On turning 35 in Snowdonia National Park, Wales

I’m 35 now. To celebrate the arrival of this strangely angular number, I travelled to Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. I took my lover and my four amazing friends with me. Everything else we needed was already there.

Apparently, this location is the wettest place in the United Kingdom. Which did not throw us off our track to walk up the path to Moel Siabod. Up to a point, I mean. We had to turn around before the summit scramble because the winds were getting too stubborn. And we were getting too wet. But the mountain lake was unforgettable in its grim wavyness. And we imagined dragons looking over us. It is easy to see the legends coming to life in here.

By next day, a group of us joined our mountaineering instructor Huw Gilbert from Expeditionguide, and we drove to Ogwen Valley to do a grade 1 scramble up the Seniors Gully on Cwm Idal. Afterwards, we found a fairy glen, more amazing mountain scenery, a man-made canyon, and I ventured on a grade III scramble (the Tryfan Bach approach on Little Tryfan) in the nearby mountainhood.

It all ended in a little church in a little village. No one got married. But nearly everyone got really soaked again. This time in a hot tub. There’s nothing like a hot tub with autumn rains and mountain views, by the way. I forgot about my angular new number, and just soaked in all the rain, the mountain paths, the cliff walls, the rainbows and the wine, and the absolute bestest people to head into the unknown with. (Not all of them pictured. <3)

 

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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.

 

How the summer ended in Cornwall

The last weekend of August was one of those super warm ones. Hottest in a decade or in a hundred years or since the temperature recordings began in the UK. And that’s when I spent my 3 days in Cornwall.

It was a strange weekend. The land itself was ripped out of time and space. The rocky ground was very different from the luscious Newquay region I had visitied some years ago. The turquise of the ocean was a surprise to me once again. The vertigo-inducing holes in the coastal cliffs were magnificent and scary. Here was summer that lasted when the rest of the world was going to hell.

There was a Guinness World Records book attempt for most pirates in one area. There was a white caravan from the 1970s where the bed was surprsingly soft. There were cows on the hills, and cows standing against the flaming evening horizon, their black silhouettes giving them the feel of artistic cardboard cut-outs.

I saw a friend whom I had not seen in two years. The cancer she has is so rare that nothing can be done to hinder its growth. But there are some things that matter. The conversations, the I-can-still-hide-the-pain-almost smiles, and the sweet dreams for next visits. Actually, it is the taking each day as it comes approach that seems to work best. Even if you have to rip those days out of their surroundings, to make them less horrible.

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The next day I walked on the South West Coast Path. The National Coastwatch’s “Eyes along the coast” magazine reported a local incident. They had copied the article to the wall of their bunker on the cliffs:

“A passer-by reported to our watchkeeper that a couple were having a very serious domestic close by, near the cliff edge. Naturally, the edge of any cliff is not the place to have animated discussions since heat-of-the-moment actions can have much more serious consequences than if they occur – for example – in your local High Street! Our watchkeeper kept a close eye on the situation in case help needed to be summoned but, thankfully […], after 20 minutes or so, it degenerated into a “Your Dinner is in the Cat”-type scenario, with one party storming off to the car park, followed, after a few minutes, by their partner.”

I just hope this autumn will be a peaceful one.

London’s most industrial walk

August is ending.  Summer is ending.  New jobs are starting. Sounds like a perfect reason to walk from Rainham to Purfleet.

If I offered walking tours in all possible genres, I’d be crafting itineraries for London’s most industrial walks this week. Rainham to Purfleet is one of those little magical ways which perfectly combines the exploratory feel of your childhood with the quiet epicness of your 20s. But even more importantly, it really opens up an alternative route for flâneuring in London, giving you a chance to walk past pallet factories, odd black cats, concrete barges, soft mud rivershores and even Europe’s first wind turbine park. Not to mention the apocalyptic Rainham Marshes with the grazing cows and Eurostar trains speeding away in the background, through the pylon forests.

5 summer memories of the Polish High Tatra mountains

Growing up in Estonia during the Soviet Union and in the time that followed its demise, one would hear three mountain ranges mentioned the most: the Caucasus mountains of Georgia, the High Tatras of Poland/Slovakia and the Pamirs of Central Asia. These were the places the mountaineers could travel the easiest (= at all), and the places with the most glamorous stories. Well, the latter probably depends on your style.

Last summer I went on my first summit expedition to the Caucasus mountains. And last week, I could finally do my first ground testing in the High Tatras of Poland. With some meters of Slovakia included. 🙂

I had no specific expectations of the High Tatras. All I wanted was a ground that slanted upwards, some sun and deeply sigh-worthy views. I got them all. But also more.

  • The mountain lakes

Whenever in the mountains that have lakes, I tend not to fully notice them.  I know, I’m just not a poet. They are beautiful, by all means. But usually form such an integral part of the scenery that my brain does not fully differentiate them from the rest of the space. Not so in the National Park of High Tatras. In here the lakes stand out. They are cold and clear and dark and ominous, and pull you to their shore.

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  • Mountain architecture

I don’t mean the shape of the mountains. I mean the actual human built houses of the Zakopane region. Fair enough. At first everything looked like a well-planted butaforie. But seeing how the architecture had traveled from the past to the present, and how its angles chime to the outlines of the mountainscapes on the horizon, the Zakopane style started making a lot of sense. Apparently, the style is most visible in architecture but it is also recognisable in furniture, something that I did not have a chance to witness during my trip.

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  • The mixed feel of the Alps and the English Lake District region

The first day in the mountains reminded me a lot of the Alps. Relatively speaking, the High Tatras are also young mountains, so they have retained their youthful craginess, pointedness and steepness. It is hard to explain but walking in the mountain valleys or trekking up the mountain paths really conveys the feeling of the landscape being young. (I think this sense and feel is officially called “the lay of the land”.) The High Tatras are actually surprisingly small for their name (and when compared with the altitudes of the Alps) but still give you the sense of a proper ascent when needed.

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The Lakes feeling came from being able to see houses from the ridge. So far, the hills of the Lakes and the High Tatra mountains have been the only summits whence I could catually spot houses and towns. This plays with my head a bit just because I’m not used to having the border of civilisation so close to my climbing routes. A tricky feeling but you can always look away. 🙂

  • Missing Orla Perc

Somehow, the time in mountains was over quicker than I could think. This meant that I could not trek the Orla Perc trail, one the most interesting and awe-inspiring trails on the Polish side of the mountains. Without knowing what I was looking at, I was actually drooling over the beginning of the trail one day but the time was too late in the day for going forward. The stories and the pictures of this trail are actually so sweet that I would consider returning to the Tatras just for that and for some other trails.

  • Somersaults for the imagination

Although the High Tatras reminded me of many places and mountainscapes, they were also very new to my eye in their entirety. This does not mean, however, that I stopped the game of “This could be…”. I think the words Alaska and Arctic Sweden came to my mind most often.

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“The Boudicca Walk” of Epping Forest that never happened

Planned: The Boudicca Walk in Epping Forest, London/Essex

Walkers: E,E,N,L

Date & Distance: Saturday, 22.07.2017; 17.3K

The thing is that sometimes you get a completely another walk than you were planning for. You might read about a route with interesting historical connections (such as Queen Boudicca fighting the Romans), you might download a new and an interesting app, but when you can’t find the beginning of the trail for three times in a row, and then lose the first half of the trail another three times, it is time to accept the fact that it is not going to be one of those walks. Even when your friend has the patience to help you out with your lousy city map reading skills.

Yet!

This is how we ended up following random arrows and feeling – at least on my part – completely back in childhood again. This is one of the things I don’t like about these last decades – it feels like too many things have deadlines, or are recordable and trackable, dulling our sense for innate wanderlust.

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Towards the mirabelle tree.

Happy to lose the trail

Thanks to the moody weather and the trail that had no descriptions online, we actually ended up having a lovely walk through the part of the Epping Forest I had not fully explored yet. For example, a part that looked like a scene from The Predator.

We found a swing that swung you above the forest river and an effingly rich mirabelle tree which we properly foraged thanks to L’s backpack throwing skills. We saw a forest grove that looked like it belonged to a time without humans. And we found a pub with nice food and a coffee place with even nicer coffee. Who we did not find was Harris, the hawk, who had gone missing somewhere in the area (there were posters).

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England or Predator?

Next evening

I remember the next evening as well. There was a smell of freedom in the air. I went to a park close to my home just to smell it. The smell of “I have no responsibilities”. Sometimes, but only sometimes, it smells so so sweet. Even when you’ve just ran out, thinking how really, trully summers really are the most melancholy seasons.

But my home park was kind to me. I discovered/created a new game you can play totally alone. It helps when there are no kissing teenagers around, thinking god knows what of you.

So.

If you near anywhere swampy, you can start mapping out the zones of differently cool air that lingers around the area. I have experienced this twice, when growing up and now (still growing up) – the walls of cold air guiding you into invisible labyrinths. Now, how to build new type of walking experiences around invisible air walls… That’s a task for some other season.

HIKING SCOTLAND AND THE WORLD. DIARY & TIPS.