Palaces and Lakes of Rajasthan with Saddle Skedaddle

One of the many great things about my line of work is the travel opportunities it brings. Back in October, only a few days after arriving back from Corsica, I found myself on the long flight to India.

The trip starts in Jaipur, where there is the chance to see the Amer Fort before the tour begins.

Each town that you call in at has a different character. We were there around Diwali and at night the streets light up as the markets bustled.

The majority of the riding was fairly flat, although in the distance the Aravalli hills are often seen.

We stopped over in Jaipur for two nights, one of which was Diwali, a non stop firework display across the Blue City.

A moments peace could be found with a trip out to the desert, swapping our bikes for camels.

Eventually the Aravalli hills were traversed, significantly more climbing than earlier in the trip but also the most beautiful scenery.

The trip finishes in Udaipur, a city on a lake with the backdrop of the Aravalli.

France summer 2017 with Saddle Skedaddle

Earlier this summer I spent several weeks in France guiding two trips for Saddle Skedaddle. The first of these was the iconic St Malo to Nice, taken over three weeks.

This is a great way to do the trip if you have the time available as it gives you longer to enjoy the journey and the places you visit.

At the start of July I headed to the French alps to guide a group over some of the Tour de France regulars in Skedaddle’s Classic Alps Passes trip.

This was great as it linked some new areas for me with more familiar ground.

It’s always good to get back to the big mountains! I’m looking forward to another St Malo to Nice trip in September when the cool autumn mornings start to arrive.

Poppies

Del Norte al Sur: San Sebastián to Tarifa with Saddle Skedaddle

The first trip of the season with Saddle Skedaddle and it was a big one! Having previously done St Malo to Nice and Land’s End to John o’ Groats, it was great to take on another iconic end to end journey.

From the first day, the climbing begins.

Climbing over the Cordillera Cantábrica
Climbing over the Cordillera Cantábrica

There’s some huge open landscape views along the way.

Wide open spaces
Wide open spaces

There was so little traffic on the route, you sometimes wonder where everyone is!

Rolling towards Valverde de los Arroyos
Rolling towards Valverde de los Arroyos
Cyclist friendly roads
Cyclist friendly roads

Over a couple of weeks we had a few drops of rain but the clouds often made a dramatic backdrop to the scenery.

Dramatic skies
Dramatic skies

On the highest point of the route, we even rode in to the clouds.

Climb to the Collado de Serranillos
Climb to the Collado de Serranillos

Roads clung to the side of the hills overlooking the ever changing landscape.

More incredible scenery
More incredible scenery

One of the great things about the trip is the diverse range of incredible accommodation it visits.

Monastery converted to hotel at Guadalupe
Monastery converted to hotel at Guadalupe

As the trip gets further towards the south, the hills don’t let up. There’s a steep climb to the picturesque town of Zuheros.

Rolling out of Zuheros
Rolling out of Zuheros

Towards El Chorro the mountains get really impressive, the roads taking a sinuous route through them.

The road to El Chorro
The road to El Chorro
Sunshine and traffic free
Sunshine and traffic free

During May there are thousands of poppies lining the route, with occasional fields cloaked in bright red.

Poppies
Poppies

Ronda was the penultimate town we visited. Sat atop vertical cliffs and strung together with incredible bridges, this is somewhere I would like to return to.

Ronda view
Ronda view

With one last climb to go, the route is beautiful to the end. Watch out for the strong Levante wind descending to Tarifa. There’s a reason windsurfing is so popular here!

On the road to Tarifa
On the road to Tarifa

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