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: Sweden

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.

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.

A few new photo albums

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

After last year’s overseas excursions, I finally got to internationalising the photo gallery. Photos from two visits to the Isle of Man are in their own album and ones from a business trip to Sweden are in another. My trip to Iceland last July yielded a bumper crop of photos as did that to Switzerland in September.

Stories of my Manx excursions already appear on here because I was following the coastal path around the west and southwest of the island. More urban sights are there to complement the in the gallery. There is not so much of the outdoors on view in the Swedish album since it was a business trip allowing evening walks around Södertälje and Stockholm. Also, I could have done with a better camera too but went without many hopes and with a life change in front of me. The tale of those wanderings is to be found in the travel section of the website so it has not been lost to online posterity.

In contrast, the Icelandic and Swiss escapades came after an even bigger life event. There are plenty of views of Icelandic countryside to go with those of Reykjavik even though the level of outdoor wanderings was not as extensive as those that have taken me around Britain. The Swiss outdoor incursions were more so thanks to the efficient public transport system that got me from Geneva to Zermatt and to Grindelwald, albeit at a cost. The sights that I got to see easily compensated for this though and I hope what is on view shows them at their best. Their stories has yet to be told in full on here and I already have the beginnings of those entries in place.

What I also hope is that more overseas explorations follow these. Norway, Germany and Austria are in mind and, out of curiosity, my mind has taken to explore the prospects of American, Canadian and Kiwi escapades. With what I have ahead of me already this year, I need to temper any soaring ambitions. Once outstanding personal matters are settled, only then can I really begin to dream about heading outside of Britain and Ireland again. In the meantime, the home countries still have a lot to offer me and parts of Ireland as yet unvisited by me may see my footfall. Reining in dreams can be good.

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.

A year in two halves

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

There was one event in my life over the last year that very firmly punctuated the year in outdoors terms: a change of job. Whether it was the cause of putting my hill-going off track or not, there clearly were less outings in the second half of the year and those that were enjoyed weren't so extensive. The strange thing though is that a Christmas spent with the folks in Ireland seems to have recharged things for me. After all, there already has been a proper day out among the waterlogged hill country around Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in Wales very early in this year with a mad dash up to Fort William and Glenfinnan together with a crossing to Ireland to savour the delights of Howth near Dublin following it. In previous years, it often has fallen to the last weekend of January before I managed to get out at all. There are other schemes in mind but more armchair exploring could be needed before anything comes of them.

The first few months of last year had me standing on hilltops more often than is usual for me and January and February fitted into this pattern with walks over Place Fell in Cumbria and Diffwys near Dyffryn Ardudwy, respectively. The weather was very amenable in both cases with a touch of spring being felt on the second excursion to contrast with the sights reminding onlookers of winter during the previous one. The other major outing in February was a cycle that took in Gawsworth, Astbury, Little Moreton Hall, Holmes Chapel, Goostrey, Over Peover and Chelford. Though I was tired after that jaunt, it sowed the seeds for a cycle to Chester later in the year.

March saw me move things up a gear again by heading to Scotland to see some Scottish snow-covered hillsides around Glen More among the Cairngorms. Braving some showers was the price that I had to pay for this but the rewards from the short sampling session more than compensated. In fact, it may have set the scene for a busy April that featured an Easter Sunday trot from Baslow to Bamford while shadowing the River Derwent. That wasn't as low level as it might sound but I headed to greater heights in the form of Carnedd Moel Siabod and Y Llethr in Wales too. Revisiting the trip reports for these makes me realise that I was more active than I now remember myself to be.

My recollections of May are stronger and it started with a Mayday bank holiday weekend visit to the Isle of Man where I savoured some of the ups and downs of the coastal path, Raad ny Foillan. That was a good introduction to Manx walking and I hope to follow up the outing some time. A trot from Selkirk to Melrose had it share of ascent and descent too as it brought back to a part of the world where I hadn't been for a few years. Later, I discovered that the Kerry mountains around Killarney can get some hot sunny weather. In fact, it could have been the most sun that I have had on a visit to the alluring area.

As it happened, May ended with the commencement of the distraction that was to occupy my mind for much of the next few months: a change of job. It was amazing to see how this really punctuated my outdoors year. The weather remained balmy as I pondered what I was doing with visits to the National Trust managed woods around Alderley Edge for some unwinding on lengthening evenings. That spell of good weather came to an end later in June but not before I snatched the chance to head north to the Isle of Arran and Kintyre for what became my only real longer summer break in Scotland. That didn't prove to be the end of my feeling hot sunshine for the year because a business trip took me to Sweden where long hot evenings allowed me to savour the delights both of Sodertalje and Stockholm.

From July on, the rest of the year gained a much quieter feel when it came to enjoying the outdoors. Nevertheless, I did manage to base myself in Aberdeen for the English August Bank Holiday weekend. Having not been there after a first visit more than a decade before, it was time to revisit places encountered before and exploring those that were new to me. The latter point brings to a first visit to Braemar that took me up to the top Morrone/Morvern with heavy showers making rainbows in the sunshine before things dried up later on an otherwise chilly day. The outing had a real end of year feel with that coolness though Edinburgh felt warm in the sun when I sneaked in a trot about its heart between trains. Maybe I should have based myself there instead, like I did for the same weekend in 2009.

For some reason, the rest of the year felt as if the stuffing had been knocked out of it for me and my outings appeared to reflect that. Nevertheless, I did get to cycling all of the way from Macclesfield to Chester, a brainwave that came to me earlier in the year. It also proved that Cheshire is far from flat though I knew that anyway. Ironically, my end of British Summer Time hike along the High Peak Trail and the Tissington Trail from Pomeroy to Ashbourne on a day when cloud overcame sun as I went further south. Following old railway alignments meant that ups and downs were kept to a minimum on that October afternoon but the distance covered was felt for a while afterwards, ironically for longer than the effects of my exertions in crossing Cheshire if my memory is not failing me again.

Breaking away for a hill country outing seemed to have become difficult for me but November saw me on top of Caer Caradoc in Shropshire due the perceived accessibility of the hill. Shrewsbury remains another idea for urban pottering as does Oswestry so it wasn't about standing atop a hill. In fact, the very next issue of Country Walking featured low hills with good views and put into my head the idea of collating a list of a few of these for times when inspiration was hard to locate.

December's snows may have been disruptive and I was to feel the effects of that when I popped over to Ireland for the Christmas but they were restorative when it came to getting me out of doors again. For one thing, there was a quick visit to the hills near Glossop that was more about broadening my experience of winter condition than covering much in the way of distance. Then, there was wandering around local haunts in Wilmslow (Lindow Common became a 2010 discovery for me), Macclesfield, Prestbury and West Limerick. Surroundings may have looked totally different and very pretty on these short strolls but they very much helped me in the restoration of my hill wandering mojo. Now, I need to ensure that it doesn't leave me again. After all, 2011 has started well and I really do need to set down some more trip reports as well as ensuring that my working life doesn't overwhelm everything else on me again.


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