Water & Trees, Trees & Water – Morlaix to Nantes

From Morlaix I headed South via the Eurovelo 1 route, La Vélodyssée, which runs all the way down to Portugal. That sounds fun, but I decided to follow it only as far as the Gironde Estuary. The first step was a cruise along the Canal de Nantes Brest…

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New Signs!

It seemed like every road from Morlaix was uphill! A greenway left the town along an old railway line. It was a steady ride out to Carhaix through a tunnel of trees. After Carhaix I joined the canal which I was expecting to be flat – normally canals are flat. This one has 238 locks and on the first day was actually kind of steep.

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Lots of locks!

It was quiet and peaceful all along the canal, and the with the repetition of locks, trees, and water I fell into some kind of trance. I stayed at Guarec, where everyone seems to be English. A rainy day took me to Josselin, where I failed to realise there was an interesting old town to visit. When stopping at Guenrouet a waiter asked me if I knew what a galette was – after 9 days in Brittany I could easily say yes!

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Tiny climbers

I had my first mechanical on the morning I left Josselin – a clicking turned into a clunking  which turned into a broken chain. At least 10 people rode past an no-one stopped to help. It was easy to fix but I feel like in the UK people would have at least asked if I was ok.

I struggled to find lunch on a Sunday and had to settle for an awful sandwich from Carrefour.

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Water and trees

Towards Nantes the landscape was wilder, I saw kingfishers and otters, but gradually I moved into the suburbs. After the quiet and solitude of three days on the canal entering Nantes was a big culture shock! Cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians were flying in all directions, it was all too much, and I knew it was time for a rest.

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Exploring Nantes

Nantes was a great place for a rest day, good food, nice places to drink, and some interesting attractions were just what I needed. I was staying in an AirBnb close to the airport, and there was a ferry which took me and my bike back into the town centre. In the evening I rode back along the old docks, stopping to see the robots of Les Machines d’Ile. Interesting but the French commentary was too fast for me. I finished the rest day with a meal in the cool little village Trentmoulte, sat a couple of metres from the estuary as the sun went down.

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Giant Robot Hummingbird.

Stats & Data

Days Ridden – 9
Kilometres Ridden – 664
Metres Climbed – 4727
Punctures – 0
Wet Days – 2
Rest Days –  2

Strava – Day 7 – Morlaix to Guarec
Strava – Day 8 – Guarec to Josselin
Strava – Day 9 – Josselin to Guenrouet
Strava – Day 10 – Guenrouet to Nantes

Things to do in Innsbruck

DSC00194Breakfast Club

Definitely the best place to start the day in Innsbruck! Breakfast Club is a cool little cafe with a range of great breakfasts. There’s a good mix of sweet and savoury dishes, some great bread, and each breakfast comes with a glass of elderflower juice. There are actually two rooms so if it looks busy try walking to the other side of the building.

The Nordkette

The mountain at the heart of the city! From downtown Innsbruck you can take a funicular the Hungerberg. After this the Seegrube chairlift takes you up to 6250 feet, and finally the Hafelkar runs up to 7401 feet.

When we were there early snowfall put paid to the high altitude hiking opportunities but made for spectacular views and an exciting preview of winter.

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View from the Hungerburg Funicular

Hiking

A city at the heart of the Alps obviously has a lot of opportunities for hiking. A network of trails covers the slopes of the Nordkette and there are lots of options from the Hungerberg station. There are plenty of mountain refuges around for when you are ready for a break and a snack.

Swarovski Museum

This was a real surprise and is a great option for a rainy day. More of an art gallery than a museum there are works by Salvador Dali, Keith Haring, Brian Eno, and many others. The  museum is made up of sixteen chambers. My favourites were the crystal replicas of famous buildings in FAMOS and the mysterious Ice Passage.

The museum is a way out of the town but free buses run from the Hofburg.

Go for coffee

Vienna is the home of Austrian coffee culture but some of that style has made its way into the mountains. Coffee is served in the Viennese style on a silver platter and always comes with glasses of water. Café Murauer and Munding are my recommendations.

Sightseeing

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The streets of Innsbruck

There’s lots to see in Innsbruck and the best way to do it is with an Innsbruck Card. The cards come in 24, 48, and 72 hour versions and give you free access to many of the attractions in the city (including the Nordkette lifts and the Swarovski Museum). The town has a range of buildings dating back as far as eight hundred years. There are imperial palaces,  watchtowers, churches and more. More recently the town has hosted two Winter Olympics and you can visit the ski jump tower which stands over the South side of the city.

Eating

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Austrian food and German beer!

Austrian food is typically simple and hearty. We had good traditional dishes at Stiftskeller and Goldenes Dachl. For a more sophisticated take on Austrian classics try Die Wilderin on Seilergasse.

Of course, Italy isn’t far away so there are also some great Italian options. Try Solo Vino for upmarket Italian dishes.

If you have a sweet tooth there are plenty of options – Most cafes sell the famous Austrian desserts of Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel. For a whole range of strudels try Strudelcafe Kroll on Hofgase.

Drinking

Drinking culture in Innsbruck is heavily influenced by nearby Bavaria, and lots of the bars sell the famous German beers. My favourite was the drinking hall Stiftskeller, which sold great beers from the Augustiner Brewery in Munich.

Deep Summer in Deep Wales

The August bank holiday in 2017 was the hottest on record. I spent it exploring the depths of Mid Wales by bike. I road two routes from Jack Thurstons book ‘Lost Lanes Wales’.

Wool, Wind, and Wood

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Mountain road near Machynlleth

First up was ‘Wool, Wind, and Wood’. Starting from Machynlleth, my regular Welsh haunt, the ride climbed up into the hills South West of Mach, then returned along the River Dyfi.

This is an area I know well, but in the first half of the ride a lot of the roads were new to me. This was hilly riding with steep climbs and steep descents. The roads got quieter as I got further from Mach. I stopped to pick blackberries from the hedges, once a big bird of prey flew up from the verge, and rabbits darted into the bushes as I approached.

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Hedgerow haul

Eventually the route drops out of the hills and passes through villages as it heads towards the Dulas. It’s always fun to spot things in these villages; a buddha! a red phone box! a dragon on a roof!

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Drogon!

Llanbrynmair is good place to stop for food, there is a pub, and a cafe at Machinations. From there some ‘Welsh flat’ riding picks up a brilliant rollercoaster of a road along right next to a small river. Fast and fun 🙂

Eventually the ride crosses into the Dyfi valley and turns back towards Mach. This half of the ride is flatter, but I was pretty tired by now. Still it’s a beautiful valley, and it’s not too far back to town.

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Dyfed Bridge

This was a surprising and enjoyable ride – I thought I knew the area well but the first half took me to a lot of places I’d never been before. The roads were quiet, and while the hills were a challenge, it was never too tough.

Seaside to Sublime

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Cregennan Lakes

This one isn’t a surprise, it’s a tour of the famous Mawdach estuary, one of the most spectacular spots in Wales. Officially it starts from Barmouth but I started to the south of the railway bridge. The Mawdach trail is a disused railway that’s been converted into a traffic free path. It’s flat, easy riding, with great views. The George III hotel is in a great spot, but it’s really too early in the ride to stop.

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On the Mawdach Trail

The ride leaves the trail at Dolgellau and heads into the town. The second half of the ride has a much wilder character! A stiff climb heads up onto the slopes of Cadair Idris. This is real mountain riding. In August the heather is in bloom and the hills are purple.

Eventually the ride reaches Cregennan Lakes, a great place to stop and explore. Take a map and find standing stones or climb Bryn Brith if you are feeling fit.

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Standing stone

After that all that’s left is a really steep descent back to estuary. Time for ice cream or fish and chips!

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Barmouth and Cardigan Bay

Annapurna Sanctuary Questions

IMG_0220When is the best time to go?

The high season is October to November. Clear skies guarantee great views and the days are warm. On the other hand, the trails will be busier and prices for travel and accommodation will rise.

March and April are also popular. The weather is warm and the rhododendrons will be in bloom. Dust in the air can reduce visibility and limit long distance views. I trekked in April and the weather was fine and clear in the morning, and cloudier in the afternoon. The days were warm but the nights were cool, especially higher up.

What should I bring?

See my Annapurna Base Camp packing list.

Can I go on my own?

It’s safer not to trek alone. If you are staying in hostels it should be easy to find people to trek with. If you really can’t find anyone then consider hiring a guide.

Do I need a guide/porter?

You don’t have to have a guide or a porter to do the trek. The trail is easy to follow and accommodation is never too far away. If you have more stuff than you can/want to carry then it makes sense to get a porter. Porter Guides are also available who will do both roles at once.

Do I need to book accommodation?

No you don’t need to book accommodation ahead of time. That said some of the stops beyond Chommrong can get very busy so it makes sense to arrive as early as possible. Even if you can’t find a room it will be possible to sleep in a dining room; having your own sleeping bag will make this more comfortable.

How fit should I be?

Like any physical activity better fitness will lead to better enjoyment of the trek. That said the trek is accessible to anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. You will be walking with a loaded rucksack for around five hours a day and it is sensible to make a few similar walks before you go.

What about avalanches?

The trail crosses several avalanche chutes between Doban and Machhapuchhare Base Camp and trekkers have been caught by avalanches in the past. To stay safe make sure that you ask lodge owners in the sanctuary about the avalanche risk. You can also ask at the ACAP checkpoint in Chrommrong.

After Deurali the main trail heads through a high risk avalanche zone. A safer diversion crosses to the east of the river and rejoins the main trail further on. When descending you need to watch out for the bridge over the river as the diversion isn’t obvious.

How much does it cost?

How to get to Pokhara from Kathmandu?

There are two obvious options; plane or bus. Flights leave from the domestic terminal at Kathmandu Airport, cost around $100, and take about 20(!) minutes. Domestic flights need clear weather, so if you do choose to fly there is a risk of delay or cancellation.

Buses leave from the tourist bus station to the east of Thamel. There’s a wide range of price options depending on the left of facilities and comfort you require. Expect to pay between 800 and 2500 rupees. Most buses leave at around 7 in the morning. The drive takes around 6 to 8 hours including a couple of rest stops and a lunch break. From Kathmandu to Pokhara sit on the right side of the bus for the best views.

Travel agents in Kathmandu will be able to book either option.

 

 

 

 

Annapurna Base Camp Packing List

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Here’s my packing list for the Annapurna Base Camp trek. If you do forget to bring anything you can pick up most essentials at shops in Ghorepani or Chomrong. There are plenty of shops selling trekking gear in Kathmandu and Pokhara.

Clothing

Long trekking trousers/leggings
Trekking shorts/skirt
Thermal base layers (top and bottom)
Cool trekking socks (ideally at least two pairs)
Technical tops (at least three)
Underwear (at least three sets)
Warm trekking socks (ideally at least two pairs)
Warm jacket (fleece or similar mid layer)
Waterproof jacket
Waterproof bottoms
Warm hat
Sun hat
Warm gloves
Trekking boots – make sure these are broken in before you travel.
Spare laces
Flip flops or other lightweight footwear

Equipment

Backpack with cover
Sleeping bag – suitable down to freezing
Sleeping bag liner – for warmer nights lower down and extra warmth higher up.
Map – you can easily find maps in Kathmandu or Pokhara.
Compass
Water bottle or bladder
Water purification – steripen or tablets. Or you can buy water at lodges, but this will cost at least $2 per day.
Torch/head torch and spare batteries – For trekking before dawn.
Trekking poles
Sunglasses
First aid kit
Blister kit
Duct tape
Smart phone
Kindle/books
Chargers and travel adapter
Penknife

Other

Whatever toiletries you need
Travel towel
Washing powder
Toilet paper
Antibacterial gel
Insect repellent
Snacks – being British I took Kendal mint cake.
Sunscreen and chapstick.

Independently Trekking Annapurna Base Camp (Annapurna Sanctuary)

Following the Modi river through from forested valleys to the frozen heart of the Annapurna Himal, the Annapurna Sanctuary trek is one of the best treks in Nepal. Annapurna is the tenth highest mountain in the world and this is a close as you’ll get without wings or ropes.

The trek as described here will take 10 days which is a comfortable pace for people with good fitness. You will also need to spend a day in Pokhara before the trek to collect permits and last-minute shopping.

Note that the names Annapurna Base Camp and Annapurna Sanctuary are interchangeable. In this article we’ll use Annapurna Sanctuary – It just sounds more romantic 🙂

Here’s a list of what to bring and here are some answers to common questions.

Highlights

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Watching sun rise over the Annapurna Massif from the top of Poon Hill
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Spectacular views in the gates of the sanctuary
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Being surrounded by big mountains at Annapurna Base Camp
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Constantly changing views of Machhapuchhare (Fishtail Mountain) which has never been climbed.
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Good food, comfortable lodges, and Nepali hospitality

Permits

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You need two permits for the trek. A TIMS card (Trekkers Information Management Service) and an ACAP permit (Annapurna Conservation Area Permit). Each costs 20 US dollars but you have to pay in rupees. You also need 4 passport photos altogether. These permits will be checked during the trek and if you don’t have them you will have to pay double.

In Pokhara you get the permits at the permit office in Damside.

In Kathmandu you can get both permits at the tourist service centre, a 15 to 20 minute walk from Thamel.

Getting to the trek

Assuming you are starting in Pokhara you can either get a taxi or a bus to Nayapul. At the time of writing (April 2017) a taxi from Pokhara to Nayapul was between 1000 and 2000 NPR. depending on your haggling skills. It’s easy to find a taxi in Pokhara, in fact, they will probably find you! Regular buses run from the Baglung bus station. The bus should cost less than 200 NPR.

Route & Itinerary

Nayapul (1070m) to Tikhe Dhunga (1540m)

Leave your transport at the scruffy roadside town of Nayapul. From here you can follow the stream of trekkers on the main street to the large village of Birethani. Stop before the bridge to show your TIMS card, then cross the bridge to show your ACAP permit.

Walking through Birethani will take you to a smaller road alongside the Bhurungdi river.   There might be the occasional jeep but this should be a pleasant walk next to the river. The road climbs gradually, then steeply, up to the villages of Hille, and then Tikhe Dungha, where there is a good selection of lodges.

You could carry on up (and up and up) to Ulleri but this isn’t necessary. If you want to be at Poon Hill for sunrise you will be spending the next night in Ghorepani no matter how far you get on the first day.

Tikhe Dhunga to Ghorepani (2860m)

Today starts with steps, lots of steps. The endless stone stair case from Tike Dhunga to Ulleri is supposed to have 3000 of them. It doesn’t, but it does go on for a long time and it’s better to tackle them on a cool morning than a hot afternoon. Once you get there Ulleri is a pleasant spot for a drink or a snack. Soon after Ulleri is a viewpoint across to Machhupuchhre. The trail isn’t as steep now but continue to climb. Nangathanti is a good place to get lunch. From there it takes about an hour to get to Ghorepani, and another ten minutes to get to Upper Ghorepani where there is a wide choice of lodges. There’s a TIMS card checkpoint at Upper Ghorepani. There are also a few shops and it’s a good place to stock up on supplies.

Poon Hill (3193m)

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Sunrise at Poon Hill

The big reason for coming to Ghorepani is to climb Poon Hill for great views of the Annapurna Massif and Dhaulagiri (the seventh highest mountain in the world). Most people get up early to watch the sun rise over the mountains. Ask your lodge owner what time you need to wake up and order breakfast for when you get back. You can leave your bags at the lodge to make the climb easier. The climb itself takes about an hour, and at 3210 meters you will feel the altitude. There is a small charge to climb the hill so bring some money. The views at sunrise are spectacular and are justifiably popular; the top of the hill gets very busy.
If you don’t fancy waking up early, or just want a rest, there are similar views early on the way to Tadapani.

Ghorepani to Tadapani (2630m)

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On the way to Tadapani

In Ghorepani there are signs pointing the way east to Tadapani but be careful not to get confused with the signs for Tatopani on the Annapurna Circuit trek. The trail starts with a hard climb through forests to a grassy hill with great views of the high mountains. After this the trail follows the ridge then descends through the woods to emerge at Deorali where there are a couple of lodges. From here descend steeply alongside a river to Banthanti. There will be regular lodges if you want to break but eventually the trail will descend sharply to a bridge, the climb just as sharply up to Tadapani where there is a choice of accommodation.

Tadapani to Chommrong (2170m)

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Prayer flags and mountains

From Tadapani follow the signs to Chommrong. The trail passes through forests and then pastures as it descends into a narrow valley passing through a couple of lodges. The descent finishes at a suspension bridge over the Khumnu river and then climbs quickly up the other side. After this hard ascent the trail levels out and passes the Shangrila Tea Garden guest house, an ideal place to get tea or coffee. From here steady climbing along a beautiful hill-side trail will bring you around the hill and into Chommrong. There’s plenty of accommodation here but we highly recommend Chommrong Cottage – it has some of the best food on the trek and has even appeared in Time Magazine. Try the chocolate cake!

The Chommrong Shopping Centre, at the bottom of the village, is your last chance to pick up cheap supplies before heading into the heart of the sanctuary. It’s better to visit the next morning to avoid having to climb back up a lot of steps to your accommodation.
Chommrong to Dovan (2600m)

From Chommrong you can see the trail dropping down to the river and then climbing back up to Sinuwa. Head down the stone staircase to the permit checkpoint, then down past a couple of shops to a big suspension bridge. Climb back up to the village of Sinuwa, then along a paved trail with neat steps to Bamboo. From Bamboo it takes about an hour to reach Dovan where there are three lodges. If you are lucky it’s possible to see black-faced langur monkeys on this section of trail.

Dovan to Machhapuchhre Base Camp (3700m)

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Looking up to Deurali

From Dovan the rocky trail climbs up to three lodges at Himalyan Hotel, past Hinku Cave, then to more lodges at Deorali. The mountains are close now and the views are incredible. Past Deorali the trail splits. The left trail heads through a dangerous avalanche zone and is best avoided. The right trail crosses and then follows the river through sparse woodland. Eventually the trails merge and start to climb steeply crossing several avalanche shoots. Right before the trail reaches the main MBC a stone staircase heads right to a lodge with great views back into the valley. The main trail reaches the three lodges at  MBC proper.

In this itinerary we spend a night at MBC, then start early in the morning to reach Annapurna Base Camp at first light. Ask your lodge owner what time you need to start in the morning. Again you can leave your bags here and pick them up again on the way back down.

Annapurna Base Camp (4130m)

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An early start on the way to ABC

The walk from MBC to ABC can take up to two hours. If there is fresh snow the trail can be hard to find. At first it follows the stream on the left and then makes a short steep climb. You can see the lodges at ABC for much of the walk but it takes a surprisingly long time to get there.

Once you arrive stop for photos at the sign, which is covered in prayer flags, then climb the lateral moraine behind the lodges for amazing views and more photo opportunities. There are chortens for mountaineers who have died on the massif, notably Anatoli Boukreev who was involved in the 1996 Everest disaster.

When you are ready head back down to MBC for a well deserved breakfast.

Machhapuchhare Base Camp to Himalayan Hotel (2920m)

Head back into the valley – it’s all downhill for the rest of today :). Look out for the bridge over the river which will take you around the avalanche zone. Himalayan Hotel is a good start, but you might get as far as Dovan or Bamboo.

Himalayan Hotel to Chommrong (2170m)

Retrace your steps through the valley and back to ‘civilisation’ at Chommrong. Although today is generally downhill there are a couple of serious climbs. First up is a long stone staircase straight after Bamboo. Then once you reach Sinuwa you can look up and across the valley to Chommrong. This is your goal for the day but to get there you have to drop down to the river then climb back up to the town. Stop at the permit office halfway up the climb.

Chommrong to Landruk (1565m)

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Hot springs? Yes please!

From the top of Chommrong head to Jinudanda. After a flat start make a steep descent passing people huffing and puffing uphill at the start of their trek. There are hot springs at Jinudanda which is just what you need after 9 days of trekking. To get to them follow a side trail down to the river, there is a small charge to access the trail but it’s well worth making the effort. If you do visit the hot springs then it makes sense to stop at Jinudanda for lunch – there’s a good choice of lodges here.

Follow the river to New Bridge, and cross the river and head to Landruk – a large Gurung village with a good choice of accomodation.

If you don’t fancy the climb up to Landruk there are a couple of comfortable lodges at Beehives. Stay on the west of the river at New Bridge if you want to do this.

This is the last night in a tea house and your last chance to try some of the distinctive items on the menu; if you haven’t had a snickers roll yet now is the time.

Landruk to Nayapul (1070m)

Today is your last day on the trail and it’s relatively easy.  From Landruk drop back to the river at Beehives then follow a trail above the river to Siwai. As you reach Siwai the trail turns into a road and you can actually get a taxi or bus all the way from here back to Pokhara. If you want to finish the trek on foot follow the road down the Modi Khola valley all the way to Birethanti. At Birethanti get your permits checked for the last time and grab lunch if you feel like it. After that all that’s left is the short walk up to the road at Nayapul.

When you reach the road you can get a taxi or bus back to Pokhara. The taxi drivers will try to charge around 2000 rupees but you should be able to haggle them down towards 1000. You might also be able to find other trekkers here to share the cost.