Quicksilver Trails

Californian-PoppiesA new day, a new California State Park: This time, the Almaden Quicksilver County Park. Owing to sore thighs from the previous day of kayaking, I chose a small round trip of approximately 6km, but it had all I could ask for, and more:

First, the approach: drive south through San Jose on Almaden Expressway, then turn off into Almaden Road, following signs to New Almaden. It’s Silicon Valley at first with 4 lanes each direction, then a small town, and all of the sudden it’s rural California. Just like so. It’s astounding.

At the Hacienda Entrance, I found ample and free car parking space, a couple of shaded benches, and the usual information board with maps and warnings of poison oak, mountain lions and bobcats. My 6km hike through the park took me through the most beautiful landscape, and across the occasional reminder of the mining past: the area used to be one of the richest quicksilver mines of the world, owing to the high concentration of mercury in the bright red local cinnabar. Until the 1920s, this mercury was mostly used to extract gold from ore, and enabled the Californian gold rush.

The trail also featured some of the steepest inclines I have ever walked; in comparison, the way out of the Poverty Flats in the Henry Coe State Park is almost a walk in the park. Thankfully, those in the Almaden Quicksilver Park were pretty short, as I begun to feel my sore thighs at that point.

I was glad that I chose this short loop, but was even happier that I did get out there in the first place. I didn’t see any landbound animals, but birds of prey, and flowers everywhere. The bright orange Californian Poppy and some tall yellow flowers similar to Rapeseed brightened my hike and my day.

On my way out, I stopped at the Quicksilver Mining Museum, where a friendly and most enthusiastic park ranger talked me through the collection and answered most of my question. Free of charge, friendly, with a smile and an if there is anything else… Wonderful. US park rangers are always super.

The only question the ranger left unanswered was about the etymology of the word quicksilver itself. I find the similarity with the German Quecksilber startling, and wondered if quicksilver is an anglicised version of the German word. One Internet source claims the roots go back much further, reporting a common root in the Middle English quyksilver, from Old English cwicseolfor.


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852 days... One of my favourite past times on a Sunday afternoon here in London is city drifting. We’d drive somewhere, more or less anywhere within the city, then walk without destination until the rain starts or the legs hurt.

This past Sunday, we took the train to Paddington, then walked up Edgware  Road to elegant Maida Vale, then along Regent’s Canal through the Zoo and into Camden Lock and the markets, where life is as abundant and as colourful as life can be. Browsing the markets, a drink somewhere, then onwards to Tottenham Court Road, from where the Central Line brought us back home.

A lovely afternoon city walk at any time of the year, but preferably on a Sunday, so that traffic is reduced and Camden Lock Market is open and busy.

Here are some pictures from this past weekend.


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More Italian Boots

beachwalking Back in June, I told you about my odyssey finding some workable and reliable walking boots. I ended up buying Scarpa Mistral GTX, and fell in love immediately.

I also own a pair of walking shoes for more light-weight, day-in day-out walking. I use them almost every day, but my current pair of Brasher only just gave their money’s worth: the sole is already falling apart, the cap and other parts of the surface are breaking up. While they are still usable, the end of their life is near and foreseeable.

This time, I went straight in for Scarpa, didn’t even look at the alternatives, and bought a pair of Scarpa Meridian GTX. (Why the GTX? Don’t ask for the sense in marketing…) Although I only walked them for less than 2 miles so far, I am already in love – it is now a love triangle between the boots, the shoes and myself.

Oh, and the laptop, the tablet PC, the Le Creuset frying pan, the Neff ovens, oh, and the wife. That’s a different story though.

Seriously, these shoes are a perfect fit, and look and feel like they would be up for the job. Time will show.


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How Not to Write a Guidebook

DSCF3674 Here’s an excellent example how not to write a guidebook: John Macadam’s recently released official National Trail Guide to the South West Cost Path from Padstow to Falmouth (amazon) – yes, the exact book that covers the stretch we walked recently.

Much rambling, some background information, and close to nothing in terms of guidance is provided. While most of the path is well marked and the basics are simple (keep the water to your left when walking east to west), some sections are tricky. Finding the way out of town, or finding the right path amid a network of paths crossing the dunes, for example, can be tricky. This is where one likes consulting a guidebook, but this one fails to come to the rescue.

Since the map for each walk is spread over multiple pages, it is often difficult to judge the current position relative to the walk. Little hints like “you’ve reached the half-way point,”  “better don’t take lunch just yet. There’s a steep climb ahead and a brilliant Cafe in the next bay” or similar information of that nature is the kind of stuff I look for in a guide book.

I recall at least one occasion (which I fail to find and quote now), he talks about a nature feature or historic aspect, and then proceeds discussing the next feature or historic aspect, ignoring the 6 mile distance between the two.

A good thing each of the guidebooks which cover the entire path between them is written by a different author. Or maybe they should have sought someone who knows how to write a guidebook and given the job to that person. Oh, never mind.

Yes, you should be walking the South West Cost Path. Its brilliant. No, you should not be buying this book. Its a waste of money. Take your common sense instead, and an OS map, and you’ll be fine. 


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My Italian Boots

Early Man I tore my trusted Karrimor walking boots some while ago (in Borneo), so when we planned for the coastal path hike, I went and bought some new ones.

I bought a pair of Karrimor KSB Tour Event, and wore them for just one short weekend in the open – broken. Eyelets have torn out, obviously poorly designed and manufactured. I returned the boots and, after a couple of days, Karrimor acknowledged the problem and authorised a refund. Nice.

Next, I went and bought some North Face Cedar Ridge instead. I loved the Cedar Ridge because they were so wonderfully comfortable, but after only one day of wearing around the shops, eyelets tore out. Again! There wasn’t even a trace of stitching or glue on the torn-out pull strap; God knows how this was supposed to last. Same deal again: return to store, they return to manufacturer, they acknowledge fault and authorise refund. Nice.

Next, I went and bought some Scarpa Mistral GTX, and felt at home in those shoes immediately. I wore them for a few hours before we started our trip and was a bit concerned given how little experience I had with those shoes prior to the trip. But, all was well, and Scarpa’s my friend. Definitely. They have the perfect fit, are lightweight, and show absolutely no sign of falling apart. Just as one would expect from a £100 pair of shoes, they’re good shoes.



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The Cornish Coast

South-west Coast Path Over three days hiking the Cornish costal path, with plenty of sunshine, more than plenty of wind, and not a drop of rain, how’s that?

We took the train from Paddington to Newquay, a smooth and quick connection. Upon arrival, we found that town councillors ruined the town of Newquay pretty much with concrete and the omnipresent “amusement arcade;” it could be a lovely place otherwise.

Onwards, along the south-west coast path to Perranporth (20km up and down and, in parts, through loose sands), then to Portreath (another 20km piece, less loose sands but a few more steep descents all the way down to sea level and back up to the top of the cliffs again), then to Hayle (again a 20km section with mixed environment: dunes, beach, cliff tops – nice).

Then just a 90 minute walk to St. Erth station, following our Sunday breakfast, hop back on the train to Paddington, and back in just under six hours, just in time to do some shopping and prepare supper. Perfect.

Some pictures are right here.

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