Sue and Martin's Christmas 2004 letter


Dear All  
December 2004
This year has been rather unusual in that Martin finished working on a full time basis for Grant Thornton at the end of March and now just does a bit of consultancy work. To coincide with this change I have been enjoying a six-month career break since July and will be returning to work (somewhat reluctantly) in January.
Sue on the summit of Canigou (2784m)

As many of you know, we spent two months on a high level traverse of the Pyrenees, hugging the border between France and Spain. Martin had done sections before and was keen to attempt the whole route; this was the stimulus for my career break. We left the beautiful beach at Hendaye in glorious sunshine on Monday 26 July and almost immediately climbed into the rolling hills of the Basque region. This section will be remembered for the high temperatures (up to 35 degrees), which made walking with a backpack even harder, the vultures and the wild ponies. A day of mizzle hid the scenery as the route entered the high Pyrenees, but this was one of only three wet days in nearly eight weeks. The classic 'Cirque de Gavarnie' made a great 'day off'. The route climbs 1800m, scrambling with views of Europe's highest waterfall, then goes through the famous 'Breche de Roland', a natural cleft in a rock wall, to the summit of Le Taillon.

The toughest section involved carrying a week's food through Spanish wild country, before entering Andorra, but the lonely wild camps next to blue lakes more than made up for the effort. Strangely, the weather cooled as we reached the Catalan hills towards the Mediterranean, but a perfect morning dawned for the ascent of Canigou, the Catalan sacred mountain. It was with mixed feelings that we arrived at Banyuls-sur-Mer on Friday 17 September. A rest was needed but we would have been happy to continue this simple but satisfying life on this fine route.
Lemon tea stop overlooking Annapurna range

So, lucky then that a few weeks later we travel to Nepal to walk the Annapurna Circuit! What a contrast to the Pyrenees! Twenty eight Nepalese, including porters, a kitchen crew, sherpas, a sirdar and a guide, supported the six of us. The 17-day route climbs up the Marsyangdi valley from a height of 823m to a pass, the Thorong La at 5416m then descends the world's deepest valley, the Kali Gandaki. With little weight to carry and plenty of lemon tea breaks (for the 'kitchen' to pass!), this was a real holiday, even though the wake-up call came at 4.30am on the pass day. Clear skies day after day gave brilliant views of Manaslu, the Annapurnas, Dhaulagiri and other high mountains. Ascending the Marsyangdi valley, villages become more Tibetan and the trappings of Buddhism, such as prayer wheels, mani walls, prayer flags, monasteries and chortens appear. Thankfully, there were no Maoist encounters and no dodgy tummies. We will return.

Earlier in the year, a six-week period saw us pursuing our own interests. Martin was the only European participant in the Canadian Ski Marathon held over two days in early February near Ottawa.His report describes a novice cross country skier’s tangles with elderly ladies, wipe-outs in the snow, and the intense cold. Suffice to say, a medal was awarded for completion of six out of the ten stages, a distance of 100km.
Strangely upright skier!
Padang Bai, Bali At the same time the temperatures were somewhat warmer in Surabaya, Indonesia, where I was teaching Medicines Information skills to pharmacists on a 4-day course held at the university, funded by the British Council. The five of us from the UK had a lot of fun and were entertained almost every night by various dignitaries. During the second week, a national seminar was held, and we made a presentation at the second largest state hospital in Indonesia. In between, we enjoyed a weekend in Bali, still devoid of tourists, but as beautiful as ever.

Embarrassingly, after only two days at home, I headed off to the Maldives with a few friends, where we spent a week on the sea, scuba-diving, with a couple of days on an island at the end. This paradise revealed huge manta rays, plenty of sharks and some exhilarating but scary diving in some fast currents. There is still evidence of the sea warming due to El Nino a few years ago in the dead coral near the surface, but further down, the coral walls are spectacular.

Fatul Bari - liveaboard dive boat

Sunday 2 May was set as the day for Martin's completion of all the Scottish Munros (284 mountains over 3000ft). About 30 of us set off up The Saddle in Glen Shiel under cloudy skies, in sharp contrast to the sunny day before. The mizzle did not deter everyone from enjoying a party on the summit, drinking champagne and eating dips and Pringles! Martin took longer than many people do to complete the Munros - he has been doing it since 1968! This trip and two other weekends in Scotland in April helped to get us a bit fitter for the Pyrenees, as well as doing the Manchester 10k run in May.

Meanwhile, Martin’s daughter Kate graduated from Sheffield University in July and is now a trainee manager with Sainsbury and living in Manchester again. Michael has switched his university course for the last year of an HND modern music course. Family meals together often debate ‘supermarket wars’, and ‘how to earn a living as a musician’!

So, what of next year? My freedom will be somewhat more restricted come 10 January with a return to work. Martin intends to create a website for ‘Top Walks’ (try logging on to in the New Year), and perhaps do some mountain guiding in the UK under this umbrella. We intend to spend August in the Dolomites, and hope folk will join us.

Our website will soon have reports and photos of this year’s big trips; so do keep an eye out for these.

We hope you have a very happy Christmas and best wishes for 2005.

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