Category Archives: hiking

Spain

Walking the wall around Girona.
Walking the wall around Girona.

Father’s Day saw us in Teesside putting out 101 fires for the family whilst we were supposed to be packing for Spain. Eventually, we got everything sorted convinced everyone they would survive a few days without us, and we made our way to Newcastle Airport.

When we last stayed overnight at the airport, it was the Doubletree, which was incredibly disappointing, because they were out of cookies when we arrived and the next delivery (What?! For those prices, one can reasonably expect fresh-baked.) was after we checked out. This time, we stayed at the much less posh Britannia. With lower prices come lower expectations, but we really weren’t expecting a bunk bed to be jammed up against our bed, creating a prison vibe with its safety bars. I’m all for making the most of a small space, but I also like to walk around a room, rather than sidle around or climb over furniture.

On our way in, we had seen the restaurant roped off section of the lobby, and decided to take our chances at the gas station. A wise choice, I suspect. Also, I got to hear the guy in front of me ask for jah-la-pee-nos on his sub. It’s the little things in life.

We had a 6:30AM flight. Fortunately, Newcastle Airport is much easier to deal with than Manchester, and Jet2 had sufficient staff working to keep everything moving smoothly. When we arrived in Spain, it was even better—there was no passport control or customs, just baggage claim and out the door. EU FTW!

Inside Girona Cathedral
Inside Girona Cathedral
Girona Cathedral
Girona Cathedral

Craig had made detailed plans, as usual, for maximum enjoyment of our time. However, he made one small error. He thought Girona was a five-hour drive from Malaga airport, but it was actually more like seven hours. It’s a nice drive, so I didn’t mind, but I did feel bad for him, since we couldn’t share the driving.

We had booked an apartment in Montjuic with a terrace, but when we arrived, we were put on the ground floor, and our apartment was missing some things. So, we were moved (to another ground floor apartment) and over the next twelve hours, he brought us a fridge (with someone’s Coke still in it) and a washing machine (still wet from use). The guy was very friendly, and when we would go out in the morning, he would already be at work and he’d still be at it when we got home each evening, but the apartments really weren’t ready to be let out.

Fortunately, we didn’t go to Girona for the apartment. We went there for a soccer final. Which was sold out. We drove to the stadium early on the day to get tickets and when we found someone who looked like they could direct us to the ticket office, he just started laughing.

On to Plan B: hiking. We drove to Montseny Natural Park and hiked a bit of the GR 5. It was poorly marked in parts, and we got lost and ended up walking along the road to get back to the car.

With a map like this, how could we get lost?
With a map like this, how could we get lost?
With right way/ wrong way signs, how could we get lost?
With right way/ wrong way signs, how could we get lost?
Eek! A snake!
Eek! A snake!
Smiling through the pain.
Smiling through the pain.

The next day, we drove to Baza where we stayed in a cave. It was in a “neighborhood” of natural caves, but this one was clearly purpose built. Fine by me. We had a wood-burning stove inside and a built-in grill outside, so we grilled every evening and then had a fire inside.

This cave isn't ready for guests yet.
This cave isn’t ready for guests yet.
The cave hotel came with a dog.
The cave hotel came with a dog.

I would have been perfectly happy to laze around the cave. It was cool inside, and there were chairs to lounge in around the pool. The owners had a very friendly Alsatian who had a rock game he like to play: I would kick the rock and he would chase it. If I took too long, he would pick it up and drop it at my feet. He also made it clear that it was a kicking game, not a throwing game. I kind of wanted to take him home with us.

The dog teaching me to play his rock game.
The dog teaching me to play his rock game.

Lazing around isn’t on Craig’s to do list. So, we drove to Granada for a second division soccer match. We were able to find the stadium with the help of our phones (thanks Blue Dot!). The club shop sold us two tickets for €10 each. We later read in the paper that there was a two-for-one offer. 😛

Since we were in Granada, there was only one way to while away the afternoon until match time: tapas. We wandered from pub to pub having a Diet Coke at each. Apparently, in these times of austerity, that doesn’t rate a free tapa. Only two of the four pubs gave us a snack. They were delicious and filled us (me) up, so I shouldn’t complain. One was a pork loin open-faced sandwich and the other was chicken fried whole baby squid. Sounds yuck, tastes yum.

On our final full day in Spain, we drove to the nearby Baza National Park for a short hike. When we arrived, the information center was closed, so we found a circular path, and set off.

It was an easy walk and the path, leading to a lookout point, was well marked. However, it was very sunny and too hot for Craig, so despite only walking 4-5km, we didn’t look for another path when we got back to the starting point.

Instead, we drove 14km into Baza and just wandered around town (after a refreshing Diet Coke with extra ice). The buildings in the old town are lovely. As a bonus, the town’s small size pretty well insured we couldn’t get too lost. Unfortunately, all the shops close from 2-5PM, and we arrived at 1:45. So, after we strolled around for a while, we headed back to the caves and grilled up some lamb for dinner. A relaxing end to a relaxing week.

Back-to-Back Ian Hunter

Ian Hunter Leamington Spa 14 June 2013
Ian Hunter Leamington Spa 14 June 2013

Ian Hunter is getting on, so any show could be his last, really. With that in mind, we did something that seemed a bit more in keeping with being a Belieber or Directioner (yes, I can thank my teaching career for knowing those terms, and who they are referring to)– we went to back-to-back Ian Hunter shows, despite them being in two totally different places. 

He was getting ready for the Isle of Wight Festival, which may have a more inspired name, but I can’t be bothered to Google it. I can tell you that you have to take a ferry to get there, and sometimes the weather is terrible, even by English standards. I wasn’t too interested in that, but a couple of days in scenic towns seemed alright, so off we went.

First stop: Holmfirth, best known as the setting of Last of the Summer Wine, which Craig assures me was good in the early years. I’ll take his word for it, as it really hasn’t stood the test of time. We stayed at a little pub on the side of a stream, which despite being as least as picturesque as that sounds, we managed to not take any photos. 

No old men sliding down the hill in washtubs, but still pretty good.
No old men sliding down the hills in washtubs, but still pretty good.

As we walked to the town center for the show, we took about fifty photos of the landscape and the horses which seemed to be the pet of choice in the area. That, or the farmers had tiny farms with one horse each.

We arrived early enough to claim center balcony seats with no one in front of us. Billy Bragg likes to joke that no one goes to hear him sing. Ian Hunter could give him a run for his money in that regard, but it was a good show. He played all his hits (or at least all the songs that I knew) and no crap. Morrissey, are you listening?

Ian Hunter Holmfirth 13 June 2013
Ian Hunter Holmfirth 13 June 2013

The next morning, we were actually in pretty good condition, and decided to hike from Magdale to Deer Hill Reservoir. In our usual way, we started off by walking two miles in the wrong direction. Sorted out by the magical iPhone blue dot, we managed to walk three miles in the correct direction before it started raining. Plan B: have a snack in Sid’s Cafe and catch a bus back to our car. 

Where's Ivy?
Where’s Ivy?

Plan B successfully accomplished, we hit the road for Leamington Spa and Ian Hunter. We got to the show early, but not early enough to grab one of the few tables, but we managed to sit in the VIP section. Eventually, everyone who didn’t have a pass got kicked out except for us. There were only a handful of “VIPs”, and we were off to the side, and they left us alone. I guess Craig looks like he could be a VIP…

The show was good, but since it was for all intents and purposes a rehearsal, it was largely the same as the previous night’s setlist. Fortunately, it was a good setlist. As seems to be par for the course, he didn’t include the song I wanted to hear. Once again, he singed off with All the Young Dudes and Goodnight, Irene and we were off to bed with an early start for Sheffield (City on the Move!) planned.

Cumbrian Coastal Path: Maryport to Allonby and Back

A warm summer day on the English coast.
A warm summer day on the English coast.

One thing I love about England is the plethora of well-marked trails. Sure, Korea is covered with mountains covered with trails, most of which are well-marked, but England has trails everywhere. Whether you are in a rural or urban area, you can generally find a marked trail and probably a book detailing more information than you would ever want or need about it.

We decided to check out the Cumbrian Coastal Path, since we were staying nearby. So, early one Sunday morning, we parked up at the Maryport promenade and started walking to Allonby. The roundtrip would be roughly ten miles– a nice, gentle hike on flat land.

Well, the CCP is sign posted. However, this portion of the path is either promenade or overgrown plants and grass. Clearly, it will not be giving the Hadrian’s Wall walk a run for its money.

If the council doesn't have a lawnmower, surely they can find some sheep.
If the council doesn’t have a lawnmower, surely they can find some sheep.

It was nice enough scenery, but cutting a path through brush gets old fast. We stopped in Allonby for Sunday dinner at the pub (along with the rest of the town, it seemed) and turned around.

Allonby! Just in time for Sunday dinner.
Allonby! Just in time for Sunday dinner.

We often break long paths into multiple trips, but I think I’ll just read Ruth’s blog for an account of the rest of the Cumbrian Coastal Path. If people going on long walks impresses you, Christian Nock is also walking the entire UK coast, but without stopping. His blog is really a collection of links to newspaper articles about his walk, but you can also donate to help homeless vets there.

Great Gable

The day after we left Scotland, we went to Great Gable in the Lake District for a nice hike. There are many routes to the top, and Craig assured me that we would be taking one of the less strenuous ones. And I believed him.

We should have heeded the omen.
We should have heeded the omen.

Once we got past the sheep, who were clearly trying to tell us to just turn back, we parked up at a pub/ camping ground and made our way past several enclosures full of sheep toward the mountain. Unbeknownst to us at the time, those few minutes were the last bits of clear weather we would enjoy.

The fog is just starting to creep in.
The fog is just starting to creep in.

The path began with a gentle climb, and I was feeling like my walking poles were a bit over the top, like I was one step closer to turning into one of those Korean hikers I mocked for wearing $1000+ worth of gear to hike up a 200m high hill.

Soon enough, I understood why Craig had wanted to bring them. The path quickly grew steeper as the stony dirt became loose gravel. Not my favorite combination at all. As I gingerly made my way up the hill, trying not to slide/ tumble down, Craig regaled me with the story of a previous trip up Great Gable which entailed basically being stuck at the top in the cold rain. Lovely.

Eventually, we reached the top without breaking any bones and were rewarded with a lovely view for miles around lucky not to physically bump into any other hikers. With the weather continuing to worsen, our plans for a nice picnic at the top devolved into a quick couple of photos and an even quicker snack.

Apparently, there are magnificent views from the top of Great Gable.
Apparently, there are magnificent views from the top of Great Gable.

As we hurried back to the car, we passed a man carrying a bicycle. Then another. I stopped the third and learned that the four of them were riding coast to coast to raise money for GOSH, the UK equivalent of St. Jude’s. I guess they thought donators weren’t really getting value for money if they didn’t include any mountain peaks.

Iceland- what we did when we weren’t in Reykjavik

This must be the uncool part of the Blue Lagoon.
This must be the uncool part of the Blue Lagoon.

The morning after Withered Hand and Thorir Georg, I woke up feeling rough, having had a bit too much cheer the night before, but we were on the road to the Blue Lagoon just after 10. We arrived by 11, and it was clear even from the parking lot that this is a tourist trap.

Pictures of the Blue Lagoon are clearly all taken facing away from the sauna, café, restaurant, and gift shop. It’s like a mall that happens to have a lake outside. Entry is about £30 if you need a towel. There are many other extras, such as a robe and slippers, but we weren’t interested. We put the mud on our faces and relaxed in the hot water, but, really, it’s just wastewater from a power plant, and there are hot spring pools all over the country.

Me, in the most exclusive wastewater pool in the world.
Me, in the most exclusive wastewater pool in the world.

We paid an extortionate amount for a mediocre cup of coffee before driving into Grindovík, so Craig could watch a soccer match. At 6˚ C, it was too cold for me, so I hung out at a pizzeria. Once again, I didn’t hear any Icelandic. Everywhere we went, we heard lots of English and German, but very little/ no Icelandic. Next time, we’ll have to find out where the locals go.

Even the locals needed to warm up at half time.
Even the locals needed to warm up at half time.

After the game, it was finally time for some hiking. We (Craig) had found an 11-mile trail starting in Grindovík in our (Craig’s) pre-travel research. Unfortunately, we had the little problem of getting back to the car, so we just walked two hours out, and turned around.

The directions to spot the beginning of the hike weren’t clearly written, but we saw a marker and followed it to a good place to park. All along the way, the markers were closely spaced and often next to cairns, so they couldn’t be missed. My kind of hike. The walk was flat (another plus for me), but there were hills all around.

Craig and three cairns. Even we couldn't get lost with markers that close together.
Craig and three cairns. Even we couldn’t get lost with markers that close together.

The ground was moss-covered lava and was either extremely spongy or sharp and crunchy, with very little in between. It really does look similar to the moors, but even more otherworldly, because of the texture and complete blackness of the ground. Despite the flatness, it was hard on my knees because the crunchy areas were basically loose gravel. The “gravel” was just lava instead of another kind of rock.

Sunday morning, we were on our way north to Grundarfjörður by 8AM, so Craig could watch a 4th division game. The scenery was beautiful: mountains, craggy fields of moss-covered lava, lots of horses, some sheep, flocks of seagulls, and a lone puffin walking down the street. That was the only puffin spotted the entire week, and I missed it, because I was looking at a (completely run-of-the-mill) house.

How can they watch the ball with scenery like that?
How can they watch the ball with scenery like that?

The 2.5-hour drive followed the coast, but we only saw a few towns. Two-thirds of Icelanders live in Rekjavik, so the rest of the country is isolated and sparsely populated. Grundarfjörður is a whale-watching destination, but we could only find one place serving lunch on a Sunday in the high season. We paid over 5000 KR for a light lunch, further reinforcing my belief that only tourists go to restaurants. Again, the only other language I heard was German.

Monday was a busy day, so we had another early start. We drove to Kerið, a small crater lake, then to Geysir, followed by Gullfoss, before finally arriving at our second apartment, in Laugarvatn, a small town which seems to exist because of its location in the Golden Circle.

Kerid Crater. I think it was formed by a penny dropped from a helicopter.
Kerid Crater. I think it was formed by a penny dropped from a helicopter.

Kerið was indeed quite small. We (and everyone else we saw) had a quick look and were off again in about five minutes. If it weren’t right on the way to Geysir, it wouldn’t be worth seeking out. Even being on the same road, it’s just a good chance for a quick stretch of the legs before continuing on.

Geysir is actually two geysers: one big but irregular one, and one smaller one which spouts at 8-10 minute intervals. We arrived just at the tail end of an eruption from the smaller one, so we watched the water bubble for 5-6 minutes before the next one.

If you spray yourself with water as you pan from left to right, you can feel like you were there.
If you spray yourself with water as you pan from left to right, you can feel like you were there.

It sprays water about 20-30 feet high, then the water is sucked down before a second blast. We thought that was a pretty good show, so we decided not to stand around in the cold hoping the big one happened to erupt while we were there. Last on the agenda for the day, Gullfoss is the biggest waterfall in Iceland. It’s not very high, but it has a lot of water and flows through a deep crevice. Live’s video, Heaven, was shot there.

Interesting factoid: the Hvítá River, which Gullfoss is part of, was once privately owned. There is a memorial at the falls of Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the former owner’s daughter, because, legend has it that she threatened to throw herself into the falls if plans to build a hydro station went through.

It's really much better in real life.
It’s really much better in real life.

No one was threatening suicide while we were there. The entire day was sunny, but with freezing gale-force winds, which made standing around being sprayed with water pretty unpleasant. In warmer weather, we probably would have stayed a bit longer at each site. As it was, we had a quick look, took some photos, and headed for cover.

On Tuesday morning, Craig was finally able to sleep in. The places we stayed weren’t furnished with blackout curtains, so Craig was up and moving by 4AM at the latest most days. We had a very lazy morning, and we finally got moving and started walking around Laugarvatn Lake after lunch. Within 15 minutes, the land had turned marshy. Stepping ankle-deep in icy water ended the walk for me. So, Craig went to a women’s football game in Selfoss, and I lazed around the apartment wishing we could get more than four channels on TV.

On our last full day, we headed back to Reykjavik by way of Þingvellir, the historical ancient meeting place of Icelandic chieftains. It’s a massive rift valley where tectonic plates meet. You can walk along it from the top or bottom. We chose the bottom, and walked along for about 45 minutes. The busloads of tourists all stayed topside, so we had the valley to ourselves.

At the bottom, far far from the tour buses.
At the bottom, far far from the tour buses.

In the end, the path petered out a bit and became more difficult to maneuver than I felt like dealing with, so we found a good place to scramble up, and continued following the path until it started raining. We turned back to the parking lot and went up to the top to get a good view of the waterfalls.

As hikes go, it wasn’t much, but it was a good end to our trip. We got to see a place of both historic and geologic significance and enjoy it away from all of the crowds. My only gripe is that there were so many people with tripods set up that we had a hard time getting a decent photo of our own. So, here’s a picture of an underground house we walked past.

The house would be much harder to spot, if there weren't a flag on top of it.
The house would be much harder to spot, if there weren’t a flag on top of it.

Iceland– What we did in Reykjavik when I wasn’t shopping

Let me backtrack a bit from my previous post to our flight, because it was probably the worst airport experience of my life. Our flight was at 7AM, so we arrived at Manchester Airport at about 5. The line was down the corridor, because Easy Jet hadn’t thought to have more than three staff checking people in for about a dozen flights.

So, everyone crawled ahead to the single agent checking the regular line, until the “last minute” call for each flight was given, then all passengers for that flight would move to the two lines for agents checking late passengers. That’s right– there was one line for “on time” passengers (basically, everyone when they arrived) and TWO lines for “late” passengers (pretty much all of the same people, but 90 minutes later).

Once our bags were finally checked, we were ushered through a fast track security line. I’m sure the security staff enjoys having to rush and have multiple fast track lanes because Easy Jet can’t be bothered is too cheap to schedule enough desk staff. Security cleared, it was a mad dash for the plane, as increasingly dire warnings were announced over the PA system. Well, Craig and I ran, anyway. Other people stopped to pick up some breakfast along the way.

Things went much more smoothly in Iceland, presumably since EasyJet had nothing to do with immigration or customs. Well before 9AM, we were in the arrivals duty free stocking up on beer and wine. That’s right, there is an arrivals duty free. You will pass all kinds of departure duty free, but the staff will politely redirect you with their perfect English.

The 45-minute drive to Reykjavik was a great introduction to the Icelandic landscape—its rugged and similar in appearance to the moors, but is actually moss-covered lava.

It was beautiful, and I couldn’t wait to go for a hike, despite the cold, gloomy weather. However, we were there for a music festival, so first things first. We spent the day in Rekjavik, and after dinner, we walked to the Kex Guest House for a pre-festival open (free) show. When we bought our tickets, we didn’t realize the first night would be free, so we really could have gotten a one-day pass for half the amount, since we weren’t planning to attend any more shows until the last night. Live and learn.

We were there to see Withered Hand, but the opening act, þórir Georg, was really good. I tried to buy his CD after, but he didn’t have any. Neither did any of the local music shops. BTW Reykjavik has an astounding number of music shops. I guess people still buy CDs in Iceland. But I digress.

Thorir Georg, apparently banned from Reykjavik music shops.
Thorir Georg, apparently banned from Reykjavik music shops.

Eventually, Withered Hand came on. He played with a full band, including Pam Berry, from a 90s group I’d never heard of: Black Tambourine. The new songs were great, but six months on (yes, I’m behind), the album hasn’t been released, although it should be out in the spring.

Withered Hand and Pam Berry
Withered Hand and Pam Berry

After three days tooling around the country, we headed back to Reykjavik for the second Withered Hand show. We arrived early, so had a drink in the “Irish pub” next door, for 1000 KR each. Aside: someday, I will visit Ireland. I do not expect a single pub to bear any resemblance to the “Irish pubs” found in the rest of the world, despite most of those pubs looking virtually identical to one another.

Drinks consumed, we went to get our wristbands. There was no record of us, but since it was the last show of the festival, the guy let us in. So, we could have attended both shows without paying anything at all. It all seemed to be done on a shoestring, so I guess we did our part by being honest. 🙂

Dan (Withered Hand) and Pam came in and got drinks while Craig was at the bar, so he looked over their shoulder at the set list. He told them that I would be upset that Love in the Time of Ecstasy wasn’t on it, but they just gave me an apologetic (poor loser) smile on their way upstairs.

They didn’t revise their set list on my account, but it was a good show, and I really like the new songs. So, next spring, I should be able to buy them. And I will, even though I’ve already gotten live versions off Youtube. (Don’t tell anyone.)

My overall impression of Iceland is that it is a pretty great place. If I ever have the chance to live there, I will jump at it, high prices and cold weather be damned! 🙂

Iceland– bring a load of cash

Since my long ago days in university, I have longed to visit Iceland. Okay, it was initially inspired by the dozen or so very hot Icelanders who were recruited for our track and field team, but in the intervening decades, I’ve found out that Iceland has a lot more to recommend it than just really hot men.

For one, there’s knitting. Lots of knitting. Even men knit. I know other men knit, but even Franklin Habit isn’t as cool a name as Þórgnýr Thoroddsen. In fact, so many people knit, that hand-knit Icelandic sweaters can be had for very reasonable prices, even from the souvenir chains. I settled for some Lopi wool (okay, not the softest stuff) which I will eventually knit into a lopapeysa. I know, Freyja isn’t the most challenging of lopapeysur, but I know myself, and stranded knitting is not my thing.

Yarn bombing, Reykjavik style.
Yarn bombing, Reykjavik style.

 

There is also so much hand knitting, that you can score yourself a major deal at the Red Cross, or any other used clothing store. I was too cheap to splash out 25,000KR on a new sweater, but I did get a used one for 4,000KR. That’s less than we paid for a lunch of soup and coffee for two!

Hand-me-down hand-knit lopapeysa!
Hand-me-down hand-knit lopapeysa!

Bargain hunter tip: the Red Cross outside of the CBD has lower prices and a better shopping experience. As in, it (unlike the other location) does not resemble Filene’s Basement. Both locations are on Laugavegur: 12 and 116. Here are some other second hand shops in Reykjavik.

The Reykjavik Red Cross where you won't get in a slap fight over a sweater.
The Reykjavik Red Cross where you won’t get in a slap fight over a sweater.

While you are walking up to the good Red Cross, you can stop in at the Phallological  Museum. It’s a bit pricey (1000KR, I think), but it was raining, so it seemed like a good way to spend thirty minutes waiting for the weather to clear. It is surprisingly informational, but some of the displays are a bit odd– home decor fashioned from foreskin, anyone?

Horny old goat
Horny old goat

Another bargain hunter tip: stay in an apartment. It’s about the same cost as a hotel, but you have cooking and laundry facilities. Food is seriously expensive in Iceland. That 4,500KR lunch was not atypical. At one place, we paid 6,900KR for a bottle of wine that cost 7,000 won at Emart.

Caviar disguised as toothpaste. Approximate cost: $1 bajillion.
Caviar disguised as toothpaste. Approximate cost: $1 bajillion.

I’m sure there are hidden gems serving delicious food at reasonable prices, but we didn’t come across any of those. In fact, everywhere we ate, all we heard was English and German being spoken, even in little towns far from the usual tourist spots. It really seemed as if restaurants existed for the tourist trade, regardless of how out of the way they may be.

You can also bring in 4kg of food, 3l of wine, and a 12-pack of beer. We did not know that, and were flying Easyjet, so it didn’t really matter, so we did our shopping at the baggage claim duty free. It doesn’t really sell food, other than the usual assortment of chocolate, though.

We saw the sights, hiked, and watched soccer, but I’ll save all that for next time.

Esk Valley Walk Part One

A few days after arriving back in England, officially homeless and unemployed, we headed off to the Fox and Hounds. Despite the owner’s lack of imagination in terms of names, the room was quite nice and the food was good. Even better, the entire town seems to be populated by ukelele players.

By mid-evening, the place was packed, and we were the only ones sans ukelele. Craig tried to take a few photos, you know, because awkwardly taking photos of strangers is man’s work. Sadly, he wasn’t able to get a good shot.

Here a uke, there a uke, everywhere a uke uke.
Here a uke, there a uke, everywhere a uke uke.

Eventually, we got tired of listening to the oddest jam session in history and toddled off to bed. In the morning, we were up and on the moors by 5AM. We basically just followed other people’s paths, a foolhardy method for people as directionally challenged as the pair of us, but we made it back to the hotel just fine.

Only the sheep were up before us.
Only the sheep were up before us.
Hot fun in the summer time.
Hot fun in the summer time.

Along the way, we ran into grouse blinds, which I had never seen before. Craig spent some time as a grouse beater as a kid, so he explained the whole thing to me. It all sounds a bit ridiculous to someone coming from a place where a year-long “Sportman’s Paradise” (read: every animal you might want to kill and eat) license goes for US$100. Apparently, hunters pay £150to shoot grouse one day a year. To make it more exciting, or something, “beaters” (aka teenaged boys) flush the birds, so the hunters can stay in their hides and just shoot. Sounds sporting.

I've seen foxholes that weren't camouflaged that well.
I’ve seen foxholes that weren’t camouflaged that well.

The next morning, we walked a bit of the Esk Valley Walk/ Esk Valley Way, from Danby to Glaisdale. I’m not sure how many miles we put in, but the entire thing is only about 35 miles, so I can safely say we walked not that far. (Craig keeps a spreadsheet of how many miles we walk each day. He has his way, I have mine.)

It was a bit windy on the moors.
It was a bit windy on the moors.

At any rate, the Esk Valley Walkway (since apparently the name is undecided), is a nice, gentle walk. It’s meant to take about three days, but we completed it over something like five, over the course of the summer. Wouldn’t want to squeeze it all in at once. Besides, we had plans in Matlock Bath.

I'm sure he's famous.
I’m sure he’s famous.

After navigating the steepest, twistiest, narrowest roads I’ve ever seen, we met up with some of Craig’s Glastonbury friends at the Fishbowl for a few drinks and to see Boo Hewerdine. Since he, once again, did not play Geography, Craig gave him a bit of stick while buying his latest CD. Did I say “a bit”? I meant “so much that Boo signed the CD, ‘Sorry for everything.'”

It's not even a one way street.
It’s not even a one way street.

While catching up before the show, I managed to wangle an invitation invited the two of us over to his friends’ house the following night for Eurovision. It was amazing! I had only ever seen it parodied on comedy shows, but the reality is so much worse than I had even imagined. I can’t believe the US hasn’t gotten in on this. Surely, each of the fifty states, DC, and Puerto Rico could come up with something even more ostentatious and outlandish. ‘Muricavision. Get on it networks!

Taean Haebyeongil

You can see my joy at finally being here.
You can see my joy at finally being here.

Ever since the “gils” had become a thing, I had wanted to hike the Haebyeongil—the Taean Coastal Walk. It’s a bit out of the way, on the west coast. So, it kept getting pushed back as other, easier to get to, places took priority. With our departure from Korea imminent, it finally became a now-or-never event. The trail has five sections, and we decided to tackle the first (or maybe the last), a 12km section from Kkoti Beach to Baeksajahang.

Everyone was happy to be there.
Everyone was happy to be there.
I shouldn't complain. At least I was there by choice.
I shouldn’t complain. At least I was there by choice.

We arrived to find a cold, windy, gray beach and wondered if this was really the best we could have come up with for that weekend. We found a map and set off. That is one thing I miss about Korea—you could always find a map. I imagine it comes as a shock to Koreans when they turn up for a hike in the US or England and end up needing Search and Rescue to find them.

You won't see this in the US.
You won’t see this in the US.

When the drizzle turned to rain, we took that as a sign to find a hotel, despite having only covered the 2km, or less, to Bangpo Beach. Fortunately, there were a few to choose from along the beach, as the rain was falling steadily by then. I really, really, really don’t like being out in the rain. Knowing my “dry” clothes are getting as wet as I am doesn’t help, either.

The first place we came to seemed nice enough.  Really, a bed and en suite bathroom are all we look for. That it was clean, had a fridge and cable, and a lovely view (in lovely weather, anyway, when we checked in, visibility was about 50 feet) was just gravy.

Given the weather, we decided the best restaurant in town must be the one in front of the hotel. We got our favorite: exploding shellfish. That’s another thing I’ll miss about Korea. The US and the UK don’t trust diners to cook their own food, over an open flame, especially food prone to explode while cooking and/ or cause illness if eaten before fully cooked.

That looks like the best place in town for fresh seafood!
That looks like the best place in town for fresh seafood!

In the morning, we set off of the remaining 10km in the sunshine. It was a nice enough hike, but for a “coastal path”, there were a lot of wooded bits. We did get to have a little giggle here and there at Korea’s attempts to have handicapped accessible areas.  Along the beachy bits, there were random sections of sidewalk which either led to nowhere or would have required a second (at least) person to lift a wheelchair up and over obstructions in the path.

Our last sighting of old women doing hard labor.
Our last sighting of old women doing hard labor.

On the other hand, it didn’t seem to be a popular trail. The somewhat accessible sidewalks were adjacent to tour bus parking lots, but no one seemed interested in straying too far. So, we were able to enjoy the peace and quiet. If we had had more time, we could have continued on to the next section, but Craig had a game to see. So, we caught the one bus to Taean and that was that for our hiking in Korea.

We were the youngest people to ever use that bus terminal.
We were the youngest people to ever use that bus terminal.

Juwangsan National Park

Way back in April, Craig and I were on a mission to check off all of the national parks in Korea before his contract ended. Juwangsan was the last on the list, mainly because it’s in Gyeongbuk and one of the few places in Korea that is a pain to get to from Seoul. The best thing I can say about the transportation is that I didn’t accidentally act like a jerk in someone’s car.

After a long bus ride made even longer with numerous stops in one-horse towns and towns which wished they had a horse, we arrived at the gates of Juwangsan National Park. Okay, I guess it could have been worse– you can take a single bus from Dong Seoul to the gates of the park. Anyway, we started by checking out departure times, hoping to sort our tickets in advance. No dice– the tickets are sold by machine, but they are the old style “admit one” kind which are only good on the the day and are strictly first come, first served.

We were able to pick up the thinnest, most over-priced poncho available outside of a sporting event. Craig had packed his wet weather gear, but I had not, and the weather was looking a bit iffy. As we left the bus terminal, we passed a pile of at least one hundred discarded ponchos, so I could have saved myself a few thousand won, if I hadn’t been so proactive.

The latest in hiking fashion.
The latest in hiking fashion.

It was already mid-afternoon, so it was too late for any real hiking, anyway. We decided to just stretch our legs a bit before getting a room. We found the entrance easily enough– a coffee vendor had cannily put up a sign.

The Korean says "Entrance".
The Korean says “Entrance”.

We walked for about two hours, taking in the waterfalls, and planning the “real” hike the next day. It was nice enough, but we had been on a bus for five hours– I wanted to see something a bit more impressive.

I wonder why we're bothering to see Victoria Falls.
I wonder why we’re bothering to see Victoria Falls.

After the somewhat disappointing tour of waterfalls, we left the park in search of a yogwan. Point of note: there are no yogwans in front of the park. We walked for about 30 minutes, asking each of the very eager women standing in front of their minbaks if they had beds, only to be knocked back at every turn. Finally, one took pity on us and drove us to a nearby competitor with A BED (yes, that’s singular).

That room was already taken, but we gave up and took what she had left. A few minutes later, she knocked on the door, and instructed me to give a sour-looking man 10,000 won. She then moved all of our stuff into the room with the bed, at which point his sour expression became understandable. Sometimes, it’s good to be a foreigner. Sorry, Charlie!

Finally unpacked, we did a bit more searching to find an open restaurant and had one of our final giant hiking meals. I’m not sure why Koreans seem to think you need four days’ worth of food in one meal when you go to a mountain, but they do. So, we ate until we were ready to burst. All the while, the ajjuma  interrogated us and cheerfully reminded us half a dozen times that she served breakfast.

In the morning, we walked past her place at a brisk pace, wondering if she would come running after us. She had at least explained why everything was closed: we were there a month early. Koreans like to do everything together and at the same time every other group is doing them, and May is month to visit Juwangsan. There is an azalea festival and everyone comes out to see the flowers.

I’m from Louisiana, I’ve seen azaleas. So, I’m happy to miss them if it means avoiding the crowds. Fifteen years in Korea couldn’t make me assimilate.

So, over five hundred words in, and I haven’t mentioned the hike. That’s because it was pretty underwhelming. The lack of crowds meant the restaurants along the trail were being manned by desperate ajjumas. Nobody likes an aggressive ajjuma. I did appreciate the one who stood out by offering hikers a cup of hot tea on their way up as her way of advertising. More flies with honey, and all that.

Sunday morning while it was safe to walk past.
Sunday morning while it was safe to walk past.

There was a requisite temple, Daejeonsa. It looked like all the rest, but with a rock formation in the background. We took one or two photos on our way to our planned hike. Our plans were quickly scuppered by glorified police tape blocking the path. We thought maybe it was just that one bit, and headed to the other path leading to that peak, but it was the peak that was closed off.

Daejeonsa and rocks
Daejeonsa and rocks

By this point, the tour busses had started arriving, so we quickly headed up the open trail, trying to get ahead of the strolling masses. For the most part, we were able to avoid the crowds. I suspect that is largely because the crowds were pretty thin by Korean hiking standards. At any rate, I was thankful we hadn’t waited a couple of weeks to make that trip.

Where's Jenniferteacher? Just kidding, I'm easy to spot-- I'm not wearing a giant visor.
Where’s Jenniferteacher? Just kidding, I’m easy to spot– I’m the one not wearing a giant visor.