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: Trip Ideas

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.

Going south in the wintertime

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

There are some of us who normally do not crave warmer temperatures and I consider myself among those. My parents were much the same as is my brother and others who I know. With us, anything much above 20° C hardly is desired and triggers a kind of hibernation during heatwaves.

In my case, it also has meant that I often had headed north for summer getaways. Scotland has featured a lot, as much for its scenic delights as for the ability to leave my normal way of life after me for a while. In the last two years, it has become more obvious with my rejection of continental summer temperatures for the relative cool of Iceland and Norway. That walking is much of what I do for relaxation means that scorching temperatures are not so compatible anyway.

For alpine wanderings, I chose what I saw as shoulder seasons such as spring for Austria and autumn for Switzerland. Still, I still met up with temperatures in the mid to high twenties around Innsbruck yet I found, that by going higher, it was easy to escape these though cable car travel saves your sweating on the way uphill. It was a reminder that higher level alpine walking is a way of escaping heat as much as would going to the coast in more maritime localities.

In contrast, many heat lovers head south during the winter and there always is the southern hemisphere where they have their summer. In between, the milder winters of southern Europe suffices for those of us fancying a warmer escape from frosty weather that is not overly hot. In fact, such is the heat that some of those places get in summer that walking becomes a autumn, winter and springtime activity.

You might be tempted to think that applies to places like the Canary Islands, Madeira or the Azores but much of Spain, Italy, Croatia and Greece is likewise. It may come as a surprise to some but places normally associated with sun, sand and sea have their delightful stretches of nearby hill country too. That makes them possibilities for for warmer winter walking getaways. Mallorca and Corsica may have fleshpot reputations but going elsewhere on those islands brings you to dramatic craggy terrain.

The same applies to the south of Portugal, Spain and Italy. There are places in the hills not far from the Algarve, the Costa Blanco and the Costa del Sol have a wilder and less developed feel. Winter is low season too so whatever hotels are open may give you better deals depending on when you go. It may feel odd to base yourself somewhere geared up for more sedentary or hedonistic pursuits when you are after more wholesome country walking but it can be made to work.

Coming a little further north, I even considered Catalonia, Tuscany and Umbria too as I surveyed places that I otherwise would not consider. Given the reputations of some and my need for restorative quieter breaks, that may not be such a surprise. With a different time of year, different needs can be fulfilled and year round popularity makes for simpler travel arrangements even in the off season too.

North American dreaming

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

While recent tidings from North America might have felt foreboding to many, virtual explorations of its wilder corners have been offering some solace in my life since the year began. In its early months, I considered some possibilities for car-free excursions from among America’s National Parks. That this is the centenary of the foundation of the the National Park Service over there, the pondering seems more apt. More recently, I began looking at the wilder corners of New York state like the Catskill Mountains and the Adirondack Mountains as well as the Finger Lakes and even Niagara. There may be an article elsewhere arising from those efforts too.

That is not complete and I even started to ponder Canadian escapades too. After all, you find National Parks like Banff and Jasper among the Canadian Rockies that line the boundary between the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. Both Vancouver and Vancouver Island have come to my notice too and Canada is going to suspend charges for entry its National Parks in 2017 as part of its sesquicentenniary (150 years) of its founding. That has been enough to get it to the top of Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel country list for 2017. The scenery looks stunning in any photos too so dreaming can continue.

Some travelling by television viewing has happened too, be it a BBC series on the Klondike Gold Rush or one travelling the American railways around eastern states of the U.S. or another following nature’s eruptions of beauty during a calendar year. Each of those could either quell or encourage dreaming as could details of logistical realities of North American explorations. Realising quite how wild some of these places are cause more than a little pause for thought, not just for their expanse but also about their wildlife with bears coming to mind.

Maps have accompanied such mental meandering and software from Routebuddy, Memory-Map and Avenza has facilitated virtual ambles over faraway countryside more easily than paper maps ever would. Along the way, my listings of map publishers and software providers have expanded and could have a use for explorations nearer to hand too. There may have time for virtual wandering but its real world counterpart offers more lasting memories. It can be good to dream without losing track of reality, especially during tumultuous years like the one we have had.

Northern introductions

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

Since my last missive on here, I enjoyed a visit to Norway at the end of the August. Adding a day to a bank holiday weekend made time for the opportunity. An evening was spent strolling around Oslo in sunshine before I travelled to Bergen by train since it is classed as one of the premier scenic railway journeys in the world. While in Bergen, I explored a little of the city and its nearby hill country in behind showers of rain.

The latter had me travelling on the Fløyen funicular railway to get access to loftier vantage points and to get me down again after a hike that followed the coast until I gained some height on the way to Munkebotsvatnet before I followed a track as far as Storevatnet. By that point, my desire for a quieter route took me over boggier trails to go around by Rundemanden. These gave me the space that I so craved though cloud cover had interrupted the sunshine by then. Still, it proved to be a wonderful introduction to the place.

In fact, the brevity of my visit had me feeling that I over skimmed the surface of what could be savoured. A longer stay would have allowed for more walking and a cruise around fjords as well as fanning out to explore other pleasing spots like Vass. In this respect, I felt much like how I did on my trip to Austria earlier in the year.

That sense has its uses because it foments a return. That would be a longer visit that allows deeper exploration and might even have me sticking with a single base like Oslo, Bergen or Stavanger. It seems that Norway would reward a few more trips before even thinking about its renowned Arctic reaches like Lofoten and Tromsø.

In the meantime, I am adding an album to the photo gallery for the elongated weekend proved to be a productive one for photography. Even the spells of rain around Bergen did not stop me and I have plenty of experience of dealing with that kind of weather in Britain and Ireland. One of the more recent of those took me to then unfrequented corners of Scotland at the start of November.

There was an overnight trip on the Caledonian Sleeper for the first time in over five years. That took me to Inverness from where some rail rambling too place. An out and back trip to Plockton was the main event and it revealed another swathe of empty open countryside for me to be exploring. There was some time in Plockton for ogling sights like hills on the nearby Applecross peninsula between the rain and there even were some photo opportunities. That spoke for Saturday and Sunday dawned a duller affair so I pottered about the Ness islands before travelling to Aberdeen to take in sights of Moray countryside that were beset with sunshine and rain showers.

The weekend visit might have been short but it was both restorative and satisfactory. There was enough sun to do justice to scenic Scottish delights and the prospects for further exploration hardly were a cause for melancholy. Somehow, Scotland’s being nearer at hand lowered my sights at this turn and travelling there did not need the effort or expense of going overseas either. Maybe that had something to do with it.

Though we now are in the last month of the year, there is no shutdown yet. A British weekend away is being plotted as is a warmer overseas escape. Though there is a major life task to be completed in the next few months, I am starting to ponder 2017. Those plans will be loose though for life can take unexpected directions yet.

Overseas escapades

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

After playing with the prospect earlier in the year, I made good some of my designs on overseas explorations. July saw me head to Iceland for a few days. An early morning arrival allowed plenty of time for exploring Reykjavik before a day when I embarked on an excursion that took in Thingvellir National Park, Geysir and the enormous Gullfoss. On my last full day there, I ventured as far as Landmannalaugar for a day walk in its striking hill country. The weather may not have played ball then like it did on other days but the whole visit was a good introduction to Iceland for a first time visitor and there are other possibilities to be undertaken if I get more brave.

Wetterhorn, Mättenberg & Eiger, Grindelwald, Berner Oberland, Switzerland

Alpine ambitions also were partially sated with an elongated weekend spent in Switzerland. My base was Geneva and another morning arrival allowed me to stroll about the place to get my bearings. A trip to Bern followed on the only totally dull day of those that I spent in the country. There were day walks in Alpine surroundings too with one around Zermatt allowing plentiful views of the Matterhorn under blue skies. That was followed by a journey to Grindlewald that allowed a little taste of how Bern appears in sunshine on the way there. From Grindlewald, I trotted up to Kleine Scheidegg with the Eiger steadfastly remaining cloaked in cloud. Others were on show so I was not at all disappointed. When the altitude surprised me with its effects after walking at similar heights around Zermatt unperturbed, I was happy with slow progress on the final stretch to Kleine Scheidegg’s train station. With cloud overhead and a certain chill in the air, I did not dally either. After gaining around 1,000 metres in height, I was surprised that my legs were more willing than my lungs so that is a lesson for the future.

Both of these punctuated a year that has been a journey of spirit following the passage of my father from this life in January. The Icelandic escape slipped me out of a rut into which I had fallen and got me away from concerns about political events in Britain. Solace was a distinguishing feature of the Swiss interlude and it felt great to stick with enjoying delightful sights in place of life’s troubles. That sense of peace has returned from time to time since then though there has been mental turbulence too. Thankfully, the latter appears to be subsiding while life is running its course.

Federal Palace, Bern, Switzerland

One downside to both excursions is the cost and I should have got myself a Swiss Travel Pass for rail travel is expensive there. That means that any future ventures beyond British, Irish or Manx shores will have to await 2016 and I am looking the possibilities for Norway at the moment. In addition to that, there is more of Switzerland to see with Austria, Germany and France all having their portions of the Alps too. Given what I gained from this year’s trips, savouring scenery in other parts of the world is something that I fancy continuing.

Another thing that attenuates foreign travel ambitions after the cost of such exploits or the passing of the summer is the need to find my feet again when it comes to Ireland. It no longer feels the same with both my parents gone and it is as if an anchor has disappeared. There no longer is the feeling of attachment that there once was even though I still have family there and there are things that need doing on a continual basis. The latter offer a chance to find my place there again and only time will tell as to how things proceed.

Living in the U.K. for as long as I have has compounded the lack of attachment to Ireland yet it also has not been a year for walking excursions in the country that I now call home. Around April and May, there were quite of few walks around Macclesfield’s hills and August saw me reprise a walk between Monyash and Bakewell via Lathkill Dale. Another factor that may have played its part in keeping me from my usual hill country haunts has been my return to cycling local roads now that I have regained my road confidence. Cheshire has featured strongly in the various routes and there even was an incursion into Staffordshire that took in Leek and Tittesworth Reservoir. Maybe the shortening days will draw me backing to wandering among hills again.

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