Welcome to our little home on the net. We are Steve & Rosemary and live in Buckinghamshire, UK. This is a blog of our life, sometimes interesting, but mainly boring. It is very picture orientated as Steve loves to take pictures, especially of wildlife. Sometimes he has his arm twisted by Rosemary and takes the odd snap of a weed.
Trip to Morocco to climb Jebel Toubkal
Back in January 2020 I booked a trip to Morocco with Explore! to climb Mount Toubkal in May of that year, paying for the holiday in full early March. Well of course the trip was cancelled towards the end of March 2020. I then rebooked in March 2021 for a trip in October. The trip went ahead, and I travelled out to Menara Airport on the 9th October by EasyJet. I did not spot anyone else travelling on the flight. Although, apparently, there were six others.
A couple of weeks before I travelled, I hired a down filled jacket, crampons and a four-season sleeping bag. Also bought a nice 30 litre day bag. Toubkal in October should be cold, with ice and snow. As it happened there was no snow, and the shelter was not cold, so crampons and sleeping bag were a waste of money. The down jacket was worth it.
Because of COVID, there was some apprehension as to whether I had the necessary documentation. Morocco allows entries with no quarantine for those who are double jabbed, or have a negative PCR test. I am double (& booster) jabbed but decided to do a PCR test for the extra peace of mind. As it happens double jabbed was fine. Forms completed, vaccination certificate on phone and printed. EasyJet allowed me to fly, and Morocco allowed me in. Customs at Morocco was rather slow, and when one officer left his place, this doubled the number of people in my queue.
We were picked up by the tour company and driven to the hotel. A briefing at 6pm, and then we walked to the Souk and ate Tagine and bread at one of the outdoor restaurants in the market. There was a search for a bar, but this proved unfruitful.
Sunday 10th October 2021 – Trek to Tizi Oussem via Matate and Azaden Valleys
We ate a hearty breakfast at the hotel, and then left on a minibus to Aquersiol where we started our walk to Tizi Oussem. On these treks we were always well fed. Our feeding routine was generally, breakfast to start the day, mid-morning break for tea and a snack, a lunch time picnic, afternoon tea and then 3-course supper. Our walk took us a little over six hours, including the picnic lunch break. We started at 1627m (5337ft), climbing to a maximum of 2290m (7513ft)
Our accommodation was very basic, there were showers. We were divided into four rooms. Some chose to sleep under the stars, they did not regret the howling wind which woke us at intervals.
Supper was served. We had our own chef who accompanied us, two guides, and five donkeys and their minders carting our food and bags around.
Monday 11th October 2021 – Trek to Aremd via the Tizi n’Mzik Pass
We set off on our trek a little after 8. Walking through the village with its assortment of traditional homes, often with sheep living above the living accommodation. Today’s walk took us up to 2545m, over the at Tizi n’Mzik (8350ft) before descending into Aremd where we stayed in a traditional home. On this walk there were some rainbows. The walk was 5 hours.
At Aremd we again were split across rooms, with shared hot showers. An attempt at rigging up a wifi repeater router failed, apparently the base station was off. This accommodation was far superior to the previous night, and we would be back here on our return from Toubkal.
We also had a couple of hours walk around the village, looking at all the bars and restaurants alongside the river. Tourism had not yet returned, so most of the village’s venues were closed. Harry, one of the two women on the tour, decided to purchase a shawl from a stall. She haggled hard, and when asked her nationality, English, was accused of being Scottish due to her haggling!
Apple harvest appeared to be in full swing. The trees were laden in apples, which are put into a cool store, waiting for the higher prices. Back at our overnight accommodation we had a lovely supper.
Tuesday 12th October 2021 – Trek from Aremd to Neltner Refuge via Sidi Chamharouch
Today we left Aremd, walking down through the village to the wide river bed. Then it was an uphill walk all the way to Neltner refuge. Unfortunately I did not start my tracker at the beginning of the walk, so the maximum climb was not recorded The recorded climb about 1120m (3670ft) to the height of 3225m (10580ft). The walk was steady with no particularly steep parts. There were quite a few bars/cafes on the route selling refreshments including freshly squeezed orange juice. I had a couple of orange drinks on the way. We did not stop for lunch on the walk up, waiting until we made the refuge where there was lunch waiting for us. A relaxing afternoon, and then a brief walk to see the route we would be taking the next day.
It was lovely relaxing outside viewing the mountains around as the sun set, and the clouds rose in the valley. Then the sun dropped behind the peaks. It became bitterly cold in seconds.
The lodge had Internet, slow in the evening, but far faster when everyone had gone to bed or had left to climb Toubkal. The lodge was divided into a couple of dining rooms, showers and loos, and several dormitories. We had one dormitory for us, with bunk beds, that could host 12 people. Six slept underneath and three on top. I was one of the three on top, which was luxury, we had a space between each of us.
There were showers and loos, I admit to not showering for the duration of our stay in this lodge, it seemed easier. The lodge catered for the adhoc visitor with a menu of food. We had our chef, so were catered by him, and we also had our own dining room. As is usual we had an excellent meal in preparation for tomorrow’s climb.
It was decided we would start the climb as dawn was breaking. Other groups left very much earlier, and we were woken by people leaving at 4am to try and catch the dawn at the top of the mountain.
Wednesday 13th October 2021 – Trek to Summit of Jebel Toubkal
We started our climb after breakfast at 7:50 climbing 1046m (3431ft) to the summit at 4221m (13848ft). These are my measurements on the mobile phone which do not quite equate to the official heights in the brochure. We were out for 7 hours and 50 minutes and ate lunch on return. I was impressed by the guide (Mo) who set a slow and steady pace, lazily walking up and down the mountain with short steps and hands in pocket, occasionally looking over his shoulder to ensure there were no stragglers.
The walking was quite easy, with only one early scramble up some rocks. There were several groups walking up, and we also met those who had started earlier on their way down. There was no snow or ice on the mountain, and we were greeted by bright blue skies and very little wind. An absolute perfect day for a stroll.
There are three climbs to the summit. The summit remains out of view until the last 30 minutes. The first climb is the hardest and the longest, though the subsequent climbs were fairly exhausting because of the reduced air pressure. Two in the group had bad headaches, a sign of mountain sickness. We all made it to the top as one group with no stragglers. This old dude (oldest in the group!) was right behind Mo.
We remained on the peak for nearly an hour, taking pictures and eating a snack (dates and figs). It was then the return trip, using sticks. The return was only slightly shorter, and my legs were getting a little tired. Lunch (not very hungry), we watched the clouds come up the valley, and the goats being called off the hills or running down the valley to be fed. A lovely day.
Thursday 14th October 2021 – Trek to Tizi Ouanoums and back to Aremd
Today our trekking holiday was drawing to an end. There was an opportunity of an optional walk before returning to Aremd. It was noticeable that attitudes were changing. A couple of days before there seemed to be a consensus we should try the second peak, Ouanoukrin (4089m 13415ft). Mo had been quite uncommittable about this and had been suggesting a lesser target of Tizi Ouanoums. Today most (all?) of us were quite happy to take the shorter walk up to the pass at Tizi Ouanoums at 3728m (12230ft). The walk up was still a 1 hour 30 minute walk. We then had the walk back down to the refuge and on down to Aremd (where the internet was now working).
The pass of Tizi Ouanoums was quite windy. The view of the lake was obstructed by the haze, and lack of water in the lake. On the walk down to Aremd we stopped at Chamharouch for lunch. A small village associated with the Shrine of Sidi Chamharouch. A boulder with a hole in it, associated with a mosque. The superstition is your woes will be cured by visiting this place.. While we were there a sheep was being herded to the shrine, and a man was sharpening his knives in preparation to slaughter the offering.
After lunch we continued our trek back to our village lodging for the night. We walked 11 miles in 9 hours 30 minutes.
Back at the village house we settled up the tips for the porters, chefs, drivers, and also had a demonstration by our chef of a Moroccan omelette. A very thin & delicious omelette which has more spices then eggs.
The showers were busy and afterwards we had, as usual, a wonderful meal.
After the meal we all spent an hour of our life trying to complete the UK contact and trace form, Luckily there were several of us doing this so we were able to help each other out with those questions that proved unfathomably obtuse.
The ingredients: Coriander leaves, ground ginger, turmeric, paprika, black pepper, salt, cumin, garlic, grated onion and tomato, eggs.
- Heat a tablespoon of olive oil.
- Heat garlic in olive oil with salt.
- Add onions
- Add grated tomatoes
- Add spices (about a teaspoonful of each)
- Put lid on, turn down the heat. Can leave for up to 15 minutes.
Beat egg with coriander. Poor on top of spices. Do not beat. Leave to cook.
You get a layer of egg over the spices.
Can instead add meat balls, coriander, onion, spices garlic, then put unbeaten egg on top to finish
Friday 15th October 2021 – Walk to Imlil and drive to Marrakech
Today we took a short walk down the valley to Imlil where we were met by two small buses and driven back to Hotel Almas. In Imlil we were harassed by street traders setting their bracelets and other tat. Once in Marrakech the group split up, some going to have massage in a Hamman. Others going to the souk. As for me I walked to the Jardin Majorelle-Yves Saint Laurent Mansion. Here I visited the garden and the Berber museum. (Had no idea of the YSL connection before.)
We all met up in the evening for an expensive supper at the Azar Moroccan restaurant. A very trendy place with plenty of eye candy. The small bottles of beer were in the region of £7. It was a nice meal, but we had been eating well throughout the Explore! holiday.
Saturday 16th October 2021 – Back Home
We had the morning free in Marrakech, which I used with others to visit the Ensemble Artisinal Marrakech. This is an array of craft shops near to the Souk. Prices here are non-negotiable. I came away with a puzzle box. Others with belts, wallets and bags. There were musical instrument, carpenters at work, light fittings. Many objects far too large to take away with you. The craftsmen running the shops were not pushy and showed you their wares. It was a pleasure to visit and to buy from them.
Now it was time for home, the flight home and the drive home. Marrakech airport is exceeding modern and beautiful. The duty free shops were well stocked with drink, good deals on Ricard. Should really have bought 4 litres, but how do I carry that much? Everything in the terminal is prices in Euros. I did barter down the price of a Starbucks coffee by offering the last of my Dirham.
One word of warning, if you have a drone, ensure its in your hold luggage, one member of our group spent an hour in the police office explaining why he had not declared his drone, and eventually having it confiscated.
Other than that hiccup all went exceeding smoothly, no holdups anywhere, no queues in the UK, the M23 / M25 / M40 were a dream to drive on, so much so I took the long route home through Bicester rather than the shorter cross country road from Thame.
Interactive Map of Trip
The COVID pandemic had put paid to many events, last year and this year. One of the annual events was the Gonville and Caius Benefactors Day. We had missed a few, not just through COVID, but also because it clashes with the Download Music Festival. This year Caius held the Day, not in June, but in September.
We decided to attend, and to stay in Cambridge for the week. We pitched up at the Cambridge Camping and Caravan site pitch in Trumpington, on Friday 10th September, leaving again on Friday 17th. Cambridge was full of graduates attending their degree ceremonies. These had been held over from 2020. There were crowds of people standing in the street outside the Senate House. Privacy seems important these days, the railings had been covered to stop people gawking at the graduates and their families on the lawn.
The Caius Benefactors Day was on a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon. We walked in early but did not have to queue, quickly finding the waiters and the wine supplies. Lunch was good. We conversed with several different people, none from my year. There was a talk from the Master, an exhibition in the library & an organ recital. A few days later we entered Caius again. Not very welcome, the porter was not keen and told us to be quick, and not to enter any buildings other than the Chapel.
During the rest of the week, we visited the Botanic Gardens on a beautiful sunny day, eating lunch at the café. Another day was spent at the Sedgewick Museum of Earth Sciences, and the Whipple Museum of the History of Science. Of course we had coffee at St Michael’s Cafe and some wine outside the Cambridge Wine Merchants (they sell Ricard!).
Nearer the campsite we walked over to Hobson’s Park Bird Reserve, a nature reserve surrounded by the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Addenbrookes Road and new housing in Trumpington. The bird reserve is made purposefully difficult to get near with ditches and earth works. There was a useless hide; willow trees in front were blocking any view of the birds. I think the lake was full of geese, we could hear them from the campsite, leaving and arriving at dusk and dawn.
The weather was mainly good, except for the day we travelled to Saffron Walden. That Tuesday it rained most of the day. We were soaked through waiting for the bus. Saffron Waldron had a rather deserted market, which packed up while we were there. A good Turkish lunch time meal at Meze By Night. At one stage, R thought her legs might fall off cos they were so wet & heavy. I queried whether she meant her trousers, but she said she wasn’t sure. We did manage to visit the Fry Gallery, but it was in a temporary location, so few Ravilious paintings on show. Only one, I think.
West Runton 23rd – 27th August
I managed to book a short weekday camping trip (Monday night through Thursday night) to the Camping and Caravan club site in West Runton. It was impossible to book days that included the weekend. The school holidays, and the British Staycation this year conspired against late bookings. We also were unable to get an electric hook-up, so took the solar panel to keep the leisure battery charged. This campsite is in a wooded area with a long dirt track down to the site. We were shown around the site, viewing several potential spots, choosing one that was about 100 metres from the loos and children’s playground. Interestingly during the course of the week, the row we parked on became a complete row of VM campervans. How good is that!!!
This was the first time we have booked a campsite in school holidays, and were fearing the place would be overrun with screaming kids. Yes there were many children, and they were enjoying themselves, but you could easily block them out and come 11pm, there was total silence. Not at all bad, and in future we won’t actively block out school holidays.
Four-legged pets are permitted. R was thrilled to find a tortoise and a hamster.
Our neighbours had stayed in a campsite here a few weeks ago. They gave us some tips.
Tuesday – Cromer and West Runton
The next day we walked to the coast at West Runton, via Incleborough Hill to look over the sea. From here you could see numerous, alarming other campsites and holiday homes. The nearest one to us was the Caravan and Motorhome club site. There is a footpath through this site, allowing us alien campers to walk through their site to West Runton.
We walked down the hill to the sea, where we watched a couple of huge motorhomes trying to turn around after ignoring the height restriction signs at the entry to the lane. A difficult manoeuvre as they were turning on a steep slipway into the sea. Some skidding of tyres on the concrete as they attempted to extract themselves from their predicament. But, they succeeded. Did not find any fossils here.
Lunch time, we headed back to the Village Inn for a drink and some food. Absolute disaster, they had beer, and a large menu of food, with only two items on, sausage rolls being the highlight of their menu. Very poor show. We asked if it was a Covid or Brexit problem, Not sure we were answered.
Being OAPs we headed for the bus stop and caught a bus to Cromer where we went in search of the Banksy. Thankfully someone had put its location onto Google Maps. It was quite a way from Cromer Pier, so 800 meters east, just beyond the beach huts. Good position, only those who really wanted to see it would be bothered to walk that way. R found bits of belemnites & a witches stone. Our neighbours had done better.
Back to West Runton on the bus and a coffee and cream tea in the Hole in One Sports Bar. Yet not quite up to scratch, two scones, but a minute amount of clotted cream and jam. Then the walk up the hill, and a BBQ for supper.
Wednesday – Felbrigg Hall
Today we went for a walk to the National Trust house of Felbrigg Hall. This was a circular walk which took us through woods, past active quarries, down farm tracks and through parkland to the hall. We managed our weekly Sadgits zoom call near a heavy plant crossing. We had to mute the call each time a load of extracted sand was driven past us. We had lunch in the Hall’s café and then viewed the house.
There was a huge walled garden in the grounds. This was definitely the highlight. Never seen such huge buddleia flowers. It would be well worth coming and viewing at different times of the year.
Finally we set off again to complete the walk back to the campsite, the route back was shorter (much to R’s relief).
Tonight the fish and chip van was on site. The chips were fabulous, Rosemary wished she had chosen some. The big snag was I waited 90 minutes in a queue by which time it was getting dark & chilly.
Thursday – North Norfolk Railway
Today we headed off the Sheringham on the bus via West Runton. We arrived at the North Norfolk Railway (The Poppy Line) and purchased tickets for the heritage steam line. It is quite a short trip, stopping at a couple of stations before terminating in Holt. Here we had a long walk to the centre of the town, but not until after checking out the 1930s decorated “house” built from a railway carriage complete with a lean-to, which had R crooning.
Well worth the walk, because we passed the public school of Greshams, which seemed to go on for ever and ever. Wonder how much the fees are? Bonus for parents, they take kids from 2 to 18.
Holt was busy, and the recommended (neighbours) Folly Tearoom was full, complete with a queue. Another would-be customer asked if the café took bookings. Only in advance, said the young waitress. We gave up. Instead we went to Bywfrds for lunch. After lunch a little grockling, and then bus back to Holt for the return trip. We did visit the delightful museum on the platform while we waited.
At Sheringham we walked down to the sea, huge strong wind. The town was also very busy. Interesting display of Tintin in one of the shops. Back to the bus stop and a walk back to our campsite. Started the BBQ for another steak. We were doing our cooking on charcoal. The status of the gas was low, and there was no possibility of buying a replacement gas cylinder. The Staycation has created many new campers, who had bought up all the cylinders during the previous months. (Actually did find Calor Gas in the very local farm equipment shop when we got home.)
Martham and Norwich
Today we packed up and were heading home. First stop was to see friends cum relatives on the way home. So headed to Martham where step-brother Nick has a boatyard and rents out electric day boats and beautiful wooden sail Broads-cruisers. Step-sister Liz was there too. Both very busy helping clients. Before arriving we stopped for lunch at the Poppyland Tearoom. This stop was by chance, we had intended to go to the nearby Nelson pub. Not closed, but looked a bit Covid/Brexit hit, selling food and drinks through a hatch. Backtracked to the Tearoom we had just passed. This was themed Dad’s Army style with unexploded bomb, and Anderson shelters. The food was served army style. Check out my cappuccino decoration. all brilliant. You may see a theme, Poppy line, and Poppy tearoom. This area of Norfolk was well know for growing poppies.
Afterwards we stopped off in Norwich to see step-mum Ann & Liz’s partner Bob. We were shown their newly landscaped garden. Landscaped by Bob and Liz. It was a remarkable change and must have looked even better earlier in the year.
We were invited to join a trip to Wakefield, with two other couples, to visit the Hepworth Wakefield for the special exhibition “Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life”, a celebration for the museum’s tenth anniversary. Hepworth spent much of her life after WW2 in Cornwall, but Wakefield lays claim to her because she was born there.
The trip was a first for us, we would have to charge the Polestar 2 away from home. The return trip being too far for a full charge. Rosemary experienced range anxiety on the way there, but Steve had planned several charging locations in Wakefield, and scouted out some emergency stops on the motorway.
The idea was all three couples on the trip would stay at the Holiday Inn Express, meeting up for outings. Restaurants and pub venues had been booked or selected by Norman.
We set off at 9.40 and arrived at our first stop, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, at 12.20 with more than 40% charge remaining in the battery. The others visited different places.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
There are two entries to the park, we chose the larger main entry to the North. It seemed very busy with families coming to walk around the extensive grounds. First stop the loos, after which we munched on our Ginsters Cornish Pasties for lunch. We did not do the park justice, it is absolutely huge. We did not even go near to the lake, let alone walk on the lakes south side. Three Henry Moore sculptures were set in open park land, and there were many Barbara Hepworth bronzes in the series ‘Family of Man’. Good to fantasize about which we’d like to have at home. The sculptures I photographed were:
- Masayuki Koorida, Flower
- Squares with Two Circles, Barbara Hepworth
- Eduardo Paolozzi, Vulcan
- Barbara Hepworth, The Family of Man
- Niki de Saint Phalle, Buddha
- Elisabeth Frink, Standing Man
- William Turnbull, Large Idol
- David Nash, Barnsley Lump and Three Stones
- William Turnbull, Large Horse (R wanted this one)
- Kenny Hunter, Bonfire
- Marialuisa Tadei, Night and Day
- Marialuisa Tadei, Octopus
- Nigel Hall, Crossing (Horizontal)
- Dennis Oppenheim, Trees: From Alternative Landscape Components
- Kimsooja, A Needle Woman: Galaxy was a Memory, Earth is a Souvenir
- Ai Weiwei, Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads
- Anthony Caro, Promenade
- Anthony Caro, Dream City
- Mark di Suvero, The Cave
- Henry Moore, Large Two Forms
- Sean Scully, Crate of Air
- Henry Moore, Three Piece Reclining Figure
- Ursula von Rydingsvard, Heart in Hand
Afterwards we made our way to the Asda on Asdale Road, Wakefield, mainly to charge the car on a 50KW charger. It was occupied, but by the time I had registered on the ENERGIE app and entered my credit card details, the owner of the charging car had returned and disconnected the charger. I dutifully parked and plugged in and started the charge. At the 40% level, the car was able to take the full 50KW, but slowed down when 80% was reached. We waited until we had a full 90% charge. We were there charging for a few minutes more than an hour. Surprisngly, I found the charge was free. R went into Asda in search of polish & preserved whole lemons, but neither was to be had.
Next we checked in at the Holiday Inn Express. Rosemary had found out that parking was limited, and it was, but we managed to find a space and parked. Basic hotel (well it was only £55 a night), but comfortable with friendly staff. After settling in, we walked to Harrys Bar, a pub selected by Norman for its reported good beer. We located the pub, nearby, but it was a little difficult to find the entrance. Norman and Valerie were nowhere to be seen. A few mins later, messages from them confirmed they had gone the wrong way, but after recovering from this detour, they still could not find the entrance immediately. Viv and Bill were a little later, but had no issues finding the bar which had an excellent selection of beers.
We thought Harrys Bar had been selected for its proximity to Dolce Vita, the Italian restaurant where we were to be eating later. This was not the case, and was pure coincidence because the location of Dolce Vita had been assumed to be elsewhere (we think confusion over a bakery with a similar name some distance away). The Dolce Vita restaurant is in a rather ugly building when viewed from the outside, looking very much like a utilitarian discount store. Inside it was light, clean and very welcoming. We had an excellent meal here, which started with a Negroni for me, and Negroni with added prosecco for Viv and Valerie (think R had an espresso martini). A nice end to the day.
Next day we were up for breakfast, which for R and I was the full English (R made a mistake in her ordering cos she didn’t really want it) then it was to the Hepworth Museum (a treat in itself) to see the special exhibition. We spent three hours there, including a light lunch in the café. We spent a couple of hours afterwards, walking around in the rain, first visiting the Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin, which is built on a bridge over the River Calder. R and I also walked to the Trinity shopping Mall to see a Barbara Hepworth, but that had mysteriously changed into Hubert Dalwood’s, Minos. A visit to the Cathedral, and then back to the hotel.
We all met up for a drink at the Black Rock pub, another pub with a good selection of beers, before eating at the nearby Qubana. Modern tapas menu, or starter mains. Very noisy to start with, no sound deadening upholstery in the restaurant. This abated somewhat, as most of the diners appeared to have come early to eat before going on elsewhere. It was again a good meal at very reasonable cost. Norman chooses well.
From the visits to the pubs, I was directed to an app called Real Ale Finder. It shows pubs selling real ales, and is updated by the landlords to show what is on tap. Unfortunately is appears to have a mainly Northern following, and is not much used by pubs around here.