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 longer reading project

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

Over the years, I have been prone to buying books with good intentions and then hardly getting around to reading them. This has been known to apply as much to paper books as their digital counterparts and I have been getting through a backlog of the latter since last autumn.

The reading material itself has been varied with travel writing from the likes of Dan Kieran, Bruce Chatwin and Jack Kerouac seeing inclusion along with other subjects covered by the likes of Clive Aslet and Christian Wolmer. Amongst these have been works from Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, with the latter featuring through every month from last November until this one.

What I have discovered is that reading nineteenth century prose takes more effort than what is found today. Sentences feel longer and have more packed into them. The same applies to paragraphs that spread from one page to another. Even so, there are rewards in revisiting observations from another time for the sort of descriptive writing from centuries ago is more of a rarity today.

Returning to the Scottish naturalist and conservationist John Muir, my chosen task was to work my way through an extensive compendium of his collected works along with a volume in tribute and it is that which is the main subject of this post. In the U.S.A., Muir remains a revered figure and he is someone who appears to have fitted much into his lifetime too.

It was not just a childhood spent in Scotland prior to a move to Wisconsin either. Still, that childhood was a severe one with corporal punishment at home and school so go with schoolboy scrapping. Throughout all of this, there was a growing love of nature that was to define him. Engaging in that persuasion often got him punishment from his father yet he and his brother continued regardless. Such things were regardless as straying away from the path of Christian righteousness.

The hardship continued in North America with lots of hard work to build up a block of farming land from what was wilderness. Still, the appreciation of nature grew and there even was time spent inventing various clocks and other contrivances. That time was made by getting up part way through the night, an act that bewildered his own father.

The inventions were to see him heading away from home on an early trip to a fair and that was followed by four years spent at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Though a degree was not gained, there was plenty of mental enlightenment that preceded a time of factory working that was ended by an accident that nearly blinded Muir.

It after recovery from that incident that he began his long walk to Florida by way of Kentucky and Tennessee. Along the way, he had plenty of time for observing natural beauty before a bout of malaria laid him low. Though he made it as far as Cuba, the intended journey to South America had to be abandoned in favour of one to California that took him via New York.

It was his explorations of the High Sierra that would make his name. Yosemite, King’s Canyon, Hetch Hetchy and other such spectacular valleys would allow him to investigate the effects of glaciation. Mountain tops like Mount Shasta would see him climbing them, even when the weather was not that hospitable. One incident on Mount Shasta got a repeated telling. All the while, his health improved and his strength advanced as he observed grand fauna like the giant Sequoia trees endemic to California. Variations in weather were much experienced too with storms being relished; when most of us would stay indoors, he would be heading outside. Quite what people must have made of this and his other exploits would have made interesting reading not unlike what some write in our own times.

From California, he went north as far as Alaska while also visiting Oregon and Washington State too. The Grand Canyon was another place that he visited as was Yellowstone National Park. His trips to Alaska had him exploring glaciers with a view to seeing how their action related to what he saw in California. As well as Muir’s own published accounts, Samuel Hall Young also published his own tribute to the man with whom he too explore places such as Glacier Bay. Muir embarked on a summertime sea journey to the Arctic as well so he got to know Alaska and neighbouring parts of Russia better than many at the time.

There was one trip back to Scotland later in life and he also appeared to get to other parts of Europe as well as Asia and South America. Before all this, he married and settled down to run a fruit farm though that was not his real calling. His wife often sent him away to mountain country to get his fill of the wild places that he so cherished.

That love of nature must have turned him to conservation for he was one of the founding members of the Sierra Club, an organisation that continues to exist today. It also was reflected in his writing for he campaigned for National Parks and decried the effects of sheep grazing on wild meadows. Lumbering was not seen as a legitimate activity always nor was the building the railways. It was after an unsuccessful campaign to stop the building of a reservoir in Hetch Hetchy valley that he passed away.

His legacy has persisted with people still reading works like My First Summer in the Sierra, A Thousand-mile Walk to the Gulf or The Story of my Boyhood and Youth. These are just a small selection of what I ended up reading over the last few months. There was some repetition along the way but that probably can be found here too. The nineteenth century prose took some effort to read and things undoubtedly have changed since the times in which it was written but there was much to enjoy. In their own way, Muir’s books and other writings describe many parts of the world that I have yet to visit and the effort was worth it for all that. The enthusiasm and alternative approach to life percolated through the narratives too and the thinking has remained until our own time. Let’s hope that it does so into the future.

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.


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