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Melbourne for Dogs - who could resist that brown-eyed retriever?  Not me!

Melbourne for Dogs – who could resist that brown-eyed retriever? Not me!

I can’t believe it’s been almost 3 months since I managed to update my blog!  Well, actually I can, as I have been pretty busy, with work trips to Mongolia, Canberra, Hanoi and Cambodia since then (plenty of stories and sights to share). But my big news is that the first copy of my new book, Melbourne for Dogs, has just arrived in my hot little hands today, as an advance copy from the printers.  Honestly – the anticipation has been almost too much to bear – it’s been somewhat like an elephant’s gestation, 2 years in the making and finally it has popped out fully formed in glossy, glorious colour!

RSPCA Victoria have come on board and endorsed it, which is wonderful, and we’ll be launching it at the Melbourne Dog Lovers Show, which will be at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton from 2nd – 4th May 2014.  You can pre-order it from Woodslane online, or after the show, it will be available in all good bookstores and online, as well as through RSPCA shops, and some vets and pet stores as well. It will retail for $24.95, but if you buy one at the show, it will be on special for $19.95. There are over 700 off-lead dog parks and 50+ off-lead beaches in there, as well as a series of longer dog and people-friendly walks to keep you entertained, in the style of the Melbourne’s Best Walks book.  I do hope you and your pooch enjoy using it to explore (off-lead) pastures new – Indie and I certainly enjoyed researching it!

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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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Have just spent the past week getting out and about with the Geelong Walks book – so exciting when all your work comes to fruition and people start to use it! Now, though, my plate is clear so I can knuckle down on Melbourne for Dogs, which is due to the publishers at the end of April.  From that point, it is still around 5 months of editing, designing, cartography etc until it reaches the shelves – I find the whole ‘hidden’ processes behind books quite fascinating.

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Indie, Seagull Lookout, St Kilda Marina

Meanwhile, my co-author on Melbourne for Dogs, a.k.a. Indie, is just kicking back and contemplating the seagulls from her window seat on the front of my kayak, down at St Kilda marina yesterday – a great way to cool off after the longest lasting run of 30C+ February days we’ve ever had in Melbourne.  Needless to say, we’re enjoying doing the beaches chapter of the book just now.  West St Kilda Beach is a favourite – close  by and off-leash for dogs all year round – plus the kite boarders who favour it provide endless hours of entertainment for dogs who run after their enormous, colourful kites in the shallow waters. Dog heaven.

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ImageBack to Planet Oz to find my new book waiting on my doorstep. Yay! A year in the making and it feels like an elephant pregnancy, but finally Best Walks of Geelong, the Bellarine and the Brisbane Ranges is here. I think it looks great – but I would do! It should be in bookstores, newsagents and Tourist Info Centres in the region before the end of the month – let me know what you think!  You can also buy it direct through Woodslane’s online bookstore or other online booksellers.  It retails for $29.99 and includes 40 great walks. Alternatively, if you are in a cafe or other outlet and would like to stock it, let me know and I will put you in touch with the publishers. Now, finally, onto Melbourne for Dogs….

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Merrivale Standing Stone (menhir), Dartmoor (c) JP Mundy 2012

Merrivale Standing Stone (menhir), Dartmoor (c) JP Mundy 2012

My wanderings around the UK this (northern) winter, have brought me down to very wet, but always beautiful south Devon countryside, to visit friends.  The only solution for socialising in the current inclement (think floods, driving rain, more floods) is to meet up at some of the country’s gorgeous pubs, so we had every excuse we needed to find our way to the Dartmoor Inn at Merrivale, high up on sodden and windswept Dartmoor. Just behind the Inn is the old Merrivale granite quarry which once provided the stones for London Bridge.  Just a short walk from the Inn across the saturated moor, are some remarkable groups of standing stones (think Stone Henge but smaller and wilder) and double stone rows thought to have been placed there over 4000 years ago, though noone is really sure what prupose they served: celestial alignments to help with planting, burial sites or other sorts of ritual seem to get the most votes.

4000 years old and counting: Merrivale Stone Rows on Dartmoor (c) JP Mundy

4000 years old and counting: Merrivale Stone Rows on Dartmoor (c) JP Mundy

Dartmoor itself apparently has more than 70 stone ‘rows’, standing circles and towering standing stones on various sites. Merrivale is the largest and most diverse site on the whole moor with a number of parallel double and single stone rows, a stone circle, menhir (standing stone) and burial chamber.

As fascinating as all the stones were, probably the most interesting part of the walk was coming across a Dartmoor ‘quaver’, surely the nominee for the weirdest bog-effect in the world: somehow the dense peat matted together in places to hold bubbles of water under its surface, and walking on it was somewhat like walking on a bubbly water bed.  Utterly bizarre.

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Sgurr Coire na Choinnichean, above the forests of Inverie, Knoydart, Scotland

Sgurr Coire na Choinnichean, above the forests of Inverie, Knoydart, Scotland

Well, the night before this glorious day, the water pipes froze in the ground here, it was THAT cold.  But in the end, despite it being the second week of December and the rest of the UK wallowing in the wettest year on record, I walked in t-shirt sleeves under blue skies and above expansive views across the sea to Skye.  In fact, it was so picture-perfect, that I can’t help but include lots of photos in this blog, to give you a sense of why this place is so special.

Though the sunlight hours are very short up here in the Western Highlands (around 5 hours in all), I decided to have a crack at a hill walk up Sgurr Coire na Choinnichean (it rhymes with ‘heineken’ apparently: ‘sgurr korry na konniken‘). It is the big hulking hill that rises above the tiny town of Inverie (reached by boat from Mallaig), but is often overlooked for it’s more glamorous neighbouring munros, which were topped with snow. However, it has some hidden surprises – and it also gets the sun for most of the day, which is incentive enough in winter!  A beautiful start steeply up through the mossy forests above Inverie, over the deer fence by way of a vertiginous stile, then a pathless clog up and up, and up some more through heather, mud and icy bog, with Inverie becoming progressively smaller below.

Looking across to Eigg and Rhum from above Inverie (c) JP Mundy 2012

Looking across to Eigg and Rhum from above Inverie.

The sky was brilliant blue and the iced up heather spectacular, as you can see:

Jet stream above the slopes of Coire na Choinneachean, Knoydart (c) JP Mundy 2012

Jet stream above the slopes of Coire na Choinneachean, Knoydart

Icicles on winter heather, Knoydart, Scotland (c) JP Mundy 2012

Icicles on winter heather, Knoydart, Scotland

After a lot of puffing up the boggy hillside, you lose sight of Inverie below and make your way around the rim of the impressive hidden gully/gorge of Allt Slochd a’Mogha (seriously, don’t ask me how to pronounce that one!).

Allt Slochd a'Mogha Gorge, Knoydart, Scotland (c) JP Mundy 2012

Allt Slochd a’Mogha Gorge, Knoydart, Scotland

Looking down the Allt Slochd a'Mogha gorge to Long Beach, Knoydart (c) JP Mundy 2012

Looking down the Allt Slochd a’Mogha gorge to Long Beach, Knoydart (c) JP Mundy 2012

At the head of the gorge, you reach a totally unexpected high level pasture-land/bog, which gives you 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains and lochs, including the magnificent Laddher Bhein, Bhein na Caillich and across to the Cuillins on Skye.

Benn na Caillich, from the plateau on Sgurr Coire na Coinnichean (c) JP Mundy 2012

Benn na Caillich, from the plateau on Sgurr Coire na Coinnichean

The final pull up the two summits of Coire na Choinnichean was not for me this day, sadly, as with the sun going down by 3pm and the rocks and ridges hanging onto their ice, I had to turn around and save it for another day.  SO tough with it close enough to grasp….

The tantalising but icy summit of Sgurr Coire na Choinnichean, with the snow-covered summit of Laddher Bhein peeking above the horizon (c) JP Mundy 2012

The tantalising but icy summit of Sgurr Coire na Choinnichean, with the snow-covered summit of my favourite munro, Laddher Bhein, peeking above the horizon

Totally wild. Utterly spectacular. Very, very hard to leave.

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Well, here’s a bit of excitement (for me at least!).  My next guidebook, Best Walks of Geelong, the Bellarine and the Brisbane Ranges (Woodslane Press) was finally sent off to the printers on the 19th October and should be in stores by mid-December, ready for you to plan some lovely Christmas walks.  It will retail for $29.95 and has 40 terrific walks to suit all sorts of abilities and interests. A big thank you to my terrific editors at Woodslane Press, and to my patient friends who joined me on many of the walks (Karen, Deb, Di and Fred – legends all!). Here’s a sneak preview of the cover, so you know what to look out for. Hope you enjoy the walks as much as I did!

Best Walks of Geelong, the Bellarine and the Brisbane Ranges
JP Mundy (2012), Woodslane Press

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As (incredible) luck would have it, my day job has brought me to the wilds of Snowdonia in North Wales this week, and I have managed to fit in some incredible walks in these beautiful Welsh mountains.  The one advantage of jet lag is that I have been up every day very early so have walked before each work day has started. At the start of the week, the weather was unimaginably good and I had time to walk up Mt Snowdon (Yr Wddfa, which means The Burial Mound), taking the easy route up the 15km return Llanberis path to start with which follows beside the remarkable mountain railway. This is a highly accessible and easy route for anyone who wishes to walk this majestic, mythical mountain (King Arthur died on its slopes and his sword Excalibur was reputedly thrown into Glaslyn (a lake) on its slopes – his knights are still supposed to be asleep under a neighbouring mountain, awaiting his return!). The walk takes you past Welsh Mountain ponies and lots of sheep and in the early morning was quiet, though very busy on the return.

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I headed off the Llanberis path at LLyn Du r Arddu before the final climb to take a more interesting and peaceful route with a bit of a scramble up around Clogwyn Cloch to the top – where you are greeted by the surreal sight of a train station! I have climbed Yr Wyddfa in years gone by, via the Pyg Track and the Miners Route, but always in cloud and mist, so the views this time were just astounding. The haze of the warm day reduced visibility, but apparently on a clear day you can see all the way across to Ireland and the Isle of Man!

LLyn (Lake) Du r Arddu, beneath the summit of Yr Wyddfa (Mt Snowdon)

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Studley Park Boathouse on the Yarra River, Melbourne

There were once 7 historic boathouses lining the banks of the Yarra River – popular in Melbourne’s Victorian and Edwardian eras, when people took their pleasure most seriously with days out for genteel boating and cream teas by the river. There are still two magnificent boathouses left on the Yarra today, and even more pleasingly, they are surrounded by wonderful riverside walks along this beautiful green corridor through the heart of Melbourne.  In some parts of Yarra Bend and Fairfield Parks you can feel a hundred miles from the city, surrounded by remnant river gums, native grasslands and beautiful escarpments, though the hum of traffic is always in the background. Probably the best way to take it all in is to take the riverside walk all the way from Fairfield Park Boathouse to Studley Park Boathouse, some 10 kilometres away, crossing the pipe bridge in front of Fairfield Boathouse and turning right beside the river to walk beneath the Eastern Freeway overpass, past the beautiful Bellbird Picnic area and around Yarra Bend to end up at Studley Park Boathouse.

View to the Pipe Bridge from Studley Park boathouse

Public transport isn’t great here, so either do it as a return walk (20km) or a full day circuit by crossing the river again at Studley Park boathouse and continuing left along the river, turning right at Dight Falls to follow alongside Merri Creek, and right again to follow the main Yarra Trail back towards the Pipe Bridge and boathouse.  Alternatively, arrange for a car shuttle, but make sure you include time for a bit of boating on the river and definitely a cream tea at either end! A fantastic spring walk full of bush, wattle and birdlife – smack in the middle of the city. Dogs are fine on this walk, and there is plenty for them to smell along the way, though they must be on lead and keep an eye out for speeding mountain bikers!

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