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.

Category: Cycling

Time

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

2017 has at occasions been plagued by the same anxiety: having enough time for dealing with the aftermath of life changing events from the last few years. It is not just the events in question that have given me pause for thought but the also the new responsibilities that are my lot after inheritance. The result is a period of reassessment away from my main work profession after a five week sabbatical did feel long enough for a fuller recuperation.

There also is a need to reflect on how life is going because bereavement can refocus one’s thinking. A busy working life and the presence of deadlines make it too easy to delay the process of grieving and it may be that I have done just that. The combination of keeping a day job going while legal work was ongoing certainly can fill anyone’s mind with a lot to do but the emotional toll remains inescapable. The motivations are different too because you can feel a need to patch up your emotional state to progress whatever needs doing when you just need to allow things to take their own course.

It is that time for emotional healing that I crave and I do not want to rush things in case that causes trouble later. This kind of healing is not something that can be achieved satisfactorily using holiday allocation alone because it is so tempting to fill that with fleeting distractions from everyday living. Over the last few years, it may be that I have tried doing that when slowing down and making more space for myself was in order.

Outdoor activities like walking and cycling help so I hope continue wandering through countryside because those strolls help wherever they are, be it Scandinavia or Scotland. There is something about what is called slow travel that allows the space and time to work through life’s cares and I have been reading Dan Kieran’s “The Idle Traveller”. Kieran observes that many punctuate a working life with short overseas escapes when what you need is deeper immersion where your thoughts can be followed to their own ends without any deadlines or timetables. It is a thought that resonates with me.

There is another side to this apart from slow travel because I am discovering that other quieter interludes are needed too, especially as the speed of everyday life makes it feel you are in an emotional slow lane. That might be telling me that a less intense working life is in order and a fulfilling one would be ideal. It is a thought that I will hold as I navigate a new stage of life’s great adventure.

Learning many lessons during an introduction to Skye

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

It was July 1999 when I had my first experience of multi-day solo travel. Before that, there were day trips that took me to Fort William, Inverness, Oban and Loch Lomond. There were other excursions too with regular university science meetings taking me to the shores of Loch Tay and a conference in Aberdeen. All laid the foundations for a trip with my brother that took in Fort William, Glen Nevis, Oban, the Isle of Mull and Loch Lomond before he went home via Stanraer. That allowed me a chance for a weekend in Ireland too.

That first multi-day trip of my own took me to Skye for the first time. It came after the oral exam for my Ph.D. so there was an element of celebration after a successful outcome. That July had been dull in the main so it was a change to have a sunny day for the exam though it clouded over by evening time.

The prospect of some more sunshine later in the week was such that I managed to plan the trip away. This was a largely spontaneous escapade that commenced after a late night going through the phone bill for the flat to work out how much each of us had to pay. My pay as you go dial-up internet usage made the task more laborious but the job got done regardless of this.

Any lack of sleep made for a more bleary-eyed journey to Edinburgh’s St. Andrew’s Bus Station to catch a Scottish Citylink coach to Fort William. This was to be my second time going that way and the sunshine ensured that I was looking our the window at the passing scenery instead of catching up on any sleep. After all, both Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe are captivating places for anyone’s attention.

After a break, it was time to catch another Scottish Citylink coach to get the rest of the way to Portree. This was to show me new scenic delights as it passed the Commando Memorial, Glen Cluanie, Eilean Donan Castle, the Skye bridge and the Red Hills (some call these the Red Cuillin while others disagree) of the island itself.

The Square, Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Once in Portree, it was time to seek out a bed for the night. Nowadays, I do this ahead of time but I took a chance and tried the Portree Independent Hostel and was in luck. The naivety of the act now astounds me and I later got to going to a tourist office if I arrived anywhere without a pre-booking. Even that is out of my favour now.

With accommodation sorted, I pottered about the place in the evening sunshine. There was time for getting something to eat too and I found somewhere simple that did what I needed. Otherwise, there was no wastage of the weather and lack of prior research meant that I got to see as far as the Cuillin without realising what I was seeing. The lack of a detailed map could be blamed and so could a certain gap in experience but I think it also was a certain scepticism.

After rising and getting breakfast the next morning, I found a place where I could hire out a bike for the day. Duly equipped and with my few belongings in a bag on the back, I set off to cross the island. Doing so, I followed the main road for Uig and turned to continue to Dunvegan. Lots of little place like Edinbane were passed and Macleod’s Tables were there to be seen in heat haze too.

Dunvegan Castle, Waternish, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Once in Dunvegan, I headed to the castle and gardens with the sort of sunburn that I avoid these days. It was a hot sunny day so a rest under the shelter of trees and shrubs was in order. For the entry, I seem to have stuck with the gardens because I did not enter the castle itself. Instead, I found a quite place by the sea with view of the building where I lingered a little while.

All the while, I was making photos with my compact camera and realised that my film supply was low. Since there was shop around Dunvegan that sold any, rationing was the only option. When I left Dunvegan, I decided to return to Portree by a different way for a spot of variety. The was evening glorious as I plied the west coast of the island and the Cuillin lay ahead of me too since the road I was travelled lead to Sligachan. However, I crossed to Portree on a minor road that I joined after Struan.

Initially, it was a scary affair with a drop at one side that was as steep as the initial ascent. Sharp ups and downs awaited as I continued my crossing. If there was any regret, it was that my film supply was by now exhausted. This was before I had any sense of how much film you would need on a day away from home. Even so, that was forgotten when I found another hostel where I could stay for the night. Again, I took a chance and it worked out for the best.

The bike was stored and food sought before I made for bed in a more amenable spot than where I was the night before. Once I sorted myself the next morning and handed back the bike after the agreed 24 hours, it was time to head for home.

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Ross and Cromarty, Scotland

Given the fame of Eilean Donan Castle, there was to be a stop at Dornie. However, I did not realise that I needed to tell the driver of my plans so we had a job to found my bag under all the luggage of Glasgow-bound passengers. He hardly was impressed but we got it sorted. It was yet another lesson for the future.

Eilean Donan looked well and I did go inside to see this castle. Film supplies had been replenished before leaving Portree and it might have been then that sunscreen and after-sun soother were acquired for I did need these. There was plenty of use of the newly acquired items as I pottered about the castle and what lay around it in the time available before the next coach came.

Not much can be recalled of the journey back to Edinburgh but there must have been changes of coach at Fort William and Glasgow. After the trip, there were photos to get developed and some have yet to be bettered. Nowadays, getting all this for around £100 could appear an unbelievable bargain but it left my financial reserves in need of parental replenishment. Quite what my father really thought of this is unknown to me but it was good to get away for a while and set in motion a series of explorations of Scotland that has continued since then.

A change of bike trainer

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

With all the storms that come our way over the last few months and stuff weighing on my mind, hillwalking excursions have been few over the past few months. It is at fallow times like these that you either brave the elements or find a workaround of sorts.

It also brings back my days of commuting by bike when the short hours of daylight and winter weather conspired to make me inactive. That it took me until 2014 to realise that I needed to do something about those winter hibernations is down to an expanding waistline. That faulty brakes had stalled my commuting by bike in 2012 only exacerbated things so I brought home a turbo trainer from Decathlon in July 2014.

Being new to this, I went for the cheapest model from their in-house brand B’TWIN. Over time, I started looking for quieter and quieter tyres and a slick tyre would be the next step once the current one wears out. The initial fitness was not impressive either and I, like so many, experienced boredom. The solution to the latter was to start reading magazines while on the trainer and the former was resolved by gradually stepping up the time spent. It went from ten minutes to thirty over two months and I found that I peaked at spending a hour a night on the thing.

Then, there was a life changing event in early 2015 that distracted me and outdoor cycling grew again as the year wore on so my previous rhythm was broken. Even so, I often spend a few minutes at a time well more than once in the day if a longer session does not come to pass.

All this seemed to take its toll on the trainer and the hum from the unit itself grew ever louder and more coarse, even above that of the back tyre of the bike. Not only that but there also seemed to be a ringing sound coming from it too. There was one time when it began to ring like a continuous bell but disassembly followed by reassembly sorted it by tightening up whatever was loose in there. That failed to address the issue when I tried it last week so I start to consider a replacement.

That came from Halfords on Sunday and there are differences. Firstly, the new Elite trainer is more testing than the old one so there is no cruising in top gear at anything but lower settings. If that builds extra leg strength and fitness, it will do good and moderation is my approach to such matters. Though quieter overall, there are some settings, the new unit feeds back vibration through the bike and that is something the old one never did. In time, I may find a way to dampen this but it is tolerable for now. The new trainer also cost less than what it replaced anyway. Anything it does for fitness and getting through magazine reading should help those outdoors outings to happen, which is a real use for these things anyway.

Overseas escapades

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

After playing with the prospect earlier in the year, I made good some of my designs on overseas explorations. July saw me head to Iceland for a few days. An early morning arrival allowed plenty of time for exploring Reykjavik before a day when I embarked on an excursion that took in Thingvellir National Park, Geysir and the enormous Gullfoss. On my last full day there, I ventured as far as Landmannalaugar for a day walk in its striking hill country. The weather may not have played ball then like it did on other days but the whole visit was a good introduction to Iceland for a first time visitor and there are other possibilities to be undertaken if I get more brave.

Wetterhorn, Mättenberg & Eiger, Grindelwald, Berner Oberland, Switzerland

Alpine ambitions also were partially sated with an elongated weekend spent in Switzerland. My base was Geneva and another morning arrival allowed me to stroll about the place to get my bearings. A trip to Bern followed on the only totally dull day of those that I spent in the country. There were day walks in Alpine surroundings too with one around Zermatt allowing plentiful views of the Matterhorn under blue skies. That was followed by a journey to Grindlewald that allowed a little taste of how Bern appears in sunshine on the way there. From Grindlewald, I trotted up to Kleine Scheidegg with the Eiger steadfastly remaining cloaked in cloud. Others were on show so I was not at all disappointed. When the altitude surprised me with its effects after walking at similar heights around Zermatt unperturbed, I was happy with slow progress on the final stretch to Kleine Scheidegg’s train station. With cloud overhead and a certain chill in the air, I did not dally either. After gaining around 1,000 metres in height, I was surprised that my legs were more willing than my lungs so that is a lesson for the future.

Both of these punctuated a year that has been a journey of spirit following the passage of my father from this life in January. The Icelandic escape slipped me out of a rut into which I had fallen and got me away from concerns about political events in Britain. Solace was a distinguishing feature of the Swiss interlude and it felt great to stick with enjoying delightful sights in place of life’s troubles. That sense of peace has returned from time to time since then though there has been mental turbulence too. Thankfully, the latter appears to be subsiding while life is running its course.

Federal Palace, Bern, Switzerland

One downside to both excursions is the cost and I should have got myself a Swiss Travel Pass for rail travel is expensive there. That means that any future ventures beyond British, Irish or Manx shores will have to await 2016 and I am looking the possibilities for Norway at the moment. In addition to that, there is more of Switzerland to see with Austria, Germany and France all having their portions of the Alps too. Given what I gained from this year’s trips, savouring scenery in other parts of the world is something that I fancy continuing.

Another thing that attenuates foreign travel ambitions after the cost of such exploits or the passing of the summer is the need to find my feet again when it comes to Ireland. It no longer feels the same with both my parents gone and it is as if an anchor has disappeared. There no longer is the feeling of attachment that there once was even though I still have family there and there are things that need doing on a continual basis. The latter offer a chance to find my place there again and only time will tell as to how things proceed.

Living in the U.K. for as long as I have has compounded the lack of attachment to Ireland yet it also has not been a year for walking excursions in the country that I now call home. Around April and May, there were quite of few walks around Macclesfield’s hills and August saw me reprise a walk between Monyash and Bakewell via Lathkill Dale. Another factor that may have played its part in keeping me from my usual hill country haunts has been my return to cycling local roads now that I have regained my road confidence. Cheshire has featured strongly in the various routes and there even was an incursion into Staffordshire that took in Leek and Tittesworth Reservoir. Maybe the shortening days will draw me backing to wandering among hills again.

Fitness

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Earlier in the year, I had grand designs on a return to cycling after a break of nearly two years. What scuppered the plan was a lack of road cycling confidence that extended beyond not wanting to go pell mell down hills, which always was the case. Saying that, I have managed a few circuits from my home that took in Bollington but that is a far cry from daily commuting or travelling as far as the likes of Tatton Park near Knutsford or Lyme Park near Disley. What really is beyond me at the moment is an epic that takes me as far as Northwich or Chester.

Still, there has been a circuit from home that took in Gawsworth during March as well as a bimble up and down Longdendale in May. Both of those tried our the fold-up Dahon that I got last January so I am not done with cycling completely. In fact, Sunday saw me go around by Bollington on a short cycle that substituted for an aborted planned trot from the Cat and Fiddle Inn back home via Shutlingsloe. That was on a B’TWIN commuting bike that replaced the mountain bike that did day to day road travel duties for more than eleven years. The new one came to me from Decathlon in April and is a very nice machine with 24-speed gearing and lights powered by dynamos on the wheels. It has mudguards (an amazing rarity these days) and a carrier too so it is the type of bike that my parents might have fancied in their time. It certainly reminds me of a three-speed example arising from the same well of inspiration that I had in Ireland once upon a time.

Though I no longer trust its brakes, the mountain bike has not retired either. However, its role is very different from the one it used to have and the cause fits in with the title of this entry too. For years, its commuting duties kept me more trim than I otherwise might have been with round trips of around fifteen miles a day if not more. However, these had an Achilles heel in that I was put off cycling to and from work on wet days by a soaking on the way to work early on in my career. That was on a road bike whose gearing self-destructed and caused the acquisition of the mountain bike in 2002. Before then, it had served me well around Edinburgh and Skipton and around Cheshire too as well as on a single incursion into Derbyshire that set me on the road to hill walking in August 2000; it took me from Macclesfield to Buxton by way of the A537, possibly the highest that I ever have gone on a bike.

Dark evenings are not such an issue around Edinburgh but pose a different challenge on country A-roads. The result was that my commuting left the bike aside for the darker times of year and was taken up in earnest during drier spells on longer days. It meant that the benefits were not to be felt year round as they probably should to ward off any middle age spread.

What brought all this to mind was the fit of a new trousers during the past summer; it started me wondering if I was beginning to need the next waist size up and I baulked at the idea. That was enough to spur me into a kind of action. Walking was all very fine but it was not bringing my level of activity back up to where it once was. My remedy was the acquisition of a B’Twin bike trainer, again from Decathlon. The mountain bike was attached to this and I began to ease into spending some time on it. However, it probably is not the best of arrangements for silent running even after changing the back tyre to a quieter one; putting gaffer tape over the original might have made more sense for I am not buying another bike for this job.

Ten minutes on the thing were quite enough at the start, such was my lack of fitness. Since then, the sessions have grown longer and they are around the half hour mark these days. To some, that prospect would seem very dull and it was the same for a younger me. A spot of reading of magazines balanced on the handlebar is enough to address any sense of impatience though. Anything that helps me to spend time sorting my fitness has to be a good thing and I always reproach myself for reading nearly as much as I could anyway.

So far, there have been results and I reckon that I feel fitter though I’d rather have lost more flab than I have so that’s enough encouragement to continue. That it has given me a spurt of exploring hill country is another bonus because it did feel as if I was restricting myself to lower heights, as nice as they are. The summer weather we had this year helped too, in spite of it being at times a little hotter for walking than is ideal.

Nevertheless, I was lured out in places like Buttermere, Ullswater, St. Sunday Crag, Grasmere, Loughrigg Fell and Orrest Head during a good few Cumbrian excursions. Welsh locations like Ysgyryd Fawr, Sugar Load and Gower also saw me as did Loch Etive and Mull in Scotland. Maybe I felt it was high time that I got back into hill wandering ways while fitness was improving. On its own, the subject never really got me excited because I suppose that the world of competitive sport felt a little sterile to me. It actually took outdoors explorations to get me walking through hill country instead of looking in on it as if it were some niche sporting interest. It only was when I got to seeing hillwalking as a way to get into special quiet places with an attractive quiet spirit of their own that I really took to the activity. Being somewhere unique when ravishing light falls upon it has led to many happy memories too. Fitness is not for boasting but is a means to an end, a way of ensuring that hill country visits can continue and I keep adding to those soothing recollections.


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