Winter Navigation training, 27th February to 2nd March, 2015

Fri 27th February
A nice if lengthy journey up to Aviemore. I used a split tickets site: http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/split-cheap-train-tickets/ and knocked about £80 off the cost. The drawback outgoing was this:
Taxi to station
Sowerby bridge to Hebden Bridge
Hebden to Preston long wait
Preston to Edinburgh Haymarket
Edinburgh to Aviemore
Split ticket had me changing at Burnley Manchester Road too but the ticket man and I agreed this was pointless which cut my trains from 5 to 4 and waiting at Preston was infinitely preferable to Burnley Manc Rd which has nothing to recommend it.
Great scenery and lots of snow. Almost Orient Express at times. Not the passengers though.
I stepped out of Aviemore station to a bitter wind. So quickly popped into Tesco and then bimbled around an outdoor shop while waiting for the minibus pickup to Glenmore Lodge. I chatted to Carson a young man from the USA who was going to do a winter skills weekend. Another man came and told us that he’d spent a week at the Lodge and that the food was plentiful but not haute cuisine. He went away and the minibus arrived. Hundreds of people and bags got out and Carson and I got in.
I paid a single supplement for a room to myself. My sleep is very poor these days and I would hate to be disrupting someone else as well as me.
The room was enormous and had beds from the Olympic village. So I may have slept on Bolt’s bed!
I picked up my gear from stores – shovel, ice axe, avalanche probe, avalanche transceiver, helmet, crampons.
To the bar for a veggie curry with rice and poppadoms. Not bad at all. Washed down with a half of Cairngorm brewery Trade Winds.
To bed.
Drumochda from the train
Drumochter from the train
Olympic beds
Olympic beds
Sat 28th February
Got up early and walked down the road to the reindeer centre but the reindeer were not at home.
Back to breakfast. All self service so I toasted my bread and buttered it then put beans on. Orange juice.  Collected lunch. More civilised than PYB where everyone throws themselves at the packed lunches before getting their breakfasts.
To lecture theatre for welcome from Nigel.
To Ryvoan room to meet others on course and our instructor Kirsty. Billy, Steve, John, Mary, Pat. Mary and Pat are both experts in Gaelic, pronounced Gallic, so I may have learnt a couple of words.
3 of us have summer ML and 3 are beginners. Kirsty did a fantastic job of managing a mixed group.
Spent the morning doing all the basics. We measured our paces along the flat and uphill on the same stretches I used on my very first nav course back in 2008.
We practised using the avalanche transceivers and probes, impressive bit of kit.
We used a 1:5,000 map which was surprisingly hard when so used to bigger scale. Looked at aspect of slope. Very useful.
Back to Lodge for late lunch.
Out in minibus to lower ski car park with the 1:50,000 map. We went past the reindeer and back through the forest. Felt much more comfortable with this map.
Back to the Lodge quite late so we missed tea and cake.
Wet kit in driying room. Shower and yet another rucksack repack. Dinner of lentils and pasta. Choc meringue pudding. All very good and tasty. Maybe not quite haute cuisine but very nice. I sat with Billy and Steve.
We were joined by another man called Neil who is a guide and instructor etc. out of Chamonix. Mentioned my trip up Mont Blanc and the Gouter hut. Also our guide then Stephane Benoist. Turns out they are pals. Steph has since lost many fingers and toes on Annapurna and had to move to different activities. I asked Neil to remember me to Steph and tell him I now have ML! Saw Neil later and he had just received message from Steph after not actually hearing from him for some time. How strange. Steph did remember me and sent me nice wishes. Am impressed that he did remember. He is a holder of the Piolet d’Or for climbing a not previously done face of Nuptse. I was sorry to hear about his injuries as he is a very nice man with young children, he does look like he’s really been through it on this site: http://www.altissima.org/en/stephane-benoist-ampute-apres-son-ascension-en-face-sud-de-lannapurna-6269.html My account of our Mont Blanc trip is also on this blog – entries for October 2009.
To the lecture room where Nigel gave us a most amusing talk on winter nav. I may be inspired to do some orienteering especially as I know where there is some near us.
2 halves of beer with Billy and Steve and Pat’s husband Ian who had been out ice climbing.
To bed.
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Sea King coming in to land at Glenmore Lodge.
Sea King coming in to land at Glenmore Lodge.

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Youngster
Youngster

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Sun 1st March
Slept well. Packed up to vacate room. Suitcase to luggage room (great idea that PYB could do).
Breakfast of beans on toast and coffee and juice.
Ryvoan room for recap. We all decided to use the 1:40,000 map. K went through route planning taking account of avalanche risk.
Nigel drove us up to car park and we set off. We used timing and pacing according to what we wanted to practice.
We had a go at directing someone on a bearing testing how far they could hear as well.
Made a journey to Utsi’s hut during which it started to snow. Utsi brought the reindeer over here 50 years ago and the reindeer herdsman had to sleep near his flock. Neat little hut where we lunched. It’s in the bottom picture on this page: http://www.cairngormreindeer.co.uk/History.aspx?nid=8b35281c-d64f-4548-93cc-4814c175b692
Back out and up and around hill. Crossed some snow in which I got my foot stuck. Kirsty came and helped me out. Had I been on my own I would have got my pole off the rucksack and put it across the hole to lever myself out as well as scrape the snow out. (I had to think like this as mostly I don’t have anyone to come and do what Kirsty did) I was stuck surprisingly fast. Up around hill to a lochan where the wind was quite fierce. Then followed the deer fence to the path. This took us down across a bridge and back up to the Sugar Bowl car park where Nigel picked us up.
Back to the Lodge. Kit back to stores. Collect suitcase. Collect hot choc and cake. Debrief. Farewell.
Nice young man took me to Aviemore in the minibus  I was the only passenger so had no worry about getting him to take me to door of Ravenscraig Guest House.
Jonathan welcomed me. Room was fine. Put wet kit in drying room. Shower. Out to the Winking Owl to eat. Had butternut squash and lentils. Only ok. Cairngorm Highland IPA.  Music quite depressing so didn’t feel like staying.
Red grouse
Red grouse

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It's that way...
It’s that way…
We are a bit cold and wet
We are a bit cold and wet
All the gang
All the gang
He wasn't around
He wasn’t around
This is pine marten poo
This is pine marten poo

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Utsi's hut
Utsi’s hut

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It's still Christmas in Aviemore
It’s still Christmas in Aviemore

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Mon 2nd March
Pitlochry, the next stop of the train. I loved this. The trains home all went really easily. It was snowing as I left Aviemore and on my way home I got messages to say it was snowing there too. It was great that the travelling was all painless. I enjoyed my weekend but actually I’d paid to be stretched a bit more and expected to be out on the snow straightaway, but have fed this back to Glenmore Lodge. I’ve said they need to be very clear about what the pre-requisites are for courses. I’ll be back with Paul Poole Mountaineering for next time round if he and I are both free at the same time. The dates just didn’t quite match up for me this year.

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map and use a compass with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

MAPandCOMPASS

Dawn at Aviemore station
Dawn at Aviemore station

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Not likely at a railway station
Not likely at a railway station

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From the train
From the train

Monday 14th September Day 7

Cavour
Protestant cathedral




Pack up and breakfast. Farewell to guides. Quick walk into town with Annie and Caroline for some tourist shopping.

Say goodbye to Ann who is staying at the hotel for another night.
Off to the airport with Liz, Mel and the girls. The girls and I say goodbye to Mel and Liz there.
I get onto the shuttle bus which takes me to the NH hotel. I check in and rest for a bit. Then out for short walk to the bus stop which takes me off in the wrong direction but I spot my error, jump off, cross the road and pick up the next one going in the right direction. The buses are very frequent. But best of all they, and the trams and the trains and the boats are all free to tourists who pick up a tourist card at their hotels. Fantastic.
I walk around the old town and spot a nice restaurant but they don’t serve until 7 and it is only 5. I locate the Demi Lune cafe which is a gay bar and have a beer while writing up my journal. I return to the nice looking restaurant and the wretched girl who I’m sure is queer, says I may have to eat outside, I’m not keen as it’s getting cooler. However she does locate me a table inside and then attempts to be nice. I have tuna on thin toast with grapefruit ***, chicken with courgette flower in batter, with potato wedges and a delicious vegetable stack of courgette, aubergine and something cheesy *****. More beer, more wine and water. Finish off with creme brulee ***. Stuffed at the Cafe Papon!!
I return to the bus station but the last bus is long gone, thinking fast, I get on a bus going to the airport and then get the airport shuttle back to the hotel. No cost and all very quick!
I put the photo of Cavour’s plaque in because my great great great grandfather, Evasio Radice, was big in the Italian risorgimento. Extract from Giles Radice’s (my dad’s cousin) book.

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Sunday 13th September Day 6

Caroline and Annie
Caroline and Stephane
Ann and Pierrot
Liz and Mel
Kermit juice!


At 2.30 a.m. my comrades awaken, as does everyone else. They get ready for the off. At 3.15 they leave and I expect them to return about 11 or so.

I then wait for all the others to leave and this takes until 5. I decide to get up for an outdoor wee and meet a completely mad English man who has climbed up from the Tete Rousse in the dark and ice and snow. There have been a few centimetres of snow fall. I return to my pit which is now in an empty dorm, only to be woken up by a new man jumping into bed. Sleep a little bit more until 7 when I get up.
I now use the loo for the second time, it’s almost bearable as the big poo canisters have been swapped over, just so long as you don’t breathe at all.
I have breakfast with 2 other people, very odd after last night’s dinner with at least 100. Breakfast is coffee, pancake, cake, bread, butter and jam. I eat it all.
I take a short walk to the top of the ridge immediately outside the hut, this confirms to me that I’ve made the right decision as it’s quite scary just out there. MB is in thick cloud and the ridge is pretty sharp. I take some fairly useless photos.
During the wait, I redesign the toilets in my head – a solar powered snow heater which would supply water so that at least once a day the toilets could be hosed off.
I go back in the hut, having located various items for my pals, start to read a French comic book and am thinking about having a coffee when in walks Caroline with frosty eye lashes, having been the only one to summit, it’s only 9.45 so it’s taken her 6.5 hours up and down. Pierrot follows her in.
Next up are Liz and Mel, last are Annie, Ann and Stephane. There is a lot of hot chocolate on the go for the intrepid explorers.
A suggestion is made that I should descend straight away with Pierrot and Caroline. Stephane intervenes and we go back to the previous days’ formations. Pierrot seems to go a bit on the fast side for me.
I have been very scared about the descent to Tete Rousse, especially in the ice and snow. So it’s crampons on and then I find I start to enjoy it and gain confidence and balance. After 2.5 hours we are back at the Tete Rousse glacier. In fact I’ve enjoyed all the downs! Just you have to ups to get them!
We take our crampons off a bit on the early side but at the glacier we find that one of the girls i.e. Annie or Caroline, has slashed her leg open with a crampon.
Ropes off and now it’s just a regular walk back to the train station. All the MBers are pretty tired, not surprisingly. For this last bit of walk, it gets a bit wet and misty, reminiscent of Lakeland.
We arrive at the station at 3.30 (we have to catch the last train). Stephane has gone ahead so that he can drive Caroline, for it is she who is injured, to the hospital.
So Mel, Liz, Ann, Pierrot and I take our last train and cable car down to the bottom. A small refreshment is made, Pierrot drinking something vilely green.
We get back to the hotel and the walking wounded soon return. Annie’s knuckle is huge and bruised from the rope she held onto as Caroline fell. Caroline has 8 stitches but has more pain from her bruised toe!
I ring home and Ann has a shower. We are in a different room with 3 beds and an en suite smaller than a cross channel ferry.
It is so nice to get out of my smelly clothes and wash off 3 days worth of muck.
Straight down to the bar to watch Stephane’s film. He and his pal climbed a previously unscaled face of Nuptse in the Himalayan mountains. The film is quite terrifying to watch, with S dangling and waving at millions of metres up, but it also totally reinforces my complete confidence in him. He walks like a ballet dancer with perfect poise and balance.
We go off to a nice restaurant in the town. Too tired to take in what it is called. I have nettle and tomato soup ****, veal and risotto ***, a selection of grandmother’s tarts ***. All very nice food but suspect we are all a bit too tired to properly appreciate it.
I have a final night cap with Liz and Mel back at the hotel.
Stephane posted up some photos on a guides’ web site. My rucksack is red, but I seem to be mainly pawing my way along the snow. He took some much better photos of people (me!) and I hope they turn up before long!


I didn’t realise going down was so horrible for some of the others because I loved it! It does indeed take all sorts and in all different ways.

This is the lovely restaurant after all the adventures, La Maison Carrier
The Elbow song!
Crossing a crevasse
You cannot be serious
The bloody ladders











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Saturday 12th September Day 5

Mel and Liz happy to be at the Gouter
Annie, Caroline and Pierrot


Wake up at 7 after some sleep at last. Coffee, juice, bread and cake for breakfast.

I use the improbable loo outside as it’s clean and lacks odours thanks to there being a lot of air. We find another loo which is just outside the hut and which is also OK.
The Tete Rousse is at 3167m and we are about to climb up to the Gouter refuge at 3817m
Set off at 8 and basically it’s a 650m vertical climb. I looked up and could see the Gouter ahead and then realised what we had to do.
For this we roped up with Stephane in the lead, then me and Ann behind. This makes me a feel a bit like an old donkey and occasionally I get tugged in both directions at once which is interesting. However a lot of the climb is fine and sometimes it’s hard work. I soon realise that the only thing I can look at is my feet. If I look up the Gouter never seems to get any nearer and if I look down I will be sick.
Amazingly, after 2.5 hours, we arrive at the dreaded Gouter refuge. This is my summit. It’s so high it takes me a whole day before I feel confident enough to look out properly.
The refuge is small, it can sleep 40 but gets a regular influx of 100 plus. The loos are beyond the pale. I manage only to use them 2 times in 24 hours.
At first the plan is to go to the summit straight away as it’s only 10.30 and we can be back by 6, sleep over at Gouter and then go down. This I would have been able to do as I was still quite fresh, however the weather is not good and so this suggestion is abandoned. I also know I will struggle to summit and then go all the way back down to the bottom in one go.
We hang about, have some lunch of pasta bolognese which is very nice. We try to sleep and I fail so get up and drink wine with Mel.
Then it’s supper time, this is packet soup, a lump of cheese, rice and sausage in sauce. The sausage is very pink so I decline.
Annie seems not very well – probably altitude sickness. Ann has gone up with Stephane a couple of hundred metres from Gouter and seems to be OK on altitude as this has been a concern for her.
The refuge is very busy now, crowded. We are lucky that we have beds reserved. I tell the guides I’m not up to the big walk and S says I’ve made a good decision which reassures me. I also have refused to give in to peer pressure, something contrary about me finds it does that to me!
I try to construct my own SheWee out of a plastic bottle, water at this refuge 50c more than 650m lower. However my funnel needs some modification and it does work in the urinal but there is a problem when I try to remove it and I find my leg is very wet. I also find I have no sense of propriety remaining and felt totally happy piddling into my funnel with a couple of guys next to me.
I manage to get a signal and phone home. The signal is very wavery and inconsistent. It’s actually snowing whilst I do this outside.
There is an 8 o’clock curfew and we all go to bed early. I sleep a fair bit, even though there are a lot of interruptions. Our Annie sleep shouts out “HOLD, HOLD ON, PLEASE!”. The Russians outside continue to witter loudly and then Liz jumps up and yells at them to “Shut up”. Good ol’ Liz.

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

Friday 11th September Day 4

This knot is most amusing!
Islands in the clouds
It’s ok, in this facility you can pee on the straight



The start of the big one. All our luggage packed up and in the luggage room again. All set for 2 nights away with the absolute minimum of kit. All bags checked by Stephane, more stuff chucked out. Despite S’s small frame, he is immensely strong which is just as well as he has to carry lots of rope and clanking metal.

We have a later start but eventually get going in 2 cars to the supermarket. The boys (guides) amble round and then emerge with melons, grapes and chocolate biccies which is not quite what I would take but hey ho these guys know what they’re doing.
Take the cable car to Les Houches. A short walk to a small train station and then another rack and pinion train for quite a long way up to Le Nid d’Aigle. No aigle in sight just then but I did see one during the week.
The walk begins, a nice mountain walk and quite warm, up to the Tete Rousse refuge. We stop on the way for lunch (all supplied up to this point by the hotel). We are trading food as and when which is nice.
The last part of the 3 hour walk crosses a bit of a glacier. There is a crazy angled outside loo which looks scary but turns out to be a loo of great comfort compared with what comes later.
The refuge is fine and mostly clean but the inside loos are a bit lacking, well there is one. After making a deposit, you press a foot pump which literally takes what you have left along a conveyor belt and out of sight but sadly not out of odour range.
There is electricity (solar) and bottled water at $3.50 for 1.5l. From this point onwards lavatorial matters become an almost constant topic of conversation.
We make our beds, these are all bunks in about 3 or 4 bunk rooms. Ours has about 20 bunks. Duvets, pillows and plastic croc type slippers are provided. There are lockers for kit at $1 returnable.
We get a nice meal, cheese, real refuge made soup, veal casserole, bread plus moussey thing for pudding, all washed down with beer.
Early to bed at 9. Probably a good idea as it’s quite hard to sleep. The other occupants seem to spend the night going in and out, letting the door bang to. Each time the door opens, the stench from the loos wafts in and is enough to make you pass out. It’s quite cold but I soon warm up in the silk sleeping bag and eventually get hot enough to throw everything off. In a waking moment, I design a modification to the sleeping bag so that it will actually hold a pillow in place rather than just cover one which means it moves the moment you do. I feel it’s important not to have any part of my body in contact with sheets and pillow that other people have been in contact with. Not wanting to catch anything if at all possible.
Quite early on I risked a loo break and bumped into Liz, prompting giggles.
I form an attachment to the anti bacterial lotion and the wet wipes!

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

Thursday 10th September Day 3

Both my heritages, left for pater, right for mater!
This is a rocket, right!
Cooee!

We did this earlier on, aaargh!


Having recovered from the ladder experience, this day was to present a different challenge. Before setting out all our bags were carefully inspected by Stephane, much got chucked out and packs were much lighter. I also chucked out my heel lifts and was instantly more comfortable and able to balance properly.

We set off on a big cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi. This station is at 3842m and you change cable cars half way up. The station has a rocket on top. Not a very good or beautiful rocket, more of a Thunderbirds type. We got out and cramponed up with axes at the ready.
Straight away, the first thing we had to negotiate was an arete (ridge) of mind numbing terror. My mind did go numb and I just stopped. Being roped to Ann and Stephane, I guess this was not a very bright thing to do but I did nearly lose it. However, on looking ahead, the actual ridge was not very long. I had seen people coming up it when we got out of the cable car and had taken a photo, as you do, thinking “blimey, some people do mad things!” little dreaming that I was about to be one of them.
But once done, soon forgotten and then it was across the Vallee Blanche which was just as described. We crossed crevasses, wending our way for about 5km in lovely weather, and consolidating the skills, crampon wise of the day before. Whilst roped up I got a phone call from the manager at the residential home where my aunt lives, I’m not sure he believed me when I said I was crossing a crevasse! A short stop for lunch, so short I didn’t get any in my mouth and then a short walk to the Helbronner cable station. This station is on the border of France and Italy so I celebrated my dual heritages by spreading myself across the border whilst Ann took photos of me under the flag signs.
The return journey from Helbronner involved a very small cable car which I shared with Annie and Caroline. They started jigging about to Leona Lewis and Steps and it got a bit worrisome for me. Annie stopped when I mentioned my fears were similar to hers of being stuck in the big cable car with lots of people. Fantastic views of where we’d walked. Then all the way down from the Aiguille du Midi to Chamonix and refreshments in a cafe. Walked back to the hotel and evening meal followed by seriously sad and quite weird film about a creepy young guy and his girlfriend Lucille, who he clearly thought was not really human, and their attempt to climb Everest. The attempt resulted in both their deaths. She falling down a crevasse and him just dying hopelessly. The film was strangely edited and the subtitles stopped even before L went down the hole. Just what you want to watch before climbing your first very big mountain!

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

Wednesday 9th September Day 2

Mer de Glace

Lots of continental breakfast to sustain us for the day ahead. Into town in Mario’s minibus to a little station to take a little train to Montenvers railway station which gives access to the Mer de Glace. We set off walking in our full winter gear (well I did), plus ice axes, helmets and crampons. After a short walk we came to a sheer cliff face which we descended via about 7 or 8 long ladders. My estimate was that the distance covered by the ladders was about 100m. When I read an article from the Independent (22/08/09) which has a photo of the ladders, the writer reckoned it was 200m. Go to More Photos and scroll through to see the wretched ladders! For me, going down, I quite enjoyed the ladders, it was only later on that I felt differently about them.

A few boulders and then straight onto the glacier. My only previous experience of a glacier was the Jostedal in Norway, which Chris and I just walked on very briefly in our ordinary shoes before a stampede of Japanese tourists arrived. I hope that is the right one!
Getting used to the crampons by tackling shallow slopes and then steeper ones. I do like crampons and feel very secure in them, I had really enjoyed the weekend in the Cairngorms with Chris Conley and Chris H learning to use them.
We moved onto some rope work – this means climbing up a slope using crampons and axe whilst attached to the rope which was attached to a fixed point. Again, this was made gradually steeper until finally we climbed a vertical wall of ice. I just about managed to do this, although did not make a very pretty picture! However the abseiling down was just fab, loved it!
We walked around and into sections of the glacier, wonderful ice formations.
Eventually it was time to return to ascend the cliff. I was very hot, and my pack was full, I also was having a problem balancing as my heel lifts had slipped to the middle of my boots so was pretty much totally out of kilter. Getting up those wretched ladders became a major challenge and there seemed to be many more of them than there had been going down. Both Pierrot and Stephane said my pack was too heavy.
We went back down on the little train and got picked up by Mario after a refreshment stop! A bit later we had our evening meal and then a bit of an old 50s climbing film where men wore corduroys but still dangled upside down from terribly high places.

Going down into the glacier
Going down into the glacier
Ice climbing
Ice climbing
Alpinism oh yes!
Alpinism oh yes!

 

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And finally …. Mont Blanc

Big mountain from hotel window

Tuesday 8th September Day 1

Somewhat frustrating pre-flight irritations after being ready for days in advance! First of all a traffic jam at Yeadon, then my pre-paid car park entry wouldn’t let me in and lastly had to pay extra for my luggage. And all of this meant I missed my airport coffee!
Met up with Ann and we had a smooth, easy flight. Jet2, being budget, make you pay for refreshments so I was glad of my home made sandwich.
On arrival in Geneva, we were met by Mel plus Annie and Caroline. Straight off to Chamonix with me navigating Mel out of the airport and onto the right motorway, fairly straightforward, just followed the signs to France!
After an hour or so, we got to our hotel, La Chaumiere and met up with Liz who had been out for a run. Warming up for the big one! Lovely to see her (and Mel of course!) again.
Ann and I got a nice room with a balcony looking straight up at Mont Blanc. I whizzed into the town and bought a couple of pairs of cheap but warm trousers as had managed not to bring the right ones, grrr! I brought quite a lot of things I didn’t need at all but the trousers were the only thing I really missed. Still the $5 (keyboard needs a Euro symbol) ones did very well and now I’ve repaired them, I’ve passed them on!
On returning to the hotel, we met the guides for the trip, Pierrot Fiorucci who works in the Mercantour with Mel and Liz, and Stephane Benoist, who hails from Nice, and about whom, more later.
We ate a 3 course dinner which was very good.

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.