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: Travel

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.

A return to Gower

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

The last weekend of July 2011 (a month of five weekends, incidentally, and each of them were spent away from home too) saw me make my first ever visit to the Gower in south Wales. Though the sun gamely attempted to break through on occasions, grey skies were the dominant feature of the trip that saw me use the Heart of Wales railway line for part of my return train journey between Macclesfield and Swansea. Even without the sun, the day was a warm one with plenty of folk around too.

However, it was not a full walking trip like others that I undertake. Even so, I trotted out towards Worm’s Head and returned to Rhossili making a short loop featuring the coast as I did so. Then, I was lured up Rhossili Down towards its trig point before I scotched the brainwave of making another circuit from there in favour of a quicker return to catch a bus back to Swansea again, pondering a return as I did so.

Worm's Head from Rhossili Down, Rhossili, Gower, Wales

Unlike Pembrokeshire where it took me just over six years to make a return, the Gower was to see me sooner with a visit in early August of this year. Unlike the previous trip, this was a walking outing and there was more sun about too. The hiking started off where I last left off too with a trot over a windy Rhossili Down that completed the circuit that tempted me before. As I did so, the sun went into hiding on me behind clouds. Even so, there still were better views towards Worm’s Head than in 2011.

Other folk were making the effort to gain height as I was doing so and I played with the idea of avoiding the trig point but revisited it upon reconsideration. From there, it was a matter of picking my way over Sweyne’s Howes and Bessies Meadow before dropping down to Hillend Burrows.¬† Rhossili Down is access land and seems to see a lot of footfall so there were more paths on the ground than on the OS map so keeping to the right of way would involve some effort if so desired; there was a strong wind so staying upright was more of a concern.

Once down a steep incline (the Down may be low but that’s never to say that it isn’t steep-sided as so many are), I picked up a bridleway at Hillend Burrows for returning to Rhossili again. Initially, this went by a caravan park but that was soon left behind me and boggy sections were set to be found too. In fact, there were none of these on the hilltop so it must have been the shelter that sustained them. The sun began to emerge from the clouds again and the heat of a scorching summer day could be felt; it left me wishing for the cooling buffeting that was my lot up high.

The path was a narrow with deviations from the main track when things got really muddy. Once past the caravan park, I began to build up some pace even with others using the right of way at the same time; the deviations came in handy for this. Once by the Old Rectory, I could see my destination was coming nearer and it was reached in less time than I had grown to expect.

Rhossili Bay and Rhosilli Down, Rhosilli, Gower, Wales

The heat of the afternoon was the cause of my visiting the National Trust shop for some ice cream and a drink. While I was there, some souvenir items for others were purchased too before I sat outside to enjoy the ice cream with views back along Rhossili Bay with Rhossili Down at the right hand side. Though I stayed a little while, it was later in the day than I had anticipated it would be. A delayed arrival due to traffic congestion and the Rhossili Down circuit perhaps taking longer than expected were contributors to this so I needed to get going again.

Port-Eynon was my next destination and I started by making my way out the busy promontory towards Worm’s Head. The time of day precluded any more serious efforts to make photos of Worm’s Head beyond the hazy ones that I got on the way up Rhossili Down. In fact, it was those views north along Rhossili Bay that yielded the best results for me.

My itinerary was to take me southeast and away from the terminus of the Gower Way. Another development since my last visit to Gower was the instatement of the Welsh Coast Path though it has been in place long enough for some of the signage to have fallen prey to the elements so careful use of a map is needed in places too. Some of its course already had been sampled on my Rhossili Down circuit and there was to be more to come. Being along the coast gained me a cooling sea breeze that was strong enough for kite flying and there were some enthusiasts making the most of the conditions on offer.

Mewslade Bay near Pitton, Gower, Wales

Passing them, I began see some of the coastal scenery that I was to pass after leaving Worm’s Head behind me. From reading guidebooks, I knew that this was worth walking and it reminded me of that previous visit to Pembrokeshire some years before. Such is the indentation of the coastline that the sights of Rhossili and nearby Middleton weren’t to leave me so quickly. There was a path diversion due to erosion too and recent coastal landslips due to al the rain that we have been seeing make me wonder if more have been needed since then.

On initial stages, there were a good few folk around but there was to be more in the way of solitude later on in the walk. Many of these may have been on circular strolls and those can be left behind to go their own way. So it appeared after passing Fall Bay and doing the same for Mewslade Bay meant an inland deviation and attendant loss and regain of height that reminded me of a hike from Newgale to St. David’s that I did on that Pembrokeshire trip; this yomp was to have less of that though.

With the last of the undulations behind me, it was onto steady field crossing on the way towards Overton. Cloud had arrived from the west to put an end to sunshine and gave a sense of closedown to the proceedings as well as warning of what rain was to come. As I continued in the dullness, there seemed to be more footpath signs than my OS map gave me to expect and I have not been able to see where the paths were leading since then.

In time, field crossing was to be replaced with rocky shoreline walking as the Welsh Coast Path lost height to go under Overton Cliff and along Overton Mere. This section felt wilder and more dramatic than any other part that I had passed all day and would make a worthy excuse for a return sometime; Port-Eynon seemed very away at this point. There was a bell to be heard too and I thought it a church bell in that village but I was being deceived. It was but one atop a buoy bobbing out in the sea that could be heard all around. An outsider with easily disturbed slumbering would have some acclimatisation to be doing. That apparent reassurance that I was really near my intended destination had been but a mirage.

In fact, I wasn’t that far away either; one last ascent was to prove that to me. Though I needed to keep going, curiosity had me surveying a monument erected by the Gower Society to commemorate efforts to preserve the surrounding coastline. From there, I then dropped down towards the YHA hostel and trotted across the beach for the roundabout at the Port-Eynon end of the A4118. Following the road from there, I found my bus stop with a few folk waiting there, one of them being a Welshman wearing a kilt!

Having others waiting at the bus stop was comforting because it meant that I hadn’t missed a bus but the wait was to be a long one that extended into dusk. The earlier traffic congestion that I met on the way to Rhossili was the cause of delaying bus services even more by the time that I was going away again. There even was a call to First Cymru to make sure that buses still were running and it was just as well that I had a mobile that worked in Port-Eynon; O2 and Vodafone didn’t while T-Mobile and Orange did. That bus did arrive before any rain though and that was just as well since thunder and lightning arrived around midnight and stayed for most of an hour in the sultry early hours.

Even with any traffic congestion, the Gower remains alluring for me. Seeing what is around Port-Eynon again with some sunshine would be a good thing and there’s Oxwich Bay and Three Cliffs Bay (the latter’s near Penmaen) to be savoured too. As well as this catching Worm’s Head at a better time for photography would be another draw and there’s the Gower Way and other parts of the AONB to be experienced too. All in all, there are ample excuses for making a return sometime. Let’s hope one actually happens.

Travel Arrangements:

Return train journey from Macclesfield to Swansea, with a change at Bristol Parkway on the outbound journey and at both Cardiff Central and Birmingham New Street on the return one. Bus service 118 from Swansea to Rhossili and travel on the same service from Port-Eynon to Swansea.

A freezing February

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

This day last week, a weather front was making its way down Britain throwing out good coverings of snow as it did so. Macclesfield didn’t escape either though it sounds as if other places got more; there were several inches left on cars in Harlow in Essex last Saturday night. Transport got disrupted too and Twitter was set alight with updates regarding bus and train services along with any poor road condition reports. If anyone believed that February heralds the start of spring and that has been taught in Irish primary schools, this year’s February should be troubling that kind of belief.

Tree in snow near Tytherington, Cheshire, England

Sunday saw me spend a few hours trudging through the snow near the river Bollin and between Macclesfield, Prestbury and Tytherington, using muscles that hadn’t been active for a while and they were telling me all about it for a few days afterwards; somehow walking through uses different ones to normal walking if my perception is correct. As they did so, they were reiterating a message that I need to get out wandering through countryside more often. The walk had been through snow-blanketed countryside in foggy conditions that delighted in their own way more than the abounding greyness might have suggested.

When I returned home, I decided to clear the snow covering pavements around my house because the temperatures were softening it sufficiently that thoughts of its condition on refreezing weren’t good ones. There was rain that night but it didn’t take all the snow before frost revisited us on Monday and some remains with us even now to leave some footpaths less than passable. On higher ground, the white stuff persists and I was looking forward to walking along the Manifold Way today until a seasonal sore throat frustratingly forestalled the plan. Hopefully, that won’t be the way for much longer.

Into a sixth…

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

After the passing of 2010, my only wish is that 2011 brings you and yours good things. The past year saw me distracted by a change of job in the middle of it and I think that it may have reduced my output on here. However, after catching up with a few issues of TGO in recent days, I have come to thinking that I need to keep reading more from the outdoors media because my perusal certainly popped a few ideas into my head for the coming year. What's needed now is to make something of the few flakes that are littering my brain at the moment.

The recent arctic conditions may have made my Christmas travelling more adventure-filled than I'd intended but it also brought me an afternoon spent pottering around the hills beside Glossop gain. There is the seed of a post arising from that little outing but I also got to seeing how Lindow Common and the Bollin Valley look with clumps of snow stuck to everything around them too. Then, there were trots around rural Limerick in Ireland to savour what are rare conditions for the southwest of Ireland. It might be that one posting would suffice to collect my experiences on those little tasters of a whitened world.

Though I also am playing with the idea of a local wander before returning to work on Monday, there also are designs on a quick sortie by Caledonian Sleeper to see what's left of snowy coverings in the Scottish Highlands. That's something with which I have been playing for a while but it'll be a little look rather than a deep incursion. It remains to be seen if I can make anything of it.

Other brainwaves for the year include a longer sojourn in an area new to me (and perhaps others) that results in a number of posting that I can share on here. Firm ideas are few and far between at the moment but I did concoct a scheme centred on Mallaig that has me going out to the Small Isles. Maybe visiting Islay and Jura might be other propositions. Then, there's always the call of my native Éire for a fuller hill country excursion to follow up my nibble of the Wicklow Mountains nearly two years ago now.

With regard to smaller forays, there are hills around Keswick that I'd like to explore too after a few years of struggling to find a reason to go back there. That has come from the TGO writings of others and I am thankful of them too. Looking through old photos has brought thoughts of trying to better them and that could see me exploring Derbyshire a bit more too.

It's all very well making designs for a whole year when it can surprise you in a way that you cannot expect but not having the ideas at all will lead to torpor like what I felt towards the end of 2010. That is something that I'd like not to see happening again. Let's hope that all of us manage to get in some quality hill time over the coming year, even if life has a habit of getting in the way from time to time.

Matters of terminology

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

Yesterday evening and overnight, a white blanket arrived in and around Macclesfield. A company Christmas night out meant that I was out in Manchester to see the white stuff blanketing there and Stockport too. Again the south of England seems to have been affected too with Twitter awash with transport companies telling what services are running and where. However, it seems that hardly anywhere has escaped with Wales and Scotland seeing some too.

There was a time when this sort of weather was enough to have me out doors pottering over the white coverings but it doesn't seem to hold the same appeal for me these days. Was it last winter's snows that broke the spell? Prior to that, snow was a short-lived visitor that never satisfied my curiosity and was enough to lure me out of doors, even to pace over local paths. Now, it seems that there is a feeling of extra effort required to get about instead, not that I don't have the ability of the kit to be able to get where I want to go.

All of this has me wondering if the same sort of becalming has affected my hillgoing. It's easy to point out causes such as changing job, having busy working weeks, not getting alluring weather or being tired at weekends but there may be another cause: have I more than sated my hill country appetite? With that in mind, it might be an idea to see if there are ways around this if it indeed is the cause.

Popping up accessible little hills might be one of them and my visit to Caer Caradoc last month was very much of this ilk; the fact that it wasn't crowded either helped for enjoyment of the walk. Ironically, this months issue of Country Walking has a feature on walking little hills and Hope Bowdler, not at all far from Caer Caradoc or Church Stretton, gains a mention in there as does Ysgyryd Fawr near Abergavenny. Maybe, creating a collection of little hills on my proverbial ideas shelf for easy planning could help to overcome any present torpor. This is far from list ticking because I like to go for walks to enjoy the surrounding countryside and not to say that I have "done" all the tops on a certain list or other.

The word "little" cropped again in my reading, this time in an issue of TGO that I was perusing on the way down to Oxford for a business trip. What I spied on those pages was a review of Cicerone's Scotland's Best Small Mountains. Since then, I have acquired a copy of the said guide as an eBook and discovered that smallness is in the eye of the beholder. With Country Walking, the sorts of heights are in the 300-500 metre category but many of the "small mountains" are in the 700-900 metre range. There are other contrasts too with some of the hills featured in the Cicerone book being out in pretty wild countryside, a counterpoint to the more genteel surroundings of those in the magazine. The guide starts in the northwest highlands of Scotland and works its way south and throws up a number of options worthy of exploring, some of which I have actually walked. Here, Ben Vrackie and Morrone come to mind but there are one or two others if my memory serves me correctly.

It might that both the magazine and the book are highlighting something of which I have grown short: ideas. There also is the need for time to ponder and plan such things, particularly for those longer excursions. Then, I might be able get things going again in 2011 but my ambitions are sure to be modest. After all, I have been developing a certain dislike for lofty terms like summits and peaks and now find referring to such things as tops to be much more amenable. Whatever I call them, there will be no obsession with these because it will be the walking, exploring and savouring that will matter above all else.


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