All Posts Tagged ‘hiking


A Week On Madeira, Followed By Another


Back in the days of lockdown foreign travel was not an option. Walking around the local park was about as much travel as you could do in the UK. However between two periods of lockdown – October 2020 – one of the few countries I could travel to was Madeira, a Portuguese island located off the coast of Africa. Truth be told I was familiar with Madeira cake, but wasn’t even aware it was an island at all. However the chance to escape the UK was too tempting so we got our covid tests and off we went for a week.

It didn’t start smoothly as the plane took off, turned back and landed back in Heathrow due to a technical glitch on the plane. A night in a hotel and we were off the next day. However it turns out Madeira is paradise for an outdoorsy guy like myself. There are white sandy beaches, black volcanic sandy beaches, beautiful mountains, hiking trails for all levels, great food, incredibly friendly people and perfect weather for a Scotsman (i.e. not too hot, not too cold). Plus since everyone was tested on entry, it felt like a safe haven away from coronavirus and back to the world before. It was delightful.

We had such a great time that in September 2022 we went back for another week and loved it just as much as before, if not more so!

One of the great things for hikers is a large set of marked hiking trails that range from nice, easy walks through forests to full days of hard grind through the mountains on the side of cliffs, through tunnels and over knife edge ridges. You gain access to areas that would normally be accessible only to hardy mountaineers. And all without destroying the beauty of the area – this is clearly an island loved by the people who live on it.

When I visited New Zealand many years ago I always thought that if you got to design a place from scratch and right all the wrongs of every other country, New Zealand was it. I feel the same way about Madeira, it’s just a wonderful place and there’s nothing I’d change about it.

Interestingly Madeira’s most famous son is Cristiano Ronaldo. Whether you’re a football fan or not I’d highly recommend visiting his museum in Funchal. There you can see just what an incredible set of achievements he’s had. The trophies, the Ballon d’Ors, the hat trick balls, the photos, memorabilia and letters from fans. It’s very tastefully done and rightly shows off he’s one of the most talented footballers ever to lace up a pair of boots and is a legend. My girlfriend is not remotely interested in football but was left highly impressed by what one man managed to achieve in his career.

Anyway, that’s just a taste of what a wonderful place Madeira is. We’ll definitely be back! There are still plenty of hiking routes to do, food to sample and beaches to walk on. Although while I enjoyed surfing, I think I’ll stick to land based activities.


A Hike Up Bidean nam Bian, Glencoe

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I spent a lot of my late teens and early 20s hiking up the mountains of Scotland with friends and it’s something that’s stayed with me all these years since. I don’t get to go as often as I used to – I live in Yorkshire and the hills here don’t really compare, although the Lake District does have some proper mountains a couple of hours drive away – but I get out in the mountains when I can.

A couple of friends (including Scott, someone I’ve known all my life and is one of my original hiking companions) and I decided to camp in Glencoe (arguably one of the most scenic parts of Scotland) and tackle one of the mountains. I’ve been up all of the mountains around Glencoe (and in the case of the notorious Aonach Eagach ridge, I’ve climbed and traversed it many times) with the exception of Bidean nam Bian. So that was the plan. The guide book (I still have the same Munroes guide book from my youth) suggested a few routes and we chose one that should take just under 3 hours to get to the summit, then a little longer on the way back to make a circular route.

In my early 20s the time the guide book suggested was a target to beat. Turns out in my late 40s, in spite of staying in great shape, I was never getting anywhere near that time! My friend Scott has managed to stay about as fit as he was in his 20s so could have made the book’s time, although by his admission he’d have had to push it, but I wouldn’t have without requiring medical intervention at the top. So it was a case of going at our own paces and enjoying the scenery, which was no hardship!

We started out in unusually great weather conditions (I’ve not been climbing or hiking in Glencoe on many clear days over the years) and were treated to pretty much the perfect day in the mountains.

The walk up from the valley into the mountains is always a delight – you start off with flat ground and a loch before things get steeper and rockier. Our route took us up the side of a river with a path in some sections but others on some surprisingly steep rocky traverses (I’m assuming it’s not a popular route as we didn’t see a single person until we reached the summit).

But a real treat waited for us once we hit the ridge – a spectacular 360 degree view from the coast to Schiehallion (which as a really interesting history) far in the east to Ben Nevis and beyond north. Without a doubt the clearest view I’ve had on Glencoe having been many times over nearly 30 years.

Then it was more up as we followed the ridge with amazing views in every direction (except for the Scotsman in the foreground).

And onto the summit of Bidean with an obligatory team selfie (with Cappuccino for all, I’d brought a Jetboil with me – not pictured).

The way back down was via another top and down the far side. Again not a popular route as there was no path for the upper third and some careful route finding was required – not that uncommon in the mountains of Scotland – you don’t often get signs and well marked paths which adds to the charm for me.

A long grind later (fortunately Scott being super fit had decided to run ahead and go collect the car to save a walk along the road at the end – he’s a top lad) and we were back down looking up at where we’d been. The summit is between the two tops you can see and behind what looks like a summit in the middle.

A real highlight of the day was when Scott and I went back to meet my other friend who was a bit behind so we’d finish together. We heard the familiar sound of a helicopter in the distance, but as it got closer it turned out to be a military chinook only a few hundred feet off the ground (you often see fighter jets flying low in the valleys, frequently below you when you’re up a mountain, but I’d never seen one of these out and about before). As it flew past us I could see a couple of soldiers hanging out the back, one of whom waved back as I waved to them – they must have had quite a view! There but for a bit of bad luck go I! 🙂

I’d done a few preparation hikes before to get my legs ready for it so felt pretty good the next day, but it’s certainly hard work at any age yet incredibly rewarding. And I think it’s about time I replaced my old guide book after 30 years – the directions are far too vague and the estimates completely unrealistic. At least that’s my excuse! 😀