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: Offa’s Dyke Path

Not the end of the matter

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

It often does happen to me that relating an outdoors outing can bring forward ideas for more. In this regard, my recent trip report for an Easter outing to Llangollen was typical. For one thing, it revealed what parts have yet to see my footfall but there’s more to it than that. Also, I took the opportunity to freshen up the Denbighshire album in the photo gallery that you can find on here. That act revealed a certain amount of dissatisfaction with photos that I already have in my collection, especially from those times before the arrival of digital photography swayed me from the use of film. Addressing a perceived need for better photos often is sufficient for getting me revisiting places already frequented.

Dinbren Hall, Llangollen, Denbighshire, Wales

Speaking of returning to come away with better photos, Derbyshire’s countryside has been one such target that has lain in my mind for a while but it now has been joined by a few of Denbighshire’s delights. Walking the Offa’s Dyke path from Trefor to Ruthin is just one of the brainwaves that have come to me because there is the Clwydian Way and the Dee Valley Way to keep me busy too. In fact, these could help me identify the hills in the above scene that I captured from amid the ruins of Castell Dinas Brân over six years ago. That point was driven home to me even more by an inability to figure out which top is which in photos of those hills captured last April while following part of the North Berwyn Way, yet another trail with more potential for hill wandering. After all those possibilities, there’s the Clwydian hills by Ruthin and Denbigh to be sampled too. This time last year may have seen me run out of both energy and ideas but that at least the latter doesn’t seem to be recurring a year later. Hopefully, there should be a bit of ambling this autumn, not that I am one to wish the year away just yet and I wonder if too many are doing exactly that at times.

A look back at 2008 III: Beyond Midsummer

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

Midsummer in 2008 might have been a time when I felt that the year had peaked and the encroachment of unsettled weather may have had something to do with that view. Certainly, the year will not be remembered for having a sunny summer and many were disappointed, even if it did have its better interludes. Personally, I reckon that it’s best to try and enjoy what is visited upon us at any time of year and seem to have come to the conclusion that the traditional summer holiday season is overrated. There may be more hours of daylight but, if the days get too hot, it may be worth sticking to the cooler parts of the day and that reduces the amount of time available for wandering through the countryside anyway, perhaps restricting the time available until it is not that much different from spring or autumn anyway.

Even with the feeling that the second half of a year feels like an anticlimax after the first, I continued to get out into attractive countryside. I found hot sunny weather in July, was extremely lucky with my visits to Scotland in August, had an easier September and October before taking advantage of numerous wonderful opportunities in November and December. There was much to behold so here are a few recollections of it all.

July

In walking terms, July was another fallow month with a sun scorched saunter along the Offa’s Dyke Path near Welshpool at the end of the month being the main trip of note. Otherwise, time limited by other activities ensure that most of my major outdoors activity was to be cycling rather than walking. The month’s mixture of weather contributed too but I was feeling that the best of the year had passed by this time anyway and began to wonder if the timing of the school holidays was more than a little nonsensical. I also got to mulling over island wandering as a possibility for my now habitual longer Scottish walking break. My few hours on Kerrera in May may have had something to do with this inspiration coming upon me and I felt the need for a longer break anyhow.

August

The main even in August was that island hopping trip to Skye and the Western Isles. Though anyone surveying the weather and the weather forecast on the eve of the trip might have questioned my sanity for even considering what I was about to undertake. In the event, I struck the jackpot: while other parts of the U.K. and Ireland were getting a soaking, I managed to find wonderful sunshine and avoid those downpours. That was thanks to the belt of rain getting stuck across the north of England and the south of Scotland. Harris was to prove the highlight of the week without Skye failing to satisfy or the peace of the Uists being forgettable. However, it does need to be said that South Uist felt a little like an anti-climax after Harris so it might be best to journey in the northbound direction on any future visit. A social visit to Edinburgh followed but I still got in a few hours among the Pentland Hills, an area that I surprisingly ignored when I lived up there in that city.

September & October

September and October proved to be pivotal months for a lot of reasons, the economic situation in the wider world being one of them. For me, it was a period lacking in longer walking excursions but shortening days meant that walks at lunchtimes started to take over from evening cycles. Another trip to Ireland in September allowed me to spend a few sunny hours around Gougane Barra. Even though I felt unable to add a fuller narrative for that trip, the photos found their way into the photo gallery very quickly. Alongside this, the realities of writing a longer trip away were made plain to me as producing reports for my Hebridean trip began to take eat up their share of time. It wasn’t just the writing that slowed progress since choosing and processing the photos to be included as part of the descriptions nearly were more rate limiting than the actual writing itself. That experience had been happening throughout the year but it really came to a head with the larger block of writing. Staying with the subject of lessons learned, I started to cast more of a critical eye on the focus of the blog and came to the conclusion that much of the musings on public transport really belonged elsewhere. In time, another blog was spawned for that but travel matters relevant to exploring wonderful countryside will continue to make their appearance here. In time, it may happen that old posts falling outside of this might get moved elsewhere as part of continued content reshaping but I’ll leave things as they are for now.

November

November saw me re-emerge into areas well populated by hills again. The first of two trips to Cumbria saw me embark on an out and back trek from Windermere’s train station to Yoke. I had gone north with a few ideas in mind and this proved to be just as well when public transport and the available daylight constrained my ambitions a little. Neither did anything to spoil my enjoyment of the day. A miscalculation on the following weekend had me walking from Ardlui to Butterbridge a day too early for good weather to do its magic on the landscape. in some respects, the hike echoed my February outing to the area in that showers got going to make things feel unpleasant as I dropped down towards the end of my walk. I may not have seen the countryside in its best light but plans for potential excursions came to mind and they may compensate for this at some suitable juncture in the future. Dullness of a drier variety was set to dominate my walk from Ambleside to the top of Red Screes and back the next weekend. Some sunshine managed to escape from its cloudy prison towards the end of the walk but the intense cold remains in mind, particularly since the turning on of Ambleside’s Christmas lights delayed my journey home.

December

December may be considered by meteorologists to be the start of winter but my walking was not about to go into hibernation, especially with the possibility of sampling some snow. So, the first Saturday of the month saw me return to the Howgill Fells after the briefest of visits a few years earlier. The snow that I met got me wondering about winter skills and such like but the experience was one not to be missed. The day after had me out exploring Macclesfield’s hills with an out and back hike from my own doorstep. I might have been trampling familiar ground but there were some new sides to be seen too. A trip to Ireland for Christmas and New didn’t stop my walking either, even if road walking took up the most of what I was doing. Nevertheless, I got to get off road to explore around Springfield Castle near Broadford in County Limerick and even got to sample a little piece of the Dingle peninsula around Camp and Castlegregory in Kerry. Sunshine enlivened both walks but that part of Kerry was frequented by a biting wind while we were there; nevertheless, it didn’t stop me wandering a little way along a track (used by a tractor to get winter feeding to livestock by appearance of things) through the dunes at Maherabeg (Machaire Beag in Irish) in the late evening sunshine, at least shadowing the Dingle Way if not actually following it. That brought a year packed full of walking trips and opportunities to a delightful close. 2009 awaits.

A look back at 2008 II: Until Midsummer

Friday, January 16th, 2009

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.

January

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.

February

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.

March

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

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

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

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.

A wander around Welshpool in hot weather

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

After a mini-heatwave, we seem to have returned to more run-of-the-mill British weather again. Not being a fan of hot weather, I am not sorry even if it means that things are little damper. That heat made the past weekend none too ideal for a spot of hill wandering but July seemed to slip by without such an outing and, on Sunday, I headed off to Welshpool for a circular hike regardless. It was to be a day for protecting oneself from the effects of strong sun and intense heat. There was a threat of showers but I was long ensconced at home by the time that one happened on Macclesfield and none was to cool me down on my way around Montgomeryshire.

The travel arrangements were easy: take a train to Wolverhampton and change there for the last leg of the journey both on the way out and the way back. Public transport arrangements aren’t that easy sometimes so this was one of the simpler days. The journey wasn’t too long either with a departure not long before 09:00 landing me in Welshpool at around 11:25. Even with departing at about 18:50, I was back home well before 22:00.

Being allotted a good amount of time, I decided not to force myself and to watch how much walking I was doing, understandable given the weather on the day. I started with a quick amble about Welshpool before heading for the hills and it actually looks a reasonably pleasant town. My escape into the countryside took me north along the Montgomery canal, part of the Severn Way, until I came within reach of the Offa’s Dyke Path. Crossing from one trail to the other did mean some crossing of busy roads and a building site for a new livestock market. Once past those obstacles, I joined the aforementioned national trail at Buttington to proceed through fields where cereals are growing before the I hit the slopes. The hinterland of the Severn clearly has its fertile spots.

As with other parts of the Offa’s Dyke Path, the hills to the east of Welshpool are not that high but they are steep-sided. I found the same sort of topography around Knighton and the hill country north around Ruthin, Llangollen and Chirk also shares this characteristic. The day was getting hotter all the while so I took my time ascending the slopes until they levelled out a bit as I neared Beacon Ring fort, the highest point of my hike at around 400 metres above sea level. From there on, the terrain stayed more friendly with its ups and downs and forest cover was on offer for a good of the journey down to Forden where I left the Offa’s Dyke Path to return to Welshpool.

Beacon Ring, Leighton, Welshpool, Powys, Wales

That return involved a lot of road walking, never a pleasant thing and not helped by boiling heat or having to keep an eye out for combine harvesters and their ilk. A plan for using the public footpath network to cut down on the tarmac bashing came to nought when I saw what my map’s suggestion crossed: a field with growing crops and no obvious way through. In any case, it was better not to attempt tricky navigation in the heat.

As I continued on, I took advantage of any shade for a rest when it offered and it is for that reason that I took a break beside a high hedge near Welshpool’s airport. After negotiating roundabout that thankfully wasn’t too busy at the time, I made my way up a quiet lane that took me again onto the Montgomery canal and the Severn Way for the last stretch of the way into Welshpool. By now, the heat was such that I was glad to be reaching my journey’s end for the day and, when I did make Welshpool, I found a quiet and well appreciated shady spot for a bit of recuperation before catching the train home again.

Avoiding showers along the Welsh border

Monday, April 14th, 2008

For the weak willed, the threat of heavy showers over the past weekend might have been an excuse to stay at home from the outdoors but dry sunny weather featured more than one would have thought in light of the various forecasts. As for me, I just couldn’t rouse up any enthusiasm for going anywhere; I just was not in the mood for it. The weekend before couldn’t have been more different: after a month of March that was quiet on the hill wandering front for various reasons, a lengthy bout of “manflu” included, I firmly decided that I was going somewhere to get out among hills and an imperfect wasn’t going to stop. I was prepared for it.

The destination was to be the hill country near Knighton on the Wales-England border. It was a plan that I attempted to execute last December but a late train thwarted my designs and I explored the Long Mynd instead. This time, no mistake was made as I left Macclesfield early in the morning and ended up leaving myself a forty minute window in Shrewsbury after a train journey involving a change in Wolverhampton. I used that time to go for a walk around the town in damp weather and I came away impressed with what I saw. In fact, I have made a mental note to make photographic foray to both Shrewsbury and Oswestry some sunny day when I want something a little different from my usual hill country forays.

I completed my stroll in ample time to catch my train to Knighton and, when I arrived there at around 10:00, I found the place to have taken on the feeling of a ghost town. On the train, there were a goodly number of ramblers and I thought that this might be their destination but I was to be very wrong: when I did disembark, there more waiting to depart than what actually arrived. I took my time while ambling through this sleepy agrarian spot and dropped into the Offa’s Dyke Centre, a spot nearly as quiet as everywhere else.

In fact, that quietness was to pervade the most of my day’s wandering. The sky indicated a day that was to be “iffy” on the weather front but any predictions made based on its initial appearance were to be proved completely wrong; the only rain encountered was the odd drop if that at all. Once out of the Offa’s Dyke Centre, I made my way north and, within minutes, I was in Shropshire and England was to play host to all of my footfall between then and my return to Knighton. Loosely defined plans are typical of my walking exploits and this was no different: follow the Offa’s Dyke Path north and turn around to return to the train station in time to get home again.

Offa's Dyke Path, Teme Valley, Knighton, Wales

Along the way, I saw very few people and the weather kept getting better as I perambulated over the not so high English hills and looking west was all that was needed if wanted to see their Welsh counterparts across the Teme valley. The lack of stature in the hills didn’t make any difference to the effort required to surmount them: a fact borne out by my progress up the not inappropriately named Panpunton Hill after crossing the Teme a short stroll away from Knighton. From there on to Cwm-sanaham Hill, progress was gentler and serious up and down activity was deferred until the descent from the latter and the subsequent re-ascent.

It was not so far northeast of Llandair Waterdine that I decided that I had gone far enough north for the day and set to following Shropshire’s public footpath network proper for a return to base. It was at this time that the cloud really started to break up to make up for some superb sunshine as I negotiated my way from field to field, never a strong point of mine. Crossing a minor road, I picked up a clear bridleway along which I continued on my way back to Panpunton Hill, Knighton and home. Everything was going well until confusion struck at a meeting of rights of way for which nothing on the map seemed to represent where I was. There was only one thing for it: head west until I met the national trail along which I had been hiking earlier. A stone’s throw was all it took to get me back onto terra cognita and I am not sure how I ended up where I did but I am inclined to suspect that a new public footpath may have been set up that the OS do not show on their maps. It’s exactly the sort of muddle that makes a GPS receiver very useful for confirming that you aren’t going completely mad!

Once back on the Offa’s Dyke Path, the journey was unremarkable apart from the descent of Panpunton Hill paining my tired knees. The sun remained out in force as I made my way through Knighton, the place now being more alive than it was earlier, to its train station for the 16:15 to Shrewsbury. With the weather as resplendent as it was, it seemed a pity to leave so early but I had a good walk lasting more than five hours and the next train would have been at around 21:00 anyway. Nevertheless, I resolved that if the weather stayed as it was, I would stop off in Church Stretton for a quick nip into Carding Mill Valley with the idea of putting my camera to some use. That did happen and I was leaving when the first of the forecasted “nasty” showers arrived.

From Church Stretton, I took a train to Stockport although Shrewsbury’s looking wonderful in the post shower sunshine had me sorely tempted. I stayed on the train, resolving that a quick run around with my camera (for most of the day, I had been working exclusively with film thanks to my DSLR running down its battery and my lack of foresight for not recharging the thing in time) wouldn’t do the place justice anyway. Given that I travel this way regularly, the journey from Stockport to Macclesfield should have been routine but I have encountered an incident verging on adventure before. This time, I was both lucky and unlucky to meet the first southbound Virgin departure from Manchester since 17:00; I was lucky that it ran on time but unlucky in that it was overcrowded. I inadvertently, and unusually for me. got on in the first class bit and, not realising that it was open to all anyway due to what happened earlier, I made my way to standard class on a very crowded train. If I wasn’t on autopilot to an extent and know more of what was going on, I would have stayed where I was but hindsight is always twenty-twenty vision, isn’t it? Anyway, a ten minute journey like this is never going spoil the memory of what was a good varied outing and I hope to head down that way again. The possibility of spending more time along the Offa’s Dyke Path rears its head too.


Featured Countries

Monthly Archives

Yearly Archives