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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.

 

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.

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

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)

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.

Little did I know that when I set the date to climb Pen-y-Fan dressed like a dog to raise money for Dogs for the Disabled it would actually be one of the hottest days of the year!

I was joined on my ‘challenge’ by Jim Thompson, who dressed like a monkey to raise money for St David’s Hospice, and his dog, Ellie. Having reached the car park at the bottom of Pen-y-Fan, we changed into our costumes, much to the surprise of the handful of people who were themselves preparing to make an early start on the mountain – all suitably dressed! Although we had arrived early, it was already quite warm and obvious that my thick costume was not the most practical; Jim’s on the other hand was lightweight and breathable!

There was still a lot of early mist and we hoped that by the time we reached the summit (886m) the sun would have burnt it off leaving spectacular views across the Brecon Beacons. Under normal circumstances it would take me approximately 40 minutes to reach the top, but these were far from ‘normal circumstances’ – within minutes I had turned into a ‘hot dog’. Meanwhile, Ellie was skipping in and out of the water having a much more enjoyable experience!

We made several stops on the way up to have refreshment and take in the spectacular scenery.

Once we reached the ridge just below Corn Du the wind suddenly hit us. We decided to leave Corn Du for the return journey and instead took the path around the side of the mountain toward Pen-y-Fan itself. This is where we met our first walker of the day who couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw a monkey and a dog walking towards him. We stopped to chat for a while and he put £10 into my bucket!

It took just over an hour to reach the summit of Pen-y-Fan. Because it was still quite early there were very few people around. However, moments later a party of army cadets arrived from the Cribyn side and stopped to take photographs of us (much better than the scenery!)

We stayed on the summit for around 20 minutes – enough time to enjoy a few Gower Cottage Brownies and take some more photographs. The Dogs for the Disabled bucket was carefully placed next to the summit cairn (weighted down with a few stones to stop it blowing off the edge of the mountain) and attracted the attention of several more walkers!

Of course, there was still some time for some monkey business…

By now, things were hotting up so it was time to leave Pen-y-Fan, hop across to Corn-Du and then begin the descent back to the car park. There were more people climbing up by this time and it was interesting watching them stop in the distance, look at us in puzzlement and then frantically search their rucksacks for some change to put in the bucket. Occasionally, a walker would pass us without even commenting – you can just imagine what sort of thoughts were going through their minds!

When we reached the bottom Jim suddenly exclaimed that he had put is glasses down at the last stop and had forgotten to pick them up again – thankfully he hadn’t left them on the summit otherwise he would have been climbing on his own! We had certainly worked up an appetite, so having changed into comfortable clothing we both enjoyed a well-deserved bacon butty!

If you would like to make a donation towards the work of Dogs for the Disabled, please visit www.justgiving.com/treknepal2011. Alternatively, you can donate via text – please click here for more details.

Ystradfellte Falls

It’s now less than a week until I climb Pen-y-Fan dressed like a dog to raise more money for Dogs for the Disabled. As readers of my blog know, I climbed Pen-y-Fan countless times in preparation for the Nepal trek, but always wearing sensible clothing; climbing the mountain in fancy dress will be a whole new challenge!

Last Saturday I went to the Brecon Beacons and enjoyed a more relaxing walk, exploring the picturesque waterfalls around Ystradfellte. We left the car at the Porth yr Ogof car park (£4 charge – although I didn’t have enough change so took the risk of not buying a ticket) to begin the afternoon’s stroll.

Not from the the car park the river disappears into the Porth yr Ogof (White Horse Cave) cave. There are 15 entrances to the cave’s passageways and the most famous is known to be the biggest cave entrance in Wales. Altogether, the series of passageways measure over 2.25km in length and include some ominously named obstacles including the ‘Wormhole’, the ‘Letterbox’, the ‘Creek’ (home to the ‘Death Ledge’) and the ‘Washing Machine’. It was not surprising, therefore, to see a number of people donning helmets and boots. We, on the other hand, opted for the more gentle walk through the lush wooded valley, following the River Mellte.

The first waterfall on the walk was Sgwd Clun Gwyn (‘the fall of the white meadow’). From the path we were able to watch as the water cascaded over the abrupt edge of the first fall before hitting the second ledge approximately 10 feet below. From here it falls another 20 feet into the pool below. This was a prefect resting place and time to enjoy our picnic.

A trail follows the river downstream to two smaller falls, Sgwd Isaf Clungwyn and Sgwd y Pannwr. However, we decided to save these for another occasion and continue to the largest of the falls, Sgwd-yr-Eira (‘the fall of snow’).

The path made its way down the side of the mountain, getting increasingly slippery as we got closer to the waterfall. It is at this point that the river Hepste leaps over a fifty foot ledge behind wide banks. Once at the edge of the river there was a short scramble across rocks to a path which disappeared behind a curtain of water; standing behind the fall was a wonderful and exhilarating experience. Apparently, the path behind the waterfall was used by local sheep farmers for centuries!

Sgwd yr Eira

This short walk in ‘Waterfall Country’ reminded me of the refreshing waterfall we swam underneath whilst trekking in the Himalayas – although today I was glad to keep my clothes on and have the added benefit of waterproofs!