Category Archives: Uncategorized

#12tripschallenge: the Speyside Way, Scotland; Buckie to Spey Bay

buckie seaside house (1 of 1)

When it came to choosing a hiking destination in Scotland, we were spoilt for choice. With its rugged mountain scenery and beautiful coastline, it was difficult to choose. All we knew was that it needed beautiful scenery, culture and whisky. Lots of whisky.

So when we came across the Speyside Way, we knew we were on to a winner. Continue reading

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BMS Releases Winter Skills Help Videos

 

 

The helpful people at BMC sent their latest project into my inbox today: a nine-part series of winter skills videos to help everyone make the most of the outdoors in the winter months, in association with the Association of Mountain Instructors, Lowe Alpine and DMM.

Here is what they had to say:

The hills in their snowy winter garb are beautiful and exciting, but they also pose hazards you don’t have to contend with in more clement conditions.

So how do you deal with sub-zero temperatures, slopes of hard névé, cornices, avalanche hazards or whiteouts? There is no substitute for having skills and knowledge imparted face-to-face by an experienced instructor.

But we all need a refresher from time to time, so to help you reinforce your skills we have teamed up with the Association of Mountain Instructors (AMI)Lowe Alpine and DMM to produce this new series of instructional winter videos.

Filmed in harsh winter conditions at Glenmore Lodge, they feature AMI instructors taking you through a raft of winter basics, from matching up boots and crampons to being aware of avalanche hazard on the hills.

Watch, learn, and above all, have fun!

Given the accidents up in the Lake District in previous months, now it is more important than ever to learn more about winter skills, to potentially save your life and others. The BMC do an amazing amount of work

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Things to Consider When Choosing your Macchu Picchu Trek

 

Photo credit: justin_vidamo / Foter / CC BY

Easily one of the most popular destinations in the world, Macchu Picchu is one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips. So when choosing how to get there, obviously it is important to choose the right trek that will meet your expectations and time-frame (not to mention your hard-earned cash). However the different treks, especially when combined with add-ons and other excursions can be bewildering to say the least, and overwhelming at most.

After visiting the Destinations Travel Show the other week and speaking to countless tour operators, I have put together a helpful overview of the three most popular trekking options to help you decide which is best for you.

Inca Trail: Easily the most popular route to Macchu Picchu, it also means there is an approximately six-month waiting list to get a permit. Book well in advance if you desperately want to go on this trek, particularly between the high season of June to August, or you will wind up disappointed.

With a maximum of 500 permits a day allowed on the Inca trail, it is the busiest trail to Macchu Picchu. Many tour operators claim tour groups leave in a staggered rota in the morning so the trail is not too clogged with people. Regardless, with 500 people on it at any one time, you’re bound to see some groups on the way, and if the idea of potentially sharing the trail with several tour groups leaves you feeling irritable, then perhaps a quieter option is best. On the other hand, if you enjoy the camaraderie of meeting new people on your travels, then this might be the one for you.

The Inca Trail is supposedly the trail with the most archaeology to see, but is also the most touristy. In addition to this, because it is the most popular trek, it is generally cheaper than the other options.

Salkantay Trek: If you are looking for a challenge, then the Salkantay trek is for you. Following a high-altitude trail that passes by the Peruvian Andes, and in particular the impressive Salkantay peak, this trek is a good choice for those wanting breath-taking scenery. Permits are not required for this trek luckily, and as it demands a certain level of fitness, it is also the most quiet. Speaking of fitness, this is a fairly demanding trek that requires an excellent level of fitness – good for those with time to train, not for those wanting a last-minute trek to Macchu Picchu.

The trail goes through the ‘back-door’ of Macchu Picchu, through Santa Teresa and ending at Aguas Calientes. There, you have the option of either walking the last kilometre to Macchu Picchu or getting the train. Whichever you choose, just make sure you arrive early!

Lares Trek: For those wanting a glimpse of traditional rural life in Peru, then this is the ideal trek. The Lares trail goes through remote mountain communities that still retain a strong sense of local culture. As it is a slightly shorter trek (three days) and does not require a permit, the Lares Trek is a good option for those short on time, booking a last-minute trip, or wanting squeeze in a trek while backpacking through South America.

Similar to the Salkantay Trek, it also ends in Aguas Calientes, with the option of the train or hike up to Macchu Picchu.

 

Which trek have you gone on, and what made you choose it?

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Travel Changes and the #Take12Trips Challenge

 

I am sure everyone reaches a travel rut at some stage. Whether it is visiting the same country every year, taking the same beach holiday or even booking at the same time each year, we’ve all been there. For me, I found myself spending all year saving towards a spectacular (but expensive) couple of weeks away to some far-flung destination, with barely any time off to explore other destinations in-between. While that might be an acceptable set-up for the average joe, for someone who gets itchy feet on a frequent basis, my feet weren’t so much scratching as frantically tap-dancing.

Combine that with the sudden talk of mortgages, savings and kids from surrounding family and friends, and my feet and head were suddenly dancing completely different steps. While I do enjoy travelling frequently, (and when it comes to the other stuff I say different strokes for different folks), but like the rest of the world I do have other goals, dreams and obligations to consider. Eventually my head and feet agreed I needed a balance between satisfying my wanderlust and ensuring my other goals were being achieved.

Which is why I have decided to do the #Take12Trips Challenge.

What is the #Take12Trips Challenge you ask? Each month, I must travel somewhere new, whether it is for one day, one week, whatever; I must do it once a month.

I must also go somewhere new once a month – even if it’s that random museum I always bypass on my way to work, or that little pocket of the English countryside I have wanted to visit but never found the time. It has to be new, be different.

In addition to this, I’ve decided to set myself the challenge of putting aside savings while travelling, which is why I aim to only spend £200 on as many trips as possible. So far, my research has shown me how to figure out ways to save money on the following:

  • Staycations: For such a small country, the United Kingdom packs some serious punch. I fully intend to explore the English countryside, Welsh coast and Scottish Highlands, and hopefully make my way over to Northern Ireland – its countryside looks stunning but undeservedly little-known.
  • Advanced transport booking: I honestly believe London is one of the best cities in the world, and not just because of its offering of culture and activities. It has the best transport links in the country, connecting us with the rest of Europe. With a bit of research and forward planning (about 60 days in advance), it is possible to buy train tickets at discounted rates.
  • Flights: As long as you don’t mind where you go, you can find some decent deals on flights if you either book well in advance or at the last minute. Websites like HolidayPirates give good updates on cheap flight deals.
  • Accommodation: Spend a little time exploring AirBnB, CanopyandStars and discount websites like SecretEscapes and you can find some unique little hideaways that provide a more personal stay than the clinical atmosphere of some hotel chains (and cheaper prices).
  • Experiences/Presents: Many travel tour companies offer gift cards, and there are countless ‘experience days’ websites out there that provide a range of activities. Instead of the usual request of alcohol or clothes this year, make mine a coasteering excursion on the Pembrokeshire coast!

However, the best tips I will get are from you, fellow readers. What do you do to save pennies when travelling? List below and help me share your pearls of wisdom!

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Exploring the Tranquillity of Lake Bohinj and Slavica Waterfall

Upon seeing Lake Bohinj (pronounced baw-heen), Agatha Christie once famously said that it was far too beautiful for a murder.

This might not sound like high praise to us, but admittedly Agatha Christie was on to something.

Take a visit at any time to Lake Bled, or mention the two lakes to Slovenians, and the age-old debate will ignite over which one is more beautiful. Admittedly, Lake Bohinj does not have the fairytale charm of Lake Bled, with its cliff-top castle and island churches in the lake, but instead it possesses a more natural, peaceful beauty that is breathtaking in its own right.

I guess the best way to compare is to see Lake Bohinj for yourself.

 

lake bohinj

 

Lake-Bohinj

 

In the summer, the area is awash with swimmers, canoes, kayaks and standup paddleboarders, but come the end of high season, and the area is free to explore in relative peace and quiet.

 

kayaking-bohinj

 

Hiking trails and winding roads abound in the area, making it relatively simple for travellers to explore the region’s natural sites. Undoubtedly the hike to Savica waterfall is one of Lake Bohinj’s most popular trails. After getting dropped off by the bus stop on the western side of Lake Bohinj, follow the number three hiking trail signs for Ukanc to Savica. The trail is a long, white pebbly trail totalling one hour, 20 minutes walking time in total, and takes in several quaint villages and natural forests in the region.

Warning: Walking on this trail may give you cabin fever (the kind that makes you want to pack-up and move into a quaint log house in the mountains, not the other kind).

 Bohinj cottage

 

Bohinj capital sign

 

Driving to Savica waterfall, or even walking along the road, is equally scenic, and offers several surprises along the road.

 

slavica forest

Bohinj tree boulder

 

Lake Bohinj, and the surrounding area, was once an important stop-gap along the way to the Isonzo Front in WWI. Railway stations and trains were constructed by POWs to allow the Austrians to stop for supplies before continuing their journey to the Isonzo Front. Today remains of this history, including a WWI POW cemetery, and pieces of the disused railway, can be found in pockets of the forest along the side of the road, and parts are still being recovered. As recently as 2010 more than 130 unexploded WWI mines were found in the bottom Lake Bohinj, after an Austrian train derailed and drove into the lake – the train remains in there today!

 

Bohinj WWI cemetery

 

Not to worry though, as Lake Bohinj continues to be a safe place to swim.

 

Both trail and road eventually lead to the Savica hut, with the waterfall a 20–minute walk up a mere 500 steps from that point – make sure to wear comfortable shoes! Cutting into a gorge 60m below, it’s turquoise waters originate from melted glaciers high in the mountains, and heavy rains in the area.

slavica waterfall

 

slavica-waterfall

The beauty of Savica waterfall has inspired numerous writers, royal and governmental officials, and historical figures from Slovenian history, but none more so than Slovenian Romantic poet France Prešeren. Upon witnessing Savica falls, Preseren used it as the setting in  his epic, Baptism on the Savica, describing it as:

The falls next morning thunder in his ears.

Our hero ponders as the lazy waters

Below him roar and shake the river banks.

Above him towering cliffs and mountain heights,

These with their trees the river undermines,

As in its wrath its foam flies to the skies!

So hastens youth and then it spends itself,

Thus Črtomir reflects upon this scene.

Likewise, Slovenian priest and national poet Valentin Vodnik described Savica Waterfall in several of his writings, the most popular being:

I march to drink the Savica

The cold source of enchanting songs;

To toast the master of songsters

May I enjoy in this drink!

 

During the low season the Savica waterfall is fairly tame, but come spring and visitors will be soaked by the spray from the sheer amount of water thundering from its mouth.

At the end of the long hike back to Lake Bohinj, relax and dip your hot feet into the lake’s cool waters. Be warned though, the water is really cold come low season!

kiki-bohinj

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National Walking Month and London Walks: Kingston to Ham House

 

May Day not only marks the beginning of spring festivals, but the beginning of National Walking Month in the UK. With celebrated British writers such as Patrick Leigh Fermor, Virginia Woolf and Wordsworth celebrating the joys of walking in their works, if you’re a fan of walking, you’re in good company.

To celebrate the beginning of one of AmorExplore’s favourite month-long holidays, London residents are in for a treat as we are launching the beginning of our London Walks features for the blog. And who better to celebrate the beginning of the feature than with Britain’s own conservator of the countryside, The National Trust. The first of the London Walks series is a scenic, easy walk around Ham House from Kingston railway station. Approximately only 30 minutes from London Waterloo, the walk caters to all ability levels and with regular restaurants and pubs, historic monuments, wildlife spotting and scenic areas, is a definite people pleaser.

After a short walk from the station, the beginning of the trail leads along a much more scenic route along the Thames locks, with small boats moored along the backyard docks of picturesque houses.

 

teddingtonlock

 

At some point, Eel Pie Island will pass by on the left. Renowned as one of London’s best jazz and blues venues in the 1960s, performers such as David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Acker Bilk are only a few of the famous faces that graced the island during that time. After a brief stint as a hippie commune in the 70s, and a botched invasion by TV presenter Danny Wallace in 2005, the island is now home to a colourful and eclectic set of shanty homes, studios and the Twickenham Rowing Club. Follow the footbridge over for a quick diversion on the trail.

 

twickenhamrowboats

 

 

balancingact

 

Being a National Trust walk, the trail will eventually meet with Ham House and Gardens, a regal 17th century Stuart manor home situated on the bank overlooking the Thames in a very dramatic fashion. Known as one of Britain’s most haunted houses, Ham House contains a plethora of artwork, furniture and textiles that are well worth a look, plus some meticulously kept gardens that all visitors should take advantage of with a sunny summer stroll. There is also a cafe serving tea and other light refreshments, making this a good stop on the walk if you fancy a lunch-time break from walking to replenish your energy.

 

Hamhouse

 

After diverting traffic by the Dysart Arms Pub, simply cross the street and enter through the kissing gate at Petersham Meadows. Car fumes and traffic noise dies away along this tranquil, open path. Head towards the hills on the left until you reach King Henry’s Mound at the summit. With narrow, manicured walkways and a detailed, panoramic map of London’s skyline, King Henry’s Mound is an excellent spot to take a break (and catch your breath) after the steep incline to point out famous landmarks.

For animal lovers, the best parts of the trail is next. While many theories fly around (apologies for the pun) about the origins of the Kingston Parakeets, no one truly knows their origins in Britain. The general gist from all the hypotheses though, is that parakeets escaped, didn’t die in the wild, mated like rabbits (or parakeets, apologies again) and have grown in size, with some estimates at 50,000. Today groups of these vivid green critters can be seen perched on trees lining the roads to Richmond Park, or scavenging the grass for meals.

 

Richmondparakeets

 

IMG_3410 (2)

 

Possibly Richmond Park’s most famous inhabitants, approximately 630 Red and Fallow deer call these woods home. Congregating in big groups, it is easy to see the female and their young in the spring. The stags on the other hand, prefer to shy away from the limelight, and normally camouflage themselves within the woods.

 

richmondfemaledeer

 

deerstare

 

Sometimes though, they get a little envious and want a piece of the attention….

 

Richmonddeer

 

 

stagrichmond

 

Continue to follow the trail as it takes you to the manicured lawns and play areas of Richmond Park, and back to Kingston station. Or take this opportunity to go off the beaten trail and explore more of Richmond Park. For full trail instructions, please see the National Trust walk website here.

 

Richmondparkpath

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Outdoor Gear you Want to Wear in Public….Sweaty Betty’s Athlete Workout Vest

geometricvest

Bright splashes of pink, blue and sea-green promise to be a big hit from the runways this season, and with Sweaty Betty’s new season Athlete Workout Vest, you can combine several of those colours in one top.

With sweat wicking technology and soft fabric to prevent chafing, the Athlete Workout Vest is versatile enough for any form of exercise. It’s racerback design provides a more ergonomic fit, plus the breathable fabric makes it a good choice for intense workouts.

Of course, the real draw of this vest are the colours and designs! Sold in either a faded purple, blue and yellow combo, or geometric black and blue patterns, it was reminiscent of the bright geometric trends found on the runways of Alexander McQueen and Vanessa Bruno in Paris this season.

With spring in full bloom and summer just around the corner, this top is the ideal workout piece to make you feel cheery for the new season and get outdoors!

The Sweaty Betty Athlete Workout Vest is £35, can be ordered online here or in their store.

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Mini-Guide to Pokhara, Nepal: Making the Most of your Time There

 

Commonly known as the gateway to the Himalayas, the lakeside town of Pokhara is brimming with outdoor stores for any last minute items for hikers, and massage centres for aching muscles from hikers coming back from their trek. However the town is more than just an outpost; it has several sites to explore ni the day, and several stores, cafes and bars to while an evening away. Here’s a quick guide to make the most of your stay in Pokhara.

 

devifalls

 

Nearby Sites:

Devi Falls: Named after a Swedish woman who fell to her death after attempting to bathe in the waters close-by, today the waterfall is cordoned off, but it is still one of Pokhara’s scenic spots. The site also contains a traditional Nepalese house for visitors to wander around, and a Buddha wishing well.

Phewa Lake: Arguably Pokhara’s biggest attraction, visitors can take a row boat, or doonga, out to the island in the middle of lake, where the Taal Barahi temple is situated. The highlight of the boat ride however, is the swarm of butterflies that inhabit the edges of the lake, resting on the abundant white flowers that dot the shore.

 

pokharalake

Further afield:

Mahendra Cave: A taxi is required to reach these caves, but microbuses also travel to this tourist site. As one of the few caves in Nepal that contains both stalagmites and stalactites, it is a popular destination for tourists, although this may be due to the claim that the stone formations are in the different shapes of Hindu gods and goddesses.

Bat Cave: Located only a few kilometres from Mahendra Cave, this destination is famed for its pint-sized inhabitants. Emergency lights are strategically placed around the area, but it would be equally useful to bring your own torch.

World Peace Pagoda: If you are somehow not feeling sore from your Himalayan trek or training schedule, take the afternoon to climb up the hill to the World Peace Pagoda. This Buddhist stupa was built to inspire unity between all races and creeds in their search for world peace. Even if you are not Buddhist, the story of its creator, Japanese Buddhist Nichidatsu Fujii, is inspiring in itself, and the views the pagoda affords of Phewa Lake against the backdrop of green paddy fields and the Himalayas is worth the hard slog to the top.

Tibetan Villages: Nepal has been a popular choice for Tibetans fleeing the political turmoil of China, and Pokhara is centrally located between two villages; Tashiling in the south, and Tashi Palkhiel to the north. Tashiling originally consisted of 600 Tibetan refugees fleeing the Chinese occupation in 1964; since then the village has grown and taken an enterprising step towards making itself a centre of Tibetan craftsmanship, allowing tourists to watch yarn and carpets being made and buy some of the crafts. Tashi Palkhiel, on the other hand, is home to the Jangchub Choeling monastery for Buddhist monks.

Restaurants

As one of the major tourist cities of Nepal, Pokhara has an abundance of restaurants and cafes that can cater for every hankering. For a restaurant that will suit all tastes, including the health conscious, head to Black & White restaurant on Lakeside Road. Labelled as an ‘organic’ restaurant (staff state they try to make it as organic as possible), this place is particularly good for curries such as dhal makhani, saag paneer and dhal baat. Plus, they make a mean latte.

Speaking of coffee, if you find you’re missing your daily cup of whatever fancy-named caffeinated beverage you normally drink, then head to the cafes on  Baidam Road, which serve a myriad of iced coffees, teas and other concoctions for your caffeine hit.

If you had your fill of mo-mos and lentils on your trek and are looking for Western food, then La Pizzeria provides excellent value for money, and prime views of the Phewa Lake.  Head there for lunch and enjoy their

On the other hand, if you can’t get enough of those vegetable-stuffed doughy balls of heaven, then head to the imaginatively-named Holy Momo! to eat your fill.

 If you fancy treating yourself to a nice meal after all that trekking, the nicest place in town is Cafe Concerto. Part jazz bar, part Italian restaurant, the staff are attentive and unlike many other restaurants, they have a pretty good, extensive wine menu!

 

pokharaskyline

 

Souvenirs

Soon after visiting four or five stores in Pokhara, it will become apparent that they sell much of the same stock; hippie trousers, faux silver jewellery and prayer flags. However this does not mean that treasures can’t be found, or that the stock is necessarily all that bad; it just means you need to be a little more careful that you are getting some value for your money. You can read about some common souvenir scams here, otherwise, a good place to go for authentic Nepalese crafts is the Woman’s Initiative just off of Lakeside, neighbouring Mike’s Restaurant. Here shelves of handbags, rucksacks and purses in a variety of colours and designs have been handmade on looms by the women’s cooperative, the Nepalese Women Skills Development Project. For £12 I got a medium-sized turquoise handbag. Sure, it might be more expensive than most Nepalese souvenirs, but you’re helping women gain some financial independence and working skills.

Undoubtedly one of the most popular souvenirs in Nepal is a shirt; forget about the tacky ones you normally see on beach holidays, Nepal’s shops are overflowing with so many styles and choices, they can cater for any taste. The average rate for a shirt in Pokhara is between 400-600 rupees, depending on the level of detailing, and whether you want an personalised embroidery done to the shirt. Many of these stores also sell the infamous patches for bags or jackets, depicting which mountains or cities travellers visited.

Felt handicrafts and prayer flags are popular items, and can be bought from most stores in Nepal. After any trek in the Himalayas, it is likely you will come back craving the tea and coffee; many of Pokhara shops sell tea leaves, but one of the speciality stores to head to is High Tea Shop, which has a large selection of teas and coffees.

Top Tip: Almost every hotel will offer yoga lessons, or help you find a teacher in the city. Any hesitation about early morning starts will be erased when you see the tranquil views of the Himalayas.

 

Do you have any recommendations for Pokhara?

pokharayoga

 

 

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Outdoor Gear you Want to Use in Public….Patagonia Women’s Long-Sleeved Fjord Flannel Shirt

patagoniafjord

 

Flannel shirts are a staple of every winter wardrobe, and hardly need any introduction. The cosy and soft fabric keeps you warm and comfortable whether you’re hiking on the weekend, or running errands in the city. The colours of this particular top from Patagonia integrates well with any wardrobe, and its relaxed fit means you won’t waste any unnecessary time adjusting your top or feeling any discomfort. Plus, it is made of 100% organic cotton, so you know you can rest assured the product you bought had a minimal impact on the environment.

 

For more information, check their website here

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Outdoor Gear You Want to Use in Public: Fjallraven Foldsack No.1

Given the recent explosion of popularity over vintage-style rucksacks, weekend warriors and urban explorers will take to this vintage-style daypack by Fjallraven. Featuring  a simple fold-over design, the bag is constructed from G-1000 heavy-duty fabric, whose tightly-woven fibres make it wind and water resistant and quick-drying. The bag contains one large compartment, and a smaller, padded section which can hold a laptop up to 15in. in length. The shoulder straps are thickly padded for additional comfort, but don’t expect this bag to carry excessively heavy loads for long periods of time. Day hikes and day-to-day use are ideal, and its durable fabric means it should last for years.

To purchase the bag or find out more information, click on Fjallraven’s website here.

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