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: Scotland

Snatching satisfaction during an otherwise disappointing summer

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel Arrangements

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

A Scandinavian project in the making

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

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

Vondugiljaaurar, Landmannalaugar, Fjallabak, Iceland

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

Revsvatnet, Vatne, Rogaland, Norway

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

Årsjötjärnen, Tyresta National Park, Södermanland, Sweden

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

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

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

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

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

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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