Ohrid daytrip 🇲🇰

You know me, I love a UNESCO world heritage site and I often research which of the protected sites I fancy seeing when I’m planning a trip abroad, and build my trip around those. There is only one UNESCO in North Macedonia and it was over on the west side of the country on the border with Albania and as I’d seen buses and guides in Albania offer trips to this lake and town of Ohrid when I was there, I knew it must be worth a visit.

Buses leave Skopje main station every hour, starting at 7.30AM with a company called Galeb. and costs just over £10 return. With the journey taking close to 3 1/2hours, it may seem a lot for a day trip, but I knew the likelihood of me returning to either N Macedonia or Albania any time soon was unlikely, so I knew this could be my only chance to visit, so with music and podcasts loaded on my phone and semi working headphones, I got on board the bus.

It was a pretty uneventful trip across the country with beautiful landscapes and snowcapped mountains in the distance and just as my limbs were starting to seize up, we pulled into the bus station at the town of Ohrid.

It was a short walk straight down to the lakeside, which also forms the border between N Macedonia and Albania, a fact that becomes all the more apparent when my phone suddenly sent me a text message welcoming me to Albania.

The lake itself is glorious, sparkling, clean and vast and has been a thriving lake and ecosystem for 2 – 3 millions years, with over 200 species of plants and animals unique to the lake. Many locals come here just to experience the beauty of the lake itself, and you would think that would be enough, but there is so much more here to discover among the tiny streets of the old town and on the walk up the side of the cliff along the coast, all of which comes under the protective banner of the world heritage site.

After taking in the views from the lake and enjoying the welcome relief of cool, fresh air, as opposed to the stale air con of the bus, I bypassed the lakeside cafes and restaurants and followed the signs towards the old town.

It turns out this ‘old town’ of Ohrid, is actually the site of one of the oldest settlements in Europe, with a number of archeological sites dotted around, and evidence spreading back as far as the Bronze Age.  The majority of buildings and relics of interest are mainly from around the 7th – 19th centuries, and it was from here that Slavic culture first spread across Europe, but with this being one of the last of the Slavic countries in the region I had left to visit, it was pretty cool to see all the heritage, history and culture at its starting point.

My plan was to explore the old town, then along the lakeside boardwalk, up the side of the cliff to visit the church and then continue onward and upward to the Church, Monastery and settlement. Luckily it wasn’t busy, the sun was out and the views were stunning.

The old town has lots of little streets with quaint small houses, shops and cobblestone streets, a really fascinating place, and you can really imagine what it must have been like all those centuries ago. One of the most interesting places I came across here was the Sveta Sofija Cathedral an 11th century church with incredible fresco’s and stone columns, making it a great place to get some shade.

I then turned left and headed back towards the lake. Once I had located the boardwalk, I started gingerly at first, heading along the lake edge, and then upwards along the side of the cliff, ignoring the long drop to one side, and focused on the shimmering blue lake in the distance instead.

It’s absolutely worth it too, the stunning Saint John at Kaneo church awaits you, a church built possibly as early as the 13th century. Overlooking the lake, with its Armenian inspired roof, colourful fresco’s and incredible views, make sure you stop and rest a while here, conserving energy before heading higher up.

It was getting rather warm as I headed up through a woodland path that lead higher up the cliffside and was glad I had packed water and snacks. At the top I was greeted by the most magnificent stone church and archeological site, known as the Plaosnik settlement and Saint Clement Church.

Originally the stone building started life as a Byzantine church, dedicated to St Clement of Ohrid, but when he arrived he thought it was too small, so he had another one built in its place and assigned it to Saint Panteleimon instead, charming! Once the Ottoman Turks arrived, they converted it into a Mosque, but later on allowed all old monasteries and churches to be restored, and so once again, it returned to being a church. By the end of the 16th century it was once again converted into a mosque, until the year 2000, when the whole area started to undergo massive excavations and it returned once again to being a church . .  for now.

As well as the church itself, there is a large excavation area to explore, tombs, mosaic floors, and over 2000 Venetian coins have been found, showing evidence of a relationship between this lakeside town and the famous Italian city.

As I headed back down towards the old town, to my surprise, I came across an ancient theatre. A quick check in my guidebook put it at being built in 200BC and from the Hellenistic period, meaning between the time of the death of Alexander the Great and the beginning of the Roman Empire and I’m pleased to report its still in use today, hosting concerts, plays and dance performances.

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I also came across a sweet little church, which google later informed me was the Esglesia de Pando, its close by to the ancient theatre and well worth a visit.

I finished my day in Ohrid with an early dinner back by the lakeside, sat out in the sun, tired from all the walking and the fresh air. As I walked back to the bus station, I made plans to take a nap on the long bus back to Skopje, feeling contented that I had made the trek across the country to visit this charming place.

 

Petra to Wadi Rum Roadtrip 🇯🇴

 

 

An absolute must for mum and I’s Jordanian adventure was getting ourselves to see the Unesco sights of both Petra and Wadi Rum. We researched and researched looking at various ways to get there, how much time would it take to travel, how much would it cost and of course how much time did we have to squeeze it all in. After much deliberation and playing about with dates, we decided to hire a car, driving to Petra first as thats the closest of the two destinations from Amman where we were staying, then continuing onward to the Wadi Rum late afternoon, where we would stay overnight, spending most of the 2nd day exploring the desert, before driving back that evening.

Getting there – The cheapest way to get to Petra is by public bus, there is just one bus that leaves Amman daily from the Abdali station to Petra. This bus leaves at 6.30 AM costing 11 Jordanian dollars (£12) and takes 3 hours dropping you off right by the entrance. This is great if you just want to visit Petra as the return bus back to Amman is 16.30PM so perfect for a budget day trip.

The problem we faced is that we also wanted to visit the Wadi Rum afterwards, instead of returning back to Amman, and the bus from Petra to Wadi Rum only leaves once a day at 6AM, taking 2 hours. This meant public transport wasn’t really a convenient option for us as we didn’t want to spend night in Petra, we wanted our overnight to be in the Wadi Rum.

Taxi’s of course will drive you to Petra from Amman, but the average cost seemed to be over £100 each way! So not an option for us budget travellers.

All the tour companies offer trips to Petra as its the most popular sight in the country. The costs are really expensive though, but there are plenty of options available, from day returns, overnights, add on’s to the Wadi Rum, Aqaba or the Dead Sea, but we struggled to find anything within our budget, that included an overnight to the Wadi Rum as well. If you want to squeeze in both together in one day, you are probably looking at a 4AM start, otherwise tours that include an overnight, start at around £400+ for two people minimum.

So we hired a car, and picked an early 8AM pick up time, returning the following evening, costing us a budget friendly £50 plus petrol. We picked up the car from Amman airport, meaning we didn’t need to navigate the chaotic roads inside the capital, and from the airport its pretty much one straight road south for about 3 hours to Petra.

 

We didn’t even need Sat Nav, we just used the GPS on our i-phones,  there is free wifi in the airport, so I connected to that, and then downloaded the directions before we set off, so I didn’t need to use any data.

There’s lots of parking at Petra and its only a short walk to the front entrance, where there are toilets, stalls, an information centre, lots of places to rest and free wifi. We had our Jordan Pass which includes entry to Petra, otherwise it will cost you £54 for a day pass, £60 for a 2 day pass and £65 for a 3 day stay. If you are travelling over from Egypt or the Israel Palestine border, and aren’t planning to spend an overnight in Jordan you’re looking at close to £100 pounds for entry.  If you travel over from another country and go straight to Petra before staying elsewhere in the country, you pay the 90JD (£98) and then get £43 back the next day.

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Setting off around 8am meant we got to Petra just before lunch and we had already brought snack bars and water, so we could head straight off down the track to see as much of it as possible, keeping a close eye on the time, as we needed to be at the Wadi Rum for sunset.

 

Staying focused and hydrated, with map in hand, we set off to explore this architectural city, which was home to people as far back at 7000BC, incredible! Also known as the Rose City, its a beautiful walk through the pink rock coloured passages, or Siq, until it all opens out and the world famous Treasury stands before you. It really was a trip to be stood right in front of this unmistakable world wonder that I had seen so many times, over so many years in magazines and on TV. Beyond the Treasury, the city opens up even more, and as you walk along the Colonnaded Street you see a huge theatre built into the rock face,  a pool and garden complex. If you have budgeted to spend the best part of the day there, then continue beyond the ‘city centre’ out towards the Monastery complex. We didn’t think we would have time to see The Monasatery if we were to make the drive onward to the Wadi Rum, so we slowly took our time walking back to the entrance, making sure we didn’t miss a single thing that we may have missed on our way in, as I was quite overwhelmed on arrival, not quite believing we were actually there!

Driving onward to the Wadi Rum takes about another 2 hours, and we arrived close to sunset at the main carpark, which is housed just outside the desert valley, timing it perfectly to meet our Bedouin host for the next 24 hours.

Wadi Rum is also known as the Valley of the Moon, and you really do feel like you have been transported to a far away planet as we were  driven across the lunar like desert in a 4×4. Sandy wind in our hair, and the most incredible pink mountains above, orange sand below and a setting sun, we had truly been transported to a different world.

 

As it was getting dark and cold, our guide with Wadi Rum Nature Tours took us straight to our tent where our evening meal was already being prepared, and we settled in to enjoy an incredible 3 course meal of flat breads, dips, casserole and sugary sweet pastries, and lots of hot Bedouin tea with sage. We had planned to enjoy the dark desert skies to do some star gazing (I had even downloaded a star map app), but the night was lit up with the most magnificent full moon, which although impressive in its own right, it made finding other stars and the milky way pretty impossible to spot. Then it was off for a deep sleep with extra blankets in our traditional tent.

The next morning after a hot shower and more hot tea we were off with our guide for a full days drive across the desert, with a lunch stop and plenty of tea stops of course. So taken with the local Bedouin tea was I, that I ended up buying lots to take home, and it still tasted as good once I got back.

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On the day trip we took there were many highlights, from famous rocks, sand dunes, scenes from famous films and lots of popular selfie spots, but for me, it was the entire experience. You can only travel across the desert with a guide, by foot or camel, so there are no cars, or roads or massive groups of people, which means you really feel like you have left modern civilisation behind, it was like being in some incredible sparsely populated landscape that only you and a few others know about, like some epic secret, that you want to keep for yourself.

 

Of course the Wadi Rum is famous in the west for it being the place where the 1962 film Laurence of Arabia was filmed (which I watched on the flight over actually) and the more modern film, Martian from 2015 as well as the recent Star Wars sequels. So tours will inevitably stop at Laurence’s Spring,  the Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Laurence’s House. But don’t worry if you’re not a fan or have no interest in any of the films made here, there is so much more. There are rock bridges, ancient carvings inscribed into the rock faces, you can hike sand dunes while spotting the camels walking down below, and the incredible endless views of desert from the 4×4, there were many tent stops along the way to buy local produce, and ample opportunities to just to sit and drink tea with your guide.

I was felt truly happy and settled here and was not quite ready to get back into the car to drive the 4 hours up north to the loud, busy capital. But once dusk started to appear it was time to head back to the village just on the inside of the protected area to collect our car. I could quite easily have had a 2nd night here and then carried on south to the Saudi border, which was only a short drive away, so if I ever return thats going to be on my agenda, but for now, I have lots of amazing memories, many many pictures and a few bags of local sage tea.

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Dovestone Rocks, Oldham

So this hike, organised by the Bee Sober Sunday walking group, was advertised as a full day, long walk, but I think that bit went over my head. I just saw the words Peak District Sunday Hike and cleared my diary (who am I kidding we are in the middle of a pandemic, in the worse hit area of the UK, I had no other plans) So slightly unprepared, I turned up to an already busy carpark, at 9.30am on Sunday morning, scrabbling for change for the carpark, which seemed to reject every other 20p I put into it.

I could see the majority of the people parked up were here for a stroll around the Reservoir. Located just to the edge of the Peak District meant on a clear day, the views are superb, but I was well aware, we were walking in a completely different direction, away from said reservoir.

After a slight back and forth, our hike leader (i.e the one who downloaded the route onto his phone) found the correct path, and we headed North up a rather steep hill, it was a bit of a sharp wake up call for still early on a Sunday morning, but I slowly acclimatised and was able to appreciate the views soon enough, (once I got my breath back).

First spot for a group photo and quick break for snacks was the Pots and Pans war memorial atop Aldermans Hill.

Then, it was back onto the track, across to Dick Hill, full of rocks precariously looking out across the Peak District and down to the reservoir, not a place to hang around if someone has a fear of heights, and so we quickly retreated to lower ground when one of our group turned a rather pale shade of grey.

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Back on lower ground, some of us in the group (the tired ones) looked longingly at the reservoir and the carpark as it came back into view, but not for long, we headed East along the top of the reservoir, then back up a sharp incline, following the path alongside the rather magnificent Dovestones Cascade, that brings the water down. 490A98E2-CEB3-4DE3-804E-3F1695ED6AC3

At the top is Ashway Rocks, and it was here we stopped for lunch, and took in the misty and atmospheric views across the Peak District, which also distracted from my slightly undercooked pasta salad I had brought for lunch. Then, realising we still had a good 2 hours to go to get back to the carpark, we headed back on the trail. This portion of the walk was high up along the top, along Alphins Pike, with views of the reservoir below and Manchester up ahead and I’m sure I could spot my car down in the carpark!

I have to admit, the descent was painful, my underused muscles were not happy, but as soon as we landed back on the track heading for the car, my muscles relaxed again & all was happy.  Until the next morning of course, when I was rudely reminded of just how far we had walked the previous day. It was challenging in parts, but fun, with a great likeminded group of folk, all of us just making the most of the Covid restrictions and joining up to get out and connect with nature. Overall, another successful hike.

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Sunday hike around Anglezarke

Anglezarke, White Coppice and Great Hill Circular

I’ve done parts of this walk all seperately, in this area of Lancashire close to Chorley. I’ve taken a nice stroll through White Coppice the little village that once was a busy industrial part of the county. I’ve done a windy dog walk up to Great Hill and back, starting over in Brinscall, and I’ve also parked up at the Anglezarke reservoir for a explore with mum, but this particular time, one of the Bee Sober hikers planned a 15km loop trail linking up all three.

It had been raining heavily the night before, so after a quick fumble with some borrowed gaiters, I finally managed to strap them to my walking boots, double check I had enough snacks & the 3 of us headed off. Having done shorter versions of this walk with my 70 year old mother, it didnt really twig at first that the estimated 2 hours to complete the hike was completely unrealistic, until after closer interrogation from one of the other walkers, our leader admitted he has miscalculated and had based the timings on a trail run and not a casual hike, involving photo stops, lunch and carefully negotiating patches of boggy moorland. Not that any of that mattered, we were all in for the hike regardless, but knowing it was going to take double the time, us ladies on the walk, just limited our water intake, in case we didnt find anywhere discrete enough to pee. (Which reminds me, I must order a shewee!)

The first stage of the hike involves as easy to follow paved road, a babbling brook, remains of a lead mine and a memorial to an air crash in 1943, and a stunning landscape of the lancashire moors beyond.

 

It was then that the borrowed gaiters came into thier own, after bravely following our designated leader across a field of cows, we headed off across the rather wet moorland. First heading for Round Loaf, said to possibly be a prehistoric burial site, its a great spot to stop and take stock of the journey so far. There are amazing views across to Winter Hill and the rest of the moors from atop the mound, and from here you’ll see other hikers on the many other trails that link up in the area, including the Lancashire Way.

 

Next it was across more boggy moorland to join up with the path to Great Hill, where we stopped for a quick lunch. Quick because it was quite windy and it can get quite cold sitting on the stone bench at the summit, but again the views were worth it.

Then it was a slow descent towards White Coppice, when the rainclouds opened, but it made for an atmospheric, misty walk along the quarry and the Dean Black Brook waterfalls.

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Then ignoring the one dead sheep along the side of the path, we headed back round towards Anglezarke, passing the reservoir and back to the carpark, just totalling over 4 hours in all, including our stop for lunch. It was then time to head home for a hot shower and straight into my PJ’s for what was left of  the afternoon, there is nothing like that tiredness that comes with being outdoors for the day, perfect!