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: Countryside & Environment

Wellington boot wandering

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

Over the past two months, we appear to have got unseasonably mild weather with a succession of storms and heavy rain. The only exception was the past week of cold weather with frost and spells of snow that have affected Macclesfield’s hill country more than its nearest town. Buxton , being higher up than Macclesfield also got its coating of snow as did parts of the Derbyshire Dales like Litton. In the case of the latter, this was short lived.

When it comes to the torrents of rain that have been coming our way, Macclesfield again fares better than parts of Cumbria, Lancashire or Yorkshire. The River Bollin has dug its own valley and that thankfully most homes in the area unthreatened during its states of spate. Seeing one of these conjured up images using the adjective molten and I must admit to catching myself questioning such an impression.

What is beyond question is that the countryside is saturated after all that has come our way. That conclusion was unavoidable after two muddy walks on what I now call my home patch. One was a circuit on Christmas Eve that went around by Prestbury and another followed on the Tuesday following Christmas Day when I trotted around by Tegg’s Nose, Rainow and Kerridge. That last stravaig took me along part of the Gritstone Trail too and I could have done with the walking poles that I left at home on steep slippery muddy inclines, especially downhill ones not so far from Gulshaw Hollow. The fact that I made use of the only sunny day between Christmas and New Year easily made up for such obstacles and the need for boot cleaning afterwards.

Still, the muddy state of footwear caused me to make use of wellington boots that I acquired nearly a year ago in wet snow on the same Prestbury circuit that made use of the sunny afternoon that we were gifted on Christmas Eve. There also was some testing of a new GPS receiver too and more remains to be said about that in the fullness of time.

The first such circuit took along the course of the River Bollin until a change of direction near Prestbury took me towards Heybridge Lane (but not as far as that) and across the golf course at Tytherington Club, the latter of which being too wet to be playable. Then, a meandering though well known route took me around the outskirts of Tytherington to reach the Middlewood Way that took me most of the way home again.

The second excursion was more soggy with a hike along the banks of the Macclesfield Canal preceding a yomp through Dane Moss Nature Reserve that reminded me of the possibility of exploring more around there using the duckboards that have been set in place. From there, I crossed some very soggy fields before emerging on tarmac again. The latter made me pay for the lack of cushioning in wellington boots so they are best left for soft ground. Even so, I still fancy the idea of having them with me on a walk for when conditions are likely to overwhelm normal walking boots and gaiters. That unhelpfully assumes that the said soft ground is not likely to obstruct any change of footwear and that cannot be forgotten either in the spirit of being realistic.

Hopefully, things will start to dry up soon and that will need a dry month of March and even April too. Before then though, there looks to be no let up at the time of writing and those previous hopes are there to be dashed too. Such is the way with our maritime climate that it is best not to puff up one’s aspirations lest they lead to despair should they be vanquished. 2015 may have spoilt us and 2016 has a lot to come yet so let us have patience for now.

Never the best to go rushing time

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

When I was looking for my first step into the world of work after university, the quietness of some months were frustrating. January and September appear to fall into this category but I now see them differently. The sense of stasis has not gone but I now prize it because so much of a year can go in a frenzy. A working life will do that with its many deadlines and the events of family life can do the same as I found last year. Then, there can be the chasing of good weather from the start of year until summer. The whole mix can leave one so exhausted before autumn comes that hibernation looks attractive. It quite possibly explains my energy profile over the course of a year.

One matter that makes me wonder is when I start hearing about events towards the end of year being advertised right at the beginning. Concerts given by famous artists may be very desirable but why go wishing away the present? The same trick is used by marketing folk in the world of digital technology too and the risk is that you never appreciate what you have. Sections of the technology media do not help matters by speculating over what might be in the next iPhone or iPad but does it matter? Much of the time, the hubbub needs ignoring so we can enjoy any other delights that come our way in this life.

Another thing that amazes me is long term planning. Some plan their holidays a year in advance and I ask myself how on earth do you know how things will be then. Life’s twists and turns bring the unexpected and that may be the comfortable situation that you expect either. Laying out your life before you just sounds like hubris to me and recent years have enforced that thinking with the progressive frailties of elderly parents. Parents of young children may feel the same. Your life may feel like it is being put hold but the present can bring joys too.

There is no doubt that January can feel too quiet for some and minds go racing ahead to designs on summertime holiday bliss. With days like Blue Monday and the current long run of stormy weather, such escapism is understandable. However, Blue Monday actually came up sunny this year so you could cheer yourself with a walk away from our more built up areas. That may not cure money worries or people trouble but the past year has reinforced for me how essential a good walk can be for easing a troubled mind and thinking over things. Even venting stress through footsteps often is what is needed and is all the better so no one else gets hurt by what is going on within you. Complaints from knees and feet are better than those from others with injured minds.

The real use of a quiet January is to take stock before the year’s distractions get cracking. The month wasn’t so quiet in 2013 but 2014 brought what was needed and my mind could wander elsewhere. On digital maps, I have ranged over the hills of mid Wales and along the courses of the Wye and Severn rivers that rise in Pumlumon. The Black Mountain in the Brecon Beacons National Park has been perused too while a general survey of transport possibilities have been ongoing. Any bus service that looks useful was noted with Sundays being better to avoid until the summertime Beacons Bus network recommences. While a little stay to sample what is in those places sounds promising, no dates are set as the course of life remains largely unknown and the uncertainties and vagaries of the weather lie among those.

It was the same sort of metal wandering that led to my visiting the Western Isles in August 2008. Quieter times allowed the formulation of an escapade that I am loathe to consider at the moment. Then, the playing with different configurations actually led to one that fitted in a week when other parts of the U.K. and Éire were getting a soaking. However, I pulled a cracker that I never will forget.

Another thing that I relished last month is a sense of steadiness that was so different from how much of 2013 felt. It so felt like bliss that it was tempting to procrastinate and leave some less pleasant and necessary tasks for later. Those now need listing and tackling because procrastination is not the way to go either. It’s as bad as wishing away time ahead of summer holidays or the launch of an attractive gadget. Moments need seizing even if the freedom to relax a little is all the more appealing; no one can relax all the time.

January is not only for contemplating and designing escapades because it can have some of its own too. 2011 saw me head to Wales, Scotland and Ireland on successive weekends before I was swamped with work. Being in the off season does mean cheaper deals and lured me to Edinburgh and Llangollen one weekend after another. The first allowed me to recall times from my student days in a wonderful city and the second had me threading new ground with views of spots seen and sampled on previous outings.

February can be less frantic too though it was filled with angst in 2011 and weighed down on me in 2013. In 2012, it was so different with a weekend trip to savour a section of Northumberland’s coastline that I had walked under cloudier skies. Last weekend, I got as far as Lincoln to visit its cathedral and its castle. The latter is under restoration ahead of the octocentenary of the signing of the Magna Carta next year. Currently, all the scaffolding is restricting what you can see so I didn’t get the photo of Lincoln Cathedral that I had fancied. Another visit when it’s all done sounds a possibility though the entry prices surely will have gone up from £2 for an adult by then. English Heritage look after the old Bishop’s Palace and charge £4.60 for adult entry so that maybe what the entry charge for Lincoln Castle should be. Even with a reduced charge, the lady issuing my ticket took pains to tell me how little there was to see though a free tour was available if I fancied that. In the event, what was there satisfied me and I rather fancy the idea of seeing more should the occasion arise. What I saw around Lincoln’s Cathedral Quarter looked very attractive on a sunny Sunday and I’d venture that the actual cathedral itself is more ornate than York Minster too. I left for home with a sense of satisfaction.

Whatever others may say or think, I have a certain affection for the months of January and February. They can be the calm before a frenzy and escapes from the everyday are a possibility. While having a breather appeals to me at the moment, there is no harm clearing niggling tasks out of the way too and the post-Christmas clearance often allows the space for doing exactly that. Then, it is a matter of taking the rest of the year as it comes. After all, long term planning often gets derailed by life itself.

The North

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Having been tempted by a recommendation from Simon Armitage (Yorkshire poet and author of Walking Home) on the cover of the hardback edition in a bookshop, I got a digital copy of Paul Morley’s The North and set to making my way through it. Anyone seeking something with a linear narrative will not find it here yet it lets one on a lot of the spirit of northern England in its own inimitable way. The mixture of memoir, digressions and side notes takes some acclimatisation and I found the sense of repetition in the  book’s early stages a little frustrating in that it felt as if not much progress was being made. Maybe that was because of the description of a young mind’s developing consciousness and sense of place and belonging to there. Later on, things grew more linear when it came to telling of how Morley worked out his place in the world and what trade was to allow him to pay his way in it.

Interspersed between these, there is a reverse chronology of notable events in the north of England, especially when those relating to the development of the place and those who come from there. These include politics, industry and the better known folk associated with these. The interjections complemented any explorations of the conceptualisation of what it meant to be northern English and how the north of England came to be how it is in the main text.

Because I read the book in fits and starts before longer journeys allowed me to spend more time with it and grow accustomed to its eccentricities, a few months elapsed before I finished it during that trip to Edinburgh a few weeks ago. The non-linearity of the narrative meant that that it took some work before I got used to it and the fact that I was reading it on my Nexus 7 made me wish for hardback so that I could see more progress (one came into my possession later so I can dip in and out of it during free moments at home). However, it was the electronic gadget that ensured that the book was with me when I could make time to read it, a common failing of mine when it comes to paper editions of books. Apparently, the inspiration for the book’s structure came from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman and it was the familiarity of many of the places described within its pages that drew me along while filling me in on a lot of details that I otherwise would have missed. For one thing, I never realised how fluid the Cheshire-Lancashire county boundary has been over the centuries and there was but a single lesson found in those pages.

After the effort of working through The North, it’s time for a more leisurely read and Ramble On by Sinclair McKay is just that. The story of how recreational walking became what it is for so many of us today may be somewhat familiar to me but there always are other insights and these are to be found here too. Still, I am tempted to sample Tristram Shandy to see just how contorted its narrative is and test how it inspired the flow of The North. For now though, that can wait because it is best to take things easy while life’s events allow you to do so.

A month for slipping and sliding?

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Over the weekend, I got to spend some time around Llangollen. For a while, I have been having designs on exploring the hills of Llantysilio Mountain and Sunday finally saw me reach the top of Moel y Gamelin. Though time constraints meant that was the only hilltop of the bunch that I sampled, the views from there were in all directions and had me savouring sights that I had seen before, albeit from different angles. With all the value that was given, I was happy to save the hill’s neighbours for other days. Having not been around Llangollen for the most of three years, some concrete reasons are in order if I am to return sooner.

After the area has found its way into the enlarged Clwydian Range and Dee Valley Area of Natural Beauty. That happened during the second half of 2011 when other things were eating up my time. The visit that I paid around Easter of that year still remains as fresh in my mind as if it happened only a few weeks ago. What happened longer ago was a visit to Denbigh and Ruthin that skirted the Clwydian Range and an abortive attempt to reach them from Llangollen by way of the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail that was halted in Llandegla before a return to Wrexham was made. Continuing north from there would be good (a visit to Moel Famau could be nice) and bus services around those parts seem to be more useful than they were then. Let’s hope austerity never affects them quite like what is happening in the north of England.

It was during the first months of 2004  when I first embarked on day trips to Llangollen as a compensation for a failed attempt to get to Dolgellau. Then unruly housemates didn’t help with the realisation of that ambition with an all night party accompanied by loud music until the small hours of the morning. That was enough to make me seek a place for myself that resulted in an Eastertide move. Now, it either is the ups and downs of life or my own fatigue and laziness that is to blame for such failures these days.

Those day trips to Llangollen saw me wander around by Castell Dinas Bran, along the Panorama Walk that is part of the Offa’s Dyke Path north of Trefor, around by Valle Crucis Abbey. Due to the lateness of my arrival and the shorter days, the walks weren’t so long apart from the aforementioned abortive trot from Llangollen to Ruthin. A preceding overnight stay would have helped that effort with an earlier start and my last two visits to Llangollen have benefited from that with the 2011 trip seeing me enjoy an evening walk around those day tripping haunts before I stayed among the flatter tops to the south of the Dee Valley where the North Berwyn Way goes as it connects Llangollen to Corwen. There also is the Dee Valley Way is you want a long circular walk between the two towns and along both sides of the valley.

Many of those visits to Llangollen were the cause of getting me muddy and last Sunday’s was no different thanks to the early point in the year at which we currently find ourselves. In fact, one flawed footstep resulted in a slide and a short tumble into gorse. The resulting pricks left their marks on my legs but there otherwise is no consequence from the mishap. In fact, it reminded me of a similar one around Craigmillar Castle got me muddy when it really wasn’t needed. Hopefully, these are not signs of my becoming accident prone but I am reminded of previous January skids.

In previous years, it was frozen and not greasy ground that was to blame. One slip happened while descending from Grinlow Tower, or Solomon’s Temple, near Buxton. That was in January 2012 after a walk through three counties from the Cat and Fiddle Inn. The same month in 2006 had me trying out a possible route to the top of Cader Idris from Dollgellau and similar unreliable ground played its party trick on me too.

Foolish steps on branches can end stupidly too as I found in a wood near Dolwyddelan when an attempt to avoid soft ground landed me on my side on it. The day wasn’t  a warm one so I could have done without that wetting though I came to no harm because of it. While none of these episodes is flattering, they seem to be the sum total of such misadventures apart maybe from what a rogue stone did one one summer visit to Floddigarry on the Isle of Skye. It all makes wonder if more concentration on foot placement is in order and that does happen on steeper slopes. Maybe it’s time for extra footing practice to avoid foolishness or anything more serious on downhill slopes.

Sudden stratospheric what?

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

Last night, I saw BBC video clips about the phenomenon that has been behind our cold spell. Apparently, a mixing of air between the troposphere (up 10 km high) and the stratosphere (10-50 km high) in the atmosphere has disrupted the usual polar winter vortex and had an effect on our weather too with the usual Atlantic jet stream getting blocked and winds drawing cold air from Europe over too us. Part of this whole thing is something called sudden stratospheric warming and it gives weather forecasters a hint of what is to come even if it doesn’t become an Arctic spell of wintry weather like what we are getting now.

Macclesfield’s nearby hills have been getting their share of the white stuff but its hold on the town is more tenuous. In fact, there was a semblance of a thaw earlier on today. Many pavements were clear of ice and snow as I popped down the Riverside Park by the river Bollin for a short taste of the winter conditions. There were plenty of folk out and about too and many of them were walking dogs. Not everywhere was coated in white and the river was flowing well too.

The sights of green grass with which I was surrounded could be changed though by what is falling from the sky as I am writing these words. It is nowhere near as heavy as some places though the Met Office is forecasting near constant if light snowfall for tonight and tomorrow so who knows what could build up on us? Still, we are not expecting dumps like what south Wales and southeast England got or what has been predicted for both sides of the Scotland-England border.

Funnily enough, times like these used to have me wondering about seeing hills and they coated in white but the excitement of snowfall appears to have been lost for me for whatever reason. It might have been those cold spells in the winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11 when I got my fill but there may be other factors. After all, having ageing parents means a certain amount of worry in times like these and there is the obvious nuisance factor of snow and ice too. Or is it the general greyness that seems to be accompanying this cold snap where I live? Still, the mix of white snow and grey skies can be a powerful one in photos so that could liberate me for whatever is jaundicing my outlook right now. It’d be no harm leaving the cares of the world behind me for a while to enjoy something that usually happens to be ephemeral in our climate.

As it so happens, my eyes have been feasting on sunlit greens and not grey whiteness. The cause has been a catch up with trip reports from last summer and autumn. There should be more to come and I may have one from this year in the form of a walk along the Macclesfield Canal from Congleton to home from last Sunday too. The one long walk a month plan remains and I am hoping to be among hills more often too. Of course, that depends on how life goes this year and that is a story yet to told and may have a few unexpected twists and turns too. January, normally a quieter month, has been a roller coaster ride already too so I’m keeping an open mind as to how things will go from here.

Update 2013-01-21: Overnight, Macclesfield (and its nearby hills too since keeping the roads from Buxton to Macclesfield and Congleton is quite an effort) did get quite an accumulation of snow until it stopped around midday. Some of it has melted since but there still is a lot of whitening with snow sticking to trees now too. With the cold week ahead, it looks like it’ll stay a while too so a weekend escapade may come to pass. It’s not likely to be too adventurous and a train journey along the Settle to Carlisle railway line came to mind last week. Making a loop of that outing using the west coast mainline popped into my head too. It’s a far cry from the heights where you’d need an ice axe and some avalanche awareness. Maybe I might get to the foothills yet like I did in previous cold snaps; today’s whitening certainly brightened my day in its own way.

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