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: Norway

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.

Northern introductions

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

Since my last missive on here, I enjoyed a visit to Norway at the end of the August. Adding a day to a bank holiday weekend made time for the opportunity. An evening was spent strolling around Oslo in sunshine before I travelled to Bergen by train since it is classed as one of the premier scenic railway journeys in the world. While in Bergen, I explored a little of the city and its nearby hill country in behind showers of rain.

The latter had me travelling on the Fløyen funicular railway to get access to loftier vantage points and to get me down again after a hike that followed the coast until I gained some height on the way to Munkebotsvatnet before I followed a track as far as Storevatnet. By that point, my desire for a quieter route took me over boggier trails to go around by Rundemanden. These gave me the space that I so craved though cloud cover had interrupted the sunshine by then. Still, it proved to be a wonderful introduction to the place.

In fact, the brevity of my visit had me feeling that I over skimmed the surface of what could be savoured. A longer stay would have allowed for more walking and a cruise around fjords as well as fanning out to explore other pleasing spots like Vass. In this respect, I felt much like how I did on my trip to Austria earlier in the year.

That sense has its uses because it foments a return. That would be a longer visit that allows deeper exploration and might even have me sticking with a single base like Oslo, Bergen or Stavanger. It seems that Norway would reward a few more trips before even thinking about its renowned Arctic reaches like Lofoten and Tromsø.

In the meantime, I am adding an album to the photo gallery for the elongated weekend proved to be a productive one for photography. Even the spells of rain around Bergen did not stop me and I have plenty of experience of dealing with that kind of weather in Britain and Ireland. One of the more recent of those took me to then unfrequented corners of Scotland at the start of November.

There was an overnight trip on the Caledonian Sleeper for the first time in over five years. That took me to Inverness from where some rail rambling too place. An out and back trip to Plockton was the main event and it revealed another swathe of empty open countryside for me to be exploring. There was some time in Plockton for ogling sights like hills on the nearby Applecross peninsula between the rain and there even were some photo opportunities. That spoke for Saturday and Sunday dawned a duller affair so I pottered about the Ness islands before travelling to Aberdeen to take in sights of Moray countryside that were beset with sunshine and rain showers.

The weekend visit might have been short but it was both restorative and satisfactory. There was enough sun to do justice to scenic Scottish delights and the prospects for further exploration hardly were a cause for melancholy. Somehow, Scotland’s being nearer at hand lowered my sights at this turn and travelling there did not need the effort or expense of going overseas either. Maybe that had something to do with it.

Though we now are in the last month of the year, there is no shutdown yet. A British weekend away is being plotted as is a warmer overseas escape. Though there is a major life task to be completed in the next few months, I am starting to ponder 2017. Those plans will be loose though for life can take unexpected directions yet.

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.

Released?

Monday, February 9th, 2015

As anyone with elderly parents should know, life can be a roller coaster ride when their health declines. It certainly has felt that way over the last few years for my family and I. However, escaping out into the countryside has helped in its own way when dealing with life’s rougher moments. Getting through December 2012 certainly called for those head clearing escapes, be they into Tatton Park near Knutsford in Cheshire or along Irish country lanes. Both of my parents were frail then with my mother having been shook up by a hospital visit and my father’s strength in freefall since the summer. By Christmas, he really needed to be in a nursing home but mentioning the subject only resulted in angry exchanges. It took a brush with death due to a kidney infection for the matter to be forced and the issue to get resolved as it needed to be. He still was not intent on staying where he needed to be, and it was a nice place too, so no one could relax and a walk along the Macclesfield Canal between Congleton and Macclesfield as well as a shorter stroll around Buxton were well needed.

What really changed everything was my mother’s passing away not so long before what would have been her eighty first birthday and the loss was a raw one that not only resulted in next to daily evening walks by the River Bollin but also had me venturing further afield is search of a spot of solace. April 2013 saw me make two trips to Derbyshire and the area was to see me more than any other in that year. The of those April visits had me encountering banks of snow left over from a late winter as I hiked from Hayfield to Glossop, rounding Kinder Scout from below as I did so. The weather was much milder later in the month when I embarked on a circular yomp from Bakewell that took in both Ashford-in-the-Water and Monsal Dale. These were followed in June by a walk from Bamford to Edale that took in the southern edge of the Kinder Scout plateau and a walk from Monyash to Bakewell via Lathkill Dale. That last big walk of the year had me passing swollen rivers too; it had been a month of heavy rain and much flooding. A July escape to Fort William that took in Glen Coe and Glenfinnan could not have been more different with its sweltering temperatures and dry sunny weather. There also were sunlit walks from the Cat and Fiddle Inn back to my home that took in Shining Tor and Lamaload Reservoir. The first of these took me onto Rainow and Bollington while I passed close to Shutlingsloe on the second.

The combination of the scare that began 2013 and the loss of our mother meant that I tended to be more precious about my father and I suspect that my brother probably felt the same. The sense was that we could lose him sooner rather than later and it pervaded most of 2013. It sounds churlish to say it now but I started to wonder in the light of my father living longer than we might have expected if it was not before time to abandon any putting of my life on hold that there might have been. That is not to say that there was any sense of abandonment because, if anything, my visits to Ireland became more frequent. For much of 2014, I crossed the Irish Sea on a monthly basis.

In between those though, I began to get out and about again and last summer saw me make three visits to the Lake District. The first was to Buttermere when I crossed the top of Haystacks while the second facilitated a walk from Patterdale to Grasmere that went over the top of St. Sunday Crag and the last revisited Orrest Head and Loughrigg Fell. January and November saw me spend time around Llantysilio Mountain near Llangollen with the first trip enjoying bright sunshine all day and the weather disintegrating to spells of rain while I was up high. That makes an excuse for another return sometime though I did get more than a little compensation from spending some time by the Mawddach estuary near Barmouth the next day. There were more Welsh visits though with a summer solstice one that visited Sgyryd Fawr and Sugar Loaf near Abergavenny and a September retracing of steps between Rhossili and Port-Eynon in glorious weather. Yorkshire too saw a visit before the Tour de France did and that took in Pateley Bridge and Brimham Rocks in Nidderdale on a largely grey day. Northumberland was paid a visit during October with the delights of the coastline around Bamburgh being sampled on a day that felt more like it belonged to summer. Local trots around Macclesfield were not neglected either with Alderley Edge and Hare Hill seeing two visits. A pesky Jack Russell terrier took a set on my left leg the first time around so a hospital visit was advised and no such intrusion was experienced the second time around though I could have done with more sun.

There was more to my normalisation with a bike trainer being put to good use to see if my fitness could be bettered. The second half of 2014 also had my father see a good run of health that lasted until last month. There was a smaller scare in February 2014 but things steadied after that and I felt in the need of all that walking. Still, he was growing weaker as I found during last Christmas and I returned to Britain before New Year sensing that we might be on the cusp of a big change of some sort. In fact, I also wondered to myself how he would fare if he caught an infection. That question was about to get an answer only weeks later. A heavy chest infection was to confine him to bed after a traumatic experience when the nursing home thought him strong enough to sit up in a chair for a while. With that in mind, I made what I thought was a flying weekend visit in case there were to any further developments. Much of Saturday was spent with him and my brother was there too. When we left, he was comfortable and we thought that a peaceful night was in store. That changed after midnight and we dashed to the home. By the time that we got there, he had breathed his last only minutes before. Some would find that heartbreaking but the final peace is what I recall. His suffering was over and that nearly was more important than we might have felt.

A word said during one of the many conversations we had with others over the ensuing days remains with me: release. My brother and I felt it while nearby neighbours were stunned by our father’s departure; they surely felt it more than we did and some were crying on the phone to us. There may be another factor: we both had our homes and our lives while they see breakage in a continuity that they held dear. Also, the period with our father allowed us to come to terms with where things were going and have a partial glimpse of where things would go after he went. Of course, there are ups and downs as well as twists and turns of which we know nothing yet. The turbulence within me after my mother’s passing has not come after my father’s and there are times when I wonder why though that is not to see that there was no weeping or no jabs of the heartstrings. Maybe it’s that sense of release again.

There are matters that need attending yet but my mind also is starting to explore possibilities too. Visits to Ireland are sure to continue but not at the same frequency and certainly not with the same purposes as before though you hardly can abandon your relatives or former neighbours. There may be opportunities to visit places in Connemara, Mayo, Donegal or Wicklow that I have yet to see. That would be continuing something that they did after their own parents were deceased and there was many trip to Kerry and West Cork. Some of those gave me the love of hill country scenery that has taken me around so much of Britain and the Isle of Man. Over the past weekend, I was strolling around old haunts in Edinburgh like Blackford Hill, Bruntsfield Links and The Meadows before crossing over to newer haunts like Dean Village and Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens. Except for the occasional incursion of rogue clouds, there was sun shining on me throughout and I pondered the possibility of spending a week in the city sometime. Even in a place like Edinburgh, there was much opportunity to wander down memory lane (I graduated from one of the city’s universities) and have time and space to yourself if you needed it. Nearer destinations will remain attractive in a new life situation.

Speaking of memories, there is one that returns to my mind when I mention Edinburgh for I gained a research degree in a science subject while there. My parents were hoping that I would find a job in Ireland afterwards but the world of science is an international one, especially if you fancy a career in academic research. Some of my contemporaries gained post-doctoral jobs in the U.S. and that option did appeal to me not a little. The phrase “seeing the world” came to my notice and sharing it while on a trip back to Ireland must have tugged rather too strongly on parental heartstrings for I was asked to leave such designs until after they were gone. Now, youthful naivety has been displaced by realism so I now am amazed at the sorts of thoughts that went through my mind back then, especially when after experiencing more of the delights of Britain and Ireland.

Even so, that is not to say that I am not tempted by foreign destinations. The likes of the mountains of Canada or New Zealand or the American Rockies may not be what I have in mind but other spots in Europe have a certain allure. For instance, business trips to Sweden appear to cultivated a soft spot from Scandinavian destinations such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark or Iceland. There are areas of hill country in three of those and any photos of Norwegian fjords that I have seen look stunning. The Faroe Islands also have detained my attention and it helps that they are compact too. Going there would build on a 2008 escapade that to Scotland’s Western Isles and the islands of Orkney and Shetland have not missed my attention either. To return to the European theme though, you cannot overlook the Alps or the Pyrenees and they are but some of the mountainous regions on the continent that get mentioned in walking magazines from time to time.

None of this means that responsibilities are about to be overlooked and it can feel that you are able to make new obstacles for yourself too. The ones that appear of their own accord are enough for anyone and a life after my parents will bring its ups and downs will come soon enough. In between, pondering those other destinations may bring its own comfort while realising that short visits only uncover so much. After all, I lived in Edinburgh for over four years and still have parts of it to see anew along with those nooks and crannies that I continue to revisit. As ever, only time will reveal what comes to pass and what adventures may be had yet.


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