GR 52 – Fantastic Trek 3 Refuge Nice to Camp d’Argent

Our sleeping arrangements in Refuge Nice comprised a small cubby hole with 4 beds on two bunks. The space between the bunks was too limited to accommodate any gear so all that had to be stowed in the open area beyond the cubby hole, which was part of a much larger dortoir with beds to the right and the left and above us. It sounds quite claustrophobic but in fact it worked quite well. It was busy and showers, that required a paid-for token for 3 minutes of hot water, and toilets were in much demand. The food was very good and the location and surroundings could not be beaten. Dinner was pea soup, veal, cheese and pudding. After dinner bouquetin came down to the area close to the refuge and during the day I saw marmottes, chamois, ravens, wheatear, dipper, pipettes and alpine choughs. There were also masses of attractive flowers.

We were up early for breakfast and ready for off at 8am. The day would involve two major climbs and two descents. It was the most remote and desolate region of the trek and included the Valley of Wonders (Vallee des Merveilles) a rugged area famous for petroglyphs (rock carvings) believed to date from the bronze age. The first stage involved an ascent from the refuge

The route up and away from Refuge Nice

essentially following a stream to a large lake, Lac Nire. After, there was a minor col before entering the Vallon du Mont Chamineye beneath the eponymous peak at 2921m. There were several snow patches (neves) in this valley and the next one and we often spied chamois playing or resting on the snow. There were a number of small lakes in this valley some with icebergs

The valley was followed by a steep and quite long climb up to the high point of the trek the Baisse du Basto 2693m. Looking back the valley appears quite desolate.

Looking back the way we walked up

The climb was just over 300m but it was very steep at the end and quite eroded and loose at the very top. This was signified on the IGN map by a red dotted trace, always a warning sign! From the top we could see our route forward down 300m or so and then up about 200m to la baisse de Valmasque (2549m) our final col for the day.

La baisse de Valmasque between the peaks in centre right

We passed more lakes with snow

and had to traverse quite a large snowfield before the ascent proper.

At the top I spied a chamois ambling past

and there were fantastic views behind

Lac Basto in the direction we had come from. The path up is on the extreme right and we came across the scree from the right hand side. The path on the rhs of the lake is not ours.

and in front into the Vallee des Merveilles.

Looking ahead into the Vallee des Merveilles

The descent into the valley was quite steep and stony but offered amazing views into what struck me as a very special and atmospheric place. We saw several marmottes as we walked through the rock strewn valley floor with large glacier-smoothed rocks everywhere.


The rock carvings in this valley and its surroundings were first described and studied in detail by a Brit at the end of the 19th Century.  In 1967 a Frenchman catalogued over 10,000 such carvings and now the whole area is very closely monitored and controlled  to protect these artefacts. Amongst other controls, visitors have to keep to defined paths and must not use walking poles with metal tips.

We were almost at the end of the valley when we met one of the site wardens who checked that we knew about the restrictions applied to the area. We confirmed we did and she offered one of us rubber tips for walking poles so they could be used. We asked about the carvings and she offered to show us a couple. I was surprised by how small and indistinct two if them were. I could easily have overlooked them. The other clutch known as The chief of the tribe” were larger but still rather underwhelming.

By Philippe Kurlapski – Private work, CC BY 2.5,

We thanked the warden warmly and walked on, later meeting her colleague who walked a while with us and retrieved the rubber pole cups. The day was hot and it was a relief to spy the lake

Le lac Long Superior with Refuge Merveilles on the right hand bank about 2/3rds down

and the refuge.

Refuge Merveilles (2130m) with lake behind

The refuge was not completely full but was crowded. We were put in a dortoir with 10 beds, 5 over 5, we were assigned the top bunks. But in the end only 8 beds were occupied. There was no hot water and the only shower near our dortoir had an appropriate warning notice attached. The evening meal was good but a little crowded. Breakfast was the standard fare and we were off, ready to walk, around 8am.

During this day the countryside became more gentle and we had our first convincing sight of the sea. We started by climbing to the lake that provided water to the Refuge. We first encountered the barrage wall

and walked past the lake above the barrage. We continued climbing passing more small lakes until we reached the Lacs du Diable

Lac du Diable with Pas du Trem in the background, the Pas du Diable was behind me

and beyond the Pas du Diable (2436m).

View ahead, into gentler country from Pas du Diable with the Med in the distance

This was a hot day, high twenties or even 30C I think, and it was a long walk to our next stop. The views were striking but a lot less dramatic than heretofore. In the more open countryside we struggled to find some shade for our lunch.

Approaching the Baisse de St Veran

After the climb on the side of the hill in the photo above we had the disappointment of a descent and another climb to reach the Col des Trois Communes.

Pointe des Trois Communes with the redoubt on the top of the hill 2080m

The view back down hill was a fabulous one with our track slowly disappearing into the mountains.

The redoubt was built in 1897 and was the first military building to use both stone and reinforced concrete, though the reinforced concrete was only used on the Italian facing walls. Around the area there were several remnants of military buildings including this barrack block we passed a little later.

The redoubt was the site of fierce fighting in April 1945 ( and there is a memorial close by to the French forces involved.

There were another  2 or 3 kms to go before we reached our overnight stop around 4.30pm. The walk was mostly on tarmac down to a place called Camp d’Argent, no doubt a name derived from the old military ruins thereabouts. There were still impressive sights to gaze at.

View towards the Med

Our overnight stop was L’Estive (1737m) a very comfortable Gite just opposite a ski drag lift.


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GR 52 – Fantastic Trek 1 St Martin Vesubie to Refuge La Madone de Fenestre

Some years ago I walked the GR5 route covering the whole way from just north of Lake Geneva to Nice. On the last week or so we met a couple from Austria, Gerald and Anne, who walked with us for several days but chose, after St Dalmas, to follow the GR 52 to Menton. I really respected and enjoyed their company and kept in contact for nearly a year after. But Gerald was being treated for leukemia and I fear it beat him soon after and the contact was lost. Since then I have wanted to try this alternative trek, in part to recall Gerald’s memory. And this year I did. To be absolutely honest we did not follow the entire route for some practical reasons but we think we caught the best bits at the best times. This is my record of the trek taken with 3 colleagues L, E and D, with many thanks for their company and shared enjoyment and wonder.

We used a combination of IGN maps, blue series TOP 25, and the excellent Topoguide 507 Le Mercantour (16th edition 2015). Please be aware that the GR 52 route has been changed and our, somewhat older, IGN maps show a different route from the guide book. In this case the guide book tallied with the excellent “on the ground” markers. Another very useful aid to route finding is the use of numbers on route signs, generally at path intersections. These numbers are repeated in the guide book and on IGN maps. Generally, route finding is simple and the red/white (for GR routes) and yellow paint splashes (for other main paths) are very prominent but the numbers give great reassurance (one example below).

Sign at Col des Ladres with yellow-backed number 428 denoting path intersection recorded on IGN maps and in guidebooks

In order to get to the GR 52 route quickly we flew from the UK to Nice and took a 730 bus from the airport to St Martin Vesubie. There are only two buses a day, morning and evening, but the fare is only 1.50 Euro and it puts you down in the village centre ready to start walking on the morrow. I had made reservations for all our overnight stops beforehand and deliberately avoided staying in what I thought would be the “honeypot” Refuges over the weekend.

On arrival at Nice airport we had a couple of hours to kill before our bus was due. We used this time to establish precisely where the bus stop was. This was not quite as straightforward as I expected and turned out to be outside the airport on a dual carriageway. Once that was established we had a coffee while a very energetic thunderstorm passed over. We found the bus stop and waited anxiously as the timetable arrival time passed by with no sign of our bus. About 25 minutes late it turned up, just about full up. The driver told us to put our rucksacks in the luggage compartments. The ones on the kerb side of the bus were full to overflowing so we had to venture into the traffic side of the bus, which we did slowly and nervously. It was rush hour! The driver lost patience and jumped out and strode into oncoming traffic to open the up and over doors. We stowed our stuff and took the few remaining seats. We were now at least half an hour behind schedule and the driver threw the bus around to make up the time. As we climbed out of the Nice suburbs and onto narrow mountain roads it became quite hairy. But we arrived safely and just about on time.

Our stop for the first night was in Gite La Rougiere. The Gite was just off the town square, a little difficult to find and basic but cheap at 18 Euros pppn for the bed only, though there were basic self-catering facilities. We shared a 5 bed dortoir (2 bunk beds and a single) for the four of us; in other rooms there were two other guests, one of whom had just walked the other way on the GR52 starting in Menton.

Gite La Rougiere, 3 Av Kellerman, St Martin Vesubie

There was plenty of choice of eating places that evening though I made a bad menu choice “Reblochon poulet”. I expected some veg and should have asked but what appeared was a bowl of liquid cheese with submerged chicken bits, many of which were distinctly pink. Luckily there was bread as well, but the meal was boring and I worried about possible future effects of undercooked chicken. I am happy to say that this didn’t come about.

Next day we were up fairly early and left with our packs to take breakfast in the town square and buy some items for lunch in a local supermarket.

Pleasant town square of St Martin

It was a lovely sunny day and not too hot. A quick visit to the tourist office established that all the cols we intended to use were clear of snow. This first day of walking was deliberately gentle and took us to Boreon where we would join the GR52. The path was for a short way along a road which became a track and then a rocky path. We stopped and had lunch in the shade by the side of a stream. Much of the latter part was through trees by the side of a river/stream until we came out into the open just over a drinking water reservoir.

Dam of Reservoir at le Boreon

At this point it clouded over and started to rain but it did not last long and we kitted out in our rain gear needlessly. We walked down to the road right by Parc Alpha an animal park that among other things breeds wolves. We popped into the entrance briefly, mostly to use their toilets, but did not go into the park itself. Our Gite was just up the hill and we arrived at 2.50 just 10 minutes before they opened.

The Gite du Boreon was very clean and comfortable. We were assigned a room with 2 bunk beds. It was quite adequate but a little sparse for room to unpack sacks and hang up washing. Dinner, part of the demi-pension, was great with a quiche and salad starter, sausage and lentils main and fromage blanc with fruit.

Our next stop was a CAF refuge La Madone de Fenestre. There are two main route options. One involves crossing the high Col des Ladres; the other, slightly longer avoids this high col. Based on advice from the Tourist Office and the Gite Guardian we opted for the high route and took an early breakfast at 7 and were away by 8. The guide book indicates that this route will take just over 3 hours of walking. We found these times to be very optimistic when walking as a group and in this case we were about 8.5 hours on the trail. There is over 1000m of ascent and 500m of descent involved.

The day started out sunny but quite cold and we used our fleeces to good effect. Later there was some cloud and it became much warmer but there remained a cool breeze. The GR 52 track and markings run right past the Gite and you start climbing straightaway. The early part goes through woods crossing pretty streams 

and passing a private refuge, in a sad state of repair. A short while later the path opens out and the path divides with the two routes to La Madone separating at the Pont de Pierastreche.

Pont de Pierastreche in bottom right with path to Lac du Trecolpas to the left. Tete de Trecolpas dead ahead

There was a long steady climb, through more trees to start with then across rocky hillside to reach another signpost just before Lac Trecolpas.

There was another bit of climbing before descending slightly to the lake.

Lac Trecolpas

From the lake there is another 300m or so of ascent across rocky terrain to reach the high point of the day the Col des Ladres

From where the Lac du Trecolpas appears quite tiny

and the onward path a little daunting

After a long descent our Refuge was in sight and we could look forward to a hot drink and shower.

Refuge Madone de Fenestre just appearing



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Flanders by bike and boat Part 3 Antwerp to Brussels

The harbour in Antwerp was a bustle of activity in the morning and our boat was underway early to take advantage of a bridge opening, necessary for us to get back to the river. Despite the boat heading to leave the city, the cycling party headed back to the city centre. A group of 20+ bikes is not easy to negotiate a busy city in the rush hour and we had some very hard stares from, pedestrians that clearly thought they had priority and that we should get off and walk. But we had to follow our leader.

Our first stop was Groenplaats Square

with a statue of the artist Rubens and a great backdrop of the Cathedral. Onwards, bothering more pedestrians, we stopped off at a superb shopping mall called Stadsfeestzaal. My picture does not really do justice to the grandeur of this place; if interested please take a look at the website Next we cycled through the old diamond quarter of Antwerp, though in truth there was not much to see there. Finally, in Antwerp we visited the Central Station and what a wonderful edifice that was; marble everywhere and great sweeping staircases with vast ornate roofs.

Inside Antwerp Central Station built in 1905

We left Antwerp by the side of the railway line, then travelled through countryside until we found another railway line which we followed into Lier. While in the countryside we found an unusual self-service fresh milk outlet. We could not resist stopping to sample a cup.

Lier was a very pleasant surprise; an attractive town with plenty to see, at least plenty for the hour or two we had there while we had some lunch. The Beguinage is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Beguinage in Lier. A beguinage, from the French term béguinage, is an architectural complex which was created to house beguines: lay religious women who lived in community without taking vows or retiring from the world.

There is also a complex multifunctional clock in the Zimmer Tower. One notable feature of the clock is no doubt the slowest moving dial in the world; one revolution takes 25,600 years.

There were also some quite impressive artworks seemingly randomly placed like this one

Sheep sculpture

We took a ride around the town before we left and passed the market square and town hall and belfry (or belfort).

After leaving Lier we rode almost all the way to Willebroek along dykes. We stopped for a coffee break in Duffel and by this time we were more or less on our own, though we spied other members of our party now and again. By this time the cloud was gathering and thunder and lightning starting up. We had a short sharp shower but then it dried up again. Just before we reached the boat we caught a ferry, though many of the others missed it and cycled further on to cross the river by a road bridge. Later we had to use another bridge to get to our boat. This was a lifting bridge (I guess there is probably a technical term for it) and the entire road is raised to allow boats to travel beneath it.

We arrived at the boat around 4pm for coffee and biscuits. By 5pm it started raining very heavily and continued into the evening. Good timing by us.

There was a tradition that some of the guests helped with serving dinner and clearing away. Throughout our trip various ladies had volunteered. This seemed rather sexist to J (an Amercian) and me so for this night us two men did the serving, attracting quite a few ribald comments in so doing. That evening we served tuna starter, chicken ratatouille and home-made ice cream. Dinner was followed by beer tasting and a sing song interspersed with German jokes.

Our final day of cycling was to be one of the shortest, about 37kms, but we still started at just about the normal time 9am. It was a day of high drama with a cycle malfunction causing us to lose contact with our guide for several hours. We set off by taking a detour by the side of a lake set out for rowing races. Somewhere, along these tracks a puncture happened and the guide decided to walk with the bike to our stopping place, a town called Mechelen. There was a repair shop there and we cycled ahead having arranged a rendezvous in Mechelen town square. Mechelen was a real surprise and very attractive with oodles of old buildings. The Cathedral is particularly impressive.

St Rombold’s Cathedral

The tower was unfortunately not open when we were there. On the other side of the Market Square is the City Hall, where I nearly got included in wedding photos!

There were a couple of more quirky things like the street signs

and a statue of young Beethoven

While we waited for our guide to rejoin the party we took a coffee in the City Square. Once we were all back together with a complete set of functioning bikes we set off to rejoin the boat. We were due there at 2pm so we could cruise into our berth in Brussels and still have time to do a bit of sightseeing there. The cycle route was mostly along canals but the troop became a little spread out. My partner and I and the party back-marker were last back, and we felt that the everyone was waiting for us, almost with engines running.

In Brussels we decided to visit the Atomium, quite near our berthing place. We took a bus there and back.

That evening was the Captains dinner and Franco excelled himself. Prosciutto with crab and fish followed by salmon with cod and broccoli, then pork fillet and potato and profiterole base with  custard – delicious.

Next day after breakfast we said goodbyes to all our new-found friends and walked through the City via the Grand Place to the train station to catch the Eurostar. A brilliant holiday enjoyable in many different ways.


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Flanders by boat and bike Part 2 Ghent to Antwerp

Our mooring in Ghent was functional rather than picturesque but the day dawned brightly and after breakfast we were quickly on our bikes and retracing our route towards the centre of Ghent. We decided to go solo for this day and our friends from the USA decided to join us. We rode alongside a busy road to start with then went under a motorway. We were soon in the suburbs and left the city behind. We rode alongside the River Scheldt. Our route finding was pretty good although we did start off on the wrong side of the river, going past a large wildlife reserve with several lakes. Our first stop was at Laarne with an impressive castle.

Laarne Castle origins go back to the 12th century

There is a wide boulevard heading from the Castle into the village. When we arrived there we caught up with the main party enjoying a drink and a rest in the sun outside a cafe. e joined them for a short time before they set off again.

The next section was mostly farmland but with many plant nurseries, preparing to harden off plants on massive hardstandings. We also passed a herd of alpacas and another herd of deer and also a zoo with caged monkeys. Our lunchtime destination was a collection of lakes known as Donkmeer where we were able to sit around in the sun, have a beer and eat the packed lunch we had prepared at breakfast time on the boat. This was a very pleasant location

The restaurant gardens at Donkmeer

Once again most of our party were there before us and after they left we were able to watch them ride, in single file, around the edge of the lake. We followed on after finishing our lunch and caught up with them at another stop – the best waffles south of Iceland – according to our guide. I must admit, with ice cream and on a hot day, they were pretty amazing.

Waffles all round

After that we took a ferry across the Schelde (in Dutch and Scheldt in English) river, which we achieved en masse.

The ferry station on the far side of the river Scheldt with the ferry

The final ride into Dendermonde was mostly along the towpath cycle route, being passed repeatedly by Lycra-clad groups of Tour de France types whooshing by. Finally we crossed the water at a large dam and entered Dendermonde where we rejoined our boat.

Once all were on board we set off for a couple of hours of cruising along the picturesque Scheldt river to Sint Amands, about 15-20 kms away. The trip gave everyone a chance to sit in the sun whilst having  drink and. if wanted, take a look at the wheelhouse  We berthed before a great dinner featuring chicken with cheese and herbs, salmon with artichoke and strawberry birthday cake, my partner’s’s birthday cake with a firework.

That evening there was a short walking trip into the town and to Sahara Stones (there is a big clue in the name). It was an artist’s studio housed in a self-built unique house reminiscent of the architect Hundertwasser. The owners displayed a novel parking arrangement, designed to be a criticism of local officials, I think. The artist majored on collecting and cutting, polishing and mounting stones collected from the Sahara. They were amazingly impressive.

Breakfast next day was followed by a “Lucky dip” organised by Franco the cook. The prizes were a variety of chocolate bars to supplement our do-it-yourself packed lunches. The guide promised some “short cuts” on the route to provide more time to look around Antwerp, our destination for the day. With this promise we decided to join in with the group and not guide ourselves. It was cool to start off but rapidly warmed up and turned into a warm, sunny, spring day. The guiding arrangements went swimmingly to start with, cycling along then over the river into Temse.

Temse church in the town square

We waited around here for about 20 minutes. The toilet break was slightly confusing with different entrances and signage but nonetheless, welcome. But, I think we could have had less of a wait. Temse was previously a major port and shipyard and there was evidence of this in sculptures and remains that we rode past.

After leaving Temse the group was badly strung out and the “sweeper” and back markers completely lost contact. The party was split in two. I think the main cause was a large statue of a naked woman, which caused a few people to linger longer…

We knew we  were going to stop for lunch at a Chateau somewhere and we had a map, so just carried on regardless, thinking we were following the guide and the rest of the party. After 30 minutes or so we arrived at an impressive house in grounds and stopped to look and take pictures

We gathered round to try and agree what we should do and tried to phone our guide, without success. Things were getting fraught when suddenly the guide and the rest of our party appeared behind us. By good fortune we had stopped at our lunch spot and the guide had taken the others down a detour, without telling us. All ended well and we took tables at an open restaurant for lunch. After that hiatus we stayed in a group as we rode through pretty villages mostly alongside roads until Antwerp was clearly visible across the river.

Much to my surprise we crossed the river by going underneath it in the Saint Anna tunnel: 31m deep and just over 500m long. We went up and down with our bikes in large lifts and rode through the tunnel. It was a novel experience and features in a youtube clip ( The video probably provides more idea of what was involved than these pictures, but still…

Through the tunnel by bike

Crowded in the lift

We arrived in the centre of Antwerp at about 2pm and left bikes in the usual huddle looked after by our guide. The buildings around the Market Square were quite tremendous.

Antwerp City Hall, building started in 1561

The fountain in front of the building depicts Antigon a mythical Roman soldier killing Brabo a giant that guarded the river charging boats to pass by. If they did not pay he tore off one of their hands and threw it into the river. This reputedly provides the origin of the city name ‘handwerpen’; throwing the hand in Flemish.

Buildings on Grote Markt in Antwerp

We walked round the Cathedral, strolled around the old part of the city and visited the Medieval Castle on the bank of the river

Antwerp Castle (Het Steen) with the statue of the giant Lange Wapper

An old barge in Antwerp harbour

then took a beer in the sun. After the beer we collected our bikes and rode back to the river and along to the harbour area where we found our boat alongside many others.

After another excellent dinner there was an optional walk into town to a bar/restaurant called the 11th Commandment that offered a brewery and a menu with pages of different beers, most with quite high alcohol contents. On the way back our Captain and special guide for the evening took us down the oldest and narrowest street in Antwerp followed by a stroll through the red light district. As a final event we took a set of escalators to the open roof of the MAS building 10 storeys up,

MAS Museum aan de Strom opened in 2011

a new, impressive, curly-glazed building right on the harbour, for a night view over the City.


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Flanders by boat and bike Part 1 Bruges to Ghent

This was one of the most enjoyable holiday trips we have had. We bought the week long trip from Rad & Reisen and it involved travelling from Bruges to Brussels by bike and staying overnight on board the Quo Vadis (Latin for ‘where are you going’). We cycled around 220 kms in 6 days of cycling and took in the countryside and many picturesque Flanders towns and cities. The food on board was superb, the company friendly and relaxed, and the weather was mostly excellent for cycling and sightseeing.

We joined the boat in Belgium, after using trains from home to London, Eurostar to Brussels and another train to Bruges. It was an early start for us, up at just after 4, but all connections worked perfectly and we had time on arrival at the boat to drop our luggage and take a tour around Bruges before our on-board tour briefing. There were 24 guests: us two Brits, two from the USA and the rest from Germany. So all briefings were first in German followed by an English version. Our tour guide Gunter had excellent English, as did the boat crew: four Dutch people. This support party is pictured below.

Captain RJ in white shirt with guide Gunter on the far right

Our pre-dinner walk around Bruges took us to the market square, very busy on a lovely weekend afternoon

Bruges market square with the Provincial Court

Also in the Market square is the Belfry. Often mistaken for a church tower, it is actually a medieval bell tower.

Bruges Belfry (Belfort van Brugge in Dutch)

My father brought home from the second world war a painting of a canal with a tower, the dead spit of this Belfry in the background. I was really chuffed to find the spot where the painter must have been seated to paint my picture. Up until then I was never sure that the picture was of Bruges. Now, I am sure it is and I know precisely where it was painted.

Returning to the boat we had a welcome drink followed by a delicious dinner (salad, beef with veg and ice cream, melon and sponge) and a briefing, first in German then in English from our guide. The boat remained in Bruges overnight so an evening excursion around the city was possible but we had done ours that afternoon so we stayed on board.

Next day there was a substantial breakfast bar and the chef Franco was offering fried eggs to order. We were invited to make our own packed lunches from the food on the buffet.

Soon after breakfast we were away around the old Bruges City walls and out by the side of a canal to the small town of Damme, passing by a couple of windmills including this one

Windmill by the side of the Bruges-Damm canal

which was open and looked as though it could, at any time, start working. Shortly afterwards we crossed the canal and came to Damme town square. 

Most of us were very grateful that the Tourist Office had public toilets. We stayed in Damme just long enough to hear the musical church clock strike eleven then set off along the canal again.

Our next destination was Blankenberge. We travelled through farmland and our guide pointed out the speciality cows of the region the Bleublanc, known in English as the Belgian Blue. It is very distinctive in appearance with “short legs and a large arse” (a description courtesy of our guide). They are also a breed that routinely has to be calved using Caesarean section. We had a slight panic when we lost a member of the cycling team then lost our guide, but we managed to reconverge at Lisseweg where we encountered hundreds of walkers. On the way to Lisseweg we rode by the side of one of the largest canals we found all week and big canals demand big bridges and this is one of the largest I have seen. It seems to be for a duel carriageway motorway crossing the canal.

Subsequently, I discovered that all the walkers were part of an International 2-day walking festival. Certainly a major event with military support, refreshment tents and even musical accompaniment

Military Band at Lisseweg

At Lisseweg we had our only problem with signage. In general the cycle ways are extremely well signposted and the guidebook we were given was excellen. But in this one case someone had reversed the sign which caused a deal of puzzlement.

We decided to go solo, without the guide, from Lisseweg to Blankenberge. Faced with hundreds of hikers coming the other way we had quite a few indignant stares as we sounded our bells to avoid collision, since many of the walkers were staring at the ground or talking continuously with colleagues. The day had turned quite chilly and with a raw breeze coming off the sea Blankenberge was probably not at its best. When we arrived we rode along the prom looked at the empty beach huts and the pier

and quickly looked for a place to get in the warm and have a hot drink. Later, we met our guide and agreed to travel back to Bruges independently. Before we left Blankenberge we decided to ride along to the Marina, a vast new area where we found a shelter and had our lunch. On our way back to Bruges we, once again, met dozens of walkers going the other way, but soon we left them behind and eventually arrived at our boat in Bruges.

Back at the boat we had time for a hot drink and cake then just time to clean up before a steak dinner and an optional evening excursion into Bruges to see buildings floodlit and have a chance to try some ridiculously strong Belgian beers.

Lovely old building on the Burg in Bruges

Next day was overcast and during breakfast the boat travelled to Moerbrugge where we started our bike ride. We set off in fine rain that increased later but dried up in the afternoon. We stopped for a coffee in Aalter by which time we were all quite wet. The ground was wet and slippery and my partner had a fall as we stopped. We all crowded into the cafe and guide, Gunter, produced some cream good for bruises, while we had a coffee and cake.

There was no stop for lunch as we aimed to get to Ghent in time for a look round. We did stop for a strange bike museum though, where we had an opportunity to try out some very unusual bicycle creations like a side by side tandem, a tandem with no pedals that you propelled by bouncing up and down on the saddles (when one was up the other was down). It was a fun interlude.

A short while later our boat passed us while we were cycling alongside the Ghent- Bruges Canal. We encountered quite an unusual and airy toilet on our way into Ghent.

We arrived in Ghent about 2pm and congregated by St Baaf’s Cathedral where we were able to leave our bikes and look around on foot. We went round St Baaf’s and saw the Rubens paintings and the carved altar. It was quite chilly and we were pleased to find a cafe where we had a type of self made hot chocolate, hot milk in a cup and a bowl of chocolate chips to add to taste. There were masses of photogenic buildings but the only one I took was of the Ghent Belfry.

Gent or Ghent Belfry right by hot chocolate stop

We were all back to our bikes in good time for our final ride to rejoin the boat for a warm shower and another excellent dinner. There was an optional night time ride into and around Ghent but we declined the offer.









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A jaunt on the South West Coast Path

Recently we joined some friends at Exmouth for a couple of days walk along the South West Coast Path. They were doing the whole lot in short chunks, due to finish the whole path later this year. Leaving from Weymouth we exercised our  bus passes, firstly to Lyme Regis, then to Exeter and then to Lympstone and we walked the final bit into Exmouth. Our bus was about half an hour late leaving Weymouth but luckily made up the time by Lyme so we caught our bus for Exeter with a few minutes to spare, enough for a toilet visit, anyway. At Exeter bus station the bus for Exmouth was standing there waiting. We alighted at the Saddlers Arms (more work for the Apostrophe Protection Society here, perhaps though in researching this blog I find the pub is now marketing itself simply as Saddlers) and took a break in the pub so my partner could recover from a fall caused by sharp bus braking. After, we walked towards the Exe Estuary and joined the very pleasant and well appointed East Devon Way cycle and footpath. The East Devon Way footpath goes between Exmouth and Lyme Regis it follows an inland route for 38 miles and touches the South West Coast path at both ends.

On our way we saw a sign to the National Trust property A la Ronde a shortish distance off the path. We were not pressed for time and took the detour. The new tarmaced path passed close to the very impressive Lympstone Manor which I have now discovered is a “country house hotel”. It looks to be very smart and quite expensive, the cheapest rooms are over 10 times our overnight cost that night. A la Ronde was well worth the detour, even though the distance was rather more than the signpost on the Way path had advertised. It is a very unusual 18th century house built with 16 sides. There are 20 rooms inside, many of which are quite tiny. I was very taken by the unusual style, the clever use of space in its design and the unconventionally shaped windows. 

We rejoined the bridleway and walked into Exmouth where we had an overnight stop before joining our friends and starting the walk proper. We stayed that night at the Ash Hotel right on the waterfront.

Ash Hotel – quite adequate and reasonably priced for B&B

Our room was clean but I do wonder where it is possible to buy boxes of tissues that are just about empty; every B&B seems to have them. We walked around Exmouth that evening and found a pub for dinner that had rope with knot-tying instructions on each place setting; an excellent idea. I learnt how to tie a bowline. The sun was still out when we walked back to our hotel and we sat out for a while before retiring.

Next day after a good breakfast we met our friends on the SW Coast Path close by where the ferry lands after crossing the Exe. It was excellent walking weather – mostly sunny and dry – so dry, that for the later part of the day we watched as plumes of smoke arose inland from a very large heathland fire on Woodbury Common. We passed some quite gigantic caravan parks.

Devon Cliffs Holiday Park just outside Exmouth

Many of the hedges were crowded with what appeared to be spiders web type cocoons alive with caterpillars emerging and dispersing. The South West Coast Path goes along the front and by the side of the beach at Exmouth before climbing steeply and providing a great view back along the beach.

Exmouth beach looking westwards

We had a lunch stop in Budleigh Salterton then walked inland a bit to take a bridge over the River Otter. Shortly after there was a good view ahead and down to Coal Beach.

Coal Beach beneath eroding cliffs

The red cliffs continued into Ladram Bay with another large holiday park and intriguing rock outcrops in the sea. (The Holiday Park website has this aerial photo giving a good impression of the size of the Park )

Ladram Bay

After a short stop in Ladram it was about an hour into Sidmouth and the end of that day’s walk; just over 20km.

Approach to Sidmouth

We entered Sidmouth going down a path by the side of the road

Our Bed and Breakfast in Sidmouth

We had started walking around 09.30 and arrived at about 5 pm. After a less than satisfying shower, maybe due to low water pressure upstairs, we ventured back down into Sidmouth and ate at The Anchor; acceptable food and great Deuchars (pronounced Dewkers) IPA beer. Our B&B was, I thought, a tad expensive for what it offered. The fact that the landlord possibly attended the Basil Fawlty school of landlording provided a good deal of diverting banter but did not really compensate for the price.

Next day is described by the SW Coast Path website as “severe to strenuous”. So after a quick stop at Tesco for lunch material we were “on the path” by 09.30. Much of the day was best described as woodland rather than coast with masses of ramsons and bluebells. There were lots of ascents and descents with towering views down into combes. On leaving Sidmouth it was well worth stopping and looking back for views of yesterday’s walk.

Leaving Sidmouth

Leaving Sidmouth with view back to Ladram Bay

Weston and Branscombe

Weston Combe beach from the Sidmouth side

The major descent and climb at Weston Mouth went right down to beach level.

Weston Mouth at beach level in National Trust land

Then after a climb up and a reasonable level walk it was time to tackle Branscombe. At first the village was clearly visible in the valley as we maintained height in a woodland belvedere. Then the view across and down was quite spectacular with a brightly painted boat pulled up on the beach (scarcely visible in this picture).

From Branscombe Mouth to Beer Point there is a meandering undercliff walk with precious few views of either the sea or the cliffs. (To be fair there is an alternative footpath that goes across the top of the cliffs). Despite the lack of views I found this part quite appealing; the atmosphere was so distinct, the terrain varied and the occasional views were more precious because of their scarcity. The walk ends with a sharp and a little exposed climb just beyond Hookum Cliffs.

Hookum Cliffs from the undercliff footpath

From Beer point there is a pleasant, undemanding walk into Beer, where we rewarded ourselves with a drink and a piece of delicious orange and lemon sponge cake. From here there was a final up and down into Seaton.

Looking down into Seaton just before road closure detour

Unfortunately, a major cliff fall caused another detour. This time it was not simply a footpath but a road that had been affected and closed.

We met up with our walking buddies on the prom at Seaton, and soon found our hotel, the Eyre Court, under new management.

This hotel was very comfortable, quite spacious, served good and reasonable food with good beer. What is not to like? It had a big advantage that we had no need to wander after what the online guide describes as a “severe day” just over 16km. Needless to say we did not wander out at all that evening.

Next day, another great breakfast and another trip to Tesco for lunch stuff. This time we also took a look around the Victorian Electric tramway, which unfortunately did not start operation until 10am, too late for our walk schedule. The route took us along the coast and over the river Sid with pleasant views upstream and out to sea.

Looking inland from bridge over River Sid

The Sid estuary

After the bridge there is an inland climb and out into farmland where a sign announces that the next section is 3.5 to 4 hours long with no escape routes, no access to the coast and rough underfoot, or words to similar effect. This part of the route essentially went almost all the way to Lyme Regis, our destination for that day. It might sound rather dull, but once again I found it an interesting undercliff meander. The path was quite overgrown, with lots of twists and turns, and ups and downs and just a rare glimpse of sea or cliffs above. Nearer to Lyme, after about 4 hours, we joined a tarmaced section of path which became more open with views down into Lyme with glimpses of the Cobb (not very clear in this photo, but there – honest)

In Lyme Regis after a walk along the prom we found a coffee shop for our “rewards” one of which was entirely missing a short sharp shower that passed by while we were refreshing ourselves. The others were cake and some cream scones. Thence we walked up out of the town to locate our overnight B&B, the Nag’s Head (with a very correct apostrophe!). The Nag’s Head is a real pub with no pub grub in the evening, so we took a pleasant stroll down into town and along the front to the Cobb and dined in the bustling Cobb Arms. The food and beer were excellent and reasonably priced, which explained why it was so busy.

Breakfast at the Nag’s Head was excellent but this signalled a parting of the ways. Our friends stuck rigidly to their plans and took the Coast Path with its many diversions to West Bay, while we decided to take a walk around Lyme, miss out on the Path detours and catch a bus back to Weymouth. We could always come back and repeat the Path when more of it is open.


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Two weeks in Chamonix valley

2016/17 has not been a typical winter for me nor, I think, for the Chamonix valley. The valley has had a pretty poor ski season and I have not been skiing as frequently as previously. Partly, the two reasons are related. I was there in January for just over a week and did not bother to venture out with skis because there was a grave lack of snow in the resorts. However, I was there for two weeks roundabout the middle of March and had some excellent skiing and some lovely walks. There had been a decent snowfall as we arrived and this was followed by a solid week of bright sunny weather; a little warm for the best skiing but it gave an overwhelming feeling of Spring’s arrival. Google created a couple of great panoramic photos, without me asking, and it is these I would like to share in this post.

The first is taken from the top of the Princess lift in the Megeve ski area. It was taken in the afternoon of the 13th March. In the foreground is some of the ski area in the St Gervais sector and the background is Mont Blanc, the very top hidden by cloud.

The next was taken a few days later from the end of Lac Passy on a lovely afternoon, warm enough to encourage young paddlers.


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