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: Lothian & Borders

A springtime sabbatical

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

Though the output on here may try to belie it, the month of March was one of exhaustion and a longed for sabbatical from work came not a moment too soon at the start of April. Mostly, it was time to rest at home though there were some escapes. My yearning for rest and recuperation had to be countered for these but it is good for anyone’s state of mind to get out and about too.

The second weekend saw me head to the Isle of Man for the first time since July 2011. Though it was a reluctant manoeuvre in the end, it repaid my efforts with sunshine on a circuit from Laxey that took in Snaefell and on an amble around Castletown. Before I started my return, I took in Douglas Head and Summerhill Glen along with some other sights around the island’s capital.

Strife with insuring a car in Ireland partly ruined any peace of mind around Easter such that I shortened a stay in Edinburgh. In truth, I spent more time around Peebles with a rain-soaked walk around Glen Sax on Easter Sunday preceding a trot along the John Buchan Way between Peebles and Broughton in much better weather on Easter Monday. Thankfully, that Irish obstacle was overcome to allow a few more days of quiet rest before it hit me just how fast time was going.

While it felt as if my time away from work was too short, there still was time for walk from Litton to Buxton that took in several of Derbyshire’s dales. The list included Tansley Dale, Cressbrook Dale, Monsal Dale, Miller’s Dale, Wye Dale and Deep Dale. Wintry weather intruded at times and Chee Dale offered plenty of adventure. Still, it was a good day out with my partly making up the route as I went along.

There was a trip to Ireland too and this allowed more time for myself in between visiting family and neighbours as well as attending to business that I have over there. Evening walks took me on circuits around by Springfield and Kilmeedy village. Though the walking was along roads for the most part, it was a case of revisiting haunts that I have not frequented for a few years now.

On returning to work, I have decided to do things differently and that is allowing me more rest time. My mind is turning to future excursion ideas as a sort of tonic though such flights of fancy are tempered my aunt’s health for now. Still, there is no harm in dreaming a little as I assess how things are going for me after all that has happened during the past five years.

Spaisteoireacht and stravaiging

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

While playing with the Google Translate menu that I recently added to the navigation bar of this website, I discovered that words like explorations, jottings and wanderings are not always translated into other languages. One of these occasions was with the Irish language (the term “Irish Gaelic” is not one that I abide) that I learned during my schooling in Ireland. However, I also rediscovered a word that sounds wonderful to me: spaisteoireacht (try pronouncing it as spash-tore-ukt, speeding that up after practising it a few times). An entry in the online dictionary from Foras na Gaeilge translates the word as walking, strolling, sauntering or promenading. To my mind, that makes it sound like the Scottish word stravaiging, albeit without any insinuation of aimlessness about the business.

Bollinhurst Reservoir from Lyme Park, Disley, Cheshire, England

The Cage, Lyme Park, Disley, Cheshire, England

Unlike much of last year, much of my walking this year has fallen with the confines of spaisteoireacht rather than anything more strenuous. It also has remained largely local too. For instance, my return from Ireland after my father’s funeral was disrupted by snow and I took the opportunity to get out for a walk round by Prestbury with a lot of melt water around in the places. That was enough to overwhelmed my knockaround pair of Regatta boots and drench my feet though the whiteness was a delight to the spirit. A pair of Wellington boots has been acquired from Go Outdoors since then in preparedness for a return of any such conditions later in the year or beyond that again. Later that weekend, I paid Lyme Park an afternoon visit and the white covering still was very much in evidence everywhere I looked or trod and the photos show what I mean.

Shining Tor from Cat and Fiddle Inn. Macclesfield, Cheshire, England

Grinlow Tower, Buxton, Derbyshire, England

Axe Edge from Grinlow Tower, Buxton, Derbyshire, England

Several trips to Buxton came to pass too and the first of these had me crossing the hills from Macclesfield on one of the few buses that travelled that way on the day. There was plenty of snow up there so that may explain why my bus for the return journey was conspicuous by its absence. A train journey was in order since the temperature very was dropping at that stage. More recently, I repeated the journey with buses carrying me both ways though the outbound one broke down and had to stop at the Cat and Fiddle Inn and await a replacement. The beeping noise being made as the ailing bus limped the final part of the way to the inn certainly had me thinking that it would not been a bad afternoon to be disrupted up there with unexpected sunshine lighting all the surrounded us. Others may have pondered the prospect of patronising the pub but it was photos that I was after. When I finally got to Buxton, I made for Grinlow Tower and without ignoring the delights of the Pavilion Gardens. It was blustery up high and the gusts that came made photography a shaky business so I could have done with a tripod. Even so, pleasing images were made and I came away happy.

Salisbury Crags and Arthur's Seat from Blackford Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland

There was a trip to Edinburgh too and that had me revisiting old haunts from my university days up there. Places like Blackford Hill, Morningside, Bruntsfield, the Meadows and the city centre along with Dean Village, Stockbridge, the Botanic Gardens and Inverleith Park gave shape to what essentially was a stravaig. Skies were blue and the sun was out too so it was a glorious day for some strolling and there is more exploring to be done around Blackford Hill and another trip along the Water of Leith towards the Edinburgh would not go amiss either.

My mind has been travelling overseas too but I am reminded that I should be making time for some hill country wandering too. The closest that I have got is what I have mentioned above and there was following a stretch of the Macclesfield Canal too. Ideas have not been collated but catching up on trip reports from the past year of too may sort that.

Never the best to go rushing time

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

When I was looking for my first step into the world of work after university, the quietness of some months were frustrating. January and September appear to fall into this category but I now see them differently. The sense of stasis has not gone but I now prize it because so much of a year can go in a frenzy. A working life will do that with its many deadlines and the events of family life can do the same as I found last year. Then, there can be the chasing of good weather from the start of year until summer. The whole mix can leave one so exhausted before autumn comes that hibernation looks attractive. It quite possibly explains my energy profile over the course of a year.

One matter that makes me wonder is when I start hearing about events towards the end of year being advertised right at the beginning. Concerts given by famous artists may be very desirable but why go wishing away the present? The same trick is used by marketing folk in the world of digital technology too and the risk is that you never appreciate what you have. Sections of the technology media do not help matters by speculating over what might be in the next iPhone or iPad but does it matter? Much of the time, the hubbub needs ignoring so we can enjoy any other delights that come our way in this life.

Another thing that amazes me is long term planning. Some plan their holidays a year in advance and I ask myself how on earth do you know how things will be then. Life’s twists and turns bring the unexpected and that may be the comfortable situation that you expect either. Laying out your life before you just sounds like hubris to me and recent years have enforced that thinking with the progressive frailties of elderly parents. Parents of young children may feel the same. Your life may feel like it is being put hold but the present can bring joys too.

There is no doubt that January can feel too quiet for some and minds go racing ahead to designs on summertime holiday bliss. With days like Blue Monday and the current long run of stormy weather, such escapism is understandable. However, Blue Monday actually came up sunny this year so you could cheer yourself with a walk away from our more built up areas. That may not cure money worries or people trouble but the past year has reinforced for me how essential a good walk can be for easing a troubled mind and thinking over things. Even venting stress through footsteps often is what is needed and is all the better so no one else gets hurt by what is going on within you. Complaints from knees and feet are better than those from others with injured minds.

The real use of a quiet January is to take stock before the year’s distractions get cracking. The month wasn’t so quiet in 2013 but 2014 brought what was needed and my mind could wander elsewhere. On digital maps, I have ranged over the hills of mid Wales and along the courses of the Wye and Severn rivers that rise in Pumlumon. The Black Mountain in the Brecon Beacons National Park has been perused too while a general survey of transport possibilities have been ongoing. Any bus service that looks useful was noted with Sundays being better to avoid until the summertime Beacons Bus network recommences. While a little stay to sample what is in those places sounds promising, no dates are set as the course of life remains largely unknown and the uncertainties and vagaries of the weather lie among those.

It was the same sort of metal wandering that led to my visiting the Western Isles in August 2008. Quieter times allowed the formulation of an escapade that I am loathe to consider at the moment. Then, the playing with different configurations actually led to one that fitted in a week when other parts of the U.K. and Éire were getting a soaking. However, I pulled a cracker that I never will forget.

Another thing that I relished last month is a sense of steadiness that was so different from how much of 2013 felt. It so felt like bliss that it was tempting to procrastinate and leave some less pleasant and necessary tasks for later. Those now need listing and tackling because procrastination is not the way to go either. It’s as bad as wishing away time ahead of summer holidays or the launch of an attractive gadget. Moments need seizing even if the freedom to relax a little is all the more appealing; no one can relax all the time.

January is not only for contemplating and designing escapades because it can have some of its own too. 2011 saw me head to Wales, Scotland and Ireland on successive weekends before I was swamped with work. Being in the off season does mean cheaper deals and lured me to Edinburgh and Llangollen one weekend after another. The first allowed me to recall times from my student days in a wonderful city and the second had me threading new ground with views of spots seen and sampled on previous outings.

February can be less frantic too though it was filled with angst in 2011 and weighed down on me in 2013. In 2012, it was so different with a weekend trip to savour a section of Northumberland’s coastline that I had walked under cloudier skies. Last weekend, I got as far as Lincoln to visit its cathedral and its castle. The latter is under restoration ahead of the octocentenary of the signing of the Magna Carta next year. Currently, all the scaffolding is restricting what you can see so I didn’t get the photo of Lincoln Cathedral that I had fancied. Another visit when it’s all done sounds a possibility though the entry prices surely will have gone up from £2 for an adult by then. English Heritage look after the old Bishop’s Palace and charge £4.60 for adult entry so that maybe what the entry charge for Lincoln Castle should be. Even with a reduced charge, the lady issuing my ticket took pains to tell me how little there was to see though a free tour was available if I fancied that. In the event, what was there satisfied me and I rather fancy the idea of seeing more should the occasion arise. What I saw around Lincoln’s Cathedral Quarter looked very attractive on a sunny Sunday and I’d venture that the actual cathedral itself is more ornate than York Minster too. I left for home with a sense of satisfaction.

Whatever others may say or think, I have a certain affection for the months of January and February. They can be the calm before a frenzy and escapes from the everyday are a possibility. While having a breather appeals to me at the moment, there is no harm clearing niggling tasks out of the way too and the post-Christmas clearance often allows the space for doing exactly that. Then, it is a matter of taking the rest of the year as it comes. After all, long term planning often gets derailed by life itself.

A month for slipping and sliding?

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Over the weekend, I got to spend some time around Llangollen. For a while, I have been having designs on exploring the hills of Llantysilio Mountain and Sunday finally saw me reach the top of Moel y Gamelin. Though time constraints meant that was the only hilltop of the bunch that I sampled, the views from there were in all directions and had me savouring sights that I had seen before, albeit from different angles. With all the value that was given, I was happy to save the hill’s neighbours for other days. Having not been around Llangollen for the most of three years, some concrete reasons are in order if I am to return sooner.

After the area has found its way into the enlarged Clwydian Range and Dee Valley Area of Natural Beauty. That happened during the second half of 2011 when other things were eating up my time. The visit that I paid around Easter of that year still remains as fresh in my mind as if it happened only a few weeks ago. What happened longer ago was a visit to Denbigh and Ruthin that skirted the Clwydian Range and an abortive attempt to reach them from Llangollen by way of the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail that was halted in Llandegla before a return to Wrexham was made. Continuing north from there would be good (a visit to Moel Famau could be nice) and bus services around those parts seem to be more useful than they were then. Let’s hope austerity never affects them quite like what is happening in the north of England.

It was during the first months of 2004  when I first embarked on day trips to Llangollen as a compensation for a failed attempt to get to Dolgellau. Then unruly housemates didn’t help with the realisation of that ambition with an all night party accompanied by loud music until the small hours of the morning. That was enough to make me seek a place for myself that resulted in an Eastertide move. Now, it either is the ups and downs of life or my own fatigue and laziness that is to blame for such failures these days.

Those day trips to Llangollen saw me wander around by Castell Dinas Bran, along the Panorama Walk that is part of the Offa’s Dyke Path north of Trefor, around by Valle Crucis Abbey. Due to the lateness of my arrival and the shorter days, the walks weren’t so long apart from the aforementioned abortive trot from Llangollen to Ruthin. A preceding overnight stay would have helped that effort with an earlier start and my last two visits to Llangollen have benefited from that with the 2011 trip seeing me enjoy an evening walk around those day tripping haunts before I stayed among the flatter tops to the south of the Dee Valley where the North Berwyn Way goes as it connects Llangollen to Corwen. There also is the Dee Valley Way is you want a long circular walk between the two towns and along both sides of the valley.

Many of those visits to Llangollen were the cause of getting me muddy and last Sunday’s was no different thanks to the early point in the year at which we currently find ourselves. In fact, one flawed footstep resulted in a slide and a short tumble into gorse. The resulting pricks left their marks on my legs but there otherwise is no consequence from the mishap. In fact, it reminded me of a similar one around Craigmillar Castle got me muddy when it really wasn’t needed. Hopefully, these are not signs of my becoming accident prone but I am reminded of previous January skids.

In previous years, it was frozen and not greasy ground that was to blame. One slip happened while descending from Grinlow Tower, or Solomon’s Temple, near Buxton. That was in January 2012 after a walk through three counties from the Cat and Fiddle Inn. The same month in 2006 had me trying out a possible route to the top of Cader Idris from Dollgellau and similar unreliable ground played its party trick on me too.

Foolish steps on branches can end stupidly too as I found in a wood near Dolwyddelan when an attempt to avoid soft ground landed me on my side on it. The day wasn’t  a warm one so I could have done without that wetting though I came to no harm because of it. While none of these episodes is flattering, they seem to be the sum total of such misadventures apart maybe from what a rogue stone did one one summer visit to Floddigarry on the Isle of Skye. It all makes wonder if more concentration on foot placement is in order and that does happen on steeper slopes. Maybe it’s time for extra footing practice to avoid foolishness or anything more serious on downhill slopes.

A weekend around Edinburgh

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

 Duddingston Loch, Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, Scotland

Craigmillar Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

The past weekend got spent around Edinburgh and spots from my time at university there got frequented. On Saturday, my perambulations were blessed by blue skies and sunshine as I strolled around the city’s Old Town and New Town areas when on my way to Holyrood Park. There might have been cross-country running going on there but it was easy to leave that after me to spontaneously head south to Duddingston and Craigmillar Castle. For all the lack of planning, neither of these disappointed me though it was late in the day when I made a photo of the classic western profile of Craigmillar Castle.

That there remain so many sights around Edinburgh that I left unexplored while I lived there sometimes makes me wonder what I was doing while I lived there. There was more than four years so that should have meant that not very much was left unencountered. However, it only was after I moved to England to start a career that I got savour the likes of the Pentland Hills, the Water of Leith, Dean Village, Leith’s Waterfront and Cramond. Was it a certain lack of curiosity that limited my horizons back then?

A developing interest in computers and the time that took certainly has been one thing that I blame as well as the need to find my own way through life. On Sunday, I found another culprit under skies that remained largely cloudy: Edinburgh’s world famous city centre. Even in Princes Street Gardens, it was possible to allow a slip into reverie and recollection without very much in the way of disturbance. The same could be said of a stroll around Grassmarket and Dean Village as it could for dawdling in the West End branch of Waterstones surveying books in the Scottish Interest section of sampling a coffee and a croissant with copies of few books with me.

Another suspect might have been my travelling around by bicycle. Just walking means that there is no need to finding a parking place for one or get stopped from leaving it in a location such as the front of the Balmoral Hotel as happened one time. It was the lessened practicality of a bike for exploring hill country that caused me to turn to walking in the first place. When I went further afield to see other parts of Scotland, the bike had to stay at home so walking more than did and there was a certain lack of planning to these ventures. It was as if they were learning ventures and that I need a few visits before I get to make the most of anywhere.

Now that walking retains its appeal for me, books like Kellan MacInnes’ Caleb’s List and Rab Anderson’s guide to the Pentland Hills published by Mica now hopefully will see some use in the future. Not only do I hope that they will bring back to Scotland again but I am left thinking about returning to Edinburgh more often too. Even in January, it retains its allure and is without the crowds that frequent it during the summer too. Sunday stayed bright and offered more than could be expected from the forecast. If cloud had broken in the right part of the sky for long enough, it would have felt even more special: a day of superb weather when the forecast didn’t predict one.

Returning to Kellan MacInnes’ Caleb’s List, there was but one occasion when Scottish hill country got visited during 2013. With all else that happened, it was more than could be expected and allowed a period of calm in a period of ferment. That was a visit to Glen Coe and Loch Shiel but there are opportunities around Stirling and Peebles too. As odd as it may sound, a sort of hill wandering trip could feature Edinburgh too. Between the Southern Highlands, the Ochill Hills and the Pentland Hills, there should be enough excuses for short getaways.

Before I leave this piece, there are more reasons why some parts of Edinburgh needed me to leave in order to see them. On initial appearances, it is tempting to blame getting too comfortable in one’s neighbourhood and home. Having open spaces such as Bruntsfield Links and the Meadows nearby, it can feel that there is no need to go further afield whenever the sun appears. Then, there are films and shows to be seen along with museums and other attractions to visit. Edinburgh’s festivals have been the cause of my seeing the Tattoo of a weekday night and a Bertoldt Brecht satire (Mr. Puntilla and his Man Matti) in the Traverse Theatre so it is easy to see how a city can distract anyone. It can be said that there is much to see and much for which to return. Maybe that can keep me coming back again and again.


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