Tag Archives: Featured

Happy National Afternoon Tea Week!

This past week, August 8-14, has been National Afternoon Tea Week, held in the second week of August each year ~ and yesterday I was delighted to be invited to a very special Afternoon Tea Party. It was amazing!

And all very delicious! We had sausage rolls and plenty of homemade sandwiches, homemade scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, homemade strawberry cream cakes, and of course lots of cups of tea.

Actually I only found out about the existence of ‘National Afternoon Tea Week’ a few days ago, through a Facebook post by the UK Government’s ‘British Office’ in Taiwan which explained it all in Chinese to encourage Taiwan people to take part – saying that hotels and restaurants give special offers to attract customers this week to afternoon tea parties.

While the afternoon tea is important, the setting is too. This was ours…

Sundial or not, whatever time it is, it’s always suitable for afternoon tea. So if you’ve missed Afternoon Tea Week 2022, then don’t despair. It’s always time for afternoon tea!

Reimagining Our Borders

Happy 1900th anniversary to Hadrian’s Wall!

Borders, frontiers and walls, marking the edges of our property, kingdoms, countries, empires, our world ~ they’re as much part of the modern world as they were in ancient times. Where they relate to questions of sovereignty, trade, military power and control, so relationships between the peoples on either side of the border can be very tense. There can be anger, hatred, and even war. We see it with the invasion of Ukraine, and even more recently in Taiwan, facing Chinese retaliation for Nancy Pelosi’s visit.

Here in the UK, this year is the 1900th anniversary of Hadrian’s Wall, begun in AD 122 in the reign of the emperor Hadrian, and built as the northern boundary of the Roman Empire. It runs 117 km (73 miles) across northern England at its narrowest part, not far north of the Lake District. These days, Hadrian’s Wall is a popular long-distance footpath and the best-preserved sections are well worth visiting, especially on a lovely sunny day….

So, with the sun coming up over Ullswater early yesterday morning, and the promise of a very hot day with no rain, I set off at the crack of dawn heading for Housesteads Roman Fort at Hadrian’s Wall, just over 100 km (68 miles) away….

Daybreak at Ullswater

The main attraction was to see the multi-coloured art installation at Housesteads. It is FANTASTIC!

The front of the art installation, taken from inside Housesteads Roman Fort, facing south

From the English Heritage website: “In celebration of Hadrian’s Wall’s 1900th anniversary, English Heritage has installed a contemporary and colourful take on the original Roman gatehouse at Housesteads Roman Fort – one of the Wall’s best preserved and most important sites. Created by renowned artist, Morag Myerscough and the local community the temporary installation – called ‘The Future Belongs To What Was As Much As What Is’ – stands in the exact spot that the north gatehouse at Housesteads once stood. The colourful re-imagining of the gatehouse echoes the original building in size and as visitors can climb to the top, the installation opens up views of the ancient landscape, last seen by Roman soldiers 1600 years ago.

The back of the art installation, facing north

English Heritage’s Chief Executive Kate Mavor, said: ‘Hadrian’s Wall is one of England’s most iconic landmarks and to mark its anniversary, we wanted a meaningful way to connect people of 2022 back to AD122. We hope that placing such a bold contemporary art installation in this ancient landscape will not only capture people’s imagination but maybe also challenge their ideas of what the Wall was for. Not just a means to keep people out, but a frontier that people could – and did – cross. To create this work we’ve engaged with a wide range of community groups who have all played a part in making this such a striking and vibrant piece of art…and living history.'”

Art installation: the east side

The words and pictures have all come from working with local community groups, all in connection with what Hadrian’s Wall means to them, living as they do, in the area, near the wall. These are the words I’ve chosen below (in no particular order, and in capitals, which is how they are written), as being meaningful for me as related to the wall and the border ~ and many reflect my own experience of living in Taiwan:

Art installation: the west side

IT NAVIGATES MY JOURNEY / THREAT OF CHAOS / SKY / THE BEGINNING AND THE END OF THE JOURNEY / RAIN WITH SHARP TEETH / INTERNAL GATEWAY / PICTS / POWER / CONTROL / JOY / DESOLATE / BETWEEN / GUARDS / DIFFERENT DIMENSION / TIMELESS / WILD / ON THE EDGE OF THE UNKNOWN / FRONTIER / EVERLASTING AND STRONG / BORDER / BEING ON THE EDGE OF SOMETHING / WILD WIND WHISTLES / ALWAYS BEEN THERE / COLD WET STONE / CONNECTION / WARNING OR WELCOME / FAR AWAY / RESILIENCE / THAT LONELY FEELING / FRIENDLY PEOPLE ON THE OTHER SIDE / REFLECT / GO BEYOND / ENDLESS STRETCH / THE EDGE LIKE THE SEA / JUST GET ON WITH LIFE / A VIEW FOR THE PAST / PORTAL / GAZE OUT / DIVISION / BARRIER / FREEDOM / GRIT / PEOPLE / HOME

Inspiring eh?! Well I think so, but it is not to everyone’s taste! There is of course plenty more to see along Hadrian’s Wall and at Housesteads Fort itself ~ and to put the art installation’s words and pictures into context, it is well worth exploring the wall, the fort, the area, everything – and especially walking along the footpath by the wall. From Housesteads, the path goes eastwards for about 2 miles up to Sewingshields Crags – get there early to get the sun and blue sky shining on the art installation from behind…

The art installation visible from the path towards Sewingshields

Then from Housesteads in the other direction, westwards, there is also a good footpath for about 4 miles to Steel Crag. The path by the wall is steep up and down all the way, but there is a lower path for the return journey which is easier, though there’s not much shade. Yesterday, there were hundreds of people walking along, and it was extremely hot, but hey – the blue skies looked great!

This is Sycamore Gap, check out that sycamore tree…

When I got back to Housesteads Roman Fort late morning yesterday, there was a camera crew from ITV Tyne Tees who were interviewing everyone about their opinions of the art installation. Ah yes, I did appear briefly at the very end of the news last night saying I thought the art installation was fantastic, and it had made my week, in fact my whole summer! 🤣🤣 This was the backdrop…

On my way back to the Lake District yesterday after Hadrian’s Wall, I came down the A6 from Shap which goes along the very edge, the border of the Lake District mountains, and I was reminded of my trip up the Kentmere Horseshoe a few weeks ago, on Tuesday July 26. Kentmere is north of Staveley, north of Kendal, and is a no-through road, surrounded by the mountains that make up the Kentmere Horseshoe. This is it …

Kentmere Hall is a pele tower, built as a fortress to protect the people and their animals from invaders, this being border country. Once out of Kentmere village, on the Kentmere Horseshoe, I was in heavy fog, but by late morning, dramatic scenery started to appear. It was such an amazing day! There are a small number of parking spaces for £3 donation at Kentmere Village Hall, next to the church, but you need to get there early – so I did! I followed the route up in the mist, clockwise, first to the Garburn Pass, then turning right for Yoke, Ill Bell, Froswick, Thornthwaite Crag, and up to the highest point at High Street 828m (2,715ft). High Street is the famous Roman Road, built by the Romans to link their forts at Brougham near Penrith and Ambleside. It’s believed to follow the line of a much older, prehistoric track. The mist lifted as I started down on the east side of the Horseshoe, with spectacular views from Mardale Ill Bell of Small Water & Hawes Water and from Harter Fell downwards to Kentmere Pike and Shipman Knotts. Total: 22 km, 1,139m of ascent.

The Kentmere Horseshoe starts and ends right next to Kentmere Church, St. Cuthbert’s Church, which is part of the group of churches that includes Troutbeck. The interior is made all the more bright and cheerful by all their beautiful kneelers on display …

Another border, another frontier recently ‘visited’ or scrambled over is Striding Edge on Helvellyn. This was Monday August 1. I was amazed to see a Lesser Black-Backed Gull (? to be confirmed – but has distinctive yellow legs) waiting to share my food (though it only liked bread – not bananas!) on the summit of Helvellyn, 950m (3,118ft), the third-highest mountain in England & the Lake District. Total: 14km, 946m of ascent from Patterdale via Striding Edge, described by Wainwright as “The finest ridge in Lakeland”.

Striding Edge

Descent was via Swirral Edge, Catstycam, Red Tarn (for paddling) & Birkhouse Moor. A sunny morning, clouding over in the afternoon as forecast, the rain came later. The cheapest parking is in the Patterdale sports field, first turning left after the church, with £5 donation. I finished at Patterdale Church, it’s a ‘House for Duty’ church. The vicar works Sunday-Tuesday each week, in return for accommodation, but no salary. As I came down, a helicopter was flying overhead, I heard later a woman had fallen on Striding Edge and was airlifted to hospital, a sobering thought. It is reckoned to be quite safe as long as there are no high winds, snow or ice, but there are some dangerous bits, and a chimney to descend down which could be problematic if you fall.

And I wonder, how does my theme of ‘reimagining our borders’ fit in with the Langdale Pikes? Well, the challenges of stepping outside our comfort zones, crossing new frontiers physically and mentally, expanding the borders of our minds ~ that’s not the Langdale Pikes in particular, but I went up Pavey Ark by Jack’s Rake! 😱😱 We all need a new challenge every now and then, and mine was Jack’s Rake. Not sure if it’s the very first time I’ve ever done it or maybe the second – but the first time would have been decades ago, when I was a teenager. This trip was Friday August 5 ~ an exciting day on the iconic & spectacular Langdale Pikes! Starting from Dungeon Ghyll, going up to Stickle Tarn, then up a very steep, wet & slippery Jack’s Rake, which goes diagonally from right to left up ‘Langdale’s biggest cliff’, Pavey Ark. That diagonal line is visible from miles away, and up close it’s massive!

Jack’s Rake is officially classified as a rock climb of the easiest level, a ‘Grade 1 Scramble’, (same as Striding Edge, but completely different – and much harder, in my opinion!) which also means it’s a walk of about the hardest level – and it’s hard work! Wainwright says, “Walkers who can still put their toes in their mouths and bring their knees up to their chins may embark upon the ascent confidently; others, unable to perform these tests, will find the route arduous.” 🤣🤣. Exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure, with trying to find handholds and then grip onto the slippery rocks to haul yourself up, all the while trying not to look down over the exposed edges! Fortunately, there were others doing the same route who had done it before. Getting to the top in one piece was such a relief!

And so up to Pavey Ark and on to Harrison Stickle 736m (2,415ft), Loft Crag, Pike O’Stickle, Thunacar Knott, Sergeant Man and to the highest point of High Raise 762m (2,500ft) with incredible views north. Weather: A mix of showers and sunny spells all day. Total: 16km, 1,101m of ascent. “No mountain profile arrests and excites the attention more than that of the Langdale Pikes… nor is the appeal visual only: that steep ladder to heaven stirs the imagination, and even the emotions…” Wainwright. I agree!

Reimagining our borders also kind of fits in a little with the Church Mission Society theme of going to the edges, ‘With Jesus, With each other, To the edges’… which was the theme of my last CMS link letter. Now I’m working on my talks for my church visits while I’m in the UK. I just must include that art installation at Housesteads in my talk, it is so dynamic, so fantastic, so creative, so in yer face and I love it! If only we could creatively reimagine all our borders like that, break down the walls where they need breaking down, work together, cooperate and redesign where they need rebuilding, and have more such wildly creative art projects and installations in the most unlikely of border places that would challenge, inspire and make people smile and laugh ~ and make us all realise that life is not worth wasting on border disputes of any kind. Ah, there’s plenty of room for more ideas!

PS When I googled ‘border emojis’ up comes an emoji for passport control 🛂. ‘Passport control’ reminds me of Brexit, immigration, Rwanda, delays at airports, ports, trains plus the current UK political situation ~ all definitely and seriously in need of prayer, as are Taiwan, Ukraine and all countries facing serious problems with their neighbours. ❤️❤️

Lake District Vibes & Views!

Today, yes today, is my first rainy day in the Lake District after being here 10 whole days! Most unusual for this part of the world, which is famous for rain and more rain, all year round. We’re really enjoying it after all that heat of the last few days! This was on Monday July 18, when it was cooler inside than out….

If you read my recent CMS Link Letter a few weeks ago, you’ll know why I’m here in the Lake District ~ I wrote, “I’m hoping to stay in my mother’s home in the Troutbeck area of the Lake District over the summer; she’s recently moved into a care home in Grange-over-Sands on Morecambe Bay, so I’ll be visiting her there.” And yes, that’s how it’s turned out. I’m very happy to be staying in her home in Troutbeck, it’s really lovely. And especially for my Taiwan friends, at their request, I’ve posted a series of photos of tea-drinking ~ yes, this is what it really looks like in this area. It’s oh so very beautiful!

Both my brother and his wife unfortunately went down with Covid within days of my arrival in the Lake District last week, so since then I’ve been visiting my mother on my own, on alternate days. Grateful that I happen to be here at this time. Grange-over-Sands is 29 km from here, almost an hour of scenic driving, right down the length of Lake Windermere, and it’s an interesting place, with a promenade too. I might write more in future posts, when I’ve got to know the area a bit. This photo was taken on Tuesday July 19, the hottest day of the year so far, when temperatures reached 40.2°C at Heathrow by lunchtime, and many other places passed 40, for the very very first time ever…

Arriving in the Lakes in the middle of a long sunny spell meant I hoped to make the most of my non-visiting days to go up a few mountains ~ and the weather in the last week has been truly spectacular. I got up very early (I’m still living like I’m in Taiwan!) and was out there long before anyone else was even up. Grateful to my brother and his wife for their maps, Wainwright guidebooks and advice about where to go – and where to park. Parking is a nightmare in the Lake District, it’s oh so expensive! Rydal Church asks for donations to be put in a box in the wall, but get there very early to get a place. This is my little blue car outside Rydal Church – note the distinctive scratch on the door, which was already there (and with so many little blue cars around, it helps to distinguish which is mine!)

Thursday July 14: Up to High Street 828m (2,718 ft) from the Kirkstone Pass Inn (free parking there) via Stony Cove Pike and Thornthwaite Crag. High Street is named after the Roman Road that ran from Penrith to Ambleside via High Street, and its flat top was later used for summer fairs in the 18th & 19th centuries, including horse racing along the summit! The day started cloudy and rainy but the sun soon came out, and the views were fantastic!

Saturday July 16: A perfect day for the Fairfield Horseshoe from Rydal clockwise up to the highest point of Fairfield 873m (2,864 ft). There were lots of people doing this walk, and several had spent the night on the fells too. The views of Helvellyn were superb. Total: 20km, 1,100m of ascent, ending down at Wordsworth’s family home at Rydal Mount and Rydal Church. Wainwright’s description is, “A great horseshoe of grassy slopes below a consistently high skyline, simple in design and impressive in altitude.” True, it was a great day!

Monday July 18: Escaping the first of the 2 hottest days of the year to enjoy the cool early morning breeze on Red Screes 776m (2,541 ft) by following Wainwright’s recommended route, from Ambleside via Stock Ghyll Force (no rain, so there wasn’t much water in the waterfall) then up via ‘The Struggle’ to the Kirkstone Pass. I spent an hour on the Red Screes summit, it was so gorgeous, and came down along the south ridge. From the summit there are stunning views towards the Fairfield Horseshoe, High Street, Brothers Water & Patterdale. There’s even a tarn up there with frogs in it! The last time I was up there was probably 1976 ~ so glad to renew my acquaintance again. Got back down before the real heat of the afternoon, and finished at the famous Bridge House in Ambleside.

Wednesday July 20: From Troutbeck past the National Trust house at Townend, up to Baystones 488 m (1,601 ft), the highest point on the Wansfell Ridge, and along to Wansfell Pike 482 m (1,581 ft), regarded as the true summit. The weather had turned much cooler after the heatwave of the previous 2 days. A runner was there who had just come up from Ambleside in 26 minutes! I went on down to the Ambleside Pier and across by the ferry along the top end of Lake Windermere to Wray Castle, and walked south down the lake. Last November, Storm Arwen devastated the area and there are huge numbers of fallen trees all lying around. The route goes to the Windermere Car Ferry (£1 for foot passengers) then across to Bowness and back to Troutbeck.

Friday July 22: A rainy day today, so a short walk this morning to Orrest Head, above Windermere, via the back roads of ‘St. Catherine’s Estate’ now a National Trust reserve. So many flowers, all looking lovely after the rain. Wainwright’s life was changed by visiting Orrest Head on his first trip to the Lake District in 1930, when he got off the train at Windermere Station and walked up to the viewpoint. There’s a plaque at the summit with these words,

Windermere and the High Fells:
“Those few hours on Orrest Head cast a spell that changed my life.” (A. Wainwright)
Orrest Head1930
‘… quite suddenly, we emerged from the shadows of the trees and were on a bare headland, and, as though a curtain had dramatically been torn aside, beheld a truly magnificent view. … This was truth. God was in heaven that day and I a humble worshipper.’
Alfred Wainwright’s description of his first view of the Lakeland mountains, from Ex Fellwanderer. It was a view that transformed his life and the lives of tens of thousands of his readers.

So that’s the story so far! Thanks for all your prayers and concern. Yes, my mother is doing fine, and it’s great to see her. Yes, my brother and his wife are getting better, and hope to be back in action next week. And yes, my Taiwan friends and others are enjoying the photos of tea-drinking! And we’re all enjoying the cooler temperatures, though Taiwan is also reporting a heatwave, with temperatures of 40.7°C in Hualien with a red alert issued for Taipei. Hope it cools down soon. In the meantime, enjoy tea, ice-cream ~ and even some refreshing cooling rain!

Happy summer everyone ~ and hello from a very friendly baby robin who lives near here!

臺北大縱走 Taipei Grand Trail @ April 2022!

Yes, the Taipei Grand Trail ~ and the second time I’ve done it this year, whoop whoop! The first time was over Chinese New Year in February 2022, all in the rain and mud. Check out my previous post below for intro, photos and description of the trail – it was fun, but oh so wet!

This time, I used the official app, Hiking BIJI. Last time I couldn’t install it as it was set for only those with a Taiwan Google account, but since then the app developers have opened it up for some international users – if your country is not listed, then get in touch with them directly, they have great customer service! Anyway, this time, with the downloaded maps, I followed and recorded the route of each section, collecting ‘treasures’ as I went ~ meaning the phone pinged every so often as I passed another treasure on the map, 49 in total, 7 on each section. At the very end of the trail, this ‘Mission Completed’ notification appears on the phone ~ due to the pandemic, the 2021 project has been extended to the end of 2022….

The Taipei Grand Trail circles Taipei City, and each of the 7 sections can easily be done in a day, though some are much easier than others. It’s a fun way of seeing new places, getting some fresh air and doing a whole lot of exercise all at the same time. The weather this time round was much better than last time, sometimes hazy but mostly sunny and dry. As it’s spring, so there’s lots of flowers, birds, insects and creepy crawlies to look out for ~ including the endemic, gregarious and very beautiful Taiwan Blue Magpie 臺灣藍鵲, 3 of which kept us entertained at Lengshuikeng Visitor Center on Section 3 of the trail…

Taiwan Blue Magpie

Over the 3 weeks I’ve taken to do the Taipei Grand Trail, Taiwan’s Covid situation has seen a big change. On the day I started, Monday April 4, when we had a few days off for Tomb-Sweeping Festival, there were 275 new cases announced, of which 133 were domestic, 142 imported, and with overall deaths standing at 853. When I finished the trail on April 23, there were 5,172 new cases announced for that day, of which 5,092 were domestic, 80 imported, and deaths at 856. Some 99.5% of new cases in this surge are apparently mild or asymptomatic – and most people can quarantine at home. Those considered more at risk, like the over 75’s and those on kidney dialysis, are admitted to hospital. The government has announced their new policy of gradually loosening restrictions, allowing the case numbers to grow slowly, and relying on facemasks and vaccines rather than following Hong Kong & Mainland China’s policies of hard lockdowns and isolating every confirmed case in quarantine centres. I read that Taiwan is one of the last countries to open up its borders to the outside world, so we expect a tough few months ahead. It will also take a while for people to get used to the government not stepping in with new rules and restrictions every few days – now that everyone is vaccinated and as long as we wear facemasks, the rest they’re leaving up to us – to manage our own lives and take our own precautions. A new kind of lifestyle for many. Facemasks are compulsory mostly everywhere – though fortunately not for outdoor exercise, but it means that people are still a bit unsure what to do for the best. Activities are slowly being cancelled or moving online, and people staying home a lot more. There are noticeably less people on the Taipei MRT and the paths of the Taipei Grand Trail as the month has gone on. On Saturday lunchtime at Makong, the restaurants and tea-shops were largely empty ~ normally a sunny spring day would see them packed out.

Certificate of Completion: there’s only space for a name of 10 English letters – so Chinese name to the rescue!

There are 12 places on the Taipei Grand Trail where you take a selfie with the Chinese character on the post, which when put together in a collage produce a phrase: 臺北東西南北大縱走壯遊趣 which means something like: ‘Taipei East West South North Grand Trail’. My 12 photos go round the collage clockwise below, starting in the top left, with the middle 4 photos extra ones taken at strategic points…

Coming up below are the 7 sections, which I didn’t do exactly in order, depending on the weather and time available – with a collage of photos for each section, mostly trying not to repeat those taken back in February….

Section 1 第一段:關渡站至二子坪 Guandu MRT up to Erziping 二子坪 in Yangmingshan 陽明山 National Park: Tuesday April 5

Section 1

Section 2 第二段:二子坪至小油坑 Erziping to Xiaoyoukeng via Yangmingshan 陽明山 Datun West, South & Main Peaks 大屯山 & Zhuzihu 竹子湖: Wednesday April 6

Section 2

Section 3 第三段:小油坑至風櫃口 Xiaoyoukeng to Fengguikou via Yangmingshan 陽明山 Mt. Qixing 七星山: Monday April 4

Section 3

Section 4 第四段:風櫃口至大湖公園站 Fengguikou down to Dahu Park MRT: Saturday afternoon April 9

Section 4

Section 5 第五段:劍潭支線 Jiantan Trail: Dahu Park MRT to Jiantan MRT: Easter Sunday afternoon April 17

Section 5

Section 6 第六段:中華科大至麟光站 China Univ. of Sci. & Tech, Nangang to Linguang MRT via 95 Peak: Saturday April 16

Section 6

Section 7 第七段:麟光站至政大後山 Linguang MRT to Nat. Chengchi Univ. via Maokong 貓空 Tea Plantations: Saturday April 23

Section 7

The Tea Plantations at Maokong are of special interest – the workers were there picking the tea leaves while I was there – and so have their own collage….

Maokong Tea

All in all, 7 days hiking the Taipei Grand Trail is a great way to spend a few weeks, fitting in the sections around weekend and holiday activities. Following routes on an app and listening out for the pings is really quite interesting. It’s my first time to stick to a hiking app and complete a project that is quite so detailed. Today I went to the Geotechnical Engineering Office in Taipei to collect my certificate, scarf and keyring, all marked with the Taipei Grand Trail. YES! On every section of the trail, I met lots of people, some several times on the same route, and we all helped each other out when we couldn’t find the way, or with taking each other’s photos – sorry you have to endure so many of my selfies, ha ha, what a laugh it was to get them! Anyway, overall, selfies aside, the Taipei Grand Trail is highly recommended, and spring is maybe the best time of year to try. So go for it. YES, GO!

臺北大縱走 Taipei Grand Hike / Trail @ Chinese New Year 2022!

Rain, rain and more rain – and mud, such a great combination! Plenty of both to keep me wet and disgustingly dirty for a whole week. Hey, at least we had no wind, or at least not at the same time as the rain. We even had 3 whole days when there was no rain at all! Overcast maybe, cold, damp, and very wet underfoot, but rain, no. And there were even 2 days when the sun came out briefly and we had blue sky for a few minutes. Luxury! This is the only blue-sky view of Taipei City that I got, taken from Qixingshan 七星山, Day 3.

Many asked me the question, “Wouldn’t it be better to wait for good weather?” Of course, yes! But if the good weather doesn’t come, then still get out there and make the most of it! You never know what you might see. Check out this temple with the cherry blossom for example….

And so it was that the weather forecast for Taipei for the whole of the week for the Chinese / Lunar New Year (CNY) celebrations was rain, rain and more rain. 🌧️🌧️ And the weather forecast was right spot on! 😕🙃

Ha ha, the good news is that here in Tamsui on the NW coast, the weather was even worse than elsewhere in Taipei. Appreciate that fact if you live in downtown Taipei! Every day the wind howled around my house, the rain poured and everything was damp and humid. So the answer is, get out of Tamsui – that’s motivation enough, just get out. Everywhere else has better weather than here! And of course, further south in Taiwan, it was lovely and sunny all week, but that’s the way it always is. Actually, Taipei is largely deserted every CNY holiday as so many people return to their family homes elsewhere in Taiwan – and the terrible winter weather in Taipei is often an added incentive to get out of the city over the CNY time. But then again, this was Erziping 二子坪 on Section 1, Day 1 …..

We are right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, and despite strict border and quarantine controls, Taiwan has between 20-50 domestic cases being reported every day this past week, mostly in Taoyuan and Kaohsiung in known clusters. There continue to be some restrictions, like wearing facemasks outside the house, including for photos, and we’re also advised not to go to busy places. Apart from the temples, the busiest places were the MRT trains in the afternoons coming home, but nowhere near as crowded as on a normal working day. Anyway, I did keep my facemask on – spot the red 2022 Year of the Tiger facemask….

Given all that, what better idea than to spend the very wet Chinese New Year 2022 holiday week celebrating the arrival of the Year of the Tiger by doing the Taipei Grand Hike?!

Picture the city of Taipei built in a river basin, surrounded by mountains on 3 sides, the 4th side being the river running roughly northwestwards out to the sea. Although most of the basin is built up, right of the river is actually known as Taipei City, while left of the river and far north, south, east and west is the old Taipei County, now known as New Taipei City. Taipei City boundaries go north right up to the beautiful Yangmingshan (YMS) 陽明山 Mountains, and so the Taipei Grand Trail, an initiative of the Mayor of Taipei City, goes around Taipei in a kind of semi-circle. It’s a bit confusing though, because some of the mountains that surround Taipei are officially in New Taipei City, so they are not included in the Taipei Grand Trail. Anyway, there are 12 special signposts along the whole trail, often at ‘viewpoints’ (though I hardly saw any views, only rain and fog!) with a Chinese character on the top of each one, some also with a notice of the year 2022. Arranged together, the Chinese characters spell out the phrase: 臺北東西南北大縱走壯遊趣, aka the Taipei Grand Trail. The idea is to take a selfie at each one, then combine them into a collage, for which you can get a prize on presenting the photo at the government office in charge of the trail, as a souvenir to show you’ve completed the challenge. This is mine:

While the upper slopes of the YMS Mountains are a protected national park, with lots of trails, the lower slopes are largely forested and contain lots of graveyards, temples and shrines. This being CNY, so the temples and shrines were very busy with people making offerings and seeking the blessing of the gods for the New Year.

The trail is divided into 7 sections, 5 for the northern part, starting at near sea-level at Guandu 關渡 MRT Station on the western side, going up over the YMS Mountains and down, then a branch off across the middle of the city along a hilly ridge and down to Jiantan 劍潭 MRT. The southern part has 2 sections, going along the Nangang 南港 Mountains to the east of the city, and finishing at Maokong 貓空, up in the tea plantations above Taipei Zoo. Each section is arranged to start and finish at either a Metro MRT station or a bus stop that links to one, and if you’re reasonably fit, then each section can easily be done in about 4-5 hours of walking, although there is a lot of climbing. But then it is a mountain trail, so upwards and onwards is the way to go. Total length is officially 92 km. This is the official sign…

There is one very useful website in English called ‘Taiwan Trails and Tales’ where I got a lot of information, and downloaded all the maps. Do check it out. Also interesting to learn there some of the tales of the buildings and temples that you pass on the trail. Highly recommended. There’s also a Facebook page called 臺北大縱走 where people post their photos and updates of the trail and activities.

CNY 2022 officially started on Tuesday February 1, and the whole of that week was a national holiday. We finished work a few days before the official national holiday started, and so I started the Taipei Grand Hike on Thursday January 27 with Section 1 at Guandu 關渡 MRT. Foggy at low levels to start the day, gradually the fog lifted and the sun came out, there was blue sky everywhere. The trail heads upwards all day, along the irrigation canal, through small farms, orange groves and forests, and then climbs up to Erziping 二子坪 Visitor’s Centre in the Yangmingshan (YMS) National Park.

The following day, Friday January 28, the rain came down in torrents, and I had a day off. The forecast for Saturday January 29 was heavy rain in Tamsui, but light rain up in the YMS Mountains. So off I went to do Section 2! I had done this section many times before, up and down Datun West, South and Main Peaks 大屯山 , so I knew the trail to be very wet and muddy – there’s a lot of ropes that you need to use to pull yourself up, and the paths are slippery; and I also knew that being CNY so there wouldn’t be many people there braving the elements. Fortunately, at the start of the trail, I met a man who told me he was also doing the same route that day, but with a group who would be about an hour behind me. Kind of reassuring given the weather! As it was, I then saw nobody until I got to the top of Datun Main Peak, where out of the rain and fog on the road that goes up there appeared 2 foreigners on YouBikes, they had ridden all the way up from Taipei! They said they often rode up on real bikes, but always dreamt of coming up on YouBikes. YouBikes are designed for people like me to cycle in and around the city, they have 3 gears and a basket on the front. Not for the high mountains. So crazy! But, like me, they thought that if they wait for the good weather, they may wait weeks, and given that this is the weather, then why stay home? Just do it! Ah, we love all this rain, rain and more rain. By the time I got to Xiaoyoukeng 小油坑, I was totally soaked!

Leaving the Datun Mountain Range, the path goes down to Zhuzihu 竹子湖, at the top of the valley where the farms grow calla lilies, just starting to flower.

The next day, Sunday was also heavy rain, I had another day off. In the evening, the rain stopped and a cold front came along, so Monday morning was very cold, but forecast to stay dry. On Monday January 31, CNY Eve, I set off for the highest part of the trail, Section 3, from Xiaoyoukeng 小油坑 to Fengguikou 風櫃口 via Qixingshan 七星山, 1120 m. I had also done this section many many times before; it helps to know the route! It was 6.2°C at Xioayoukeng 小油坑 Visitor Centre, and 5°C up at the top of the mountains. Brrrr! Mostly it was overcast, but it stayed dry and the sun even came out a few times, though this was to be the last time I would see the sun for the rest of the week. The trail starts with the fumaroles belching sulpur fumes at Xioayoukeng 小油坑. The views were great!

Then started a whole week of rain. Every day, from Tuesday to Saturday, I went out in the rain and came home in the rain, ah I was so damp! On Tuesday February 1, CNY’s Day 1, and Wednesday February 2, CNY Day 2, I was out in the rain doing Section 4, from Fengguikou 風櫃口 down to Dahu Park 大湖公園 MRT in Neihu. This route was completely new to me, and although the signposts were many, there were nowhere near enough, especially at 2 key areas. I tried from both ends of the trail. There is an official app, with a route map, but it’s not compatible with my phone, so I downloaded a separate map onto the phone and used that, following the route, stopping to check probably 15-20 times. I then did the same thing for every other section of the trail afterwards, although Section 4 was by far the most lacking in signposts. Now I know that on a rainy muddy day, it is definitely better to start from Dahu Park MRT and head upwards to Fengguikou, and get the bus down from there. Once you can find it, the trail is really beautiful, starting at the cherry blossom tree, going up past the YuanJue Waterfall 圓覺瀑布, then among the strawberry farms of Neihu 內湖, and up into the high forests. It being the Year of the Tiger, those forests are the kind of forest you might expect to see a real tiger, if there were any in Taiwan, that is. As it was, the only people I saw on the trail were 2 young men on mountain bikes screeching through the mud, they were so amazingly fast, and very dirty!

Thursday February 3, CNY Day 3, Section 5, and local people were starting to get out and about. The trail runs from Bishan Temple on Bishan Mountain 碧山巖 to Jiantan 劍潭 MRT. There were lots of people on the trail, mostly in family groups, everyone with an umbrella, and it rained most of the day! This section is very close to Taipei, and I had done part of it many times. The main sounds were of airplanes taking off from nearby Songshan Airport, and the chanting broadcast from the temples and graveyards. There are many graveyards up there, including a Christian one, and there are many gruesome stories told about crimes that have taken place up there, plus haunted temples. The main viewpoint was all in fog, so it all added to the eerie atmosphere! A lady asked me to take her photo at the viewpoint, holding a sign saying ‘98’ indicating the number of times she had climbed up there in the past 2 years! The trail section ends just above Jiantan MRT Station near the Grand Hotel, an old military area, and full of temples and shrines.

Section 6 marks the start of the southern section of the trail, and involves quite a journey time-wise for me to get to the far eastern side of Taipei over at Nangang 南港, over 2 hours each way. Good job I left home every day at 5:30 am to get outside to the first bus! Section 6 was done on Friday February 4, CNY Day 4, and guess what, well it rained most of the day. Light steady rain – but still, rain is rain! The trail runs from China University of Science and Technology 中華科技大學, not far from Nangang Station, going up and along and down eventually to Linguang 麟光 MRT Station. I had done the first part of this trail many times, on the stone paths that lead up to the 95 Peak. The second part was completely new to me, here the stone path finished, and instead there was mud, and more mud. But it was very interesting, even though we again went through many graveyards. One of the grave roofs was being used to feed the pigeons!

And so to Section 7 on Saturday February 5, CNY Day 5, and what a wonderful way to finish the Taipei Grand Hike. This section is a big loop, starting and finishing at National Chengchi University 國立政治大學, near Taipei Zoo and goes up to Maokong 貓空 . I had been up there on the cable car several times, but never walked up the trail, which goes right up to the cable car terminus. Much of this trail section is newly done, and it’s wonderful. It starts on the Zhinan Temple 指南宮 Trail, goes up through the cherry blossom, down to the river, and up again through the tea plantations. A huge number of steep steps, but really interesting, and full of people enjoying a day out too. It was overcast all day, and didn’t rain until I got to the bus stop to come home!

All in all, a great way to spend a CNY holiday week! Yes, I did also spend time with friends celebrating, especially on CNY Eve, and am grateful to them. I also let them know that this was my plan during the week, so they would know where I might be. Yes, I really appreciated this week of walking, hiking over Taipei’s mountain trails, seeing new things, enjoying the scenery and all that nature has to offer. Grateful also to be able to come home safely each day, and start out afresh the next. Yes, my boots were completely wet from one day to the next, and so was everything else, but it was a fun experience and exhilarating to complete it all. And yes, when the weather is better, I might well do some of those sections again – some could be combined to do two or more in a day, the possibilities are endless. Watch this space!

As long as there’s no serious weather warnings of torrential rain or storms or typhoons, and as long as you stick to the paths of the Taipei Grand Hike and don’t do anything stupid, then don’t let bad weather put you off. Go out! If not the Taipei Grand Hike, then find something to do that takes you out! Don’t regret it and stay home waiting for better weather, it might never happen. After all, if I’d have stayed home, I’d have missed all that beautiful cherry blossom. Get outside, and live life to the full!

Updated February 18, 2022: I went today to the Geotechnical Engineering Office, the government office responsible for the Taipei Grand Trail. The staff confirmed that the ‘Hiking BIJI’ app (健行筆記) which marks the whole trail, for the time being anyway is limited to those who have Taiwan listed as their location on Google PlayStore. The photo above is of me with my Taipei Grand Trail towel, collected today on presentation of my photo collage, taken at their 3D photo wall! YES! Mission Accomplished!

Hiking BIJI (健行筆記) app

Updated March 26, 2022: A friend of mine has contacted the Hiking BIJI (健行筆記) app developer and the app has now been modified to make it accessible for those in selected countries, including UK and USA. Their customer service is excellent! If your country is not listed, then contact them directly and ask them to allow your country access – but be prepared, the app is bascially all in Chinese ~ ah yes, gotta love that extra challenge!

Updated April 26, 2022: Since the Hiking BIJI became available, I have since done all the Taipei Grand Trail once again, this time using the app ~ April is a great month for the trail, it’s beautiful in spring! The post is here:

🌸 Spring means Cherry Blossom! 🌸

The first cherry blossom of the season, the dark pink variety, is out up at the Yangmingshan Mountains above Taipei …..

There’s also white cherry blossom up there too ~ the plum blossoms are over (how to tell the difference: apparently, cherry blossoms have a slit at the end of the petal, but plum blossoms don’t) ….

The gardens up there are beautiful…

And at Erziping, the blue sky is a rare treat in winter…

There are even tadpoles in the water….

And wild flowers out….

While down at lower levels, in Taipei, some cherry blossom, the light pink variety, sakura, is just starting…

At Elephant Mountain on Wednesday, the views towards Taipei City, and especially Taipei 101, were amazing….

As were the views along the riverbank to get there….

And that bizarre DNA Double Helix building, Tao Zhu Yin Yuan 陶朱隱園 in downtown Taipei was even more eye-catching than usual….