To the Gower and the Black Mountain – Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th March (plus two days)
The EFOG weekend at the Gower in South Wales appealed to me as I have links with the area in the form of long-time friends, and a one-time possibility of living there. That is apart from the fact that the Gower peninsula itself is a beautiful area! In order to use the opportunity to visit my friend, I extended the trip organised by Ken to include a day before the Group arrived, and to stay a day afterwards. This was also what Pam intended to do, so it made sense to travel with her by car, leaving early Thursday morning and returning the following Monday.
I'd told my friend that we'd arrive somewhere around mid-day, and we arrived in the small town of Brynamman on the slopes of the Black Mountain at 12 noon, so that wasn't too bad. We were met by Maria and her neighbour Lynne, and immediately treated to a warm Welsh welcome, in the form of a much appreciated meal – complete with a following of Welsh cakes. Pam went off to her B&B at a mysterious nearby place that none of us had heard of called Talarbongam. I had images of a stay in a house something like that in the film “The Lorelei" (Terry Johnson, 1990); if that doesn't mean anything, then I suggest you look it up; it's eerie. In fact Pam reported that it wasn't eerie at all – just Welsh. Whilst Pam “did her own thing” - which involved as suggested a trip to the top of the Black Mountain (my friend's house is on Heol Mynedd - Mountain Road), Maria and I caught up after a good few years of not seeing each other. Pam ended up in Carmarthen, and texted us that there was a free Cabaret Celtaidh on in the town that evening. I was keen, but Maria less so; she'd been to one of these before and found it a bit alien. She is English, and this was Welsh Wales.
On Friday whilst Pam did the Black Mountain again in the morning (she was taken with the mountain), and Dylan Thomas's village of Laugharne in the afternoon, Maria and I drove NE towards Brecon to visit Craig-y-nos Country Park – 40-acres of what were the historic grounds of the Victorian Craig-y-nos Castle. The country park area is beautiful, on the banks of the Tawe river complete with Dippers, and wonderful trees. There is the usual tea-shoppe, and visitors were supping on the patio in the sunshine. Maria and I had another idea, however, and walked boldly into the castle – which doesn't appear open to visitors. We asked where we could get coffee and were shown to a grand room with comfortable armchairs and sofas, supplied with our coffees and relaxed in sumptuous surroundings – feeling very grand! This is a bit of a local secret – but well worth exploiting.
On Saturday morning – early – Pam arrived for the drive to meet the rest of the Group for Ken's first walk, from Rhossilli to Port Eynon. This involved trying to get to Scurlage village, a few miles from Rhossilli, before the bus from Swansea with the Group on-board, so as to park the car for the return journey. Things had changed however, and a phone call from Val reported that they weren't going on the bus at all, but would be arriving earlier than expected having hired a taxi! This meant that the only way Pam and I could catch up with the Group was if they waited for us, which they duly did – in a nice tea-shop overlooking the great bay at Rhossilli.
The walk started by walking down towards that bay on a beautiful blue-sky-and-warm morning. Ken's plan was to get to the beach and walk back around the headland to pick up the path to Port Eynon. I can confidently say I was dubious about the possibility of this – mainly because the headland in question is impassable unless the tide is out, the rocks extending out to the Worm's Head. We weren't sure that the tide was out sufficiently, and so turned back before descending any further. It was more of a hike back up to the cliff top than it had been going down. The correct route quickly afforded us magnificent views of the Worms Head from the cliff top, and views like this were constant companions on the whole walk to Port Eynon. There were a good few descents and ascents to take into account because of the path's route around the corrugated limestone coast, and we arrived in Port Eynon after an exhilarating 6-plus miles to welcome tea, coffee, ice cream or alcohol.
Pam and I were to stay that night with the rest of the Group at the Premier Inn in North Swansea, so we made our way there to join them. It was quite a complex booking that Ken had administered, with two additional people sharing (as appropriate) with people already there. We'd been warned that changes in room occupation might entail a fee, so were slightly wary about announcing our arrival at reception. Even had climbing through windows been an option, that wouldn't have been possible due to the limited-opening bulit in to the ground floor rooms. So, we said we were part of Ken's group, and the farce began. The name's of the group hadn't been fully recorded by the receptionist the day before, we didn't know who we were sharing with, my phone had almost depleted power and Pam's couldn't get through to Ken. The receptionist was doing her best when I managed a desperate call to Val (always reliable as far as phones are concerned) saying “get down to reception quick – my phone's dying”. Ken arrived – having been sought by the marvellous receptionist, quickly followed by a bath-towel wrapped Val! Things were then sorted and we got our rooms.
Sunday's walk was a promenade stroll taking in the whole of Swansea Bay from the marina to the Mumbles, again in glorious warm sunshine. It may have been a promenade (and beach for some of us) but it was a 5 miles-plus promenade, so a healthy enough walk in so many ways. The majority of the Group returned by bus to Swansea, to catch their train home, whilst Pam and I visited the marina area and then returned to the Premier Inn for the extra night.
Ken, it must be said, organised slightly complex travel and accommodation arrangements and two really good walks with great efficiency and concern for people's various walking abilities. Similarly, I've never stayed at a travel-style hotel before, but was impressed with the cleanliness and facilities in the rooms – and very much with the friendliness and helpfulness of all the staff at the Premier Inn and the associated Tay Barns restaurant.
Simply another one of EFOG's great variety of activities and aways.
Paul Ferris, March 2012
Gate to Gate Walk - Sat 31st March, 2012
At an ungodly hour for a Saturday, about a dozen rather bleary Efoggers assembled at Epping Station for the start of Jim and Sue’s epic Gate to Gate walk. The title "Gate to Gate" was chosen as the idea was to walk the length of Epping Forest from the Forest Gate pub at Ivy Chimneys to the Golden Fleece pub near Forest Gate.
The sky was cloudy but the rain held off, the cool air provided a good walking temperature, and the recent spell of dry weather meant a distinct lack of mud. We set off at a brisk pace, to be stalled early on in the walk by the presence of a small creature that Paul identified as a vole, turning round and round in circles in the footpath, perhaps in some distress.Paul managed to move it off the path and out of the way of tramping boots, where the poor thing continued to circle, reminding me of myself trying to follow a map. I hope it recovered from the trauma. We continued on our way, navigating the forest traffic which included a group of cyclists and a riding school; a little later on we became aware of a rhythmical noise steadily approaching, which I assumed was another clatter of horses’ hooves. The 'hooves' turned out to be poles, as we were quickly overtaken by an enthusiastic group of pole walkers (as opposed to dancers) who were powering through the forest on a keep fit mission, and showing an admirable grasp of right and left as they coordinated their walking poles with their footsteps, assuring us they hadn't lanced anyone yet. After just under two hours of walking, we were glad to come to the first stopping point, ahead of schedule; the green tea hut at High Beech.
Fortified with tea, coffee, bread pudding or other equally sturdy cakes, we strode on through the forest for another hour or so; scaling ups and downs of various gradients, none of them too steep excepting the final hill before we reached Butler’s Retreat, which, after a level stretch of footpath that had lulled us into a false sense of ease, came as rather a surprise, and made us feel we’d really earned our lunch stop. We were joined at the Butler’s Retreat by Lynne, Maz, Peter and Katie, and the weather was just warm enough for everyone to sit outside, enjoying meals, designer sandwiches or yet more cakes, before the group continued onwards and upwards, and Val and I left to go our separate ways after a very enjoyable morning’s walk.
At 1.10 sharp, after lunch - Val and Louise having left to catch the train from Chingford and Lynne, Maz and Peter plus the greyhound Katie having joined us - we left Butler's Retreat. It was still sunny but getting a bit cold. We had a pleasant walk through the forest arriving at Highams Park lake at about 2.10 where we stopped for a short drink and rest, then continued through the forest passing the back of Snaresbrook Crown Court to the Green Man roundabout. A couple of people caught the train from Leytonstone and the rest continued through a very pretty Browning Road, along Bush Wood and onto Wanstead Flats (where there are flats and it is very flat!). Loads of birds are said to like Wanstead Flats and they keep coming here; I'm not sure what the attraction is - must be the food. Apparently it is one of the best area for spotting migrating birds in the whole of London. Lots of men playing football who were spotting the ball and not the birds, but we did see a couple of guys with binoculars (I think they're called twitchers).
By this time my legs were aching as I haven't walked so far in a long time, but I speeded up a bit as I could see the Golden Fleece in the far distance - arrived at 4.15pm where we had a drink and some of the Group had dinner. It was an enjoyable walk and we were lucky with the weather.
Of the fifteen Group members who started or joined us on route, ten reached the Golden Fleece, and of these Clive, Fred, Jenny, Jill, Jim, Paul and Sue walked the whole 15 miles. The distances involved were:
Epping to Butlers Retreat 7.25 miles
Epping to Leytonstone 13 miles
Epping to the Golden Fleece 15 miles
Bell-ringing at St. John’s Church, Epping
Seventeen EFOG members had a really interesting evening in the bell tower at St. John’s Church, Epping, on Monday, 26th March, 2012. The tower is 100 years old, and was built some years after the church, as an addition. I had arranged with Peter Milan, the bell-ringing captain, for us to visit, and I think the evening turned out to be even better than we had expected. Peter was explaining everything to us, and with his colleague, David, we were first shown how to bell-ring before we had a go ourselves. They gave us lighter bells, which was just as well, as when Peter demonstrated the largest bell which weighs over a ton, he actually had his feet off the floor to get it going, hanging on the bell-rope!
Bell-ringing is certainly much more complicated than I thought. When it is being done properly, the bell captain calls out numbers - not the numbers of the bells (they have 8 bells at St. John‘s), but the sequence numbers of the rounds. I couldn’t pretend to understand it, and you certainly need your wits about you! Being amateurs, we didn’t get to that stage, but we all had goes at ringing the bells with the help of Peter and David. It is quite tiring, and Peter and David were there with us, helping us to catch the bell-ropes by the sally - the furry bit on the rope!
Following on from that, we ascended the ladders to see the bells - not for those of a nervous disposition or with a fear of heights! The second ladder was completely vertical up the wall! As we had enjoyed a visit to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry last year, it was good to see to see the bells in situ, and Peter gave us some more information while we were perched on a narrow ledge, overlooking the bells. I think we were all grateful for the wooden railing along that bit! Peter had left one of the bells upside-down, which is where they are when they actually start to ring the bells, so we could see the positioning.
On the floor below the bells, is the complicated winding mechanism for the clock. There are three winding sections (for the time and the chimes), and they have to be wound every week to keep the clock going. Some of us had a go at the winding. As we were winding, we could see the huge weights moving up very slowly. That was hard work, and I am just relieved I don’t have to do it every week!
All in all, it was a really good evening, and we are very grateful to Peter and David for spending so much time with us, explaining it all. Peter and I live in Epping and we love to hear the bells ringing. I shall now listen with a great deal more admiration!
Maz. March, 2012.
The EFOG Spring Walks Campaign
The weather this year hasn't been the best for walking. Rain, mud, snow, mud, icy winds and mud. Lots and lots of mud. But it hasn't stopped us from getting about - would we be a proper walking group if we didn't own wellies or gaiters, and of course, good stout shoes?
T here have been plenty of opportunities to put them to good use, along with the waterproofs, scarves, mittens and a sense of humour about it all. After all, if you can't laugh at someone else with a muddy bottom, what can you do! Through the trees of Epping Forest to the open fields of Essex, we have been there - and you can guarantee there is always someone who has come prepared - with some water to clean off the muddy bits, a spare pair of socks or a plaster in case of the odd blister, and the sure and certain knowledge of where the loos are and the availability of a hot drink on the way or at the end.
Spring may be taking its time this year but we'll be ready for it!
Sue Ullesperger, 24th March 2013
Circumnavigating Mersea - Saturday 10th March
As those of you who have been on one of Ken's walks before well know, he has a mysterious knack of providing good weather. So it was when Group members met for a bit of island hopping, over the causeway to Mersea Island recently. Even though it was the middle of March, the sun shone, coats were shed and more than a few faces were a shade pinker at the end than at the beginning!
We set off through the pretty village of West Mersea, past the houseboats, fishing boats and oyster farms, out on to the sea wall, travelling clockwise towards the seaward side of the island. Shortly after lunch though, we discovered that Ken is not quite perfect - he can order up the sunshine but he cannot hold back the tide!
Crossing a small beach wildlife area (where we were told to beware of snakes) the previously accessible strip of sand was flooded by the incoming tide. All was not lost, however, we had to circumnavigate a caravan park full of not so friendly natives (except for the brave few who sneaked through while the natives were on their mobile phones) and resumed the path on the far side.
The tide went out almost as fast as it came in and we were able to beach-comb back to town past the jolly coloured huts for a tea stop before making our way back to the mainland as the sun began to set on another lovely day.
Sue. March 2012
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