Tuesday, 30 March 2010

A Meander into Manchico

Thursday 19th November 2009, Manchico, Madeira, Portugal

Walk: 5hrs 23mins starting at 9.39
Low: 30m at 14.37
High: 304m at 14.23
Descent: 293m
Ascent: 136m

After a full breakfast our taxi arrived to take us to the trail head a couple of miles away. When we arrived there a coach load of German hikers where about to set off so we hived off to the cafe opposite to wait until they had disappeared into the distance.

This levada also has no water. That's disappointing. We pass three sets of workers fixing it up. Two of the crews are pouring concrete into the wooden moulds and the third team are actually making the moulds. We pass a couple of long sections where the work has already been completed.

The levada itself meanders lazily down the valley as is quite suburban when int his main valley. But it makes large detours, as it follows the contours, into long side valleys where the countryside is more green and where small farms and allotments are. Many of the small-holdings seem to have been abandoned however.


The weather is not great today and dark grey clouds follow us ominously all day. When we sit outside a cafe for a while it does start to rain but it doesn't persist for very long.

When the levada eventually reaches the town we leave it and climb up the road to a viewpoint at the Pico de Fado. The views out across the sea to the smaller islands is wonderful. After a brief rest we follow a small, steep and overgrown path into the town. from here it's a small walk up to our hotel. Though it's not as glamorous as our previous two hotels it's fine and the lady is very friendly.


In the late afternoon we take a walk into town and stroll along the beach front and the small harbour. I call home to find out the latest news on my Father. Everyone is resigned to the fact that he will be taken off the medications and will probably not survive the night. He hasn't regained consciousness all week.

Monday, 29 March 2010

An Afternoon in the Pool

Wednesday 18th November 2009, Morocos, Madeira, Portugal

Walk: 4hrs 56mins starting at 8.57
Low: 450m at 10.59
High: 605m at 8.57
Descent: 200m
Ascent: 207m

We were the only one at breakfast and so we sat in the corner table with the views out high above the ocean. To start our walk we had to locate the levada. The instructions weren't too clear but we finally managed to locate it after fighting our way past four scruffy off-white Highland terriers who just wouldn't stop barking. What is it with these Madeirans and mad dogs? The weather remained fair all day but not really sunny as clouds scudded across the sky all day.


The levada meandered along and we passed through two small tunnels before taking a diversion around the third. We set off every dog in the vicinity barking. We only passed two other hikers all day. We left the levada to make our way to the village where we are staying but we where disappointed to find the purple cafe mentioned in the notes was closed. from here it was a pleasant hours walk along quiet country roads to reach our village and eventually our hotel.

The hotel was very smart and although our luggage had not yet arrived we cleaned up a little in our room and had some lunch. We had some fish and a bottle of white wine. In the after we relaxed in the small indoor pool and sat in the jacuzzi next to it. We had the place all to ourselves.

In the evening we had a couple of cocktails before dinner before watching Portugal qualify for the World Cup on TV,

Sunday, 28 March 2010

We get lost and caught in the rain

Tuesday 17th November 2009, Refugio, Camacha, Madeira, Portugal

It's a sunny blue morning and then I get a phone call from my brother Keith telling me that my Dad had been taken back into hospital. he's in a coma, which I think is induced, but the prospects don't look good.

Today we finish the West Madeira part of the walking holiday and start the Eastern Madeira part. We have no walk scheduled for today and our transfer taxi is not scheduled until 2pm. I get the desk to call and we make arrangements to be picked up at 10.30am instead. This means we wont have to hang about half the day.

I look in the books I have with me and discover that we could walk along the Levada Torno and finish at the the village of Camacha where we are staying. After an hour or so driving our taxi driver shows us a place where we can join the levada but then drives us down to the gardens at Palheiro. We spend an enjoyable hour here before starting on the levada later.

Walk: 3hrs 41mins starting at 11.38
Low: 424m at 12.11
High: 645m at 14.52
Descent: 204m
Ascent: 360m

The levada itself is not that exciting as it passes through suburbia, but some parts are pleasant and we occasionally have views out to the ocean. We reach a tunnel which is impassable and have to take a detour around it. However when we try to rejoin the levada I find that the description in the book is very confusing and it takes us an age to get back on track. It's not helped by the fact that everywhere we try to go is guarded by mad barking dogs. They are tied up bu its unpleasant and my mood is not good. I'm irascible, probably due to the news about my father this morning.


We have to clamber down a steep valley and through some dense undergrowth before climbing up the other side before eventually locating the levada. At a second tunnel we again go around and follow a smaller levada which eventually gets more and more overgrown. It's here that we leave the levada to try and find our village. We walk up a steep road past a school and then a bus depot before the rain starts tipping it down. We shelter in an old disused factory building.


When the rain eases off we walk the last 2km into the village and find our hotel on a cliff overlooking the ocean. After changing we have a quick walk around the village before spending some time in the wickerwork shop that this place is famous for. The we have coffee and cake in the cafe next door.

At dinner, in a room with fabulous views over the sea, we are the only guests though there is a table of twelve or so work-men having a good time.

In the back of my mind I am contemplating whether we should abandon this holiday and return home

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Following an empty Levada Norte

Monday 16th November 2009 Jardin de Atlantico, Prezeres, Madeira, Portugal

Walk: 5hrs 52mins starting at 9.54
Low: 0m at 10.53
High: 637m at 15.04
Descent: 706m
Ascent: 695m

The weather didn't look to good this morning but after breakfast we decided to go anyway. It was windy but not actually raining. The walk was to be a circular one starting and finishing at the hotel.

The first hour was a very steep descent down to Paul de Mar on the beach. We had been led to believe that this path was very slippery but it was not as bad as we'd anticipated. We walked through the rather run down fishing village , though I sure it would have looked better in the sunshine. at the other end we joined a steep path which climbed up about as far as we'd come down initially. It was quite a long trudge up here and when we reached the road at the top we realised that this was where our driver had tried to persuade us to walk from yesterday.

We walked up a bit further to a small village and found a small cafe for a beer besids the church. from here it was a short climb to the Levada Norte which we were then to follow for the rest of the day. The levada itself was a bit of a disappointment as it had no water. It seemed to be broken though later on we came across sections that were being repaired.


A levada walk without water is a sad thing. It was rank and full of litter and a few dead rats with rotting vegetation and sludge, reeking mud and more litter and filth. On the good side though the sun came out and the sky was blue. So we followed the trail as it wound it's way along the coast high above the sea until we reached the point where we had to leave the levada to descend to the hotel. At this place we came across a team of workers repairing and restoring the levada. They were hand-building wooden moulds to fill with concrete which was carried in wheel-barrows along the levada path.


It was only a short 20 minutes down to the hotel where we had drinks on our terrace and a late picnic lunch. After hot baths we just lazed about all afternoon. In the evening I went for a short walk to see the sun going down. It was again a buffet dinner, but everything was different and very pleasant.


Friday, 26 March 2010

Our hike is rained off

Sunday 15th November 2009, Jardin de Atlantico, Prezeres, Madeira, Portugal

We wake early and watch the sunrise turn from orange to pinks to gold. It looks like the beginning of another fine day. The cafe opens at 8am and we arrive for breakfast on the dot. At 9am our taxi arrived as did the clouds.

Today we were to hike from Kabacal on the Levada de Rinco, then on the 25 Fontes before going through a tunnel and following another Lebada all the way down. However as the taxi climbed into the mountains it began to rain. On arrival at the trail head we were in thick cloud and the rain was torrential. We decided to abandon any idea of a walk and the driver took us down to the hotel. he made one more stop at another trail to try and persuade us to walk but he didn't speak English very well and couldn't show us where we were on the map or describe very well how we would get to the hotel. No walking today then.

We arrived at the hotel in more cloud and it continued to rain here all day. It too a while to check-in as we were so early and the place was crowded with other people who had also given up on going out for the day. Finally we got a room and relaxed here with our picnic lunch.

Later in the afternoon we made use of the hotel's indoor swimming pool and the sauna as well. Although dinner that evening was a buffet it was very well pleasant. We just read and relaxed in the evening.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Up and Down to Santo

Saturday 14th November 2009, Porto Moniz, Madeira, Portugal

Happy Birthday Dale!

Walk: 2hrs 41mins starting at 9.26
Low: 67m at 10.31
High: 444m at 12.02
Descent: 326m
Ascent: 399m


After a simple breakfast of bread, ham and cheese, with good coffee we are driven to the Telerifico where we will begin our walk. There is a cafe here but it is not yet open. Our walk comprises a steep descent into a gully towards the sea and then a steep climb out again on the other side. We will then continue through the villages back down to Porto Moniz.


The weather is again warm although the clouds look ominous. In fact half way down it starts to spit but we manage to avoid any rain. We walk down a very steep and slippery trail heading towards the sea. The trail switchbacks a lot and we see a few butterflies on the way. Mostly Small Coppers. It takes us about an hour to to the bottom of the cleft where we take a right turn and follow a small stream. A left turn here would take us to the tiny village which can only be reached by Cable Car or one of several steep trails.


After following this stream for a while we cross a broken bridge and begin the ascent up the other side. This also takes about an hour. It's kind of pointless really but it's good to be out in the fresh air. As we near the top we realise that the cliff has been formed into terraces for growing vines in the past. We see a couple of workers but it seems most of them are now not used. The vines are continuing to grow without any attention though.

On reaching the top we find a viewpoint where we relax and watch the ocean. from here it's only a short walk into the village of Santo where we have a beer in the sun before catching a taxi back down into Porto Moniz. We do this to avoid the crippling walk on the concrete roads that nearly done for us yesterday!

Back at the hotel we make use of the Jacuzzi again before changing and having lunch at the Orca Restaurant which overlooks the Lido and the sea. We have fish and gambas with a bottle of white wine. It;s very pleasant sitting out in the sunshine.

Unfortunately we can't bathe in the sea-water Lido as the tide is high and the breakers are crashing into the pool. The red flag is out. The entrance fee is a remarkable 3 Euros and we regret that we didn't take the opportunity to use the pool yesterday now.

After lunch we stroll along the promenade and visit the small local aquarium as well as a UNESCO Centre which is all about the unique Laurel Forests of Madeira.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

On the Levada de Janeiros

Friday 13th November 2009, Porto Moniz, Madeira, Portuga;

Walk: 4hrs 54mins starting at 9.38
Low: 18m at 14.44
High: 406m at 13.37
Descent: 392m
Ascent: 28m

After breakfast we checkout and are driven over the top of Madeira to Lancuros and the Levada de Janeiros. We stop on the way to take some photographs and drive along the E/W watershed with the ocena to the north and south. The weather is again warm though along the way we drive up into the cloud before coming down into the sunshine again.


Today's walk is a there and back affair which is a bit disappointing. Apparently you can walk further up the levada if you are prepared to pass through a sequence of tunnels. Unfortunately though access at the other end is very difficult so a round trip is not really practicable. It takes us about an hour and 40 minutes to reach the first tunnel at which point we turn back. The route climbs very gently and follows the meandering levada all the way.

We are walking high above the Janeiros river in a tight gorge. We can see down to the ocean behind us and up into the valley the other way. The light dapples through a Eucalyptus wood at first before occasionally disappearing into dark shaded side-valleys where the ferns and bryophytes grow thickly.


On the way back we pass several groups of walkers. Later we stop at a convenient picnic table for lunch. We are joined by a group of chattering Chaffinches. When we get to where we started we find a small cafe for a relaxing beer before starting our descent down to Porto Moniz. This takes about an hour down a very steep and painful on the knees concrete road.


We find our hotel and check-in and are aghast to find that our luggage has been left in an unattended foyer all day. Not good. But nothing is missing. We relax at the hotel and take advantage of the Jacuzzi bath before having a wander around town. Later we have a rather heavy pizza for dinner. This is a very quiet place.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Down to Ribeira Brava

Thursday 12th November 2009, Encumeada, Madeira, Portugal

Walk: 4hrs 45mins starting at 9.10
Low: 57m at 13.33
High: 1340m at 9.10
Descent: 1314m
Ascent: 31m

After breakfast at 8am we are ready to leave by 9am. After a short drive to are ready to walk 10 minutes later. It's a warm and sunny morning for our walk down to Ribeira Brava following the Levada do Lombo do Mouro.

After following a small track we find a zig-zag path which leads steeply down to find the small levada. For three and a half hours we follow this gently down until we reach the outskirts of town. The last hour is a steep descent on concrete roads past the villas and garden until we reach the town and the sea.


The levada leads us first through bracken and gorse and broom as it follows a gentle contour. We look down into the steep valleys below us. The trail is overgrown and broken in places and it's clear that not many people come this way. We pass no-one else on the trail all day. In the distance the mountain tops are weird and oddly shaped.

Eventually we get down to the tree level and stop and stoop to pick some chestnuts from the floor. We kick some nuts into the levada and follow them down stream in a nutty version of Pooh-sticks. Later the trees change to Eucalyptus (introduced from Austral;ia to help hold the soil together). The way is narrow and the sun shines on the brown bracken. Sometimes we have to scramble under and around fallen and burnt trees. Their must have been a forest fire here sometime in the recent summers past. The levada is smaller than yesterday's and sometimes flows fast as the trail steepens.


We break out onto a rough trail twice before we are eventually forced to leave the levada and continue on the roads down to the town. It's very steep on the concrete roads and shortcuts and we stop for a beer in a local cafe before continuing. This last hour is very hard on the knees but we eventually manage to struggle down to the town at sea-level.


On the other side of the river we find a restaurant and stop for a late lunch. We have grilled Gambas and sardines to start and then Tuna, Octopus and squid, with a bottle of white wine. After an hour we wander down to the sea front. I take a short detour to a supermarket to get some things for tomorrows lunch and some wine for this evening. After a coffee and cake on the sea-front we hop a taxi back to our hotel which is a short 8km ride back into the mountains.

We spend the evening relaxing on the terrace.

Monday, 22 March 2010

First Levada Walk

Wednesday 11th November 2009, Encumeada, Madeira, Portugal

Walk: 5hrs 54mins starting at 9.28
Low: 870m at 15.20
High: 1510 at 10.31
Descent: 688m
Ascent: 455m

We were down at breakfast for 8am. It was a bit disappointing. This cafeteria approach can sometimes work at breakfast. Everything was lukewarm. A least the coffee was good. Getting a packed lunch arranged was also a bit of a palaver and we had to wait whilst they got it ready. After that we found out that they were short of drivers and we would have to wait fr a driver to take a party of French hikers out and then return for us. So we sat around for half an hour.

Being delayed like this was a bit frustrating as I was aware that the best times for photography on the high mountains is early. Of course it would have been better to be up there before breakfast but that wasn't possible. As it happened we just got to the top as the clouds rolled up and obscured the views to the ocean. Frustrating.


After a short drive we were dropped off where the Levada de Serra crosses the road. It was a warm sunny morning. The walk is lovely with greens; mosses, ferns, flowers, water falls and the browns of fallen leaves. The landscape all around is weird and wonderful. It's spiky like the Dolomites or Bora Bora. first the first hour we follow the levada as it gently wends it's way. We are walking against the flow of course. The levada is not much more than a foot wide and a foot deep, but it's flowing quite briskly. We are mostly walking in sunshine though sometime we have to scuttle underneath part which are virtual waterfalls. In some places the overhanging pine-trees make for amazing green light dappled tunnels as we follow the tiny stream.

After a short cobbled section we take a small break and watch some butterflies; a Speckled Wood and a Small Copper.

As we continue to climb to get to about 1500m and are suddenly engulfed in cloud. We pass two other groups; a French group and then an English group who are being led by a guide. The trail then becomes rocky and overgrown and we leave the levada to begin an hours descent past Laurels and Bilberries. Eventually we break out onto a wide muddy track which looks like it may be a road development. We descend this essentially scruffy and boring path for about 45 minutes, but at least we are now below the cloud and have views across the island to the ocean.

We reach a small house beside the Levada Del Norte and we sit here for a while having our lunch in the sun listening to the tinkling water. Around us the Agapanthus and Hydrangea are in flower in whites, blues and pinks.  The levada meanders prettily along with plenty of flowers on one side and a mossy wall on the other.


When the levada opens out from the woods we have spectacular views across the valley below. Soon however we reach the first of five tunnels. We had been warned so we were prepared with head-torches. The first tunnel was short an easy to negotiate but the next two took 20 minutes to walk through and were dark, cold and slippery and quite dangerous. Easy to bang your head here and easy too to slip into the levada itself.

Back into the light we pass some amazing waterfalls. Everything is green, green, and more green. At one point we pass a team or workers who are repairing a washout. The levada itself is carried over the gap by a couple of plastic pipes whilst they rebuild the ledge and the levada itself. beyond this the levada is covered in split wood planks so that they can wheelbarrow supplies in. This continues even in the last tunnel which is thus made slightly easier to get through, though the wood can be slippery too and missing in some places.,

Eventually we pop out onto a track which leads down to a road which leads, after a 10 minute walk, back to the hotel. Once here we sit in the sun and enjoy a beer or two.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Arrival in Madeira

Tuesday 10th November 2009, Encumeada, Madeira, Portugal

We had stayed the w/e with Steve and Coral and Cleo and we got up early enough to catch the 9.02 train from Chilham. We'd had a great w/e and been out for a couple of stomping walks. The day before Kristine and I had taken the train to Canterbury and then the bus to bridge for a lunch at the White Horse Inn with my Mum and Dad. The lunch had been good and a lot of fun as we chatted away. Later we chatted whilst we waited for our buses at the bus stop by the little Nailbourne stream that flows across the village.

The bus to Canterbury arrived first so Kristine and I dashed over to catch it and waved out the window to Mum and Dad as they waited on the other side for a bus to Aylesham. I didn't know it then but this would be the last time I'd see my Dad.

On this morning Kristine caught the indirect train to Gatwick involving changes at Tonbridge and Redhill. It's inconvenient but avoids going up to London and back down again and avoids using the expensive Gatwick Express.

At the airport we go through the usual palaver of check-in. They refuse to hand scan my film - even though it's in a separate bag, and it is forced to go through the x-ray machine even after I've asked to speak to the manager. Then when my camera bag comes through they want to open it and hand scan everything anyway. What tossers. I am now unsure whether my film is OK to use. Later it turns out that much of it is fogged. Thanks for that. Tossers!

It's a three hour twenty minute flight which soon passes. At Madeira we are quickly through immigration and our taxi driver is there to meet us. The drive to the hotel takes about an hour. Our travel company is New Experience Holidays and we are staying in the Residencial Encumeada.

At the hotel we are checked in and seemingly given the best room in the place. It is large with two terraces one of which looks over the spectacular mountain scenery all around us and looks down the valley that leads away to the sea far below.

The hotel is fine but at dinner that evening we are disappointed to discover that the restaurant is really a self-service cafeteria and really not that good. still, we are looking forward to our first walk tomorrow. The weather by the way is very mild and it was a warm 20 degrees when we arrived this afternoon.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Spring in the Garden

First Dafffodils

Over the past couple of weeks the Snowdrops and Crocus have made a good show in the garden. The theory is that a hard winter is good for the bulbs. Today the first Daffodils opened in both the back and front garden. Apparently they are three weeks later than last year!


I haven't done a lot of work int he garden as yet. I have raked and scarified (put holes in it) the lawn and put something on it to kill off the moss which is prevalent. I've also given it a dose of calcium - essentially little chalk balls which dissolve in the rain. After a couple of weeks I'll rake up the dead moss and weeds and sprinkle some grass around to get in good shape. I can do nothing with the front lawn as I've Daffodils growing through it and I'll wait til these have finished before doing anything.


In the beds in the new garden (a guerrilla garden - not strictly our space) I've hoed some weeds out and can now see some signs of life. Plenty of poppies just starting and the Lupins starting to come through too.


All the fruit trees are budding nicely as are the soft fruit bushes, the Roses and the Clematis. The Tulips are coming though too. It'll be interesting to see how these fare as they tend to get smaller and smaller in each successive year.


Inside I have some seeds in trays; Sweet-peas, Cosmos, Zinnia, Rubeckia and Basil. Maybe I'll do some more this w/e.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Rugby in Rome

A Month Ago Today

On Valentines Day last month I travelled down to Rome to watch Italy vs England at rugby. It turned out to be not the most enthralling of games; England won but it was a bit of a kick-a-bout really.

We drove down in Jim's RV. Their were six of us; my brothers Dale and Keith as well as Hughie and Eric and Jim himself. Both drives took about 24hrs each. On the way down we left in snow, drove all the way through snow and arrived in snow. Apparently this was the first snow to fall in Rome for 26 years. I slept most of the way but did wake up once to see Dale driving through a snow storm in the Vosges somewhere. Visibility was down to a few yards and he had his nose frozen to the windscreen!


As is usual on these trips we did no sightseeing. not for us the glories of Rome. We concentrated on the insides of pubs and bars and barely found time to feed ourselves.

On the first evening of our arrival it took some time to find a campsite to park the RV. Our first attempt saw us drawing up outside a fancy house which was almost a castle. They were non too pleased to see and we scarpered sharpish. Our second place was closed, as was our third place, but the fellow here kindly range up another place to ascertain that it was open. The place was pretty smart too and fairly close to town. Only a bus and metro ride away.

I didn't go out on this first evening feeling too out of it to bother so I can't comment on the shenanigans that went on.

The next morning we woke to a fine sunny morning with no further sign of snow. After showering in the facilities on site we sat around in the sun rather than wander into town. Pretty soon the beers were cracked open and we started on the day's business. Later I wandered across the road to a supermarket and rustled up some pasta and pesto with salad for lunch.

Later we hopped into town via two buses and pretty soon found ourselves a cafe to sit outside in the sun with a couple of beers. Eventually we wandered around to another bar and watched the Wales vs Scotland game. Unbelievable as Scotland capitulate and Wales steal the game in the last ten minutes.

Even later we end up in an Irish bar to meet some other lads from our village and pick up our tickets for the game tomorrow. It's possible that another game was on the TV here but I have no recollection of it. We jumped a couple of taxis to get us back to the campsite.

On the day of the game we woke to a day which was not as sunny as yesterday. A bit chilly. After cooking up breakfast in the RV we got ourselves together to get to the match. We got to the metro and jumped off at Flaminio. Maybe we went into town first and watched another game. Who can remember? We probably had a few beers. Anyway at the Flaminio Metro stop we had a few more beers and acquired some fancy hats. begged or borrowed or stolen? We then took the long walk to the ground following the streams of people going the same way (obviously) and stopping for a beer on the way.

We take our seats at the game, grab a beer, and watch a tiresome display of aerial ping-pong. It's a pity Italy can't take advantage of a woeful England and they just scrape a victory.

On the way back we avoid the crowded Metro by stopping off for beers. Then later, in town, it's back to the Irish bar for more. And probably some more too.

The next morning we are up and away for our long journey home. Another long drive through the heart of Italy, up past the lakes and through the Alps to Switzerland, briefly into Germany and then into France where the route has to crisscross the snow-covered Vosges. This part is the trickiest and we have to back-track at least once before finally reaching the road that will lead across northern France and Calais. We have to wait a while for a ferry but arrive back in the UK in the early morning and get back to the village, after dropping off Dale, at about 6am. I sleep the rest of the day.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Back Home

What I've Been Doing

I've just returned from a month at my Mother's house in Kent, England. She had an operation at the beginning of February and was subsequently not allowed to lift anything for six weeks. I went home so I could be there on a day to day basis whilst my other family members dropped in regularly to help out as well.

My mother lives in a house which is essentially coal-fired. She has a range in the kitchen and an open fire in the living-room. It was my job to keep the home fires burning and shift the coal from the bunker  to the fireside scuttle and buckets. I was the Chief Stoker!

Meanwhile we all had other jobs to do around the house which included re-decorating and re-arranging the living-room. Some old furniture has gone and some new sofas have arrived. The old Pedal Organ has gone and the piano is now back in the living-room. It's looking good. In the kitchen some new cabinets have been put in place and the old Welsh Dresser has been relegated to the dining-room. This is looking good too.


The biggest job is clearing out the junk from the backyard and garden. This is what it looked like a couple of years ago. Some progress has been made in creating some space in the backyard outside the conservatory - which itself has been cleared. Some stuff has also been removed from the lower garden as well as stuff which was cluttering up the front driveway and the side-passage to the back.


My mother and I have planted some seeds to populate the garden when spring finally comes along and some beds have been cleared and manured for future planting.

The weather was pretty miserable for the month I was there, though the latest snowfalls a couple of weeks ago brightened it up somewhat. On the day I left the sun finally decided to shine. Typical.