Tag Archives: walking

Postcard from the Dragon’s Back and Shek O, Hong Kong: another side of the island

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Hello from Hong Kong! I’m here for a few days on my way back to Italy from Australia, and it has been an excellent stop over. While here, I have been following a new year diet of large meals plus multiple snacks every day (diiiiiim suuuuuum) but today I temporarily tore myself away from the food to go hiking.

Yes, hiking in Hong Kong. I didn’t realize you could do that, either.

The Dragon’s Back ridge is on the eastern end of Hong Kong island, and the hiking trail that runs across it is super popular, for good reason. On a clearer day, you’d get views across to the massive apartment buildings of Kowloon, but even on a hazy day like today I saw smaller islands dotting the bay, quiet beaches and granite boulders. (I also saw a couple wearing broad-brimmed sun hats walking the opposite direction to me, and I couldn’t resist saying “hi” to them, knowing exactly what accent they’d reply with; it’s pretty easy to spot Australians from a distance once you know the tells.)

At the southern end of the trail, I hopped on the bus to Shek O, a beachside town that at this time of year was mostly host to couples taking engagment and wedding photos next to the ocean swirling against the shore.

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Practial notes for future reference: I followed these very useful directions to walk the trail north to south, starting at Chai Wan MTR station. The only thing I would add is that the walk along the road after you’ve left the cemetery isn’t looooong but the trail head isn’t quite as close as I would have guessed — you can’t miss the trailhead though, so just keep walking.

The trail over the ridge is quite exposed to sun, you’ll want to wear sunscreen and carry plenty of water. There’s nowhere on trail to get water. I was there on a warm winter’s day and I wish I’d brought a full litre of water rather than 500 ml.

I found myself walking against the flow of traffic on trail, not sure if that was because of my timing or because more people start at the southern end and walk northwards. I did the trail on a Monday, it was certainly populated, but not ridiculously so. The weekend might be a different matter…

When you get to the southern end of the trail, there are bus stops for buses to Shek O and Shau Kei Wan MTR station. While Shek O is within walking distance of the southern trailhead, it’s along a winding road without shoulders much of the way so you’re better off catching a bus.


Postcard from Gran Bosco di Salbertrand: a human landscape in the Alps

(Click on any of the photos to enlarge.)

I’d only been back in Turin a few days before I realized I needed to get out and walk… again. So last Saturday, a few of us took the train up to Parco Naturale del Gran Bosco di Salbertrand in Susa Valley.

This was the first time I’d organized a hike myself, and I’d been careful about choosing a nice route for the group: it featured a rifugio near the top, and several options so we could take the less steep path on the way down to save our knees and ankles. Unfortunately my map didn’t have full topographic information and it turns out that just because a path is twice as long, it doesn’t have to be half as steep a descent. It can be gently uphill for a substantial distance and then drop precipitously into the valley on a track covered in pine cones that act as rollers under your feet. (Sorry guys!!!)

When we weren’t slipping and sliding and cursing our way down the side of Susa Valley, we had a walk through a pine forest in the morning light, past old stone walls and ruins of buildings that we debated about (were they houses, or cow sheds, or..?). We picked lavender and mint that was growing beside the path. We saw cows — and a marmot, who was sadly uninterested in B’s offer of lifelong friendship. It was a very human landscape, with all its signs of human history — apparently, timber from these woods was used in the construction of the Superga Basilica in Turin. It was also a very modern human landscape, with the constant hum of the highway below us.

We got back to Turin that evening tired and hungry and coated with a fine layer of dust.

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Practical information for future reference: You can get to Gran Bosco di Salbertrand without a car — take the train from Turin to Salbertrand (altitude 1000m) on the Bardonecchia line, it runs hourly, takes about an hour and costs 5.75 euro each way. From there, there are all sorts of walks you can take. I used this map, be warned that although it gives altitudes of landmarks it doesn’t have contour lines. We took the GTA route up to Rifugio Daniel Arlaud (altitude 1770m) and then on to Le Selle (altitude 2000m), which is a cluster of agricultural buildings, but also a great viewpoint for the valley. We followed the (closed to cars) road down and then took route 2, which was very steep and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you enjoy that sort of thing.

It was quite dry in late August, and if I did this walk again I’d do it earlier in the summer with the hope of seeing green meadows rather than brown. (It was also quite warm, but much of the route is shaded.)

Camel Estuary, Cornwall

Treyarnon Bay to Padstow on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, over 5 and a half days. This is part 6 — go back to part 5 (Newquay to Treyarnon Bay).

Treyarnon Bay to Padstow was my final walking day. I went to bed the night before with trepidation about the weather — for several days, everyone I’d spoken to had commented on how nice the weather had been, and how “Monday’s supposed to be really hot, like 30 degrees!” Great news for beach-goers, less appealing if you’re walking 11 miles (18 km) in full sun. Continue reading

Watergate Beach, Newquay

Newquay to Treyarnon Bay on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, over 5 and a half days. This is day 5 — go back to day 4 (St Agnes to Newquay).

Remarkably, I wasn’t sore at all when I got up in the morning, even after my long day the day before. Over a breakfast, I chatted with my B&B landlady, about her job doing night shift in a dementia care facility, and her four dogs that her husband was out walking, and how Perranporth used to have a really great New Age shop that she liked but now all the coastal villages were becoming nothing but surf shops and cafes. I knew what she meant — on my walk, I’d been struggling to even find lunch options each day that didn’t involve sitting in and paying 7 pounds for a sandwich with too many different ingredients. Continue reading

Art on Perran Beach, Cornwall

St Agnes to Newquay on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, over 5 and a half days. This is part 4 of the walk — go back to part 3 (Portreath to St Agnes).

It was 4.30 pm, the sun was hot on my face, my pack straps were chafing my arms, my knees were sore, and I had never not been walking this &*%! coast path. I had just come round a head and I could see Fistral Beach laid out before me, replete with a surfing competition and thousands of spectators on the sand and nearby grass. I still had to get past it all and to the opposite side of Newquay, the largest town in the area. Well then.

This was my longest day, with 16.5 miles (26.5 km) the official path distance from Trevaunance Cove to Newquay Station. “Where are you walking today?” the landlady at my B&B had asked. “Newquay? Goodness. That’s far.”

Continue reading


Portreath to St Agnes on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, over 5 and a half days. This is day 3 of the walk — Go back to day 2 (Lelant to Portreath).

I left Portreath and went back to the clifftops via the road since the foot path from the harbour was closed due to landslip risk. My legs were a little stiff, but the steady climb got me moving again. Most of the way to Porthtowan, the next village, I walked in the space between fenced off land and the cliff edges, and was constrained to a single path through the heather. If I looked to the fence on my right I felt hemmed in, but the ocean was always open on my left.

Once up on the cliffs, the walk to Porthtowan was flat, with just a single dip where a stream emptied out to the ocean. It was still fairly early and I hadn’t seen anyone all morning, so at the bottom of the dip where the prickly heather and gorse finally gave way to grass I ducked into as hidden a corner as I could find — but still rather open — to have a pee. (No bushes to go behind!) Of course, it was just after this that I saw an oncoming walker at the top of the other side of the dip, and I was glad of my timing. Continue reading

Cliffs in Cornwall

Lelant to Portreath on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, over 5 and a half days. This is day 2 of the walk — go back to day 1 (St Ives to Lelant).

“I’m spending 5 and a half days walking from here to Padstow,” I told my dorm mate at the hostel in St Ives, on the west coast of Cornwall.
“For charity?”
“Nah, just for fun,” I replied.
“Yeah, it’s important to do these sorts of things because you want to, isn’t it?”

If I’m honest, I was also walking 110 km along the Cornish coast to see if I could. I’ve done some solo day walks over the years, but the last overnight trip I did was in high school in 1999. Last summer I didn’t walk at all, put off by the occasional dizzy spell I’d still get in the months after my accident. This summer I’ve been hiking again, but always with friends. Could I set my own pace? Could I stay motivated all day? Could I walk 20 km then get up the next day and do it again? Continue reading

Carbis Bay, Cornwall

St Ives to Lelant on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, following the South West Coast Path. I started writing a summary post about my week in Cornwall and it got very long, so I’m doing a post a day… This is day 1 of the walk.

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Not the most auspicious start.

It was drizzling lightly as I set out from St Ives on my first day. The plan  was to walk 6 miles (10 km) to Hayle, then catch a bus back to St Ives to spend a second night there before bussing to Hayle the next day with my full pack to set out in earnest. Even though my full pack wasn’t heavy — I wasn’t camping at all — I was glad to have a short day with a light bag after a long trip the day before, travelling from Turin to St Ives, with an 8 am flight followed by 4 hours in London followed by what was supposed to be a 6 hour train trip that turned into a 7 hour train trip followed by a shared taxi ride with fellow travellers after trains in Cornwall were disrupted by a tyre fire in St Erth.

(“Service disruptions in St Erth due to a track-side fire” they said in London, and I assumed they meant some kind of grass fire that would be dealt with by the time I got to Cornwall. No, it was a literal pile of tyres that had been burning for 24 hours with a plume of smoke that was said to have been visible 30 miles away. No wonder they weren’t so keen on running trains directly next to that.)

Despite — or perhaps because of — the inconvenience of the trip, I’d spent the day thinking about why I travel. On the train from Luton airport into London, I realized I felt at home. Not because I feel at home in England (I don’t), but because I feel at home on the move. Not that I’d want to always be on the move, I decided. After all, I’d had just as strong a rush of feeling of being at home a few weeks prior as I’d dished up poached eggs in tomatoes to a couple of friends at dinner around my kitchen table. But I hadn’t travelled much recently, and this trip felt like a good way back into that.

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Somewhere near Exmouth. One day…

I also pondered the idea of paths not taken. Four hours in London wandering the canals next to Paddington Station made me wonder why I hadn’t planned a couple of days in the city. As the train sped past red sandstone cliffs near Exmouth I wanted to jump off at the next station and go take a closer look. Early on while thinking about summer I’d considered a trip to Spain, and going to Cornwall was instead of that. This week I’d be taking one path — literally. Well then. Continue reading

Postcard from Conca del Pra: enjoying the foothills of the Alps

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Went hiking with some friends and their kids yesterday in the foothills of the Alps. It was a sunny day and it was hot work following a narrow valley up, until we came over the ridge and found ourselves in the open space of Conca del Pra, a basin surrounded by jagged hills. On our walk we saw waterfalls, and wild roses, and cows, and raspberry patches, and flowers growing from the rocks that were reminiscent of hattifatteners, and entrances to mysterious caves where the air was cool and underground streams emerged. Our 4-year-old guide would probably want to add that we saw plenty of cool rocks and sticks and also he found an old shoe lace.

PS: More postcards from…

Practical information for future reference: We parked at Villanova, which is near Bobbio Pellice, which is a bit past Pinerolo as you head into the Alps in that direction from Turin. It was a popular spot — the tables at Rifugio Willy Jervis in Conca del Pra were full of people having lunch — which is not surprising considering it’s a beautiful place only 50 km from central Turin. There are 2 trails from Villanova to Conca del Pra, one that is a dirt road with a few shortcuts to save on tedious switchbacks, and the other that follows the other side of the stream and is much steeper and rockier (but definitely rewarding). We took the gentler route up and the steep route down, my knees today feel like that was maybe not the best order to do things… It’s also possible to drive up to Conca del Pra and use that as a starting point for hikes further into the hills.

Via Francigena waymarker

Walking vaguely Rome-wards: Chivasso to Lamporo

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Obviously the best day to do a 25 km walk with minimal shade is a muggy, hazy day, one where you can’t see any distant scenery and sunburn is inevitable. It’s what anyone would do, right? Guys?

At any rate, it’s what I did last Saturday. In numbers:

  • Hours in advance I’d planned this: 12. I was feeling energetic Friday night, and at some point I decided I should continue with this ‘walking to Rome‘ business. A bit of quick Google-map-ing and I figured I knew what I was doing.
  • Kilometres originally planned to walk: 13.5. You know, a reasonable 2-3 hours. But “just in case I was feeling extra energetic”, I looked a bit further ahead and planned a longer route: Chivasso-Lamporo, ~20 km on the via Francigena and then an extra 4.5 km Lamporo-Crescentino train station. Really, given the option of a longer walk, what did I think was going to happen??
  • Number of snakes spotted: 3. “There are no venomous snakes in Piemonte” became my motto. If that isn’t true, please don’t tell me. The worst was when a snake and I startled each other on an over-grown bit path, one of the few bits of the route that wasn’t a road. “Oh my goodness!” I sad aloud. Fortunately, the snake didn’t reply. That was the one point I wished I was with a group, so I could be the one faux-cheerfully saying “There are no venomous snakes in Piemonte, let’s go!” It’s less convincing when no-one is listening.
  • Number of frogs: dozens. As I was walking next to irrigation canals they’d jump in when I went past. Plop, plop, plop. I whistled “Galumph went the little green frog” as I walked. I hope the frogs only know the first verse and chorus.
  • Number of corn fields: All of them. Every single corn field. So. much. corn. I was so excited when I came across a rice field towards the end of the day. If I were an actual pilgrim, I’d be doing insanely long days just to get out of the plains as quickly as possible. But… there is something to be said for long boring walks. After the first hour or two, you start to accept that nothing much is going to happen, and you end up doing all the thinking and daydreaming you’d been putting off for the past while.