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: Stirling District

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’ Chrùlaiste 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 straight 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.

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.

An archaeological dig

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

It’s a lovely sunny summer evening as I write this and there have been times when I was out and about in the sunshine during the past few weeks. Last Sunday afternoon saw me trot from the Cat and Fiddle Inn back to my house. Spying a useful right of way that dropped me down from Shining Tor to Lamaload Reservoir was the cause of taking me around there though my hopes of seeing the former in sunshine largely came to not as much as I’d hoped. However, there was sun to be enjoyed while I was around Shining Tor and a peaceful atmosphere pervaded much of the walk so I wasn’t embittered. There was no rushing about either as I continued to Rainow and then along Ingersley Vale to Bollington. The Macclesfield Canal and the Middlewood Way were what conveyed me much of the rest of the way home without the itinerary feeling overly long. In fact, I can foresee another wander by Lamaload happening when a chance offers itself.

The previous bank holiday weekend should have seen me do more with it but for fatigue and computer tinkering taking from my resolve. The greatest extent of my outdoors wandering wasn’t to be limited to various shopping errands or watching Terry Abraham’s The Cairngorms in Winter with Chris Townsend though. The latter turned out to be a pleasing use of time with there being plenty of stunning countryside to ogle; the quality of the film footage was stunning. While the Cairngorms were the star of this film, Chris got to draw us to the area by tracing his love of wild country. The realities of camping (includes bothy usage), walking, snowshoeing and skiing in winter mountains got a necessary airing and the featuring of a walk through the Lairig Ghru that was abandoned was no harm either. If that was insufficient, there is wealth of social outdoors history surrounding the Cairngorms that could have been added too but the sparing of that probably got us looking at the scenery more closely. After all, that was centre stage in this production and with a stirring soundtrack too. It probably was odd to be enjoying this film with sunny weather outside, and that’s how it was, but I was lured out at far as Tegg’s Nose on the Sunday evening. Just like a warm summer evening among Scottish hills, it too was quite and peaceful as I took in views towards Shutlingsloe on a circuit that took me by Langley and Sutton along paths and tracks that I have travelled a fair few times, so often that I hardly need a map for these anymore.

Alongside all of this and midweek evening walks around Macclesfield’s Riverside Park, I got the idea of adding more details to photos featured in the site’s photo gallery. These include the camera used and the date that the photo was made. The first of these is not too hard to recall but dates have been the more trickery because there have been times when I have wondered if part of my memory managed to fall into some sort of black hole. The blog certainly has helped from mid 2006 on and the move to digital photography almost nails your dates for you. Before both of those, unless a certain scarcity of trips, coincidence with a memorable event or the imprinting of dates on photos helps. There also is the trawling of old emails (yes, inertia has meant that more of these have been retained than might seem conventional) to see when train tickets were booked and peering at now historical calendars . The last two of these especially have a more archaeological feel to them, hence the title of the post. The fact that dates do not surface without some effort for trips between 2004 and 2006 is a reminder to me that I should be thinking of improving records for the future. After all, you never know what another bout of stress can do to a memory and, like anyone, I have had a share of that in recent years.

The addition of that extra information to the photo gallery continues and some refreshed or new photos are to come online too when all is done. Looking at those older photos has another effect too. When you see a photo and think that it can be improved, then a trip idea emerges. It already has been the cause of retracing some steps in the Peak District and it may be that 2013 could be a year spent exploring more of this alluring part of the world. What has been in my mind for a little while is a potential walk from Edale to Hayfield or Glossop that follows Grindsbrook Clough at the start so as to replace a photo that dates from the Summer bank Holiday Monday of 2001. Hopefully, it can happen before we lose the current run of good weather. There also is walking north along the West Highland Way from Bridge of Orchy, at least as far as Kinlochleven, to see if I can better photos from previous outings along the route of that well trodden trail. With the way life is going for me now, that is a longer term ambition and it’s always good to have them.

Things may be quieter on here these days but the walking continues and I need to add a number of trip reports as you can see from the Trip Reports to Come page. What’s needed is the summoning of energy and it’s hard to commit to scribbling them when sunshine is peering in your window as it is this evening.

And so to 2012

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Having had a few days to catch up with a few recent issues of TGO, a realisation has popped into my mind: maybe basing myself somewhere on a trip away might allow me to get more from it, especially for those places that take a little longer to get to them. Using Dunoon as a base for exploring Cowal worked very well in 2011 so I need to spend a little time pre-assembling some designs so that they have some hope of becoming reality. Along with the wilder parts of Scotland, Northumberland also comes to mind with the longer travel times needed for getting there and because of my whetting my appetite for its hill country during the summer of 2011. Parts of Wales such as the countryside round about Brecon or the Heart of Wales railway line also come to mind as do the eastern fells of the Lake District in Cumbria and the Cairngorms in Scotland. Methinks that setting aside a little time to think these over might be no bad idea and there others that I could list here too but there are enough mentioned for now.

The end of one year and the beginning of another is as good a time as any to take stock of things. One of these that comes to mind pertains to loose ends outstanding in my hill wandering from the last few years. The biggest of these is the Pennine Way, along which I haven’t walked for a while, and it now looks like multi-day trips are need to add to the mileage already completed. The mention of the Pennine Way also reminds that unused plans exist for walking Derbyshire countryside too, both new and already frequented. Then, there’s the prospect of extending what I have walked of the Rob Roy Way and the perennial desire to savour more of what my home country, Ireland, has to offer the hill wanderer. Those should mean no shortage of trip ideas like what I felt to be the case at the end of 2010, at least until I started to catch up with then unread issues of TGO anyway.

2011 has been a busy year for me and my hope is that 2012 lets me out of doors more often though the future will decide that when it first becomes the present and then the past. After all, there’s hill country near Macclesfield that needs to be revisited and other possibilities may come my way. Unlike the end of 2010 when I felt that I had ran out of ideas, a year later sees me pondering a fair few options as the blog goes into its seventh calendar year although its actual birthday is at the start of May; 2012 will see the sixth one being reached. Any designs that I concoct may not be as grand as those of other folk but having a few of them manage to come to pass will more than do me. Hopefully, 2012 will turn out to be a good outdoors year for you, dear reader, too.

It would be a pity to see them go

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

A recent poke around the SYHA website revealed some sad news: hostel closures. In total, there have been 46 but 5 of them are facing closure. There’s Canisbay near John O’Groats in Caithness, Arden near Loch Lomond and three in the Scottish Borders. These are Broadmeadows, Kirk Yetholm and Melrose. The latter losses will leave the network looking very bare between Scotland’s central belt and its border with England.

A weekend in early July had me staying in both Kirk Yetholm and Melrose. Both seemed well used though neither was completely full. Both are near long distance trails so that should explain their locations. St. Cuthbert’s Way goes by both of these and that’s how I chose them as places to stay. Kirk Yetholm also is the northern end of the Pennine Way and both the Southern Upland Way and and the Borders Abbeys Way pass Melrose. That makes both of these a big loss for long distance walkers who now need to make alternative arrangements unless others take them over and run as independent or affiliate hostels. After all, Melrose also is useful for cyclists.

In the article on the SYHA website announcing the news, the reason given is one that will be eerily familiar to those who have witnessed YHA closure announcements. Yes, the cost of refurbishment has been mentioned in concert with the standards expected by hostellers these days. The upgrades to Oban and Lochranza are mentioned and I can vouch for the one on Arran being a good job. However, it sounds like it took a dedicated husband and wife team to make it happen.

The announcement has me pondering the future of youth hostel associations and it’s a line of thought that may spawn another entry on here regarding the subject yet. There are those who consider that youth hostels are on borrowed time. At Kirk Yetholm, I met a grandmother taking her grandchildren hostelling before she felt it was too late to do so. That Kirk Yetholm now is facing closure makes here views sound prophetic.