An English Lakeland Summer

Helvellyn from Striding Edge

Helvellyn from Striding Edge

 

On the way to Great Gable near the fell known as Brandreth

On the way to Great Gable near the fell known as Brandreth

 

Scrambling up the screes of Great Gable

Scrambling up the screes of Great Gable

 

The English Lake District has been well and truly on the tourist path for the last 150 years or so, yet although as a teenager I spent long expeditions collecting the area’s numerous waterfalls for a youthful (and finished but never-published) book documenting the complete waterfalls of England, last week was the first time I’ve ever climbed any of the peaks in the National Park. The extraordinary beauty of this area has been well documented since Tennyson’s time, of course, but in fine, sunny weather, and with the company of a few like-minded hikers, considering the tremendous rewards to reaped for relatively little effort, the Lake District’s peaks simply can’t be beat in my book. It’s simply fabulous up there!

 

Striding across Striding Edgae

Striding across Striding Edge

 

Below Blencathra (Saddleback)

Below Blencathra (Saddleback)

Sharp Edge, the most exciting ascent route up Blencathra

Sharp Edge, the most exciting ascent route up Blencathra

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Scrambling up the screes of Great Gable

Scrambling up the screes of Great Gable

Threading Nape's Needle, on Great Gable

Threading Nape’s Needle, on Great Gable

View from the summit of Helvellyn

View from the summit of Helvellyn

On Sharp Edge, Belencathra

On Sharp Edge, Belencathra

The screes of Great Gable

The screes of Great Gable

Near the summit of Helvellyn

Near the summit of Helvellyn

On top of Great Gable

On top of Great Gable

Sharp Edge from below

Sharp Edge from below

On Great Gable

On Great Gable

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Round the back of Great Gable

Round the back of Great Gable

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Batongguan Historic Trail (Dongpu Section): Another of Taiwan’s Finest Day Hikes

On Batongguan Old Trail, about ninety minutes out of Dongpu

On Batongguan Old Trail, about ninety minutes out of Dongpu

Cloud Dragon Waterfall

Cloud Dragon Waterfall

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In a blog entry several years ago, I wrote that the awesome Zhuilu Cliff Trail is the finest day walk in Taiwan. I haven’t changed my mind yet, but in it’s different way the Western end of the cross-island Batongguan Historic Trail is probably an equal partner. I walked this stretch (from Dongpu Hot Springs to Yinu (‘one girl’) Waterfall), permits are required to go further) once twenty years ago and it blew me away. Despite plans to return and follow this route again, en route to the high mountains beyond (the trail forms the first (or last) stretch of several renowned high mountain hikes such  as the seven-day South Second Section, the back-door route on Yushan (Jade Mountain) and Mt Xiuguluan (Taiwan’s third highest mountain), bad weather or Taiwan’s damned permit system always tripped us up.

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Yushan West and Front Peaks (center-top) from Batongguan Historic Trail, shortly after leaving Dongpu

Yushan West and Front Peaks (center-top) from Batongguan Historic Trail, shortly after leaving Dongpu

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I finally returned on a recent 2-day scooter trip to the area, when a group of us rented scooters in Puli and drove down to the area to explore a few favorite places (including the still awesome, still accessible Water Curtain Cave and the scenic but almost unknown Ningqing Gorge). The weather on the first day (Saturday) was so bad we almost turned back, and we were really grateful when we unexpectedly scored a room (with hot spring bath) for six in a hotel at the usually chock-a-block Dongpu Hot Springs.

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The upper fall at Cloud Dragon Waterfall, beside the path

The upper fall at Cloud Dragon Waterfall, beside the path

The larger lower fall at Cloud Dragon Waterfall is directly beneath the path, which crosses the stream at the head of the fall by a footbridge

The larger lower fall at Cloud Dragon Waterfall is directly beneath the path, which crosses the stream at the head of the fall by a footbridge

Contrary to our worst fears, however, Sunday dawned with a clear blue sky, and for the entire morning we were on the trail (the return walk to Yinu Waterfall only takes about 5 hours) the weather did us proud. There are few, if any trails in Taiwan that command such incredible views of such amazing scenery for so very little effort. The trail as far as the Cloud Dragon Waterfall is truly an easy walk, with some uphill at the beginning and a few roughish bits, but the trail (after being wiped out in places by Typhoon Morakot)  has been fixed so well that presently it’s within the reach of any able-bodied person. The last two kilometers from Cloud Dragon to Yinu Waterfalls is a few degrees rougher, with several short landslide bits that need careful negotiation, but it’s still far from a difficult walk.

The trail between Cloud Dragon and Yinu Waterfalls has a few small landslide sections to get past, but they're not too bad, with a daypack at least!

The trail between Cloud Dragon and Yinu Waterfalls has a few small landslide sections to get past, but they’re not too bad, with a daypack at least!

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Lele Cabin, shortly before Yinu Waterfall, the end of the first (short) day for many hikers heading into the high mountains beyond

Lele Cabin, shortly before Yinu Waterfall, the end of the first (short) day for many hikers heading into the high mountains beyond

Near Yinu Waterfall

Near Yinu Waterfall

Yinu Waterfall plunges in a long series of small falls and is said to have the longest sequence of connected falls of any waterfall in Taiwan

Yinu Waterfall plunges in a long series of small falls and is said to have the longest sequence of connected falls of any waterfall in Taiwan

Yinu Waterfall - a fine fall right beside the path marking the end of the stretch of Batongguan Trail usually walked on day hikes

Yinu Waterfall – a fine fall right beside the path marking the end of the stretch of Batongguan Trail usually walked on day hikes

I’ll save a full description of the route, GPS coordinates etc  for the new book, but meanwhile anyone that wants to go will find   it’s not a problem getting here. One thing’s for sure – don’t leave Taiwan without giving it a go – it’s an amazing experience on a fine, clear day, and although not quite as out-and-out spectacular as Zhuilu, the hike has the advantage of offering more variety (with 2 great waterfalls), there’s accommodation (and hot springs!) right at the trailhead, and – best of all – there’s no need to get a permit to walk it!

On the way back...

On the way back…

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Zhenxibao Ancient Tree Groves

The biggest tree of all at Zhenxibao, on the trail to the Poison Dragon Lake

The biggest tree of all at Zhenxibao, on the trail to the Poison Dragon Lake

Another Giant, in Grove B

Another Giant, in Grove B

Poison Dragon lake is small and reached only by an long, exhausting climb, but it's an atmospheric place

Getting to the little Poison Dragon Lake involves a long, exhausting climb, but it’s worth it – it’s an atmospheric place

It seems like everyone is going to Smangus (司馬庫斯) these days; why they don’t (also) head to nearby Zhenxibao (鎮西堡) in their droves is hard to understand – the road there is a bit easier and shorter, the village (Xingguang) before the trailhead is miles more attractive (and far less touristy than Smangus itself), there are more trees – of comparable hugeness – to see, and the walk (at least to the more popular of the two groves of ancient trees) is a little shorter.

One thing’s for sure though – it’s something to be grateful for that the crowds have yet to discover this beautiful place. It’s hardly an unknown spot anymore, so expect a fair few people on sunny weekends, but despite having perfect weather the April Saturday and Sunday we were there, we had the trees mostly to ourselves, and met only a few people on the trail out to the more popular ‘B’ grove on Saturday afternoon and not a soul at the much less visited Grove ‘A’ and Poison Dragon Lake above.

Zhenxibao is one of the 101 places to visit in Taiwan that will appear in my new book, so I’m gonna save the details for the book when it comes out next  year, but here’s a few notes about this amazing place.

Although with a very early start it’s possible to see Grove ‘B’ at Zhenxibao as a day trip from Hsinchu, most people stay the night in Xingguang village (seven rough kilometers before the trailhead) which has a selection of simple but pleasant home stays run by friendly Atayal aboriginals. The night we stayed, there were few people in town and we were the only visitors at our comfortable, cheap home stay – a far cry from the accommodation situation at Smangus across the valley, which generally has to be booked weeks in advance.

From Xingguang it’s a further 7 kilometers to the trailhead for the two ancient tree groves at Zhenxibao. It’s slow going and pretty rough in several places; allow 20-25 minutes for the drive. The trailhead consists of a couple of small shacks, where snacks and drinks are sold on weekends, and two parking areas, one on either side of the bridge that crosses a small stream. Officially the ancient tree grove is open only on weekends and public holidays during daylight hours. It’s best to ask locally before going in during the week.

Zhenxibao consists of two groves of ancient trees. By far the most popular is Grove ‘B’, which has the better trail, is less steep and has the most trees. Count on 4 hours for the walk out there and back. Fitter hikers should consider also doing the hike to Grove ‘A’, which although steeper and less well-defined, and with fewer trees, offers even more pristine landscapes, a far more remote atmosphere, and is the more rewarding hike, especially if you go as far as the Poison Dragon Lake, in which case you should allow 6 hours for the return hike.

A waterfall on the trail to Grove 'B'

A waterfall on the trail to Grove ‘B’

The first ancient trees on the trail into the slightly more remote Grove 'A'

The first ancient trees on the trail into the slightly more remote Grove ‘A’

Eve...

Eve…

...and Adam, two named trees in the more popular Grove 'B' at Zhenxibao

…and Adam, two named trees in the more popular Grove ‘B’ at Zhenxibao

In Grove 'B'

In Grove ‘B’

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Beautiful Ziuluan, at the checkpoint on the road to both Smangus and Zhenxibao

Beautiful Xiuluan, at the checkpoint on the road to both Smangus and Zhenxibao

On the road to Zhenxibao

On the road to Xingguang

Still on the road to Xingguang

Still on the road to Xingguang

View from the terrace at our home stay in Xing

View from the terrace at out home stay in Xingguang village

The 'squashed flat' tree in Grove 'A' marks the start of the steep and tiring 90 minute climb to Poison Dragon Lake

The ‘squashed flat’ tree in Grove ‘A’ marks the start of the steep and tiring 90 minute climb to Poison Dragon Lake

The petite but beautiful Poison Dragon Lake is well worth the climb

The petite but beautiful Poison Dragon Lake is worth the climb

On the trail to Grove 'B'

On the trail to Grove ‘B’

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Short and sweet: Ningqing Gorge in Nantou County

The mouth of the short but atmospheric Ningqing ('peaceful') Gorge near Shuili in Nantou County

The mouth of the short but atmospheric Ningqing (‘peaceful’) Gorge near Shuili in Nantou County

Getting upstream to the gorge involves getting past 5 or 6 small dams - luckily it's also possible to climb ROUND them (much easier)!

Getting upstream to the gorge involves getting past 5 or 6 small dams – luckily it’s also possible to climb ROUND them (much easier)!

 

On the edge of Shuili (水里) town in Nantou County, immediately below the busy road that connects the town with Sun Moon Lake to the north, Ningqing Gorge (寧靜谷) appears on quite a few local maps of the area, but I’ve never found any info on the Web or elsewhere, apart from a short description in a decades-old local guidebook to central Taiwan that I bought when I first arrived here, and have treasured ever since. That dog-eared, black-and-white book with its fuzzy pictures and rough, hand-drawn sketch maps lacks the full-color impact of today’s much more stylish guidebooks to Taiwan, but, while the maps nowadays are infinitely better and the info inside the best books (usually those that confine themselves to just one county or small area) is still amazing, they’re still not nearly as detailed as those old books on my shelves, which continue to provide me with the occasional wonderful new discovery after all this years.

Ningqing Gorge is very short and not especially deep, and it’s certainly no Ghost Ax Canyon, but in its small way it’s a fascinating place, and makes for a great, if brief adventure if you’re already in the Shuili area and the idea of scrambling, swimming and wading for an hour or two through a place few people know exists strikes a chord. Continue reading ‘Short and sweet: Ningqing Gorge in Nantou County’

Some recent Pics…

A quiet corner of Shanlinsi

A quiet corner of Shanlinsi

The Heavenly Steps

The Heavenly Steps

The beautiful coniferous forest at Sitou

The beautiful coniferous forest at Sitou

With research on a new book well underway and a piano recital, it’s been all go recently. Hopefully soon I’ll get to write a bit about the latest favorites, but meantime here are three places in central Taiwan’s Nantou County that are definitely NOT off the beaten track, although none the worse for that (apart from the crowds of fellow visitors, high entrance fees, traffic jams on the way up and over-developed infrastructure). Shanlinsi, Sitou and the Heavenly Steps tend to look better in photos than they do in real life, but ignore the negative impact of mass tourism and they’re all well worth visiting - just start out early in the morning if you visit at the weekend to avoid the masses! Continue reading ‘Some recent Pics…’

The Wonderful Waterfalls of Puli, Nantou County

Shuishang Waterfall

Shuishang Waterfall

 

Zhongkang Waterfall

Zhongkeng Waterfall

Yumenguan

Yumenguan

 

Despite the fact that many locals have a certain affection for the place (which I actually share, since I lived there for 18 months in the early 1990s, just after arriving in Taiwan) the town of Puli, sitting at the geographical center of Taiwan, is a pretty nondescript kind of place, indistinguishable from many other provincial towns around the island. However what richly merits a visit to the town is its marvelous surroundings. There’s enough exploration and even adventure to be had around here to keep the most avid explorer busy for a week or more, from easy family friendly strolls (Guanyin Waterfall) to day-long adventures into surprisingly remote places (the tricky-to-reach Shicheng Gorge (石城谷). Even today I’m still finding new places (such as the wonderful Zhongkang Waterfall, which I discovered just two weeks ago!), so it doesn’t look as if the area has revealed all its secrets even now. Anyway, the subject at hand is waterfalls, so here’s a quick run-down of (most) of the waterfalls in the Puli area. And since these don’t appear in my new book (due out early next year), I’ve added basic getting-there info for each, too! Continue reading ‘The Wonderful Waterfalls of Puli, Nantou County’

Jiufenershan: A sobering reminder of the Power of the 921 Earthquake

The famous collapsed temple at Jiji, near the epicentre of the quake

The famous collapsed temple at Jiji, near the epicentre of the quake

The Grand Canyon at Zuolan

The Grand Canyon at Zhuolan

The Slanting House at Jiufenershan

The sloping house at Jiufenershan

 

Photo in the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan, showing tea fields on the line of the Chelongpu Fault, which ruptured during the eartlquake

Photo in the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan, showing tea fields on the line of the Chelongpu Fault, which ruptured during the eartlquake

At 1:47 am on September 21st, 1999, the most powerful earthquake to hit Taiwan in over a century (measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale) struck the center of the island, killing 2,415 people. Over 11,000 were seriously injured, and damage to property (many of the buildings that fell were shoddily constructed or designed to inadequate safety standards) was estimated at NT$300 billion.

The quake has become part of the national conscience (most people still usually refer to it as simply “921”, after the date on which it struck) and although the island has well and truly moved on, plenty of memories of that awful night remain to this day. Like Jiufenershan, a place guaranteed to bring home the primeval power of the catastrophe. Continue reading ‘Jiufenershan: A sobering reminder of the Power of the 921 Earthquake’


Hi and thanks for visiting!

I'm a musician (a pianist) and writer who's been living in Taiwan since 1993. This blog is a new attempt to document my travels all over Taiwan and the outlying islands. I have written six books (Taipei Day Trips I and II, Yangmingshan: the Guide, Taipei Escapes I and II, and The Islands of Taiwan). Most of my post-April 2010 trips will hopefully appear here, along with some favorite past explorations, many of which are based on articles from a column I wrote (called 'Off the Beaten Track') for the China Post newspaper, here in Taiwan.

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