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Thursday, 5 June 2014

Alaska, western Canada and the Rockies - A trip overview

From the 5th of May until yesterday the 4th of June, I have been travelling through the places as shown above by cruise liner, ferry boat and RV better known in the UK as a motorhome, it has been a wonderful experience and was shared with my wife and two very good friends.

This initial blog is a brief overview of the whole trip with very little detail and few of the approximately 2000 plus pictures taken
I hope you will return to read in more detail of our travels and travails along the way.

It all started about 18 months ago when the idea of a motorhome trip through the Rockies was mooted by our friends, further investigation revealed that we could also add on a cruise to Alaska and therefore travel by land sea and air all on the same trip.

We flew to Vancouver, a city of skyscrapers and stayed on the 29th floor of one of its smaller buildings but with a view of one of the bays to see our ship come in!

MV Volendam
The cruise was to be a 7 day round trip cruise through the Inside Passage including a days cruising in Glacier Bay, more of this in a later blog.

Vancouver from the Volendam

The cruise was excellent, good food, good company and the scenery magnificent, the weather was very good too, allowing us to see amongst other wildlife, seals, whales, bald headed eagles to name a few, all in their natural environment.
We had a day or two in Vancouver on our return which gave us time to see some of Vancouver including visits to Grouse Mountain and Stanley Park.
Sea Otter
The RV's were collected on Friday and we headed straight for the ferry over to Vancouver Island where we had been booked onto a RV park for three days, a lovely spot right on the side of the outer harbour.

After three days on the Island including Victoria Day, a Public Holiday, we headed back to the mainland and along the Sea to Sky highway to Whistler a one time home of the Winter Olympics and the proper start of our RV journey to the Rocky Mountains.

24ft long but the width is the issue really
The scenery has been absolutely stunning ever since we arrived in Canada, helped I guess by the mainly clear and deeply blue sky and the warmth, not only of the sun but of the people, very friendly, very polite and genuinely interested in what we are doing in their country.

Totem poles  carved by the original inhabitants of this country now known as the First Nation.
One of many many waterfalls
3 Humming birds on a feeder
My wife reflecting!
Snow capped peaks rising from the forest of pines.
A small part of a quite stunning waterfall which I will show in a later blog.

 Heavy cloud but still beautiful

Slowly losing his winter coat

 Over the next few weeks I shall write a series of blogs breaking down our trip and showing a lot more photo's on the way, I hope they will be of interest to you. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have so please feel free to comment via the comments boxes below.
The photographs in the series of blogs are not necessarily the best photos of a particular animal, bird or place but will hopefully draw you to my photo account at ipernity.com where you will find my photos. Ones of Canada and Alaska will be in a Album called for want of a better name Canada and Alaska!!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Austwick and the Norber Erratics!

Spent a few days in the Yorkshire Dales a week or so back staying on a very good 5 pitch campsite near Austwick, it was called Orcaber Farm and is highly recommended, no more than half a mile off the A65.
The campsite is on the Forest of Bowland side of the A65 but no matter as it is only twenty minutes walk into the
centre of Austwick a small village with a shop cum post office selling most things and a pub called The Gamecock which is wonderful, the beer is great, the service excellent and food quite superb.
We did not come for the food or the beer but for the walking so reluctantly headed out and up the hill via Town Head
Lane. we were going off to look at what is called the Norber Erratics, a strange name and a strange place!
On the way across the fields and up some limestone scree we saw and heard Wheatear, Pied Wagtails and believe
it or not six Buzzards high in the sky. They seemed to be in cahoots with each other and not squabbling at all, we spent some time watching them amazed at seeing so many together.
Apparently a geologists dream, the limestone plain was dotted with much older Silurian boulders sitting on top of
the much younger limestone, how did that happen? You have to go back many many thousands of years to when glaciers covered this part of the earth and swept them up from an outcrop and deposited them some half a mile away on this limestone shelf.
Thousands of years of erosion have then produced some stunning two tonne natural sculptures formed because the
Silurian rock does not erode anywhere near as fast as the limestone and has produced some amazing balancing acts.
A walk across this plain and then a descent via another route took us back into Austwick village and then back to our campsite made a total of just under five miles with all the ascents at the start. An internet search on Norber Erratics will bring up a number of walks around and through the area and it must be said that the surrounding scenery is stunning even for the Yorkshire Dales and we do come here a lot!

The following day once the rain had eased considerably we headed back into Austwick and followed the footpath to Clapham across the fields, an easy pleasant walk pretty much level but interspersed with from memory, six vertical stepping stones stiles over high drystone walls plus a few wooden stiles, we were followed it seemed by Curlews all the way, we could hear them all the time and occasionally see them but visibility was very poor.
Clapham a much larger village than Austwick has a beck through the middle and is a pleasant place to be with
walks leading off from here to Ingleton Falls etc. We tried the Pub in the centre of the village and to be honest whilst a very pleasant welcome and a well decorated bar etc, it is very expensive and is catering for those who can afford to stay in its refurbished bedrooms, not a pub for a walker wanting a pint to slake his thirst, this is of course my opinion and you may think differently.
Our walk back was as good as the walk there and it makes a pleasant afternoon or morning stroll if you just want a
loosener rather than a hard walk and climb of which there are plenty round here.
An area which we will certainly re-visit as there is plenty to see and do and also tends to be quieter than the Malham's and Grassington's as there are less attractions, unless you are prepared to do some exercise and go and find them.

Our campsite was about 750 yards from this sign.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Walking with Tolkein

A circular walk of about 5.5 miles from Hurst Green in the beautiful Ribble Valley.
This is a well walked route which passes through some stunning scenery and past some famous buildings with great historical and literary connections.
Indeed it is said that JRR Tolkein wrote part of "The Lord of the Rings" whilst staying at Stonyhurst College.
The walk starts in Hurst Green and can be followed quite adequately by using a brochure entitled
In the footsteps of JRR Tolkein the directions on it are excellent and as long as some common sense is used it will be very difficult to get lost. However as always it is advisable to carry a map of the area.

Pendle Hill

Stonyhurst College

When we walked this route it was early March and whilst it was a lovely day the ground underfoot was very wet and muddy. The walk to the college was not too bad but once past the college and descending towards the river Hodder it became very treacherous and great care was needed to avoid getting a muddy bum! The wind of the previous weeks had caused considerable damage in places to the paths and diversions were often necessary to get past large tree branches etc.

The walk leads to an old Packhorse bridge known as either Devils Bridge or Cromwells bridge, he allegedly using it whilst marching off to a battle.
A short detour by road gives you a break from the mud but not for long as soon you are heading back towards the River Hoddle and its junction with the River Ribble. Soon you will see in the distance a 3 arched aqueduct, once past this the walk lapses into a muddy scramble, partly because the footpath is blocked by fallen trees and the detours are steep and very muddy.
Once past this hazard all that is left is a steep climb through a sheep filled field, hopefully it will be drier if you try this walk but this last climb does leave you with aching calves but they can be well rested at the top of the track as it leads directly to a hotel by the name of Shireburn Arms hotel, they serve a good but expensive pint of beer and don't seem to mind the mud to much!

Cromwell's or Devils Bridge

Muddy Boots!
All in all a lovely walk with great scenery and I shall go back but only once the ground has dried considerably, fighting the mud becomes a chore and takes away the pleasure of a very scenic walk.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

A Scottish Highlands Christmas

For a complete change this Christmas my wife and I went on a train journey to the Highlands of Scotland. Taking in the Settle and Carlisle railway over the Ribblehead viaduct on our way to Edinburgh to meet the rest of the party and then by train to Inverness and our hotel room overlooking the River Ness and the Castle.
The first journey on a noisy and cold diesel train to Carlisle would be lovely in decent weather but it was cold, windy and wet, with very low clouds. Even the sight of the stunning Ribblehead Viaduct is diminished in weather like this and we shall have to return by train in better weather to get the full effect. There are something like 18 stops between Bingley and Carlisle but it is a pleasant enough journey and would be glorious in good weather. A brief stop in Carlisle to change trains and then onto Edinburgh via a Virgin express, the comfort and warmth making us feel good and the free WiFi allowing us to check the weather in Edinburgh and Inverness, not good in either case!!
A short taxi ride from Waverley station to our hotel in the Grassmarket behind the castle completed that days travels.
Monday morning was free for a bit of sightseeing, we passed on admission to the Castle as it was £16 each, which just seems excessive to me but the Japanese and other foreign visitors seemed happy enough to pay.

Pavement plaque in Writers Alley Edinburgh

We had a wander round various bits of the Royal Mile which I found generally rather depressing as it was full of shops selling cheap tat, made in China and being sold by non Scottish people at hard to believe prices.
Our seats to Inverness were reserved which was very good news as the train was full when it left Edinburgh and by the time it had reached Perth it was seriously overcrowded with people sitting in the aisles etc. It was in our carriage at least, good humoured and we all felt better off than those stuck on the A9 in the snow.
A later than expected arrival in Inverness was tempered by the fact that the hotel was warm and welcoming and our room was on the top floor and had a great view of the floodlit castle and the very high River Ness some two/three  feet higher than normal.
Inverness Castle

Christmas Eve dawned very windy and very wet but boots and wet weather gear on, off we went to the station to catch the train to the Kyle of Lochalsh. This trip is said to be one of the great train journeys and it may well be but on this wet and stormy day it was more of an endurance trip, the views probably stunning were obscured by rain, mist or low cloud and we began to wonder why we had bothered to get out of bed let along the hotel! Part way along the line we were joined by a representative of the Friends of the Kyle Line who told us of the history of the line and what
we could see on our journey and at their musuem at Kyle station. Their website Kyle Railway
The wind already strong when we left Inverness was even stronger when we arrived at Lochalsh, we struggled up the road to the bridge over the railway line and made our way round past the shops and down towards the loch, not a good idea as we nearly got blown over, the wind was ferocious and the sleet horizontal, the sea being whipped up as it crashed onto the sea wall . Too cold to stay long we got blown around to Hector's bothy and went and had a hot soup as we watched others get blown from pillar to post and back again! We had been invited to visit the new signal box but decided not to bother as it would mean another 200 yards or so into the teeth of a howling gale, so with heads down we staggered back to the station and visited the small musuem and had a welcoming and
warming coffee.
Skye Bridge in the background

This small town was the original ferry base for the Isle of Skye and the loch has quite a history, some of which can be read here and here and no doubt at many other places too.
The Skye bridge can be seen further up the loch in my picture of loch and hotel.
Eventually our return train arrived and we headed back towards Inverness 80 plus miles away but at least we were now dry and warm.
Christmas Day was dry but still very windy but after a big bowl of porridge we ventured out walking along the banks of the River Ness past the Cathederal towards Loch Ness, the river was flowing very quickly and in places had breached the bank. we walked up as far as the Pink Elephant (I was sober honest!) and then we crossed by one of the many pedestrian bridges into the Ness islands and walked back down the other side of the river past the Castle and across a bridge again back to our hotel, in time to get ready for our Xmas lunch after a couple of G & T's to get the appetite going you understand!

One of many bridges across the Ness

Not a great place to sit!

The Pink Elephant!

Inverness Cathedral

The rest of the day was spent relaxing either in our room or with fellow guests over a few drinks and more food, all in all  an excellent day.
Boxing Day was a glorious day in Inverness, a virtually cloudless sky with a little breeze, some us joined a trip to one of the many Loch Ness Monster experiences, it was quite interesting and totally inconclusive and just shows how to make money out of virtually nothing. We also went to Urquhart Castle it was not open but was a good photo opportunity on such a glorious day and worth a visit when in the area again.
Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle

Loch Ness

We finished our few hours out with a trip to the site of the Battle of Culloden, which was the final battle between the Jacobites and the Government, more of which be read here  The visitor centre
is said to be excellent and well worth a visit.

Once back in Inverness we went for another walk deliberately avoiding the Boxing Days sales, we walked up to the castle and then reversed our walk of Christmas Day, this time walking into the setting sun.
Inverness Castle

Inverness Cathedral shot into the setting sun

Inverness Cathedral and a River Ness bridge

Gulls resting from the wind

Friday morning after a lazy breakfast we walked to the Station and caught the train back to Edinburgh, again it was very crowded, Waverley Station was very busy too and we had to wait sometime for a taxi back to our hotel.
That evening we had a farewell dinner and drinks in the bar and said our goodbyes to the rest of the party, we had met some lovely people during the week and had a good laugh with lots of them.
The following morning we were back on the train to Carlisle and then once again across the Yorkshire Dales on the Settle to Carlisle line, which to me is still the most picturesque railway line in the UK but I will go back to the area which the Kyle line travels through as the weather cannot be that bad again!
We enjoyed the experiment of going away in a group over Christmas but doubt whether we would do it again.