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

Snatching satisfaction during an otherwise disappointing summer

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

2017 has had an eventful summer for me but I still would not call it a disappointment since I got in two lengthy trips to Scandinavia: one to Norway and another to Sweden. Both have been mentioned in a previous post and I hope to elaborate in time.

The disappointing summer of this piece is 2004, a time that feels like a world away now. In contrast to 2003 when I planned a week in Scotland for a wet weather interlude during an otherwise dry year, 2004 proved to be wet much of the time and it was just as well that I could organise an extended weekend getaway at short notice. Such flexibility meant that a passing spell of drier weather could be used whenever it came.

2004 also proved to be a year of much change after so much of 2003 was spent extending my hill wandering experience. A year with much fine weather offered plenty of opportunities for exploring the Lake District and I took to that with quite some commitment. That sums up 2003 and work was enjoyable so I would remember it as one of life’s pleasant high points. In contrast, 2004 saw my work take me in a direction that I didn’t much fancy but it allowed me to attend to other things like moving from a shared house to a place of my own. Often, this needs something extra for the final push to be made and that was poor behaviour on the part of other housemates. Within months of my moving out, everyone was evicted for whatever reason and the landlord set to giving the place a well needed refurbishment.

The weather in 2004 was a letdown much of the time too and the summer was nothing special. Still, there were snatched weekend excursions to the Yorkshire Dales and to Snowdonia that were accompanied by some sunshine. In a lot of ways, it was much like 2012 but not as much rain fell so no weather records were challenged.

After the disappointment of the week spent around Argyll and Lochaber in July 2003, I resolved to make multiple visits to Scotland during the year rather than just one big one. That approach was to take hold for me over the rest of the first decade of this century. With more than one trip per year, meeting poor weather on one can be offset by what is met on another.

That also meant my main holiday in Scotland took the form of an extended weekend for the first time. Like 2003, my time was divided between Argyll and Lochaber. Travel on a Thursday in August took me to Oban while Friday saw me walk from Oban to Taynuilt via Glen Lonan and then along the shore of Glen Etive until just beyond Glen Noe. Sunshine and showers accompanied the first part of the walk while the signs of further deterioration in the weather were there to see. Nevertheless, I was on the coach back to Oban before the rain really set in for the night.

Saturday was set to be a day of rain so I travelled to Fort William with no further plans for the day save for a bit of shopping. Thankfully, my accommodation for the night was near the town centre and I bided my time before popping out to buy an extra waterproof jacket and I still have it today, even it doesn’t look as smart as it once did. All was not lost for there was a promise of better weather on Sunday.

That was used to reprise a walk enjoyed during a visit on the Summer Bank Holiday weekend at the end of August the year before. After travel by coach to Spean Bridge, I set off for the Commando Memorial and Gairlochy. Shadowing the shore of Loch Lochy, I continued to Achnacarry from where I went to the shore of Loch Arkaig. After pottering around there for a while, I started on my return to Fort William along the Mìle Dorcha before retracing my steps to Garilochy. From there, I followed the tow path of the Caledonian Canal as far as Banavie. Unlike the first time around when all was new, the hike felt longer this time and the waterway’s lengthy detour around Meall Bhanabhie really added to the distance. More trotting along roads got me back to my lodgings in time to phone my parents.

Monday was to be another dry day though not as sunny as its predecessor. Still, I caught a coach to Glen Coe and that was the starting point for another walk along the West Highland Way. This time, I was bound for Bridge of Orchy and I marvelled at the well constructed track that lay underfoot in such empty countryside. This was the predecessor of the A82 that was co-opted for the route of one of Scotland’s most popular long distance trails. There was time for a meal in Bridge of Orchy before catching a coach back to Fort William again and it was the same driver as on my outbound journey.

Tuesday became the day to travel home again and the weather was more unsettled; it was if Scotland was tearful at my leaving. Such personification may appear odd but I have grown appreciate the place as a haven from the tumult of modern life and feel that my solitary stravaiging is accompanied by the spirit of the place. For me, there had been a sense of satisfaction and there were set to plenty of return visits.

Travel Arrangements

Outbound travel to Oban from Macclesfield by train on Thursday with changes at Preston, Edinburgh Waverley and Glasgow Queen Street. Coach journeys around Scotland during the trip: return from Taynuilt to Oban on Friday, Oban to Fort William on Saturday, Fort William to Spean Bridge for my walk on Sunday, Fort William to Glen Coe and Bridge of Orchy to Fort William on Monday. Return from Scotland by coach between Fort William and Glasgow with onward travel by train from there.

A Scandinavian project in the making

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Over the past few years, I have fitted in visits to Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The one to Iceland concentrated on the southeast of the country and I now wonder what could draw me back again. With Norway, there is no such quandary after two visits that took in Oslo, Stavanger and Bergen. In the case of Sweden, last month saw me embark on my third visit there and it was my first leisure trip after two business ones too.

Vondugiljaaurar, Landmannalaugar, Fjallabak, Iceland

Iceland is something of a fashionable destination now and I took in Reyjavik, Þingviller, Haukadalur, Gullfoss and Landmannalaugar on my first trip there. They were easy pickings in a sense so next steps would take more effort. Þórsmörk is one spot that I did not get to see on that summer 2015 encounter and there is the Laugavegur if I really get adventurous enough to go for a multi-day trek; in any event, there is unfinished business around Landmannalaugar because there is more to see around there and sunshine was scarce on the day that I visited. Continuing along the south coast would bring me to sights like Jökulsárlón and Sellalandsfoss while there are mountains near Reykjavik itself that would reward exploration. A northern excursion to Akureyri would be rewarded by its nearby mountains while the celebrated Mývatn and Dettifoss is within reach of Iceland’s second city too. The whole collection should give me enough options to build up motivation for a return sometime and there also are those things that you only uncover by actually being somewhere that you have not been before.

Revsvatnet, Vatne, Rogaland, Norway

In a lot of ways, Norway is laden with excuses for return visits to follow the pair that I already enjoyed. For instance, there are hiking options to the north of Oslo that deserve a share of my time. Bergen only saw me for a few days and there are possibilities that I had to exclude because of this. The chance of a fjord cruise was one exclusion that I had to make and I would like to know that part of Norway a bit more, much like what I did around Stavanger when I took in Lysefjorden, a few of the city’s lakes, Preikestolen and Revsvatnet. Of course, Norway’s long mountainous profile allows for other places to visit and that includes going north of the Arctic Circle to places like Tromsø and Loftoten as well as Trondheim and Jotunheimen National Park. It could be that a list like that could keep me going to Norway and I certainly feel as if I have made a foothold in the country already.

Årsjötjärnen, Tyresta National Park, Södermanland, Sweden

My recent Swedish excursion was long overdue and basing myself in Stockholm meant that I spent much of my time pottering about its varied quarters. The city centre was known to me from a business trip in 2010 but I also got to exploring a few of the many parks like Djugárden and the nature reserve on Lindingö together with Dronningen Palace and Tyresö National Park. There was lengthy walk along the Sörmlandsleden from the latter that brought me to the outskirts of Stockholm. That first taste of Swedish hiking needed an easier day afterwards so a short sortie to Gothenburg was the result so I got to see even more of the Swedish countryside through the window of a high speed train.

Though Finland and Denmark have been omitted so far and there remains the possibility of a visit to the Faroe Islands, I am more inclined to pursue further explorations of Norway and Sweden. For me, the prospect of cooler Scandinavian summers is a bonus since I see temperatures near the Alps can reach 30º C or above and that cooler high places can be plagued by thunderstorms. What I have been doing already is finding my feet in a manner similar to my explorations of Scotland’s wilder corners. From those beginnings, further incursions are possible and it feels that I might be on the point of doing just that.

There also are added rewards from all of this and that ironically is because of a lack of hiking guides in English. That hits home when you see a series of eye-pleasing walking guides to Swedish and most of them available only in the language of the country that they cover. German speakers do well too with Rother offering good coverage of both Norway and Sweden with some English translations available too. Cicerone offers good coverage for Iceland but their guide to Norway appears preoccupied with multi-day treks rather than routes for day walkers; it could do with the mix of day walks and treks included in its Icelandic stable-mate. Independent publishing also abounds with coverage of Noway’s Stavanger region and Sweden’s Kungsleden.

Maps are another matter and that trip to Iceland uncovered the deficiencies of a 1:100000 scale around Landmannalaugar and that is why a GPS found its way into my possession within months of the experience. Thankfully, Norway and Sweden are better served. In the case of the former, 1:50000 is the dominant scale with 1:25000 used for popular areas; the Oslo branch of Tanum has a comprehensive selection. Mountain areas of Sweden can be covered using 1:100000 while 1:50000 pervades elsewhere and the Kartbutiken shop in Stockholm is well worth a call.

For much of the first ten years of the century, I had a Scotland project on the go and, though there is more to see in that part of the world, a Scandinavian project has got going. Various trips are allowing me to find my feet there and they really are a break from my everyday world too. There also is much more to see and savour that is all very new to me. Quite how things go from here is anyone’s guess. They may send this blog down an intriguing course followed by no one else and that cannot be a bad thing.

A weekend spent in England’s northeast

Monday, July 24th, 2017

The previous posting on this blog may have been a sunnier reprise of a walk that I did before but what I describe here is not of that ilk. Firstly, I decided to stay in Newcastle on a Saturday night. Though my initial explorations along the Tyne were done after dark, I liked enough of what I saw that another visit would not go amiss. On Sunday, I took myself off to Bamburgh to see its famous castle and walk from there to Belford, enjoying bright sunshine for much of the time.

2014-10-11

Initial notes on here updated my recollection of this trip. For instance, I never recall having played with the idea of a weekend among the Brecon Beacons or that a delayed start put paid to notions of a walk around Rothbury that took in nearby Simonside. What I remember much more clearly is what actually happened.

For one thing, there was an overnight stay in Newcastle that allowed for a bit of strolling along the banks of the River Tyne. It was then that I got to realising just how near Newcastle and Gateshead actually are and that the former of these is a not unpretty place. It helps that there has been some urban regeneration with a new footbridge across the river and that a tower belonging to the castle giving the place its name still stands in spite of the depredations of railway building.

Much of my wandering took place after dark so I made it my business to see things in morning light before I headed north the next day. Still, seeing everywhere lit up has its appeal too and there were plenty about the place. It was not only those out for the night on the town for a cancer charity was holding a night walk and I made it my business to be out of the way before that hoard set off on its way. The repeated booming of the line “Stand up to Cancer” was a little too extrovert for my tastes but it still told me that I had time before the charity stroll was to begin. In the event, I was largely out of the way before things really got going so my own amble was a pleasant one.

2014-10-12

After that quick morning stroll along the Tyne, it was time for me to get to Berwick-upon-Tweed by train. It would have been more complicated if I had been going to Scotland for there were engineering works between Berwick and Edinburgh so it was just as well that my sights were on Northumberland instead.

Bamburgh Castle, Bamburgh, Northumberland, England

Before travelling onward from Berwick by bus, I took the chance to potter around the place in the morning sunshine, peering at its bridges as I did so. Then, it was time to continue to Bamburgh where its castle awaited. It did not take long to find once there since Bamburgh is not at all large and it is situated atop a hillock.

Rather than going into see the castle on a wonderful sunny day, I opted to stroll around it instead. First, I headed a little south along the road and crossed to the beach through grassy dunes. Only the faded colours of the grasses gave any hint that this was autumn and not summer. Given where the sun was as the time, this also was the best vantage point for photos with good lighting and I was to find that the usual photos that you see published need to be made at another time of day, more likely morning.

Inner Farne, Bamburgh, Northumberland, England

Lindisfarne as seen from Bamburgh, Northumberland, England

It was when I got onto the beach that I was discover that last fact but there were other sights to see. In hindsight, it might have been better to have had a camera with a telephoto lens for some of these. Even capturing views of the Inner Farne would have been helped but it was the more distant ones of a well lit Lindisfarne where the usefulness really would have been seen. Still, it was good to get what I got and to savour what lay about me anyway.

It was around Harkess Rocks where I was to see the classic view of Bamburgh Castle and realise that this was not the time for my own version of such an image. It was no disappointment given what I had got from the day already and I was about to rejoin the Northumberland Coast Path that was set to carry me all the way to Belford.

That conveyed me around the coast as far as Budle Bay while largely avoiding the Bamburgh Castle Golf Club course before I was directed inland towards the B1342. That gave me a chance to look back at the castle where my walk began and it had fallen into cloud shadow. Since I was to head downhill from Galliheugh Bank, this was to be my last sighting for the day.

Outchester Ducket, Belford, Northumberland, England

The sea was not to be seen much as I headed for Spindlestone Heughs by footpath and road. Near Outchester, I got to see more of the sea again but there also was a curiosity in the form of an old windmill called the Outchester Ducket. The word “ducket” is a local form of dovecot so that makes the name an unusual one for what is now a building let put as tourist accommodation.

Passing Outchester Farm led me along quiet roads and public rights of way towards the East Coast Mainline that I had to cross to reach Belford. Rather than over a bridge as might be found on the West Coast Mainline, this crossing went straight across the tracks, a striking thought given the chance of an accident. Before making my crossing, I used the provided phone to check if I could cross and did the same on the other side to let them know that I was safely across. The latter was as much for sake of courtesy as anything else.

After that Belford was near at hand under cloudy skies with more industrial surroundings for company for much of the last stretch of what had been a pleasing walk with much bright sunshine. It is how Bamburgh Castle and how the nearby coastline looked in the sun that is what I remember. It was a much needed interlude of brightness in a life with a lot happening.

Travel Arrangements

Train journey from Macclesfield to Newcastle with an overnight stop before continuing by train from Newcastle to Berwick-upon-Tweed. Outbound bus journey from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Bamburgh followed by a return bus journey from Belford to Berwick-upon-Tweed before going from there to Macclesfield.

More coastal walking on the Gower

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

Over the past few months, much of what has appeared afresh on here has concentrated on reminisces of Scottish excursions undertaken before this blog existed. It has been a matter to getting something written about these before recollections decay any further that they have. There is more to come but I have decided to take a break to relate a few walking trips from 2014 and these nearly complete every walk of note that I undertook that year.

As I look back on recent years, I notice a recurring trend of revisiting old haunts and much of that happened in 2014 itself. Even the walk featured in this entry was one of those. It was 2012 when I last got to exploring the coastline of the Gower and thickening cloud meant that I did not see the coastline between Rhossili and Port-Eynon at its best. What I did see was enough encouragement for a return visit just over two years later when splendid autumnal sunshine was my lot. It was all very different to the advancing threat of thunder and lightning that reached the area in the early hours of a Sunday morning.

2014-09-20

In order to ensure that I actually get to Gower for a walk that weekend, I travelled on Saturday and spent the night in Swansea. That a few previous attempts foundered because of website troubles and other preoccupations added more motivation to take this course of action. More impetus was added by 2014 being the last year when the Gower would enjoy a summer Sunday bus service. Then, it appeared that such opportunities were not guaranteed to be available again but there is a summer Sunday and bank holiday service in operation for 2017.

Sticking with the subject of transport, my outbound train was heavily delayed around Shrewsbury too so it was just as well that I was not hoping to make very much of the day. It also meant that I had to attend to some business in Cardiff that I had hoped to do in Swansea so it was dark when I got to my lodgings for the night.

2014-09-21

Unlike the day before which was largely dull and cloudy, the morning of my walk dawned with bright sunshine. Coming late in September, there was a frosty chill in the air as if to remind anyone of the passing of the year. At the same time, the hills lying north of Swansea looked tempting though you would have to get to the other side of the M4 to reach them. These still are the southern reaches of hilly country leading not only towards the Brecon Beacons National Park but ultimately all the way through Wales as far as its north coast, the very reason why it is so hard to have a railway line running the length of the principality.

None of this did anything to deter me from heading south as planned. As the day warmed, you would be forgiven for thinking that summer was set to last forever and many a day tripper was lured to Mumbles and Rhossili so buses were busy after what seemingly had been a busy summer for the area.

Rhossili Bay & Rhossili Down, Rhossili, Gower, Wales

While the weather was typical of our expectations of summer and Rhossili had plenty of folk about the place, there were signs too of autumn as I pottered about on my way towards Worms Head. Grass was looking tired following the pinnacle of the annual growing season the bracken on Rhossili was changing colour from green to orange as it began to die back ahead of the winter season.

Worm's Head, Rhossili, Gower, Wales

The way towards Worms Head was well frequented and the outcrop looked better than I had seen it on previous visits. The tide was out so some may have ventured onto its green flanks but the risk of getting marooned by an advancing tide was enough to ensure that I was not one of them. Some do and that is the reason that you find a coastguard station hereabouts.

Fall Bay, Rhossili, Gower, Wales

After all those lingering around Worms Head, things grew quieter. Groups of young people came against me as I rounded Fall Bay and I was lead into wondering if this has become part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award now that Wales Coast Path is very much in existence. Others strolled the way too since they were taking in circular walks around Rhossili. After passing the last public footpath leading to nearby Middleton, these too petered out in their turn.

The best part of any walk for me is when I largely had my surroundings to myself and that is how it largely felt as I walked from Mewslade Bay to Overton Cliffs. Progress was good too though I slightly chide myself for going so well on what was a gorgeous day. In my defence, I was passing through a lot of pasture and the distance may not have been that long. It was not all about having improved fitness because of indoor bike training.

Overton Cliff, Port-Eynon, Gower, Wales

For all their proximity to human habitation, Overton Cliffs look fabulously isolated and few passed the way. Under cloudy skies, their allure was not lost but added sunshine worked some magic. It helped that I was not anxious about catching a bus this time around so I had space to enjoy what lay around me. Port-Eynon looked further away than it was.

Overton Mere, Port-Eynon, Gower, Wales

After passing these delights, there was one final ascent to test me before I dropped down to Port-Eynon’s beach to battle the soft dry sand to reach tarmac again. Before all that, I was to pass the Gower Society monument with the bell of a sea buoy beyond Port-Eynon Point ringing in my ears, a reminder of the stillness that I met on my previous visit. There was a little time to linger at the final destination for my hike before an on time bus returned me to Swansea from where I began the train journey home.

It had been a satisfactory weekend away and I now pondering other possibilities. Even the more madcap idea of walking from Port-Eynon to Mumbles via Oxwich and Threecliff Bay has entered my mind. There are ways of shortening this to make the escapade more sensible if needed. Then, there also is the Gower Way to consider so it is not as if there is not more to see around here. There are further rewards for repeat visitors.

Travel Arrangements

Return train journey from Macclesfield to Swansea. Travel by bus from Swansea to Rhossili and from Port-Eynon to Swansea.

An irritating week around Argyll and Lochaber

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

Sometimes, my trips to Scotland do not work out how I want them to do. Even with all the watching of the progress of the jet stream, that was how it was in 2003. Unlike 2002, I brought my week in Scotland forward from the end of August to the end of July. It would have been a week earlier but I did not want to clash with someone else’s holiday plans. Putting your work first can have its drawbacks.

In hindsight, waiting an extra week would have been the better outcome because I returned home with sights of sunshine on Lakeland Fells. Further visits to Cumbria in an effort to dispel any irritation but it took a Summer Bank Holiday weekend around Fort William to truly put my poor run of luck behind me.

My journey from home to Oban still was made in hope and it took me around by Edinburgh where I spent a little while before continuing on my way. The cause was my inability to catch an onward connection in Glasgow because of the late running of an earlier train.

The following day came dull and eventually turned to rain but I fitted in a walk from Oban to Taynuilt by way of Glen Lonan before the dampness arrived. My lot was road walking but it still got me out into Scottish countryside so it was a good start. The wet evening allowed for some shopping around Oban and maybe some thoughts of what I would do next.

For what turned out to be the best day of the week, I returned to Taynuilt for an out an back walk along the shores of Loch Etive. Unlike the previous November’s stroll with mates from Edinburgh, I was set to continue beyond Glen Noe to reach the foot of Glen Kinglass and go a little further along before starting to retrace my steps again. The day was sunny so I was making photos with what I thought to be a full complement of colour camera film. What I later found is that not all the allocation came with me so I was left with a shortage during the best time of the day. In spite of this irritation, it is the utter peace of my turning point that stays with me as much as the sights that I saw. There have been further return visits since then with August 2014 being the most recent one. That photographic oversight has been well overshadowed since then and the lesson has not been forgotten.

What I did next now sounds a bit foolish given what I knew about the need for northward movement of the jet stream. Instead of finding somewhere else to be around Argyll, I continued north to Lochaber for what turned out to be a series of soakings. Any efforts to make contact with a friend in Edinburgh regarding alternative arrangements proved fruitless so I stayed a few nights in Banavie instead. Being a few miles away from Fort William meant that the any poor fortune with a spell of wet weather resulted in my needing to dry out afterwards. You hardly can have enough clothes with you when this happens repeatedly.

Still, the rain cleared enough on my arrival in Lochaber to allow me to head into Glen Nevis to find the path leading to Cow Hill that became the basis for a longer walk. Friday was drier if devoid of sunshine yet I returned to Kinlochleven for another taste of the West Highland Way. This time, my course took me north through Lairig Mor to Glen Nevis. Even without a sunny day, the scenery was stunning and seeing it again became an excuse for my return around a month later. Though the trail is a popular one and the location is among its high points, this was a quiet day to be sampling it with hardly a soul passing the way. That might have had something to do with the weather of that week.

Saturday saw me head into Glen Nevis again. This time, I caught the bus to get me there faster and I pottered in beyond the car park. My lot was boggy ground and heavy rain showers but the surroundings would have looked stunning in better weather. Constant hope continued to drive me in spite of my poor fortune so any glimmer of sunshine on the way back to Fort William was enough to see me reach for my camera.

Thinking about this disappointing episode now makes me realise that my attentions veered elsewhere and that some of these spots need revisiting. A walk taking in Cow Hill in pleasant weather would complement one going deeper into Glen Nevis than I ever have gone before. Maybe I should not be devoid of inspiration for future explorations on a longer stay in Fort William after all. Other possibilities come to mind but I will restrain myself here in case I repeat those described elsewhere.

Travel Arrangements

Train travel from Macclesfield to Oban, from Taynuilt to Oban and from Fort William to Macclesfield. Coach service 918 from Oban to Fort William. Bus service 44 from Fort William to Kinlochleven.


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