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: Places Explored

Wandering around by the Roaches

Sunday, April 15th, 2018

After the preceding post leaping forward to April 2017, this one returns to May 2016 when I walked from Leek to Macclesfield by way of the Roaches. It had been a while since I last explored these parts for there was a circular walk from Leek that took in Hen Cloud of a Sunday in a time when there was a direct Sunday bus service between Leek and Macclesfield (now, you need to travel to Stoke-on-Trent by train before travelling by bus from there). That was followed in 2009 with another Sunday stroll that took me from Leek back to Macclesfield while glimpsing the Roaches from afar. Both inspired the route of the more recent encounter because it linked the two towns of the second outing while taking in more of the hills that featured in the first. Given the lack of a direct Sunday bus service and a point to point walk not being compatible with the use of a car, it may not surprise anyone that this account tells of a Saturday walk instead.

Like its predecessor in May 2009, this hike also had a lunchtime start. With lengthening hours of daylight allowing more time of an evening, that was no issue and there also was a greater chance of seeing surrounding scenery in more flattering light too. That was just as well because the preceding sunny week had been beset with a fragile mindset. There might have been the foreboding prospect of a meeting involving senior management and work life was not going as I had liked either. Given energy, it was a useful time to go for a long walk.

Brough Park, Leek, Staffordshire, England

One thing that gave my spirits a lift was that I got more sunshine than was forecast. Clouds may have got in the way at times but there was enough sunshine to allow the making of memorable photos as I sauntered along. After getting off the bus before it went on a circuitous route around Leek, I started to encounter and enjoy my first spells of sunshine on the way to and across Brough Park on the way towards Haregate.

Tittesworth Reservoir, Upper Hulme, Staffordshire, England

From Haregate, I had planned on following a public footpath that would take me along the eastern side of Tittesworth Reservoir. A seven year absence made its presence felt by sending me along the western side instead. Faded memories and new building in the intervening period cannot have helped my route finding. There was no irritation though and I opted for a visit to the reservoir itself and a stroll all around it on a path then newly constructed by Severn Trent Water. My attire and rucksack must have looked like a case of overkill to any families who were enjoying the amenity but I was en route to other places that were more in keeping with my appearance.

Hen Cloud, Upper Hulme, Staffordshire, England

After leaving the reservoir following a call to the visitor centre for some sustenance and to address some ablution needs, there was some road walking before I found the route of the Churnet Way that I should have been using all the while. The road leading to Tittesworth Reservoir is narrow so I was happy to leave it after me because the pleasant afternoon meant that others were driving along it. Having to keep your wits about you all the time on a walk hardly is a recipe for relaxation and I had a better way of reaching Upper Hulme. After that staging post and a short stretch of a quiet lane, I was back threading on grassy ground again and with Hen Cloud in sight.

Having come around its eastern flank, I reached the saddle between Hen Cloud and the rest of the Roaches. Though it was by now late afternoon, the prospect of short up and down visit to Hen Cloud’s summit was too alluring to resist and it showed me just how popular the crags of the Roaches were with climbers for a line of parked cars could not be missed in these wilder surroundings. The ascent route was subject to diversions and the direct route that I followed involved some scrambling before I reached the top where gentler gradients and better paths prevailed. Thankfully, the way down was a gentler affair aside from having knee-testing gradients.

Doxey Pool, The Roaches, Upper Hulme, Staffordshire, England

After returning to the saddle, I made for those tops that I had been surveying from the top of Hen Cloud. Though the place is criss-crossed with different paths, I fancied sticking to the public footpath so my line was a less direct one around the eastern side of the Roaches. It meant that any encounter with climbers was delayed as I made my indistinct way uphill over ground that would be soggy if I came at another time. Doing so meant putting any qualms about route finding to one side because I can find myself fussing too much about such things at times. Soon enough, I was brought to the spine of the eminence and climbers were so well scattered as not to present any intrusion. It was becoming a quiet evening stroll and I was surprised by coming across Doxey Pool even if I would have spotted it on a map if I had planned things in more detail beforehand.

Ramshaw Rocks, Upper Hulme, Staffordshire, England

My preference is for keeping plans flexible because hill countries can be different to what you expect and I had been playing with the idea of a circular walk from Leek similar to the one I enjoyed in January 2008. The time of day and the pleasant surroundings decided me so a walk to Macclesfield was to occupy for the rest of any daylight hours. Possibilities for other excursions in the area were presented to me in the form of Ramshaw Rocks, another haven for crag climbers. It might be that a hat-trick of Leek to Macclesfield walks might be completed if I go around by these sometime. The prospect is an appealing one and could have made use of the sunny day on which I am writing these words. Sunnier and warmer weather is forecast for later in the coming week so that could have a use yet.

Trig point and weathered rocky outcrops, The Roaches, Upper Hulme, Staffordshire, England

The northern end of the Roaches is more rounded than other parts and is topped with a trig point that I reached during what was by then a sun-blessed amble. It too has its weathered rocky outcrops though and I was leave this as I lost height, first to reach a lane near Roach End and then to reach the River Dane near Gradbach after passing through Forest Wood where I had rested a while. It all seemed so calm that one could surmised that a piece of heaven had been encountered.

A short stretch of the Dane Valley Way beckoned before I passed a noisy scout troop camped near what once was a YHA hostel. It left me wondering why some felt the need to disturb the wondrous peace of such a location but I soon noted that the old hostel had been turned into an outdoor pursuits centre before a steep uphill climb presented itself after a crossing of the River Dane using a useful bridge.

Roache End as seen from near Allgreave, Cheshire, England

Ramshaw Rocks as seen from near Allgreave, Cheshire, England

One gradients levelled off, there was a lane crossing ahead of me before I started on a track that would convey me to the A54. While there was some disquiet in my mind about passing signs of a working farm, it was here that I also got some wonderful backward glances of where I had been. The added height meant that I could see as far as Roach End and Ramshaw Rocks from well within the county of Cheshire. Staffordshire may have been left for the day but it was not out of sight just yet.

That took a crossing of the A54 after which exploratory route finding was needed to ensure that I was on the right path. It was early evening by then so there was no soul to disturb with my wanderings. Others must come this way to for there was an honesty purvey such items as cartons of orange juice and I was to relish one of these after contributing the appropriate recompense. The village of Wildboarclough was my next landmark after some descent near Berry Bank Farm and getting there needed more attention to navigation.

After Wildboarclough, fields again were crossed to reach the lane leading to Greenway Bridge and the use of red and green bucket bucket lids to make out the positions of stiles was welcome given how far apart field boundaries were. Fields of suckler cows and calves were negotiated with signs declaring some leniency in the line of the path to be followed, never a bad thing given incidents where cows injure passing walkers though my farm upbringing adds extra experience that others may not possess.

At Greenway Bridge, I could have taken another path around by Oakenclough Farm but decided to stay with the road because of the time of day. That may have had the unintended effect of exposing tired legs to even stepper gradients but steady progress with a few rest stops got me to the road that was to take me down via Higher Sutton. Tarmac travel made for sore feet though but I was glad of the still easier progress as the sun was setting. Daylight stayed long enough for me to meet with streetlights after Gurnet and not have to worry about its decline any more. It had been a good simple day out, something much needed after the complexities of the preceding week. The good weather continued for another day but my limbs needed recuperation so I limited myself to less strenuous enjoyment.

Travel Arrangements

Bus service 109 from Macclesfield to Leek.

A day spent sauntering from dale to dale in many weathers

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

After the preceding post about walking from Tideswell to Hathersage during May 2016, this one leaps over several other walking trips and moves forward nearly twelve months into 2017 because of another saunter taken in the same area. That happened during an an unpaid springtime sabbatical taken in an effort rekindle my energy levels after a run of family bereavements and the need to deal with such an aftermath; my preferred method of recuperation was to be rest and relaxation.

Given that the five week break in question happened in April and May, it should come as little surprise that there were some trips away from home. In fact, there were two getaways on successive weekends in spite of a matter in Ireland bringing its share of upset around this time. That happened after a pleasant long weekend spent on the Isle of Man and intruded on an Easter stay in Edinburgh for a spot of hill country exploration around Peebles.

For whatever reason, doubts entered my mind as to whether my spell away from work was going to be enough to achieve my desired aim. In hindsight, more than rest and recuperation was in order. The emotional heavy lifting of recent months is a reminder of that I move towards the next stage of my working life. Learning to deal with unwanted intrusive thoughts and rethinking my career has been part of this, work that takes its share of time.

While I was seeking a way of (temporarily) dealing with what was weighing on my mind, there were some short trips away from home.Two took me to Manchester in search of maps but others had more of an outdoor flavour. There was an evening visit to Buxton in bright sunshine where I got as far as Grinlow Tower and savoured the panoramic views that lay about the eminence while trying out a then newly acquired used Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

Tansley Dale, Litton, Derbyshire, England

Another Derbyshire trip followed and that is the subject of this trip report. My starting point was Litton and my final destination for the day was Buxton. Given what was on my mind, I was seeking a quiet stroll but was amazed to see a large party of ramblers out for a walk and I leaving Litton. Any sense of intrusion was assuaged somewhat by breaking cloud cover allowing some sunshine to light up Tansley Dale as I walked through it. By this stage, the rambling group was left behind me and I was keen to keep it that way.

Thankfully, their route either diverged from mine or I diverged from theirs as I followed the concessionary path along the floor of Cressbrook Dale. Until this point, I had been revisiting parts encountered the year before. My southbound lot this time around was to be passage through woodland under greying skies. A public footpath was joined before Ravenstonedale Cottages and I encountered some resting ladies asking where Tansley Dale was. Thinking back to the episode, my directions may have been terse but I hope that they sufficed.

After the cottages, I was following a byway before cutting out some distance using a public footpath and reaching the lane that would take me into Monsal Dale. Another rambling group was spotted about this point but I left them go on their way and stayed on the road until I spotted a right of way that would carrying me across the River Wye to the Monsal Trail. Wintry weather had arrived while all this was happening so I stopped a while in a tunnel under the former railway alignment to see if the precipitation would pass; this also was a chance for lunch stop.

Monsal Dale as seen from Monsal Head, Derbyshire, England

As with all of these things, it took a good while for the shower to leave and then for any sunshine to appear. When it finally did just that, I could not help loitering to see if I could make any photos. After all, this is a beauty that attracts many a day tripper though I had it largely to myself at this time. A midweek visit coincident with wintry weather could have helped my cause.

Cressbrook Mill as seen from the Monsal Trail, Derbyshire, England

Throughout this dallying, I was making up my mind about what direction to take next. The choice was between heading towards Bakwell or going towards Buxton with possible exit points later in the walk. In the event, I chose the latter and the route was to take me past places that I had not seen since an afternoon in July 2001. Back then, all the railway tunnels were closed to us so there were necessary diversions that made cycling the route an impossibility. Within the last decade, that has changed with lights turned on during daytime hours.

Water-cum-Jolly Dale, Cressbrook, Derbyshire, England

Still, I had reservations about spending large sections of my walk inside in tunnels and hardcore surfaces can give feet a batter so I dropped of the current trail to Cressbrook Mill where I picked up the concessionary path that I followed when I last went this way. That had the advantage that it went along by where the River Wye cuts its way through limestone-clad surroundings. The sun may have been playing hide and seek on me at this point but it did not matter and I largely had the place to myself as far as Litton Mill.

Hammerton Hill, Litton, Derbyshire, England

Former railway viaducts, Miller's Dale, Derbyshire, England

After that, I made my way back onto the Monsal Trail again and was noting nature reserve after nature reserve as I shortened the distance to Miller’s Dale station. There was a possibility of ending my walk there but I opted to continue on my way. It was to be a decision in favour of added adventure, especially when I again decided against tunnel travel though skies clouded after Miller’s Dale.

What I had chosen to do is to drop down to the River Wye to try my look along steps and stepping stones made of limestone. This is a slippery rock when wet so resulting thoughts meant that I took extra care on any descents. All of this slowed progress a little though the rock did not deter climbing enthusiasts as found when I encountered a group with a seemingly nonchalant member who apparently did not want to notice my presence. One of the others did apologise so that eased any sense of irritation as I continued on my way. It helped that there were pleasant stretches in between those other more testing sections.

For some reason lost to me now, I decided against rejoining the Monsal Trail in favouring of stay by the riverside and continuing through the narrow Chee Dale; maybe, it looked less testing and avoided some ascent. Wye Dale took a while to reach and that brought the end of the Monsal Trail itself because a still active freight railway and the presiding topography prevents any continuation. Taking me to the A6 was a narrow access road that passed under several railway viaducts, necessitating care in case of on oncoming vehicle. My journey had gone under a few of these and there were a few more to pass in hope of catching a bus.

Seeing the last bus to Buxton for the day pass before I got to using it was not a source of annoyance though. Having to extend the walk all the way to Buxton was no source of tribulation. Crossing the A6, I picked up a public footpath that rounded Topley Pike Quarry with all of its warnings of quicksand. Entering Deep Dale got me away from any proximity to such industrial facilities and a feeling of entering pleasingly more rural surroundings again.

While on the lookout for the Midshires Way that would lead me in Buxton, I encountered a group of tired teenagers and one asked me where they were on the map. Then as much as now, I wondered if they of Duke of Edinburgh challengers. If so, it might have been better if I did not point out their location but I suppose that you can be too officious about these things. In any case, I climbed the side of Deep Dale to commence crossings of fields as I passed King Sterndale and passed through Cowdale and Staden. As I did so, another quarry lurked almost unseen but that was quickly passed with reaching Buxton uppermost in my mind.

At Staden, I passed a lady trying to coax a horse into its stable for the night. Knowing that strangers can disrupt such things, I did not delay and made my way towards and past a caravan park before going under the freight railway leading to Hindlow Quarry. The A515 was near at hand and I was soon to reach it and drop downhill into Buxton where some refreshments were sought before starting my way home. The day had been satisfying and was just the sort of momentary escape from more weighty matters that I needed.

Travel Arrangements

Outbound bus journey from Macclesfield to Litton with a change in Buxton followed by return train journey from Buxton to Macclesfield with a change in Stockport.

A much needed walk from Tideswell to Hathersage

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

It is amazing what lingers in your memory and what gets lost. In the case of 2016, it has been how heavily life weighed on me. Pleasant escapades such as a January afternoon stroll along by the Macclesfield Canal or its equivalents during February, a day spent around Tatton Park and weekend spent in Stirling, and an April weekend in London somehow become lost to recollection. It is as someone erected a barrier that only a photographic archive can dismantle.

It also might have been that times were different before the global political upheavals of 2016 revealed themselves. Thus, life might have been less loaded with such consequent concerns. What also lay ahead was the full extent of the ongoing legal works pertaining to my late father’s estate that I was to blame for leaving me feeling exhausted. There was another factor that became more obvious later: what I saw as my day job.

A new role was not going as I would have liked.The hoped for transition was disrupted by unexpected occurrences like invites to senior management meetings and a work colleague taking over part of my brief without asking me beforehand. This was the poor start from which I hardy would recover and people I knew were to leave the company too, including my own manager. The unsuitable situation eventually would lead to my leaving the company myself in 2017 to take a lengthy career break. It only is now that I am contemplating next steps in my career in light of changed circumstances after an inheritance that brings its own continuing responsibilities.

In light of all this, it may come as little surprise that my outdoors wanderings became less frequent over the course of the year. The effect was there to see around Easter 2016 though with only an Easter Monday afternoon trip to Tideswell and nearby Litton. The weather might had something to do with it too since there was much cloud around during that circular stroll. A subsequent bus ride to Sheffield took me by places like Foolow and Eyam that I was to visit within a month. Earlier in the year, there had been a journey to Chesterfield that took me by those places too and there was an ongoing consultation about the future of Derbyshire’s subsidised bus services that thankfully ended with most of them retained.

Returning to that Sunday in May 2016, my objective had been to follow part of the White to Dark Way after a fashion between Tideswell and Hathersage. Because of the mixture of weather that accompanied the preceding Easter Monday encounter with Tideswell, I fancied seeing it again. Handily, I had the right day for doing just that.

Bath Gardens, Bakewell, Derbyshire, England

Unusually for me, I took a roundabout way to get to Tideswell. The main cause was the Sunday bus network in Cheshire and Derbyshire that forced a journey via Bakewell. Having some time between buses mean that I could relish the way that the sun fell upon a pretty place. That was not all since I was to pass Monsal Head and see down the throat of Cressbrook Dale. The latter sighting was set to alter my walking route after I saw it. The mix of a narrow green valley having steep sides studded with limestone outcrops is one that I find hard to resist.

Church of St. John the Baptist, Tideswell, Derbyshire, England

In fact, I could have avoided Tideswell if it had not taken my fancy because the bus passed through the village of Litton where I could have alighted. Tideswell’s allure held and I spent a spot of time there before returning to Litton on foot via a quiet lane. The sunshine was to hold all day so there was little need for focus on a single objective. There was plenty of time to savour more than one and many would present themselves.

Tansley Dale, Litton, Derbyshire, England

Looking south along Cressbrook Dale, Litton, Derbyshire, England

Looking north along Cressbrook Dale, Litton, Derbyshire, England

The stroll from Tideswell to Litton reprised that followed on the preceding Easter Monday visit. There may be a nagging doubt that I did not follow Church Lane all the way but I now reckon that I must have done in spite of a fading recollection. What is not lost to memory is what I did next. The White to Dark Way continues along Mires Lane for a while but I wanted to savour both Tansley Dale and Cressbrook Dale after what I saw from the bus so I went around by those. Though clouds blocked sunshine at times, surrounding visions were heavenly as I continued down Tansley Dale and then northbound along Cressbrook Dale; April 2017 would see me go south along the latter of these. For a sunny Sunday, everywhere was strangely unpeopled and any sign of humanity was to thin out more as I went on my way. For a spot of undistracted mellowing of mind, this was just what was needed.

Church of St. Lawrence, Eyam, Derbyshire, England

At the northern end of Cressbrook Dale, I met again with the A623 again near Wardlow Mires. This is where I spotted the enticing sight along the dale from the bus taking me from Bakewell to Tideswell. After passing through a farmyard, crossings of multiple fields were my lot as I passed Stanley House and Silly Dale on my way to the village of Foolow. The names may arouse predictable thoughts in anyone with a command of English but they did nothing to stop me pausing in Foolow to partake of some refreshment before more field crossings conveyed me to Eyam where I again stopped a while.

The reason this time was different for this is a pretty place famed for what happened here during the Black Death when Bubonic Plague visited by way of cloth bought in from London. The whole unhappy episode has not been forgotten as you will find if you pay the village a visit of your own; it acts as a reminder that life can bring bigger problems, something that can keep life’s challenges in their proper perspective. Other folk had gathered around the village in the sunshine and I indulged in an ice cream before continuing on my way.

Eyam Moor, Eyam, Derbyshire, England

High Low, Hathersage, Derbyshire, England

If the accumulation of humanity around Eyam had been intrusive, there was a cure at hand in the form of a steep sweaty ascent. Such things are adept at dissuading any such throngs from dispersion throughout the countryside. In the event, there was no such feeling of crowding after the largely solo traipsing that had been my lot until then. There was more to follow on the way to Hathersage train station. Late afternoon sunshine delighted as I went around by Highcliffe, Bole Hill (two of these are marked on OS maps), Sir William Hill, Eyam Moor and Highlow Bank. Peculiar names continued to accompany my saunter and High Low actually would mean “High Mound” rather than the tautological curiosity that it suggests.

Millstone Edge, Hathersage, Derbyshire, England

After losing height, I reached Highlow Brook and saw some folk pottering along tracks but I left them after me to continue towards Hazelford where I again reached tarmac. As I did so, some muddy conditions were encountered in woodland prior to some more field crossings. Once on a metalled lane, my mind was focussed on reaching the train station so as avoid a lengthy wait for  the next train to Manchester. Thus, I was happy to reach the B6001 that would convey me to my destination. Leadmill and a bridge over the River Derwent acted as indicators of progress as I strode along, willing the sight of a railway bridge to appear sooner rather than later. The sun remained and the required sight rewarded my patience. Others were found waiting too so a train was due and I had not so long until I was on my way back home again.

It was the start of a run of walking excursions that continued throughout that May. The following evening saw me head out around Tegg’s Nose Country Park near Macclesfield. An added impetus for that may have been my getting a late night phone call about some events in Ireland that affected my affairs over there. That intrusion may have been unwanted but the incident itself was a passing one that so far has seen no repeat. Nowadays, it scarcely registers in my emotional memory; time really can heal when given a chance to do so.

Travel Arrangements

Bus journey from Macclesfield to Tideswell with a change at Bakewell. Train journey from Hathersage to Macclesfield with a change at Manchester Piccadilly.

A weekend stay in the Tirol that should have lasted a week

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Recently, I finished reading Kev Reynold’s Walking in the Alps, which was acquired while creating an article on the Pyrenees and the Alps for the travel section of this website. Given the size of the European mountain area in question, it only ever can make a starting point for any explorations. More detailed guidebooks are need for further planning.

Still, an overview has plenty of uses and I wonder how well I consulted the volume in question before my 2015 trip to Switzerland and the 2016 one to Austria that is the subject of this post. The fact that the Alps cross many borders to be in France, Italy, Germany and Slovenia as well as the principality of Lichtenstein means that a lifetime of exploring scarcely could scratch the surface of what is to be found among them. Thus, only seeing a little may have to do. So far, there have been memorable days doing just that.

My Austrian trip verifies this thought in many ways. It was a weekend visit, albeit with two added days, that left me torn between so many possibilities. Basing myself in Innsbruck meant that so many groups of mountains were nearby that I struggled to decide between them. A four day encounter never was going to be enough to even sample a little of everything that is close at hand.

Spending a week there would do the Tirol more justice. There are mountains looming all around Innsbruck and I only got to the Nordkette, leaving the likes of Patscherkofel for another time. Of all the surrounding valleys, Zillertal got a visit while others like Stubaital needed to left aside. It was a choice between spending more time between fewer places and hopping from one to another, making any visits very short affairs. The former always appeals more to me so I left many reasons for a longer return trip should the opportunity arise again.

Meeting with a Mixture of Weather

By going at the end of May, I was hoping to avoid the elevated temperatures of the high summer season. As a form of reassurance before the trip, I was checking an Innsbruck webcam and weather forecasts in the hope that sunny scenes would greet me but mixed weather meant that grey skies often were to be seen. The run of such weather was not to halt on my arrival but it did nothing to stop me coming away with nice photos and good memories.

There was a brief encounter with Bavaria on my way to and from Austria. My time in Germany on both Friday and Monday saw periods of clouds and warm sunshine. The necessity of onward travel meant that there was little time to savour the places that I passed on my way but the sights of evening sunshine lighting up the neat pastoral countryside over which the plane the past on my way home remain with me.

Austria’s weather was very mixed when I was there. Friday afternoon was a sultry scorcher as I made my way from train station to hotel. Thickening cloud cover cooled things for some afternoon and evening strolling but eventually brought heavy rain with thunder and lightning when I was retiring for the night. The time at which the latter came down from the overhead mountain tops where it had been in the preceding hours thankfully meant that I avoided a soaking.

Saturday was brighter than Sunday so the former was a better day for photography. Morning sunlight accompanied more strolling around Innsbruck prior to a journey to the heights of the nearby Nordkette. While there, a mixture of clouds and sunshine gave way to rain for a time before drying up again. Heavy rain punctuated the time after my return to Innsbruck before it too departed.

The trend for Sunday was one of continued deterioration from a dry period with some sunshine to rain and wind before a return to the former later on in the day. That did nothing to halt my trip to Mayrhofen in Zillertal for some exploration. Sunny spells turned to rain and then that changed to teasing momentary spouts of sun on nearby slopes and tops. Rain returned later, this time with wind, towards the end of my stay in Zillertal but there was enough satisfaction to make the possibility of returning a pleasing notion.

Monday saw a rain-accompanied departure for home. Final saunters around Innsbruck needed the umbrella with which I had furnished myself, both on a walk to the Tyrolia bookshop and then to the train station. The sentimental might be tempted to call this a tearful goodbye but it was yet more reason to be thankful for any spells of sunshine that I had enjoyed; this need not halt thoughts of a return.

Sauntering around Innsbruck

The weather may have offered something other than what I had in mind but my time was short so I was not about to allow it to confine me to a hotel room in a pretty part of the world. After all, Innsbruck is laden with buildings of pleasing antiquity dating from Austria’s imperial times. That was enough to lure me out and about in spite of any elevated temperatures or spells of rain.

Thus, I spent Friday afternoon and evening pottering about the place getting my bearings. Thunder could be heard at times as the day grew ever cloudier but temperatures cooled too. Wandering about the city centre’s grand boulevards preceded a trip to a branch of Bauhaus, a hardware store, for some duct tape for fixing a hole in my holdall made by an incorrectly placed adapter plug. There were other shop calls before then such as the Tyrolia bookshop and the city’s main tourist information centre. After that more strolling took me along the banks of the River Inn as well as by the funicular railway station that I would using the following day and through the Altstadt, Innsbruck’s Old Town.

Pfarramt Saint Nikolaus, Innsbruck, Tirol, Austria

More ambling was to top and tail a visit to the Nordkette on Saturday. Some of this gained me sights along the River Inn in morning sunshine instead of the prevailing gloom of the previous evening. Other such opportunities were to prove irresistible for some photography.

Not much of Sunday was spent around the city where I based myself but it was noticeable how few shops were open that day. Something leaves me with the impression that Sunday trading is limited in Austria and my time in Zillertal did nothing to challenge this though Innsbruck’s train station offered a chance for shopping that was absent elsewhere.

Monday morning saw me head to Tyrolia to peruse some books and maps before I went back to the hotel for my luggage before going to the train station to start on my way home. Most were in German, a language that I reckon that I should learn more. For one thing, enough knowledge of the tongue would open up a world of walking guidebooks that are unavailable in English and not just for German speaking parts either; Scandinavian explorations would become one beneficiary.

Maps had been acquired before I left home but others can tickle your fancy and shop at Munich Airport had shelves full of Kompass maps covering parts of Germany, Austria and Italy. Tyrolia was equally endowed and had maps from other publishers like the Austrian Alpine Club (Alpenverein in German) and Freytag & Berndt. The selection should have been enough for anyone’s needs though I then decided that adding to my collection would need to await another time since it was near the end of my stay in the Tirol. A return visit could bring more needs that would need addressing and knowing where to do that could have its uses yet.

Pottering about the Nordkette

Views of the Nordkette were unavoidable from the first time that I arrived in Innsbruck so I suppose that made an ascent of their flanks all the more likely. Using the services of a funicular railway and cableways made any ascent less arduous and it was good to escape any heat for a while. In a landlocked country like Austria, I suppose that this is one way to escape high summertime temperatures. Following high level trails around the Alps could prolong the escape while others flock to large inland lakes like islanders go to their coastlines.

Having never travelled in a cable car before, I never realised how unnerving such an experience could be. Two different ones are need to reach Hafelkar with the first going as far as Seegrube. It was that one that I found a bit foreboding. Rising at a steep angle above the ground with just cables to hold you adds a feeling of vulnerability that a cog railway never will. There is something to be said for feeling attached to the ground under you.

Looking towards Rumer Spitze, Innsbruck, Tirol, Austria

Nevertheless, the views from over 2000 metres above sea level were worth any sense of ardour. The sight of rocky pinnacles streaked with snow acted as a reminder that we had entered another world and there was little sign of any greener valleys lying below them. Also, there was no sign of the effects of the altitude of 2269 metres experienced at the top of Hafelkar Spitze like what I felt on the final approach to Kleine Scheidegg in September 2015. However, it has to be said that the required exertion was less. There was one aspect of commonality though in that they both retained wintry feel. Clouds came and went as did any sunshine while I pottered around the cross at the aforementioned summit.

Though map perusal had alerted me to the idea, there was little relish for wandering too far around these lofty pinnacles so I restrained myself before descending contentedly on a cable car as far as Seegrube. This was not that hairy an experience and I stopped for some much needed food and drink. As I enjoyed my meal, the weather deteriorated with the onset of a spell of rain. In spite of this, I decided that a downhill walk was in order and it avoided the more daunting of the cable car journeys too. What I realised later was that I had left sunglasses after me but they were not much needed during that wet start anyway and soon were replaced. Time was short and money could address that.

Conditions grew drier as I strolled around the zig zags of the downhill track with walking poles used to moderate the speed of travel and share the strain on my lower limbs. My GPS receiver was pressed into service for progress tracking since it had Alpenverein maps loaded on there and it was a chance to see how good their data were. If I remember correctly, the hike took around two hours with periods of sunshine allowing good views through the surrounding trees once the rain stayed away. Once back at Hungerburg, it was over to the funicular railway to carry me the rest of the way to Innsbruck under grey skies that were to bring rain.

While waiting for the rain to abate, I got to chatting with some Americans who were on a whistlestop tour of Austria after not having been there for quite a while. It often feels that if you hear English being spoken overseas, the accompanying accent is American. It might be a numbers game or that Britons are less chatty. Both supposed reasons are plausible.

The approach followed by my American interlocutors differed form my own. They were happy to sacrifice depth of experience for added breadth while I was after the reverse. On the Nordkette, I got enough depth of exploration to whet my appetite for more. There may have been less solitude at the top but we all can share and there were plenty of quieter moments on the downhill hike that provided ample compensation.

A Day in the Zillertal

After the preceding pleasures of the Nordkette, another day around mountains was sought. The forecast may not have been as promising as I would have liked but I chanced going to the Zillertal anyway. In contrast to the day before, this was going to be a much quieter excursion on a day laden with an out of season ambience.

That extended beyond Innsbruck to Mayrhofen and even to the mainline train station at Jenbach. The latter was just as since a problem with a card reader and my own limited grasp of German, made the operation of buy return train tickets a longer task than otherwise might have been the case. Nevertheless, no train was missed and I achieved what I was setting out to do.

On arrival in Mayhofen, I strolled on for where the cable car stations were located. Maybe it was just as well that the Ahornbahn was not in operation given my feelings on its Nordkette equivalent the day before and it added to the out of season ambience that I was perceiving. My plans needed changing and I opted for the Penkenbahn instead even if this provided its own tests. Gaining height while the ground fell away on the crossing over Asteggertal introduced its own sense of edginess.

If I was hoping to enjoy a midday meal once I had finished with my upward cable car travelling, then disappointment was to be my lot unless I made time to use the only one that was open. That was around Penkenjoch and it was time to consider my next moves by then. The hike that far had followed a wide track for much of the way from Penkenalm and was use it for the return trip too. There had been diversions like a stroll around Speichersee while assessing the effect that all the infrastructure of skiing had on the landscape. It was easy to why Kev Reynolds thinks this kind of development to be desecration. In truth, I find it hard to disagree with him and I also got the grey day that made such idle installations appear even more miserable.

Ahornspitze, Mayrhofen, Zillertal, Tirol, Austria

Brandberger Kolm, Mayrhofen, Zillertal, Tirol, Austria

Though skies remained grey and scenes largely were monochrome, there were delights on show too. Any tantalising hint of sunshine was enough for me to see it an enlivened picture could be captured. Looking at the above photos, you may think otherwise but there is a certain majesty to those lofty pinnacles all the same. Though they are colour images, you might think them to be black and white affairs and I have not resorted to such a unneeded conversion.

There were other sights too in the form of a valley reservoir that I consider to be Speicher Stillup. Looking at a map as I write these words, I wonder why I went high among the paraphernalia of winter sports instead of a valley saunter. My guess is that I sought some lofty views even if it felt as if it meant being surrounded by the detritus of what I might consider to be extrovert overexhuberance. Those narrow defiles do offer possibilities for future excursions that may take me into wilder surroundings. It is only when there has been a first visit that new opportunities can be identified.

That is not to say that I was not blind to such things on my day around Zillertal. My way back from Penkenjoch had me walking downhill from Penkenalm to Bergrast so there was added walking before I got the brainwave of walking all the way back to Mayrhofen. In fact, I thought better of it after going as far as Gschössalm and returned hurriedly to the nearest cable car station before they stopped for the day. It was all uphill though so I was glad to make it in time. What convinced me of this course were the timings on signs that I found; the whole excursion could have made me late for the last train back to Jenbach.

The weather turned for the worse too with wind and rain battering the cable car on the way down. It did not help that the cable car in which I was travelling stopped dead after going perhaps a little too fast. Feeling the wind blowing against the thing and the rain lashing the windows, this got me wondering about phoning for a rescue if I was left suspended in midair. Things soon enough got going again and it happened that staff were coming down on one of the following cable cars anyway. It was good to learn that these machines can be stopped and that there were brakes on them. Such are the lessons that help to contain unnecessary fears and, with my feet back on terra firma, there was time to potter about Mayrhofen in the rain before leaving to catch my train back to Jenbach where I met with another that would take me to Innsbruck.

More Experiences Await

Any delay in returning to the Tirol for more exploring has less to with meeting  wet weather and searing temperatures or any disquiet at cable car travel than other things happening in my life. For now, I am conserving money during a career break but a return to income earning will change circumstances. Until then, I am contenting myself with day trips around England, Wales and Scotland and these have brought me so much satisfaction that it is not as if I am being denied that much.

Once trips overseas become feasible again, there is much around the Tirol that would lure me into returning. Having made a metaphorical toehold from added knowledge, venturing to other corners becomes more plausible. Other sights around Innsbruck await and there is more to be found among the Tuxer Alpen, Stubaier Alpen and Zillertaler Alpen. After those, there is Achensee and its surroundings. Even if all these were to be exhausted, such is the nature of exploring that yet more possibilities would be brought to my notice.

Returning to that book that I mentioned at the start of this post, it taught me that explorers of the Alps tend to fall into one of two groups: “centrists” and “ex-centrists”. In truth, I have been one of the former and may continue in that vein for a while yet. Basing myself in a single location and fanning out to other places feels more comfortable than the alternative: place to place trekking. The latter is the “ex-centrist” approach and I marvel at how anyone can plan an entire walking holiday from afar. Even with guidebooks, it seems scarcely possible given the intrusions of everyday life.

The other side of all this is that I like my explorations to have an air of serendipity about them. Only by visiting a destination can you learn unexpected things about the place and that is how I tend to operate. Finding something new often embeds a lasting memory into my mind so I would not want to overdo planning to a point where this cannot happen. Too much focus on an objective can cause its own blindness.

The May 2016 trip to Tirol revealed much and going deeper into alpine valleys has much to reveal yet. Finding a quieter corner to relish in pleasing sunshine is a moment to seek and treasure so I hope to return one day. Not knowing the future, I cannot know when such an opportunity should present itself but I am not one to turn down such a thing.

Travel Arrangements

Flights between Manchester and Munich. Return train journey between Munich and Innsbruck. Return train journey from Innsbruck to Mayrhofen.

A longer reading project

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

Over the years, I have been prone to buying books with good intentions and then hardly getting around to reading them. This has been known to apply as much to paper books as their digital counterparts and I have been getting through a backlog of the latter since last autumn.

The reading material itself has been varied with travel writing from the likes of Dan Kieran, Bruce Chatwin and Jack Kerouac seeing inclusion along with other subjects covered by the likes of Clive Aslet and Christian Wolmer. Amongst these have been works from Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, with the latter featuring through every month from last November until this one.

What I have discovered is that reading nineteenth century prose takes more effort than what is found today. Sentences feel longer and have more packed into them. The same applies to paragraphs that spread from one page to another. Even so, there are rewards in revisiting observations from another time for the sort of descriptive writing from centuries ago is more of a rarity today.

Returning to the Scottish naturalist and conservationist John Muir, my chosen task was to work my way through an extensive compendium of his collected works along with a volume in tribute and it is that which is the main subject of this post. In the U.S.A., Muir remains a revered figure and he is someone who appears to have fitted much into his lifetime too.

It was not just a childhood spent in Scotland prior to a move to Wisconsin either. Still, that childhood was a severe one with corporal punishment at home and school so go with schoolboy scrapping. Throughout all of this, there was a growing love of nature that was to define him. Engaging in that persuasion often got him punishment from his father yet he and his brother continued regardless. Such things were regardless as straying away from the path of Christian righteousness.

The hardship continued in North America with lots of hard work to build up a block of farming land from what was wilderness. Still, the appreciation of nature grew and there even was time spent inventing various clocks and other contrivances. That time was made by getting up part way through the night, an act that bewildered his own father.

The inventions were to see him heading away from home on an early trip to a fair and that was followed by four years spent at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Though a degree was not gained, there was plenty of mental enlightenment that preceded a time of factory working that was ended by an accident that nearly blinded Muir.

It after recovery from that incident that he began his long walk to Florida by way of Kentucky and Tennessee. Along the way, he had plenty of time for observing natural beauty before a bout of malaria laid him low. Though he made it as far as Cuba, the intended journey to South America had to be abandoned in favour of one to California that took him via New York.

It was his explorations of the High Sierra that would make his name. Yosemite, King’s Canyon, Hetch Hetchy and other such spectacular valleys would allow him to investigate the effects of glaciation. Mountain tops like Mount Shasta would see him climbing them, even when the weather was not that hospitable. One incident on Mount Shasta got a repeated telling. All the while, his health improved and his strength advanced as he observed grand fauna like the giant Sequoia trees endemic to California. Variations in weather were much experienced too with storms being relished; when most of us would stay indoors, he would be heading outside. Quite what people must have made of this and his other exploits would have made interesting reading not unlike what some write in our own times.

From California, he went north as far as Alaska while also visiting Oregon and Washington State too. The Grand Canyon was another place that he visited as was Yellowstone National Park. His trips to Alaska had him exploring glaciers with a view to seeing how their action related to what he saw in California. As well as Muir’s own published accounts, Samuel Hall Young also published his own tribute to the man with whom he too explore places such as Glacier Bay. Muir embarked on a summertime sea journey to the Arctic as well so he got to know Alaska and neighbouring parts of Russia better than many at the time.

There was one trip back to Scotland later in life and he also appeared to get to other parts of Europe as well as Asia and South America. Before all this, he married and settled down to run a fruit farm though that was not his real calling. His wife often sent him away to mountain country to get his fill of the wild places that he so cherished.

That love of nature must have turned him to conservation for he was one of the founding members of the Sierra Club, an organisation that continues to exist today. It also was reflected in his writing for he campaigned for National Parks and decried the effects of sheep grazing on wild meadows. Lumbering was not seen as a legitimate activity always nor was the building the railways. It was after an unsuccessful campaign to stop the building of a reservoir in Hetch Hetchy valley that he passed away.

His legacy has persisted with people still reading works like My First Summer in the Sierra, A Thousand-mile Walk to the Gulf or The Story of my Boyhood and Youth. These are just a small selection of what I ended up reading over the last few months. There was some repetition along the way but that probably can be found here too. The nineteenth century prose took some effort to read and things undoubtedly have changed since the times in which it was written but there was much to enjoy. In their own way, Muir’s books and other writings describe many parts of the world that I have yet to visit and the effort was worth it for all that. The enthusiasm and alternative approach to life percolated through the narratives too and the thinking has remained until our own time. Let’s hope that it does so into the future.


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