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: Staffordshire

Wandering around by the Roaches

Sunday, April 15th, 2018

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

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

Brough Park, Leek, Staffordshire, England

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

Tittesworth Reservoir, Upper Hulme, Staffordshire, England

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

Hen Cloud, Upper Hulme, Staffordshire, England

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

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

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

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

Ramshaw Rocks, Upper Hulme, Staffordshire, England

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

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

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

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

Roache End as seen from near Allgreave, Cheshire, England

Ramshaw Rocks as seen from near Allgreave, Cheshire, England

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

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

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

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

Travel Arrangements

Bus service 109 from Macclesfield to Leek.

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.

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.

New bike, new possibilities

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

For a while now, I have been playing with the idea of getting a folding bicycle for use on cycling getaways. The main reason behind this is that one of the things that has held me back from cycling further afield has been the limited carriage of bicycles on buses, coaches and trains. It is true to say that I have entertained thoughts of bicycle rental though the only time that happened was on my first visit to the Isle of Skye in 1999. Maybe it’s something that needs rediscovering.

In the days of goods vans on passenger train services, things were far better but my arrival in the U.K. came well after those days and some operators like Virgin Trains will not carry a non-folding bike for you without pre-booking. Others again restrict the carriage of bicycles on their services at peak times and others who do not only provide space for a small number of non-folding bicycles anyway. Two is typical on Northern Rail services and that cannot be called generous.

There may be buses with bicycle pens operating in parts but these are the exception and not the rule. Any space on a bus that could be used for bicycle carriage gets devoted instead to conveying those on wheelchairs and children’s pushchairs. Those buses with bicycle carrying capability can be ephemeral too and any example would have been the bicycle racks on the backs of buses running Arriva’s now defunct TrawsCymru services across Wales.

Bicycle carriage on coach services is very restricted as I discovered on my first ever trip to Fort William back in 1998. It was so unlike Ireland where I did see someone pop a bicycle into the luggage locker of a Bus Éireann without any comeback for the act. In contrast, National Express will carry a folding bike for you but only in a padded bag or hard case. Their conveyance of full bikes meant a certain amount of dismantling but even that is out of the question now.

With all these constraints, it is easy to see how folding bicycles have risen in prominence. The best known brand is a British one: Brompton. These are not cheap yet remain popular even if other manufacturers have entered the fray. These offer less expensive items and you even might be able to get a folding bike for around £100 in a Go Outdoors sale. Mind you, it probably is best to go for something more expensive to get better quality. Sometimes, you get what you pay for with these things.

Dahon Vitesse D8

Recently, I finally took the plunge with a Dahon Vitesse D8 from my nearest branch of Halfords. They had the bike in stock and built it well for me. The folding mechanism was demonstrated too, if imperfectly. Once I got home, I spotted the actual folding order on a label attached to bike: saddle down first. handlebar folded next, then main bike frame. A short ride was a brief test of the 8-speed gearing and other important aspects of the bike like steering and brakes. The former of these worked well even it felt just a little giddy so that might why users are not advised to set the handlebars too high. As for the brakes, these had the bite that I would have wanted so there are no complaints there.

Thought the Dahon is sold as being for commuting, I quite fancy using it for more than this. Usefully, it has mudguards and a luggage rack so my mind to turning to various level cycling trails in Derbyshire. First, there is Longdendale Valley near Hadfield for seeing how things go to start. While a train journey possibility would allow transit of a full size bike, it sounds a good place to begin with a folding one. Others that come to mind include the Monsal Trail between Miller’s Dale and Bakewell, the High Peak Trail from Dowlow (not so far from Buxton) to Cromford and the Tissington that also starts at Dowlow but instead goes as far as Ashbourne. Roving into Staffordshire, there is the Manifold Trail as well even if that has a scary tunnel at one point. More possibilities may appear to follow these but they all should make a good use of the new bike. The next step is to get it out there to savour those places and overcome such fears as punctures or other mechanical troubles. That off road cycling could help with regaining on-road confidence would be a bonus too since I have been on a lengthy break from cycling for one reason or another.

Time for a return to cycling?

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

Due to a problem with its brakes that I could not get myself to sort for too long, I have been away from cycling for the most of two years. Today, I finally decided to see if I could draw a line under the problem. While the result of my efforts was that I took the bike out for a quick run, I am not so convinced that the back brakes are fully up to the job just yet. Nevertheless, I have no intention to leave this one lie.

Even on that short cycle, I noticed that I was using muscles that were not used as much as they once were. So, I plan to do something about that during 2014. In fact, I am playing with the idea of getting a folding bicycle for trips to other parts that could offer some cycling. While doing some online and offline window shopping, it is amazing me who will sell you one of these. While Evans Cycles would be expected on many a shortlist and Halfords have been doing so for a while, names like Decathlon and Go Outdoors also come up. Also, for a name associated with motoring, it surprised me to see that around half the floor space in the Macclesfield branch of Halfords is devoted to cycling and there is a large variety of bikes on display too. Decathlon have a very nice commuting bike in stock and Go Outdoors have folding bikes for between £100 and £200 so there is a lot of temptation. Quite how cheaper bikes do over longer distances is another matter so it might be worth paying a little extra for something more decent.

As for those destinations where a folding bike would be handy, my mind does not need to roam far from home.  Parts of the Peak District that are served by train come to mind and going along the Monsal Trail, the High Peak Trail or the Tissington Trail may become possibilities. The Longdendale Trail is served by trains to Hadfield but a folding bike is still handier than a full sized item. These are just a few off road cycling trails and pondering others takes into Wales for the Mawdach Trail and tracks into remote country in the Scottish Highlands become possibilities for more robust bicycles. The track by Loch Ericht first came to mind here but that by Loch Shiel also falls into the same category and both are served by convenient train stations at Dalwhinnie and Glenfinnan, respectively. Maybe hiring out a bike for a day would be no bad idea. Before then, my legs need more cycling acclimatisation (as does my head when it comes to road sense and confidence if a minor misjudgement at one end of the road on which I live is any indication) and staying modest for a little while sounds sensible. Longer days may have something to offer yet.

Postscript 1

Since writing this, I found an article about bicycle braking that suggests that front brakes are better than back ones for stopping a bike. Of course, that makes me wonder about putting yourself out over handlebars on doing so yet the author says that keeping your arms straight avoids this. Nevertheless, speaking with someone at work revealed tales from childhood of getting thrown over bicycle handlebars and with broken wrists after one such mishap. Maybe I need to consult a book on cycling technique…

Postscript 2

During a conversation with a work colleague, minds wandered back to harem scarem antics with bicycles on Irish country roads. Her dad and his pals used to race downhill as fast as they could to see far they could freewheel uphill afterwards. If want a picture in your mind’s eye, think of a steep drop to a bridge crossing a stream and a steep rise immediately afterwards. Only for cars being rare in Ireland at the time, one doesn’t dare to wonder what would happen if one did pass the way around this hilly part of Wicklow.

As for myself, recollections of travelling around none too flat roads around West Limerick on a hand-me-down bike from my brother with ineffective brakes come to mind. A set of trainers got well worn on tarmac that summer; foot braking was in order. There was one mishap when my aged Brooks saddle broke and I somersaulted onto the grass roadside verge as a result. Small wonder then that my trust in bicycle brakes is so minuscule. Having cycled around Edinburgh’s hills cannot have helped, especially when a torrential downpour was the cause of my being unable to stop on Lothian Road one July afternoon. Even now, it is an effort to get myself cycling down steeper inclines so gaining some extra confidence is well in order.


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