Curtis Bennett Trophy Rally Reunion, Wales


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Curtis Bennett Trophy Rally Reunion, Wales

The year 2023 was the centenary of the Civil Service Moring Assn. when a number of celebratory events were organised. One of these was a reunion for the association’s premier car rally, the Curtis Bennett trophy rally.
Taking extra time to get to the reunion gave me a chance to climb Sugar Loaf (the mountain in the Black Mountains near Abergavenny not Rio).
Sugar Loaf was just right, although a little cloudy to start with it cleared later. At 2,000ft it was a reasonable challenge without having to rush before meeting up with everyone else.
The Curtis Bennett trophy was presented to the CSMA for motor sport by a founder and influencer of the association, Sir Noel Curtis Bennett. This was then used for what became the Curtis Bennett trophy rally which ran for 72 years, 44 of these were based at the Metropole Hotel, Llandrindod Wells, I competed in 15 of them. The Metropole is a large Victorian hotel popular with many sporting clubs and associations. 2007 was the last time the rally ran, its sad demise was the result of increased population, tighter regulations and less suitable roads and tracks suitable for its use.
It’s something like 30 years since I competed in the rally so, on arrival at Llandrindod Wells, distant memories were immediately brought to the fore. I was pleased to find that the town was still beautifully ensconced in its Victorian time-warp and relatively unspoilt by 20th and 21st century modernity.
Highlight of the reunion weekend was a 100 mile non-competitive run using classic mountain roads as used many times in the rally of days gone by. The route was defined by Tulip diagrams, a reminder of one form of rally navigation. Leaving Llandrindod Wells the route headed West via Beulah before the interesting roads started with a climb through the high and twisty Abergwesyn pass to Tregaron.
Lunch stop was at Devils Bridge where we were joined by nearly all of the country’s bikers, we decided to have a quick look at the bridge before moving on.
Although still interesting the Elan Valley roads were faster and mainly developed during the construction of six dams built at the beginning of the 20th century as the main water supply for Birmingham
The reunion was wrapped up with a treasure hunt around the town. Even though I had competed in the CB rally and visited Llandrindod Wells many times in days gone by there were still parts of the town I hadn’t seen before, particularly the Rock Garden. This was a wooded country park where the old Victorian Spa was situated.
A very enjoyable weekend reminiscing of our sporting past and an appropriate inclusion in our CSMA centenary celebrations.

Stafford Steed

Scafell Pike


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Scafell Pike
In the summer of 2010 myself and 6 friends decided to climb Scafell Pike. At 3,210ft it is the highest mountain in England. Situated in the Lake District region of Cumbria the mountain was donated to the National Trust in 1919. Until it was properly measured in the early 1800s, geographers widely assumed Helvellyn, in the neighbouring Eastern Fells, was the highest.
For our mission we based ourselves at Drigg on the west coast about 15 miles from the start of the climb at Wasdale Head, this gave a very pleasant drive along the bank of Wastwater, the deepest lake in England, to the start.
From here there is a short walk to Lingmell Beck which needs to be crossed before the path really starts to climb. You need to ensure that you veer left towards a large cairn at the top of Brown Tongue across Hollow Stones and that you don’t veer right to Mickledore. After about a mile, you should reach Lingmell Col where the Path turns right as dramatic views across the surrounding Fells begin to open up. The final ascent has a clearly defined loose and rocky path which zig zags its way up to the final summit cairn.
We saw very few people on the way up but as we approached the mist covered top and the whole of England lay at our feet hordes of people materialised giving Piccadilly Circus a run for its money, many of these extending their stay at the top to savour the achievement.
We rounded off the weekend break with a ride on the 7 mile long privately owned Ravenglass and Eskdale narrow gauge steam railway, this was originally built to carry Iron Ore from mines near Boot close to the summit of the Hardknott Pass.
Stafford Steed

New York


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New York

In November 2018, with my wife Lesley, I jetted off to New York with two close friends, Mel and Janet, who had been many times before and acted as very useful tour guides. Thursday 22nd November was the coldest and snowiest Thanksgiving Day on record and we were heading out there early the following day.
Because of the time difference we arrived late in the afternoon of Friday 23rd; although cold there was little remnants of the snow. We quickly dropped our cases at our Park Lane hotel, overlooking Central Park, before racing off to a bar for a drink (beer can’t be recommended) and something to eat before heading to see the lights of Theatre Land. Times Square was packed with visitors staying over after their Thanks Giving Day celebrations.
Returning to the hotel there was just enough time to tick off one of Lesley’s Wish List items, a carriage ride in Central Park, she has expensive tastes. Because of the cold we only had the short 20 minute ride and not the 45 minutes, even so we were the only carriage out. After that I took a quick walk back into the park to get a closer look at the skating rink.
Early start on Saturday for an easy ride on the Subway to the rebuilt World Trade Centre for an early booking up the Freedom Tower, North America’s tallest building with fine views around Lower Manhattan from the One World observatory. The transport hub of the WTC is an astonishing design in the shape of a White Dove.
The memorials to 9/11 are still very evocative. Pools mark the sites of the original Twin Tower buildings with the inscribed names of all those who lost their lives.
A quick cab ride took us to the Staten Island Ferry which is a mass transit mode between Staten Island and Manhattan, it’s free so very popular with tourists.
Sunday was another opportunity for good views. Queues for the Empire State building can be long and tedious so instead we opted for the Rockefeller Building. This gave us views of Lower Manhattan including the Empire State. The Rockefeller Plaza was a lively place with the skating rink overseen by the Greek legend Prometheus.
A lot of walking needed in the afternoon to tick off a lot of boxes; Grand Central Terminal, New York’s amazing cathedral to the US railway system. The Chrysler Building, probably the world’s finest Art Deco building. The New York library. Macey’s, what a disappointment, the only thing that interested me was the original Oak panelled escalators, maybe it’s the size of the place that attracted people; in my book size isn’t everything, maybe it’s just me being allergic to shopping. The Empire State Building, for many years the World’s tallest building. We then walked across from the West to the East side of Manhattan, two of the party didn’t quite make it so we left the ladies in a bar talking girlie things leaving Mel and myself to explore the Highline, a disused railway line and sidings currently being redeveloped.
Monday was the last day and New York returned to normal. At the outset I did say that I wanted to experience New York in its normality and not as a tourist; this we did during the rush hour on the Subway back to the World Trade Centre, sardines probably had more space packed in their cosy tins. I put this down to experience, Lesley had a different view.
The 9/11 Memorial museum, which was constructed mainly in the basement of one of the destroyed buildings, was a real eye opener to the horrors of that fateful day. It showed films of the attack and a lot of memorabilia including a damaged Fire Engine and a section of the telecom mast from the top of the building.
Final activity was a Circle Line boat trip around Manhattan Island, New York’s most densely populated district, bounded by the Hudson and Harlem rivers and a chance to see the city at close quarters from the water and travel under the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan’s first bridge which was completed in 1883.
With thanks to Mel and Janet for their tour guiding, a busy and unforgettable trip.

Stafford Steed

Highlights of China


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Highlights of China.

In 2016 Lesley and myself along with 4 friends joined a tour of China. The tour started immediately after an 11 hour flight to Shanghai, the business centre of China, with it’s towering skyscrapers. These included the Shanghai Tower the second highest building in the world. Without any time to waste we went straight from the airport to the city centre and climbed to the second domed level of the Pearl TV tower; with its glass floor we were able to look down on most of the city.
We moved on to Suzhou one of China’s ancient towns situated alongside the 1,200 mile Grand Canal which was originally dug, so our guide said, for the sole use of Emperor Sui to travel down from Beijing to collect more concubines to supplement his existing harem of 3,ooo. Others will give more practical reason, ie better communication and trade between North and South.
We travelled to Beijing by Bullet train; Suzhou to Beijing doesn’t look very far on a map of China but 5 hours close to 200mph puts the size of the country into perspective. Temperature had risen to 30 degrees by the time we visited Tiananmen Sq., the square was enormous and with no shelter from the heat. We were warned not to wear any unsavoury slogans on tee shirts. With the military and image of Chairman Mao looking down on us no one took any chances.
The 2,600 mile long Great Wall is an amazing structure built to keep out Mongols and other enemies; initial building was by Emperor Qui in the second century BC, first emperor of a united China, ruthlessly using conscripted labour. To add to the fortification it was built along a mountain ridge which made it very steep in places.
We then had an internal flight to Yichang for a 3 day cruise through the three gorges of Xiling, Wuxia and Qutang on the Yangtze. After the first gorge we came to the very controversial Three Gorges Dam, built under Chairman Mao’s instructions to tame the river and aid commercial traffic. Thousands of people were displaced and a lot of history and environmental features lost for ever. The dam is the biggest in the world and has two very large ship lock staircases which took 4 hours for the boat to pass through.
We then took another internal flight to Chengdu were we were able to visit the World famous Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre where we witnessed the behaviour of these rare animals. The older bears laying on their backs propped against a wall chomping into what was clearly delicious bamboo sticks while the cubs played in the nursery enclosure.
Another flight took us to Xi’an, home of Emperor Qin. As well as ruthlessly building civil engineering projects like the Great Wall he also extravagantly built his own tomb and had 8,000 lifelike terracotta soldiers made to accompany him in the afterlife; also entombed with him, to look after his every need, were all his childless concubines and workers who knew the secrets of the tomb. With concerns of health and safety it is still unopened, it is said to contain rivers and lakes of Mercury.
The tour ended by returning to Shanghai with a stunning evening cruise along the Huangpu River where we witnessed the 21st century buildings lit up in all their glory.
A few tips for anyone contemplating a visit. Watch out for pickpockets. Don’t have anything questionable in your suitcase when travelling, the authorities will hold them back rather than ask for them to be opened, this made it very inconvenient for 2 of our party. There is no western alternative to the Chinese food, the further you go into the heartland the stranger it gets, you will even find baby scorpion kebabs on the menu on some stalls.

Stafford Steed

First 2 hours in Delhi


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First two hours in Delhi, India.
April 2015 I joined a 10 day tour of India’s Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle included Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal) and Jaipur. Our tour also included Ranthambore Wildlife Park.
We arrived at our hotel near the centre of Delhi at about 2.00pm, the afternoon being free before we met our tour manager at 5.00. Knowing that we had a tour of Delhi the following day I just wanted to see what I could within walking distance of the hotel. Armed with my small camera and dressed as far as possible to blend in with the Indian crowd?? I headed off. Outside the hotel, as soon as I was seen looking at my photocopied map I was persistently targeted; where you from? Where you want to go to? I will take you to x, y, z in my Tuc Tuc, 50 Rupees.
I put my map away and wandered down a street which must have been the equivalent of our Speakers Corner; a lot of protesting but I didn’t know whether they were all protesting about the same cause. It was guarded at both ends by police and looked safe but I didn’t know whether it was safe to take photographs. I saw a large noisy crowd around someone burning something; there was a media film crew so I thought it must have been safe. I took one photograph from a safe distance, as I got closer a man ushered me forward, cleared a way through the crowd and encouraged me to take photographs of what was going on, surely he didn’t think I was a senior reporter for Reuters, grateful to him that I was, I clearly was not going to circulate my pictures to the World’s Press neither could I work out what they were protesting about.
I came out of the street at the other end, passing a man having a shower; I stupidly got my map out and was immediately descended on by a well-dressed man who suggested I should visit a local craft market; ok how far to walk? No no, take a Tuc Tuc, 20 rupees each way; oh alright sounds cheap enough. He directed me to a waiting Tuc Tuc and I jumped in. He seemed to go for miles weaving in and out of traffic, continually sounding his horn which might just as well have been fitted with an on/off switch and eventually stopped outside a shop where the driver said he would wait for me.
I soon realised it was one of those places full of high pressure Indian salesmen and best quality Indian goods with no prices. No matter how much Lesley, my wife, would have liked me to stay I was not in the market for that sort of thing. I came out, found my Tuc Tuc driver who said you no like, I take you somewhere else? No I insisted, just take me back to the hotel. The total agreed price was 40 rupees. Having just changed money at the airport the smallest note I had was 100 rupees, he claimed he had no change??, of course he wasn’t going to get any commission from the traders. I immediately thought I had been done with the round trip costing over £10. Of course I hadn’t yet got my brain into gear re the money and later realised that, yes I had been done, but in reality a ride in a Tuc Tuc to match any ride with Sebastian Loeb, World Rally Champion of the day, had in fact cost the equivalent of £1.18 instead of £0.47, the experience was pretty good value really.
2 hours in India gone, 190 hours to go?
Stafford Steed

N. American Southern States.
Music, Civil War and Civil Rights


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North America’s Southern States
October 2014 my wife Lesley and I, along with four friends, joined a tour across North America’s Southern States, 2,000 miles from Atlanta, Georgia to Houston, Texas.
The tour featured the North American Civil War. In 1861 Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as President of the US; he and the Republican Party supported the abolition of slavery which is something the Southern States viewed as a violation of their constitutional rights particularly as they all had cotton based economies requiring slaves. Subsequently 13 states formed the Confederate States of America. This triggered the Civil War which was fought between 1861 and 1865. The Union won and the Confederacy collapsed, slavery was then abolished. Days after the war ended Lincoln was assassinated, shot by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s theatre, Washington DC.
The Southern States is renowned for its music, Nashville is now considered the home of Country although it originated in Memphis. Rock and Roll originated in Nashville, it soon moved to Memphis with the appearance of Elvis and some of his music compatriots. New Orleans is famous for its Jazz, much of the music stemmed from the W. African slave workers who were brought over to work in the cotton fields.
Our tour started in Atlanta which featured in the Civil War. Back then Atlanta had a major railroad junction which made it an important hub for the distribution of armaments to the Confederate army. In 1865 following the Union’s capture of Chattanooga the war was more or less over. All that now remained was for the Union army to make a sweep of the Southern States to clear any pockets of resistance. On reaching Atlanta they razed it to the ground so that it could not be reused as a supply base for the Confederates. If you have seen the film “Gone with the wind” you may remember the scene at the end; whilst a fire rages Rhett Butler utters the immortal words to Scarlet O’Hara “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”, that town on fire was Atlanta.
Born in 1929 was Atlanta’s most famous resident, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, he was an American Baptist minister, activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. In the 1960’s he fought for the civil rights of the Black Community and eventually died for his belief. He was tragically assassinated at a rally in Memphis in 1968. There is now what they refer to as a historic site dedicated to him. On the site is the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he did his first preaching; various tableaus and monuments; and alongside his wife Coretta, his final resting place.
Moving on to Chattanooga, earliest inhabitants of which were Cherokee Indians. During the Civil War in 1863 the Confederate army held the high ground around the town and lay siege to Union troops trapped. Maj Gen Ulysses S. Grant, who was recently victorious in a campaign at Vicksburg and now in charge of the whole of the Union campaign, cut a supply route through to Chattanooga which brought supplies to the trapped troops. Then, assisted by Gen Sherman the final and bloodiest battle was on Lookout Mountain above the town. Union success resulted in a Confederate withdrawal which opened up the Deep South to the Union army.
Moving on we came to Lynchburg a sleepy small town with a large industry, that of Whisky. Every drop of Jack Daniels is distilled here. Main problem it has it is located in Tennessee, a state with licensing laws dating back to prohibition days. So, having had a tour of the site we were not able to buy or sample any of their wares.
Further down the road we came to Belle Mead, a large anti-bellum mansion. (anti – pre, bellum – war) these are the sort of lavish mansions owned by cotton farmers, built on the back of slaves, pre the abolition of slavery in 1865. You might wonder what happened to the cotton after the release of the slaves. A system of sharecropping evolved. The now ex-slaves still harvested the crop, half went to the farmer and half went to the ex-slaves so that they could sell it to make a living.
Next stop is Nashville. Target destination for every young and hopeful Country singer is the Grand Ole Opry. This is a weekly country music stage concert which was founded in 1925 as a one-hour radio "barn dance" on WSM. It is the longest-running radio broadcast show in US history dedicated to honoring country music and its history; in that time it has never missed a broadcast. It attracts millions of radio and Internet listeners from all around the world. Featured during our visit was a young female duo who called themselves “just one more girl” and the person that got the loudest applause of the night, Little Jimmy Dickens, 94 years old, 4ft nothing tall and with a guitar that appeared bigger than him. We also visited the Country Music Hall of Fame which must be the largest collection of Country memorabilia anywhere.
Leaving Nashville en-route to Memphis we stopped at Tupelo the child home of Elvis Presley. He was born in 1935 in a small house built by his father Vernon. The family attended an Assembly of God chapel where he found his initial musical inspiration. In 1948, at the age of 13, the family moved to Memphis. Years later Elvis bought the site containing his father’s house and had the chapel moved onto the same site. It is now a National Park.
We’re now in Memphis and the first time we see the mighty Mississippi, a river which we will follow all the way to New Orleans. In 1953, now established in Memphis, Elvis walked into Sun Studios to buy some recording time. Sun boss Sam Phillips, always on the lookout for new talent, started to record him. In 1955 Dewey Phillips, a well-known DJ, played “That’s all right” on his radio show. Listeners began phoning eager to find out who this singer was. At the same time Elvis was getting too big for Sam Phillips. Col Parker managed to sell the contract for $35,000 to RCA, the largest amount paid for a single performer at that time.
With other performers following suit RCA didn’t have enough recoding capacity and weren’t prepared to stump up the cash for a new studio. Chet Atkins, well known guitarist and producer came to the rescue. He bought a studio in Nashville which became known as “RCA Studio B” and leased it to RCA. Elvis was now at a level where he called the tune, he was an insomniac and often liked to record in the middle of the night. Likewise in order for him to feel the music he liked to record in the dark, often making it somewhat difficult for technicians and session musicians.
Also in Memphis is of course Graceland, Elvis’s home for many of his later years. Devotees see this as a must see attraction. Tours are well managed and the house kept in pristine condition and furnished as it would have been when he lived there. The house also contained a lot of memorabilia including his leather suits, cars and his two jet planes. It was also his final resting place, buried alongside his parents and still born brother who he never forgot.
Both Nashville and Memphis has wild nightlife, if visiting it is easy to forget that you are still in Tennessee with ancient licensing laws. When they say they ID everyone and you should carry your passport for ID, don’t think that because you have a bus pass back home you are exempt. I have never been refused entry into so many bars as we were then.
Moving south we arrive at Vicksburg which is situated on high ground next to the Mississippi. In 1863 the confederate army controlled the territory and as such the Mississippi. Maj Gen Ulysses S Grant somehow needed to take all of this. He cut a route through the swamp crossed the river before laying siege to the town. No supplies could get through and the Confederates suffered badly with disease and starvation. They eventually surrendered, after which Grant moved on to Chattanooga.
Grant's success boosted his reputation. After the war, in 1868, he was elected the 16th US President.
The site around Vicksburg is now a National Military Park containing the Union army cemetery. One interesting exhibit is the remains of the USS Cairo, one of seven iron clad gunboats used by the Union army to help regain control of the Mississippi. It was sunk close to Vicksburg, the first vessel ever to be sunk by an electronically detonated mine. It was beautifully restored using as many of the original components as possible.
Continuing south along the Mississippi we came to Nachez. A town named after the Indian tribe forced out of their territory by settlers in years gone by. Here we visited Stanton Hall another anti-bellum house paid for on the backs of slaves.
Further down the river we came to New Orleans, a city built on swamp lands surrounding the Mississippi. Since 1956 the town has been accessed via a 24mile long causeway across Lake Pontchartrain. The city was founded by the French in 1717 and named after the Duke of Orleans, regent to Louis XV at the time.
In 1814 the British set their sights on the territory. Local army leader Gen Andrew Jackson led a group of inexperienced volunteer troupes who held their ground behind an earth barrier. Although outnumbered 2:1 by professional British soldiers the local soldiers prevailed. It’s a story told in a song by Lonnie Donegan back in the 1960’s. Gen Jackson became a local hero and was elected 7th US president in 1829.
It is an area susceptible to storms, the most famous of which was Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when 20,000 people sheltered in the Louisiana Superdome, a structure designed to withstand winds of up to 200mph.
We had a chance for a cruise on the SS Nachez, a traditional paddle steamer, the type used to transport bales of cotton in years gone by. These days it is used for classy river cruises with Jazz band entertainment.
Back on land the nightlife is something to be experienced, jazz with a touch of Voodoo, the music stemmed from the African slaves brought over to work in the cotton fields. We thought Nashville and Memphis were wild but nothing could have prepared us for New Orleans. Here my photography ranged from Journalistic to Street to pure Paparazzi. I even got chased by a bouncer whilst taking a photograph of his club.
Surrounded by swampland we took a swamp tour through some of the bayous. It was interesting to see the swampland flora and wildlife, this included some enormous alligators, probably 9 feet long. The safety briefing pointed out that there were lifebelts in the roof of the boat in case it sank. Somehow I can’t imagine them saving you from being eaten by an alligator if it did sink.
Nearing the end of the journey, Houston being our departure airport, we broke the journey at Vermilionville which is an exhibition settlement of early Cajun settlers who lived in this part of Louisiana from 1750’s. They originally emigrated from France to Canada and later relocated here. It’s a collection of homes, some original, some replicas. The volunteers were dressed in period clothing and demonstrated the self-sufficiency trades they did back then.
Final analysis of the trip, a great experience covering the music and its history; 2,000 miles, 5 states and 2 time zones.

Stafford Steed



Late Summer 1989 and Winter 2014
Iceland, “Land of Ice and Fire”.
Late Summer 1989
Geologically Iceland is one of the world’s most fascinating countries. At just 15 million years old the country is one of the youngest, it was formed by volcanic action along the North Atlantic fault and where the earth’s crust is very thin; as such 90% of the country is uninhabitable, mainly lava fields, some still active. The country also contains Europe’s largest waterfall and Glacier.
I visited the country in the summer of 1989 when I joined an Explore Worldwide group of 18 adventurous travellers camping and where we travelled round the Island and across the central desert wasteland.
The tour started with a couple of days acclimatisation in Reykjavik giving the tour leader an opportunity to assess the group ensuring there weren’t any weak links.
We then travelled north to an area known as Thingvellir, named after, and site of, the world’s oldest parliament, the Althing, this goes back to when the Vikings first settled in 930 AD. At this point there is a fissure ½ a mile wide where the N Atlantic fault is opening at the rate of 1cm a year. One side of this is a cliff face which the Norse chief would sit facing the cliff, the echo was such that he could be heard by the assembly. Time was spent exploring the dramatic landscape on foot, particularly the large fissures caused by the Tectonic plates drifting apart. We also climbed one of Iceland’s mountains, “Armansfell” giving us amazing views of the terrain across the Fault line.
We then travelled to the North coast where we explored some of the small fishing villages, some with interesting turf roofs before moving on to another large waterfall Godafoss “fall of the Gods”, according to legend, Thorgeir, president of the Althing at the time, threw his idols into the waterfall following his conversion to Christianity about year 1000ad.
Still in the North Lake Myvatn is a region with a variety of natural wonders including “Dettifoss”, at 44m high Europe’s biggest waterfall. Still within the region is Hverfjall a 1Km diameter ash cone and technically known as a Tuff ring, it is relatively low and smooth formed when a volcanic eruption rises to the surface through water. Asbyrgi is a giant horseshoe canyon which, according to Icelandic mythology, was formed by a footprint from Odin’s horse. It is now thought to be the result of a catastrophic glacial flood along the Jokulsa River originating from volcanic action under the Vatnajokull glacier.
The journey from North to South took a day to travel across the lunar landscape of the Central Highlands, a black volcanic desert known as the “Sprengisandur”, like a large part of the island it is only open for 3 months of the year during the summer. We only saw 2 other cars all day. Nearing the end of the crossing we passed a glacial tongue of ice, part of the Vatnajokull, Europe’s largest glacier.
In the south we visited Landmannalaugar a remote region of glacial rivers, waterfalls and hot springs. It is essential that you only swim in springs known to be safe, the temperatures of some can be well above boiling point.
The final stage of the tour back to Reykjavik took us past “Gullfoss”, another of one of Iceland’s biggest Waterfalls. Close by is “Geysir” the geyser from which all others got its name. Although now dormant its younger partner “Stokkur” still erupts about every 10 minutes.
To round off the holiday after an adventurous 2 weeks we had an opportunity for a swim in the Blue Lagoon, a lake formed from the outfall of water from a nearby Geothermic Power Station.

Iceland, winter 2014
Following my trip to Iceland in the summer of 1989 I made a repeat visit in the winter of 2014, this time with my wife Lesley and 4 friends. The difference being that in the winter months 75% of the Island is closed to tourists. Most of the tourist activity therefore tends to be centred on the South East corner around Reykjavik. A number of the activities therefore were duplicates of my 1989 visit. Having said that seeing it in the winter one gets a totally different understanding of the Island.
On our first day we took in the sights of Reykjavik; being one of the smallest capital cities in the world it didn’t take long; it centred on the port which was based on one of it’s main industries, fishing. The highest point, overlooking the city, is Hallgrimskirkja church, a futuristic design somewhat different in style to the traditional corrugated iron constructed buildings.
We hadn’t totally escaped England’s rain; to avoid one storm we went to the cinema, a converted fishing warehouse in the harbour. As we were the only people in there they allowed us to choose what films we saw, all on Iceland. Reykjavik also has a world renowned Phallological museum which contains a unique collection of exhibits. I’ll let you ponder as to whether we went in.
On our second day we repeated some of our 1989 activities and went on a traditionally favourite tour known as the Golden Circle; this included a trip to Geysir, a feature from which all other Geysers took their name. Geysir is now almost dormant but little brother Stokkur close by still erupts about every 10 minutes. The target, photo wise, is to catch it as a bubble as it starts to erupt, I nearly caught it. This trip also included one of Iceland’s biggest waterfalls, Gullfoss; I saw this in the summer of ’89, in winter the characteristics are totally different, the frozen falls were very dramatic. Next came Thingvallir, when I told some of our group that they were going to see the world’s oldest parliament they immediately thought of a building like we have in London; but this goes back to when the Vikings settled in 930 AD. At this point there is a fissure ½ a mile wide where the N Atlantic fault is opening at the rate of 1cm a year. One side of this is a cliff face which the Norse chief would sit facing, the echo was such that he could be heard by the assembly.
Included in this tour was a Tomato growing company. You might think that this is a strange business to have in a cold climate, but there is an abundance of geothermically heated water which heats the green houses. I should also point out that every house in Iceland has geothermically heated hot water pumped straight in.
That evening we had a trip to see the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis, caused by the interaction of particles from the sun with the earth’s upper atmosphere. It was a coach trip to a remote field where we stood for 2 hours. I do appreciate it was luck of the draw, and that what we saw depended on the conditions and that if you go to Iceland specifically to see the Northern Lights there is always a good chance that you might be disappointed. On the coach our guide was very defensive as to what we might or might not see. Admittedly we saw glimmers in the sky but didn’t liven up until it was time to go. I was a little disappointed although we did at least see them. On the coach back our guide went into raptures about what we saw, I can’t help but think the guides were trained in the powers of perception.
The last day was spent at the Blue Lagoon, a bathing pool formed from the water outfall from a geothermic power station. The water contains all sorts of salts which are beneficial for skin care, not that any of our ladies needed that sort of thing of course. Imagine, outside temperature hovering around freezing and swimming in warm water shrouded in mist; a perfect day to end the trip. If anyone is thinking about going to Iceland have a look to see what Icelandair has to offer. When you are there it can be expensive, stick to the basic restaurants where the fish is still fresh and as good as anywhere in the world.

Stafford Steed

Berlin 1976 and 2013


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Berlin 1976 and 2013.

I first visited Berlin in 1976 at the height of the Cold War and when the city was divided by a wall. My job was to manage the installation of furniture in a new British Embassy just built in East Berlin.
The Embassy was set up under certain conditions, one being that we didn’t recognise Checkpoint Charlie. This meant that when I was picked up from Tegal airport I was driven along the corridor (a road giving access to Berlin through East Germany) and into East Germany through another gate. At the Embassy I was given a diplomatic pass which allowed me through Checkpoint Charlie. Although I had to show my passport at the checkpoint I had to make sure it was not stamped there.
At that time the East Germans were a very depressed nation with very few smiling faces. However, I didn’t see any poverty; everyone appeared to work and had enough food and clothing even though basic. Life was pure socialistic, everything run by the state, ie employment and the rental of homes etc. The country was desperate for Western currency so certain luxury items could only be bought with western currency, these included cars, opera tickets etc. I had a Praktica camera which was made in E Germany but you couldn’t buy one there, they were all exported. I stayed in the Hotel Unter Den Linden across the road from the Meissen porcelain shop where you could only buy seconds; all first quality was exported. Cars were bought through the state, if you had enough money to buy one there was a seven year waiting list, and that was for a Trabant.
The purpose of my latest visit in 2013 was to see how the city has changed in the last 37 years and since re-unification. Having become more and more allergic to budget airlines I thought I would try the coach. There is a Euro-Lines coach that leaves Victoria for Berlin most days, it cost me £78 return with no hidden costs. I even used my bus pass to get to Victoria. It was a 19 hour journey, through the night, all on time and without any problems.
I suppose Berlin’s struggles began in 1933 when Hitler’s Nazi party took power; his intention was to take over the world with Berlin as World Capital. In the process they wanted to produce the perfect Arian race; Jews etc either emigrated or were rounded up with horrifying consequences.
World War 2 followed Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939. After Hitler’s defeat in 1945 the control of Berlin was split into four sectors; each sector controlled by either America, Britain or France in the West; and the Soviet Union in the East. East Berliners came under the austerity of communist rule and could clearly see the potential prospects in the west and began to emigrate. The migration of this brain and brawn drain was in such high numbers that it began to send the east into economic decline. The only way to stop this migration was to build a physical barrier, The Wall, which was built in 1961. Desperate attempts to cross into the West were horrifyingly life threatening with hundreds being killed in the process.
In 1989, along with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the wall came down; possibly the most cost effective demolition job ever; armed with whatever tools they could lay their hands on hordes of local residents came out onto the street and before long it was breached, dismantled and sold off bit by bit as souvenirs.
So how was Berlin now, in 2013, particularly in the East? There was certainly no sign of any austerity. In 1976 many buildings were war damaged shells with little future hope. A lot of money must now have been pumped in to re-juvenate the key buildings; these included the Brandenburg Gate, many churches and the Reichstag; our own Sir Norman Foster being responsible for the restoration of the latter.
The biggest transformation has got to be the Potsdamer Platz; in 1976 this was a wide desolate death strip patrolled by guards under instructions to shoot to kill, dogs, razor wire, trenches etc. It has now been totally rebuilt with imposing new buildings.
My main disappointment was Checkpoint Charlie, that notorious checkpoint which allowed westerners into East Berlin. In 1976 I wasn’t allowed to photograph the border, particularly from the East, so it would have been more than my life was worth to photograph the checkpoint then. All that remains now is the American guard hut; unfortunately there are so called actors posing for photographs in American army uniform, very tacky. I’m glad there was no sign of any British uniforms or flag.
Many museums and monuments have also been built, set up so as to record and remember the horrors of the past; these include the Holocaust memorial; Topographie des Terrors, on the site of the Stasi, the Gestapo HQ; and Berlin Wall Memorial remembering the Berlin Wall victims. Hopefully the likes of those horrifying past years will never be seen again.

Stafford Steed

My first Women's Institute meeting


My first Women’s Institute meeting.

At the end of April I attended my first Women's Institute meeting, yes that’s right Women's Institute meeting. This experience was somewhat different to the more male dominated societies I belong to like the motor club. It was a meeting of several WI groups hosted by St Albans City WI, to which my wife Lesley is a member, and for this meeting their men folk were invited. Imagine the scenario, me with 4 other men; husbands and a son dragged…, sorry encouraged, to attend by their ladies, along with over 70 women.
After the school bell rang the evening started with the singing of “Jerusalem”, yes I knew the words but more from Industrial Revolution reasons rather than WI connections.
The main speaker was Kathy Brown who gave a talk on Edible Flowers, somehow I can’t imagine this talk going down too well with hardened motor sport enthusiasts at the motor club. She showed us pictures of flowers expecting us to know what they were, I suppose the ladies did, and how they could be incorporated into food and concocted beverages. I’m going to keep an eye on Lesley’s meals in future in case she tries experimenting with our Daisies and Dandelions by incorporating them into sausage and mash or by decorating a pile of chips with a daffodil or anything else she can find in the garden.
After this, as you might imagine, we had tea and cakes. All the Ladies must have spent the day baking and brought their prized efforts along; I’ve never seen so many cakes. There was a lot left over resulting in the uncut ones being auctioned; as a joint effort we ended up buying one, Lesley buying it and me paying for it. The cut pieces weren’t quite so easy to deal with and with my assistance in wanting to reduce waste ended up with indigestion later. The nearest we ever got to this at the motor club was when we had a gentlemen’s baking competition where I offered a sponge, this was before I was educated to the technical term of Victoria Sponge, and was accused of baking it in 2 different size hub caps.
The evening was rounded off by a revue put on by, and starring, the hosts called “Tillie’s Tea Shop” which was the story of a group of WI ladies wanting to audition for a production of Mama Mia. This is the real reason I was there, they wanted someone to take the photos, I think they thought I had connections with Reuters and the world press. On the other hand I wondered if they wanted images along the lines of a certain WI calendar. Lesley, who you might think of as a respectable lady, didn’t take too much persuasion to take the part of Mavis, the lady wanting to audition for the part played by Meryl Streep in the film version. The performance and the evening went well although Lesley now has several appointments booked at the chiropodist and hopes her feet will have recovered before they open in the West End later in the year.

Stafford Steed

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru


See also Gallery entitled "The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru"
The Inca trail to Machu Picchu

I joined a group of 14 friends for one of those rare journeys of a lifetime. It was a multi activity trip culminating in negotiating the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. Tour operator was Amazonas Explorer, a company specialising in South American exploration and activity type holidays. It was a very slick operation with every piece of the itinerary jigsaw meticulously arranged in every detail and a company that takes a responsible attitude to the way tourism affects the environment in that part of the world.
After many hours flying with transfers in New York and Lima we flew into Cusco, 3,200 metres high in the Andes and centre for the ancient Inca civilisation. At that height we needed time to acclimatise and spent the day viewing the sites and town market with Alan our Peruvian guide for the first few days.
Led by Carol the second day was spent horse riding in the hills above Cusco and at the same time visiting some ancient Inca sites. The first site was Tambo Mackay (The Water Temple), a temple containing pools of water fed from natural springs, at one time used in bereavement ceremonies. We then visited Puca Pucara, a small fort guarding the road into Cusco. At this point I should mention there is no documented evidence of Inca culture, whatever existed was destroyed by the Spanish during their invasion in 1532 who tried to eradicate anything to do with the Incas. This brings us to Sacsaywamen, an enormous ruin on top of a hill overlooking Cusco which was too big for the Spanish to demolish although they did use some of its stones to build some of their own buildings. The structure contained what is thought to have been a round pool for observing the stars. It is thought that the Incas were very advanced in astronomy. The structure also contained a large open space, no one knows for sure what this was for, it could have been used as a garrison, temple, sports ground or a combination of all three. Like many important sections of Inca structures the perimeter walls were made from very large granite stones each weighing several tons. How they got them there was one thing but then to tailor the joints so there were no gaps seemed impossible.
Led by Paul day 3 saw us canoeing on the Urubamba in the Sacred Valley, a river which contained a few small rapids up to grade 2 and finishing the day in Pisac, a small town with a large market selling locally made products.
We had a new guide for day 4, Simon who was to look after us for the next 3 days cycling. We were taken to the top of a mountain pass 4,400 metres high, kitted out with good quality mountain bikes and safety gear with the intention of cycling down the other side. Initially the dirt road was very steep with some very tight hairpin bends; main concern was making sure we didn’t go over the edge. We travelled downhill all day through some isolated mountain settlements to Lares where we camped overnight by some geothermically heated pools.
Day 5 we were taken back to the top of the pass this time descending in the direction of Calca via an old Inca path which followed a stream down through a gorge to a small settlement where we stopped for lunch. After lunch we picked up the road again. One minute I was pedalling nonchalantly downhill, the next minute I was being put into the support Land Rover for transfer to hospital. For some reason I came off my bike but cannot recollect why? The hospital was very good, they checked me over, cleaned me up, kept me in overnight with concussion and released me the following day to re-join the group now at Urubamba.
On day 7, with the help of a supplementary diet of Ibrobrufen and other tablets given to me by the hospital, I had to motivate my bruised and battered body for the Inca trail, one of the world’s highest walks. The length of 28 miles, over 3 ½ days doesn’t sound much but then factor in the altitude – several peaks with overall altitude ranging between 2,650m (8,600ft) and 4,200m (13,650ft).
We met Effie our guide for this part of the trip at Ollantaytambo, location of another impressive Inca fortress, and met our team of 20 porters at the start of the trail. Only those with the correct permit and using officially approved guides and porters are allowed on the trail. We used wild camps therefore everything had to be carried up; food; cooking equipment; tents and even a chemical loo. Tour operators are concerned about the environment so camp sites are always left perfectly clean after use.
All 14 of us did the first section following the river Urubamba to a camp site at Llactapata and were very pleased to see a happy bunch of porters waiting to greet us having already set up camp. Across the river was another Inca site which was terraced and probably used for growing vegetables, the humble potato originated in this part of the world.
The following morning common sense prevailed for 6 of the group who retraced their steps back to civilisation leaving 8 of us to start climbing proper, camping that night at 3,680m with snow-capped mountains all around.
The start of day 9 saw us climb to the summit of Warmiwanusca (Dead woman’s pass), at 4,200m the highest point of the trail before descending into the Pacasmayo valley, or Cloud Forest, passing the ancient Inca garrison ruins of Runkuraqay before climbing to a mountain pass of the same name at 3,780m. The trail then passes through tropical rain forest with very strange vegetation including many varieties of orchid before arriving at Phuyupatamarca (place above the clouds) where we camped for the night. The site was definitely not for those with a tendency to sleep walk, perched on the top of a mountain pass with views of snow-capped mountains all round and deep valleys below.
The start of day 10 saw us say farewell to our porters who had looked after us so well the past few days before descending into the Cloud Forest, passing through the ancient Inca ruin Winay Wayna before reaching, what the locals refer to as “Gringo’s killer”, a very steep set of steps leading to Inti Punka (The Sungate) and one of the world’s finest views; having trekked for 3 ½ days the first and most rewarding sight of Mach Picchu was laid out in all it’s glory below us. Saving a tour of the ruins for the following day we passed slowly through the ruins to catch a bus down to Aguas Calientes to meet up with the rest of the group who were waiting to see how we got on.
The following day saw us catching an early bus back up the zig zag road for a tour of Machu Picchu before the hordes of tourists arrived. As a UNESCO world heritage site with access by train it has become very popular. Only a small percentage will, of course, have the satisfaction of getting there by the same route as the Incas.
With assistance from the National Geographical Society Machu Picchu was discovered for the outside world by American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911. It is a site the Spanish did not find during their invasion which left it as the largest complete Inca settlement. It is perfectly landscaped and contains royal, ceremonial and religious architecture along with astronomical alignments. It survives as a perfect example of Inca planning and engineering.
The holiday was rounded off with an internal flight from the highlands to Puerto Maldonado where we were taken by small boat to a Rainforest Lodge in the heart of the rainforest. The first thing we noticed was the change in temperature from the fresh mountain air to the humid warm air of the jungle. The Lodge was set up for Eco tourists, those people who want to learn more about the rainforest and its environment. Activities included climbing to the top of a 40m tower to view the rainforest from above. We got up at 4.00am, yes in the morning, to see the sunrise along with the wildlife, particularly exotic birds, on a lake. We then visited a Shaman in his garden. A Shaman is a local medicine man who uses plants and trees to make his medicines. His garden contains all the plants and trees he needs and has medicines which covered all the major diseases including an alternative for Viagra.
The 2 day journey home with 8 hour stops in Lima and Houston was a bit arduous, but then you have to take the rough with the smooth. Overall it was a rare journey of a lifetime.

Stafford Steed

Norway, CCF adventure training


See also Gallery entitled Norway, Evja.
Norway, CCF adventure training.

The summer of 2004 saw me assist the staff of St Albans School with a CCF Adventure Training trip to Norway. We took 24 very active 15 to 18 year old pupils in 3 minibuses across from Newcastle to Kristiansand, a port in the south of the country, before moving on to Evja a small town 40 miles further North.
We stayed at an activity centre situated on an old NATO base and run by Brian Desmond an ex commando who was British Biathlon champion 3 years on the trot and who later joined the Norwegian army as an instructor in Arctic warfare. He now instructs civilians as well as the military in summer and winter outdoor pursuits. He was assisted by Mike another ex-army instructor who, on leaving the army, jumped on his motor bike to tour Europe and stopped at Evja. A gentle giant no more than 5’6 high but built like an Ox. He made and collected knives and axes as a hobby, you can guess what the boys brought home hidden in their rucksacks as souvenirs. He kept them amused for hours with his experiences.
There were plenty of activities to keep the boys occupied. Adjacent to the centre was a river which proved very popular for swimming and, after being taught how to deal with a capsized canoe the boys demonstrated their skills in their own naval warfare. This in turn set them up for the white water rafting further upstream. There were rock faces for climbing including a 40 metre sheer drop for abseiling. Shall we say there was a little apprehension leaning back over the cliff edge and looking down at the tops of the Pine trees way below?
One of the highlights of the trip was a 3 day excursion walking in the mountains and camping overnight. Norway is generally the same size as the UK but has a population of only 4.2 million which means there is plenty of space. 98% of the country is mountains, lakes and forests which, although may be privately owned, under Norwegian law must be left accessible to the public to roam and camp. We camped the 2 nights on an island in a lake. Access was gained by wading across waist high in the water, neck high if you got the route wrong, carrying our packs head high. I’ve always fancied the idea of sleeping under the stars, miles from anywhere, in the mountains and waking up in view of a lake.
I like to think that I gave the boys a good run for their money in most of the activities but must admit advancing years did test me at times. However, they had the largest Go-kart track in Europe which gave me a good chance to earn their respect.
The Norwegians are environmentally conscious and respectful of their country and certainly do not want to spoil it. Although they have plenty of spare space most of it is rock, landfill for their waste is therefore non-existent and they certainly do not want to contaminate their air with incinerators. They have a recycling program that makes British efforts look pathetic. House holders have numerous bins to sort waste at source. Anyone caught disposing of anything in the general waste which can be recycled is fined. By law shops have to charge a returnable deposit on anything sold in bottles, glass or plastic, to ensure they are returned for recycling. I saw a man going through the waste bins in Kristiansand car park, not for scraps of food as in this country, but looking for bottles on which to collect the deposit. It reminds me of the time, as a boy, going round our local woods looking for Corona bottles on which to collect the 1d deposit. We never found any, other kids always found them first.
It is a hard working nation which has a good standard of living without the need to work hours of overtime. Even though there isn’t a rat race every Friday afternoon they disappear to the peace and tranquillity of their log cabins in the mountains with only the occasional passing Elg (yes, it is spelt correctly) to disturb them. The main industry is Timber and, as such, there is plenty of work for people in wood based products. I’ve just remembered, I’m in the furniture profession, that’s a wood based product, hmm?

Stafford Steed

Tanzanian Safari and Kilimanjaro


See also Galleries Tanzania and Kilimanjaro
Tanzanian Safari and Kilimanjaro

For some time now I have fancied the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro, nearly 20,000 ft, the highest mountain in Africa and the highest mountain in the world not in a range. It is difficult to believe that 6? below the equator it is permanently snow-capped. Travelling that distance to Africa I wanted to see more than just a mountain and was able to combine it with a Safari.
I went with Explore Worldwide,a company which I had previously travelled to Iceland and Nepal with and who specialise in small group exploratory holidays


The tour started in early February. February is one of the best times to visit East Africa as it is between rainy seasons and the animals will have returned from their migration in Northern Kenya. There is a short rain season in November and December and a long rain season in March to May.
After flying in to Kilimanjaro airport we were transferred to a hotel in Arusha, the largest town in the area, where the group of 16 met Simon the tour leader. It was also a case of making the most of the relative comfort of the hotel. After this it would be camping.
The following morning we met the rest of the crew 3 local drivers in 2 Toyota 7 seat landcruisers and a Landrover Defender. There was also the cook with his driver in a landrover. All vehicles were 4 wheel drive.
Most of the tour was in the region of the Great Rift Valley, 9656 Kms long stretching from Jordan to Mozambique and created by the collision of the continental masses of Africa and the Middle East and marked by a chain of lakes and volcanic craters, an awesome reminder of the titanic forces which have shaped our planet.
The first stage of the tour was across country to the Serengeti. Initially this was on a tarmac road although we soon turned off on to an unmetalled road of a condition which even Jeff Kenyon would have questioned running a rally. This was caused by the very heavy short rain season which hadn’t yet finished. The only non 4 wheel drive vehicles were lorries most of which were stuck axle deep in the mud. I also saw a couple of buses which should have been pensioned off at least 30 years ago, both broken down with the passengers underneath supporting the prop shaft or whatever else might have broken. On returning home I was surprised to see this road marked on a world atlas.
On arrival at the Serengeti we had an excellent days viewing of the animals, herds of Zebra and Wildebeest returning from their migration and a number of Lions.
There was an opportunity for a balloon flight across the Serengeti. We were woken at 5.00am in time for what should have been a magical sunrise as the balloon took off followed by amazing views of herds of wild animals roaming across the plain. In reality it was overcast so there was no sunrise; there was also no wind so we only travelled about ½ mile and saw just one animal, “c’est la vie” as they say.
That afternoon we were taken to part of a river which contained about 30 Hippo’s, all taking advantage of the swollen water. We kept well back from the edge as there were a number of crocodiles. These were Nile crocodiles which, at up to 7ft long are said to be the largest and most dangerous. They claim their victims by creeping up to the waters edge just below the surface. Then, in one sift movement, flashes it’s tail knocking the victim into the water before dragging him down.
The only people allowed to live in the National parks are tribes such as the Masai. They live in sympathy with and not in conflict with the environment. It was strange seeing these tall figures dressed in red with painted faces carrying spears and, because of the weather, a black rolled up umbrella.
From here we were due to go to lake Natron but unfortunately because of the heavy rain some of the roads had been washed away leaving them impassable. This was unfortunate as this was a fascinating sulphurous lake where only Flamingos can survive.
Instead we went up to Lobo, still in the Serengeti but close to the Kenyan border. Animal viewing was a bit disappointing apart from a pride of lions about 200 yds from where we were to camp. I counted 18. Luckily they had just had a kill and had eaten.
That night it was a wild camp i.e. no protection or facilities. We were given strict instructions to pitch the tents in a tight circle and any food we had to put in a steel chest and not kept in our tents. Whilst our meal was being cooked we became contious of being surrounded by a number of pairs of eyes. These were Hyenas anxious to get in on the act. After our meal we were given strict instructions to thoroughly wash our hands and teeth so that no food could be detected by the animals and then sent off to bed with a bedtime story about a traveller at that site the previous year being eaten by a Lion. Her tour leader was not as diligent as she had salami sandwiches in her tent.
On the return journey we were rewarded with the sight of a herd of about 40 elephants, majestic in there progress destroying whatever trees and shrubs may get in their way. One was separated from the rest of the herd and very close to the road. He was not very happy with our presence and our drivers had to be very attentive as an angry fully grown African elephant would make very light work of a land rover and it’s contents.
After leaving the Serengeti we visited the Olduvai gorge where the oldest human remains have been discovered, some dating back 2 million years.
Next of the national parks was Ngorongoro crater. This is technically a caldera and formed 25 million years ago when underground magma escaped through volcanic action further along the valley. The resulting chamber collapsed leaving a crater 19 Kms in diameter. The crater is very fertile and has the highest concentration of wild animals in Africa. We had good sightings of Zebra, Wildebeest, Lion, Elephant and bird life such as Flamingos.
Our drivers were advised of Rhino’s on the other side of the crater. Unfortunately the route their was very marshy. Twice we went to the rescue of other vehicles stuck in the mud. At one point our driver had the power on so as not to get stuck when we hit something hard and submerged producing a yump with which Colin McRae would have been proud. Colin, however, wears full harness belts we weren’t wearing any, well they are restrictive when it comes to viewing the animals. I was the only one to suffer. I shot up cut my head on the roof opening and came down hard tearing all the muscles in my lower back. For a short while I thought my holiday was going to come to an abrupt end. I did however manage to continue although in extreme discomfort for a few days.
The next park was Lake Manyara. Here we saw Baboons, Zebra, Wildebeest and a group of Giraffes in some kind of mating ritual. We didn’t have that much time to wait to see what happened although with the size and shape Giraffes the mind boggles at the complications of mating.
The last of the parks on the safari was the Arusha national park where we saw Buffalo, Zebra and Giraffe. Also contained within the park is mount Meru, the fourth highest mountain in Africa and formed by volcanic action. One side of the volcanic cone had fallen away allowing us to climb up to the crater floor giving a good view of the other side of the cone and, at nearly 5000ft, one of the highest cliff faces in the world.
We stayed overnight in a hut near the crater floor where we were rewarded with a good sunrise view of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
That was the end of the safari. After this most went home leaving 5, dare I say myself and 4 girls, to be transferred to another group for the climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro.


After a good nights sleep in the hotel we were transferred to Marangu gate, the entrance to Kilimanjaro national park and the start of the climb. Although the start was 6000ft up we still had nearly 14000 to go.
It was at this point we met our chief guide, named Boniface, and his 6 assistants. There was also a team of 32 porters which were used to carry all that was necessary for the trek.
The first section was along a path through rain forest up to Mandara hut which, at 2700m, was situated at the top of the tree line. All accommodation was in basic wooden mountain huts with bunk beds. There was a dining area were food prepared by the cook and assisted by the guides and porters was served.
The following day the path took us up through open moorland and Alpine meadows with strange looking plants. The atmosphere now began to get thin and we started to become breathless, from here on it was definitely pole pole (slowly slowly). That night was at Horombo hut, 3720m and in sight of Kilimanjaro’s twin peaks of Kibo and Mawenzi.
The following day was spare, included to help acclimatisation. We were taken for a walk to the saddle between Kibo and Mawenzi peaks. From here we had a clear view of the route for the final ascent in 2 days time. It looked steep.
Soon after leaving Horombo on the following day we passed the last spring water, beyond this there was no natural resources and the landscape became almost lunar.
We arrived at Kibo, the final hut at 4709m, during the afternoon. The hut was very bleak, water and wood for cooking had to be carried up as well as the food. Outside the sun would burn the skin in the rare atmosphere, inside in the shade it was cold. The afternoon was spent trying to get some sleep in readiness for the night ahead, it was here we realised how cold it was as we all froze in our sleeping bags. After a light evening meal it was back to our sleeping bags this time wearing our thermals.
We were woken from our beds that night at 11.00pm (yes 11.00pm) for tea and biscuits and to prepare for the final ascent. It was stressed that layers of clothes were required to combat the cold which would be well below freezing on top. I had a thermal vest, tee shirt, cotton shirt, sweat shirt, fleece and Gortex coat.
At 11.50 we were lined up in the darkness ready for the final inspection. This was the only time I saw Boniface without his bonny face. His main concern that we were well and properly prepared. We were all now feeling the effects of the cold, lack of sleep and altitude sickness.
On the dot of midnight, aided by torchlight, we departed strictly “pole pole”. The lower levels were quite straightforward until we reached a steep scree slope which necessitated following a zig zag path across the scree - this was hard going, two steps up and across with one down. The final section was a scramble over ice and rocks to reach Gillmans point at 5.30am. Although this was the top of the volcanic cone it was not the highest point, this was Uhuru on the other side of the cone 11/2 hours walk/climb away. Five of us with 2 guides proceeded along a very narrow ice path on the inside of the crater before changing to a steep climb past dramatic ice fields to the Uhuru summit, 5,895 m high, arriving at 7.00am just after sunrise.
Although cold and tired it was an amazing feeling of satisfaction. The sun had risen, the sky was clear and the whole of Africa lay at our feet.
We savoured the sunrise views for about 20 minutes before descending. On the way down we missed out Gillmans point by cutting through an ice covered gully. Our 2 guides went ahead cutting foot holes with an ice axe. It was at this point I began to wish Father Christmas had brought me a set of crampons. Having survived the ice we arrived at the top of the scree slope and a scree running descent covered in a fraction of the time it took to ascend.
After a couple of hours rest to allow the legs to recover we returned to Horombo hut. The following and last full day the final descent to Merangu gate before being transferred back to our hotel for an evening of celebration which was somewhat subdued because of lack of energy.
On average 30% of those who attempt the climb fail. These are usually young immortal Rambo’s who eventually succumb to altitude sickness by climbing to fast. The final analysis of our group. Unfortunately 2 succumbed to the altitude on the final ascent and had to be brought down. The remaining 14 made it to Gillmans point. Of those 5 of us made to the summit of Uhuru.

Stafford Steed

The Pennine Way


See also Gallery entitled "Pennine Way"
The Pennine Way

This article describes my adventures negotiating one of the toughest high level walks in Britain.
Starting at Edale in Derbyshire and travelling north across the Yorkshire Moors and along the Pennines to Greenhead, then along a stretch of Hadrian’s Wall before heading north again through the border forests and the final sting in the tail across the Cheviots to Kirk Yetholm just inside the Scottish border.
Originally calculated at 250 miles; Arthur Wainwright, now regarded as the authority on the walk, reckons 270 miles, whilst Pennine Wayfarer Barry Pilton considers that depending on the amount you exaggerate and the amount you get lost 300 miles is likely to be more appropriate. Of course it is not all peat bogs, there are many notable and interesting features, too many to fully describe here.
I started on Easter Sunday, the Information Centre issued warnings of snow showers; freezing temperatures and gale force winds above 2,000ft. In case you don’t remember the weather then it left a bit to be desired. The first obstacle was straight up Kinder Scout, a 2,000ft mountain with a desolate plateau on top where the route is undefined, just a lot of peat groughs to help throw you off course – these are erosions in the peat caused by weather and water.
Not wanting to delay things I started undaunted, with compass immediately to hand. The objective on the far side of the plateau was the Kinder Downfall; not very aptly named this day as there was no water falling over the edge, it was all being blown back up vertically. The rest of the day was a trudge across endless moorland peat bogs to Crowden. This is the point where most people give up arriving weary and with aching limbs thinking, “fifteen miles gone, only two hundred and fifty five to go”.
Day two started bright with a steep climb to the top of Laddow rocks then, still climbing, more peat bogs to the top of the 1,900ft Black Hill. I was half a mile from the top when I looked back and saw a violent storm rolling towards me at a tremendous rate of knots. I quickly located my compass clipping it to the straps of my rucksack and battened down the hatches of my Gore-Tex. Within minutes there was a complete white out with hailstones. I located the top and stood there looking at three sheep thinking “poor things” while they stood there looking at me thinking “wally” when there was a tremendous crash of thunder and lightning and I remembered I was the highest thing for miles and with a metal framed rucksack – time for a rapid descent.
Disaster nearly struck on day 4 when, making progress more rapidly than was good for me, I strained the ligaments in my left knee. I was alright going uphill but any steep descents were particularly painful. This was to cause concern for the next few days but with the help of a strong bandage and a bath in Ralgex each night I was able to continue. The worst day was day 10 with the ascent of Great Shunner Fell at 2,340 ft. Not a difficult climb but with a steep descent culminating with a high level walk along a stony sheep track with a beautiful view down Swaledale; unfortunately wasted on me as at the time all I was concerned about was how I was going to get down or whether I could continue at all. Luckily the next couple of days were straightforward moorland walking and, treating the knee with utmost respect, a reasonable recovery was made.
Going back to day 7; because I couldn’t get booked in at Horton on Ribble on the Saturday night, I had an enforced stopover in Malham. This wasn’t a bad thing, Malham is an excellent centre for walking and gave me proper chance to have a look at Gordale Scar and Malham Cove which have to be seen to be appreciated.
The following day Fountains Fell first had to be negotiated followed by the awe inspiring Pen y Ghent, at 2,273 ft a mountain that had dominated the skyline for 24 hours.
As I was stopping in a B&B in Horton I went to the pub for a homemade steak and kidney pie – delicious. I spent half an hour listening to two women, straight out of Coronation Street, talking across the bar about washing and referring to the weather in terms of “Pegging out” days.
I am easily attracted to waterfalls and so with a slight detour on day nine I was able to see Hardraw Force. With a drop of 96 ft it is England’s highest unbroken waterfall. For anyone surefooted it is possible to walk behind, this obviously I could not resist.
One day I particularly wanted sunshine was day 12 for the walk along Teesdale but it unfortunately rained. This is a beautiful stretch of the river Tees with it’s many waterfalls including Low Force and High Force. I was a bit disappointed, maybe it was the weather or maybe I was expecting too much after having seen Iceland.s gigantic waterfalls the previous year.
Day 13 saw one of the most amazing sights the British countryside has to offer, that of High Cup Nick. The spectacle is best seen by Pennine Wayfarers travelling from south to North. Having trudged for miles across moorland peat bogs the land suddenly falls away at your feet and you are suddenly standing on the brink of a colossal horseshoe hollow with steep sides lined with basaltic columns and a view across the fertile valley of Eden to the mountains of the Lake District 20 miles away.
Day 14 necessitated a rescheduling of overnight stops. The next stage was scheduled at 21 miles (measured flat) and included four of the five highest peaks on the journey. I managed to reduce the length to 16 miles but not the number of peaks. The first of the peaks was Knock Fell, at 2,604 ft being just below cloud base and the only one not in cloud. The next peak was Great Dun Fell at 2,780 ft. On climbing this I went into cloud at 11.00am and didn’t come out for 5 hours. Then came Little Dun Fell at 2,761 ft followed by the highest point of the whole Pennine Way, Cross Fell at 2,930 ft.
Days 16 to 17 contained a 10 mile stretch of Hadrian’s Wall built by the Emperor Hadrian in AD125 to keep out the northern tribes. I suppose it worked for a few years. The National Trust and Countryside Commission are certainly to be congratulated on the standard of maintenance with not a sign of graffiti anywhere. This stretch was hard going with the wall built on the edge of an escarpment with a lot of short but sharp ascents and descents to be negotiated and at the start of a heat wave which was to stay with me for the rest of the journey. It was along this stretch that I caught up with the best medical team a bachelor could meet up with on the latter stages of a journey such as this – Helen, a G.P. and Jackie a midwife. As we had identical schedules for the rest of the journey we more or less stayed together along with another couple who we met the following night, Alan and Margaret. By this stage Jackie suffering badly with blisters but with loyal support from Helen was not prepared to be beaten. In conversation I related the story of the two women in Horton talking about their “Pegging Out” days, of course in the girls trade pegging out has a whole different meaning.
After passing through the Wark and Kielder forests all that now remained was the final 28 mile stretch across the Cheviots with no habitation en-route – a very long stretch in a heat wave. We decided to split the journey by dropping down into the valley and stopping overnight at the beautifully remote Uswayford Farm, many miles from the nearest corner shop.
The final walk into Kirk Yetholm was a bit of an anti-climax, Wainwright in his book had indicated that there would be no brass bands; he was right, there wasn’t even a shop where we could buy a coke. It’s lucky there was a group of us to exchange stories for an hour while we waited for the Border Hotel to open for us to obtain our congratulatory pint, courtesy of Mr Wainwright. It was a place we were to return to later to celebrate properly with Steak and Kidney pie and a few more glasses.
It took a few days to re-acclimatise, my return train home stopped at White Hart Lane to pick up the Spurs supporters who had obviously won; what a shock to the system.
Final analogy; it took me 19 days progressive walking which, based on 270 miles, is an average of 14.2 miles per day. In addition Barry Pilton calculated if you add on all the mountains and hills you will have climbed, and presumably descended, the height of Everest.

Stafford Steed