While 2009 has yet to see its first proper hill outing of the year for me, I have to say that anyone who doesn’t make the most of the first half of any year is missing out on something special. It is nice to think that everything is on the up and your next outing could be more wonderful than the last. You are less likely to be overrun by hoards too and there’s much to admire from the skeletal forms of the trees to the way that fine landscape is enlivened by the gentler light. I can see some being put out by such things as the shortness of the days or the lingering feel of winter but I see wonder in these too and it allows one to be ready for the annual crescendo that is April, May and even June. After that, I feel that the year passes its peak and regard the traditional summer holiday months of July and August as being ill-timed but that means that we are more likely to have things to ourselves, never a bad thing. Here’s how the first half of 2008 fared.
Casting my mind back to January, I remember expressing an inclination to stay home when the weather wasn’t so inviting. What had been a tactical device for ensuring that necessary life chores got done had developed a less than desirable side effect: being too choosy about when to go walking among those wonderful hills. A sunny Sunday at the start of the month drew me out on a cycle between Macclesfield and Leek with a diversion round by the Roaches on the way back. It was a good start to the year and I followed it up by strengthening my resolve in order to head to Leek for a circular walk through Staffordshire’s muddy moorlands (encountering clay was rather apt given the county’s fame for pottery production) that took me over Hen Cloud. The need for inner strength was prompted by greyness of skies earlier in the day but that soon evaporated to uncloak blue skies and unleash the sun to do its magic, a sort of reward for my endeavours.
That "get out there regardless of everything but personal safety and other much more important things" mentality was to serve me well in February. When a dusting of snow presented itself, I was off to Northumberland to explore more of the hills near Wooler. There was an ample coating of powder dry snow about and that both enlivened the views and brought out a little of the inner child in mind as I bobbed downhill on my return to Wooler. The middle of the month saw that replaced by a settle spell of glorious if nippy weather that allowed me to narrow the gap between Haworth and Gargrave in my Pennine Way hiking project. In line with the "bag-of-nails" approach that I have been adapting, a southbound walk from Gargrave to Lothersdale came first with a northbound hike from Haworth to Ickornshaw following it. The narrow gap between Ickornshaw and Lothersdale remains a possible irritation but it’s also another excuse to revisit those parts, even if public footpath signposting isn’t what it might be. The end of the month saw me undertake my visit outing of the year in Scotland with a wander through the countryside by Tarbet and Arrochar. I needed my new found resolve as the showers started to gang up on me with the ageing of the day; it was certainly good weather for any frogs that I saw.
In contrast to February, March was a much quieter month when it came to exploring the outdoors. A heavy flu was partly to blame for that but I felt a need to clear out some physical and mental clutter too, an activity that kept me busy over the early and white Easter. The latter fact should have drawn me out because a good walk is often good for garbage clearance but I ended up looking out at the Maxonian (that’s to Macclesfield what Mancunian is to Manchester) hills instead.
April’s two excursions mean that I was among hills instead of looking at them from afar. The first of these saw me traipse along part of the Offa’s Dyke Path near Knighton on a day that had me frequenting both Powys in Wales and Shropshire in England. I even dropped in on Church Stretton on the way home for a short sortie that preceded a heavy shower. Another weekend trip to Scotland followed with my exploring around the villages of Glencoe and Kinlochleven. The weather couldn’t have been better and snow still lay on the mountain tops though I remained at lower levels. On the way home, I began to feel that I had seen enough of the pervading browns of the hills for one sitting.
May made another good month for wandering through open hill country and its being topped and tailed by bank holidays surely helped. The first of these saw me exploring Teesdale on a grey if dry day with sun struggling to make any headway through the cloud cover. Even so, I got taken along another part of the Pennine Way and it made for a good day out. The next day was a damp affair so my next trip took advantage of the fact that normal weekday train services run on a bank holiday to get to Bethesda in North Wales for what turned out to be a linear hike to Bangor by way of the foothills of the Carneddau and the North Wales Path. Cloud broke to release the sun even if sea fog somewhat curtailed the sunshine later on in my walk. Another Welsh outing followed with my planned walk near Dolwyddelan being displaced by an out and back hike from Dolgarrog to Llyn Eigiau due to transport misinformation. It didn’t matter because a good day of walking followed anyway. Scotland surprised me with perfect weather for the second bank holiday weekend of the month, so much so that I was barely ready to take full advantage of what was offer and I left for home with a certain amount of regret. That’s not to say that a good tramp from Inverarnan to Dalmally or a few hours spent on Kerrera wasted the time that I had but I would have preferred more extensive planning than was done. If I had known what was ahead of me, I might have booked some time off from work and made a longer weekend of it. Having Monday would have avoided the bank holiday traffic and allowed for some very enjoyable walking too. Maybe the weather forecasters were so taken up by what was coming to England that they forgot Scotland…
June started well with a walk along the Cumbria Way through Langstrath on my way from Borrowdale into Great Langdale. Though I had glimpsed the Langdale Pikes from afar, this was to be my first visit to Great Langdale and, though cloud got to obscure the sun as the day wore on, a return to these wondrous parts remains in order. A primarily social visit to Ireland followed with my only snatching short strolls on a visit to Killarney on a damp day. Nevertheless, the sight of Torc waterfall retained its appeal and I was sorely tempted by the idea of going further along the Kerry Way.