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It’s amazing what I find in the “drafts” section of my blog – I think I owe you this second day of my walk in the Italian Alps from about a year ago!  Here’s the link to Day 1 if you want to do something daft and read it chronologically!

So, I think to myself, Day 2 of the Dorsale walk has to be about going down, since so much of yesterday was about going up.  Right? Perhaps I had forgotten that I had descended to 1100m to stay at the wonderful Alpetto di Torno last night.  So a descent would be wishful thinking. First off, I had to head up through all those dairy cows, which were clanking away through the meadows with their bells (who would have thought they would be so noisy?!) and follow some old goat tracks up the valley sides to regain the main Dorsale track.  Despite a few wrong turns, I got there eventually, and reached the high point of the walk, at 1560m, right beside the top of some old ski lifts and a wintering barn, at Alpe di Terra Biotta.  From here, there’s a one hour easy detour you can do to summit on Mont St Primo  for 360 degree views across the entire Dorsale (triangle wedge) region, as well as a good look at the descent ahead.

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After sucking up the view, finally, finally, you are rewarded by the down: flex those knees everyone! It’s a gorgeous, and in places, steep descent, past astonishing wildflowers, more of those clanking dairy cows, and even clinking (think cow bells, but higher pitched!) goat herds.  You even have to dodge a competitive mountain bike trail at one stage. As you drop from the mountains, and down into pasturelands, you start to wander past ruined stone farmhouses and cottage gardens, and to be honest, I just couldn’t resist the Solo Walkers Indulgence: lying on my back in the grass of a wildflower meadow, in the sun, reading my book for an hour.  Talk about a guilty pleasure! And OK, so it does mean I strolled down the old Mules Path and into gorgeous Bellagio rather late in the day, and a gelato never tasted so good, but the final insult was the flights of stone stairs UP through the village to reach my apartment. That was just someone’s joke, I am sure.

 

Ruined farmhouses along the Dorsale

Ruined farmhouses along the Dorsale

 

I couldn’t recommend this walk more as a way to get from A to B – while the lakeside villages were just teeming with people, as you might expect in June/July, I passed probably 8 or so people and about 5 mountain bikers for the full 2 days. It’s a great, and relaxed walk for families and small groups too – just make sure you book ahead for the Refugio, as they only open to bookings.

The final stroll beside Lake Como as you reach Bellagio

The final stroll beside Lake Como as you reach Bellagio

I spent another 5 days lake-hopping around the various tiny lake towns, and spent another 2 days walking along the ancient and overgrown Roman Road which hangs on the rockface above the west side of Lake Como, winding in and out of villages, and saw no-one other than an equally ancient old photographer. I just love how even in the most popular tourist destinations, a pair of walking boots can find you peace in just a few long strides.  Alternatively, if you get sick of all those hills, you can just grab one of these and cut direct across the lake on your bike!

Clearly this guy doesn't like taking the indirect route around the Lake via the roads!

Clearly this guy doesn’t like taking the indirect route around the Lake via the roads!

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It’s New Year’s Eve and am in the UK with the kids. Time for a lovely stroll with our extended English family today around the headland at Clevedon, near Bristol in the UK. After the cold, icy snow of the Christmas week while we were further north, the mild seaside weather (7C) today was practically tropical. Poets Walk starts from the seawall and takes you up, around and on top of the headland, with (murky – well, it is the middle of winter, after all!) views across the Bristol Channel and wider views across the mudflats and mouth of the River Yeo, which has the highest tidal fall in the UK. The walk back through the woodlands takes you under pretty arbours with cheeky little robins hopping about. It’s a great and interesting short walk to do with kids.

Poets Walk, Clevedon, UK

Poets Walk, Clevedon, UK

The bonus about almost any short walk in the UK, is that it invariably ends up at a cosy pub, and being New Year’s mulled cider was the order of the day. Not a bad way to see in the new year!

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The first time I visited Canberra as an adult tourist, I practically missed it – really! For those not from Canberra and unused to its unique, hub-and-axis design, it is nearly impossible to ‘find’ any shops or schools or even the city centre (? Civic) as you drive through.  However, after coming here for years for work on a fly-in-fly-out basis, I have finally started to get to know this quite beautiful planned city.

The National Carillion, Canberra © JP Mundy 2013

The National Carillion, Canberra

Designed by Americans Walter and Marion Burley Griffith in 1912 in response to a global architectural competition to design a fitting national capital city for Australia, it was not until the 1950’s when then Prime Minister Robert Menzies decided to commit his energy, support and importantly, Treasury funds, which enabled the full realisation of the Griffiths’ original vision for the nation’s capital – including the magnificent man-made lake. A great way to see this vision on foot, if you only have a short time here, is to take in the 5km central circuit walk around the shoreline of Lake Burley Griffith – the southern shore of which follows the RJ Menzies walk. There is great deal to take in along this walk, popular with active Canberrans on foot, bike, roller blade and even motorised skateboards! There are plenty of information plaques to keep you interested along the way.

The Canadian Golden Jubilee flagpole

The Canadian Golden Jubilee flagpole

Starting at Commonwealth Park,  and heading clockwise towards the magnificent National Carillion on its own island in the lake, you stroll along the Menzies walk past the enormous (128 feet) wooden flagpole made of a single Douglas Fir brought from British Columbia as a gift to Canberra from the people of Canada to commemorate the city’s Golden Jubilee.

Further on there are pretty gardens with views sweeping directly across both Old and New Parliament Houses – a sight where you can really appreciate the ‘land axis’ of Burley-Griffith’s design. Keep an eye out for Sir Robert Menzies himself, strolling along the lakeside of his beloved lake.

Watch out for life-size Prime Minister Robert Menzies strolling towards you on the RJ Menzies walk

Watch out for life-size Prime Minister Robert Menzies strolling towards you on the RJ Menzies walk

I was really taken with the National Carillion though, housing 55 bells in its  towering geometric structure. While there are regular performances by Canberra’s keen carillionists, every quarter of an hour, the beautiful bells mark out a chime. It’s early worth wandering out onto the island to enjoy the views of the tower as well as the rest of the lake. Keep an eye out for the Paris-style engraved padlocks starting to appear on the footbridge across to the island – lovers declare their love by locking padlocks onto its railings and tossing the keys into the water below. Gotta love a bit of romance!

Lock it up and throw away the key, this love ain't going anywhere!

Lock it up and throw away the key, this love ain’t going anywhere!

From the Carillion, head up and across the bridge and turn right to join the northern shoreline, looking bcd towards Mt Ainslie, the views across to the War Memorial and Carillion are beautiful in the late afternoon.  Soon the walk takes you past the National Gallery and it’s worth detouring through the extensive sculpture gardens.  Do you recognise Anthony Gormley’s Angel of North (it’s one of 5 life-size maquettes of the gigantic original which is on the M1 in the north of England)?

The National Carillion tucked under the Angel of the North's wings

The National Carillion tucked under the Angel of the North’s wings

Just past the gallery, you can stroll on the grass outside the High court. I am so grateful I live in a country where you can just wander up to such critical buildings without having to leap through, under and over all sorts of security. Further along and you can walk beneath the UN Flag Display – quite a fun guessing game with or without kids – providing you don’t mind craning your neck. I think I got about 20/150 right – oh dear! The design museum sits between all the flags, right on the waterfront, then its past Parliament House and the peace garden before heading up and over the bridge back towards the city centre. A really gorgeous and interesting 5km stroll for the early evening. Thanks Canberra!

Canberra;s UN Display of Flags with the High Court in the background

Canberra’s UN Display of Flags with the High Court in the background

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ImageWell, here’s a bit of excitement (for me, anyway!) – a sneak peek at the cover for Melbourne for Dogs has just arrived from the publishers. How can you resist the gorgeous golden retriever on the cover – she was at Cheltenham Park one overcast day in the winter, melting hearts all over – and yes, that’s a very mental looking Indie having fun in the water down at St Kilda West beach – we headed there yesterday to escape the heat and spent lots of time wading through the waters at low tide. Great way for dogs and their humans to cool off.  The other bit of exciting news about Melbourne for Dogs is that the book is going to be launched at the Melbourne Dog Lovers Show on 2nd-4th May next year at the Royal Exhibition Buildings in Carlton, where there will be a big wall display of the more than 750 off-lead parks and 52 off-lead beaches in Melbourne (taken from the book), and little old me and the books!  Looking forward to meeting some of you there!

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ImageWell, I found out today from my publishers that the release date for Melbourne for Dogs is now expected to be March 2014, instead of Christmas – bummer! So to console myself, I headed up to Bacchus Marsh to see my folks and went for a gorgeous spring stroll along the riverside track which runs from Peppertree Park (off Grant Street, beside the swimming pool – good off-street parking), upstream beside picturesque Werribee River for about 2km, narrowing right at the end until you can cross to the other side at the old ford and return on the opposite bank, through parks and picnic grounds. It’s a gentle and well maintain path and very popular with local dog walkers (on lead) and cyclists.  There are great views up the valley and escarpment which mark the entrance to the geological wonder that becomes Werribee Gorge. This is an easy and pretty walk for those with kids, with opportunities to splash in the water and plenty of shade under the River Red Gums.  It’s also suitable for bikes and scooters. Combined with a visit to Bacchus Marsh’s famous orchards or pick-you-own berry farms, this makes for an easy and interesting day out, just 45 minutes from Melbourne on the Western Highway.

ImageAs a kid, we lived on a farm outside of Bacchus Marsh, which bordered Werribee River, and I remember impressive floods every couple of years, but many years ago, the base of the river was graded and cleared to allow for better flow during flood times, so it’s rare that a flood breaks the banks these days, though it did just a couple of years ago, when the path had to be rebuilt. I love walking in the spring – the sun is warm but not hot on your back, the wildflowers are out – wattle is a riot of colour and scent just now, and the skies are a lovely blue.  Suddenly, you can breathe again after the grey and chill of winter.  Glorious.

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ImageI just love, love, LOVE walking in Australia on cool, crisp autumn days.  What’s not to like – you don’t get hot, you don’t have to carry gallons of water and you don’t have to worry about stepping on the slithery ones. Today Deb, co-author Indie-the-Dog and I headed for the Dandenongs – only 40 minutes from Melbourne’s city centre but a million miles away in terms of peace and beauty.  We did the 14km return trail walk from the beautiful hill town of Emerald to Cockatoo and back, taking in the spectacular autumn leaf beauty of Nobilis Gardens and Emerald Lake Park and the towering eucalyptus and colourful funghii of Wrights Forest. For a shorter walk you could always take the bus back from Cockatoo (though not with a dog), but we were glad of the return walk, as the weather only got better as we went along, and the late afternoon rays through the Japanese maples were breathtaking.  A fantastic bush walk with a dog, as there is an off-leash park at either end, though dogs must be on lead for the rest of it. If you do the walk without a dog on weekends and school holidays, you can take a load off and catch the Puffing Billy steam train back from Cockatoo at 3pm.

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a chance to post my latest walks, as I’ve been doing a lot of travel for my day job this year: Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Timor Leste – but not a spare moment for walking in each of these incredible destinations. Grrr! This week though, I did manage to get up to the Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park, in Victoria’s west, where I hadn’t been for 10 years.  Stupid me for taking so long to get back here – I had forgotten about the extraordinary rock formations and abundant wildlife, and frankly terrific walking, especially in the crisp, clear autumn weather. And all this just an easy 3.5 hour drive from Melbourne.

ImageThe Wonderland area, just outside of the main centre of Halls Gap, has got to represent some of the most interesting walking in Victoria – the walk through ‘The Grand Canyon’, while nowhere near on the scale of its famous American counterpart, is nonetheless spectacular. There is a short 1km loop route absolutely perfect for kids, who will just love it, leaping over rocks and scrambling beneath under hangs. You could spend days just exploring this area, and there are good walks brochures for sale in the town which outline a dozen or so walks of various lengths and difficulty.

MacKenzie Falls, The Grampians (C) JP Mundy

MacKenzie Falls, The Grampians (C) JP Mundy

Another beautiful area, further along the Mt Victory Road, past the lookout of The Balconies, is MacKenzies Falls.  Take your knees along for the walk, which takes in 250+ steps on the way down the gorge to the base of these spectacular year-round falls, which must be 30m high and then some. I love how there is an entirely independent weather system at the base of waterfalls, with wind gushing from its base even on the stillest days. Parks Victoria are still working to restore major track damage along the gorge left from the 2012 floods, so beyond the waterfall is still closed as helicopters fly in the materials to restore the tracks.

The other bonus of the area is the wildlife – in Halls Gap itself there are kangaroos literally bouncing down the main street, and you have to drive slowly everywhere you go to avoid all the pretty black wallabies. Over breakfast in the morning, I was also visited by a rowdy flock of cockatoos checking me out. Could have stayed for weeks.

Curious Cockatoo at Halls Gap

Curious Cockatoo at Halls Gap (c) JP Mundy 2013

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