Category Archives: The Wilds

Boyana Church (БОЯНСКАТА ЦЪРКВА) to Boyana Waterfall

We were almost a week in Sofia before heading towards Mount Vitosha for hiking…it had been so hot, and then stormy. We took the metro to Vitosha station then the 64 bus. Public transport here is a bit terrifying until you figure it out, this helped immensely unlike many another site, especially official ones.

It’s a short walk to Boyana Church, which was amazing. From the UNESCO site:

Located on the outskirts of Sofia, Boyana Church consists of three buildings. The eastern church was built in the 10th century, then enlarged at the beginning of the 13th century by Sebastocrator Kaloyan, who ordered a second two storey building to be erected next to it.

boyanachurch

A schematic drawing of the church from the church website:

The frescoes in this second church, painted in 1259, make it one of the most important collections of medieval paintings. The ensemble is completed by a third church, built at the beginning of the 19th century. This site is one of the most complete and perfectly preserved monuments of east European medieval art.

The frescoes are amazing. We were lucky enough to be the only ones there for a short time — having walked from the bus there was no press of people, no time limit. The caretaker gave us some beautiful stories behind the depictions. Photos are not allowed and are in short supply on the internet, my favourite there is not be found. A poet, whose eyes watch you wherever you are in the church. They are vivid and very beautiful, what photos do exist do not come anywhere close to capturing them. But I recognised the crowns of these immediately that we had seen the day before at the National Museum of History where they have been copied and sit on display. This is Tsar Constantine Asen Tikh and Tsaritsa Irina:

From there we walked up the hill to find the trail up to Boyana waterfall. We weren’t quite prepared for an hour and a 45 minutes or so of steep uphill climb with little break to get there, the guide book might have been a little more explicit. But the woods were beautiful, the falls lovely, and we did have some cheese and wine to work off.

Coming back down we encountered these amazing creatures — Dryocopus martius — their calls are quite eerie in an almost silent forest. Apparently if you can imitate them they will come find you. If only we had known, we chased them down switchbacks through the trees but they caught on to our game soon enough.

The mountain now, and some of its wonders:

boyanawaterfall

boyanachurch

The waterfall

We were up and back in around two and a half hours, then walked down the hill to Cinecitta Osteria Italiana, who let us in despite being a little more dishevelled than the other guests and having no reservation. A delicious meal. Glorious day.

Space and splendour and Weston Super Mare

I know those adjectives don’t usually go together, but I stand by it. The first Saturday of February, there were no holiday hordes. There was almost no one there but for a couple of the beaches where absolutely everyone was out walking their dogs. That was quite glorious. But we walked past great mud flats and rickety ruined piers stretched out above the mud and the waves through woods and out past sand bay full of windswept grass with black feathered heads beyond which stand mysterious islands shrouded in the distant mist and a great city shining white on the far banks of the Severn (Cardiff). Out to Sand Point, the tail end of the Mendips forming sweeping coves and secluded rocky beaches. A defense installation, pill boxes, old boats beached high. Neolithic mounds. Walls built by prisoners of the Napoleonic war. The sky was blue above us scattered with clouds — except when it was all cloud, but this is England after all.

Above all there was room to expand, to breathe even as the wind did its best to take your breath away.

I have a new coat that actually keeps me warm. It has changed my life.

Sweetwater trail, AZ

Mark, Julie and I on New Year’s Day, snow on the Tucson Mountains, seeing quail, coyote, deer. Taking these as tokens of the year ahead, even the dead tarantula curled up in the middle of the small wash. Working to ignore the unsustainable arrogance of wealth mushrooming across the desert in the form of giant block houses. I hope my year is full of wilds and family and love, some writing, some working to change the world.

Snows of KitT peak to Brown mountain trail

Anyone who came to visit us was taken to Kitt Peak, once the largest, most advanced astronomical observatory in the world. It is still wondrous, though larger, more modern telescopes have since been placed further from lights and cities.

I’ve never driven there, and it bears so little resemblance to childhood memories. In snow and wind it was quite honestly terrifying.

But the skies, oh the skies were wondrous.

Once arrived, we found they had cancelled the next tour because of high winds. The highest winds I have ever experienced I think. We wandered about a little, the solar telescope is the one I remember best so we went there. Doors all closed, therefore locked. I crept towards the edge to see the incredible view but didn’t even get close.

I’ve never driven there, and it bears so little resemblance to childhood memories. In snow and wind it was quite honestly terrifying. Once arrived, we found they had cancelled the next tour because of high winds. The highest winds I have ever experienced I think. We wandered about a little, the solar telescope is the one I remember best so we went there. Doors all closed, therefore locked. I crept towards the edge to see the incredible view but didn’t even get close.

We must go back and see it again properly.

We drove back down along Ajo, down the roller coaster of Kinny and along through the Tucson Mountains to hike Brown Mountain Trail. I ran up here once to sit on this hill and watch a wall of rain across the valley. The trail is beuatiful, though perhaps a little too close to the road, which is far too busy for my liking. But we came up the hill and stared back across to Baboquivari and Kitt Peak, sun beams streaming down to light them up. Sacred mountains.


Milagrosa Canyon

Mark, Julie and I had our first great walk of Christmas holiday ought eighteen up in the Catalina foothills (directions here), with flowers blooming everywhere in such a wet winter. It was beautiful. We went off trail a bit and I had forgotten how much I loved that, but we did pay for it in blood and Mark’s new typology of stabby things, hooked stabby things and barbed stabby things. Also, sore muscles.

A Most Beautiful Place: In search of the Dolmen of Izas

An amazing walk, starting from La Estación de Canfranc and walking up and up. We stopped first at the Coll de Ladrones, hill of thieves — we had been staring at it the day before.

An amazing walk, starting from La Estación de Canfranc and walking up and up. We stopped first at the Coll de Ladrones, hill of thieves — we had been staring at it the day before.

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

The first fortifications were built here in the 16th century. But this incredible space is from the 18th Century, started after the war of independence and built to guard the valley against France. It sits amongst many more modern defenses built by Franco here beginning in 1944. None of them are as amazing as this. You walk up to the main gate, and it’s only then that you realise this hill is essentially moated:

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas
Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas
Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas
Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

You can’t get down there.

We continued up from there. Across rubble and through flowers.

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Up to the fields

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Absurdly beautiful.

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

We walked along this stream most of the way

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas
Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas
Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas
Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas
Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

This is as high as we got — we did not find the dolmen, and it seemed no one else was as keen on such things as me, so it was not seen on any of my maps nor marked after that first sign that sent us astray.

Looking up to the right

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Back down the valley

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

More beautiful places. And cows, each with its bell.

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

De la Estación de Canfranc al Mirador del Epifanio: Pyrenees walk

We’re in Zaragoza! Mark is examining a PhD even now as I sit in relative luxury. We spent two(ish) days in the Pyrenees and they were amazing, this is our first short walk up to the casita blanca y el mirador del epifanio…I imagine these woods full of partisans, makes them as magical as they were beautiful. The Station itself has an amazing history, but more on that later…

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

La casita blanca is relatively recent, built as part of the work to reforest this hillside to control avalanaches and landslides.

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

A little higher is the ‘lookout’ over the Epifanio, a wide dam from which you can look down to La Estacion de Canfranc

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

And up to the peaks.

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

And if you look very closely you can see the group of chamois we saw drinking there. There was a whole large group of them, but almost invisible in the shade. They are almost in the photo’s center, on the rock just to the left of the stream.

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

And then back down again, to the welcome shade of the forest. It was very hot, the forest very beautiful.

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

A terrible river walk: York’s Centenary Way

Poorly marked, terribly overgrown — we battled our way through nettles, brambles and thistles. We fought an array of insects and horseflies. It was hot and the air close. It was not particularly scenic nor was it particularly beautiful. Our grand finale was a golf course and the Stagecoach bus station. This was, possibly, the most shit walk ever, but it is in close competition with the now legendary 26-mile-because-we-got-lost ramble from Haye on Wye, or our first memorable encounter with horseflies on the Mersey estuary in a terrible walk from Hale. Still, it had a ruined priory so it comes in third.

The bus timetables were all wrong online, and this was was fatal given how the service to the moors is so limited. I’m finding this to be quite common, you have to download the damn app in every city you go to, to be sure you have the right bus schedule. Our original plan to get to the moors and the Hole of Horcum had to be switched, and this is no easy feat in unfamiliar territory. We took an absurdly expensive bus to Cambreck, which was once a reformatory school and is now residential. We took our lives in our hands and crossed the motorway. We walked along a pleasant path beside the river Derwent, only to find the clearly marked footpath on our Os map is no longer in existence. We backtracked, and that always hurts. We followed the path to Kirkham Priory, with a plan to end in Malton.

This was reasonably beautiful, and the highlight of the walk beyond doubt though the strange clouded day made photography difficult. An Augustinian priory founded in the 1120s, had a fairly uneventful, though wealthy, existence until Henry VIII. Winston Churchill was here among the ruins to watch vehicles practicing for the D-Day landing. It’s hard to imagine, it is a small river, a small space. There is not a lot left.

York -- The Terrible River Walk

York -- The Terrible River Walk

York -- The Terrible River Walk

York -- The Terrible River Walk

What followed was also pretty all right for a while. We walked through fields of wheat and potatoes — quite uncertainly, it must be said, but we were indeed on the right track

York -- The Terrible River Walk

And then the true purgatory began. It was lit up for a brief moment by an incredible small patch of wetland filled, absolutely filled with dragonflies. I have never seen so many. They were beautiful.

York -- The Terrible River Walk

But most of our track looked like this:

York -- The Terrible River Walk

We were both bleeding. Mark had great red welts across his calves from the cleggs — my bites didn’t come up until I was back at work annoying everyone else, and myself most of all, by scratching them. Splendid river view? Not so much:

York -- The Terrible River Walk

Irises though, we did also get to see irises close up.

York -- The Terrible River Walk

Oh look, the footpath continues:

York -- The Terrible River Walk

Finally we emerged all too briefly into some woodland, that faded all too quickly into gold course.

York -- The Terrible River Walk

We chose not to take this ‘footpath’ and walked down the fairly busy lane instead

York -- The Terrible River Walk

I know councils have limited funds and have made hard choices and I do blame the Tory government first and Stagecoach second but…damn it. What a terrible plan B.