Category Archives: Overseas

Madeira moments – Great Big Mountains

A conversation at 6,000 feet on a rocky path, just below the highest mountain on Madeira :-

Me : Are we nearly there?   Tim : Yes, it’s just up there on the right    Me : Are you sure, I still can’t the roof   Tim : Yes, it’s not far   Me : (thinking, oh my goodness I am sooo hot)   Tim : Here you are have another sweet (passes me two), maybe some more water?   Our Mountain Guide (asking me) : Do you feel ok? You’re not dizzy are you?  Me: No, no I’m fine, just a bit hot (thinking – I’m at 6,000 feet, I’m melting I really am melting and yes I do feel a little bit light headed)


This is the third of my tales from Madeira and I hope I’m not over doing it but this particular trek is worth writing about.  Only three days earlier Tim photographed the mountains from a distance – could we really do the  walk we had planned?


Saturday 16th July 2016

Our guide picked us up outside the hotel in a minibus and we clambered on board with all our kit.  Feeling like children on a day trip we greeted our fellow travellers with excited “hellos”.  Mini buses have improved a great deal since our school trips though  – well I suppose they would have done over the last 40 years!

Today we would be walking between two giant peaks on the island – Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo so it was definitely not the time to ‘muck about’ on the journey.   Our ‘Madeira Explorer’ guide was strict with us at the start “if you haven’t got at least 1.5 litres of water don’t even bother getting off the bus” – that certainly put a stop to our nervous chatter and that of our Belgium/French/Polish fellow adventurers as we drove higher and higher towards the start.  Don’t get me wrong our guide was a nice guy – he just didn’t want to be stuck with a small crowd of dehydrated foreigners on a mountain path miles from help……and who could blame him.

Our walk started, rather unusually (for us), at the top of Pico do Arieiro – at 5,965 feet (1,818m).  There’s a visitors centre with restaurant and air defence radar station next to a parking area for vehicles.  Visitors (non walkers) can saunter over take a few photos, then have a spot of lunch.

We, on the other hand, headed away from civilisation and into the most amazing view.  I looked over my shoulder and photographed our starting point.


You may notice the cloud in the distance over the sea.  Having studied this walk back at home we knew that these mountains often have cloud coming and going around the tops giving them a magical mysterious air.  Today it was as clear as a bell and a boiling 25 degrees as we set off.

About 15 minutes in we were told us that if we felt unwell or uneasy this was the point where we could turn back if needed to.  Our minibus driver would head off to the end of our route if given the OK.  We all nodded solemnly so the driver was given the all clear, via mobile phone, to head off to the pick up point.

As you can see the views, from the start, were absolutely spectacular.image


So our rocky path continued up, down, round and through this rocky landscape and wow the views….  There were 12 of us and we followed one behind the other not concerning ourselves with distance or time.

Before too long we came to the first tunnel which would be the longest and this is where torches were needed.  It was cool in the tunnel, I mean it was nice to be sheltered from the heat.  The child in each of us came out with whistles, shouts and general ‘whoop whoop’ noises.

Now Tim and I didn’t want to be trailing at the back of the team but found that if we lingered a little bit we could take the photos and film we always love to do.  After all – we might never experience this trail again.

Here I am as a shadow in the corner.


After a short break for snacks and drinks we set off again to do the toughest stretch, Starting with a truly exposed section – this is me at the end of the line, camera in one hand, camcorder in another! Loving it.


And this is Tim with the view back to the bit we had already completed.


Down lots and lots of steps then up lots and lots of steps really tested us all. The upward section is so steep in places that metal ladders have been strategically placed.  I could feel my breathing getting quite laboured.


At last, and with some relief, we stopped for a brief rest – having gone uphill for about 45 minutes.  This is me at 5905 feet looking at Tim and at our little crowd behind him.


Phew it was hot (to say the least).

This was our final stretch but when we turned a corner the temperature went up another notch – it was truly stifling.  It was at this point, where we walked through and around charred trees, going uphill again, that I began to really struggle.  Maybe it was my dark pink floppy hat or maybe because it was just so flipping hot (am I repeating myself) I really really struggled.  Keep going, keep going….

Those poor trees – charred remains of the 2010 fires on the island.  They can be seen in the photo below.  The photo looks as I am leading the team – infact I was just slowing everyone down to my pace!


Now this is the point, when I reach Tim, that I ask whether we are nearly there and our guide asks me the silly question about feeling dizzy.  For about 10 minutes I felt ‘out of my comfort zone’ but finally, finally we reached our oasis – the Refuge Hut.

Here there was a water tap and shade and somewhere to sit and to eat the rest of our snacks.


So here we were just a stones throw from the top of Pico Ruivo and couldn’t go any further – up.  I felt absolutely gutted.  Tim said that we were here and had done the walk and that we should be pleased with ourselves.  I know he’s right.

At this point lots of people have to turn back and return to the starting point because that’s where their car is but the bonus of being on a guided walk was that someone was out there ready and waiting to pick us up in a trusty minibus only 1.5 miles away.

So down we all went to Teixeira car park admiring the the green forested areas  of the Santana mountains to our north and the ocean beyond.  We finished our water.

This was one of the most incredible high level walks that we had ever done.  In cooler conditions we would certainly do  it again and maybe next time we could summit Pico Ruivo.






Madeira moments – Funchal old town art

Funchal – capital city of Madeira. We eagerly set out to do a bit of exploring and get our bearings on day one of our holiday.

It was a bit strange, almost like a dream. There was a slight mist, or was it cloud, up in the hills which came and went as we walked along the black & white stripes of crazy paved stone.  This two tone stonework appears everywhere in Madeira in many different patterns.

We passed the sea port, then the marina following the coastline.


The sun had broken through by the time we reached the cable car station.  The cable car station called ‘teleferico’ is right on the sea front and takes you up and over the terracotta rooftops of Funchal, in wonderful silence, to a place called Monte.  It’s a popular trip.


So having reached the teleferico it was really time to get a map out. Actually we had three. One which we had bought online before leaving home, the second that our holiday rep had handed out and the third that the hotel reception staff had given us. Too tired to bother we wandered over a road drawn towards an impressive bit of artwork. We stood and stared for a bit.

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A working art gallery was open right next door so we did a bit more staring as we strolled from one end of the building and out of the other.


By chance we had found our way to an area called the old town and onto the oldest street (dating back to 1430) the Rua de Santa Maria.

I made the classic mistake of taking a photograph without checking the background and it looks like a giant parasol is part of Tims hat.  Actually this would have been quite useful later in the week when walking in the mountains, but that’s another story.


This rather narrow cobbled street has recently seen an attempt to revamp it by way of an invitation to artists to decorate doorways.  The ‘art of open doors project’ was set up in 2014 to draw visitors in and along and it certainly seems to do just that.

Here are just a few of examples of the art.

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This building appeared to be abandoned but the artists had been at work here too.


It is also now lined with small cafes and restaurants and has a really colourful atmosphere.

By now we were feeling a bit tired after our 11 hour journey the previous day so we decided to retreat as quickly as we could to the hotel pool.  This initial exploration had given us a great taste of things to come on this trip.

Madeira moments – Campeoes

Where on earth is it?

Madeira – a Portugese island in the Atlantic Ocean.  It is part of an archipelago about 590 miles (950 kilometres) south of mainland Portugal and 370 miles (600 kilometres) west of Morocco.  The volcanic activity that produced it stopped about 6500 years ago and since then it has become a lush green place enjoying pleasant temperatures all year round.

Tim and I had been wanting to visit for several years – for the walking, the landscape and the levadas.

It certainly lived up to our expectations and more and, because of that, I will need to break down our two week trip into several posts.

Monday 11th July 2016 – Arrival, Airport, Taxi, Football

The small landing strip on this lovely island is infamous for being a bit of a scary place.  A single runway is perched on enormous stilts (albeit made of concrete) above the rocks with the ocean on one side and mountains on the other.  Sadly, as far as I’m concerned we were sat on ‘the wrong side’ of the plane to fully experience the approach.  Not to worry we would experience lots of hair raising journeys in time.

The day before we arrived in Madeira the Portugese had just won the UEFA Euro 2016 (football) tournament.   We had no idea.  Our Madeiran taxi driver  was keen to mention this as he drove us, at break neck speed, towards our hotel.  The goal scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo, our driver proudly added, was born in Madeira.  Flags were flying from apartment balconies and I suddenly wondered how much celebrating our taxi driver had been doing as apparently “ah yess, big partees” had been going on through the night.  We congratulated him with our fingernails digging into the seats.


Just arrived (phew). A yellow Taxi can be seen down on the road below!

As I write this now I’ve just seen a news article that the airport has been renamed Cristiano Ronaldo Airport.  He’s their hero!

I spotted this ‘graffiti’ when we were travelling out of Funchal.  I took this shot from a bus window!  We are Champions….


This photo was much easier to take!


Sanctuary, solitude and steps

Majorca, an island in the Mediterranean, is heavily dependent on tourists and last week we joined that happy crowd taking a very convenient two hour (ish) flight from our local Norwich (International) Airport.

We stayed in a rather nice hotel in Puerto Pollenca which is near the north eastern tip of the island.  We’ve been to Majorca a few years ago – once staying at  Cala d’or (south east) and another time at Camp de Mar (south west).  These previous trips were before we got into really loving all things hilly and mountainous.

So, here we were now, just a stones thrown from the Serra de Tramuntana, with walking boots at the ready.

Tuesday 24th May 2016

Pollenca old town is a short bus ride but we took a taxi as we were being far too British at the bus stop. We love to queue, say no more!

Once out of the taxi we headed off following the ‘Calvari’ signs. The town is made up of narrow streets with small shops and cafes and two or three squares.


In a corner of the central square, Placa Major, is the large 13th century Church Esglesia de Nostra Senyora dels Angels. The walls and ceilings inside are quite impressive.


Beyond the church, the ancient Calvari Steps lead up and out of the town to a small chapel. Lined on both sides with mature Cyprus trees and some small properties the 365 steps might be a struggle, especially in the middle of the day or height of summer.  We thought  they were relatively easy! After taking a respectful peak into the small church at the top (it really is small) we treated ourselves to a cool drink from the cafe next door. Sitting in the shade with the occasional scent from a flowering Jasmine, it was bliss…

The view back down to the town was really very good from the top of the steps. However, our eyes were looking beyond the town to the hill opposite, to the Puig de Maria. A couple of quick photos and we were soon making our way back down and cross town to start our ascent.



Alongside the main road there was a sign which told us that it would take an hour from this point. We came across these sorts of signs in Switzerland last year – they usefully tell you how long a walk should take rather than the distance.

The path starts off as a driveable road but that changes gradually to a rough track then eventually to a cobbled path. The only way to get to the very top is on foot, zigzagging in tight hairpins with occasional glimpses down through the trees. It was warm and we saw only a couple of other people.

Near the top there’s a sign which tells you that you only 10 minutes more to go. Yay. This hill is only 330 meters high (1082 feet) but fairly steep walking.

Finally the monastery comes into view. This is the Santurari de la Mare de Deu del Puig. Built in the 14th century there is a chapel and monastery which housed nuns from the local area. The nuns have left but walkers now can spend the night in basic accommodation here.


We crept inside – it was time for lunch. Along a corridor we found a small dark room with counter and a menu – listed on a piece of paper which was pinned to the wall. A man appeared to take our order but was unable to speak English so we ended up pointing at the menu to make our selection. The baked tuna baguette that arrived with olives, tomatoes and chillies, sprinkled generously with olive oil, was delicious and very reasonably priced.

There are areas to sit outside but as it was hot we sat inside in a room with shutters at the small windows, dark furniture, tiled floor and lots of beams. We were all alone and we whispered to each other….it was cool (in both senses of the word), it was very atmospheric.

Back out into the sunshine we explored the outside, took lots of photos then sauntered back down. The views were fantastic of the surrounding countryside, the mountains and the bay of Pollenca.


We felt like real pilgrims.