Saturday, 23 March 2013

Snow Stops Recce

This weekend I should have been camping and recceing the walks we'll do in May and June with our Duke of Edinburgh students. After hearing reports of possible bad weather earlier in the week we decided to just go out on Sunday instead. But now with snow caused road closures we've called our Sunday only recce off as well.

Just over a week ago I did an afternoon course for expedition leaders which went over all the basics. Some of it was obvious, but I did get a few new things to think about and met some interesting people, so it was worth it. Obviously in just an afternoon I wasn't going to become an expert leader but it has strengthened my confidence in that my prior knowledge and experience should stand me in good stead.

So I was all enthused and ready to get out and start doing practical stuff. A colleague and I had pored over maps and worked out a route, my colleague (who's far more proactive and practical than me) has booked the campsites for the practice and the assessed expeditions. Because we have such a large group and because we have both silver and bronze students, we're going to have to divide them into two separate groups and go out different weekends with them. As the silver walk 3 days and the bronze walk two days we've worked out 3 day routes of which the bronze students will walk 2 days worth. The assessed route has to be different to the practice route so even with the bronze students walking part of the silver routes that's still 6 days walking in total that needs to be recced.

Now that we haven't got out this weekend and I'll be away for the next 3 weekends over the Easter holidays I really don't know how we're going to fit this in before we start taking students out in May. I can see me having no free time between the end of Easter right up until the summer, but at least I'll be doing something I enjoy and getting back out into the Peaks.

Learning to drive on the wrong side of the road

A couple of weeks ago I went a long way (literally and metaphorically) to achieving this goal.

I'd been asked by a friend if I'd like to spend half term visiting her new caravan in the South of France. The catch was that I'd share the driving and help move the contents of her old caravan in Normandy to the new one in Serignan Plage. I jumped at the chance. Not only did I get a very cheap holiday and got to see some new places, I also got to work on one of my challenges.

Margaret picked me up at about 1.30am after a busy last day at school on the Friday. Who needs sleep? We spent the night driving down to Portsmouth for the early morning ferry. I took my first turn at driving her car and was pleased to be able to get used to it whilst there wasn't much traffic about and whilst still driving on this side of the road.

We boarded the ferry and went straight to our cabin to get a few hours sleep. Once we landed 5 or 6 hours later in Caen we had to drive for another hour or two to get to our hotel near the campsite where the old caravan had been. We had time for a look around Granville before going for dinner and getting to bed.

Next morning, after the what must be the world's nicest croissants and baguette for breakfast we went to the lock-up where her stuff was stored. Once we'd succeeded in the challenge of getting the door unlocked (hitting the lock with a stone eventually worked) it took us a few hours to load up the car and roof-rack.

Then it was a VERY long drive down to the south coast. We took turns in driving and I was surprised by how quickly I got into it. It was a Sunday so was fairly quiet and we were mainly on the motorway, so all I really had to do was point the car in the right direction and drive, but even so. By the time we arrived I was feeling quite happy with myself.

During the week and on my last day when we drove to Spain so I could fly home from Girona airport I had a few more goes at driving and this time experienced traffic lights, roundabouts, traffic jams, and so on. As my last challenge I made sure it was my turn to drive as we drove over the Pyrenees and across the border into Spain.

I haven't quite decided whether to tick this challenge off as complete yet. I specifically want not just to have a go at driving on the wrong side of the road, but to be able to say I can do it confidently. Although I felt fine driving over the week I was in France, I'm not sure I would be as confident if I suddenly had to do it again in a year's time. I think I'd need some time to get used to it again. Also, I haven't driven alone yet, and it's very different not having a second pair of eyes to look out for potential hazards. So at the moment I'm thinking of leaving this one as an 'in progess' rather than considering it completed.

Toilets and showers in the Outer Hebrides

I thought the following might be useful for anyone planning a trip round the Outer Hebrides this summer in which they're intending to wild camp most of the time. If you are staying in official accommodation your showering and toileting needs will be sorted for you, but if not then make a note of the info below. And if anyone has any more to add, please leave a note in the comments. The prices are from the summer of 2012 and are correct to the best of my memory.

Barra - toilets at the village hall in Castlebay (not open until about 9am and closed early evening) and also at the ferry terminal in Castlebay (but only open when the waiting room is open around the time of ferries). Showers in the sports centre in Castlebay (£1.05)

Vatersay - toilets in the village hall. Walk round the outside of the building to the left.

Eriskay - toilets and showers at the ferry port (24 hours, showers are £1)

South Uist - toilets and showers near the tourist office in Lochboisdale (showers £1)

Benbecula - toilets and showers in the sports centre (showers are £1.05. The centre is closed on Tuesdays)

North Uist - toilets by the harbour and also in the museum in Lochmaddy. Showers at the Lochmaddy Hotel but I don't know the price.

Baleshare - no facilities

Berneray - toilets are at the ferry port (24hrs). Showers and toilets by the harbour about a mile from the ferry port (closed at 9pm, showers £1)

Harris - toilets at the ferry port in Leverburgh (24 hrs). Toilets and showers in the bus station in Tarbert, not sure of the opening hours. (Showers 50p)

Lewis - toilets and shower at the Kinloch Historical Centre in Laxay near Stornoway (24hrs, showers 50p), also at the sports centre in Stornoway (£1.05). There are also public toilets by the yacht harbour and car park but there is a charge and they are not open 24hrs. There are toilets in the ferry port where the ferries leave for Ullapool.

St Kilda - toilets at the back of the shop

Also the ferry from Oban to Barra has showers, but the Stornoway to Ullapool ferry doesn't.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Oman and the wonder that is facebook

I was supposed to go to Oman in the February half term to visit a friend who moved there last summer. When I looked at flights the prices were way too high - if I could have gone a day earlier and come back a day later they would have been just over half the price I was being quoted. So I went to France and Spain instead and starting learning to drive on the wrong side of the road.

On Saturday I was chatting to said friend over facebook and she mentioned that October has nice weather and asked why don't I consider going over in the October half term? A scan through various websites looking at flights and they all seemed too expensive. Damn school holidays. Why do they always have to be in the school holidays? In a last ditch attempt I looked at Emirates, fully expecting them to be the most expensive of all. Bargain! They had reasonably priced flights for the dates I was looking at. Of course I then assumed I'd got the dates wrong. A message on facebook asking for confirmation of our half term dates got me a couple of replies in under a minute! Satisfied I'd not confused the dates, and overjoyed at the efficiency of facebook, I went ahead and booked.

I have a 6 hour wait in Dubai airport on the way out, but I'm not too bothered about it. I've been told it's a great airport and one that it's easy to while away some time in. Although I've stayed practically next door to it before in the Dubai youth hostel, I've never actually been in the airport. It'll be quite late at night, so I won't bother working out plans to go out and do anything in Dubai, I'll just have a full-on airport experience. On my return the wait is less than an hour an a half.

Once I get to Oman I'll have a week to explore, relax and catch up with my old friends, Dawn and the sun.