Five things to do with teens around Coniston, Cumbria

It can be hard work holidaying with teens. Even more so when your destination is a soggy Lake District rather than the Instagram perfect beach of their dreams. Fear not, if you’re in the Lakes, and you’ve managed to lure them out of bed before noon, why not try one of the following:

Walk up a mountain

Looking back towards Old Man of Coniston
Looking back towards Old Man of Coniston

Climbing to the summit of any mountain gives a great sense of achievement, even if there are a few grumbles along the way. From Coniston, the 2634 ft Old Man of Coniston is the obvious target. The tourist trail paths are well marked and there’s plenty of legacy mining activity to add interest.

We booked on to a guided walk with Lake District volunteer leaders. Our route was originally designed to summit both the Old Man and Dow Crag. However the incessant rain put paid to this and our leader suggested an alternative descent instead of Dow Crag. Although slightly disappointing we were all soaked through and it was the right decision. Of course the rain eased off not long afterwards!

Route down from Old Man of Coniston
Route down from Old Man of Coniston

Walking with a guide offered us the opportunity to learn more about the area and its industrial history, which I wouldn’t always appreciate if walking alone. The National Park offers a variety of walks for all abilities which generally cost £10 or less per person (many are free). Highly recommended.

Quarry on descent route from Old Man of Coniston
Quarry on descent route from Old Man of Coniston

Go gorge scrambling

If there’s one thing that gets teens animated it’s the chance of an adventure. Something completely different from their day to day routines. Gorge scrambling definitely offers this.

We booked a half day gorge scrambling and canyoning trip with Adventure 21. This was a somewhat unusual activity for me as, unlike the rest of the family, I do not like water. I can hardly swim and I hate getting my face wet. I was way out of my comfort zone.

Gorge scrambling - photos courtesy of Adventure 21
Gorge scrambling – photos courtesy of Adventure 21

After manoeuvring ourselves into wetsuits, waterproofs and helmets we walked from Coniston Water up through the village to Church Beck. Here we entered the fast flowing water and I was relieved not to be immediately swept downstream. Despite my fears an almost enjoyable two hours ensued. Gorge scrambling is as it sounds; we climbed up through small waterfalls and negotiated the rocky river bed. If you’re used to scrambling on dry land, this is technically easier but the water makes it ‘interesting’.

At the end of the scramble there’s a chance to try canyoning. Better known as scary big jumps into water. The non-swimmer in me opted out. There was no way I was going to put my head under water.

Despite my reservations everyone survived. And, as predicted, the teens declared this the best day of the holiday.

Take a boat trip on Coniston Water

Coniston boat trip
Coniston boat trip

I’d been looking forward to a boat trip in the Lake District (particularly as it’s one of my UK bucket list items). Truth be told, this was one of our less enjoyable days. It didn’t help that I’d read the wrong timetable and arrived just as the steam gondola I’d planned to catch left the jetty. Or that it was raining. Again.

We took an alternative boat which, although perfectly serviceable, wasn’t what I’d envisaged. Our 60 minute cruise took us up to Wildcat Island, of Swallows and Amazons fame, before returning via Brantwood. This was the home of John Ruskin and makes for an interesting stopover. There’s a cafe, museum and, on dry days, gardens to explore.

Brantwood House
Brantwood House

For a little more excitement we could have hired a canoe, kayak or rowing boat from the Coniston Boating Centre. But I’d had enough of water over the previous couple of days. And at least our boat trip was weather proof.

Go on a road trip

I was running out of ideas to occupy another wet day. Sitting in a car for much of the day wouldn’t normally feature on my list of activities. But when your drive includes a route over the Wrynose and Hardknott passes it’s a lot more exciting!

View from Hardknott Roman fort
View from Hardknott Roman fort

We drove a circular route via Coniston to Broughton-in-Furness, up to Duddon Bridge and Ulpha, onto Eskdale then over the passes to Little Langdale.

We stretched our legs in Eskdale with a walk to Stanley Ghyll Force waterfall and again at Hardknott Roman Fort. The fort is in an incredible setting but I didn’t envy its inhabitants. The winters would have been so harsh; no amount of Roman plumbing could convince me to live there.

View across Wrynose Pass
View across Wrynose Pass

From the fort a single track road zigzags up and over Hardknott and then Wrynose Pass. It’s one of the steepest roads in the UK so you’ll be lucky to get out of second gear. My advice? Give way to drivers coming uphill (and locals), concentrate on the road and don’t be scared by the TripAdvisor reviews. If you’re a confident driver in a decent vehicle you’ll be absolutely fine. Believe me, it’s one of the best drives in the UK. Even the teens stayed awake for it!

Explore caves

There are lots of abandoned quarries, mine workings and caves in this area. Many are dangerous and shouldn’t be entered. However Cathedral Quarry, a short walk from Little Langdale, offers you the opportunity to explore a man made quarry and tunnels in a relatively safe environment.

Cathedral cave, near Little Langdale
Cathedral cave, near Little Langdale

Cathedral Quarry is, rather surprisingly, owned by the National Trust. It is not your usual NT property. It’s free to visit and always open but there are no facilities or cafe. You’ll need to bring a torch for the tunnels and waterproof footwear for clambering over rocks and wading through puddles. Great fun for an hour or two. Oh, and watch out for the goldfish!

Important

All of the above suggestions are at your own risk. As in, they might be dangerous. But how boring would life be it was perfectly safe?

We visited in summer (I use this term loosely); a winter visit is a completely different undertaking.

10 things to do in and around Soller, Majorca, Spain

There aren’t many places in this world that I plan to return to (too many other places to see) but Soller is one of them. We loved our spring visit to Majorca!

Soller is an inland town in the mountainous north west of the island. Famed for its oranges and olive groves the town is popular with walkers and cyclists who use it as a base to explore the surrounding Tramuntana mountains.

Aside from walking there’s plenty of things to do and see around Soller, read on to find out more.

1. Visit the orange and lemon groves at Ecovinyassa

Whilst oranges and lemons abound it’s not easy to randomly stroll through the groves. That’s where Ecovinyassa comes in.

Oranges and lemons at Ecovinyassa
Oranges and lemons at Ecovinyassa

Visitors to Ecovinyassa follow a self guided tour around the aromatic orange and lemon trees, learning all about the different varieties. There are other species too; in fact I saw my first ever avocado tree laden with its ripe fruits. We stopped for oranges halfway round and sat down to a freshly squeezed orange juice and Pa Amb Oli (bread with olive oil and tomatoes) at the end. Like many great ideas, it’s a simple concept done well.

Orange break at Ecovinyassa
Orange break at Ecovinyassa

Book your visit to Ecovinyassa in advance via their website; they’re currently open three days per week.

2. Enjoy the view from the Mirador de ses Barques

There are several walks from Soller which take you up to this viewpoint.  We took a rather roundabout route but whichever way you walk it’s worth the uphill slog for the impressive views across the Soller valley and surrounding sea. If you’re not feeling energetic you can also drive to the viewpoint, but keep a watchful eye out for the hordes of road cyclists who use the hill for training.

The walk up to Mirador de ses Barques
The walk up to Mirador de ses Barques

Conveniently located next to the viewpoint is a restaurant. This is where we experienced our first taste of freshly squeezed Majorcan orange juice, sitting on the terrace overlooking the bay. Although we didn’t sit there for long after we discovered how windy it was!

3. Ride the tram to or from Port de Soller

Lots of visitors combine a trip on the tram with the train ride from Palma to Soller. As we were already in town we walked down to Port de Soller along the GR221 (long distance walking track), spent a couple of hours in the resort and then took the tram back to Soller.

Riding the tram from Port de Soller
Riding the tram from Port de Soller

The wooden tram is touristy and expensive (7 euros per person each way) but sod it, you’re on holiday and it’s a fun way to travel. The journey takes about 20 minutes, passing people’s back gardens and small orange groves before popping back out in the centre of Soller.

Soller tram
Soller tram

4. Explore Port de Soller

The resort of Port de Soller is about 3 miles from Soller, and could be used as a base for visiting the area. I personally preferred Soller but if you’re keen to stay in a resort it’s a good alternative. There are loads of places to eat out, accommodation options and boat trips.

Sorting the catch, Port Soller
Sorting the catch, Port Soller

If you happen to be there late afternoon, when the fishing boats arrive home, head to the harbour and watch the fishermen sorting their catch. Follow this up with a mooch around the yachts; it’s always fun trying to spot the most expensive ones.

5. Visit the chapel at Sa Capelleta

The chapel is a short walk (albeit uphill) from Soller and is an ideal evening stroll.

Sa Capelleta, Soller
Sa Capelleta, Soller

The chapel was locked on our visit but you can peak through the doors. It’s hard to describe the inside but imagine a cave with religious icons designed by Gaudi and you’ll be on the right track.

If you visit at sunset keep an eye on the mountains on your return journey; we were lucky to see them turn the most spectacular pink as the sun went down.

Soller sunset
Soller sunset

6. Take a hike

There are many walks around Soller for all abilities. Our favourite was a linear route from Deia to Soller along the GR221. We also enjoyed a more strenuous walk from Cuber Reservoir to the summit of L’Ofre. Spring and autumn are the best seasons for walking, it’s too hot in the summer!

The main routes are well signposted. We purchased a Soller walking guide from the Tramuntana shop in Soller; this covers walks to and from all of the local villages, directions to Sa Capelleta  and several more challenging hikes.

View from the GR221, near Soller
View from the GR221, near Soller

7. Stroll around Fornalutx

A couple of miles from Soller, this has been voted one of Spain’s prettiest villages. We passed through on one of our walks and whilst it’s undeniably beautiful it was just a little too manicured for me.

Olive tree, Soller
Olive tree, Soller

Another local village that vies for prettiest contender is Llucalcari, just off the road to Deia. Why not check them both out and see which one you prefer?

8. View Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro at the station

One for the art lovers. If modern art is your thing head to the railway station where you’ll find a room of Picasso ceramics and another of Miro’s works. The two artists were friends during their lifetimes, hence the joint exhibition. It’s a great way to bring art to the masses; if you’re waiting for a train and there’s a free exhibition why wouldn’t you visit?

Soller is also home to a Modernist museum, Can Prunera which offers a small permanent collection and visiting exhibitions.

9. Visit the Jardines de Alfabia

We hadn’t originally planned to visit these but some hire car trouble resulted in a change of destination. Located close to the Soller tunnel entrance you can easily while away an hour or two in the house and gardens.

Jardines de Alfabia
Jardines de Alfabia

We visited whilst the wisteria was blooming although we couldn’t see all of it as part of the garden was closed due to storm damage. This in itself was sadly impressive with large stone colonnades smashed onto the walkways; it must have been some storm!

The highlights of the garden are the towering palm trees and the many water features. You might also enjoy playing spot the frog. It’s easy to hear them croaking but they’re masters of disguise in the ponds!

Jardines de Alfabia
Jardines de Alfabia

10. People watch in the Plaza Constitucion

Soller’s town square is the focal point for most visitors. Dominated by the church of Sant Bartomeu, it houses a wide range of pavement cafes, ice cream parlours and restaurants. It’s THE place to sit and people watch!

Plaza de la Constitución, Soller
Plaza de la Constitución, Soller

On Saturday morning the square, and some of the surrounding roads, are taken over by the town market. This is a mix of your standard market stalls (clothes, household goods, fruit and veg) along with some craft and local produce stalls. Worth visiting if you’re in town.

More info:

  • We visited in April. The weather was perfect for walking (our main activity) and the sun shone almost all week. That said, the spring weather can also be very wet so pack accordingly.
  • We hired a car as part of our flight deal. Parking costs 6 euros per day in the main town car park, assuming you’re lucky enough to find a space. As of December 2017 there is no longer a charge to drive through the Soller tunnel. There’s a good cheap local bus service (except Sundays); useful for linear walks.

Walks on the GR221 around Soller, Majorca, Spain

Fresh orange juice, gnarled olive trees and a cloudless sky. Can I tempt you to walk the GR221?

The GR221, also known as the Dry Stone route, is an 87 mile trail that runs across the Serra de Tramuntana from Port d’Andratx to Pollença in Majorca. Although the GR221 is a relatively new route it often follows old cobbled paths between the olive terraces, hence its name.

Olive groves, GR221
Olive groves, GR221

Rather than walk the path in its entirety we based ourselves in Soller and spent three days combining parts of the trail with other local walks. We used a combination of the Sunflower Mallorca guide and a locally bought Soller 1:15000 hiking map and guide to plan our walks.

1. Deia to Soller (Sunflower guide – walk 13, 6.2 miles)

Our first walk on the GR221 was a great introduction to the trail.  It offered a variety of scenery; sea views, shaded woodland and olive groves. And cake.

From Soller we took the bus to Deia, a 25 minute ride up and over the windy hillside for the grand sum of 1.55 euros each. Some walkers choose to walk from Soller to Deia but there’s a risk the bus will be full on the return journey.

Cala de Deia
Cala de Deia

Leaving Deia we walked downhill towards the coast, diverting onto the GR221 before we reached the beach. If you’re following this walk I do recommend a detour down to the cove, Cala de Deia. We originally missed this out so returned a few days later to visit. There’s a couple of restaurants on the beach, one of which starred in The Night Manager back in 2016.

Leaving Deia on the GR221
Leaving Deia on the GR221

Back on the GR221 the path is straightforward and relatively easy going but you do need to keep your eyes on the ground as there are stones aplenty to trip you up.

Much of the early walk is in the shade, passing under holm oaks and beside huge boulders. We quickly became acquainted with the Spanish love of wire fencing and keep out signs.

Olive trees on the GR221
Olive trees on the GR221

About an hour after leaving Deia we reached my highlight of the walk, Son Mico Finca. Yes, a cake stop! We sat on the outside terrace and between us sampled chocolate and pear tart, lemon meringue pie and orange tart. All were amazing, but the coffee less so (stick to the orange juice). Be aware the toilet doesn’t have a sink so bring hand sanitiser.

Coffee and cake at Son Mico
Coffee and cake at Son Mico

After leaving Son Mico we walked down the cobbled path, eventually passing a 13th century chapel. According to the guidebook this is in ruins but it looked newly restored to me. Either that or we found the wrong chapel.

View from the GR221, near Soller
View from the GR221, near Soller

This walk is justifiably popular. This brings with it the very British problem of how to address walkers coming in the other direction. We stuck to Hola but after you realise most of the hikers are German it’s tempting to use Hallo. Actually, we always knew when Spanish hikers were approaching, they were the ones dressed in down jackets, hats and thick trousers!

Following the Cami des Rost to Soller
Following the Cami des Rost to Soller

Leaving the GR221 we took the path towards Soller, finally emerging on the town’s ring road. Despite the earlier cake there was still space for an ice cream so we headed into town to sample the locally made orange and lemon delicacies.

2. Es Barranc circuit (Sunflower guide – walk 17, 4 miles)

This was the shortest walk we followed in our Sunflower guide but it was quite tough going due to the combination of afternoon heat and a strenuous ascent. That said, the spectacular views made up for the extra effort.

From Soller we walked to the village of Biniaraix where we stopped for a drink in the village square. Leaving the shade behind we followed the GR221 Cami d’es Barranc for a few minutes, stopping frequently to admire the views back over the village.

Biniaraix, Majorca
Biniaraix, Majorca

The guidebook described a turn on to the Cami Vell a Cuber opposite a carob tree. This helpfully answered one of my son’s questions, namely what are the things on the floor that look like black banana skins? Answer, carob pods. Native to the Mediterranean the pods can be used as a substitute for chocolate; the pulp from the pods is ground to make locust bean gum.

Our path took us high above the ravine, zigzagging up through the olive trees and stone terraces. Another mystery required an answer. Why does every olive tree have a bottle hanging from it? Fortunately you can still get 4G in the mountains. Answer, they’re a deterrent for the olive fruit fly.

View from Cami Vell de Cuber
View from Cami Vell de Cuber

Our walking map offered a short diversion to Cova de ses Alfabies. Leaving the cobbled stone path we followed blue dots painted on stone to a large overhanging cliff where water drips from the ceiling into clay pots. These have somehow petrified into the rock; I’ve no idea how old they are but in my imagination they are of Roman origin!

Clay pot, Cova de ses Alfabies
Clay pot, Cova de ses Alfabies

Back on the olive terrace a new game was invented en route; guess the famous person. Potentially a minefield when your teens think famous people are social media and YouTube stars. Oh the generation gap.

After trekking uphill in the afternoon sun we finally crossed a pass and began to descend into some welcome shade, soon reaching a small waterfall. Time for a paddle and photo stop.

Waterfall, near GR221, Cami d’es Barranc
Waterfall, near GR221, Cami d’es Barranc

Heading downhill we rejoined the GR221 Cami d’es Barranc for the descent to Biniaraix. The path runs down the ravine beside a stream which was dry during our visit but must be spectacular after heavy rain.

Walking the Cami d’es Barranc
Walking the Cami d’es Barranc

Back in Biniaraix we stopped for another much needed drink. We’d drank all of our water by this time; this is definitely a consideration if you’re walking in the warmer months.

The road back into Soller took us past orange and lemon trees, flowering wisteria and the occasional cactus. Idyllic, although the lack of footpaths means you need to keep your wits about you!

3. Walk around Cuber reservoir to L’Ofre (Sunflower guide – walk 20, 7.4 miles)

This circular walk started from the car park at Cuber reservoir. We drove but it’s also possible to take the once daily bus (April to October) or a taxi. This is the easiest option if you want to walk the classic route down to Biniaraix.

Walking beside Cuber reservoir
Walking beside Cuber reservoir

From the car park there’s a great view of Puig Major, the highest mountain on Majorca. It’s off limit to walkers as it’s a military base, with a large bulbous radar tower on top. I can easily imagine it as a villain’s lair in a James Bond film!

Cuber reservoir, Majorca
Cuber reservoir, Majorca

On this walk the GR221, took us along the northern edge of the Cuber reservoir. The reservoir provides water to Palma so there are strict rules; no swimming, fishing or boating. The waters were crystal clear, albeit with fully grown trees emerging from it. I can only assume the water levels were higher than usual due to the winter rains.

As we walked a couple of red kites flew above us. Impressive, but as we live in Oxfordshire we’re used to seeing these birds. Instead we were on the lookout for a much larger bird, the black vulture.

Walking from Cuber reservoir to Coll de L’Ofre
Walking from Cuber reservoir to Coll de L’Ofre

Leaving the far end of the reservoir we walked up to the Coll de L’Ofre. From here’s the GR221 descends to the Barranco de Biniaraix. However we were off to climb L’Ofre, a 3579ft peak.

If you ask a child (or indeed me) to draw a mountain they’ll probably come up with something that resembles L’Ofre. Seen from Soller it’s easily identified as it’s an almost perfect cone shape.

View from Coll de L’Ofre
View from Coll de L’Ofre

After traversing around L’Ofre we started our ascent. There is a path, of sorts, up through the rosemary bushes marked by small cairns and blue dots. There are a couple of hands on rock sections. And, for me, bum on rock going down.

By now we’d seen a couple of black vultures soaring high above nearby mountains. Halfway up L’Ofre they chose to glide directly over us, what an amazing experience. These vultures are the largest raptors in Europe and were bought back from the brink of extinction in the 1980s.

View from summit of L’Ofre, Majorca
View from summit of L’Ofre, Majorca

It’s difficult to decide whether the views from the summit or the vultures were the highlight of this walk. Up top Cuber reservoir sparkled in the distance and all of the surrounding peaks were cloud free.

Descent from Coll de L’Ofre
Descent from Coll de L’Ofre

We ate our picnic after descending to the main path. My son was mesmerised throughout by a large scarab beetle rolling sheep dung. Even more so when he managed to video it falling off the edge of a rock still holding on to the dung. Hilarious if you’re a 13 year old boy.

We returned to our car via the opposite side of the reservoir, accompanied by the sound of sheep bells. Photographs are great but it’s the tinkle of sheep bells and the smell of citrus groves that will forever remind me of our Majorcan holiday.

More info:

  • We found Soller an excellent base; plenty of tourist facilities but a working town too. If you’re staying in the Soller area pop over to my post on things to do in and around Soller. We stayed in a centrally located Airbnb flat overlooking a small orange grove. The citrus aroma from our balcony  was divine!
  • Spring and autumn are the best times for a walking holiday. Temperatures in April ranged from 16-22C although nights were chilly.

What’s the best way to reach the Isle of Skye?

I first visited Skye in 1993 when the Skye Bridge was a mere glimmer on the horizon. Back then we took the ferry for the short journey from Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin. When the Skye Bridge opened in 1995 it used the same crossing and signalled the end of this ferry service.

Since then the Skye Bridge has proved a huge success in increasing tourist numbers and allowing quick and easy access to the island. Yet as a holidaymaker I’m drawn to the idea of a ferry ride; it makes me feel like I’m on a proper journey. Fortunately there’s another option, the tiny community owned Glenelg ferry. So which is better – the bridge or the ferry?

Glenelg-Skye ferry

The Glenelg ferry is the last manually operated turntable ferry in the world. It crosses the straits from Glenelg to Kylerhea on Skye every 20 minutes between 10am-6pm.

If it’s scenery you’re after then the ferry wins hands down! From the A87 turn off at Shiel Bridge it’s about nine miles to Glenelg, a drive of around twenty minutes.

View over Loch Duich and the Five Sisters of Kintail from Bealach Ratagan
View over Loch Duich and the Five Sisters of Kintail from Bealach Ratagan

The first section is a steady climb, around hairpin roads and through woodland, until you reach the Mam Ratagan viewpoint. The vista over Loch Duich and the Five Sisters of Kintail is stunning, and worth the detour even if you don’t plan to get the ferry.

The panorama was ever changing, with rain, clouds and sun throwing up different shadows on the mountains. Annoyingly, the dreaded midges were also out and about, limiting the time we spent outside the car gazing at the hills.

Rain clouds on the road to Glenelg
Rain clouds on the road to Glenelg

The road itself is quiet and easier to drive than I expected. Although I was unnerved at one point by a logging lorry coming up fast behind me. Fortunately it’s easy enough to pull over and let locals pass. That said, even if I was a local I think I’d want to stop and saviour the scenery.

The road to Glenelg
The road to Glenelg

Heading on through gloriously green pasture land we experienced what we came to call ‘Skye weather’ (despite still being on the mainland). This consisted of sun on our faces and torrential rain just behind. You’d never realise from the photograph above just how ominous the weather was right behind us!

We arrived in Glenelg just as the MV Glenachulish departed. It didn’t matter though as this gave us a few minutes to browse the small gift shop and watch the turntable ferry. The car deck is rotated around during the crossing so that drivers are able to drive on and off easily. Not something I was really aware of when we were on the ferry so good to see it in operation.

 

Queuing for the Glenelg ferry
Queuing for the Glenelg ferry

A few minutes later the ferry returned and we were directed on. The ferry takes a maximum of six cars and twelve people. Even though Skye was extremely busy when we visited there were only a couple of other cars waiting to travel.

Glenelg ferry arriving in Skye
Glenelg ferry arriving in Skye

The journey across the Straits took less than ten minutes. There’s not much space to move around on the ferry so we sat in the car, keeping an eye out for the sea eagles that inhabit the area. No luck though.

Once on Skye we drove up to meet the main road towards Portree. I found this road trickier than the mainland side. It’s single track with a couple of stomach lurching blind summits. Added to this, the rain had finally caught us which meant reduced visibility despite my window wipers being on double speed.

The downsides to the ferry? Firstly, it only runs between Easter and October so if you’re visiting outside these dates use the bridge instead. It doesn’t run in inclement weather either; check the sign at Shiel Bridge to see if it’s open before you make a wasted journey. There’s also a £15 cost (car and four passengers) which means the Skye Bridge is the way to go if you’re on a budget.

Skye Bridge

There’s not much to say about the Skye Bridge. There’s none of the anticipation or adventure that you get with the ferry crossing. Despite the obvious presence of water you hardly realise you’re crossing to an island, just carry on driving along the A87. But it’s almost always open, it’s free and fast. It does its job.

Skye bridge
Skye bridge

Which did we prefer? The Glenelg ferry won hands down for us. But try it yourself, take the ferry one way and the bridge the other.

The third way – Mallaig to Armadale ferry

There is one further option from the mainland, the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Mallaig to Armadale. The boat is weather dependent but runs year round and is a great option if you plan to visit southern Skye. A single journey for a car and two passengers costs approximately the same as the Glenelg ferry.

More info:

  • Check the Skye Ferry website for service dates, times and fares.

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Suitcases and Sandcastles