The Capital Ring Day 2 – trains, planes and automobiles

Leaving my overnight B&B just before 7am I headed back to the Capital Ring route at the point I left it yesterday, on North Park. The target for today was Finsbury Park in Haringey, 25 miles away and a doddle after the 35 miles yesterday. Despite that I had left early to allow a more leisurely pace.

My wet gear hadn’t dried so my new shorts and other spare clothes were pressed into service. The wet stuff was tightly wrapped in a plastic bag at the bottom of my bag. The weather forecast for today was good – no actual sunshine but no rain either.  I’d had a light breakfast, had no injuries and no hangover so I could risk a broad grin as I set off east. Quite appropriate given Eltham was the birthplace of the great comedian Bob Hope. This might not be the Road to Utopia which Bob strode with Bing Crosby in 1946, but I could see it from here.

Putting nostalgia aside I set about the pavement work. There wasn’t much to note for the first hour except a small and seemingly unremarkable brick structure in the vicinity of Holy Trinity Church, known as Conduit Head. A very helpful notice nearby said it was part of the water supply system for Eltham Palace. It had probably been built in the early 1500’s by Henry VII when the palace was still a royal residence. I had passed Eltham Palace yesterday but for reasons you now understand I didn’t stop and couldn’t take a photograph.


After that, Avery Hill Park proved to be a well-signed open park and once more the squirrels were around. I followed the route through the almost adjoining Eltham Park South before dodging commuter traffic as I crossed the thoughtfully named Rochester Way Relief Road, otherwise known as the A2. Safely on the northern side of the road I made my way through a series of wooded areas and meadows. This section of the walk, through or close to Falconwood, Shooters Hill, Charlton and Woolwich en route to the River Thames crossing, was among the most green so far. First were the Oxleas Woodlands comprising several individually-named woods or parks, including Eltham Park North. The Oxleas Woodlands, some of which are more than 8000 years only, contain some of the last remaining ancient woodland in London. Eltham Park North gave a wonderful view to the City between the trees across quiet green open space, and a helpful infographic…


… and it also also had a little lake, called Long Pond, which was home to several Canada geese and their goslings.IMG_5088.jpg

The Oxleas Wood Cafe was open and doing brisk business with the early dog walkers of which there were many and it commanded a fine view of the downs to the south. With blue sky and only a light breeze today was a significant improvement on yesterday.IMG_5093.jpgSkirting the Interserv Within Memorial Hospital via Jack Wood, Castle Wood and Eltham Common brought me to Shooters Hill at its junction with Academy Road. There was an ambulance on the junction and 2 motorcycles were riderless nearby. I expected their occupants were already on board and would soon be heading to the mercifully close Memorial hospital or maybe to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital also nearby.

Off Academy Road were more green spaces in succession: Woolwich Common, Hornfair Park and Charlton Park, all beautiful and fresh in the early sunshine. Emerging from Charlton Park I heard the sound of horses hooves on the road getting louder. This was a real treat. I don’t know whether they were simply exercising, or preparing their mounts for a ceremony but 20 or so uniformed soldiers, men and women were approaching along Charlton Park Road mounted on the most sleek and beautiful horses I have ever seen. Each rider was also leading one or two other unsaddled horses and I would estimate there to have been at least 40 of them and they were as magnificent as they were haughty and dignified. With a tingle down my spine I recognised the insignia on the riders’ uniforms as Royal Artillery. Putting two and two together I realised these were the mounts of the the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery heading for their barracks in Woolwich, perhaps to take part in a significant ceremonial event later in the day. The King’s Troop are Her Majesty’s Mounted Ceremonial Battery and all its soldiers are trained to care for and drive teams of six horses pulling each of six First World War-era 13-pounder field guns used today to fire salutes on state occasions.IMG_5098.jpg

It was still only around 9:30 and I was making good progress. Once The Troop had passed I crossed the road north into Maryon Wilson Park, the last green space anticipated before reaching the Thames. Maryon Wilson Park, previously known as Hanging Wood,  was donated to the public by the Maryon-Wilson family in 1924. It was beautifully landscaped with well-signed routes, neat pathways and plenty of greenery. In addition to this it has an animal park with ducks, geese, pigs, goats, goats, peacocks, ponies that give rides to children, and a small herd of Fallow Deer too that are the decendents of those donated almost a century ago. The park is free and open 24/7. What a joy!


After the peace of that park and the neighbouring Maryon Park it was back to pavements and traffic and noise. Espying the hoods of the Thames Barrier between warehouses and other commercial buildings I was directed to the east along main and minor roads to King Henry’s Wharf; a private housing development which nonetheless allows access to the river and the path.


From here I could look back to the west. Three of the barrier’s hoods could be seen on the left with the high-rise of Canary Wharf beyond. I thought of my friends and colleagues hard at work over there, then turned to the east and walked on. To my left, over the river, was the huge Tate & Lyle complex, while ahead were new developments and the Woolwich Free Ferry plying its trade. Between these a yacht under motor chugged by, its white hull and elegant lines a contrast to its immediate surroundings.

Noting from a nearby sign, and not without a slight regret that I would shortly leave it, that the Thames Path would continue for 10 miles, my gaze turned to the cannons. Just ahead was a two-cannon gun battery built in 1847. Each massive gun was mounted on a track to enable rapid re-aiming should Tate & Lyle prove not to be a significant national threat after all.


Further along the river, past where the Dame Vera Lynn was ferrying all traffic across the river for free I came to the Woolwich foot tunnel. Built well over a hundred years ago, in 1902, the 400 yard long tunnel is free to use and open 24/7. While lifts are available at both ends, those without buggies and other impediments may use the circular staircase. I counted 100 steps descending the southern shaft and 125 ascending on the north. In between it apparently takes 10 minutes to walk. When I was there it was pretty empty apart from one pedestrian and a couple of cyclists. Had they been going more slowly they may have seen the prominent ‘no cycling’ signs. However, in fairness to the wheeled ones, I see no reason why it shouldn’t be cycled with care. After all, I would have ignored a sign exhorting me to walk slowly. Ten minutes for 400 yards? C’mon!  Thankfully I saw no-one animal fouling, littering, loitering or spitting and those heinous buskers, skaters and skateboarders were absent too. It was just me and the pesky blind cyclists.IMG_5123.jpg


Once topside, at what is nominally the end of the Capital Ring if you start at the beginning (the southern side of the foot tunnel) and walk clockwise to the end (the northern side of the foot tunnel) I was pleased to see the sun still shining and headed eastish. I say east-ish because due to some work being done the footpath was closed. There was no diversion but, now armed with a dry if water-stained map and fully recovered GPS it wasn’t too much of a struggle to find a way into Royal Victoria Gardens by road. This was another delightful little green space which in addition to the customary greenware (trees, bushes and grass) included tennis courts, ‘park gym’ equipment, and children’s play area and paddling pool and even several permanently fixed table tennis tables. This park was the first to have a river view though.

All too soon I was back on the pavement heading towards London City Airport, the proximity of which was becoming clear around every 5 minutes. Before the airport there was still time to enjoy views of there river, including via little slipways like this, the Bargehouse Causeway.

IMG_5137.jpg Then it was time to head back to the pavements. Heading up Barge House Road, traditional old terraced houses (street parking) on the left and newly built terraces  (garden parking) on the right the quietude was rent as a sky blue KLM jet took off almost overhead, presumably destined for Amsterdam. From here I was unable to find the riverside route to the Gallions Reach roundabout. Don’t be confused by the name conjuring visions of tall ships and billowing sails. Gallions Reach is a stretch of the river between Woolwich and Thamesmead, named for the Galyons, a 14th-century family who owned property around here, on both sides of the river. Instead I took the alternative, over the elegantly curved Sir Steve Redgrave bridge which spans 2 massive docks. King George V Dock, home to the Cunard liner RMS Mauretania in 1939, and the Royal Albert Dock, between which is London City Airport. The docks are now empty, I guess due to the security needs of the airport. While I watched from a vantage point on the northern side of Sir Steve’s bridge, 2 British Airways jets landed from the west and, although undoubtedly noisy, the BA jet that took off was an impressive sight, Royal Albert Dock in the foreground of this photo.

IMG_5151.jpg Then I was in for a pleasant surprise. The northern bank of the Royal Albert Dock is home to the University of East London and its colourful white and turquoise accommodation blocks. Beyond these modern buildings are new roads and amenities in the developed areas of Cyprus, Custom House and Beckton, and a sequence of green spaces. The route passes through New Beckton Park and Beckton District Park complete with sizeable lake, and close by King George V Park, all bright and open with space to play, read, walk, learn, exercise and generally try to ignore the occasional airport noise. I was impressed. Even the dumped shopping trolley was green! I include this tongue in cheek. In fact, this was the only dumped trolley I saw and, by and large, these parks were clean and litter free and had a distinctly community feel.


Then I was in for another surprise. You may be sensing a theme that East London, at least the area I saw, was not as expected.

When crossing the A13, called the much more community-oriented Newham Way in this part of town, with noise reducing screens and a cycle path added, I espied a junction signpost headed ‘Beckton Alps’. Investigation revealed that to be the name given to the toxic spoil heap left over from the now-defunct Beckton Gas Works, now the highest point in Newham. Some bright spark decided to memorialise that in the name of the A13/A117 junction. In derision and to make a point, local people call it Beckton Alp (singular). Just after crossing the A13, I saw a sign I just have to share with you as it was on the route and I found it hilarious. I think it needs no explanation…


Anyway, back to the positives. The surprise I alluded to was the Greenway. Only a few yards from where the last picture was taken the Capital Ring joins for around 3 miles, a 6 mile long raised footpath and bike freeway between Beckton and Stratford. Initially known locally as Sewerbank as it followed the top of the embankment of Thames Water’s northern outfall sewer, it was fully renovated in the mid-nineties and recent work has resurfaced and renovated the route with gates, ramps, stairs and signs. Once more I was impressed. There is the inevitable litter along the route, but in fairness, not much and it was sweet wrappers and crisp bags as much as beer cans. Even the limited graffiti was colourful and artistic. 


The community orchard is coming along nicely and runs for several hundred years on the southern side of the Greenway at the Beckton end. The photo below is only a snapshot. There were locally-made signs encouraging a community spirit saying: “Enjoy the space … feel free to pick and harvest crops … but just a little bit … leave plenty for others 😀”. The notice in the picture below advertises a ‘Green Gym’ every Thursday from 11am to 2pm. It offers the opportunity to develop confidence and group skills in a friendly and informal group planting, pruning, maintaining, building, weeding, planning and harvesting. Seeing this I was uplifted as I sped by East Ham, Upton and West Ham and Plaistow.IMG_5167.jpg

One of the best things about being on an elevated path is uninterrupted views. Those across the rooftops of East London were fascinating, while those to Canary Wharf in the south were stunning and the evidence of many parks and playgrounds were there to see. Although the view of ‘Waterworks River’ at low ebb was unedifying…


… the palatial and elegant Abbey Mills Pumping Station was a beauty.


On Stratford High Street, which the Greenway, and the Capital Ring, crosses a few hundred yards after the pumping station, the Greenway normally continues directly across the road. At the moment there are works afoot which forces a diversion. This was made clear on the excellent TFL Capital Ring website but I could see no diversion or sign indicating the alternative route on site. All I could see was this, blocking the route. The bugs and butterflies were cute but no help if you hadn’t checked beforehand.


However, I had checked so disappeared down the road and through an industrial site, by the Pudding Mill Lane DLR station. I reappeared up the bank onto the route to be faced with the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, especially the magnificent ArcelorMittal Orbit (the big red helter skelter) and the London Stadium, now the home of West Ham FC.


From the olympic park it was a few strides on the Greenway to my turn-off point, onto the River Lea at Hackney Wick by the Old Ford Lock. Talk about different. In a few yards (ok a hundred or so) I had gone from the openness and modernity of the olympic park to an eclectic canal-side scene and community. Anyone familiar with breakfast TV may have recognised the Lock Keeper’s Cottage as the setting for the Big Breakfast Show until it ended in 2002. For the first few hundred yards the right and bank was lined with a varied collection of river craft, some neat and some less so, while the other bank was more commercial.


Further on, with the Hackney Marshes on the right, warehouses were more in evidence on the left and there were fewer craft.IMG_5192.jpg

Further still the character turned more colourful and bohemian. I snapped a quick photo and didn’t linger.


Eventually the scene returned to that of any canal in the country. A meandering waterway with occasional moored craft and various styles of buildings periodically looking on. There were occasional waterside pubs offering food and drink but, amazingly, I resisted suspecting that getting up again would be tougher than sitting down.

Where the modern world was less intrusive I saw a cormorant dive into the water and emerge with a fish, position it correctly while it was still thrashing, then eat it in a single gulp. In the same area a squadron of swallows were diving and weaving for flying insects, possibly dragonflies as these were abundant. I tried to get photos but the cormorant and the swallows were too quick. Instead I snapped a pair of swans with their cygnets.


At the Horse Shoe Bridge my route turned into park and woodland in Stamford Hill’s Springfield Park. The park was typically green and well tended with woodlands and open spaces but also had a great little pond with ducks. You’ve seen enough photos of this type of park so I won’t trouble you with another. But it was a lovely park nonetheless and was being well used this lunchtime.

The subsequent walk through the streets of Stamford Hill was an education. I suspect the area is popular with Hasidic Jews given the preponderance of their traditional clothing and hair style here.

Close to Stoke Newington train station I commenced the final leg for today, via the distinctly gothic and fascinating Abney Park Cemetery. Abney is one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ garden cemeteries of London, being a woodland memorial park and Local Nature Reserve too. As I walked through this wonderland the words ‘don’t blink’ were uppermost in my mind.


Clissold Park followed, and it was fine, but I was feeling a bit ‘parked-out’ for the day. Equally the East and West Reservoirs between Stamford Hill and Finsbury Park were vibrant with little yachts being thrown about by enthusiastic youngsters and canoeists doing their thing. It was all completely wonderful but I think I had just had enough green for one day. These little creatures summed it up for me nicely.

IMG_5229.jpgMy B&B on Green Lanes beckoned. I was ready for a sit down refreshment (beer rather than another draw from the bladder of orange squash in my rucksack), and some food. My bowl of muesli and orange juice in Eltham at 6:30 this morning seemed a long time ago. Actually it wasn’t that long ago as it was still mid-afternoon, but it was 26 miles and over 51,000 steps behind me.

The two-day total is 60 miles and 116,000 steps and I’m beginning to feel them all. But what fun!

If you’ve made it this far thank you so much. Hopefully I’ll see you tomorrow for the final leg.


The Capital Ring. Day 1 – the day of the deluge

Seven twenty three on Monday morning saw me leaving home in a light shower. It got worse.

I had a waterproof in the rucksack but didn’t wear it as it was only a shower. At the last minute I had jettisoned my waterproof trousers as (1) I didn’t think the weather forecast warranted the extra weight, (2) I didn’t really want to do 35 miles with plastic bags on my legs and (3) I’m waterproof. So it was that in trail shoes, shorts, my favourite red trekking t-shirt, a waterproof peaked cap and with Terry towelling wristbands to keep my blood warm at the wrist and keep my Fitbit watch in place I set of for the Dodo in order to leave there at 7:30. My bag contained, all in drybags, a minimalist wash kit, waterproof jacket, fleece, spare t-shirt, handkerchief and underwear, a few folds of loo paper, spare battery and the cables to charge phone, battery and watch, Swiss Army knife, some plasters and antiseptic cream, contact lenses, a bag of trail mix and 2 litres of water. I thought that was fair for a stroll around London even if it was going to rain a bit. I had around 35 miles to cover and assuming an average of 4mph, that start time would see me at the Rusty Bucket, a micropub in Eltham, at it’s 4pm opening time. Passing The Fox at some speed I joined the Capital Ring route on the canal spot on time. It was still drizzling but I generate a lot of heat and my t-shirt remained comfortable. My Rab event breathable waterproof remained in the bag. It’s really very breathable but not completely so and I really didn’t want to wear it as it can get a bit clammy on my skin. I also decided to keep my glasses on rather than wearing contacts on day 1. It’s not tricky underfoot so the varifocal discontinuity wouldn’t be the issue it was in Corsica, and I wanted to be able to read my paper maps and ViewRanger nav aids without having to plonk reading specs on my face every time.

Osterley Lock, the end of Capital Ring Section 7, was passed on schedule at 7:55. Section 7 starts at Richmond if you are walking The Ring clockwise as it is written. I was doing it the other way so would be walking to Richmond, 5 miles distant, with a target time of 9:10. I was walking counter clockwise so I could finish Monday with a beer at Eltham’s Rusty Bucket, as mentioned in the last blog, and as The Dodo is closed on Monday’s it opened an opportunity for others to visit the Rusty Bucket as we had spoken of doing. I explain this only so you get the logic of deliberately walking a route when all the route guidance and instruction are written to in the other direction. You can see in the picture that the canal is being liberally dappled by raindrops. It wasn’t slackening off.

From here the deafening roar of the M4 is normally a blight but today it being Monday morning, traffic was crawling. Annoyance at the noise was instead replaced by distaste of the smell of fumes that cascade down from the flyover unseen. Shortly afterwards the bumperty-bump of the Piccadilly Line tube rattling over the girder bridge returned the customary racket, followed by the truck gears grinding in the waste tip alongside the canal and more noise and fumes from the A4. Such is the serenity (not) of the Grand Union Canal in our neck of the woods.

But at least we have a canal and the swans, coots and moorhens don’t seem to mind. I even saw the stately heron.

After passing Heron’s Reach and a short stretch of the A315 as it delivers commuters into London past Majestic Wines and Pets at Home, I turned into Syon Park. While it’s grounds, rather grandly given it is 12 miles from central London, host the ‘London Hilton’ the park itself is home to a very good garden and aquatics centre and Syon House.

This pile and its 200-acre (80 hectare) park belongs to the Duke of Northumberland and is his family’s London residence. The house was built in the sixteenth century on the site of the Medieval Syon Abbey, and came to the family of the present owners in 1594. On this occasion ignoring the very grand Great Conservatory and Pavilion summer house by the river I pressed on to the bank of the River Thames in Isleworth, on the opposite side of the river to Kew Gardens. Passing the London Apprentice pub, apparently the place to which apprentices were rowed from the city to celebrate the completion of their apprenticeships, this establishment has another historical reference. The pub overlooks Isleworth Stairs, established in the reign of Henry VIII for the Richmond Palace ferry to take him to the north bank of the Thames. It was from here that the Nine Day Queen, Lady Jane Grey, boarded the Royal Barge on 9 July 1553 to accept the throne as Queen of England, only to be imprisoned in the Tower 9 days later.

Moving south through old Isleworth and approaching St Margarets the intensity of the rain ratcheted up a bit. I still didn’t put my waterproof on; it wasn’t that bad and, anyway, I was already fairly damp but it was now very wet underfoot and the city gents en route to the station were all fully mac’d up and wielding infeasibly large brollies. I laughed at them quietly but then crossing the Thames via the footbridge over Richmond lock I discovered a shortcoming in my footwear. First class on dry stuff and wet stuff with some knobbly bits for the tread to grip onto, but not polished steps. Going up the steps to the gantry wasn’t a problem but I slipped down several on the other side. A lady runner was climbing gingerly up as I careened past. Thankfully I had my hand on the rail and disaster was averted. “Wow, that’s a bit slippy” I quipped breezily. “It certainly is – I’ve seen worse slips” she agreed gamely. Note to self – don’t assume these otherwise brilliant Adidas trail shoes will make up for route complacency. That matter was to return with a more undignified outcome.

Still the rain was persisting down. The beggar under the rail bridge took one look as I passed and didn’t even bother to beg. He just nodded, presumably in sympathy as he was at least dry.

Richmond itself looked splendid, the grand riverside buildings now shimmering in the rain as I passed, head down, unsure whether to admire the architecture…

… or pity the coxed eights being blasted down river by their coach in a speedboat.

South of the town and the line of fume vomiting cars queueing by Lansdowne Terrace I moved away from the river into more open ground, noting that even the cows from Petersham Farm had forsaken fresh grass for cover. Were they trying to tell me something?

It was too late now. I was pretty wet but moving fast and keeping warm with the magnificent Richmond Park coming next.

I entered the park by The Dysart and the Petersham pedestrian gate and headed uphill fast with my go-faster poles, smug that the guys running behind me and declaring just a little too gleefully that they should ‘catch the guy walking’, didn’t. Once on the top, the normally stupendous views over London were greyed out, and the herd of 600 or so Red and Fallow Deer were too smart to be out in this weather, but the ducks on the pen ponds were enjoying it.

After leaving via the Robin Hood Gate next to the Stag Lodge stables, crossing the mad A3 and passing the lush playing fields of Kingston University’s Roehampton campus I was straight onto Wimbledon Common. Whether all the squirrels had been flooded out I don’t know but I don’t believe I have ever seen so many squirrels. I tried to take a photo but my iPhone was beginning to play up a bit. My shorts were now wet and so the phone in my pocket was too. My hanky was still only damp but by the time I had dried the phone screen, and realised my finger was too wet to be recognised and tapped in the pass code, the sneaky blighters had scarpered.

Unsurprisingly there were no golfers on the course, only several dozen dog walkers and their charges, and each person was determinedly cheerful. After all, it was only a bit of rain and it wouldn’t last all day would it? Maybe not but The Windmill Tearoom by the car park was doing a brisk trade.

Next up, having been required to do a bit of pavement work and once again, this time on the steeply sloped Somerset Road which I mused should be called Summersgone Road, I actually slipped the length of a metal manhole cover. It was only 2 feet or so but it was another warning. Mercifully I didn’t hit the deck but that would have been seemly in such close proximity to The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, i.e. ‘Wimbledon’, the scene of many a slip up in the past as top seeds were upended.

Nonetheless within 10 minutes walk I was in Wimbledon Park. While the grounds are extensive and well maintained it was the lake that drew my eye. There were several sailers under instruction, several boats full of schoolchildren, boys and girls, having a whale of a time playing some kind of floating murder-ball, and sitting above it all was a swan and her cygnets.

Then I stumbled upon the Waterfall Garden designed, as was the rest of the park, by Capability Brown.

Things went a bit downhill after this. Previously, as you have now read, it was park after park but now there was a lot of road work. That doesn’t make it bad or boring, rather I had been spoiled ever since Osterley Lock.

Nevertheless in amongst the pavements I found the magnificent and very large Wandsworth Cemetery (in Earlsfield), Wandsworth Common and Tooting Bec Common. Regrettably in the middle of these was Wandsworth Prison and Balham.

The parks were extensive and beautiful, even in the rain. Unfortunately I was hardly able to take photos any more as my camera phone was too wet. I was even having to wring out my hanky before wiping the screen and I had nothing with which to dry my hands even on the few occasions I got the phone to wake up. I do have this one though, of 2 happy ducks on the pond in Wandsworth Common.

That’s it i’m afraid. There are no more photos. I was half way with around 16 miles done and 16 more to do. At my speed that’s about 4 hours. You’ll just need to imagine the next bit.

As I was approaching Streatham Common the heavens opened. I was soaked through. Even more than I was before. People around me were running for cover but there was none, other than trees, and there was a rumble or two of thunder! There was nothing I could do but try to make progress. It still wasn’t cold and I couldn’t get any wetter. My paper map was sodden and unreadable. The phone was unusable and, I knew, very low on battery. Then towards the top of the common on the road to my right, a Godsend appeared. At the top end of Streatham Common South Rd., just past Covington Way on the right: The Rookery Cafe. It was quite full of course but I found a small table among some odd looks, me being in a t-shirt and shorts. I just dropped into the floor and had a black coffee and a chocolate cookie. Eventually I switched on and used the napkin to dry my phone and to my joy found the spare battery was still dry in my rucksack so plugged in in to try to breathe life into the phone. I figured I’d better have another coffee to eke out my time. I really wanted to wear my contact lenses instead of glasses as they were rain spattered and constantly steaming up but I would have to use the readers so I would be no better off and with worse vision. So, tempted though I was to stay longer I had a deadline to keep and I don’t give up easy.

After 30 minutes and with a bit of power in the phone (crazily I hadn’t thought to plug it into a socket!) I put my bag on my back, my wet hat on my head, and walked out into the deluge.

I was now 30 minutes behind schedule, feeling a bit chilly but ok, with no reliable navigation aids, reliant entirely on the Capital Ring waymarking, some of which were hard to see being green among trees and bushes and being viewed through wet and steamed glasses. Some I had seen to have been tampered with. You know, for a laugh. I’d had to check and correct them on a map.

But it was that or go home. This was now a personal challenge!

So I ran. No uphill but all the downhills and much of the flat. I ran to keep warm and to make up time, and to make up for the inevitable route errors I would make. I ran to keep my spirits up, to be doing something positive. Something other than shivering on bus fretting that I was letting people down.

I was already towards the top of Streatham Common so I ran down to Norwood Common. I got lost in Biggin Wood but had just enough print on the map to see roughy where the route went so I returned to Norbury Hill and picked up the route again on Beulah Hill. The signing was good through the rest of Norwood so I was able to follow. The running was going well too. Last weekend in the Lake District I had seen a fell runner running with poles and I copied his style. It’s fine as long as you have very lightweight poles, which I do. The worst thing was the additional effort of running was making my specs steam up. Well, at least I was warm.

Crystal Palace started badly, got better, then I came a cropper. I found the football stadium ok as it was hard to miss, but then I couldn’t find where to go after. The paper map was useless in that area and I went a long way out of my way before realising and going back to the stadium. Luckily there was a bridge under which there was some litter rubbish, including some tissue. Don’t ask! But at least it had dried and I was able to dry the phone and a finger to stab it with. Result! I now knew where to go and found the lost route. It was a mapping inconsistency. The paper map, though sodden, showed the route clockwise round the studio while the ViewRanger route went the other way. I still don’t know which was right but I knew where to end up, straight down the Grand Centre Walk. It was mostly downhill and I was on a roll. I played the same trick with discarded tissue at the railway bridge by Penge West station. Over the road and down the hill; second left. But before I got to the second left I slipped on a metal manhole cover and went down. Thankfully my foot slipped forward so I went down on my back, which was protected by the rucksack. No harm was done and, although the rain had eased a little, the streets were still quiet. So, jump up and go on. Carefully!

Then came Sydenham and New Beckenham. Both were ok with good signage. But it went horrible in Beckenham. Firstly I followed Capital Ring sign to Beckenham junction station. It was a valid sign if you were ending the walk at Beckenham and needed the train or tram station. It indicated right at the top of Stumps Hill Lane and I followed it all the way. That was a kilometre in the wrong direction. My route was left at the top of Stumps Hill Lane. It took me quite a few minutes to work out what I’d done wrong. All I knew was that the signs stopped at Beckenham Junction. I tried desperately to get some life from the phone, constantly drying it as best I could and trying to dry my finger in the underside of the rucksack strap. Then I got lucky. For some reason the phone worked and I was able to tap in the code. All became clear and I tried to memorise as much of the next few moves as possible then ran back to where the error had occurred. Just beyond that I turned into Beckenham Place Park and things went wrong again.

There were some works being done on the roads around Beckenham Place Mansion and to my horror I espied this. I know I said there were no more photos but I saved this blurry treat which somehow I managed to take. There I was, with no maps worth looking at, a phone that would only work fleetingly if dry and I had nothing dry to use other than my spare clothes, and trying to see through smeared and steamed-up glasses. I was totally reliant on signage, and to my right, this is what I saw:

Some selfish imbecile had thrown the sign on the ground. I could have cried. I tried the phone again but it was dead. Then I played my last card and got lucky. I remembered from the snatched view in Beckenham that the route was complex through the park but it emerged on a road to the north east. Maybe if I went back to the road, turned right down the hill and went over the railway line, then took the first decent right turn and kept going maybe I would bisect the route at a signed junction. If I didn’t find it the game was over. But it was there. I was speechless and very relieved.

And that was the last problem I had. There were still several miles to go but the rain was less torrential and the signage was good. The route through Downham Woodland was good and even though it was uphill I kept running. From joy probably. Grove Park was also easy to follow and that was the end of the section. All I had to cover now was 2 miles or so through Mottingham and Eltham Palace.

I checked the phone and it kindly told me the time. To my astonishment it was 3:15 and I was ahead of schedule. I had 45 minutes to do 2 miles.

I arrived at Eltham’s Court Road at 3:45 and decided to do some of tomorrow’s route today. I didn’t want to be sitting on the Rusty Bucket’s doorstep dripping so I went along North Park and turned left into Passey Place and followed it to Eltham High Street. In front of me, slightly to the right was Marks and Spencer’s and it was 9 minutes to 4.

You can guess the rest. I knew exactly what I needed. Dry shorts. I had everything else in my bag, but there were no shorts.

Five minutes later I had them in the bag, much to the amusement of the shop assistant who suggested I put them on there and then. But I had a deadline to meet.

It was off at the trot, down the High Street to Court Yard, turn left and go past Wetherspoons to the Rusty Bucket.

I practically fell through the door at exactly, and I mean exactly, 4pm.

That was quite an adventure. From inside my soggy shoes it was an epic. I couldn’t recommend it. But I’m so glad it happened and that you came with me.

Oh, you want to know about the evening?

Well dear Lucy, proprietor of our beloved Dodo had travelled nearly 2 hours to get to the Rusty Bucket and have a drink or two with me but far more importantly with Rachel and Stuart, co-proprietors of the Rusty Bucket. Presumably through some 6th sense Lucy arrived about 4:05 which gave me time to change and we proceeded to sample some fine ales in cask, keg and bottle. We laughed a great deal with Rachel and Stuart, bought some t-shirts, met 2 chaps who are in the final throes of buying a micropub and among others were were entertained by a lady who writes satirical material for the BBC. She asked us for inspiration but the best we could manage was irony, which apparently isn’t quite the same. I guess that’s why she works for the BBC and I write a blog.

After a while I was getting a bit worried that my B&B owner would be concerned that I hadn’t shown up when I said I would and it was now after 7pm. I was just drafting a grovelingly apologetic email with a promise to be there soon when he phoned me. He was very sorry but he had to go out for a while. He asked me if I would mind delaying my arrival until after 9:15. Result!

After a good start and end but a distinctly wobbly middle, Day 1 on the Capital Ring turned out all right didn’t it?

A circumnavigation of London – the Capital Ringz

The Capital Ring is a signposted circular walk of 78 miles (126km) around London. Divided into 15 ‘easy-to-walk’ sections it traverses some of London’s finest scenery, including open spaces, fine scenery, nature reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest as well as urban areas. The graphic below, courtesy of Transport for London’s very helpful and informative website, gives the general idea.


Over two and a half days commencing Monday 10th June I will walk the Capital Ring, counter clockwise, starting and finishing at The Dodo Micropub in Hanwell. The Dodo is close to Section 7 of the walk and while it won’t be open when I start, at 7:30 Monday morning, it will be open when I return around 13:30 Wednesday and I can’t think of a more fitting place to finish my walk. The Dodo’s fine ales and one of Mr Barrick’s legendary pork pies will encourage a timely return.

On Monday I will walk over 30 miles from The Dodo in Hanwell to The Rusty Bucket in Eltham. Why? Because many months ago I met Rachel, now co-proprietor of this wonderful micropub, in The Dodo when she popped in for a chat and left inspired. Those of us who met her said we would visit once the Rusty Bucket was up and running. And it’s time we did. I plan to be there at opening time at 4pm having left The Dodo at 7:30. This day will see me walk through or around Brentford, Richmond Park, Wimbledon Common, Wandsworth Common, Streatham Park, Norwood, Beckenham and Crystal Palace to Eltham.

On Tuesday I will walk from Eltham via Falconwood, the Woolwich Foot Tunnel, London City Airport, the Olympic Park, Hackney and the River Lea to Finsbury Park and on Wednesday I will start early, around 7am, in order to enjoy an ale and pork pie at the Dodo, all things being equal, by around 1:30. My route in the final day will be via Highgate, East Finchley, Hendon, Harrow and Greenford.

Should anyone want to join me for a section or two on my fairly sprightly trip around some of London’s finest scenery please let me know and I’ll share the section timings. Or maybe you fancy a visit to The Rusty Bucket? Otherwise I hope you will enjoy the blog which will aim to take you with me in words and pictures.

The 4th and final day: from Invergarry to Fort William

Breakfast of poached haddock seemed an appropriate start to a day by the waterside. Sounds good doesn’t it? No heights today and no high/low route options. Just 25 (or so) miles of canal/lochside stroll to Fort William.

The first 3 miles was a retracing of my steps from Invergarry down to the Laggan Swing Bridge at the southern end of Lock Oich. Thereafter I picked up the canal link down to Ceann Loch and then Loch Lochy.

The canalside walk started well with a well-marked firm gravel track cutting through neatly trimmed grass and scattered broom bushes. On either side the hills rose steeply, blanketed with pine forests. From time to time the forests encroached upon the canal. As it was still early, only around 9am – I had started early in view of the distance to be covered – the waters were still and the bordering pines were reflected in the mirror-like stillness. Not a thing stirred on the water. In many ways it was quite idyllic and so it went on. And on. Mile after mile. I longed for some variation in outlook or elevation. Odd though it may seem, I wanted to be up in the mountains again looking down, not down in the valley looking up. The only respite was upon reaching Laggan Locks an hour and a half out of Invergarry. This delightful basin was busy with small leisure craft readying for movement up or down the Great Glen waterway.


Apparently constructing this, the highest stretch of the canal at 32m (106ft) above sea level, was a major challenge. There were massive amounts of earth to be dug out. Up to 250 men worked here, using horse-drawn wagons on railways to take the earth away. By the 1870’s steamer trips along the canal were very popular. This would have been good for local hotels and shops but not for the lock-keepers’ wives. They were forbidden to hang-out washing when steamers were passing. I would have thought they would have been happy not to have their whites covered in smuts from the steamer boilers.


Not far from the lock is Kilfinnan, indeed my route took me through it although it was hardly recognisable as a seat of historic foment. Kilfinnan was the burial place for the chiefs of the MacDonells of Glengarry. Apparently the 15th Chief, one Alasdair Ranaldson MacDonell of Glengarry, known as Wild Alasdair, stripped his estate of timber to finance a flamboyant lifestyle and evicted tenants to make room for sheep. He was a constant problem for the builders of the Caledonian Canal, demanding large amounts of compensation and chasing canal workmen off his land.

Today Kilfinnan is notable only for its view over Ceann Loch and the boulder-strewn bed of the river which empties Loch a’ Choire Ghlais up in the mountains to the west into the canal. And maybe the cuteness of its lambs of which there were plenty at this time.


The next 6 miles or so were not especially noteworthy. The Great Glen Way followed a minor road variously through pine forest, deciduous woodland, or a mixture. Loch Lochy was ever-present on my left and devoid of craft seemingly kept at their moorings due to the increasingly strong wind raising white horses on the loch. My focus was on making progress south and even the occasional vista of bluebells did little to engage me. The tunnel vision wasn’t arrested until Bunarkaig, about 2 miles north of the end of the loch, at Gairlochy.

Bunarkaig was a gem of a lochside hamlet. As I passed, to my right were a series of houses of significant quality with well tended gardens and the Clan Cameron museum.

IMG_4813IMG_4816To my left was the loch, but with an interesting outlook and history. During the 2nd World War the Commandos had a training base at Bunarkaig. A small fleet of various craft were assembled to support commando training. These included whalers, cutters, rubber dinghies, bridge rafts and others. By all accounts the training was extremely realistic. No blank ammunition was used and the instructors were skilled in missing ‘but not by very much’ offering training as close to battle conditions as they could get without actually slaughtering half the trainees. This information came from one of 8 commemorative panels outlining the training undertaken in the area of which local people are rightly proud.


A further mile of so south I made it to Gairlochy after which there was nothing much to enjoy other that the flatness and straightness of the grey ribbon path, the quietude, and the fresh air being propelled at increasing speed in my face. I was probably lucky not to have had this sooner given the principal reason for walking the Great Glen Way west to eat is to avoid the headwind. No wonder the little craft heading towards me had makeshift sails.


Eventually, after a further 6 miles of relatively uninteresting canalside slog, and with a degree of relief of which I was not proud given it was my choice to undertake this walk, I came to Neptune’s Staircase at Banavie. A short distance from Fort William, this is a staircase of eight locks built by Thomas Telford between 1803 and 1822. It is the longest staircase lock in Britain. The system was originally hand-powered but has been converted to hydraulic operation. The waterborne activity here and the number of visitors provided a most welcome respite and my spirits lifted. This was further helped when, unexpectedly, there was a whoosh of steam and the accompanying sound of a steam train getting underway. Each massively powerful and explosive piston stroke was just a little quicker than the last as it picked up speed departing Banavie station. I couldn’t see the train but I was to do so later.


Once south of Banavie my spirits rose further at the prospect of being close to the end of this long distance trail, even though I still had nearly 5 miles to go to the final set of locks at Corpach which control access to the Caladonian Canal. It felt as though I should be able to smell sea air, but I couldn’t. Neither Corpach nor Fort William is on the sea which is, roughly, another 30 miles to the southwest, through Loch Linnie past Oban. It is however the end of the loch-controlled waterway.


I walked on for a further hour and a half, past the Kilmalie shinty pitch at Caol, through Lochyside, clearly run-down but distinctly optimistic, and through Black Parks alongside the River Lochy into Inverlochy. Upon turning along the Black Parks riverside path I was treated to another whoosh of train steam as the locomotive went by, this time in full view. Hidden in the clouds somewhere beyond was Ben Nevis.


And then beside Loch Linnie, on the site of Fort William’s Old Fort, I arrived at the end (or the beginning) of the Great Glen Way.  After what should have been 78 miles but which, due to humans not walking in straight lines and thanks to the trail closure on the planned approach to Invergarry, turned out to be over 85 miles it was done. Over 4 very happy, healthy, exciting, surprising and enormously enjoyable days, it was complete. Today’s 25 miles had ended up being 28 but I could at last allow my feet to hurt as I shuffled to the best real ale pub in Fort William, the Grog and Gruel, for a beer, a sit down and a huge grin of pleasure.


I love walking in Scotland. Thank you for being with me. Goodbye until the next time.

Day 3 – Invermoriston to Invergarry via Fort Augustus

Today’s leg was supposed to be around 18 miles. As yesterday, there was a choice of routes. The low route skirted Loch Ness at a height of around 50ft for much of its 6 miles to Fort Augustus. The high route rose to 330ft and provided awesome views of the loch and the Monadhliath Mountains beyond although some of its 7 miles is in the forest. I chose the latter of course, not being a cyclist or a horse.

From Fort Augustus I was to follow the Caledonian Canal which links the southern end of Loch Ness with the northern end of Loch Oich. At the junction with Loch Oich I was to use the Invergarry link to get me to Invergarry for the night.

Once I had recovered from the wonderful surprise of Mark Horrell’s text early in the morning at the Darroch View B&B, and having consumed Mrs Morgan’s substantial breakfast my goosebumps and I headed off in glorious sunshine. The initial walking was easy along roads and good tracks, the River Moriston was in picture postcard form and my tread was light.

After a couple of miles of mixed deciduous and pine woodlands I reached the point at which the low and high routes separated. The latter took no prisoners and a well made track thrust upwards with some vigour. I didn’t see Mark and Edita at all on this day. I know they were heading all the way to Fort William. Unless they left Invermoriston earlier than me I suspect they took the low route. If so, that was a good call. The next half mile was relentlessly steep with no views. With dense pine all around the wildlife count was low and with rocks to my right even if there had been any life I wouldn’t have seen it. The purpose of this section was just to get up to where the views were.

Then through sweat-streaked specs the view appeared right on cue. The pine forest fell away and I was presented with Loch Ness stretching away to the right, a big dramatic sky above and a sunlit path heading south. Every drop of perspiration had been worth it. I was breathless, literally and figuratively.

There was not a soul to be seen. The silence was broken only by the crunch of my boots on gravel and the skylarks above and it sounded as though I wasn’t the only one in their element. What joy! I fleetingly recalled that hidden far below but well within earshot of those on the low route, the A82 lurked. But that was of no matter to me. Not yet at least. My path snaked across open land well above the noise and fumes of real life.

In due course the track wended it’s way lower and the open moorland gave way to pine trees of a dizzying height…

… and subsequently to deciduous bluebell-decorated woodland as we approached Fort Augustus.

This small town relies heavily on tourism. All needs are catered for, from riders, cyclists, walkers, sailors, and canoeists to those arriving by cars and buses all with the ‘Nessie’ theme central. I was amused by the fish and chip shop. As with many if not all Fort Augustus businesses a link to ‘Nessie’ was, apparently, essential.

For me the high point of my transit, not being hungry, thirsty, in need of anything tartan or a cute Nessie fridge magnet, was the canal. While the ‘Lock Inn’ was a cleverly word-played temptation my interest was focused on the hive of activity on the locks of which a flight of 5 lower craft from the top of the canal down onto Loch Ness. There were many craft large and small all being marshalled either up or down the flight. I was very impressed by the efficiency and control of this operation and it’s management by the lock team. I can’t really capture all the activity in a single photo but hopefully you’ll get the gist.

This proved to be the last bit of waterside life for some time. Apart from the occasional, surprisingly occasional given the activity in the flight of locks, pleasure craft and a handful of walkers or cyclists there wasn’t a lot of movement on the path ahead. The couple in the distance in the photo below were Dutch. The size of their packs spoke of camping rather than using B&B, hostels or hotels. I spoke to them later, after they dubbed me ‘professional’ zipping by in T-shirt and shorts double-poling. They were loving Scotland and the fine weather although they were fully dressed for rain. Despite this they were in very good spirits.

After 3 miles or so of flat, level greyness I came upon Kytra Lock. This picturesque lock is one of 2 that manage the water level between Fort Augustus and Loch Oich.

The next would be Cullochy Lock and after the previous hour’s quietude I expected more of the same. But it was not to be as the handsome ‘Spirit of Scotland’ chugged into view. Sadly it was empty but maybe it was just being brought into service and the Captain offered a cheery wave.

Then it was ‘head down’ and power pole to the next lock. Cullochy Loch was much busier than the first.

Not long afterwards the welcome sight of the Aberchalder swing bridge could be seen . The only regret was that I was still being ‘tractor-beamed’ to it by the same monotonous grey ribbon, i.e. the characterless path. Even from a distance I could see the A82 was busy but I was pleased to see it as from there I would be in woodlands again and in Invergarry, my target for the day anticipated in under an hour.

But it wasn’t to be. On reaching the woodlands I found this:

Drat! My route was blocked! As you may be able to see the footpath is within the red-shaded Closed Area.

I considered ignoring it and going anyway but was advised by the bridge master that the closure was patrolled and I would be turned back. I then walked along the A82 for 20m or so to see if it was viable to take the road, but it wasn’t. The A82 is very busy and not especially wide. When any combination of trucks and coaches pass they take up the full width of the road leaving no space at all for walkers and they whistle by at an alarming speed bearing in mind their proximity. Nope, I had no choice but to bite the bullet and use the alternative route. Instead of a short walk of around 3 miles down two-thirds of one side of Loch Oich I now had to walk the full length of the loch down the other side as far as the North Laggan Bridge and then back up to Invergarry. My walk had just increased by 5 miles. The 18 mile day was now 23. Hurrah! I like a good walk.

As if to rub salt in my wound I was unable to cross the bridge until it had opened to allow a craft to pass. No matter – it was interesting to watch the operation of the bridge while swallows performed in the nearby field.


Once across, it was clear the route down the east side of loch was going to be something new. It was a disused railway line. A helpful nearby information board advised that this section of line was part of the Invergarry and Fort Augustus Railway, built between 1897 and 1903, which was intended to be the first stretch of an Inverness to Fort William railway following the Great Glen. Its tracks, bridges and tunnel were all built to mainline standards but the plan fell through. Competition between the various Highland railway companies meant that the second stretch of the line to Inverness was never completed. There was not enough local traffic to support this part of the line in isolation and it finally closed in 1946. While its tracks were sold for scrap the tunnel remains.


Hereafter it wasn’t the most interesting of routes being dead straight with elevated damp woodlands on the left and mixed woodland and scrub to the right with the loch beyond. However increasing numbers of rhododendrons and occasional broom added colour and the A82 was too distant to disturb the peace and birdsong.

There was a bonus towards the end of the line: Invergarry station, or at least a platform with a sign and a loco under reconstruction. A nearby noticeboard advised that this was the work of the Invergarry Station Project.


Not long afterwards my trek south was brought to a close by the North Laggan bridge which afforded dry passage to the Invergarry side of the loch and I was once more able to think of a shower, a beer and dinner.

There was just a short section of the A82 to negotiate in order to reach the mountain track during which the prospect of being battered at speed by a consignment of live fish loomed large.


Eventually, after more miles than had been planned around the lock to be known as Ouch rather than Oich, the Invergarry Arms Hotel hove into view. Standing proudly by the side of the River Garry this venerable and award winning hotel has been welcoming guests since 1885. Today that’s where my head was to be rested. That is after a jolly fine dinner and a wee dram of Caol Ila, my favourite malt.











The Big Reveal – who was that Masked Man?

I left you at the end of yesterday’s blog in a state of anticipation as to the identity of the mystery man. You remember, the chap in the Invermoriston Arms missing his cycle gloves. Some of you will know him while others will need some introduction and the context.

During the first couple of days of this week I and a cycling couple have been a ‘tag team’. Barely out of Inverness on day 1 we met early on and assisted each other navigate around a building site. Me being on foot with go-faster trekking poles I was more fleet than the cyclists as they were pushing laden bikes uphill. Of course they cheerily overtook me later but then I overtook them while they took lunch and I pressed on. Naturally they passed me again later. On each occasion pleasantries were exchanged but there was no recognition.

On day 2, I made an early start but in due course the tag-team couple overtook me. However they were tempted by a trackside coffee shop (curiously hidden) and the guy spent some time trying to find the vendor and his offerings, without success. Meanwhile the lady had pressed ahead, presumably concluding that a cup of cold coffee wouldn’t be her cup of tea. While his foraging was underway I caught up with the chap. He explained the situation and we both moved on.

It was he and his cycling partner who I saw in the Invermoriston Arms later that day, but with their backs to me and my focus on the most excellent Red MacGregor there was, again, no recognition. Even when he returned to look for the missing gloves there was none.

Then early on the morning of Day 3, I received a simple personal Twitter text saying: “Hey Andy, are you they guy who keeps overtaking these two people on mountain bikes?” (Accompanied with a photo of the couple in cycling gear). And it was indeed me.

The goosebumps started when I saw the Twitter handle: it was from Mark Horrell. Indie author, hugely influential mountaineering blogger and Everest summiter.

“So what”, you may say. Let me provide some context as to his place in my life.

Back in 2013, when I still harboured the belief that I could stand on the summit of an 8000m peak, I was preparing for an attempt at Cho Oyu, the 6th highest mountain in the world. In scouring the internet I found a great ebook called ‘The Wrath of the Turquoise Goddess’. I absolutely loved it and subsequently bought another by the same author: ‘The Chomolungma Diaries’ which was an account of the author’s attempt on Everest. In particular I loved the author’s written style. He presented things in a matter-of-fact, entertaining and informative manner which appeared to be based upon daily blogs. I was thus inspired to do likewise. I went on to blog extensively during my attempt on Cho Oyu and upon returning I self-published a book: ‘The Turquoise Goddess – not just about the summit’. Some of you were kind enough to buy it. (It’s still available on Amazon 🤣). This was achieved. entirely due to my reading of Mark Horrell’s work.

Then in April 2014 I was in Everest basecamp with Tim Calder and others to attempt to summit. In the event that attempt was stymied by the dreadful impact of the Good Friday avalanche, which resulted in the death of 19 Sherpas and, through political incompetence, closure of the south face for that season. Nonetheless I still blogged extensively and discovered a love of wild trekking. Upon returning to Kathmandu in early May I was lucky enough to meet Mark in a well-known bar and thanked him. That was the only time we met but the legacy lived on.

Within a few days I learned that I had been made redundant and with my wife Clare’s assistance I decided to try writing as a profession. Again due to Mark’s inspiration and Clare’s belief and encouragement, that summer I wrote, and was paid for, several pieces for the now defunct magazine ‘The Ionian’. I even had a cover photo published. I still fondly remember receiving my first acceptance email from the editor. We were on a beach in Corfu and spent more on celebratory wine than I grossed for the article.

Was I made as a writer? Er, no. In the event, while I loved writing, it was never going to provide a living wage. In October 2014 I returned to gainful employment with CLS, which I loved. Nonetheless I look back on the summer of 2014, which was not a great period for many people, with enormous pleasure and I place Mark Horrell’s influence right at the centre of it.

So, Mr Horrell. It was a real pleasure to meet, albeit in transit and fleetingly, you and your beautiful and talented wife. She being the lady I now know to be Edita, a humanitarian aid worker and the first Lithuanian woman to summit Everest.

That’s it. The big reveal is over. Thank you all for bearing with me. I appreciate this blog won’t have been hugely entertaining to some of you but I believe in telling it like it is, or was. This week has been fantastic fun for me and it has been brilliant to be blogging again. It, and your responses to date have shown me that enough people like my writing to continue. Thank you so much.

As a result I will continue to blog travels and will now complete the blog from my Upper Dolpo trek in late 2016. Moreover I will endeavour to write the related book I promised: ‘The boy in the orange jacket’ which will attempt to explain Dolpapan transhumance. It will take a while but I will do it.

Why? Due to Clare’s encouragement, your support and Mark’s inspiration.

Thank you for indulging me. The full Day 3 blog will follow tomorrow.

Broom and primroses, and an extraordinary encounter

Wow. Just wow. Before I test your patience with a second Great Glen Way blog I just have say thank you for the comments, public and private, on yesterday’s missive. You give me confidence to try another. This is me grinning and feeling blessed, with the much more interesting Loch Ness in the background. Thank you. 😀

This is Day 2 and my route continues southwest, from Drumnadrochit to Invermoriston. For the statisticians out there this is slightly more than the middle third of Loch Ness. It was a relatively short day at around 14 miles with a choice of following a ‘high’ route or a ‘low’ route.

The low route skirts the loch and is ideal for cyclists and horses. The high route has some significant ‘ups and downs’ but the ‘ups’ are rewarded with magnificent views of Loch Ness and on a clear day Ben Nevis may be seen well to the south with the Cluanie Mountains visible to the west. There was no choice to be made.

However let’s not jump ahead. They follow the same path for the first few miles then split. The route out of Drumnadrochit was a series of beautiful but uninspiring tree and scrub-lined minor roads significantly improved by being travelled following a wholesome scrambled egg and smoked salmon breakfast. As I gained height I noticed a resemblance between the flora and scrambled eggs. I wasn’t hallucinating. Rather the broom, previously merely present, was now more abundant. Never had I seen such coverage. We southern Englanders are familiar with the extensive show of rapeseed blooms in springtime but this broom was even more dramatic given the climate.

Despite its visual impact you had to be there and I know there is only so much fun I can generate for you through tales of broom-endowed minor roads.

Bye and bye I entered woodlands and, oh, the aroma of wet foliage and damp soil. Many birds were chirruping but with the massed chorus of chaffinches exultant.

This verdant environment was short lived and confined to the loch side and other low lying areas. In due course I headed towards higher terrain and the occasional glance of the loch was soon followed by the split of routes.

Upwards I trod on the ‘high route’, enjoying the breeze and freshness afforded by the more open ground and revelling in the views to my left and ahead. Despite the threatening skies the worst that happened were a few sprinklings of Scottish rain. Hardly rain at all but sufficient to reinvigorate the aromas of soil and vegetation.

Then my excitement level increased further. There, right down at the end of this loch, beyond even the second loch yet unseen and then on some, was Ben Nevis. It was hard to see, nestled as it was behind Carn Mor Dearg and it’s glorious arête (surely the best way to reach the summit of The Ben short of scaling one of several North Face routes with ropes and metalwork) and with its head in the clouds (sigh).

Then the primroses started to appear. First in ones and twos then in families. It was becoming primrose central. If anyone knows why, in this place alone (so far as I know) the primroses have found kinship with thistles please tell me.

Then, joy of joys, a glorious winged beauty landed nearby. The Pearl-bordered Fritillary is orange with black spots on the upperside of its wing and has a wingspan of 38–46 mm (1.5 to 1.8 inches). It is a gem in the wilderness and it just sat there and let me photograph it.

Between areas of high ground a little treasure was stumbled upon; the Troll Bridge. This quirky but very practical bridge was opened in 2014 and features a notice board showcasing Tröll-related poetry, including some by local schoolchildren.

Moving on I headed into more open ground, much of it extensively logged. Out of the blue I came across the The Viewcatcher. A plaque says it was made from Caledonian Pine and local stone and was designed to highlight a stunning view. And it did so!

The view was that of the Cluanie Mountains to the west. But without in anyway decrying the value and necessity of sustainable logging, the reverse view was less easy on the eye. Not on mine anyway. I hadn’t troubled you with this before, but there is extensivelogging.

And that’s about it for Day 2, except for one quite remarkable encounter while enjoying a much anticipated pint of Scottish real ale in the Invermoriston Arms late in the afternoon. I was fortunate to find the Orkney Brewery’s Red MacGregor, a 4% ABV ruby ale which was the Champion Beer of Britain last year in the bitter category. But that wasn’t the remarkable encounter.

When I went into the bar there was a couple in a window seat. Dressed in cycle gear they had their backs to me while I was at the bar ordering the Red MacGregor, then they left. I hadn’t recognised them even though our paths had crossed a few times during Day 1. I then occupied their table and shortly after the man returned to see if he had left a pair of cycle gloves at the table. He hadn’t and that was the end of the encounter. Early the following morning I had a private Twitter message from him.

He had seen yesterday’s blog and he knew me, and me him. Stay tuned. I’ve been in goosebumps all day about this…

Are you out there Nessie?

It’s an uncommonly fine day in the Highlands of Scotland.

Earlier today I arrived in a wet and grey Inverness having taken the first train there out of Glasgow’s Queen Street station. Why? Because Inverness is the start (or end) of the Great Glen Way; an iconic 78 mile long distance path. It links Inverness on the Scottish east coast and Fort William in the west via a series of waterways including Loch Ness. However, much of the Great Glen Way is along the glenside rather than the shoreline mostly for the magnificent views afforded by the elevation but not least as much of the shorelines are hogged by the A82, a quite busy main road.

At just after 11am, and having bought a waterproof cover for my rucksack carelessly left at home, I set off along the River Ness. Passing Inverness castle to my left I approached Inverness cathedral over the river to my right. And the magic started. A piper was playing on the other bank of the river by the cathedral. He wasn’t performing or busking. He was just playing, seemingly for himself. And now unseen in this photograph, for me.

With joy in my boots, the rain having abated and with a shiver down my spine from the impromptu piped welcome, I continued to the official start (or end) of the Great Glen Way.

I should explain that the Great Glen Way can be walked in either direction. There is no ‘right’ way or ‘wrong’ way. However most people walk west to east, from Fort William to Inverness to benefit from having the prevailing wind at their back, rather than in their face. I’m doing it the other way for logistical reasons to tie in with train timings and so that, as I’m doing the walk over 4 days rather than the customary 5, I will have a 25 mile leg as my final day rather than my first day. Mercifully there is no significant wind forecast so the direction of travel makes no difference.

My journey southwest will be on the northern side of the Great Glen watercourses. These comprise not only the star of the show and her leading man, Loch Ness and Loch Lochy, but several other smaller waterways, including the Caledonian Canal which links Ness and Lochy.

So first I had to cross to the northern side of the River Ness. This was achieved at the lower Tomnahurich Bridge a swing bridge alongside which was moored the Jacobite Queen, a pleasure cruiser offering waterborne tours of Loch Ness.

Then is was time to head for the hills, following the Great Glen Way (GGW) route markers between the Highlands Rugby Club and the Inverness Botanic Gardens. Thankfully the markers work in both directions. New builds and more traditional dwellings soon gave way to woodland tracks based upon ancient drove routes. These were flanked with silver birch, laurel and occasional pine with the air redolent with the heady aroma of damp undergrowth. The air was so damp it was impossible not to sweat although, in truth, it was not hard going.

Mile followed mile with many changes in outlook, from close woodlands through wider-tracked vehicle-supporting lands to open moorland. However the look of much of this was spoiled by logging.

But even here in these more barren areas springtime fecundity was rife. There were many butterflies including the orange tip and small white. The new growth on pines was clear with almost all pine branches seeming to have been dipped in a lighter, fresher, hue of green.

Then after, eventually, clearing the woodlands I was rewarded with my first glimpse of Loch Ness through the trees. And shortly after there was a clearing. Sadly no ‘nessie’ in sight but nonetheless a glorious vista over one of Scotland’s most iconic lochs.

Unsurprisingly it was now raining. What was unusual was the lack of accompanying howling wind and drop in temperature. As a result while my newly purchased pack cover was called into service I didn’t bother with a waterproof on the grounds that it wasn’t cold and I was waterproof. In the event the rain was intermittent and I soon dried. More importantly I was rewarded with a glimpse of Urquhart Castle on a promontory, misty and distant to be sure but there it was. Urquhart Castle was fought over many times and was variously controlled by the English King Edward and the MacDonald Lord of the Isles in the Middle Ages. It was transferred to state ownership around 100 years ago and is now among the most visited of Scotland’s castles.

Shortly after, and having gone through several iterations of ‘rain/no rain’ I was in the outskirts of Drumnadrochit, where I was to spend the night. Having come over 20 miles from Inverness, seen almost nobody including ‘nessie’, but with all senses newly re-tuned to the beauty, quiet and richness of the Scottish Highlands I headed for the bar in the Benleva Hotel where I was to spend the night. The hotel that is, not the bar.

Trek Day 18 – to Chhepka

After our day of rest in Ringmo it was time to move on. I was certainly keen to get back on the trail and I think others were too. The end of the trek in Juphal was still over 25 miles away over less rough but still demanding terrain. While we could have done that distance in a day if necessary we would have arrived very late in the day and would have had less time to enjoy the increasingly green and verdant surroundings. Instead we decided to head for Chhepka around 15 miles away, which would make the walk to Juphal as an easy final half-day or so. In light of this breakfast was at a leisurely 8 a.m. and we enjoyed the last of our sheep with tea and bread.IMG_3998 - Version 2.jpg

At an equally leisurely pace bags were packed and loaded. Then by around 9:15 we were on our way, warm-stoned dwellings reflected golden morning sunshine and the distant grey-brown mountain ridges cut a sharp and vivid contrast to the clear blue cloudless sky. As we prepared to leave the matronly lady had a few brightly-coloured hand woven scarfs for sale then we bade her farewell without ceremony. Children were already playing in the dusty courtyard as we headed for the track south and as we were by now a common sight about Ringmo our departure went unremarked.IMG_4003 - Version 2.jpg

It was great to be walking again. The dusty animal dropping-laden streets of the village soon gave way to a stony track with low scrub on either side. Ahead was a pine forest backed by a mountain ridgeline in stark silhouette against blue. Striding past a huge ochre and cream chorten we soon caught up with a herder and his yaks and followed him along the pathway to the forest. Not being in any hurry we were content to wait but the herder soon waved us past and we had the forest path to ourselves, bright sunlight filtering through the green making subeams through the dust kicked up by passing feet.IMG_4029 - Version 2.jpg

The trees soon gave way to the kind of terrain we were more used to; a narrow sandy track clinging to the side of a mountain. Ever since we lost height heading towards Lake Phoksundo the surroundings have been less stark and there has been more evidence of habitation. The track itself was indented with the footprints of many animals and their herders while from time to time prayer flags of red, blue, yellow, green and white drew our gaze upwards from the drabness underfoot to the glorious blue sky. From our perch high above the Phoksundo Khola, while our view south remained dominated by the jagged 5000m (16,000ft+) ridgeline to the south-east, deep down on the valley floor there were settlements and walled enclosures. Both looked barren in November but their presence showed that in spring life would return. Meanwhile on our side of the valley, in the vicinity of Nepal’s highest waterfall – on the Suli Khola, a tributary of the Phoksundo Khola itself and whose dimension proved impossible to photograph meaningfully without a wide-angle lens – a colourful shelter appeared seemingly balanced on a small pinnacle ahead.IMG_4041 - Version 2.jpg

Taking the appearence of the shelter as an excuse to prolong today’s relatively short journey we stopped for a while to admire the stunning views. Although eyes were initially drawn to the waterfall to our left and the settlements of Rike and Maduwa in the Maduwa Khola valley snaking around the feet of the mountains to the east there were a succession of passers-by. While our laden ponies grazed the thin scrub nearby the herder we had passed earlier in the day hailed us as he drove his yaks past at some pace. A few minutes later 2 men passed us with 4 yaks adorned with load-carrying paraphernalia but no actual loads, followed a while later by the mens’ families; a lady in traditional dress carrying a youngster in a black and blue scarf papoose on her back and 2 young boys careering down the track without fear of the drop to their left.IMG_4061 - Version 2.jpgIMG_4070 - Version 2.jpg

Thirty minutes down the track we came upon a small settlement that appeared only recently vacated and whose inhabitants we took to have left to head south, although from there less than a mile ahead, several colourful roofs could be seen.IMG_4079 - Version 2.jpg

Just 15 minutes later we were alongside the Jharana Hotel and Lodge. This 4 room, 15 bed, 1 toilet establishment is basic and guests will need their sleeping bags in lieu of bedding, but it boasts 24 hour electricity, presumably due to the large array of solar panels in the garden, and running water. Next door the lodge sported a sign saying (curiously given that the colourful roofs we saw from the deserted settlement turned out to be nearby village of Sanduwa) “Wel-Come To Chunuwar (3134m)”. It went on to advertise: Lodge, Food & Beverages, Campsite, Garden, Vegetable, TeleCom.” It looked pleasant enough with sturdy walls, wooden-framed windows and doors with good padlocked bolts.

Next door was a suspension bridge across the river to Sanduwa. This splendid bridge, built in 2014, bore a sign saying “Donated by KADOORIE Agricultural Aid Association British Gurkhas Nepal.” The KAAA is the Kadoorie Charitable Foundation’s Nepal field team and has a close relationship with British Gurkhas Nepal. The KAAA is a long-term implementing partner of the Gurkha Welfare Trust and provides funding towards the trust’s community medical camps in remote areas. The KAAA has an extensive programme of community aid projects that develop the basic infrastructure of Nepal, improving village economies and quality of life, and this bridge was just one example. In 2015 and 2016 alone Kadoorie provided 5 micro hydro projects to support remote villages, built 20 bridges, built 20 remote medical camps and completely rebuilt 3 villages following the Nepal earthquakes. The KAAA was founded by the late Sir Horace Kadoorie CBE, a Hong Kong-based industialist, hotelier and philanthropist. Well done Sir!IMG_4086.jpg From Sanduwa there were many more river crossings as the path zig-zagged along the increasingly rapid and channelled Phoksundo Khola. With a Scandinavian appearance the terrain became more green with evergreen trees predominating. Conveniently, at around lunchtime we stumbled upon a small military base whose cooks were happy to sell us delicious Dal Bhat (Nepalese lentil curry) and some fairly cool San Miguel after which it was further criss-crossing of the river on normally, but not always, safe-looking wooden bridges.

It was after one of these crossings we saw a group of people and their pack animals ahead. We didn’t recognise these people as those who passed us earlier. They were in a small clearing to one side of the river and had makeshift campling equipment. A small group were higher up the mountainside to the rear of their camp and they were immediately recognised. To my delight it was the Boy in the Orange Jacket and his blue-scarved mother with a few others. They were gathering firewood and when they saw and recognised us little waves were excahnged and ‘Namaste’s’ called. Tim exchanged a few words with a girl wearing glasses. We had seen her before and she was notable as glasses are not common in Dolpo. How extraordinary that we were still in the footsteps of the transhumant family from Saldang. We were touched at the small recognition.

Moving on down the river there were periods when we were in a flat but still narrow part of the valley…IMG_4117.jpg

… and others when it was distinctly vertiginous and great care was needed to avoid a calamitous fall to the river far below.IMG_4138.jpg

Mercifully those narrow sections became less common as the surrounds, in the space of an hour or two, went from looking Scandinavian to looking more British. Deciduous tress became more prevalent and the terrain underfoot went from rocky/sandy to rocky/earthen. Were it not for the obvious lack of British species we could have easily been in familiar woodland.IMG_4146.jpg

The cross-river hop-scotch and occasional revertions to steep-sided and thickly evergreen-wooded narrow gorges continued for another hour or so until we reached Chhepka at late afternoon. Chhepka is a single-street settlement of half a dozen dwellings and in the photo below Tim appears to be surveying it with a degree of scepticism despite the sign welcoming travellers to the Yak Hotel and Lodge.IMG_4184.jpg

While it lacked the running water promised at the Jharana Hotel back up-river, and it certain lacked the other’ sunny disposition, it did have electricity and we were welcomed, found rooms, and fed. I shared with Tim in the best room. I didn’t dare enquire after the rooms which Lizzy, Mark and Jovi had, but they survived.IMG_4190.jpg

The hotel dining room was across the street, outside of which Gyalbu is showing Sangye where the toilets are – in a shed to one side of a field 50 yards away. The sign on the side of the dining room, on the wooden wall next to the shop (yes, that’s the settlement shop), was in exactly the same style and bore the same text as that which advertised the Lodge next to the Jharana Hotel. Except this one said “Wel-Come to Chhepka”.IMG_4193.jpg

And welcome we were. The style of the dining room was what we had come to expect with a central stove and low benches to act a tables while diners sat on mats on the floor. We enjoyed black tea while waiting for the horses to arrive with our gear and once they had, and our gear was in our rooms, we ate. Meat and potatoes in a tasty rich sauce was washed down with more San Miguel and we played cards in the gloom…IMG_4203.jpg …while our horseman, Sangye and Gyalbu looked on in amusement beneath a sign unexpectedly saying ‘HAPPY NEW YEAR’.IMG_4206.jpg

The day, a day which saw us lose another 1000m (over 3000ft) in elevation while experiencing a range of different terrains in less than 20 miles, ended with a final unexpected pleasure. The lady owner open a cupboard in the corner of the room to reveal a small television. She explained that as it had been a sunny day she had plently of solar electricity and we could watch football on TV. So we did. San Miguel in hand, no sound and with a picture that was scratchy at best, we sat and watched football, while the lady owner spun yarn by the fire. IMG_4208.jpg

Trek Day 17 – at ‘rest’ at Ringmo

Today, Saturday 19th November, was a rest day.

It began quietly enough with delicious egg banjos being served with tea. The banjos were omelettes rather than fried eggs between 2 slices of Nepali bread and they were going down very well. Until, that is, there was a bit a commotion outside. Further investigation revealed it was a sheep making a fuss in the courtyard; and not just any sheep but our sheep. Sure enough the sheep of which we had bought half the previous evening had just been swiftly despatched, skinned, butchered and halved. Each half was now drying on the end of a plank of wood in the corner of the enclosure where yesterday the yaks had been snuffling. Meanwhile the butcher, the owner of our guesthouse-cum-hotel, was cleaning the entrails and the fleece on a wooden platform close by where he could attempt to keep the flies off of the meat.

IMG_3932 - Version 2.jpg

After breakfast and our introduction to the realities of butchery in Dolpo, in mid-morning while Mark went in search of photographs Tim, Jovi, Lizzie and I went to the lake for a wash. Passing to our left the site of our post-San Miguel disorientation yesterday evening we once more faced the limpid Lake Phoksundo.


Unseen in the photo above there was a Bön temple on a promontary to the right. The Bön religion pre-dates buddhism and is believed to have arisen in the 11th century. While Tibetan people and those of Tibetan ancestry such as the Dolpopa are predominantly Buddhist it is estimated that around 10%, known as Bonpo, follow Bön. These include the people of Ringmo.

At our side of the lake, a sensible distance from the outflow river – the Phoksundo Khola, we enjoyed the water’s freshness. Variously washing ourselves and our exceptionally grubby clothes we established discreet distances along the bank. My underpants were sensible black and had a similar cut to normal swimming trunks so I stripped to them and to the amusement of the others waded into the lake. To their astonishment I then submerged and, trying to make light of the effect the cold was having (the water having recently arrived from the icy mountain streams on either side) bobbed around for a while. This was my first all-over wash since the ‘stand-in-a-bucket’ event that resulted in my foot going into the long-drop toilet in Saldang and a less than relaxing wash. Sure, the lake was freezing cold but I felt clean for the first time in ages and was soon back on the bank drying off, supressing a shiver or two. With clean pants donned I lay like a large pink lizard on a large flat rock while my washing dried. After 30 minutes or so we were joined by Gyalbu and Sangye and chatted in the sunshine.

Shortly after noon someone suggested refreshment. Although lunch wasn’t long away such treats shouldn’t be missed when you’re not sure when the next may arise and adjoining the restaurant visited yesterday there was a small shop. Amid speculation as to whether biscuits, chocolate, or perchance another chilled San Miguel, were to be found we headed uphill as though we hadn’t seen a shop for weeks. The last we had seen was in Kagbeni at the start of the trek nearly 3 weeks before. Although we had made good use of the travelling tent-shop in Shimen just a week ago that seemed a long distant memory, being several passes and adventures in the past.

It was now clear from the sign above the door, proudly announcing in English, Nepali and Tibetan that this was the ‘Kanjirowa Traders & Suppliers with Restaurant’. Inside we found Dolpo retail heaven. There were drinks aplenty including bottled San Miguel and canned Lhasa beer. There was Ruslan vodka and Pepsi in cans, Frooti fruit juice, plastic bottles of Coca-Cola, Fanta and Sprite. There were bottles labeled ‘Virgin’ that I don’t think was oil. There was Khukri rum from Kathmandu. There was even Royal Stag, an Indian whisky. I mention this as it was so unexpected. There is not a road for miles and all of this must have been brought in on foot. But never mind the drinks. There were other more useful things too such as, to mention but a few, torches and batteries, lighters, crisps and other dry snacks, pony harnesses and adornment including a red-dyed yak’s tail, locally woven scarves, tins of vegetables, jars of peanut butter, trays of eggs, and clothing including trainers, flip-flops and more beside.


But I have left the best to last. An item of sustenance and joy that I last enjoyed many days ago and which is my staple mountain snack. The shop had just one, for an amazing 150 rupees (that’s about £1.10p). It needs no further introduction (cue drum roll…..)


Yessss! Cleaned from the lake and wearing fresh clothes, warmed by the sun, in the company of great trekking buddies, refreshed by chilled beer (Lhasa on this occasion) and munching a Snickers. Does it get better than that?

Next to the shop was a tent in front of which 3 people were working. A woman in a purple jacket and black dress was sat cross-legged on the ground spinning yarn. Next to her on stools was the a couple we first saw in the the hotel kitchen/diner yesterday. Then they were preparing food and the woman was memorable as she was wearing strident green trousers and a pink jacket. Now she and her partner, also dressed exactly as previously, were making rugs in the sunshine. The photo below shows the scene. It is not my finest as the colourful lady is obscured by our horseman but hopefully youl’ll get the gist.

IMG_3962 - Version 2.jpg

We were then shown into the tent and there were about two dozen chickens inside. The mystery of the appearance of the eggs had been solved. This part of Ringmo was a veritable hive of activity.

After a lunch of fried lamb (ours) and more wonderful Nepali bread I put my solar charger on the roof to ensure my camera had power for the next few days. Actually that was my iPhone but coverage was a rarity so it was never turned on. I then took out my contact lenses to give my eyes a break for the first time in several days and spent an hour or so re-packing my main bag so that the items needed during the last days of the trek were to the top. Through the window of our room I had a good view onto the roof next door where women were making ‘corn dollies’ although the significance of this would not become clear until later.

IMG_3988 - Version 2.jpg

Down in the courtyard before dinner Gyalbu and I found the matronly lady who greeted us upon our arrival working. She was grinding grain with a sizeable decorated pole in a hollowed out slab of stone in the same way we might grind pepper in a pestle and mortar.

IMG_3982 - Version 2.jpg

Before dinner in the hotel we were joined by a travelling Dolpo-pa businessman. He was from Dho Tarap 20 miles or so away to the east. That town of over a 1000 people used to be the capaital of Dolpo before the region was annexed by the King of Gorkha in the 17th century. We had not visited Dho but passed within about 10 miles of it when heading north from Chharka Bhot towards Tinje just over a week previously. He was trying to establish tea houses and other services for trekkers in Dolpo so that local people could generate more income. He was concerned that while trekking was on the increase the revenue generated by the compulsory purchase of trekking permits went to the government and was not ploughed back. He went on to say, and I have no corroborative evidence but report just what he said, that in many villages where health posts, post offices or schools (for example) are built by foreign aid they frequently fall into disuse. This was because they were often not supported with Nepalese government funding to pay staff to run or maintain them.

At dinner the hotel owner and his wife were joined by their daughter and son, his son’s wife and their child, and by the matronly lady I saw grinding grain earlier. These were the same people we had with us at dinner the previous day, with the addition of the child. The child caused much amusement by running around the kitched with sheep intenstines on a stick occasionally touching the stove to cook it, in the same way children elsewhere might do with dough on a green twig around a campfire. To complete the picture, and don’t read this while eating, handkerchiefs and tissues have no place here and the child’s runny nose was cleared from its face with a deft lick from Mum. Meanwhile the owner, that is the man who butchered the sheep in the morning, refined his work on the floor with the meat on a plastic grain sack. Oblivious to all this the lady of the house quietly sang songs while spinning yarn by the warmth of the stove.

After a while we were joined by the travelling businessman’s 16 year old son, Urker. He told me that he would leave Dho Tarap for school in Kathmandu the following year and he would be there for 5 years. He then showed me his swollen thumb which he had broken several days ago when he fell from a horse. I asked him if he liked football and he said that he had never played, nor watched, a game of football. Some of his friends had seen football on TV but he hadn’t. While there were some families in Dho with a television his family didn’t own one as his father disapproved. Urker said that when he left school he would become a monk in Kathmandu like his older brother. His older sister was working in Kathmandu now and he could join her but he wanted to be a monk. He was interested in my life and work and smiled broadly when I showed him photographs of my wife, children and grand-children. We had quite a chat before he was taken to his room by his his father. His passing comment was that he thought Chinese clothing was rubbish because it didn’t last. I was left to reflect and be very grateful indeed for the opportunity to meet that young man who, without formal schooling, spoke very passable English in addition to his native Nepalese and the Tibetan of his ancesters. Good luck Urker.

Following a very tasty dinner of lamb and potatoes and a more modest amount of Roxy than Friday evening it was time for bed. The women were still at work on the roof next door, now illuminated by 3 battery-powered lightbulbs. There were 4 people in a square alternately threshing barley by hand in the weak light. The rythmic threshing was quite restful which was just as well as it went on all night. These people were working 24/7 with only short breaks to try and finish the harvesting over the next 2 weeks as by then the weather would have closed in and they must leave Ringmo. Once more I was stunned by the hardship of life in this region. Even some of the residents of Ringmo, on the face of it and by Dolpo standards a relatively prosperous village, were transhumant. Despite the increasing revenue from tourism as evidenced by the new hotel, the restaurant with its remarkable shop, and the climate being more clement than further north, some people in Ringmo cannot sustain themselves during winter and will by early December join the annual exodus south.