Countryside Wanderings

It's amazing how things develop. After all, this blog started out as a news section for the rest of the website. With encouragement from readers, it has become a place for relating my countryside wanderings and musings about the world of outdoor activity. Walking, cycling and photography all are part of what I do out of doors and, hopefully, they will continue to inspire me to keep adding entries on here. Of course, there needs to be something of interest to you, dear reader, too and I hope that's the case. Thanks for coming.

An under-fulfilled photographic prospect

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

More than a decade ago, I had planned on a Sunday day trip to Snowdonia only for my plans to get extinguished by a cancelled train service. By these stage, I was in Manchester so I reviewed my options and continued to Windermere instead. The required train fare refund had to wait for another time because one operator (Virgin West Coast) was unable to refund a ticket sold by another (First North Western) and this was for standard tickets sold at a train station. Nevertheless, any associated frustration was to be pacified by what my chosen alternative was to offer.

From Windermere, I made my way to Ambleside by bus and a hike over Loughrigg Fell ensued. That exploit granted me stunning views over Grasmere on what turned out to be a wonderful evening. It must have been May when all this happened for hawthorn bushes were shrouded in white blossoms. The display was one of the best that I have ever seen. It all just begged for some photographic attention. However, in those days of film photography, my choice of film made for results that were redder than was ideal.

Still, that was not realised at the time and I descended to Loughrigg Terrace and continued past Rydal Water to reach the A591 in a very satisfied mood. Roadside walking returned me to Ambleside and I retraced my journey home again. The disruption was forgotten and only the actual photographic results were to send the idea of a return visit into my head.

2014-08-09

It was 2009 when I next crossed Loughrigg Fell while walking from Coniston to Ambleside. Though the hike included sightings of Coniston Water, Tarn Hows and Windermere, there was none that included either Grasmere or Rydal Water. That had to wait until 2014 when the promise of decent weather of a Saturday was enough to lure me north again for the last instalment of a summertime Cumbrian walking trip hat-trick.

Once in Cumbria, my first port of call was Orrest Head. Despite its close proximity to Windermere’s train station, it took me until 2007 to discover this delight. The chance of a quick return on another fine sunny day was too good to overlook. That it was a short walk up there made it a possibility for using up time while awaiting a bus. Now, I wonder if it was the cause of my deciding to catch a later bus than planned for it was idyllic even with others about the beauty spot. Those westward views over Windermere towards the Langdale Pikes and their eastward counterparts featuring nearby fells like Red Screes were stunning on the day. Hopes of getting pleasing photos around Loughrigg Fell were raised.

Once in Ambleside, I pottered out along the A591 nearly as far as Rydal Bridge before I dropped onto a public footpath leading to steeping stones over the River Rothay and onto a minor road. Walking poles were essential for a river crossing that required the summoning of added resolve. The apparent chance that this could be a long sunny evening was enough to ensure that.

Turning left along the road, I continued as far as Fox Ghyll before leaving tarmac again to commence an ascent of Loughrigg Fell. A family group had similar ideas and I happily left them to amble at their own enjoyable pace. In the warm sunshine, the climb was sweaty business devoid of wider views until I got beyond surrounding woodland. Then, they really opened out before me. With enough height gained, the gradients happily eased too. All still looked promising.

The route that I took puzzles me now it went back on itself and I could have pottered along the side of Rydal Water in the sunshine before reaching Loughrigg Terrace for its views over Grasmere. Crossing Rothay Park in Ambleside was another option though I now wonder if I was after another path that I missed on my way out from Ambleside. That is the more likely explanation.

My abiding memory of the my time on Loughrigg Fell that day is one of disappointment at having been caught by advancing cloud. However, looking through my library of photos from the time makes it apparent that my recollection is being selective. Any breaks in the cloud cover allowed the sun to peep through and spotlight the landscape. It may not have been the widescreen lighting that I had in mind but there were plenty of delightful moments too. In any case, cloud shadow added to the scenes before me in their own way.

In hindsight, it appeared that I was being every photographic possibility but the one that brought me to Loughrigg Fell in the first place. At times, the sun shone brightly on nearby eastern fells like Red Screes, High Pike, Low Pike and Heron Pike. Looking at the resulting photos now is some recompense for the fact that the repeat of that grand view over Grasmere towards Dunmail Rise was laden with too much shadow for my liking.

That presence of cloud shadow did not deter me from having a go at capturing the scene before me. It was as I dropped down from Loughrigg Fell to the road that take me to the nearest YHA hostel, that any spotlighting really came to a halt. The cloud thickened and the sky darkened all the while as I made my way to my lodgings for the night.

Even so, I still had designs on a stroll towards Elterwater once I had sorted things at the hostel. Soon enough, I found what the cloud was to bring and I had overlooked bringing a rain coat. still, I got back under cover without too much of a wetting. A night of heavy rain lay ahead.

2014-08-10

It still was raining well when I rose the next morning so the atmosphere felt rather melancholic and autumnal. In order to late the rain pass, I dallied after breakfast while packing together my things. It was not to be so I walked along the minor road to Grasmere in the rain. Traffic was light and I was well equipped with waterproofs so the hike was no chore. The peace and quite was more than a compensation. If the sun had been out instead, it even could have been quite special in its own way though I suspect that Elterwater would have drawn me instead.

All in all, there is unfinished business on Loughrigg Fell so a return remains a possibility. Last December’s trip to Cumbria could have addressed matters had a walk from Great Langdale to Grasmere not been the bigger attraction in my mind. After all, I never had seen the Langdale Pikes up close in sunshine; cloud always pervaded whenever I was around those parts before then. The same might be said for Elterwater too so the reasons for new visits remain.

Travel Arrangements

Return train journey between Macclesfield and Windermere. Bus service 555 or 599 from Windermere to Ambleside. Bus service 555 or 599 from Grasmere to Windermere.

An occasion when resolve got rewarded

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

Webcams can be both a blessing and a curse. They are handy for seeing what weather and ground conditions are like in areas of hill country, especially during wintertime. That is fine if you definitely are heading somewhere and the conveyed message is promising but they can irritate if you find that you have missed out by staying at home.

That was how I felt during the second Sunday in July after a wonderful weekend trip to Buttermere. Having been away for several weekends on the trot, I might have been looking for an excuse to stay home and my seeing what I missed on that Sunday stiffened my resolve for the next weekend.

The added determination was needed for I was soaked on the way to Macclesfield’s train station. At the time, someone could have questioned the sanity of what I was doing. Conditions were much drier when I got to Windermere and the trend continued around Patterdale. It was if much of the heavy rain had by-passed Cumbria and there were signs that some had been around there given the stormy look of the leaden skies overhead me and the clag surrounding a number of fells.

2014-07-19

Saturday evening did have occasional showers but this was a far cry from what drenched me in Macclesfield. There was time to potter about Patterdale and Glenridding. The lower shores of Ullswater were frequented for long enough that I even got to see the felltops seeing a some sunlight before the sun went down for the day. There was time for an evening meal too and it was a quieter more intimate spot that took my fancy.

Other such purveyors would not have offered such peaceful surroundings. If I had the expectation that Patterdale was to be the home of soothing silence with only nature providing any soundtrack, it would have been unmet. There was music was to be heard from both Patterdale Hall and Patterdale Hotel. There some recompense in the amusing sight of two young girls using inflatable guitars in a sort of sword fight in front of the latter of these. Still, any human noise was not so pervasive as to intrude everywhere for there remained quieter corners to be found.

2014-07-20

After the following morning’s breakfast, I set to a spot of strolling around the villages of Patterdale and Glenridding as well as Ullswater’s lower reaches in search of some photo opportunities. Though satisfying ones were thin on the ground, my retracing of steps showed me how peaceful the place could be without the sound of any revelling.

Retracing some of my steps back from Glenridding, I turned onto the lane leading to Grisdale at Grisedale Bridge. After threading along tarmac for a while, I found a footpath taking me up towards Thornhow End. The going was steep in the gathering heat of the day. others had the same idea as I did but left them pass me to I could go at my own ease, taking in any views that were there to be savoured. It helped that those over Ullswater were opening out before me and that I could see where I had loitered both on the previous evening and earlier that morning.

Other views opened up on the way up to the top of Birks too. Looking across Grisedale lead the eye towards the bulk of Birkhouse Fell and beyond that lay Sheffield Pike. Around these, a multitude of routes lead fellwalkers towards the top of Helvellyn and Catstye Cam. These are prospects that I have pondered more than once once without making any of such designs real. Between them, there should be enough cause for a return sometime.

Cloud was set to frustrate photographic efforts as I continued along the summit of Birks and meant any views across Patterdale towards High Street were not of the sort of quality that makes me make anything but record shots. It was as if I was collecting reasons to return. St. Sunday Crag lay ahead of me and cloud broke to leave me sunlit sightings of both Helvellyn and Catstye Cam. The amount of exposure to be encountered by a walk along Striding Edge was there to be seen and everywhere seemed rocky at those higher reaches.

Once I had crested the top of St. Sunday Crag, there was a pressing matter that I to address once I had enough mobile phone signal: I needed to phone my father when there was someone with him to help with taking the call. He had little sense of where I was and I never let him in on my whereabouts either. He had mixed up his days of the week and was expecting me to visit him sooner than was planned. Quite what other walkers made of this Irishman speaking on a phone in such a spot, I’ll never know and it is not something that I usually do either. That times have changed since then mean that I am less likely to do the same these days. After all, I visit hill country as a respite from everyday life. That was not so possible back then.

With that phone call made, I looked at what faced me if I kept going towards Cofa Pike for the ascent to the flat top of Fairfield. In the event, I decided that I did not fancy it and picked up an informal path at Deepdale Hause that would drop me to Grisedale Tarn. Steep sections made for careful progress until gradients levelled off and navigation towards the outlet from the tarn was devoid of the confirming line of a path. Breaks in the cloud brought more in the way of sunshine though Patterdale remained under its cover.

There was time for a rest beside Grisedale Tarn before I continued with my walk. It was August 2005 when I last had been this way for I have photos from a time when I mainly pursued film photography. That day, I believe that I was headed for the top of Fairfield and it was to take up one of the most frighteningly eroded paths that I ever tried using. the way down took me to Patterdale by Hart Crag and Hartsop above How. It was that day that I rejected the idea of dropping down Cofa Pike to go over St. Sunday Crag after the ardour of my ascent. The seeds were sown for a walk that came to pass in the 2014, the one that I am describing here.

My next destination was Grisedale Hause from where I would drop into Hause Moss, a level area that by rights could host another tarn. In reality, this is but a bog with Fairfield’s gentler side rising up from it. The slopes remain steep and craggy but they are more hospital that the foreboding cliffs that form its northern aspect. These were seen in the flesh for the most time earlier in my walk but they appear no less striking in the line drawings that Alfred Wainwright included in the first of his Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. Fairfield is not a place about which to be blundering in poor visibility.

My first encounter with Fairfield was on a walk that started from Rydal Mount and took me over Heron Pike and Great Rigg with the way to Ambleside going via Hart Crag, Dove Crag, High Pike, Low Pike and Low Sweden Bridge. It was a horseshoe route and both Great Rigg and Heron Pike loomed over me as I dropped down to Rowan’s Ground with Tongue Gill beside. This was an unpeopled place though it could have done with a breeze to take the edge of the warm afternoon sunshine.

Another crossing of Tongue Gill was needed to reach the track down to Mill Bridge on the A591. Once on the busy roadside, it was time to make for the junction from which a lane would take me into Grasmere. The heat meant that I was flagging a little by this stage so I appreciated the chance of a refreshing stop in the heart of the village before I began my way home. That initial test of resolve had paid dividends and with all my traipsing over these fells, there remains yet more to explore.

Travel Arrangements

Return train journey from Macclesfield to Windermere. Bus service 508 from Windermere to Patterdale. Bus service 555 or 599 from Grasmere to Windermere.

A weekend spent around Buttermere

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

The last few trips to the Lake District have had the same thing in common: overnight stays at a YHA hostel. The latest was last December when I stayed in Ambleside and walked from Great Langdale to Grasmere. Before that, I need to cast my mind back to the summer of 2014 when there were three trips to the Lake District. The last of them saw me revisit Orrest Head before heading to Ambleside for walk from there over Loughrigg Fell to Langdale YHA. Before that, it was the turn of Patterdale from where I walked over St. Sunday Crag en route for Grasmere.

The first of the lot took me to Buttermere and that is the subject of this long overdue entry. It was the first weekend in July and Le Tour de France had its Grand Départ in Yorkshire. As someone drawn to quieter spots, Cumbria was my choice and some sunny weather was promised. The frenzy about the cycle race meant that witnessing the thing took more organisation and more exposure to crowds than was to my taste. After all, life then was such that a spot of peace was in order.

2014-07-05

It must have been near enough the middle of the day when I arrived but that did nothing to stop me having designs on walking along the ridge comprising Seat, High Crag, High Stile and Red Pike. While I made for Scarth Gap, I eventually thought better of such a scheme and stuck with Haystacks instead. It was not to be a waste of a day with plenty of sunny weather.

It had been August 2003 when I last visited Buttermere so a return visit was long overdue. Then, I struck on along the road for Honistor Pass before following paths and tracks towards Grange and the shores of Derwentwater, along which I returned to Keswick where I stayed the night.

This time, I followed the track to the northern end of Buttermere with views of Fleetwith Pike looming large beyond it. Next, I picked up a higher track through Burtness Wood though it later dropped down to the lake shore. It was at Peggy’s Bridge where I picked up the track leading to Scarth Gap. In the afternoon sunshine, my surroundings looked resplendent.

There may have been designs on cutting out Seat altogether in favour of a more direct route to High Crag but there was no obvious path to see so I continued to Scarth Gap. It was when I reached that saddle that I reviewed my plans against the time of day after peering down towards Ennerdale and chose an ascent of Haystacks instead.

That decision was the cause of my needing to scramble up a few sets of rocky crags, thinking that it certainly was not going to be my way down again. If I had designs on a cheeky side trip before going along the intended ridge, this could have been a spanner in the works. It was just as well that good sense had thwarted that idea.

Once I was past those crags, the going became gentler and Great Gable lay in shadow. Innominate Tarn was passed and I sought our Blackbeck Tarn, my next landmark. After that, I was set to cross Warnscale Beck before starting a steep relentless descent down the slopes of Fleetwith Pike. Eventually, the gradients relented around Warnscale Bottom so I had gentler progress from there to Gatesgarth Farm. There, I joined the road for a short stretch before finding the track to Peggy’s Bridge for a repeat stroll along the banks of Buttermere in the still evening air.

With most gone about their evening business elsewhere, one could dawdle and enjoy the uninterrupted peace. When I finally got to the YHA, I sorted out my bed for the night before heading out again. With the evening peace and the sound of Sour Milk Gill and of Herdwick sheep filling the air, I scarcely could withdraw from being out of doors until it was well dark. Doubts over interior lighting was the only thing that could draw me indoors from such a soothing ambience.

2014-07-06

The morning dawned with a mixture of clouds and sun. After breakfast, I started pottering about to make the most of it. The shore of Buttermere was revisited while I soaked in views of the surrounding fells. Though cloud continued to build, I paid a visit to Crummock Water. Though the bus had followed its shores the day before, my stroll showed its setting to even more pleasant than that of Buttermere itself and it helped that my vantage point was as good as deserted.

Looking around me before I left for home again, ideas began to coalesce that yet could lead to new trips. Traipsing up the steep sides of High Crag, High Stile and Red Pike one at a time would make for multiple trips or a pleasant longer stay and nearby Grasmoor and Robinson offer additional temptation too. It was a weekend that offered so much: pleasant weather, wonderful scenery and plenty of peace and quiet. Given my current state, a return seems long overdue.

Travel Arrangements

Return train trip between Macclesfield and Penrith. Bus service X4 or X5 between Penrith and Keswick. Bus service 77 or 77A between Keswick and Buttermere.

New boots

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

When someone thinks of Mallorca, wet and muddy surfaces could be very far from their expectations. Yet, I carried my well travelled pair of Meindl Burmas with me. Having heavy duty footwear covered all eventualities and I did meet with muddy patches and steep paved pathways so it was just as well.

The day before I left for my Mediterranean escapade is known in Britain as Boxing Day and is called St. Stephen’s Day in Ireland. It was bright and sunny so I was lured out on a local stroll that took in Tegg’s Nose Country Park. Not long after I had left home, I discovered that the three year old Regatta Crossland Mid boots that I have for such things were starting to show external signs of coming to pieces. There may be a bit of life in them yet but the start of the post-Christmas sales put the idea of acquiring a replacement into my mind, especially when there might be price reductions.

While I was tempted by cheaper offerings from Hi Tec, I ended choosing something from Berghaus that I got delivered to my local Millets store. That collection was a painless affair on a busy Saturday afternoon and I tried out my new Expeditor AQ Trek boots around the house to see how they fared for comfort and fit. They passed on both counts and I am awaiting drier days before testing them further.

Like the aforementioned Regattas, these too are fabric boots with a waterproof membrane. Though testing on local walks has not happened yet, thoughts of using them for walks in places with dry climates have entered my head. These are not so serious that my Meindls might stop reaching sunny places in southern Europe but something with suede uppers could suit such an outing.

After a year of unfinished business

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

2016 turned out to be a dramatic year in world affairs and it was set to be a busy one for me too so I could have done without the other developments. That work looking after my late father’s affairs is tailing off into more of a steady state and I hope that things become more manageable as the year progresses. There even might be time for a sabbatical from my day job.

The way that I feel at the moment is that such a thing would be well needed and I fancy a period of rest after all the upheaval of the last few years. It has sapped my spirit so a spot of renewal is in order. Overseas trips became a way to tide myself until a longer break becomes a reality.

In 2016, I got to three new countries: Austria, Norway and Spain. With my visits to the first two of these taking the form of extended weekends, I left feeling that there was more to see. It usually is not a bad thing but an extra day or two added to each would have allowed a bit more exploration. My Spanish escapade took me to Mallorca between Christmas and New Year and that brought what the other trips did not bring. There was a feeling of leaving the cares of life after me that was much needed.

In a way, it worked too well and a cold that I had caught somewhere began to make its effects plain enough that the return journey had more than a little dash of limp home mode about it. It took a week or two before I finally recovered and some extra time away from work was in order.

Before that took hold, there was ample time in the near constant sunshine as I explored the island from my Palma base. Port de Pollença was my first port of call with a little strolling about the place. A day trip to Sóller allowed for a chance to sample part of the GR 221, a long distance trail extending along the Serra de Tramuntana. After that, there was a trot about Port d’Andratx that was supposed to take me to Saint Elm but granted me a view of the place instead when I failed to find the path needed to get me from one track to another. Given that I was feeling less than my full self, it was just as well. The last day of my trip saw me lazing about Palma next to its impressive cathedral, helping sightseers with photos when asked to do so. There was ample time during my stay to make photos of my own too.

Despite the fever, I got a lot from my time in Mallorca and it offered the feeling of satisfying and more complete explorations. It also did me another favour. During December, I fell into a search for closure that I do not understand fully and even walks around Macclesfield over the Christmas did little to dissipate the feeling. It probably was grief that hit me but going away somewhere else fractured that unwanted continuity.

December saw me return to the Lake District for a walk between Great Langdale and Grasmere on a crisp winter’s day. The dawdling along the way was restorative and taught me that such experiences can be readily available in Britain. There also was a amble between Burbage and Whaley Bridge that revisited the Goyt Valley. Being denied much in the way of sunshine was no irritation and it also offers encouragement for a return sometime.

There were other longer walks during the year too with one returning me home from Leek by way of the Roaches. Thinking about that now recalls how soothing a largely solitary saunter it was. Another took me along the White to Dark Trail between Tideswell and Hathersage.

Hopefully, 2017 will be an easier year for me and it is something of an open book in some ways. Aside maybe from a possible stay in Stockholm, overseas excursions no longer loom as large in my mind now. Scotland could see more of me than that short visit in November that took in Inverness and a rainy Plockton. A spot of mental clearance could see me plodding around England and Wales more often too. Ireland might even see a spot of much needed exploration and I also fancy a stay around Killarney. Given how heavy my spirit feels now, the more important job for the year could be to lift things again for me.


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