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: Europe

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.

Going west from oncoming rain

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

It was late in August 2002 when my next Scottish escapade took place. Unlike its predecessor, this did not start with a stay in Edinburgh but in Bannockburn. Such was my lack of organisation that I reckon that I only booked somewhere to stay while on a stopover in Edinburgh. In fact, a weekend trip to Settle immediately preceded my trip to Scotland. What seers that in my memory is not so much the walk around that part of the Yorkshire Dales but my phoning my parents from Lancaster train station that Sunday night while en route home.

A First Night

Once booked into my accommodation in Bannockburn, I pottered into Stirling to stroll around the town centre and its well known castle. Other monuments like Old Stirling Bridge and the Wallace Monument were spotted too though a dull cloudy evening ensured that pleasing photography was out of the question. That matter only saw redress on a weekend visit during February 2016 and the crisp sunny day did plenty of justice to my surroundings, a factor that may draw me back to sample the Ochil Hills on which my eyes feasted in addition to the other aforementioned attractions. With the sun shining brightly, this was no time to be inside so I left explorations of Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument for another time, assuming that offers itself.

Around Callander

Returning to 2002 again, a trip to another tourist office preceded onward travel to Callander so I had somewhere to stay that night. Once I dropped off most of my luggage, I set to walking along the disused Caledonian Railway line in the direction of Crianlarich. Of course, I was not going that far and I may have been playing with the idea of walking up Ben Ledi. The day stayed resolutely dull and cloudy but there were to be rewards later in the day. Though I now spy a path to Ben Ledi’s top on OS 1:25000 mapping, my progress that day took the form of stravaiging and my hill wandering was not long started anyway.

Back then, the gravel track played host to route 7 of the National Cycle Network but that now is joined by the Rob Roy Way, a trail that I have followed from Drymen to Callander with a night in Aberfoyle and from Kenmore to Aberfeldy. Filling the rest of its gaps may follow sometime should the mood take me to organise such an expedition.

My wandering took me along forestry tracks away from the old railway line in order to gain some height in spite of there being ongoing forestry operations. During this time, cloud broke over my head to leave out the sun for a delightful evening. That ensure pleasing sights and the creation of some photos as I retraced my steps to Callander where I sought an evening meal after my labours.

Revisiting Glen Nevis

The next morning came sunny so the prospect of making some photos around the River Teith and its tributaries was too good to miss before I continued on my way to Fort William. When I got there, I must have sorted out accommodation for two nights before heading into Glen Nevis for the afternoon and evening. For part of the way into the glen, I followed the West Highland Way before following a lower level forestry track that dropped me at Achriabhach. There, I lingered among well lit beauty and even gained a little height on the path leading to the tops of some of Mamores like Stob Bàn as I savoured what lay about me. When the sun faded a bit, I started on my way back to Fort William along the glen’s only road. There was time for an evening meal along the way too so progress was unhurried.

From Kinlochleven to Glen Coe

Exactly what led me to Kinlochleven the next day is lost to memory but I was after another stretch of the West Highland Way. There may have been other choices but I only recall the one I made. The day was largely cloudy so it began what largely is a poor run of luck when it comes to photography the Mamores from this part of the West Highland Way. Complicated terrain does not make of easy hill identification either though a hike over the top of Beinn a’ Chrualaiste helped a lot. Blue heat haze was my enemy when it came to photographing the Mamores though so you do not win all the time.

Still, the walk took me into empty countryside with plenty of views of unpeopled countryside round about me. The track was much used by menfolk building the Blackwater Reservoir and night-time returns from inns brought their share of tragedy too, not that the area’s human history is that prevalent today.

Controlled progress got me down the Devil’s Staircase into Glen Coe but it was to be July 2014 before I would see Buachaille Etive Mòr in pleasing enough conditions for satisfying photos to result. Like that more recent encounter, such was my timing that I had to hail a passing Scottish Citylink coach where I could get it to stop instead of going with a more recognised stopping place. Still, I got back to Fort William as I had wanted.

A Quick Visit to Skye

The rain that had been following me west all week was getting closer so I headed for Portree on the Isle of Skye. Accommodation again was sorted on arrival and the landlady was astonished to find that it was an Irishman and not an Englishman that she was getting for the night. It was one case when my address led to a misimpression when there are other other times when my accent leads folk to think that I have come from Ireland. With luggage deposited in my new lodgings, I pottered about Portree before heading to the Old Man of Storr. The sunshine that greeted my arrival faded as cloud continued its encroachment but that did not stop my walk around one of the island’s best know landmarks and my then trying to return to Portree on foot. Friendly Germans in a camper van shortened that journey for me under skies growing ever heavier with rain.

Edinburgh Bound Again

Next morning, I woke to see that it was raining well. My luck had run out and it was just as well that it was a travelling day for me. The first leg took me from Portree to Inverness before I continued my journey south from there in improving conditions. Once in Edinburgh, inability to make contact with a friend cause me to book somewhere in Balloch as a backup for this was festival time in Edinburgh and I wanted to be sure that I had somewhere to stay that night. With contact made, the extraneous booking was cancelled and all was on the straigh and narrow for the rest of the weekend before I returned to Macclesfield again.

Travel Arrangements

Train journey from Macclesfield to Stirling with changes at Manchester Piccadilly and Edinburgh Waverley. Local bus service from Stirling to Callander. Scottish Citylink coaches from Callander to Fort William, from Fort William to Portree and from Portree to Edinburgh with changes in Inverness and Perth.

Photographic recollections new and old

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

During March, I made a start on two new photo albums to the gallery on here. One is made of photos from a trip timed between Christmas 2016 and New Year 2017 while another collects ones from a trip made in August 2008.  As well as being separated by nearly a decade, they also represent two very different stages of my life.

Though on the cusp of what we now call the Great Recession, the earlier outing took place in simpler times compared to today. My personal circumstances were more straightforward back then too and they facilitated many a trip to Scotland. Included among those was a week long escapade that took in Skye and the Western Isles so it was not before time that photos of the latter made their appearance in their own album.

Though some of the exposure conditions were more challenging, photos of Mallorca took less time to make their appearance in the photo gallery. Meeting strong sunshine somewhere in wintertime made for an unfamiliar experience so the resulting photos are the result of a learning experience in a part of the world that I reckon many find challenging to capture photographically. Blue heat haze was part of the challenge as was the combination of scrubby vegetation and bare limestone rock. Even so, my hope is that a good start has been made.

It was only at the start of the month that I finally got to publishing these new albums on here. Even with an ongoing sabbatical, the need for rest slowed down the processing of image editing and the adding of descriptive text. Even now, I find myself yearning for another sabbatical though financial discipline needs restoring first.


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