Archive for October, 2011

I was not aware of the ferocity of the recent floods in the Cinque Terre until I saw some of the clips on YouTube. It is easy to see how these small villages were ravaged by the tide of mud and debris which flowed down from the steep slopes behind them. However, the local people are resilient and have already begun the clean-up operation with the few resources they have available at the present time.

An estimated 35,000 cubic meters of debris now needs to be removed from the main street in Vernazza – these photographs show the scale of the damage. The Navy have delivered a large bulldozer to help with the removal of debris from Piazza Marconi, but the streets are too narrow in the rest of the town. There is still no water, electricity or gas in the village and the mayor said yesterday that “Vernazza’s drama is understimated by local press” and has asked for help.

The positive attitude and community effort of the locals is apparent in the statement on the Cinque Terre blog: “At this moment and for several months to come Vernazza is on its knees. Most of the people have lost EVERYTHING, the entire economy is vanished and that’s the reason why we need toursts to keep coming, to help us to recover. We’ll remake Vernazza and Monterosso more beautiful than before but we need everyone’s help.”

The village of Corniglia, my favourite of the five villages and one in which I have stayed several times, seems to have escaped damage from the floods, although there is no access by road.

Please continue to remember the people of these villages in your thoughts and prayers.


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The dramatic coastline and sheer beauty of the Cinque Terre is something which has encouraged me to return several times. Walking the coastal path which links the five villages (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso) it is easy to see how the landscape has been adapted over generations to allow local farmers to cultivate grapes and olives; terraces supported by dry-stone walls have been created on the steep cliffs leading down to the sea.

It is the view from above which gives a wonderful impression of the hard work undertaken over hundreds of years to create this famous landscape. Sadly, however, it also demonstrates how treacherous the landscape can be – and how torrential rain can cause so much devastation, covering the villages with torrents of mud and debris.


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I was devastated to read in the news earlier about the flooding in parts of Northern Italy, in particular the small village of Montorosso al Mare in Liguria.

According to weather reports, up to 20 inches of rain fell in just a few hours overnight and washed away bridges in the small village.

Distraught mayor Angelo Betta said: ”Monterosso does not exist any more.

“We have lost electricty, gas, telephone lines and we have people missing. Everything is flooded. We need help quickly. It is just a sea of mud everywhere.”

Monterosso is one of five small villages which makes up the Cinque Terre (‘Five Lands’) – a rugged stretch of coastline which forms part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Throughout the Cinque Terre, steep forested slopes have been transformed over centuries into terraces (fasce) suitable for growing grapes and a network of paths, often clinging precariously to the edge of the cliff, emerged connecting these cultivated slopes to the neighbouring villages. It was on these very paths about ten years ago I discovered my passion for trekking.

Until the arrival of the railway in 1874, the five villages of the Cinque Terre were mere fishing hamlets, accessible only by sea. Since then, very little corporate development has taken place and the villages still retain their unique, historical charm. Although interest for cultivation has dwindled somewhat in recent years and some of the land now covered in maquis, it is still evident when exploring some of the more remote areas; man continues to toil under the Mediterranean sun to repair dry-stone walls using techniques passed down from generation to generation and to harvest the grapes of his labour producing fine wines (the Cinque Terre is a small DOC white wine region producing the eponymous Cinque Terre and the Sciachetrà wines).

The dramatic position of the villages on the coastline, the comparative remoteness (no vehicles are allowed in the villages), the history and, of course, the excellent walking to be done in and around the national park itself have meant that over the years more and more tourists have discovered the area – a problem which has been exacerbated by travel writer Rick Steves.

However, most of the area is officially protected as the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre and money generated from the sale of the Cinque Terre card (necessary for trekking the main pathways) has been used to try and preserve its uniqueness and sheer beauty.

The largest and most developed of the five villages is Monterosso. Its broad beaches are crammed with sun-worshippers in August and the narrow streets of the old village lined with souvenir shops, bars and restaurants.  It was this village which suffered worst in the recent floods; cars were washed into the sea and roads turned into rivers of mud.

Monterosso - unrecognisable after the recent floods

Village life has been dramatically changed overnight. In an area which was once filled with fishermen relaxing with a game of cards, men now walk around the debris and mud washed down from the steep hills above the village.

Life in Monterosso has been dramatically changed by the floods

The neighbouring village of Vernazza was also hit by the deluge of water and mud. When I first visited the picturesque village I was amazed by its beauty and charm; numerous arches, loggias, old porticos and noble buildings testify the wealth and political importance of this village from the 12th Century on.

Vernazza - before and after the recent floods

My thoughts are with the people of these villages who rely on the income generated by tourism. I hope that the community will work together to clean the streets and start rebuilding their lives. Maybe one day I will be able to return and retrace my steps on these well-trodden paths. Tourism is more important now than ever and the economy needs tourists to help the damaged villages of Monterosso and Vernazza.

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I have already given a number of talks on my experience in the Himalayas and the work of Dogs for the Disabled to several groups, including the Mothers Union, Women’s Institute, Brownies and the Beaufort Tuesday Club.

If you would like me to talk to your group in South Wales, please contact me through FacebookTwitter, LinkedIn or by sending an e-mail to rjmorgan31@aol.com

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Picture the scene. You’ve spent the whole day walking across the Brecon Beacons; you’re hot and tired and your feet are sore. Or perhaps you’ve been exploring the wonderful waterfalls around Ystradfellte; you’re cold and soaked through to the bone. The first thing you want to do when you get home is to relax in a nice hot bath with a mug of hot chocolate, glass of wine or, in my case, a cold Everest beer!

If only you had an invigorating, revitalising and refreshing bar of handmade soap – made right in the Brecon Beacons itself…

This is my challenge for the SugarLoaf Soap Company!

Sam Jones, who runs her company from a small barn at the foot of the Sugar Loaf mountain, has been producing natural, handmade soaps from high quality, ethically sourced raw materials for almost two years. The mild soaps are kind on the skin, the packaging is kind on the environment and, where possible, Sam strives to use local craftspeople to produce items that complement the range.

Sam has already created a soap designed especially for gardeners – a soap which is packed with useful additives such as natural pumice to loosen the dirt and rich sweet almond oil to soothe and soften the skin.

For cooks, Sam has developed a soap which combines the practical benefits of effectively removing kitchen odours such as onions and garlic whilst wafting scents of tea tree and wild rosemary around your kitchen.

With her creativity, expert knowledge and loving touch, I am sure Sam is up to the challenge of creating a truly sumptuous soap for the ardent trekker!

(Sugar Loaf Soaps are available to purchase from the Tithe Barn in Abergavenny)

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This evening I gave the first of several talks on my trek in Nepal and the work of the wonderful charity, Dogs for the Disabled.

I was invited to Beaufort to talk to the ladies of the Tuesday Club at their monthly meeting in the Bethel School Room. Arriving 15 minutes early I received several odd looks from passers-by; it’s not everyday a man in Nepalese costume is seen loitering on street corners in the Welsh valleys!

A small group of ladies gathered in the school room to listen to tales of my trekking experience, watch short video clips capturing the frenetic sights and sounds of Nepalese roads and see photographs of the spectacular Himalayan mountain range. I made the ladies laugh when I told the back row that they had to shout ‘quack’ every time they saw Amber the duck in a photograph!

At the end of the presentation I showed a ten minute video highlighting the work of the charity. Looking around the room it was obvious that the ladies were moved by the stories of how assistance dogs have transformed the lives of so many disabled people, offering them independence, confidence and companionship. To be honest, even I get a lump in my throat every time I watch that video.

My grateful thanks to the ladies for inviting me to talk to them this evening and for their generous cheque of £50 for the charity.

Tomorrow, I will be talking to the Brownies at St Teilo’s, Newport, and showing them photographs of Amber.

If you would like me to talk to your group in South Wales, please contact me through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or by sending an e-mail to rjmorgan31@aol.com.

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