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Sunday, 23 January 2011

Hiking - Stress-Free Travel

When I was a boy Mum used to send me to shopping errands on my own. I wasn't even ten years old then as I popped to the groceries only a couple hundred yards from home at the quiet residential area of Pimlico, SW London to buy a loaf of bread or a tin of peeled tomatoes. But again, for children to be outside unsupervised in those days was quite normal. Yet walking was something I grew up to enjoy, mainly that although slow, it meant that I can appreciate my surroundings without the stress of traffic, whether it's by car or bicycle or even from the bus or train when long distance transport is not on the agenda.

It was about that age too, that I walked from my home to Battersea Park, and even on one occasion, to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. During my last year at primary school in the heart of residential Fulham, where the four chimneys of Fulham Power Station looked into the playground, I stayed behind with a few other children for Play Centre, then made my own way home by catching a bus at Kings Road to Victoria Station and walking home from there.
It gave me a wonderful sense of independence and I guess, responsibility. I guess this is where my love for travel had its origins. There is a world out there waiting to be explored.
Having grew up in Central London, I always felt at home in the city. And walking from one side of London to the other I found to be inspirational.

And it was years later, in 1998 that I hiked Broadway, in the heart of  Manhatten. Starting at Uptown, near Harlem, the Broadway runs north/south, intersects with West 42nd Street at Times Square. At 5th Avenue and West 23rd Street I was looking up the peculiar structure of Flatiron Building, the world's first official skyscraper and for a short while enjoyed being the tallest building in New York before the Metropolitan Life Building rose to eclipse it. Eventually the hike terminated at Battery Park, on the southern tip of Downtown, from where ferries to Staten Island, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island departs. All this was done in a day, hence dayhiking as it's known in the States, or rambling over here.

But hiking was most challenging out in the sticks. The best venue I enjoyed hiking was at the Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park. Hiking, as opposed to rambling, involves at least one night spent on route. At Grand Canyon, I spent the night at Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the Canyon, close to where Bright Angel Creek joins the Colorado River.

1. Bright Angel Trail - about halfway down
2. Zoroaster Butt overlooking the Colorado River
3. Bright Angel Creek
4. South Rim Grand Canyon -evening.

Special preparations were needed for this hike. I needed to take plenty of water and some salted food such as nuts. Although the public was advised not to go down on their own, I did anyway. This was because of my experience in walking. In 1978 I completed the hike, taking about four hours to reach Phantom Ranch from the rim, and nine hours to climb back out, which I did on the following day. I repeated the hike 17 years later in 1995 for better photography and a three-mile extension to Plateau Point, where one has a terrific view of the Colorado River from above. This made the first hike 19.2 miles round trip, and the second hike 22.2 miles long, both involving a night spent at the bottom.
But hiking was not restricted overseas. Here in the UK there are three distinct trails I hiked ether on my own or with two close friends. Dan, Tim and I hiked the Hadrians Wall Trail from Carlisle to Newcastle in 1996. Believe it or not, of the three of us, one being an accountant and the other a financial advisor, I was the weakest hiker, despite completing the Grand Canyon hike just the previous year. But perhaps I was the most determined. On day three of the hike, the trail became a 22 mile long, straight and very tedious road leading into Newcastle. Tim opted out of the hike on the morning of the third day. Dan would have done so too. But I insisted on finishing in the heart of the city, so Dan and I finished by nightfall of the third day, while Tim made his way back to Carlisle, where all three of us were reunited at the station.

Hadrians Wall was unique for its history. At each mile along the wall the Romans built forts, or Chesters. These were mainly quadrangles where guards watched at the gates. But one really intrigued us. Called "Chesters" this fort was the most well preserved Roman ruin in the whole of the UK. Not only were hypercausts for baths located there but latrines in near full working order were also in the vicinity.

The two other trails I completed on my own were the Lake District National Park, involving a lot of hill walking from Kendal to Keswick, in about five days. Each night, was spent a a different hostel, including Ambleside, on the shores of Lake Windermere. The hostel was the largest in the UK outside London and the lake itself being the largest in England.
The West Coast Path was the other, where being nearer home, I hiked and rambled here, mainly between Bournemouth and Exeter, on several occasions. It is in my opinion one of the most dramatic and beautiful parts of the whole of the UK. My favourite is Purbeck, which includes the resort of Swanage.

1. Old Harry Rocks, Dorset Coast Path at Purbeck
2. Dorset Coast Path approaching the Pinnacles

All these hiking trails, except the last part of the Hadrians Wall hike, were on trails, or footpaths away from any motorised traffic. The scene was always peaceful and serene, no matter how challenging the hike was. Both the Grand Canyon and the Dorset Coast Path, part of the West Coast, offered stiff challenges on steep hills. Yet one can stop anytime, have a refreshment snack, admire the scenery, hear the sweet sound of nature, e.g. birds singing, insects buzzing, the sea crashing on rocks or the near silence as the path crosses a field, save perhaps the bleating of sheep, or as in the UK, from time to time the patter of raindrops or the howling of the wind. But even with adverse weather, nothing is nicer than arriving at the hostel or hotel to enjoy the comfort of the warmth within.