THE COBBLER // Loch Lomond National Park, Scotland

I feel like every time I come back to write here I am talking about how busy I am, but things certainly have not changed! We are finally in a bit more ‘routine’ during the week, but weekends are a constant change, being weekends alone at home in London, Chris visiting London, or weekends away to somewhere completely different! It can feel a bit overwhelming at times looking at our calendars, but this is the lifestyle we came here for and it is all worth the busy weeks.

A few weeks back I managed to sneak in a weekend trip up to Glasgow, to save Chris yet another train trip and to also explore some of the Scottish countryside! For once rain was not forecast and we hired a car to drive out to Loch Lomond National Park, which is only an hour from Glasgow.

It was a bit grey when we started on our hike up to the Cobbler (Ben Arthur). The Cobbler is the jagged looking peak you can see in the distance of the above photos, and more clearly below.

It was a gradual incline for the first couple of kilometres, before the track turned in to a steep rock scramble for the final ascent up to the Cobbler itself. It was fun to finally get in to some ‘proper’ hiking after all the leisurely country rambles we get down south.

We stopped a picnic lunch at the saddle between the two peaks of the Cobbler, enjoying the amazing views around the mountains. How lucky we are to get to see such places!

After lunch we climbed the final few hundred metres to the ‘needle’ that marks the summit of the Cobbler. The needle is the rocky outcrop below, and to properly summit the Cobbler one must ‘thread the needle’ by climbing through a hole in the rock and scrambling to the top. Given the sheer drop down the side, we decided to just admire the views instead!

The sun faintly came out, but even with the clouds the views were amazing.

We climbed down the other side of the mountain, which was a slightly easier path of rocky steps. From here we had the option to take the path back to the carpark, but we decided to add on a few extra kilometres and climb to the neighbouring summit of Ben Narnain.

The climb was short and sharp, and offered a great view back across the Cobbler and nearby mountains, as well as across Loch Lomond to the well known peak of Ben Lomond (another hike for another day!).

Ben Nairnan was also our first ‘Munro’, which is any Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet (914.4 metres). The activity of Munro bagging is popular among hikers, which involves climbing all of the 200+ listed Munros. I don’t know if I would have the time!

The descent was long and tough on the knees, involving a lot of rock scrambling and steep paths. Thankfully we had non-stop views the entire way to distract us from our knees giving in.

After a good hour or so of climbing downhill we finally arrived back at our car. Our legs were sore (and were so for the next week) after our first serious hike in awhile, but it was totally worth it. The Scottish highlands have certainly grabbed my attention, and I am excited to get back up to Scotland for some more hiking later this summer.

– Reanna

Advertisements

THE SEVEN SISTERS // South Downs, United Kingdom

Life is (slowly) forming some routine, with all the changes and challenges of finding our feet over the past few months. Weekends are now once again a valuable resource for exploring as much as we can!

A couple of weeks back Chris was down in London for work, and we managed to plan out a quick weekend escape to the South Downs National Park. We jumped on a train from London to the seaside town of Eastbourne, where we joined the South Downs Way to hike along the famed chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters.

We once again coincided a hike trip with amazing weather – despite the clouds in the above photo it was actually quite warm and the sun was shining most of the day.

Not long after leaving Eastbourne we reached the chalk cliffs of the South Downs. The sea below was also a stunning colour, and wildflowers were blooming. It was perfect conditions all around!

We spent most of the day along the cliffs, with no real track to follow.

Below you can see a busy carpark and cafe marking the start of the Seven Sisters. The number of walkers rapidly grew as we crossed over the carpark.

The Seven Sisters are a set of seven chalk cliff hills along the coast, each with its own name.

It was such a stunning walk and we were so lucky with the weather conditions. Perhaps even too much so – we were both very sunburnt that night!

Eventually the cliffs ended and we turned inland at Cuckmere Haven, as the South Downs Way once again formed into a trail.

The trail took us through a valley, and up over into some woodlands, before emerging in the quaint village of Litlington, where we stopped for a break.

From Litlington is was only a kilometre from the village of Alriston, where we pitched our tent at a camping farm alongside about 100 other campers! It was a long weekend after all.

We spent the evening wandering into the little village and having dinner at one of the (many) local pubs, before ending the night with a game of Scrabble and crawling in to our little tent.

The next day we were feeling quite tired from all the sunshine the day before (I was very sunburnt). We spent the first couple of hours in the morning following the South Downs Way across some open hills and farmland.

The land was very flat in the distance, despite us only being on relatively small hills in the South Downs.

Eventually we turned of the South Downs Way and followed the River Ouse to the town of Lewes for lunch.

We had considered catching the train in to Brighton from Lewes, however we were both feeling tired and decided we wouldn’t get the most out of time there this weekend. We will have many more weekends to fit in a trip to the famed seaside town.

From Lewes it was an easy train ride back to London, where we rested our feet and slept very well. There is nothing like a weekend of hiking to put you to bed early!

The summer weather feels like it is slowly getting here in London, so hopefully there will be many more hiking weekends on our horizon.

– Reanna

MORE CANALS & BEERS // Bruges, Belgium

Despite the cold weather whilst we were in Belgium, the sun managed to stay out enough for us to justify a picnic in the park after our morning of explorations. We stocked up on some cheese and bread from a local deli (European bread is next level) and some additional supplies from a supermarket, before heading to Minnewaterpark.

With Spring well on its way the park was lush and green, making a perfect spot for our lunch. Plus, our picnic was probably about half the price of a restaurant meal in town!

We spent another hour or two wandering the laneways of the city centre. It was amazing that as soon as you got away from the central squares and canals, the streets were almost completely empty.

There are several cathedrals in the city, but the only one we visited way Saint Saviour’s. It was free to enter, and has a massive interior to explore.

From the cathedral we headed over to De Halve Mann Brewery to join a prebooked tour. It was quite a popular attraction with visitors, but the tour was enjoyable as we learnt about the brewing process and explored the old brewhouse.

We also got to see a great view of the city from the roof of the brewery!

The tour ended with a beer in the sun filled courtyard.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking further through the city, stopping at the above downstairs bar. Ordering a beer anywhere in Bruges was quite a task as there were so many options (like, over 30) and often the beer names made little sense unless you were well acquainted with Belgian beer styles (we weren’t). We had a few hits and a few misses (super sweet lambics/fruit beers), but it was all part of the fun.

On our final morning we had a couple of hours free before we had to catch our bus home, so we went for a walk near our accommodation. We wandered through a beautiful little forest and found ourselves on a farm in the middle of the city.

Before long it was time to pack up and catch the bus back to London.

Bruges was the perfect size little city for a laid back weekend away, and for us to dip our toes into what will hopefully be the first of many weekend adventures across the channel to mainland Europe!

– Reanna

BUS TO BRUGES // Bruges, Belgium

Our first overseas adventure since arriving in the UK! It has been such a full on few months that this trip felt like an important reminder of why we came here and all the travel that will (hopefully) be in our future.

We left organising this trip over a bank holiday weekend to the last minute, meaning there were no decent flights available. But we discovered that Bruges was only 5.5 hours away by bus – which seems like nothing when we hail from Australia! I used to drive that far to Marlo

Catching the bus was also a novelty to us as we had our first experience of the Euro tunnel. It did result in a few delays, as is likely to happen on bus transport, but before we knew it we were arriving in the beautiful city of Bruges on a sunny afternoon!

We did not have much planned for our visit to the city, which ended up being perfect as we needed a break from the constant to do lists and pulling our lives together. Bruges is also just the right size for a weekend on wandering.

Our first night was spent wandering into the old town and poking our heads down the endless laneways of the city. Oh, and of course waffles, beer and flemish stew!

The next morning was a bit more grey, and we started off our day with a walk along the main canal encircling the city centre to visit the windmills of Bruges.

Everyone I spoke to about Bruges described how beautiful and quaint the city is, and I have to say it certainly lived up to the hype. The cobble stone streets! The canals! The bridges!

The sun eventually emerged, making the city even more stunning.

We decided to skip out on the classic canal boat tour and instead stretch our legs on the pavement.

The sunny weather (and the cost of a restaurant meal) inspired us to head to a local deli and some shops to get some picnic supplies. But more on that in the next post!

– Reanna

THE BEACONS WAY DAY 4 // Brecon Beacons National Park, United Kingdom

Our fourth and final day hiking in the Brecon Beacons was undoubtedly the most stunning. This day we really felt like we were in a national park, being slightly more remote in the mountains.

We had booked an evening bus from Cardiff back to London, so this was the only day we had to adhere to a schedule of sorts to ensure we made it in time. With that in mind, we were up and off after breakfast, making our way from Talybont Reservoir up to our first mountain of the day.

I am not sure of the name of this first mountain, as again we were slightly off the Beacons Way. It was one of those hills that seems to get further and further away as you approach it! I was exhausted by the time we reached the top, and thankfully the next few kilometres were a bit more easy going.

From then on in it was nothing but spectacular views of the mountains around us. The ridge we followed in the photo above was incredibly windy, making for the worst weather we had experienced all weekend. Otherwise the sun was still shining!

Eventually Pen y fan emerged in the distance – in the above photo it is the slightly taller square ridge in the distance.

We stopped briefly at Fan y big, another mountain of sorts along the trail known for its natural ‘diving board’. You can see this rock ledge in the far right of the below photo – obviously I was way too nervous to step anywhere near the edge!

The views were ridiculous!

By the time we came to the bottom of Pen y fan there were quite a few other hikers around, after having spent most of the morning alone.

And we made it! The final few hundred metres were steep and we were tired, but we pulled ourselves up and the views were amazing. The weather we had this weekend was simply incredible!

My photos don’t show it, but it was very busy at the summit! Being a long weekend and great weather there were plenty of people out, as Pen y fan can be reached from a nearby carpark making it an easy enough day hike. We did not join the line of hikers waiting to pose with the summit sign!

At only 886 metres above sea level Pen y fan isn’t really that high, however it is the highest peak in South Wales.

After taking in the views and enjoying the sunshine, we walked across to the neighbouring and slightly lower peak of Corn Du, which offers great views back towards Pen y fan.

The landscape of the Breacon Beacons was completely different to anything I had previously experience. It was quite barren, with hardly any trees making it feel almost alpine.

From Corn Du it was a long descent to the busy carpark, which was quite brutal on the knees. The carpark was ridiculously busy, so much so that there were several food trucks set up selling chips and hot dogs (and coffee and Welsh cakes, that we were happy to partake in!). Getting back to London was a long journey of a local bus to Cardiff, and an intercity bus to London… taking many hours!

All weekend Chris and I kept saying how simply amazing this hike was, and how lucky we were with the weather. I am sure we would have enjoyed it regardless of the weather, but 20+ degrees and sunshine was perfect.

For our first hiking weekend in the UK it was a resounding success (even if we cheated and camped in towns with access to pubs!). We hope it will be the first of many!

– Reanna

THE BEACONS WAY DAY 3 // Brecon Beacons National Park, United Kingdom

Admittedly on day three we did not technically follow the Beacons Way! The way we organised our accommodation meant that following the main route on day three was going to a very long day. Given this was our first attempt at overnight hiking in the UK, we did not want to push ourselves with any particularly long days, so we decided to modify our route to follow the Usk Valley Walk.

From Crickhowell, we followed the River Usk before climbing up through some farmland, getting some great views across the valley towards the Black Mountains. The walk itself was more easy going than the previous two days, though the trail was difficult to follow as the markers were faded or damaged, and many of the styles were broken.

We managed to time our hike to stop in the village of Llangynidr for lunch. It had not crossed our minds that it was Easter Sunday and the pubs might be busy, but thankfully we arrived in town early and we were able to squeeze in to the bookings. This was our first Sunday roast experience in the UK, and it certainly delivered!

We were refueled and ready to go after lunch, and rejoined the Usk Valley Walk along a canal. It was very peaceful (and leisurely!) stroll more than a hike, but beautiful nevertheless. Plenty of longboats passed by on the canal. Maybe another adventure we can try in the future?

Eventually we left the Usk Valley walk and followed another trail away from the canal to Talybont Reservoir, where we set up camp for the night at the local YHA hostel.

The hostel was wonderful, built into an old farm building with views of the surrounding mountains. The staff were also very helpful in providing advice for how to approach our hike for the next day.

And of course, more sheep!

Having an easier day on the trail ended up being a good plan, as the next day was the hardest yet as we made our way to the highest peak of the Brecon Beacons.

– Reanna

THE BEACONS WAY DAY 2 // Brecon Beacons National Park, United Kingdom

After having such a spectacular first day on the Beacons Way, I wasn’t sure how our second day on the trail would compare. It turned out to be a slightly tougher but even more stunning day in Wales, and the weather gods continued to provide sunshine.

We camped overnight in the tiny village of Llanthony Priory, and started our day early with breakfast cooked by a local bnb host, who was also able to make us sandwiches. It was all very quaint! The Beacons Way picked up from right next to the campsite.

Our day began by immediately testing out our sore legs up hill, as we climbed up Bal Bach. In the photo above you can see the Piory nestled in the valley, and the ridge behind is what we climbed the day before.

We were quite alone at the top of the ridge, apart from the sheep and wild ponies.

We followed the ridge for awhile before descending down in to the next valley, where we wandered through farms, across country lanes, and past many, many sheep.

The trail took us to the ancient chapel of Patrishow, before we began making our way back up hill yet again.

It felt like a long climb up Crug Mawr, but as always the views were totally worth the effort.

The summit made for a perfect lunch spot. We felt completely alone up here, despite knowing there were villages just at the bottom of the hill.

It was back downhill again after lunch. We detoured from the trail slightly in the valley and stopped into a village for a rest and drink at the local pub, before heading on to the third and final hill of the day.

Our last ascent was Crug Hywell (Table Mountain), a former Iron Age Fort overlooking the town of Crickhowell below. By this time of the day we were beginning to feel quite tired, so it was a long trek up to the top!

Table Mountain is accessible from the town of Crickhowell, so the hill and the trail down in to town was quite busy.

Crickhowell was our destination for the night. We arrived in the charming little town and realised we still had another 2kms to reach our campsite on the other side of town, on top of the 19 odd kilometres we had already done! But luck was in our favour, as the campsite owner spotted us walked through town and offered us a lift in his truck to the campsite.

The town itself was bigger than the village we had stayed in before, and had another wonderful beer garden – this time on the banks of a river. We had another pub dinner, before crawling into our tent at some ridiculously early hour from exhaustion. I was honestly surprised at how well we slept during this trip, but I think it was because we were just so tired at the end of every day!

– Reanna