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June 2015


Following the packhorse trail
This month we celebrate the upland trails that once echoed to the clattering hooves of packhorse trains. These were the commercial roads of their day, winding through the landscape wherever the terrain was too rugged for wheeled transport. Pack horses brought in everything needed in upland communities, while taking out commodities such as lead and salt to be sold in Britain's burgeoning towns and cities.

Our own tiny Cumbrian hamlet, now consisting of just four dwellings, was once a thriving pack horse stopping point. High Ewebank, set at over 1250 feet on a blustery escarpment of the North Pennines, boasted some twenty households and three inns. The settlement sat at the crossing of several trails, including a trans-Pennine route from Barnard Castle to Reeth in the Yorkshire Dales. Staying at one of the inns would have given travellers a good starting point for the crossing of the bleak moors to Tan Hill and onwards to the Dales. By the late 18th century, however, High Ewebank had been bypassed, quite literally, after a new turnpike road was constructed on higher ground. The hamlet dwindled away, with the inns no doubt swiftly relocating to nearby Barras (whose name is supposedly derived from ‘bar house', the building where the road tolls were collected).

While inn names sometimes give a clue, the archetypal feature of a packhorse trail is the packhorse bridge. These were simple structures with low parapets, designed not to catch the animal's panniers as they crossed. We visit a couple of packhorse bridges and a famous series of steps – Jacob's Ladder – on our featured walk in Edale in Derbyshire. You can read our chapter on packhorse routes and find out more about these old commercial ways in the latest chapter from our Pathways book to be published online.

Adventures in the Cévennes National Park
Largely unspoiled and unknown, the Cévennes National Park in southern France is a land of rugged hills coated in heather, gorse and open grassland, dissected by deep valleys cloaked in majestic chestnut woods. This is a land where little has changed since Robert Louis Stevenson passed through on his ‘Travels with a Donkey' in 1878, and today you follow in his footsteps along the same cobbled trails, some of which are transhumance routes taken annually by shepherds and their flocks.

On Inntravel's hotel-to-hotel walking holiday, you follow a varied, and occasionally challenging, route across the wild foothills Beneath Mont Lozère, winding your way from one small hamlet of solid stone houses to another, passing surreal rock formations, ancient packhorse bridges and fortified farmsteads along the way.

At the end of each rewarding day's walk, you arrive at small hamlets or remote farmsteads, where the hosts of traditional auberges and guesthouses (chambres d'hôtes) offer a warm and genuine welcome, serving hearty dishes, often around a convivial kitchen table with other guests.

For more details on Inntravel's walking holidays in France, see inntravel.co.uk or speak to their expert team on 01653 617034.

Walking in the Gredos mountains
The Gredos mountains is an iconic location for Spanish walkers, but remains virtually unknown within the UK. The Spanish Experience is a small company run by Puri Almansa, a local biologist, who offers walks discovering the variety of landscapes and wildlife to be found in this region of Central Spain. The routes are all up to 10km with no more than 400 metres of climbing and each is unique. On the hills you'll find rocky outcrops, mountain lakes, oak forests and fast flowing rivers, while lower down the benign climate provides the ideal environment for olives, cherries, chestnuts and cork tree forests. Amongst it all are a number of ancient medieval villages to explore.

The trip is based in the historic village of Barco the Avila, the gateway to the north side of the Gredos. The price is 620 €/week (720€ for a single) with accommodation and half board in the 4* Hotel Real de Barco. Pick up from Madrid airport is included, as well as transport to the sites, morning briefings, guiding along the routes and nature talks. If you prefer hotel-to-hotel walking in a Mediterranean microclimate in the middle of Castilla, try the G-10 trail across the Sierra de Francia. It is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt regions in Spain with a very distinct charisma.

Festivals of Archaeology
The Festival of Archaeology - coordinated by the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) - encourages everyone to explore the archaeology of their local area. The 25th Festival of Archaeology takes place between the 11th - 26th July 2015 and registration for events is now open. There's a lot on offer all round the country, so it's worth a look. Dig visits and open days offer the chance to try your hand at techniques such as digging and identifying finds. There are also walks with experts and special tours of various interesting places, including Cold War nuclear bunkers.

Meanwhile in Scotland ‘Dig It! 2015' is a year-long celebration of Scottish archaeology, co-ordinated by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and Archaeology Scotland. The emphasis is very much on fun as well as serious archaeology. Activities include people exploring the story of their own local area, digs, festivals, performances and storytelling.

Nepal open for trekkers this autumn
It’s good to see that trekking companies are resuming holidays to Nepal’s Himalaya, focusing on regions that were little affected by the recent earthquake. Right now it is monsoon season but from this autumn Nepal will be welcoming trekkers again. KE Adventure is one company that has announced that many of its holidays, including the Annapurna Circuit, are going ahead. The lodge owners, guides and porters working on these trekking routes cannot afford to lose a season’s worth of custom. To go back to the packhorse theme, it is one of the remaining places in the world where you can see them performing a vital role in carrying supplies in and out of villages off the road network.

If you are thinking of going out to Nepal independently our article on organising your own trek will give you some useful pointers. Himalayan Magic Adventures, the small local agency we used for organising transport, passes and some of our accommodation is open for business. Just bear in mind that the internet is unreliable in Kathmandu, so don’t expect immediate responses to emails.

Charity events
The A2B Walk in aid of the Dame Vera Lynn Trust for children with Cerebral Palsy is on Saturday 19th September.  Starting from spectacular Arundel Castle, the walk follows much of the South Downs Way, taking in stunning scenery and amazing views en route to the finish point at Devils Dyke. Distance is 35km or 12km. The entry fee of £30 covers the cost of organising and running the event on the day and celebratory meal at the end, with sponsorship raised all going to the Dame Vera Lynn Trust.

The Red Rox 24hr Challenge invites you to raise money for a charity of your choice while trekking over Ben Nevis, Braeriach and finally Ben Macdui. Last year's best time was just over 21 hours. Register on the 21st August, start 5am on the 22nd and finish 23rd August 2015.