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: Austria

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 zigzags 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 whistle-stop 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.

Incidental ambles

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

The start of a new year can be a useful time to take stock of life. January can be a month that some find too quiet but it has its uses as I am finding out for myself. A current career break means that I have added occasion to think over what I would like to do for a living. After five years of family bereavements followed by responsibilities added through inheritance, there is plenty of reason for this. What had not been obvious to me is that my last job was not a match and the experience left its mark, one that needs to be overcome.

Throughout all of this, I am not forgetting that I am an explorer at heart. There has been time to catch up on reading and I now have my fill of travel writing so I will not be lured into book purchases as easily as before. More discernment could be the way of things for me and that cannot be so bad when finances need to be kept in check during times like this hiatus from work.

Also, I have been travelling around England and Wales collecting ideas for walking trips like Roseberry Topping and Pumlumon Fawr. Surveying the countryside about the latter brought me the added benefit of a short if muddy stroll around Llangurig. Visiting nearby Rhayader is another thought and a short stay in Aberystwyth could facilitate more than initially had come to mind. Other parts of the Welsh River Wye are ripe for exploring too and the hills of the Black Mountain in the western side of the Brecon Beacons could be another tempting idea.

City visits to Edinburgh and Cardiff have come to pass. In the middle of the latter, the banks of the River Taff offered an oasis of calm with Llandaff Cathedral feeling as if it is in a country rather than where it is. Bute Park was another delight that makes me wonder why it took so long for me to make an independent visit to the place and there is Cardiff Castle if I wanted to include that as part of a return visit. There is plenty there for cyclists too and I am not surprised that bicycle hire is available.

Those city wanderings remind me that there have been times during the last few years when energy for more strenuous outings has not been as readily available. Edinburgh has featured quite a few times and there are regular haunts nearer my home in Macclesfield. Knutsford’s Tatton Park, Disley’s Lyme Park together with Macclesfield’s Tegg’s Nose Country Park and Dane’s Moss Nature Reserve all have been places where quick visits offered respite from life’s tumult when enthusiasm for longer trips was not to be found. The same could be said for more urban spots like Buxton, Chester, Sheffield and even Manchester. Anywhere where a coffee can be enjoyed away home has had its uses.

Strolls on my own doorstep like circuits taking in Prestbury all had their uses when my head needed clearing, like on Christmas Eve during my first ever Christmas spent in Macclesfield. That was a stormy affair, as much in my mind as it was out of doors. When a brighter interlude offered, it did not need much persuasion for me to head out on a longer round that linked Tegg’s Nose, the Saddle of Kerridge and the White Nancy. It became just the breather that I needed at the time.

The last few months have been as much about exorcising hurtful memories as anything else. That included the past Christmas and New Year period when it felt more normal than others. Trips to Tatton Park, Manchester and Lincoln all broke up the flow and I also got learning that camping stoves should be used out of doors too, a misadventure that I have no relish for repeating.

Getting past that was like everything else in life in recent times. 2017 became a year when I lightened some of life’s load so I need to think ahead now. Getting an enjoyable and fulfilling work life is one thing and my zest for exploring countryside continues. Overseas excursions could restart yet since I am making my way through Kev Reynolds’ Walking in the Alps at the moment and there is his The Swiss Alps, The Pyrenees and Trekking in the Alps after that. That lot should keep me going for a while yet and I am not overlook what hill country is nearer to hand either.

After a year of unfinished business

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

2016 turned out to be a dramatic year in world affairs and it was set to be a busy one for me too so I could have done without the other developments. That work looking after my late father’s affairs is tailing off into more of a steady state and I hope that things become more manageable as the year progresses. There even might be time for a sabbatical from my day job.

The way that I feel at the moment is that such a thing would be well needed and I fancy a period of rest after all the upheaval of the last few years. It has sapped my spirit so a spot of renewal is in order. Overseas trips became a way to tide myself until a longer break becomes a reality.

In 2016, I got to three new countries: Austria, Norway and Spain. With my visits to the first two of these taking the form of extended weekends, I left feeling that there was more to see. It usually is not a bad thing but an extra day or two added to each would have allowed a bit more exploration. My Spanish escapade took me to Mallorca between Christmas and New Year and that brought what the other trips did not bring. There was a feeling of leaving the cares of life after me that was much needed.

In a way, it worked too well and a cold that I had caught somewhere began to make its effects plain enough that the return journey had more than a little dash of limp home mode about it. It took a week or two before I finally recovered and some extra time away from work was in order.

Before that took hold, there was ample time in the near constant sunshine as I explored the island from my Palma base. Port de Pollença was my first port of call with a little strolling about the place. A day trip to Sóller allowed for a chance to sample part of the GR 221, a long distance trail extending along the Serra de Tramuntana. After that, there was a trot about Port d’Andratx that was supposed to take me to Saint Elm but granted me a view of the place instead when I failed to find the path needed to get me from one track to another. Given that I was feeling less than my full self, it was just as well. The last day of my trip saw me lazing about Palma next to its impressive cathedral, helping sightseers with photos when asked to do so. There was ample time during my stay to make photos of my own too.

Despite the fever, I got a lot from my time in Mallorca and it offered the feeling of satisfying and more complete explorations. It also did me another favour. During December, I fell into a search for closure that I do not understand fully and even walks around Macclesfield over the Christmas did little to dissipate the feeling. It probably was grief that hit me but going away somewhere else fractured that unwanted continuity.

December saw me return to the Lake District for a walk between Great Langdale and Grasmere on a crisp winter’s day. The dawdling along the way was restorative and taught me that such experiences can be readily available in Britain. There also was a amble between Burbage and Whaley Bridge that revisited the Goyt Valley. Being denied much in the way of sunshine was no irritation and it also offers encouragement for a return sometime.

There were other longer walks during the year too with one returning me home from Leek by way of the Roaches. Thinking about that now recalls how soothing a largely solitary saunter it was. Another took me along the White to Dark Trail between Tideswell and Hathersage.

Hopefully, 2017 will be an easier year for me and it is something of an open book in some ways. Aside maybe from a possible stay in Stockholm, overseas excursions no longer loom as large in my mind now. Scotland could see more of me than that short visit in November that took in Inverness and a rainy Plockton. A spot of mental clearance could see me plodding around England and Wales more often too. Ireland might even see a spot of much needed exploration and I also fancy a stay around Killarney. Given how heavy my spirit feels now, the more important job for the year could be to lift things again for me.

Thoughts on recalling distant memories

Saturday, January 30th, 2016

Elsewhere on here, I went about recalling a trip to France from my schooldays and found out just how much had faded. Life’s events have a habit of doing that to do as I have found over the past few years. Stress at work, worries about family and bereavement are all enough displace what went before and anything else that may have been going on at the time. It is just as well that I have an archive of photos for stirring my memories and some recent reading reminded me of this and how important it can be to look after those reminders.

Reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s accounts of his youthful excursion from Britain to Istanbul (or Constantinople as he called it) over the last few months amazed me with the powers of recall until the I came to last of the trilogy. This received posthumous publication following editing by Artemis Cooper (I too know what it is like to posthumous editing since I have website where my father’s writings on history are to be found and there is more to add to what already is there) and feels incomplete compared with what went before. In fact, it appears that Leigh Fermor often struggled with it only to have to stop due to the lack of inspiration. Those fruitless efforts must have led to the pained passages about the loss of diaries before the rediscovery of one got the whole narrative flowing again until it stops right in the middle of a sentence. Excerpts from contemporary diary entries bring matters to a close at Mount Athos in Greece with scarcely much said about the planned destination for his journey. It is not for nothing that the book got the name The Broken Road and, though initially disappointed by the lack of complete closure, I now reckon that the incomplete feel has more to say to me. That is not to say that the urge to do some editing of my did not seize me from time to time and I might have been tempted to get around what was blocking Leigh Fermor by adding in more of the times he spent in Romania and Greece afterwards with references to the last stages of the journey that took him to those places in the first place. It may not have finished things like a more conventional narrative but I could see something like that fitting together better.

The earlier books are more polished with the loss of a diary In Germany doing little to break up the narrative of A Time of Gifts, the first part of the journey that shadows the Rhine and the Danube before it stops on the Hungarian border. The same could be said of Between the Woods and the Water, which took up the story until the Iron Gates, and a rediscovery of a diary helped to to drive along nicely the writing of that. Hair-raising escapades litter the whole story and I suppose that meeting memorable characters helped ensure the survival of memories as much as retrieving a previously lost diary. Those escapades hint at a gregarious and inexperienced youth who charmed his way across Europe with his good company ensuring kindness along the way, a counterpoint to my own more cautious self. The observations of the cultures encountered along the way were as insightful as the descriptions of the histories that were learned from many a private library. As I was reading, I was being introduced both to a lost world and a part of Europe of which I scarcely knew very much at all.

It is twentieth century history that is to blame for that with the rise of communism creating an Iron Curtain across Europe that only fell in 1989 to make the 1990’s a largely hopeful time in which to be living. Leigh Fermor was encountering the upheavals of history too on his journey. The aftermath of World War I was being felt from Austria eastwards. The Nazis too were on the ascendant at the time and Leigh Fermor after all passed through a Germany not long under Hitler’s rule with news of the assassination of Austria’s prime minister emerging later. Amazingly, these worrying developments did little to intrude on the good moments of the journey and became a contrast to what World War II was to do later on. The war and its aftermath took its toll on Leigh Fermor’s situation since he lost access to diaries that he left in Romania while he returned to Britain to play his part. At times in his tale, he wonders what happened to the friends that he made on his crossing of Europe after the rise of communism and they already had lost much because of land reform before that.

Nevertheless, his being on foot for much of the journey caught my attention since that is my favoured means of exploration aside from cycling. The latter was never of a mode of travel for Leigh Fermor while episodes of travel in motor cars and on trains litter the narrative as well as on horseback across the plains of Hungary but it is those stretches where he is walking alone where the most acute observations were made. Rivers were followed and mountains encountered, much like my own wanderings, albeit in countries that I never have visited like the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Czech, Slovakia Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. Even with my new-found taste for going beyond the shores of Britain and Ireland, some of these may continue to be surveyed from afar while others like Germany and Austria are on my wish list.

Overseas escapades

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

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

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

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

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

Federal Palace, Bern, Switzerland

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

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

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