I’m going to let you into a secret…the Picos de Europa is the most amazing mountain range in Europe. Forget the Alps, forget the Pyrenees, forget the Carpathians, and book a trip to the Picos de Europa. I first visited the Picos over 10 years ago. Travelling with a group of friends we wild camped, trekked through amazing forests of oak, pine and beech and generally marvelled at the limestone peaks. After that first short visit I have returned regularly on a mix of personal, university and DofE expeditions.
Situated on the north coast of Spain the Picos de Europa national park covers an area of 646 km2. The park is divided into three limestone massifs; eastern, central and western. The central massif contains the highest peak Torre de Cerredo 2650 m and is divided from the western massif by the Cares Gorge. If high limestone mountains and deep gorges are not enough to draw you to the Picos the flora and fauna is unlike anything we have in the UK. There are bears, wolves, wild boar, wild cats, vultures and a diversity and abundance of wild flowers that is mind blowing.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Picos twice in 2016 in May and in October. In late 2015 Bedford Modern School had asked Lupine Adventure to put together a Gold DofE expedition to the Picos. After meeting the group and supporting them in their route planning I headed out in May to check campsites, walk their planned route and complete the expedition specific risk assessment. I based myself at Camping La Viorna on the edge of the town of Potes. A great campsite with modern clean facilities, friendly staff and good cheap food and wine I would totally recommend this campsite as a base for a visit to the Picos.
View from the campsite at Potes
In October I travelled down to Bedford and joined the students and staff travelling to the Picos. We drove down to Portsmouth early on Saturday morning and boarded the ferry to Santander. The ferry journey allowed lots of time getting to know the students and staff from Bedford and lots of relaxation time as well. We arrived in Santander on a Sunday morning and drove 100 km along the coast and up into the mountains and arrived at our campsite in Potes. In anticipation of the fact that supermarkets are generally closed on Sunday in Spain we had brought from Bedford Tesco food for our first evening meal. Utilising all our Trangias we cooked a feast of rice, mixed fresh vegetables, Quorn ‘chicken’ in Chinese style sauces. That’s the great thing about Trangias, you are not limited to boil in the bag style meals…you can actually cook proper food.
Monday was an acclimatisation day spent food shopping (Potes has amazing local cheese), discussing emergency procedures, acquainting the group with their Spot beacon and re-familiarising the group with the 1:40000 scale maps of the area. Over the subsequent four days from Tuesday to Friday the group from Bedford Modern worked hard and totally earned their Gold DofE awards.
Starting at Cosgaya the group trekked north-west along forest tracks and camped at Refuge El Redondo in Fuente De. From El Redondo (which is another campsite that I would totally recommend) they headed west over the mountains to Santa Marina de Valdeon. One of the things that most impressed me about this group was that at lunchtime they asked if it was ok to summit an adjacent peak before continuing on with their planned route. They worked out that it would take an additional hour to summit and return to their lunch spot. I approved this and supervised them as they summited Alto de la Triguera 1890 m. After a night wild camping on the edge of a forest the group headed north along the Rio Cares and down through the magnificent Cares gorge. Another night of wild camping followed before the group faced their final day and biggest uphill push. From the Cares gorge the headed north-west and up into Vega Maor where they stopped for lunch. Transhumance agriculture is still practiced in the Picos and Vega Maor is an upland pasture that is used for grazing cattle and goats during the summer months. From Vega Maor they continued west and finished their expedition at Lago de la Ercina.
After spending the Friday night at a campsite near Covadonga we drove to the beautiful coastal town of Sant Vincente de la Barquera. A nice walk on the beach and a seafood lunch followed before we drove back into Santander and caught the ferry back to the UK. Safely back in Bedford a team of happy but tired students were collected by parents and I had one last cup of coffee before heading back up the M1 to Leeds.
If you are wondering where to do a gold DofE in Europe, we think that the Picos de Europa wins hands down.
For more information on our European Gold DofE expeditions please visit our International DofE pages.
I was really pleased to get this book for my birthday, recently. It’s a sort of outdoorsers’ travel guide to Lupine’s backyard, in the Three Peaks area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It’s a place we often find ourselves privileged to inhabit in our work and play.
It’s mainly written in two “books”. First comes the Up, explorations above ground, and then the Under, ventures below ground into some of the district’s more accessible caves. The premise is that, while the area draws its crowds to the summits of Ingleborough (the author’s particular favourite), Whernside and Pen-y-Ghent, there is much delight to be had in venturing off the beaten track to discover its lesser known places.
Before getting to the main events however, the author underpins the text by explaining the geological processes that have formed this limestone region. I found it gave a really good “potted history”. Just enough to support the text, reinforce the understandings I already had and add a little detail without being dry or overly technical. Indeed, the book is dotted with personal observations and anecdotes which communicate an enthusiasm (verging on obsession) which I found really engaging. The hand of the primary headteacher and exuberant dad is strongly evident. Occasionally the text seems a little “folksy”. The summits in one chapter are characterised as contestants in a beauty pageant - Penny, Ingle and Whernie. I guess some, perhaps younger, readers might enjoy this playful conceit (it didn’t bother me) and it’s an entirely accessible book for an adventurous and literate teenager.
Both the Up and Under sections are presented as a number of Adventures with practical details, grid references and directions supplied, such that it is possible (with the aid of a map and a little planning) to follow these itineraries for oneself. The advice on equipment is sound and useful, especially for novice hillwalkers and those considering venturing underground for the first time.
The Adventures provide quite a thorough exploration of the area uncovering some gems of landscape and natural and social history along the way. Some really stunning locations are included. A Three Peaks Up and Under would be useful to any questing soul planning to make repeated visits to the area or advising others where to go “off the beaten track”. With this in mind I’ll be using it to inform my Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and other expedition work in the area and sharing the routes and stories with my own kids.
•A Three Peaks Up and Under is available, direct from Scratching Shed Publishing, via our Kit and Bookshop page.
• The author maintains an informative and entertaining blog at – www.oldfieldslimestone.blogspot.co.uk
Each year we work for South London School in Snowdonia. They have a 3 year rolling programme to complete their Gold DofE expedition section.
- Year 1 Training
- Year 2 Practice expedition
- Year 3 Assessed expedition
Each year the whole group comes up and carries out their 5 day programme. This year, for the first time, we put all the training group through the Mountain Skills course as part of their training. We had 2 groups on training this year and decided to run the Mountain Skills course in the first 2 days of the programme before setting out on a 3 day training expedition involving a wild camp above Pen-Y-Pass.
On day 1 we did much of the navigation part of the Syllabus from Capel Curig making our way up to Crimpiau via Clogwyn-mawr. We had fine views from the top to the North East over Llyn Crafnant Reservoir. Our decent was an ambitious drop off the edge down steep heathery slopes.
Day 2 took us up Moel Siabod via the South East Ridge. This meant we could cover steep ground really well and as they were an 'up for it' group it meant that we could take the sporting line for the entire ridge. As we approached the top I learnt that a group can download an app on their phones which then links the phones via bluetooth that means that all phones play the same music chosen by one of the group. The group learnt (after I got over the wow that is so cool factor) that I don't appreciate groups listening to music in the mountains.
The 3 day expedition started at Capel Curig headed west to Little Tryfan then over the Miner Track and down to Llyn Cwmffynnon for the night. This meant there was a big hill to climb with low cloud and a strong south wind to welcome us when we got to the top. It was my first time over the Miner's track and the low cloud and the lack of a track on the ground meant that their navigation and in particular relocation training from the previous few days was put to the test. After a water stop on the way down we found our camping spot and I managed to find somewhere a little way away from the group with awesome views but with a bit of a slope on it.
After a wet and windy night and morning, day 2 of the expedition took us over Snowdon. and despite having been up Snowdon in excess of 20 times this was the first time I've seen the trains running while on the mountain (I'm normally that way either in Winter or on a Welsh 3000's challenge at about 6am). We camped the night in Llanberis and did a treasure hunt / wide game / navigation type activity in the areas around Llanberis on the last day.
It was great to have a group for 5 days and the Mountain Skills syllabus fitted beautifully into their training package. Looking forward to meeting them next year for their practice expedition.
This is the second year of running a Mountain Challenge for Liverpool Medical Student Society (LMSS). The LMSS is huge. I have no idea how many thousands of members they have but they seem to almost be a student union of their own with their own sub clubs for sports, dance and other hobbies and interests. I guess they are at uni for 5 years rather than 3 of most other courses so that must swell their numbers. Anyway the LMSS is huge and has it's own charity fund raising wing.
Ninety-four (did I mention it is a big society) members of the LMSS arrived in Horton-in-Ribblesdale in 2 coaches just before 7am. Thanks to the ruthless efficiency of the two LMSS organisers Maddie and Alex all the participants knew pretty much how the day was going to run and we had all consent forms collected, and collated, so after we'd issued a few bits of kit (our definition of a waterproof jacket tends to differ from other people's definition) we set off from the top car park in the village and waited outside the toilet block.
94 flushes later they were off.
The groups moved fast and the lead group were soon on Pen-y-Ghent. At about 9am I got a call from someone who had missed the coach as he overslept. He was asking if he could catch them up if he got a taxi from Liverpool. We looked at train times but they didn't work out so in the end he got a taxi to Ribblehead and joined in from there. I think he will take the cost of that taxi to the grave with him.
Just after getting the taxi call one of the instructors radioed in with a request for assistance with a drop out. One of the participants who was wearing a pretty heavy duty knee support was struggling. She had a historical knee injury (football in year 7) and it was flaring up. She had thought she would be OK. In fact she was so confident that it would be OK she had been out drinking until 3am that morning, had 20 minutes sleep and then got up at 4am to catch the coach. I went up to meet the tail enders at Tarn Bar and walked back down to Horton with the knee injured, hung over student medic. Rob (our instructor at the back) prescribed 8 hours sleep and a kebab and thought she may be able to do the last peak. Unfortunately the 3km back to Horton pretty much finished her off so it was game over.
With the nights drawing in we had set a relatively early cut off time to get to the last road crossing at the Old Hill Inn before Ingleborough and had arranged for one of the coaches to swing by at about 4pm to pick up the expected drop outs. However, by the time the last group had passed we only had a total of 3 retirees due to injury so I was able to bring them back to Horton in my car. By the time I got back to Horton the first 2 groups were in.
In all out of the 95 who took part we only had 3 retire, the fastest group came in in just shy of 9 hours and the tail enders got it all wrapped up in 12.5 so a nice fast day for everyone.
We're waiting on news for the total amounts raised but I think it is going to be high. (On 11th October they reported that they had raised £17,261.31
We had a strong team of Mountaineering Instructors and Mountain Leaders out and were ably assised by a couple of volunteer trainee Mountain Leaders who made a big difference to the running of the day.
Thanks very much to Maddie and Alex and all the participants as well as to our fantastic team of instructors for making it a great day out for everyone.
In the summer half term we ran our first week long (6 Day) course in Basic Expedition leadership (AKA BEL). We have run this course previously over a series of weekends but this was the first time we ran it as an intensive 6 days. The 5 participants had a range of experience from 'I went on a walk once' to 'I do lots of DofE work for my school' and they came from a variety of work settings working with young people in Schools, community based youth offenders and prisons. We were based at Malham Tarn Field Studies Centre, the field centre put us up, provided us with a classroom, a bar and fed us well for the week.
It is a long course and to fit it all into 6 days was not an easy task for this tutor or the participants but we all held it together remarkably well. The structure of the course is 3 days based at the field centre, 2 on an expedition and then the last day back at the field centre. The days at the field centre were generally spent in the class room in the morning and outside in the afternoon.
The course is excellent and takes the participants through everything they need to know to take people walking and camping in the 'lowland' countryside. Some of the areas covered include:
- Governing bodies and legislation
- Risk assessments
- Route planning
- Leadership styles
- Food and fitness
- Camping and hiking equipment and care
- How to teach / instruct
- The country code
- Self evaluation
We had beautiful weather throughout the week even though the forecast for the last day of the expedition was appalling. The very last day was by far my favourite when we covered very technical navigation looking for Mines, shake holes and ponds on the hills to the north of the Field Centre.
Feedback from the course
- 'Andy was a very good instructor, he took the time to explain things and communicated brilliantly with the group'
- 'Excellent course, really enjoyed'
- 'Thank you for an enjoyable 6 days'
- 'Good mix of classroom and outside, final day of navigation was brill'
- 'Works brilliant as a six day course. Tiring but great fun'
- 'Enjoyable with a good group and helpful and knowledgeable tutor'
- 'The best part of the course was improving and practicing skills in a non-threatening environment'
We run these courses every autumn and summer half term (October and June) for the next courses and for a bit more info on the course please take a look at our Basic Expedition Leadership page
A great short clip of a Mountain Hare taken by a friend on a recent trip to the Cairngorms. The Mountain Hare, sometimes also called the Snow Hare, has a white or grey coat in winter and is brown with a blueish tinge at other times of year.
Mountain Hares, are native to Britain unlike the more common Brown Hare. Today they are found in many areas of Scotland where they are indigenous and in the Isle of Man and the Peak district where they were reintroduced. An attempt to reintroduce them to Snowdonia was unsuccessful. In the Peak District in the winter months when the hare’s coat is white, it can often be seen on the Kinder Scout plateau, standing out proud against the dark peaty ground.
There are concerns about the Mountain Hare population in Scotland which is thought to be decreasing. EC law prohibits some methods of capture or killing of the hare except under licence but this is thought to be violated in many cases with the hare being killed not only for sport but also because it is believed to be the carrier of a tick-borne virus which threatens the grouse chicks bred for shooting.
More information about Mountain Hares: http://www.hare-preservation-trust.co.uk/mountain.php
Scottish Winter Walking Trips and Skills Courses: http://www.lupineadventure.co.uk/winter-skills.html
Scottish Walking Holidays: http://www.lupineadventure.co.uk/walking-holidays.html
Stepping off the bus in Chamonix on a sunny June morning I did the first thing any sensible mountaineer would do. I went and got myself a good cup of coffee. My trip to Chamonix and the French Alps started a few months earlier when my colleague Andy asked me if I would supervise a DofE Gold group on their assessed expedition to the Alps. After a milliseconds deliberation I gave the obvious answer of yes!
I arrived in Chamonix in June in order to carry out the pre-expedition risk assessment. My plan was over four days to walk the route that the group had planned, check their campsites, find water sources, identify hazards and familiarise myself with the area. Their planned basecamp was in les Praz de Chamonix. From here I set out walking through a mix of forests and meadows heading gradually and then steeply uphill to the Col de Balme. Situated on the French/Swiss border at altitude of 2191 m the Col de Balme offers amazing views of Mont Blanc. Waking up in the early morning light to a stunning view of the highest mountain in the Alps was simply awesome…
Over the following days I continued checking out and risk assessing the planned expedition route. My days were a mix of forests, steep ascents on well-made mountain paths, coffees in small bars, and sleeping beneath the stars. My accommodation was a British army Gore-Tex bivvy bag that I had bought for £20 at least 10 years ago. On the fourth day of my trip as I entered the Col de Brevent I saw the cutest creature…a marmot! With a happy heart I continued to the summit of le Brevent, at 2525 m the highest point on the expedition. After a lunch of vegetarian lasagne served in the café that the French had cunningly built I walked the last few hours back down into Chamonix. A long coach journey brought me back to England I wrote up my expedition risk assessment, gave feedback to the DofE group on their planned route and completed the DofE paperwork.
Fast forward to August I found myself at Gatwick airport travelling with a great Gold group; Frankie, Hamish, Tom and James. After a day acclimatising and food shopping in Chamonix the group set out on their four day expedition. Despite some unseasonably cold and inclement weather the group absolutely smashed their expedition. They did exactly what a successful Gold group needs to do. They got their heads down, walked through forests and over mountains and had what was a life enhancing experience. Back in Chamonix after four days we all enjoyed ice creams whilst sitting in the Alpine sunshine.