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: Times and Seasons

Incidental ambles

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

The start of a new year can be a useful time to take stock of life. January can be a month that some find too quiet but it has its uses as I am finding out for myself. A current career break means that I have added occasion to think over what I would like to do for a living. After five years of family bereavements followed by responsibilities added through inheritance, there is plenty of reason for this. What had not been obvious to me is that my last job was not a match and the experience left its mark, one that needs to be overcome.

Throughout all of this, I am not forgetting that I am an explorer at heart. There has been time to catch up on reading and I now have my fill of travel writing so I will not be lured into book purchases as easily as before. More discernment could be the way of things for me and that cannot be so bad when finances need to be kept in check during times like this hiatus from work.

Also, I have been travelling around England and Wales collecting ideas for walking trips like Roseberry Topping and Pumlumon Fawr. Surveying the countryside about the latter brought me the added benefit of a short if muddy stroll around Llangurig. Visiting nearby Rhayader is another thought and a short stay in Aberystwyth could facilitate more than initially had come to mind. Other parts of the Welsh River Wye are ripe for exploring too and the hills of the Black Mountain in the western side of the Brecon Beacons could be another tempting idea.

City visits to Edinburgh and Cardiff have come to pass. In the middle of the latter, the banks of the River Taff offered an oasis of calm with Llandaff Cathedral feeling as if it is in a country rather than where it is. Bute Park was another delight that makes me wonder why it took so long for me to make an independent visit to the place and there is Cardiff Castle if I wanted to include that as part of a return visit. There is plenty there for cyclists too and I am not surprised that bicycle hire is available.

Those city wanderings remind me that there have been times during the last few years when energy for more strenuous outings has not been as readily available. Edinburgh has featured quite a few times and there are regular haunts nearer my home in Macclesfield. Knutsford’s Tatton Park, Disley’s Lyme Park together with Macclesfield’s Tegg’s Nose Country Park and Dane’s Moss Nature Reserve all have been places where quick visits offered respite from life’s tumult when enthusiasm for longer trips was not to be found. The same could be said for more urban spots like Buxton, Chester, Sheffield and even Manchester. Anywhere where a coffee can be enjoyed away home has had its uses.

Strolls on my own doorstep like circuits taking in Prestbury all had their uses when my head needed clearing, like on Christmas Eve during my first ever Christmas spent in Macclesfield. That was a stormy affair, as much in my mind as it was out of doors. When a brighter interlude offered, it did not need much persuasion for me to head out on a longer round that linked Tegg’s Nose, the Saddle of Kerridge and the White Nancy. It became just the breather that I needed at the time.

The last few months have been as much about exorcising hurtful memories as anything else. That included the past Christmas and New Year period when it felt more normal than others. Trips to Tatton Park, Manchester and Lincoln all broke up the flow and I also got learning that camping stoves should be used out of doors too, a misadventure that I have no relish for repeating.

Getting past that was like everything else in life in recent times. 2017 became a year when I lightened some of life’s load so I need to think ahead now. Getting an enjoyable and fulfilling work life is one thing and my zest for exploring countryside continues. Overseas excursions could restart yet since I am making my way through Kev Reynolds’ Walking in the Alps at the moment and there is his The Swiss Alps, The Pyrenees and Trekking in the Alps after that. That lot should keep me going for a while yet and I am not overlook what hill country is nearer to hand either.

Looking back and looking forward

Monday, January 1st, 2018

In Roman mythology, the god Janus is shown as looking both forwards and backwards at once and many have thought that the month of January is named after him. The fact that new beginnings are assigned to this character has done nothing to dispel the association and everyone has their big plans for the start of a new year. Whether they become a reality is another matter entirely.

As it happens, I find myself on the first day of 2018 looking back as much as looking forward. Firstly, June marks the twentieth anniversary of my attempts at online publishing. Then, it was a simple Geocities website and things have moved quite a way since then. The web has changed hugely and so have I.

In the closing years, I was a university student unsure about his future and it took a degree of exploration before I found a way of earning a living that lasted until last summer. Since then, I have been on a much needed career break and now look to 2018 with thoughts of working again. What is needed is a new passion that will drive me forwards after a previous job eventually proved unsuitable.

Regular readers will know that the last five or six years brought their share of toil too with bereavement and added responsibilities following inheritance having altered my mindset. After all that, a longer break was needed. Good though they are, short oversea escapes and incursions into nearby countryside only can do so much.

Aside from a well needed rest, I have been catching up with reading. Books from authors like John Muir and Henry David Thoreau have featured along with others like Bruce Chatwin, Jack Kerouac and Kev Reynolds. Their works have lain unread on my Kindle account for too long and have introduced me to other parts of the planet in a way that guidebooks never would. Sometimes, someone else’s narratives are needed and probably explain why there is so much travel writing to be found.

Another aspect of my reading catch-up is that books from Phoebe Smith, Alastair Humphreys, Geoff Allan and Ronald Turnbull have got me thinking about short getaways that make use of bothies and bivvying. Too often in recent years, I have needed to book an overnight stay in order to ensure that I went on a walking trip at all. My reserves of energy had become depleted and adding in the cost of accommodation often made things more expensive so I fancy the idea of getting costs under more control and who knows where such experimentation may take me yet? It might make such outings easier to organise as well.

Aside from finding work that I enjoy and attending to Irish responsibilities, there are no big plans for 2018. Sometimes, leaving things open can allow for some memorable serendipity. Still, there are some thoughts of exploring around Glen Trool, Pumlumon Fawr, Roseberry Topping and the Black Mountain that may happen yet. The expensive cocktail of using overseas holidays to deal with an unenticing career had to stop though I still fancy seeing more of Scandinavia and the Alps while the wilder parts of North America and New Zealand retain their appeal. Life’s adventure continues and it is time to make that a happier one.

Revisiting Lathkill Dale

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

Currently, I have been catching up with quite a bit of reading. Between books bought with good intentions that were left unattended and magazines that have lain in wait for attention, there has been a backlog awaiting clearance. Among all this is a collection of writings by the renowned Scottish outdoorsman John Muir, a profound inspiration for the National Parks system that you find in the U.S.A. today. There have been others like Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and Fiona Reynolds’ Fight for Beauty. Some have proven easier to read than others with John Muir’s Picturesque California lying between these in difficulty. Such is the lucidity of his writing that it seems a shame to rush through it so taking it slowly is exactly what I am doing. The evocative descriptions need to be relished and allowed to soak into memory, especially in tumultuous times like what we have today.

Though I have yet to visit them myself, Muir’s detailed descriptions of the glaciated landscapes of the High Sierra strike a chord with me. In one sense, they remind me of the glens cut into the Cairngorms plateau in Scotland but there is another landscape that also comes to mind for similar reasons. It too feels like a sort of plateau with valleys cut into it though the outline is far less lofty and dramatic.

To give you a hint as to where these are to be found, the valleys themselves are called dales but this is not Yorkshire but Derbyshire. Recent years have seen me explore them more since they are not so far away from where I now call home. Some can be very narrow and their names include Dove, Wolfescote, Biggin, Monsal and Chee. All of those named have seen me explore them at some point or other with some reflecting the names of the rivers that flow though them while others don’t.

One of their number that I have not mentioned so far apart from its appearance in the title of this piece is Lathkill Dale. My first encounter was on a hike I did in December 2013 just before a Christmas visit to Ireland. Though limestone outcrops abounded on slopes around me, there was no winter sun to make them more photogenic. While sunshine did appear later in the walk, I always fancied the idea of a reprise on a brighter day.

That second visit followed a trip to Iceland whose account on here took a fair bit of time to write. It was not so much having to withdraw everything from an unwilling memory as has bedevilled other recent trip reports but the fact that there was so much to be recalled. The account here requires more effort but the previous Icelandic outing has its uses.

A hike around Landmannalaugar thrust me into countryside wilder than I had encountered before then so the chance of sampling something more familiar had its place. The contrast between dusty mountainsides and leafy valleys could not be more striking. It is the latter to which I am accustomed so I was happy to be among them again.

St. Leonard's Chuch, Monyash, Derbyshire, England

My walk began in Monyash and, following arrival there, I spent some time around its parish church before continuing onto Lathkill Dale. The way that I went is hazy to me now for it is a faint recollection that I followed part of the Limestone before dropping down through Fern Dale but that could be imaginary. It maybe that I followed the road towards Bakewell before picking up a public footpath that did the same, much as I did on that December Sunday in 2013.

Waterfall, Lathkill Dale, Monyash, Derbyshire, England

Limestone outcrop, Lathkill Dale, Monyash, Derbyshire, England

Tributary dale, Lathkill Dale, Monyash, Derbyshire, England

As I went down the dale, milky skies bubbled up with clouds that obstructed the sun at times. That limited chances for photos but did nothing to take away from the wonder of see the limestone outcrops that line the sides of the dale. When they were fully lit by the sun, any wait was more than well rewarded. It was sights like these that delighted me on walks around Dove Dale, Wolfescote Dale and Biggin Dale so I was little surprised that they did the same for me here.

River Lathkill near Over Haddon, Derbyshire, England

Woodland strolling was my lot for the next section of my stroll. Back in December 2013, the River Lathkill was swollen and barely kept within its banks. The dryer time of year meant that it was not as readily seen as on that previous visit and I was glad of the tree cover. Though I have something of a love/hate relationship with woodland, what it takes in views is given in shade from strong sunshine so I was resigned to my lot and I soon enough came to break where others were gathered by the riverside. The promising weather had drawn others out and about so I was happy to share in between interludes of solitude.

Looking down on Haddon Hall, Bakewell, Derbyshire, England

After Conksbury Bridge, I went to the other side of the river and frequented quieter parts. The approach to Alport was where I enjoyed some winter sunshine the last time around but there was more in the cloud on this occasion. After Alport, I chose to follow Dark Lane and started to feel the summer hear as I rose above the surrounding dales. Beyond some farm buildings, a public bridleway conveyed me across Haddon-Fields and down to the banks of the River Wye. Views over Haddon Hall opened out before as did a curious sight of a field of what appeared like wheat, barley or oats being harvested like grass silage. It might have been a mistaken impression so I continued to enjoy other more familiar sights.

Weir on the River Wye near Bakewell, Derbyshire, England

To get to the banks of the River Wye, I needed to get across the A6 near the gates of Haddon Hall. Once past that difficulty, I strode along the footway beside the estate wall until a public footpath directed me to quieter surroundings again. Like the River Lathkill, the Wye was swollen on my winter visit but was quieter on this late summer outing. After a stretch of woodland, there were more fields to be crossed on the final approach to Bakewell. It was mid-afternoon so I was glad to be reaching my destination given the heat. After spending a little time pottering around there, I started on my way home and that offered a fleeting trot around Buxton too. There had been familiarity and that suited just fine after the unfamiliar sights of preceding weeks. There were more to come in the following ones but these were not to feel so alien.

Travel Arrangements

In tune with the general haziness prevailing throughout this post, my recollection of how I got to and from my walk is similarly afflicted. From photos, it appears that a return journey on service 58 between Macclesfield and Buxton was involved. Because this was a Saturday, getting to Monyash would have involved travel on service 177 (since withdrawn) while travel between Bakewell and Buxton most likely made use of the TransPeak service.

Not quite the reprise I once thought it was

Friday, September 29th, 2017

A thought recently struck me. There has been a fair amount of melancholy and reminiscence in what has appeared on here during this year. The events of the last few years and the resultant change of circumstances will have been part of this, so much so that I now am taking the time to take stock of things before anything else happens. After all, moving forward to happier prospects would bring happier tales for sharing too.

Depletion of energy reserves has not helped either and even causes me to reprise routes previously followed instead of exploring new ones. That brings its share of reminiscence and there is a bit of that here too, even though I am recalling a route that was varied rather than repeated.

The original hike took place at the end of January 2009 and it now feels like a very different time. After all, that was eight years ago and a lot has happened since then. There was a change of job, bereavements and subsequent inheritance as well as other things that have gone on in the world. It is all too easy to look back to a happier time when work was steady and ageing parents still retained their independence despite their advancing years. What really is needed is to create moments from which new happy memories can be gained.

The account of the more recent walk takes me back to May 2015 when so much was behind me and so much lay ahead of me. Usefully, work then offered a lull that allowed me to make use of a sunny day to revisit a trail that I fancied seeing again in brighter sunshine and with less wind about. The first would allow for the creation of satisfying photos while the second would make for easier walking.

Danethorn Hollow, Wildboarclough, Cheshire, England

My starting point was the currently closed Cat and Fiddle Inn. From there, my route took me along Whetstone Ridge before descending through Danethorn Hollow along the headwaters of Cumberland Brook. Clouds may have abounded but there was amble sunshine too as I followed a path first spied on a muddy walk in November 2004 that took me as far as Rushton Spencer via Three Shire Heads and the Dane Valley Way.

Cumberland Brook, Wildboarclough, Cheshire, England

Cumberland Cottage, Wildboarclough, Cheshire, England

The descent was steep as far as the track linking Clough House with the A54. As I was headed for the former, the descent continued and it passed woodland as I continued to shadow the brook before crossing it at a ford. When I reached the roadside, I decided against a shortcut along a public footpath that appeared to pass through a farmyard in preference to going around by road to reach another one that would get me going towards Shutlingsloe. That passed along the edge of woodland as it shadowed the road below while gaining some useful height.

Crag Hall as seen from Shutlingsloe, Cheshire, England

Eventually, I had to double back on myself for a while as more height was gained until a final turn led me directly to Shutlingsloe’s summit. Dappling of landscape by broken cloud cover was there to be witnessed as I continued my ascent. Care with timing meant that I could control how shaded my surroundings would appear in any photo so it was not as if I was going to lose completely the delights of sunlit landscape.

My route down from Shutlingsloe was a reverse of one followed only last week, albeit with some deviations that I cannot explain. The way down to Macclesfield Forest and the track through there was the same as was that along lanes as far as Forest Chapel. Following Charity Lane brought me to path through more of Macclesfield Forest. It was then that I first met the sign at a cross of four tracks that again met last week. Hacked Way Lane should have featured too but it was after that where I inexplicably turned to field crossings on various public footpaths instead of sticking with the track that ran between them. It is all the more curious given that I was headed for Tegg’s Nose.

Clough House and Shutlingsloe as seen from Tegg's Nose, Langley, Cheshire, England

Ridgegate Reservoir and High Moor, Langley, Cheshire, England

My route also went around another Clough House before picking up Sadler’s Way to reach the visitor centre for Tegg’s Nose Country Park. Sunshine still abounded though my memory would have me believe that everything has clouded over, such are the tricks that can be played on you. The way from Tegg’s Nose back home is one that I have taken that I hardly is worth mentioning. That also may explain how I have so little to say about it because other memories could take over even if it did.

All in all, the day was a satisfying one that produced a good collection of pleasing photos. Dan Kieran may have written in his book “The Idle Traveller” that he trusts the evolution of memories in his mind more than photos when recalling his travels. When your recollections are gap-filled like mine, then photos really come into their own when rebuilding something to recall afterwards. There are those who reckon that they may take from the overall experience but that is not how I feel, especially when looking at them again brings its share of satisfaction after the passage of time. Anything that fuels future happy reminisces has to be good.

Time

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

2017 has at occasions been plagued by the same anxiety: having enough time for dealing with the aftermath of life changing events from the last few years. It is not just the events in question that have given me pause for thought but the also the new responsibilities that are my lot after inheritance. The result is a period of reassessment away from my main work profession after a five week sabbatical did feel long enough for a fuller recuperation.

There also is a need to reflect on how life is going because bereavement can refocus one’s thinking. A busy working life and the presence of deadlines make it too easy to delay the process of grieving and it may be that I have done just that. The combination of keeping a day job going while legal work was ongoing certainly can fill anyone’s mind with a lot to do but the emotional toll remains inescapable. The motivations are different too because you can feel a need to patch up your emotional state to progress whatever needs doing when you just need to allow things to take their own course.

It is that time for emotional healing that I crave and I do not want to rush things in case that causes trouble later. This kind of healing is not something that can be achieved satisfactorily using holiday allocation alone because it is so tempting to fill that with fleeting distractions from everyday living. Over the last few years, it may be that I have tried doing that when slowing down and making more space for myself was in order.

Outdoor activities like walking and cycling help so I hope continue wandering through countryside because those strolls help wherever they are, be it Scandinavia or Scotland. There is something about what is called slow travel that allows the space and time to work through life’s cares and I have been reading Dan Kieran’s “The Idle Traveller”. Kieran observes that many punctuate a working life with short overseas escapes when what you need is deeper immersion where your thoughts can be followed to their own ends without any deadlines or timetables. It is a thought that resonates with me.

There is another side to this apart from slow travel because I am discovering that other quieter interludes are needed too, especially as the speed of everyday life makes it feel you are in an emotional slow lane. That might be telling me that a less intense working life is in order and a fulfilling one would be ideal. It is a thought that I will hold as I navigate a new stage of life’s great adventure.


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