Walking the John Buchan Way

You can probably tell from a lot of the trips I guide that I love a point-to-point journey. If you’re in the Scottish Borders area, there’s a miniature one right on the doorstep. Going from the world famous mountain biking town of Peebles and finishing at a great cafe in Broughton, the John Buchan Way is a brilliant little adventure. Good on foot or bike when the ground is firm.

2019 could be a good year to get on more journeys!

Climbing in the Moroccan Anti-Atlas

Morocco had never been a country I longed to visit, until I actually went there.

On arriving in Marrakesh, the classic hustle and bustle became quickly apparent. The taxi ride into the old town miraculously dropped us off very close to our accommodation, from where we were coincidentally met a man who worked there. We were greeted with mint tea and delicious toasted sweet fennel bread, settled in and set off to explore the streets and find some dinner.

The next day we managed to get back to the airport, hire a car and drive south. The terrain outside Marrakesh was flat and featureless, but became more mountainous as we reached our destination for the night, the Kasbah de Tizourgane.

Morning at the Kasbah de Tizourgane
Morning at the Kasbah de Tizourgane

We arrived after the sun had set, giving a more adventurous feel to the steep dirt track up to the gates. However, once our bags were hauled up to the reception in a luggage lift and we were led through the cosy corridors, it was clear we had found a comfortable place to rest. A warm but calm greeting that felt a world away from Marrakesh preceded a delicious meal and sleep. The place seemed to be patronised largely by climbers of varying European origin. We decided to stay here a while.

Approaching Adrar Iffran
Approaching Adrar Iffran

Our first task the following day was to stock up on food and water. Once done, we were able to walk in to wrong crag, giving us a grand and adventurous approach to the south west face of Adrar Iffran, where we managed to get in a 3 pitch VS route to get a feel for the rock. It was at the top of this climb as the sun was setting that it dawned on me how beautiful this landscape could be, that had previously held no appeal. As we descended, the peace and stillness was only broken by the call to prayer resonating around the valley. We arrived back at the car as the light faded and made our way back to the Kasbah.

Sunset at Adrar Iffran
Sunset at Adrar Iffran

The following day we set off to the Samazar valley, our objective lying an hour driving up and down a rough and rocky dirt track. The Hyundai i10 was truly in its element. After a very short walk we found ourselves at the foot of our route, the central buttress of Knight’s Peak, a subsidiary summit of Aylim, The Great Rock. For nearly 500 metres we worked our way up pinnacles, ridges and faces, culminating in the cracked pillar, a battle of an overhanging crack.

Topping out on Knight's Peak
Topping out on Knight’s Peak

Topping out on this outstanding route, the descent lay before us, which turned into the crux of the day; a carpet of thick, thorny undergrowth which lined the valley between us and the car. After a few errors we eventually reached more amenable terraces and the dry riverbed that was the return path.

Finding a way down through the dense spiky undergrowth
Finding a way down through the dense spiky undergrowth

We managed to fit some other climbing in, then the weather deteriorated for a day or two, turning the quartzite rock instantly slick with the first small drops of rain.

Samazar valley view
Samazar valley view

With a new day came better weather and renewed enthusiasm for climbing. We headed towards Tafraout and the Lion’s Face. The approach to this crag is a fairly involved affair through a complex system of gorges.

On the approach to the Lion's Face
On the approach to the Lion’s Face

Our ascent was a combination of following the most natural line and occasional consultation of the guidebook description. The route featured big exposure and sparse gear for protection, but always with good holds. There were frequent patches of loose rock which added to the adventurous feel of the route.

Eventually reaching the ridge which led to the summit, we moved together to the top with an incredible light display unfolding around us.

Descent from Lion's Face
Descent from Lion’s Face

The guidebook struck again on the descent, seeming to avoid using any obvious features of the terrain. A good path became obvious and we found our way down through more spectacular scenery back into the gorge and to the car, just as the last light of the day was fading.

We finished the trip with a night in the beach town of Taghazout, something a little different to end the trip.

The sea at Taghazout
The sea at Taghazout

A winter morning in Houffalize

E25 Transeuropean Road Trip

The E25 is a long distance European journey between Hoek in the north and Palermo in the South. Circumstances necessitated that I drive a large part of this from Cagliari near the southern end in Sardinia to IJmuiden, near Amsterdam in the north.

I arrived in Sardinia via the sprawling beast that is Rome airport in early December; the heavy crowds attracted in summer thankfully not evident on the island.

To break up the drive through Sardinia, I stopped off at Nuraghe Losa, fascinating Bronze Age structures that are thought to have been used for storage and distribution of products of the land.

Bronze Age structures at Nuraghe Losa
Bronze Age structures at Nuraghe Losa

After finally locating the ferry terminal in Porto Torres (hint: look out for the enormous ferry), I embarked, ate and settled in for my first night sleeping on a boat. Sailing across the nocturnal Ligurian Sea, I awoke the next morning at Genoa.

Sunrise over Genoa
Sunrise over Genoa

The road on the way out of Genoa twists up, around and through the mountainous terrain in a bustling arrangement of tunnels and bridges. Eventually a plateau is reached from where the Alps loom in to view. I crossed through the Mont Blanc tunnel.

Entering the Mont Blanc tunnel
Entering the Mont Blanc tunnel

The way north was mostly foggy, with a few frosty trees punctuating the journey to Belgium, where I finished for the day.

The next morning I woke early to temperatures well below zero. With plenty of time to get to the ferry port of IJmuiden, and as I would be passing by, I took a little time in the morning to explore Houffalize, often host to a round of the mountain bike XC World Cup.

A winter morning in Houffalize
A winter morning in Houffalize

Nestled in the Ardennes, it’s a pretty little town in its own right and was a great place to wander around on a cold winter morning.

Boarding the ferry at IJmuiden for another overnight sea voyage was where I left the mainland and returned to the UK. A fun impromptu adventure!

Leaving IJmuiden
Leaving IJmuiden
Bowfell Buttress

Classics: Bowfell Buttress

First ascended in 1902, and featured in Ken Wilson’s Classic Rock (1978), Bowfell Buttress (VD) is one of the Lake District classic rock climbs. For a route of such history and character, the experience should encompass the mountain as a whole; gaining the summit by means of an impressive route.

An ascent of Bow Fell via Bowfell Buttress is just this, a splendid yet accessible expedition in the heart of the Lake District. At 902m, Bow Fell is one of the highest peaks in the national park and Wainwright places it “among the best half-dozen”.

The Approach

Tradition dictates a classic starting point of the Old Dungeon Ghyll. The natural route choice of The Band dominates the view directly ahead.

On the approach: The Band (centre), Bowfell (right) and Crinkle Crags (left)
On the approach: The Band (centre), Bowfell (right) and Crinkle Crags (left)
Showing the way
Showing the way

Stool End sits at the toe of The Band, a broad protrusion into Great Langdale separating Mickleden to the north and Oxendale to the south. The Bowfell aspirant is elevated efficiently along this panoramic shelf.

The path up The Band overlooking Oxendale
The path up The Band overlooking Oxendale

At a flattening in the ridge, as the summit begins to loom above, the main path is left in favour of the climbers’ traverse.

Heading towards the climbers' traverse
Heading towards the climbers’ traverse

This path skirts the impressive arena of crags to the north east of Bow Fell summit. Passage affords magnificent views to the Langdale Pikes, down to Mickleden and Great Langdale beyond.

Panorama from the climbers' traverse
Panorama from the climbers’ traverse

Looking back into the mountain reveals massive features such as the iconic Great Slab, bounded on one side by the river of boulders and on the other by air.

The Great Slab above the climbers' traverse
The Great Slab above the climbers’ traverse

Not to be overlooked are the smaller details, such as the Waterspout, a small spring that is passed on the way.

The Waterspout, Bowfell Buttress in the background
The Waterspout, Bowfell Buttress in the background

At the northern end of this ring of towering rock, you find yourself faced with the unmistakable bastion that is Bowfell Buttress.

Bowfell Buttress
Bowfell Buttress

The Climb

The route works the line of least resistance up this imposing structure. The first pitch provides an amiable scramble towards a smooth chimney, alluding to the very ‘trad’ nature of the route.

Climber on the first chimney
Climber on the first chimney

Belay stances throughout the climb are generous, and allow relaxed enjoyment of the surroundings.

A fine position overlooking the Great Slab
A fine position overlooking the Great Slab

The moves following the initial chimney require a steady composition, stepping out on more exposed ledges as the route weaves its way upwards.

Stepping out to airier ground with Bow Fell summit in view
Stepping out to airier ground with Bow Fell summit in view

The crux is a steep but well protected crack. Arguably surpassing the grade of VD, this feature has become highly polished in the long history of the route.

Climbing slabs having overcome the slippery crack
Climbing slabs having overcome the slippery crack

Although wires are helpful in earlier pitches, the buttress gradually offers up more and more large cracks that hexes will happily seat in.

Big trad gear for a big trad climb
Big trad gear for a big trad climb

The beauty of this route lies in being able to access some superb big mountain situations whilst always having excellent holds for hands and feet.

Exposed positions but always positive holds
Exposed positions but always positive holds

Topping out on the route brings you to Low Man and within a short amble of the summit of one of the highest peaks in the Lake District, Bow Fell.

Bow Fell casting its shadow over Mickleden
Bow Fell casting its shadow over Mickleden

The Descent

To complete the mountain day, it would seem improper having climbed Bowfell Buttress to return down without visiting its namesake peak. Taking just a few steps beyond the top of Low Man quickly rewards with stunning views to the Scafell massif and over Eskdale.

Sunset over the Scafells
Sunset over the Scafells

Even on a sunny summer day, if you pick the right time you can find yourself sharing the hills with only the true locals.

The locals. Herdwick sheep overlooking Eskdale
The locals. Herdwick sheep overlooking Eskdale

Descending south from the summit of Bow Fell, Three Tarns is a tempting place to bed down for the night in good conditions.

Three Tarns col. Pike of Blisco is to the left. To the right, Crinkle Crags. Beyond, the Coniston fells
Three Tarns col. Pike of Blisco is to the left. To the right, Crinkle Crags. Beyond, the Coniston fells

Returning to Langdale and the Old Dungeon Ghyll allows you to look back once more on your route.

Sunset skyline looking towards Bow Fell
Sunset skyline looking towards Bow Fell

Notes

Bowfell Buttress is a classic route and as such there is a high probability of having to queue. However, starting particularly early or late in the day can mitigate this possibility. Pretty much any Lake District select guidebook will contain this route.

Map and guidebook for Bowfell Buttress
Map and guidebook for Bowfell Buttress

A simple rack of protection is adequate for this route; a set of wires, some hexes and a few slings of different sizes should more than cover your needs.