The West End of Glasgow is not known as a mecca for hillwalking - although there are a few steep inclines within its boundaries . However a fair population of folk living in the West End have a passion for the outdoors and many of our city dwellers nurse ambitions about conquering the Munros.
Few are more committed than Helen Rose, who shares her hillwalking experiences in Scotland, Ireland and elsewhere....
Helen Rose Outdoors Diary
I'd never visited Northern Germany so decided to take a cruise from Rosyth. Cruises combine a holiday relaxing on board with waking up every morning without effort in a new placee. Perfect for the lazy traveller! The cruise was for one week. We left Rosyth on the ship and passed under the Queensferry Crossing, the latest addition to Scotland's famous Forth Bridges. The 1.7 miles (2.7km) structure is the longest three-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world and also by far the largest to feature cables which cross mid-span. This innovative design provides extra strength and stiffness, allowing the towers and the deck to be more slender and elegant.
After a day on the North Sea our first port of call was Heligoland; an archipelago in the south eastern corner of the North Sea – the only German islands not in the immediate vicinity of Germany. The islands were previously in the possession of Denmark and Britain. They are the only German islands with a sea stack (Lange Anna). They claim to have richer air with iodine and oxygen than anywhere else in Germany. We took a tender from the ship to the port and walked up the well-marked paths along the top of the red sandstone rock cliffs. On the way we passed bomb craters now growing with grass where grey moorland sheep were grazing. The area was badly bombed during WW2 due to its strategic location and is in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest artificial non-nuclear single explosive detonation. The little town looked very Danish with the coloured houses. Heligoland is duty-free which attracts a lot of visitors.
We continued up the River Elbe which is a wide river leading to Hamburg. Leaving the dock we were immediately in the new Harbour City where the old warehouses are being transformed into bijoux residences and the entire area is being regenerated. The former warehouses now provide opportunities for the service industry. I was particularly impressed by the coffee museum coffee house where we could watch the coffee being roasted and see how the bags of coffee beans were brought in to the warehouse. Also, in this area is the new opera house, Elbphilharmonie, where there are long elevators to a high point in the building providing views across the city. In the centre of the city is a manmade Lake Auβenalster surrounded by modern white housing and parks. The town hall (Rathaus) is also a prize with its elaborately decorated façade. Hamburg dates back 700 years to the Hanseatic League.
Further on the tour we drove down the Reeperbahn which is famous for the Beatles' emergance in clubs there. Most appropriate for me having visited Liverpool earlier in the year. We then visited St. Michael’s church for a Bach organ recital. It is the largest Baroque church in Northern Germany and has three organs, one of which is reputed to be the largest in the world. This church has excellent acoustics with its high naves. Walking around the harbour area there is good outdoor sculpture within the gardens. Many of the oldest buildings in Hamburg were lost in WW2 and only a few streets have been preserved.
We travelled along the Elbe and then turned in to the River Weser where we docked at Bremen. Bremen is a newish town but with a UNESCO World Heritage listed statue of Knight Roland dating back to 1404 in its central Market Square. The old centre is small enough to take in on a walking tour. The Renaissance/Gothic style town hall with its magnificent façade is one of the finest civic buildings in Germany. It is the only European town hall built in the late Middle Ages that has not been destroyed or altered, managing to survive in its original form over the centuries. Unfortunately, we could not have a tour of the interior where model ships hang from the ceiling to honour the maritime history.
The other attraction was the iconic bronze sculpture of the Bremen Town Musicians based on the Grimm’s fairy tale animals. We walked from the Market Square to the Böttcherstraβe, where we were greeted at the entrance by the Bringer of Light wall sculpture. Beyond this was the Glockenspiel House where 30 bells of Meissen China ring three times a day. We were lucky enough to hear them. It was on to the Schnoor Quarter, the oldest part of Bremen with its pretty little timber houses.
We sailed up the North Sea back to Rosyth in lovely, calm, sunny weather, unusual for this area as the Captain reminded us! A very enjoyable trip full of history and beautiful architecture.
Coming attraction; Windermere.
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The Bearsden and Milngavie Ramblers arrange annual walking holidays abroad and this year we had a special treat Peter and Helena otganised an extended trip to the Czech Republic to Šumava Region in the west of Bohemia, near the Bavarian Border in Germany. We had six days walking with a choice of walks and, just to be tourists, two days of trips to towns. Over and above we had a trip to a very lovely town of Pisek on our way from Prague to Šumava and on our return to Pilsen, the home of Pilsner lager where we visited the Brewery Museum and lunched in the Urquell Brewery vaults ,which has specialised in bottom-fermented beer since 1842. There was so much to see and describe that I will limit it to describing three walks and two towns visited.
We were based at the very comfortable Hotel Horizont near the village of Špičácké Sedlo. The view from the window was of rolling hills covered in trees. The area has walking and cross country skiing in the winter. It is a spa resort with good facilities to relax in. On the third walking day we travelled by bus to Dreisessel which is in Bavaria, Germany. After coffee at the lodge, we started the walk on a good path. All the trees were bare stumps as there had been extensive damage to the pine trees by the bark beetle. The area looked very desolate but we had the advantage of open views as this had previously been forest. One side of the path was the Czech Republic and the other side was Germany. At the end of the border ridge path we came to the monument marking the convergence of three borders of Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany. There were convenient picnic benches for lunch and for looking out over the three countries.
The second walk, later in the week, was to the Großer Arber, German for Great Arber. This is the highest peak of the Bavarian/Bohemian Forest mountain range, with an elevation of 1,455.5 metres (4,775 ft). Although geographically belonging to the larger Bohemian Forest range, it is often referred to as "King of the Bavarian Forest”. We took the gondola up to the restaurant near the top and had coffee and cake while we looked out at the rain and wind. As usual, the weather can be unpredictable in the mountains and we struggled up the path to reach the cross designating the top. On the descent we passed a little church dedicated to some German climbers. The descent took us to Großer Arbersee, the lake on the valley floor. There was a convenient German Bar selling delicious Apple Strudel and coffee – providing us with refreshment before a walk around the lake. We saw the beaver lodges at the side of the lake, a feat of chewing though tree branches to build a dam to provide still, deep water to protect against predators, and to float food and building material.
We had an all day excursion to Český Krumlov, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Southern Bohemia. Most of the architecture of the old town and castle dates from the 14th to the 17th centuries; the town's structures are mostly in Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. The centre of the old town is within a horseshoe bend of the river, with the old neighborhood and castle on the other side of the Vitava River. The castle is unusually large for a town of its size. Within the Czech Republic it is second in size only to the castle complex in Prague. Inside its grounds are a large rococo garden with fountains, an extensive bridge over a deep gap in the rock upon which the castle is built, and the castle itself, which in turn consists of many defined parts dating from different periods. We had a tour of the castle and a walk in the garden. The Egon Schiele Gallery http://www.schieleartcentrum.cz/en/ in the town was interesting, an artist known for his notoriety and imprisonment but he was accomplished as a landscape and townscape painter. A lovely day ended by sitting by the river for coffee.
Our second day trip was to Regensburg, an UNESCO World Heritage site in Bavaria, Germany. Regensburg on the Danube River is known for its well-preserved medieval core. The 12th century Stone Bridge, a 310m long icon with 16 arches crosses the river to the old town. Unfortunately, work was being carried out on the old bridge so we could not see it clearly. The 13th century St Peter’s Regensburg Cathedral, a twin-spired Gothic landmark, is home to the Regensburger Domspatzen (Cathedral Sparrows) choir. We had a city tour tracing the city back from before Roman times and through its medieval history. We passed an old house where Goethe, the German writer and statesman from the 18th and 19th centuries is reputed to have stayed. On the way back to Šumava we stopped off on the outskirts of Regensburg at Walhalla, a Parthenon replica honouring illustrious Germans. Walhalla is named for the Valhalla of Norse Paganism. It was conceived in 1807 by Crown Prince Ludwig in order to support the gathering momentum for the unification of the many German states. Following his accession to the throne of Bavaria, construction took place between 1830 and 1842. It is an impressive sight from the motorway on top of a hill.
On the last day we took a very unusual single chairlift to Pancíř. It took a lot of persuasion by Helena for me to travel up on this chairlift. As usual, we had a coffee at the top before joining the E6 (a long distance route from Finland to Turkey), down through the forest to the hotel. There were ample opportunities to look at the variety of wild mushrooms as we had Norwegian, German and Czech walkers who were all knowledgeable about mushroom picking. It was a wonderful trip and many thanks to Peter and Helena for organising it with so much to see in both countries and lots of interesting walks. A lovely hotel with some evening entertainment and dancing. Perfect.
Coming attractions; North Germany and Windermere
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Helen Rose Outdoor Diary.
Although I have been to the Languedoc in south west France many times, I have never visited Carcassonne. Carcassonne is a fortified town in the Aude Department of Occitane. It has been inhabited since the Neolithic period and is located in the Aude plain between historic trade routes, linking the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and the Massif to the Pyrenees Mountains. Its strategic importance was quickly recognised by the Romans who occupied its hilltop until the demise of the Western Roman Empire. In the fifth century it was taken over by the Visigoths, who founded the city. Its strategic location led successive rulers to expand its fortifications. The city is famous for La Cité de Carcassonne, a medieval fortress. This was restored n 1853 by the theorist and architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and was added to the Unesco list of World Heritage Sites in 1997. Some would say that the fortress was over-restored as Viollet-le-Duc had his own ideas on restoration such as including conical towers which were not part of that period.
We spent an entire day in La Cité de Carcassonne where within the medieval walled city there are many shops and restaurants. It is the largest and best conserved medieval fortress in Europe. It has double walls, a castle and the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire – reported to have the most beautiful stained glass windows in France. This being France, lunch takes up a great part of the day as it is leisurely and wine is usual with the meal. I had the specialty of the area which is cassoulet. Cassoulet is one of those iconic French regional dishes that acquire a history and status of their own. The story is that during the 100 Years War in the 14th century, Edward the Black Prince besieged the town of Castelnaudary. When the inhabitants were down to their last supplies they pooled what was left – beans and bits of meat – and ate the mixture. Strengthened by it they soon saw off the English, who apparently ran all the way back to the Channel, and cassoulet was born!
The leisurely lunch was followed by a trip to the Castle and the ramparts. It is not possible to walk around the entire perimeter of the ramparts of the walled Cité. Walking around the ramparts gives the chance to appreciate its advantageous geographical situation overlooking the Aude countryside and the Bastide Saint-Louis which is the name of the old town in Carcassonne. It felt like walking in the footsteps of all the previous rulers including the Cathars in the thirteenth century. The Cathars were a religious group who appeared in Europe in the eleventh century and largely regarded men and women as equals with no objection to contraception, euthanasia or suicide.
The following day we spent touring the Bastide where there was much to see including the market at the Fountain of Neptune created by Italian sculptors in 1771. A good excuse to sit in a café and people watch! There were many churches and buildings to explore along with the Museum of Fine Art with its ornate Neo-Classical façade. It is a pleasure just to walk in the streets of these old French towns such as Beziers and admire the architecture and colourful flowers spilling from the balconies.
Canal du Midi.
The Canal du Midi is Occitan (the local language) meaning canal of the two seas. It is a 241 km (150 mile) long canal. The canal was at the time considered one of the greatest construction works of the 17th century. The canal connects the Garronne River to the Etang de Thau on the Mediterranean Sea and along with the 193 km (120 miles) long Canal de Garonne forms the Canal des Deux Mers, joining the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The canal runs from the city of Toulouse down to the Étang de Thau near the Mediterranean. We decided to take a trip on the Canal Du Midi crossing the Carcassonne harbour passing under the highest bridge on the canal and sailing outwith the city. The area is attractive with one hundred year old plane trees providing shade at the side of the canal. We passed through two locks which are all now automatic. This is a busy canal with many very large and plush pleasure boats to be seen. The cruise was relaxing but unusually the weather was cold and grey so the boatman provided rugs for us to keep warm. Unusual weather for the south of France in the summer.
There is so much to see in the Languedoc that I hope to return many more times to explore it and visit châteaux.
Coming attractions; The Sumava Mountains.
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Helen Rose Diary July 2017
Portpatrick village is on the south-westerly coast of the Scottish mainland, cut into a cleft in steep cliffs. Anciently known as Portrie (Port Rhin, meaning headland), its quay was protected by the baron of Dunskey Castle (from dun meaning castle; key meaning quay) and his local men. When being invaded, the fishermen and their families probably scrambled up the cliffs to Dunskey for protection. Dating back some 700 years and built adjacent to the ruins of nearby Dunskey Castle, Portpatrick's position on the Rhins of Galloway affords visitors views of the Northern Irish coast 21 miles (34 km) to the west, with cliff-top walks and beaches both north and south. The Gulf Stream, flowing in from the north, gives the coastline a pleasant climate, in which subtropical plant life can flourish. These can be seen at Logan Gardens I wrote about on my last trip to Portpatrick. Local legend has it that Peter the Great of Russia stayed in the village. I suppose Russia and Scotland were both maritime nations as a connection! The HF walking club organised the weekend www.meetup.com/Glasgow-HF-Outdoor-Club/
HMV Princess Victoria.
Frank from the Walking Club lives in Portpatrick and offered to give us a tour of the village followed by a guided walk to the south of the village. The village is very pretty with a lovely harbour and a view over to Northern Ireland, Donaghadee and the Mountains of Mourne. In St. Patrick Street we saw the old parish church built in 1628-29 and continued in use until 1842. At the harbour, we saw the plaque to the Princess Victoria ship which sank nearby in high seas with huge waves entering the car deck. The crew struggled to close the doors again but they proved to be too badly damaged and water continued to flood in from the waves. The scuppers did not seem to be allowing the water to drain away. The Portpatrick Lifeboat, the Jeannie Spiers, was dispatched, as was the destroyer HMS Contest. The ship could not be located as it was drifting and it sunk off the Copeland Islands with the loss of 133 lives in 1953. We continued the walk south on a good coastal path.
The path led us to Dunskey Castle which is a twelfth century castle overlooking the sea. Portpatrick was known as the port of Castle Dunskey. Dunskey is undoubtedly romantic. It was a location for the 1951 film Kidnapped of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, as well as for the 1952 film Hunted. After exploring the ruined castle we walked around it and continued on the path south with splendid views over to the castle on the promontory. Frank was a mine of information as we walked to Knockinhaam Lodge where we had our lunch on the beach in front of this expensive secluded hotel.
World War 2 Connection
The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, spent a few days in top-secret meetings with the American President, Franklin D Roosevelt in 1941 during the Second World War. Details of the meetings only emerged after the announcement of a joint declaration by Britain and America on the basic principles for a post-war world, sealing the alliance between the two countries for the downfall of Hitler. These talks took place around Portpatrick, probably at Knockinhaam Lodge although the location is referred to as somewhere in the Atlantic. Nearby, there are the remains of a Second World War radar station known as the Hush Hush. We continued the walk back to Portpatrick partly on an old railway solum with high walls on either side we had looked down on from the coastal path. Sadly, there is no longer a railway in Portpatrick as it closed in the 1950s.
Southern Upland Way
To the north of the village is the starting point of the Southern Upland Way, a long-distance walking route to Cockburnspath on the east coast. On my last visit I walked from Portpatrick to Stranraer but this time we took the bus to Stranraer and walked back to Portpatrick. Frank told us about the Waymerk Kists. Weymerks are small metal tokens that have been placed in concealed kists (containers) at thirteen locations along the route. Each token celebrates the heritage of the place in which is it hidden. All the tokens have been minted by hand from lead and copper. We passed one kist which was indicated on a waymark but was unseen. The wily Frank knew where to look and showed us the blue box!
It was a fantastic weekend organised by Stephen and made all the more interesting with our local guide Frank who had a trip down memory lane in Portpatrick. We even had good weather! Thanks to Stephen and Frank.
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Helen Rose Outdoor Diary.
I visited Crete a very long time ago but spent most of the time visiting the famous Archaeological sites such as Knossos and Phaestos and the beaches at Malia and Vai. I saw that Scot-trek http://www.scot-trek.co.uk/ had a walking holiday to Crete which would give me the opportunity to visit the villages, walk in the countryside and walk the Samarian Gorge. It was a marvellous week in beautiful sunny weather with the best of the Spring flowers. The walking season is very short and only really in May and June as it is too hot from July onwards. Crete is the largest Greek island and is about four and a half hours by plane from Glasgow. It is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.
We were based in Rethymnon on the north of the Island to the west of the capital Heraklion at a hotel in the old part of the town and not far from the beach. The town still maintains its old aristocratic appearance, with its buildings dating from the 16th century, arched doorways, stone staircases, Byzantine and Hellenic-Roman remains, the small Venetian harbour and narrow streets. The city's Venetian-era citadel, the Fortezza of Rethmynon, is one of the best-preserved castles in Crete. Within the Fortezza, other monuments include the Neratze Mosque (the Municipal Odeon arts centre), the Great Gate ("Porta Guora"), the Piazza Rimondi and the Loggia. It is an interesting walk around with good views out to sea.
The Minoan Civilisation was an Aegean Bronze Age on the island of Crete which flourished from about 2600 to 1100 BC. It preceded the Mycean Civilisation of ancient Greece. The civilization was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of British archaeologist Arthur Evans. It has been described as the earliest of its kind in Europe. On our walks we came across Minoan ruins which were off the beaten track. My own memories of visiting Knossos was that it was over restored although there was an excellent Archaelogical Museum. Phaestos in the south of the island is much less visited and to my mind had more atmosphere. We saw examples of Minoan terraces for agriculture.
In 66 BC Rome commissioned Quintus Caecilius Metellus and following a ferocious three-year campaign Crete was conquered for Rome in 69 BC. Once pacified, the Cretans settled into Roman rule with little resistance and the island became a mostly uneventful backwater province. Other than Gothic raids in 269 AD, Crete remained a peaceful and prosperous province for the great bulk of Roman rule. It remained a part of the Roman and Byzantine empires through to the 13th century, with some interruption by Arab conquest in the 9th century AD. Crete offered standard imports from the region such as olive oil and wine which was supplemented by grain. To this day the main produce of the island are olives and wine.
We walked on four days for five hours but they were easy rambles although involved a lot of ups and downs as it is a hilly and mountainous island. On the walks, the guides from The Happy Walker www.happywalker.com stopped frequently to explain the culture, the wild flowers and information on the historical past of the islands. There is too much information to detail here but the walks were the Margarites Region, Natural Countryside and Picturesque Village with Amnatos, Ancient Inland Crete with Kare and A Cool Well with Agios Konstantinos. The walks took about five hours in total per day. We stopped after three hours in a village for coffee and snacks with raki, an unsweetened alcoholic drink in a small glass. Suitably fortified we walked for another two hours and had lunch in another village outside under a canopy where the wine flowed and lots of dishes appeared.
The highlights for me of these walks was walking through fields of beautiful Spring flowers and olive groves, visiting little old Greek Orthodox churches and seeing Mount Ida with snow still on a slope. Mount Ida is over 8,000 feet high and the highest mountain in Crete. We passed the oldest bridge in Crete and also saw lots of coral fossils from when the island was below the sea. We saw swallows and Griffon Vultures along the way. We saw the Arum Lily in the photograph on many of the walks.
Although I enjoyed all the walks immensely with an insight into the beauty and culture of Crete, the highlight for me was walking the Samarian Gorge. It is 16 km long, starting at an altitude of 1230m and taking you all the way down to the shores of the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli. The descent was on a good zig zag path but very rocky underfoot. There are frequent watering places. The Gorge is 13 km in length and we had to cross and recross the river on wooden bridges. It is like walking on a rocky riverbed. The entire walk took us a leisurely seven hours and fortunately it was overcast with a breeze making it ideal walking conditions as the gorge can build up heat. We took the minibus after we checked out of the gorge exit point for the last 3km to Agia Roumeli to catch the boat after a well-deserved refreshment.
Coming attractions; Portpatrick, Pentlands
Contact me at email@example.com.Helen Rose Hillwalking and Outdoors Diary