in the mountains for 5 days, wandered in the great cities of the Silk Road touched by Tamerlane and Genghis Khan, snuck into crumbling mosques, witnessed wild date trees shedding their sun-yellow leaves, saw colours that I did not think possible, and ate tomatoes that were inherently life-affirming. Not to mention the plov. Yup! Kind of exactly as amazing as it sounds!

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There were tiles that were more turquoise than the dreams I carry under my heart, and some giant birch trees growing together with the cypress trees. There was a young mountain guide who should have listened to an older one; there were moments when we had no gear for the night with the sun starting to set and no one having a real idea as to were our donkeys were. There were men up in high walnut trees gathering their early autumn treasures, and horses transported in the blue, open kamaz trucks. I felt nostalgy for the first time in my life (which means I am getting old) – for can openers and cars no one in my family ever had.

There was the 5-day-trek in the Ugam-Chatkal National Park, with Greater Chimgan often in the view. It was also the mountain that our older guide used for navigation to get us into our camp before the nightfall. We (almost) touched 3000 m in altitude, and did touch some petroglyphs on our way down. (Or was it up? Sometimes you can’t tell these things very well on the long road.)

We slept, but rather rough, for the mattresses being thin. But there were mattresses and dinner tents and vodka and local wine and fresh water and no rain. And there was peace. It always finds you in the mountains despite whether you are tired, travelling with strangers, or just very far away in your own small thoughts. It always finds you. And that for me, is a reason enough for getting out of my comfort zone.

PS. It does help to not immediately fly home. It helps when you see the cities of the Silk Road coming up on the road in front you, almost making you feel like you are entering Middle-Earth because the layer of legends is so vast and heavy.  It helps to see symbols of strength, love, and patience. Step by step, we shall go through this dark season.

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Finished walking the Lea Valley Way!

Lea Valley Way is the 50-mile long-distance walking route following the River Lea from its birth spring in the suburbs of Luton to the Thames near Limehouse.

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Originally, I planned on finishing the walk in 4 consecutive days in July 2015, but as life would have it, I finished it in September 2017. : )

Chronologically, the walking went like this:

Lea Valley Walk, Stage 1 / 17.07.2015 / ~ 36 km; read about that stupidly lucky walk here

Lea Valley Walk, Stage 2 / 16.04.2016 / 25.9 km; the unfinished attempt for Stage 2 is documented in this post

Lea Valley Walk, Stage 2 / 07.09.2017 / 22.6 km — THE REAL FINISH DAY —

Lea Valley Walk, Stage 3 / 19.07.2015 / 23 km

Lea Valley Walk, Stage 4 / 26.09.2016 / 7.9 km

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Practically, the walking went like this:

  • You think it will be easy-peasy and everything will be waymarked, so you won’t take a map or a compass, and will follow your gut feeling. You also wear woolly winter walking socks on a late July day.
  • You reach home after getting stuck at potato fields with your feet bleeding.
  • You go out again, this time with friends, and end up walking next to the canal for such a long tine that some people go home because of boredom.
  • An entire year passes.
  • You are now ready for the two last stages.
  • You head out with two walkers. One of them leaves half way. A mere 2 km from the finishline, you learn that the road have been closed. The road workers give you a lift to a train station in the night.
  • You walk the final stage out of spite in autumn. It is lovely. But the unfinished stage bothers you. Obviously.
  • An entire year passes.
  • You go out with two friends to finish the unfinished journey. When being 2 km from the finishline, you suddenly understand that you took a wrong turn the last time, and could have finished the journey probably already 1.5 years ago. 😀

The lesson learned?

Never ever underestimate a journey. Always take a compass. And don’t forget to carry apples. Also, walk with friends who carry them.

Thank you, Lea Valley Way. You were my first long distance walking path. And the start of many things that have made me happy.

 

Alternative London postcards. Walking the LOOP 3,4,5/24: Harold Wood to Purfleet.

Name: London Outer Orbital Path

Walk: 3-5 of 24

Route: Harold Wood to Upminster Bridge (section 22), Upminster Bridge to Rainham (section 23), Rainham to Purfleet (section 24)

Date & Distance: Tuesday, 05.07.2017; 28.3 K

Fellow walkers: K.

What to expect from this part of LOOP/Essex?

So, woop-woop – 19 sections done out of 24! 🙂 Less than 200 km to go!

I must say that I did not have any expectations when entering this part of the LOOP, but oh, did it never stop to surprise us. What to expect of the sections 22-24 of the LOOP, then?

  • All sorts of very specific or motivating signs.
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The first item in the list to follow mentioned “appropriate clothing”
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Sometimes all you need for that motivation is a hole in the right fence.
  • Signs of fairy life
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Who lives here?
  • Pets less common.
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Yup, that’s a goat all right.
  • That unmistakable feel of childhood (cross-overs from marshes to industrial zones)
  • Art that looks like something out of Dr Who

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So far, my definite favourite part of the LOOP. Let’s see what the rest of the 19 sections bring!

New river. Old course. Walking the LOOP, 2/24: Cockfosters to Enfield.

Name: London Outer Orbital Path

Walk: 2 of 24

Route: Cockfosters to Enfield Lock (section 17)

Date & Distance: Tuesday, 25.04.2017; 18.2 km

Fellow walkers: K. & M.

The second walk from our series was framed by field edges. (This is not even a pun. Framed by edges… Ah, never mind.) When our first walk was formed by bench and forking path descriptions, then this one was definitely all about following the fields. Which is not bad, you know. I can definitely think of a worst thing than walking next to a field on a cool yet sunny day!

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Section 17 took a bit of time, although it was not very long and did not feel very long either. Once again, we chose the sunniest day of the week and hit the road. Arriving at Cockfosters was strange. Strange in a way reaching a final destination on yet another tube line is. It did not take long for the car parks to end and greener parks to start. Also, it still had not rained in London by that time. It was getting close to 5 weeks.

There was a lot of green happening that day. A lot. Spring is getting properly ready to turn into summer soon. With the blue skies in the background, it was a lot like walking around in alternative versions to Windows’ desktop wallpapers. K. also knows that you can use a word meaning “greener than green” in Turkish in occasions just like this.

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It was a walking day which did not enwrap me (or possibly us three?) in anything impossibly magical, but gave us many small surprises that were sweet in their own everyday way:

  • little fresh oak leaves
  • ivy-smothered forest signs in Enfield
  • cherry blossoms on the grass (up to this point I had only seen them on pavement)
  • the Railway Inn of Enfield that plays opera and smells of old cigarettes
  • two women nailing “Missing: Rooney” posters on trees (Rooney was a parakeet, there was also a photo)
  • the sweetest sign post, saying “New river. (Old course.)”

This one got me thinking. Life, literature and philosophy are brimming with the idea of the opposite: old river, new course. You know, the idea that you can always turn a new page however tired or alienated you have become. There’s also the idea of the opposite of this opposite – old course, new river – meaning that some things get discovered over and over again throughout our lives, in different situations. But new river, old course, exactly in this order, contains something devastatingly romantic, if not even unforgiving. It seems to either hint (in the unforgiving version) that life has certain patterns or ways of influencing us which no one can escape, no matter which century we’re living in – or – that were there has once been life, there will be life again (the romantic version). What I don’t like about this sign, however, is how it seems to rob the one who is living (the new river) from any other options. In a way, it almost makes it not trust itself, without even giving it an option.

And this is also the reason why I finally need to take a month off work for the first time in my life. Because I am so tired that I get offended by forest signs.

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Walking the London LOOP. Walk 1 of 24, Petts Woods to Hayes.

Name: London Outer Orbital Path

Walk: 1 of 24

Route: Petts Woods to Hayes (section 3)

Date & Distance: Tuesday, 11.04.2017; 27.23 km

Fellow walkers: K.

London Loop is a 240-km signed walking route that is created for the incurably curious. In other words, it makes it very easy to walk around London.

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I believe in the magic of streets, paths and roads. A city always feels like home when you know you have many streets to choose from and many ways to get to a location. The trouble finds you when you start running out of streets. I was thinking about this exact thing when looking down from the parapet in Malta’s Mdina: with a tiny squint in your eye, you could almost imagine a slice of Istanbul petting the soft edges of your horizon. But what makes Istanbul Istanbul is the feeling and the knowledge of the Possible. The same pleasant tingling you get before job interviews, exams and first dates. And Malta lacked that feeling. The streets were counted.

K. and I got the idea to walk the London Loop by an accident. I know that in my case, it is a path of solace (among other things) and a path that I slowly start building into my Denali preparations. It keeps me sane when away from the mountains and hanging low in mood. And gives me time to spend with my friends.

The other meaning of the loop

On our first walk already managed to direct us through a tiny trickster point as well. There was a parting of roads and benches whence we choose our itinerary only to end up at the very beginning of the original path at least a kilometer away. I guess this is just one of the meanings for the loop. When retracing our steps we were greeted by an elderly couple at that same trickster point who had also been mislaid from their path (yet coming from the opposite direction).

If I was free to roam forever (and immortal), I’d start mapping all the trickster points in this world. Hopefully, such cartographers are already out there, poking at the crossroads of possibilities.

More lessons from the Lea Valley Way, April style.

 

So, what will actually happen when I finish the Lea Valley Way? Will there be a tiny deluge or will the river itself disappear? (No, no one is suffering from illusions of grandeur in here, no one.)

Lea Valley Way is the 50-mile long-distance walking route following the River Lea from its birth spring in the suburbs of Luton to the Thames near Limehouse.

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It can be pleasantly walked in 4 days or so the Internet says. When I was planning to walk it in one go last summer, there was only one proper description of all stages available online.

I’ve walked the Lea Valle Way:

Lea Valley Walk, Stage 1 / 17.07.2015 / ~ 36 km; read about that stupidly lucky walk here

Lea Valley Walk, Stage 3 / 19.07.2015 / 23 km

Lea Valley Walk, Stage 4 / 26.09.2016/ 7.9k km

– And on 16.04. 2016, S-L, G and I set out to do the Lea Valley Walk, Stage 2 (25.9 km)

Stage 2 of the walk stretches from Hatfield to Broxbourne. By all accounts it should be pleasantly doable in one day, during the warmest sunlight hours. “I can’t believe I’m finally finishing it today!” I told my lover, my friends and my housemates when leaving for that last stretch that Saturday morning.

The first half of the walk was cloudy, but after leaving Hatfield behind and lunching in Hertford, the skies lit up and our step got faster. (Sadly, G actually had to go home, since his foot had managed to seriously convince him it was too exhausting to move.) I also witnessed my goldenest golden hour during this stage of the walk. Everything was going brilliantly.

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Lea Valley Walk, from Hatfield to Broxbourne. Hertfordshire, England, April 2016.

We continued on, following the lovely water. The darkness had long-ago fallen when S-L and I reached Dobb’s Weir – a location separated from the Broxbourne train station by a few kilometers. Finishing the Lea Valley Way was going to happen tonight. Suddenly, all the tiredness was gone from my legs as we started to cross the canal (the river has been directed into a canal around those parts already), I could clearly imagine reaching the station within the next half an hour and… and… and… The road was closed. Blocked (even cordoned off, maybe?; can disappointment also create false memories?) off by a large road works sign. Somewhere not far off in the darkness we saw the orange working lights of the industrial vehicle. But. Not all was lost yet!

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I dashed off to talk to a security man. And yes, all types of roads were closed. However, he directed us to a path in the forest which would take us straight to Broxbourne train station. So we entered the dark forest-like area with the help from the flashlights on our dying phones. We walked to the railway (“When you’ve reached the railway, you’ve gone too far,” the man had also said). Upon then retracing our steps we found the path. Also to be blocked off.

And we decided to call an end to our day.

I asked for local cab numbers but the security van gave us a lift to the train station. (Reminder to self! Always carry chocolate around to give to nice people!)

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I still have roughly 3 km to finish, which I will do at some point this year. How else can I ever say that I’ve followed an entire river, right?

Lessons learned:

1) Never underestimate a journey;

2) If destination becomes a goal the journey will lose a bit of its magic;

3) Passing a race track in the dark makes you feel like a character in a James Bond movie;

4) Trips can be undertaken that take you to a beginning of a journey which itself is actually shorter than the trip to get there. (Which part of the journey is the real journey? she asks in an ominous voice.)

My dear and much-esteemed last kilometers of the Lea Valley Way,  I’m coming to find you in 2016.

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