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: Spain

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.

New boots

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

When someone thinks of Mallorca, wet and muddy surfaces could be very far from their expectations. Yet, I carried my well travelled pair of Meindl Burmas with me. Having heavy duty footwear covered all eventualities and I did meet with muddy patches and steep paved pathways so it was just as well.

The day before I left for my Mediterranean escapade is known in Britain as Boxing Day and is called St. Stephen’s Day in Ireland. It was bright and sunny so I was lured out on a local stroll that took in Tegg’s Nose Country Park. Not long after I had left home, I discovered that the three year old Regatta Crossland Mid boots that I have for such things were starting to show external signs of coming to pieces. There may be a bit of life in them yet but the start of the post-Christmas sales put the idea of acquiring a replacement into my mind, especially when there might be price reductions.

While I was tempted by cheaper offerings from Hi Tec, I ended choosing something from Berghaus that I got delivered to my local Millets store. That collection was a painless affair on a busy Saturday afternoon and I tried out my new Expeditor AQ Trek boots around the house to see how they fared for comfort and fit. They passed on both counts and I am awaiting drier days before testing them further.

Like the aforementioned Regattas, these too are fabric boots with a waterproof membrane. Though testing on local walks has not happened yet, thoughts of using them for walks in places with dry climates have entered my head. These are not so serious that my Meindls might stop reaching sunny places in southern Europe but something with suede uppers could suit such an outing.

After a year of unfinished business

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

2016 turned out to be a dramatic year in world affairs and it was set to be a busy one for me too so I could have done without the other developments. That work looking after my late father’s affairs is tailing off into more of a steady state and I hope that things become more manageable as the year progresses. There even might be time for a sabbatical from my day job.

The way that I feel at the moment is that such a thing would be well needed and I fancy a period of rest after all the upheaval of the last few years. It has sapped my spirit so a spot of renewal is in order. Overseas trips became a way to tide myself until a longer break becomes a reality.

In 2016, I got to three new countries: Austria, Norway and Spain. With my visits to the first two of these taking the form of extended weekends, I left feeling that there was more to see. It usually is not a bad thing but an extra day or two added to each would have allowed a bit more exploration. My Spanish escapade took me to Mallorca between Christmas and New Year and that brought what the other trips did not bring. There was a feeling of leaving the cares of life after me that was much needed.

In a way, it worked too well and a cold that I had caught somewhere began to make its effects plain enough that the return journey had more than a little dash of limp home mode about it. It took a week or two before I finally recovered and some extra time away from work was in order.

Before that took hold, there was ample time in the near constant sunshine as I explored the island from my Palma base. Port de Pollença was my first port of call with a little strolling about the place. A day trip to Sóller allowed for a chance to sample part of the GR 221, a long distance trail extending along the Serra de Tramuntana. After that, there was a trot about Port d’Andratx that was supposed to take me to Saint Elm but granted me a view of the place instead when I failed to find the path needed to get me from one track to another. Given that I was feeling less than my full self, it was just as well. The last day of my trip saw me lazing about Palma next to its impressive cathedral, helping sightseers with photos when asked to do so. There was ample time during my stay to make photos of my own too.

Despite the fever, I got a lot from my time in Mallorca and it offered the feeling of satisfying and more complete explorations. It also did me another favour. During December, I fell into a search for closure that I do not understand fully and even walks around Macclesfield over the Christmas did little to dissipate the feeling. It probably was grief that hit me but going away somewhere else fractured that unwanted continuity.

December saw me return to the Lake District for a walk between Great Langdale and Grasmere on a crisp winter’s day. The dawdling along the way was restorative and taught me that such experiences can be readily available in Britain. There also was a amble between Burbage and Whaley Bridge that revisited the Goyt Valley. Being denied much in the way of sunshine was no irritation and it also offers encouragement for a return sometime.

There were other longer walks during the year too with one returning me home from Leek by way of the Roaches. Thinking about that now recalls how soothing a largely solitary saunter it was. Another took me along the White to Dark Trail between Tideswell and Hathersage.

Hopefully, 2017 will be an easier year for me and it is something of an open book in some ways. Aside maybe from a possible stay in Stockholm, overseas excursions no longer loom as large in my mind now. Scotland could see more of me than that short visit in November that took in Inverness and a rainy Plockton. A spot of mental clearance could see me plodding around England and Wales more often too. Ireland might even see a spot of much needed exploration and I also fancy a stay around Killarney. Given how heavy my spirit feels now, the more important job for the year could be to lift things again for me.

Going south in the wintertime

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

There are some of us who normally do not crave warmer temperatures and I consider myself among those. My parents were much the same as is my brother and others who I know. With us, anything much above 20° C hardly is desired and triggers a kind of hibernation during heatwaves.

In my case, it also has meant that I often had headed north for summer getaways. Scotland has featured a lot, as much for its scenic delights as for the ability to leave my normal way of life after me for a while. In the last two years, it has become more obvious with my rejection of continental summer temperatures for the relative cool of Iceland and Norway. That walking is much of what I do for relaxation means that scorching temperatures are not so compatible anyway.

For alpine wanderings, I chose what I saw as shoulder seasons such as spring for Austria and autumn for Switzerland. Still, I still met up with temperatures in the mid to high twenties around Innsbruck yet I found, that by going higher, it was easy to escape these though cable car travel saves your sweating on the way uphill. It was a reminder that higher level alpine walking is a way of escaping heat as much as would going to the coast in more maritime localities.

In contrast, many heat lovers head south during the winter and there always is the southern hemisphere where they have their summer. In between, the milder winters of southern Europe suffices for those of us fancying a warmer escape from frosty weather that is not overly hot. In fact, such is the heat that some of those places get in summer that walking becomes a autumn, winter and springtime activity.

You might be tempted to think that applies to places like the Canary Islands, Madeira or the Azores but much of Spain, Italy, Croatia and Greece is likewise. It may come as a surprise to some but places normally associated with sun, sand and sea have their delightful stretches of nearby hill country too. That makes them possibilities for for warmer winter walking getaways. Mallorca and Corsica may have fleshpot reputations but going elsewhere on those islands brings you to dramatic craggy terrain.

The same applies to the south of Portugal, Spain and Italy. There are places in the hills not far from the Algarve, the Costa Blanco and the Costa del Sol have a wilder and less developed feel. Winter is low season too so whatever hotels are open may give you better deals depending on when you go. It may feel odd to base yourself somewhere geared up for more sedentary or hedonistic pursuits when you are after more wholesome country walking but it can be made to work.

Coming a little further north, I even considered Catalonia, Tuscany and Umbria too as I surveyed places that I otherwise would not consider. Given the reputations of some and my need for restorative quieter breaks, that may not be such a surprise. With a different time of year, different needs can be fulfilled and year round popularity makes for simpler travel arrangements even in the off season too.

Released?

Monday, February 9th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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