The Bogtrotter

Le Sentier des Douaniers – a walk into the wilderness

by on Mar.21, 2009, under France, French Walks

The Sentier du Douaniers (which translates as the custom officers path) follows the coast around the tip of Cap Corse, the long peninsula that sticks out from the northern end on the island of Corsica. The first half of the walk is fairly flat, but the second half in more demanding with more hills.

The route is just under 20km and could be completed in one day (official guides say 7h45 minutes of walking), but we chose the more leisurely approach of doing it over two days with an overnight stop in a hotel.

View back to Macinaggio

View back to Macinaggio

The walk starts in the small village of Macinaggio, which has a tourist marina and a couple of shops where you can get your provisions. From Macinaggio the route heads north along the coast – just walk along to the end of the beach and follow the path. After walking around the first headland you drop to a beach where the only things that are normally found sunbathing are the local cows. As you walk along the path you cannot fail to smell the mixture of scents from the “maquis”, the herbs and shrubs that make up the vegetation that covers the landscape.

Tour De Santa Maria

Tour De Santa Maria

The next bay contains the ruin of the Tour de Santa Maria tower stands with it’s feet in the water. Dramatically sliced in half, the remains of this three storey tower sit just off the beach and you can walk across to it to have a look at what’s keft.

Continuing along this classic coastal walk you see the Tour d’Agnello tower standing proud on a small headland marking the north-eastern point of the island. Before you reach the tower the path cuts inland, away from the cliffs, before turning and following a track straight down to the tower.

You then drop down to the beach which gently curves round the bay. As you leave the far end of the beach you enter Barcaggio, the small village that is the half-way point on the walk. We then stayed the night in Barcaggio’s only hotel – the Hôtel La Giraglia (Open 01/04 to 30/09 – Tél 04-95-35-60-54). The hotel has no restaurant and no televisions. But who needs a tv when you can leave your bedroom window open and listen to the waves gently lapping against the shore. This has to be one of the most remote-feeling hotels I’ve ever stayed at – a real place to “get away from it all”.

If you do stay overnight you need to consider where you will eat. Barcaggio only has one restaurant – U Pescadore which specialises in seafood and is in an ugly prefab building on the quayside (Tel 04-95-35-61-64). It is only open from June to September and otherwise it is 7km to Chez Néné on the main road.

From Barcaggio the Sentier des Douaniers continues round to Centuri Port, which is covered in part two of the walk.

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LLeyn Peninsula coastal walk – of cliffs and golf balls

by on Mar.15, 2009, under Britain, British Walks, Walks

The Lleyn peninsula is tucked away in the North of Wales, pointing like a finger into the Irish Sea. The coast has some superb walking yet is much less walked than the more famous neighbours down in Pembrookshire. This 8 mile coastal walk goes from Nefyn to Tudweiliog, with a regular bus service running for you to complete the circuit.

Lleyn Coastal Path

Lleyn Coastal Path


Starting from Nefyn a short walk takes you to the coast path above the beach. Follow the path around the cliff tops through the scented gorse bushes. From here you can see the picturesque little harbour of Porthdinllaen tucked under the cliffs in the distance, with Ty Coch (its red pub) standing out. Continue until you reach a road going down to a slipway on the beach. I prefer to continue by going up and through the golf course here, but you can also go down the slipway and follow the beach round as long as the tide is not in.

Porthdinllaen

Porthdinllaen

Follow the path along the clifftops until you are nearly over the top of Porthdinllaen, then drop down to the hamlet. Pass through the arch in the buildings to come into a courtyard, then carry on the rocky coastline. This rocky section is a little more difficult underfoot, but is passable with care. You will then come to Lifeboat Bay with the Lifeboat Station which has protected boats in the area since 1864.

Cross over the slipway and then climb up the steep steps to join the golfers on the course above. You can rest in the shelters here and watch the golfers before following the track down the middle of the course. Then pick up the path to the right which goes down the side of the fairway to rejoin the clifftop.

Walk across Nefyn Golf Course

Walk across Nefyn Golf Course

Leave the golf course behind and continue along the coast. The coastline becomes a bit more rugged and wild now, with hardly a sole in sight. However the path is fairly distinct and easy to follow, with just a couple of slightly tricky bits where the path has been eroded back by small streams. The cormorants and seals provide welcome company along the route – the cormorants diving off the rocks into the sea whilst the seals lounge around on the sand and rocks.

Keep going until you reach the path cutting inland next to a small caravan site. Take this path then follow a small path across the fields to Tudweiliog village, where you can get some refreshments in the shop and wait for the bus back to Nefyn (click for timetable).

To do this walk you will need OS Landranger Map number 123 (Lleyn Peninsula). Alternatively you can download the map from Anquet Maps.

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Traditional Les Saintes Maries de la Mer

by on Mar.08, 2009, under France, French Experiences

Les Saintes Maries de la Mer is one of those places whose name alone conjures up images of legends from the past. Set in the heart of the Camargues region of southern France, this coastal town is steeped in history and folklore. The local Camargue culture is infused with gypsy traditions, and the highlight of the local calendar is the annual gypsy pilgrimage to the town in May.

View from the roof of the church

View from the roof of the church

The centre of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer is dominated by the church, which towers above the surrounding buildings. Built between the 9th and 12th centuries it seems more of a fortress than a place of worship, which is probably why it survives so well today. The main attraction inside is the statue of St. Sara, a significant figure in Gypsy cultural tradition, which is found in the crypt to the right of the altar. After visiting the inside of the church, make sure you climb up onto the roof for panoramic views across the Camargues and out into the Mediterranean.
Over Les Saintes Marie de la Mer

Looking out over Les Saintes Marie de la Mer

Surrounding the church are a labyrinth of narrow streets, offering shelter from the mediterranean heat. There are shops selling everything a tourist may wish for, and the atmosphere is typically friendly and festive throughout the year.

For more information visit the local tourist office web site.

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A walk in the Park – Richmond Park

by on Mar.04, 2009, under Britain, British Experiences

Richmond Park would be just like any other big London green space if it wasn’t for one thing – the Red Deer that wander freely around.

Red Deer in Richmond Park

Red Deer in Richmond Park

Whatever the time of year, you don’t need much of an excuse to go down the the park. Whether it’s for a brisk walk on a Winter’s day, or a relaxing evening stroll in Summer, the deer will be waiting. The deer usually stick together in a couple of fairly large herds, so they shouldn’t be too hard to spot. Our first sight of them was their antlers sticking up like tree branches out of the firns and grasses. However, Richmond Park is the largest of the London Royal Parks (over 2500 acres) so it might take you a while to track them down.

Once you’ve found them, you will be surprised how close you can get. The deer are very used to people in the park so they don’t run off at the sight of you. But don’t mistake them for pets – they are wild animals and you should not approach them too closely or try to touch them. For photographers they are a delight – you can spend hours with a camera getting up close and personal for that perfect shot.

You can find out more about the park, including directions, from the Richmond Park web site.

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The tallest sand dune in Europe

by on Feb.27, 2009, under France, French Experiences

The big sand dune of Pilat is a bit bigger than your average sand dune. At over metres high (between 105 and 117 metres depending on who you ask) it stands tall above the French Atlantic coast, just south of the holiday resort of Arcachon.

Dune du Pilat near Arcachon

Dune du Pilat near Arcachon

Said to be the highest of its kind in Europe. Pilat is also over two and a half kilometres long and 500m wide.

Head for Pyla sur Mer (the nearest village) and the dune will rise from the horizon in front of you. Anyone can walk on the dune, so just find somewhere to park, take a deep breath and get walking. Walking on sand is not easy at the best of times, but when you are climbing up the steep sides of the dune it is positively strength-sapping. But it is worth it for the beautiful views – of the coast on one side and the pine forests on the other.

Trees in the Landes

Trees in the Landes

The area to the south of the dunes is the featureless expanse of the Landes. From the top of the dunes you can see this vast pine forest seems to go on forever.

Apparently there have been problems with drivers falling asleep at the wheel whilst driving along the arrow straight roads in the forest, so the have now deliberately put bends and junctions in some roads to break up the monotony.

Once you have tired yourself out on the dunes, head back towards Arcachon and sample some of the famous Arcachon oysters. Oysters grown by the 350 growers in the Arcachon bassin account for over half of all the oysters eaten in France. And if they’re good enough for the French…..

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Relax in an open top Bath

by on Feb.25, 2009, under Britain, British Experiences

Sometimes you just want to relax and watch the world pass by. At the Thermae Spa in Bath you can do exactly that – looking out over the rooftops of the city from the rooftop pool.

Bath has been renowned as a Spa town since Roman times, and the old Roman Baths have been a visitor attraction for years. But after the old Spa closed in 1978 there was no way for you to enjoy the hot spring waters. That was until the Thermae Spa opened in 2006, with the centrepiece being the futuristic New Royal Bath building.

Bath Thermae Spa rooftop pool

Bath Thermae Spa rooftop pool

One of the great things about the Spa is it is open to all, and you can visit for just a couple of hours. The highlight for me was definitely the open-air rooftop pool. Even though it was an overcast day it felt great to wallow in the warm waters and look over the historic buildings that surround the Spa.

The Minerva Bath inside is equally impressive, with the grand columns towering up from the waters to support the structure above. You really do feel a sense of indulgence as you move between the whirlpools and neck-massage jets. There are also steam rooms “gently infused with essential oils, such as camomile, jasmine and eucalyptus”, although I have to admit their benefits were lost on me.

For those looking for an extra touch you can treat yourself (or your loved one) to a spa treatment such as a relaxing massage or body wrap. Or you could combine two pampering treats in one pampering package – a session for two at the Thermae Bath Spa and an indulgent afternoon tea for two at Homewood Park Country House Hotel. And with just a little bit of imagination you could drift back 2000 years and be bathing with the Romans.

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Broadway Tower – circular walk back in time

by on Feb.23, 2009, under Britain, British Walks, Walks

This is a classic 4 mile circular walk through one of the best parts of the Cotswolds, starting and finishing in the “Jewel of the Cotswolds” that is Broadway village.

Start from the centre of Broadway and follow the old High Street up and out of the village. If several of the buildings look familiar – it’s no surprise. This street is used as a setting for many historical dramas, with it’s chocolate box looks and untouched feel. Carry on up the hill past the car turning circle until you see a gate on your left with a footpath sign next to it. Take this path and go through the low arch under the bypass.

The Green in Broadway

The Green in Broadway

The path goes up and across the first small field, then curves up to the right. You pass through a gateway then cross straight over another couple of fields, climbing gradually until you reach a hedge at the far side of the fields. The walking here is wet underfoot as several springs come up in these fields, and it is difficult to plot a dry route. At the hedge turn left and follow the road for approx 50 yards until you see a path signposted through the woods on your right hand side. You then take the path through the woods, winding you way until you come to the busy A44 road.

Broadway Tower

Broadway Tower

After crossing the A44 you join the Cotswold Way National Trail and continue the gentle climb up onto Broadway Hill, and after five minutes walking you will see Broadway Tower appear in front of you.

Broadway Tower is an original British folly, built as a mock castle in 1799 for Lady Coventry, from which it is said you can view 13 counties from here. I’m not sure if it’s true, but the views of the surrounding countryside do make the climb to the top of the hill worth the effort. We stopped and had a drink whilst looking out over the landscape, watching a group of Red deer which were penned into the field alongside the tower.

Afterwards we went through the big car park and started our fairly steep descent down a track – heading straight towards Broadway. After about 10 minutes the main track appears to come to an end. Carry straight on around the house and you will see the path going across the field to your left.

The route from here is fairly easy to follow as you take a well worn path across several fields back to the village. There are numerous paths criss-crossing as you get nearer to Broadway, but it makes little difference which one you take. All eventually lead back to the High Street, where you can get you bearings and head for the obligatory post-walk tea shop for a well earned cuppa and a slice of cake.

To do this walk you will need to use Ordanance Survey Explorer Map OL45 The Cotswolds. Alternatively you can download the map from Anquet Maps.

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Kew Glasshouses – gardens for all seasons

by on Feb.20, 2009, under Britain, English Gardens

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are perhaps the most famous gardens in the country. It’s global importance is recognised by the fact that it has been a UNESCO heritage site since 2003. But while many people visit gardens in the summer – most don’t realise just how much Kew has to offer all year round.

Temperate House at Kew

Temperate House at Kew

I visited there in December and had a great day out. Whilst most of the outside flower beds are fairly bare, the historic glass houses offer up a series of delights for any garden enthusiast. There’s no better feeling on a cold winters day than walking into the misty tropical Palm House and being enveloped by the humid heat. The Palm House aims to recreate Tropical rainforest conditions, and the central trancept contains the tallest palms which are allowed to grow to their full height.

One of my favourite things to do at Kew is to climb up onto the walkways high up in the glass houses. In the Temperate House (the largest Glass house at Kew) you can look down on the world’s largest indoor plant – the Chilean wine-palm (Jubaea chilensis) which rises to over 16 metres tall. Being up in the rafters is a unique experience and gives you a completely different perspective on the plants and trees below.

Orchid in the Glasshouse

Orchid in the Glasshouse

The futuristic Princess of Wales conservatory has probably the most eclectic mix of plants, set in ten distinct climate-controlled zones. Plants include a magnificent range of Cactii in the Dry Tropics zone through to dripping wet epiphytic plants perched on tree trunks in the cloud forest zone. There are also some stunning Orchids in full flower, and don’t miss the Giant Water Lillies in the Wet Tropics zone. And there is even a collection of carnivorous plants to please kids of all ages.

So you don’t have to wait for spring to head out for a garden visit – with Kew’s glasshouses you really do have gardens for all seasons.

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Paris for the weekend

by on Feb.19, 2009, under France, French Experiences

Why on earth would you go to Paris for the weekend? I can’t think of any good reason, apart from the iconic monuments, immense and diverse museums, chic cafe culture, and excellent food.

Arc De Triomphe at Dusk

Arc De Triomphe at Dusk

For those who haven’t been to Paris before, it’s hard to know where to start.  I would begin with a trip on the river boats – my personal favourites being the Vedettes du Pont Neuf which go from (unsurprisingly) beside the Pont Neuf bridge. The hour long voyage gives you the opportunity to get your bearings – as many of the key landmarks are visible from the Seine. The Eiffel Tower, Assembly National parliament building, the museums of the Louvre and d’Orsay, and Notre Dame Cathedral are all pointed out and described by the multilingual guides.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Paris several times, so I’ve visited all the must-do sites. However I still keep going back, as I just love the atmosphere of the place.

Paris is a city best explored on foot.  Make sure you wander the streets – you will be surprised what you find.  Every area of the city has hidden treasures, from churches to arches to covered markets.  When you get tired, rest over a drink in a cafe and spend time people watching.  This is a distinctly Parisian pass-time, and one every visitor should indulge in at some stage during their visit.

Parisian Cafe before opening time

Parisian Cafe before opening time

And when it comes to mealtime – be adventurous.  There are so many restaurants it’s hard to know where to start. In many cases it is the unasuming discreet places that turn up the best food.  Get some ideas from the guide books then just get out there and try something new.  My last visit included a meal at Petit Canard, which has a menu almost completely full of duck.  There was duck liver pate, duck leg, duck breast, duck cassoulet, duck sausage – if you don’t like duck then it’s not the place for you!

If you can’t find enough to do to fill a weekend in Paris, then you need to broaden your imagination.  Just don’t try to visit everything in your first visit.

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Lode Mill walk on the edge of the Fens

by on Feb.14, 2009, under Britain, British Walks, Walks

Cambridgeshire does not give you the most spectacular walking country, but for those looking for a gentle stroll through the fens should head for Stow cum Quy.  From here there is a lovely 4 mile circular walk across the fields to Lode Mill.

Lode Mill

Lode Mill

From the A14, go through Stow Cum Quy and turn left onto Station Road. Park your car near the small bridge about 1/4 mile along Station Road, and start the walk by standing on the bridge and feeding the swans and ducks.  Cross the bridge and take the path diagonally across the first field on your right (past the inquisitive horses) to join a wide track.  Follow this track for about 15 minutes, crossing the old railway line, until you come to a fork in the path. Take the right fork and you will come to a kissing gate. Go through the gate and follow the signpost along the edge of the fen towards Lode. You will then reach a footbridge on your right – cross this to get to the field opposite.

Follow the path around the field, and then it joins a broad grassy track. Shortly after there is a ruined building on the right, take the right turn here and follow the track behind the building. At a T junction turn sharp left along a track, then the path goes off to the right through a wood. Turn left in the middle of the wood and you come out into a field. Follow the track along the edge of the field (lined with old apple trees) which leads to Lode Mill.

River Bank near Lode

River Bank near Lode

From Lode Mill turn right and follow the riverbank back.  On the opposite side of the river you will see Anglesey Abbey (a National Trust property with a great garden).  As you continue you will have the strange experience of following a river that is higher than the surrounding land.  As the fens were drained the land has sunk, leaving the river flowing above two metres above the fields.  The river gentle winds its way back to the bridge where you started, and you will hopefully find the ducks and swans awaiting your return.

Another version of this walk (starting from Anglesey Abbey car park) and a simple map can be found here.

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