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.

Going west from oncoming rain

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

It was late in August 2002 when my next Scottish escapade took place. Unlike its predecessor, this did not start with a stay in Edinburgh but in Bannockburn. Such was my lack of organisation that I reckon that I only booked somewhere to stay while on a stopover in Edinburgh. In fact, a weekend trip to Settle immediately preceded my trip to Scotland. What seers that in my memory is not so much the walk around that part of the Yorkshire Dales but my phoning my parents from Lancaster train station that Sunday night while en route home.

A First Night

Once booked into my accommodation in Bannockburn, I pottered into Stirling to stroll around the town centre and its well known castle. Other monuments like Old Stirling Bridge and the Wallace Monument were spotted too though a dull cloudy evening ensured that pleasing photography was out of the question. That matter only saw redress on a weekend visit during February 2016 and the crisp sunny day did plenty of justice to my surroundings, a factor that may draw me back to sample the Ochil Hills on which my eyes feasted in addition to the other aforementioned attractions. With the sun shining brightly, this was no time to be inside so I left explorations of Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument for another time, assuming that offers itself.

Around Callander

Returning to 2002 again, a trip to another tourist office preceded onward travel to Callander so I had somewhere to stay that night. Once I dropped off most of my luggage, I set to walking along the disused Caledonian Railway line in the direction of Crianlarich. Of course, I was not going that far and I may have been playing with the idea of walking up Ben Ledi. The day stayed resolutely dull and cloudy but there were to be rewards later in the day. Though I now spy a path to Ben Ledi’s top on OS 1:25000 mapping, my progress that day took the form of stravaiging and my hill wandering was not long started anyway.

Back then, the gravel track played host to route 7 of the National Cycle Network but that now is joined by the Rob Roy Way, a trail that I have followed from Drymen to Callander with a night in Aberfoyle and from Kenmore to Aberfeldy. Filling the rest of its gaps may follow sometime should the mood take me to organise such an expedition.

My wandering took me along forestry tracks away from the old railway line in order to gain some height in spite of there being ongoing forestry operations. During this time, cloud broke over my head to leave out the sun for a delightful evening. That ensure pleasing sights and the creation of some photos as I retraced my steps to Callander where I sought an evening meal after my labours.

Revisiting Glen Nevis

The next morning came sunny so the prospect of making some photos around the River Teith and its tributaries was too good to miss before I continued on my way to Fort William. When I got there, I must have sorted out accommodation for two nights before heading into Glen Nevis for the afternoon and evening. For part of the way into the glen, I followed the West Highland Way before following a lower level forestry track that dropped me at Achriabhach. There, I lingered among well lit beauty and even gained a little height on the path leading to the tops of some of Mamores like Stob Bàn as I savoured what lay about me. When the sun faded a bit, I started on my way back to Fort William along the glen’s only road. There was time for an evening meal along the way too so progress was unhurried.

From Kinlochleven to Glen Coe

Exactly what led me to Kinlochleven the next day is lost to memory but I was after another stretch of the West Highland Way. There may have been other choices but I only recall the one I made. The day was largely cloudy so it began what largely is a poor run of luck when it comes to photography the Mamores from this part of the West Highland Way. Complicated terrain does not make of easy hill identification either though a hike over the top of Beinn a’ Chrualaiste helped a lot. Blue heat haze was my enemy when it came to photographing the Mamores though so you do not win all the time.

Still, the walk took me into empty countryside with plenty of views of unpeopled countryside round about me. The track was much used by menfolk building the Blackwater Reservoir and night-time returns from inns brought their share of tragedy too, not that the area’s human history is that prevalent today.

Controlled progress got me down the Devil’s Staircase into Glen Coe but it was to be July 2014 before I would see Buachaille Etive Mòr in pleasing enough conditions for satisfying photos to result. Like that more recent encounter, such was my timing that I had to hail a passing Scottish Citylink coach where I could get it to stop instead of going with a more recognised stopping place. Still, I got back to Fort William as I had wanted.

A Quick Visit to Skye

The rain that had been following me west all week was getting closer so I headed for Portree on the Isle of Skye. Accommodation again was sorted on arrival and the landlady was astonished to find that it was an Irishman and not an Englishman that she was getting for the night. It was one case when my address led to a misimpression when there are other other times when my accent leads folk to think that I have come from Ireland. With luggage deposited in my new lodgings, I pottered about Portree before heading to the Old Man of Storr. The sunshine that greeted my arrival faded as cloud continued its encroachment but that did not stop my walk around one of the island’s best know landmarks and my then trying to return to Portree on foot. Friendly Germans in a camper van shortened that journey for me under skies growing ever heavier with rain.

Edinburgh Bound Again

Next morning, I woke to see that it was raining well. My luck had run out and it was just as well that it was a travelling day for me. The first leg took me from Portree to Inverness before I continued my journey south from there in improving conditions. Once in Edinburgh, inability to make contact with a friend cause me to book somewhere in Balloch as a backup for this was festival time in Edinburgh and I wanted to be sure that I had somewhere to stay that night. With contact made, the extraneous booking was cancelled and all was on the straigh and narrow for the rest of the weekend before I returned to Macclesfield again.

Travel Arrangements

Train journey from Macclesfield to Stirling with changes at Manchester Piccadilly and Edinburgh Waverley. Local bus service from Stirling to Callander. Scottish Citylink coaches from Callander to Fort William, from Fort William to Portree and from Portree to Edinburgh with changes in Inverness and Perth.

Photographic recollections new and old

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

During March, I made a start on two new photo albums to the gallery on here. One is made of photos from a trip timed between Christmas 2016 and New Year 2017 while another collects ones from a trip made in August 2008.  As well as being separated by nearly a decade, they also represent two very different stages of my life.

Though on the cusp of what we now call the Great Recession, the earlier outing took place in simpler times compared to today. My personal circumstances were more straightforward back then too and they facilitated many a trip to Scotland. Included among those was a week long escapade that took in Skye and the Western Isles so it was not before time that photos of the latter made their appearance in their own album.

Though some of the exposure conditions were more challenging, photos of Mallorca took less time to make their appearance in the photo gallery. Meeting strong sunshine somewhere in wintertime made for an unfamiliar experience so the resulting photos are the result of a learning experience in a part of the world that I reckon many find challenging to capture photographically. Blue heat haze was part of the challenge as was the combination of scrubby vegetation and bare limestone rock. Even so, my hope is that a good start has been made.

It was only at the start of the month that I finally got to publishing these new albums on here. Even with an ongoing sabbatical, the need for rest slowed down the processing of image editing and the adding of descriptive text. Even now, I find myself yearning for another sabbatical though financial discipline needs restoring first.

A springtime sabbatical

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

Though the output on here may try to belie it, the month of March was one of exhaustion and a longed for sabbatical from work came not a moment too soon at the start of April. Mostly, it was time to rest at home though there were some escapes. My yearning for rest and recuperation had to be countered for these but it is good for anyone’s state of mind to get out and about too.

The second weekend saw me head to the Isle of Man for the first time since July 2011. Though it was a reluctant manoeuvre in the end, it repaid my efforts with sunshine on a circuit from Laxey that took in Snaefell and on an amble around Castletown. Before I started my return, I took in Douglas Head and Summerhill Glen along with some other sights around the island’s capital.

Strife with insuring a car in Ireland partly ruined any peace of mind around Easter such that I shortened a stay in Edinburgh. In truth, I spent more time around Peebles with a rain-soaked walk around Glen Sax on Easter Sunday preceding a trot along the John Buchan Way between Peebles and Broughton in much better weather on Easter Monday. Thankfully, that Irish obstacle was overcome to allow a few more days of quiet rest before it hit me just how fast time was going.

While it felt as if my time away from work was too short, there still was time for walk from Litton to Buxton that took in several of Derbyshire’s dales. The list included Tansley Dale, Cressbrook Dale, Monsal Dale, Miller’s Dale, Wye Dale and Deep Dale. Wintry weather intruded at times and Chee Dale offered plenty of adventure. Still, it was a good day out with my partly making up the route as I went along.

There was a trip to Ireland too and this allowed more time for myself in between visiting family and neighbours as well as attending to business that I have over there. Evening walks took me on circuits around by Springfield and Kilmeedy village. Though the walking was along roads for the most part, it was a case of revisiting haunts that I have not frequented for a few years now.

On returning to work, I have decided to do things differently and that is allowing me more rest time. My mind is turning to future excursion ideas as a sort of tonic though such flights of fancy are tempered my aunt’s health for now. Still, there is no harm in dreaming a little as I assess how things are going for me after all that has happened during the past five years.

Starting independent touring of Scotland

Friday, March 24th, 2017

Prior to August 2001, my outings in Scotland were day trips or I set off with someone else. A conference in Aberdeen was attended with a university colleague and an annual trip to Highland Perthshire was with a university group. Then, there was a few days in August 1999 when I showed my brother some of the sights that I had seen on day trips and a few more with them.

A Family Outing

That last outing began from Edinburgh and took us to Fort William where we spent a night before exploring Glen Nevis the next day. Our late afternoon arrival meant that there was some time for a stroll along by Fort William’s shore after an evening meal at the Ben Nevis Bar. The town turns its back to the sea so it was up what lay across Loch Linnhe to assuage any lack of scenic glamour despite overcast skies lying overhead.

Next morning after breakfast, we parked in the Braveheart car park before setting off for a stroll along the road through Glen Nevis. The pace was to be a gentle one and I have no recollection of there being much road traffic as we went as far as the Water of Nevis car park. Though this was before I took up hill walking, my brother asked about how long it would take to walk up and down Ben Nevis. Seven of eight hours came the reply and I wonder at the naivety of our deciding against the proposition on the basis of the time we had. Nowadays, I would be thinking in terms of experience, conditions and equipment and that also would be the order on which I would base my decision.

The attentions of midges meant that we did not linger too long around the Water of Nevis. Also, we wisely did not proceed further along and the presence of a disturbing sign would have made sure of that. It was a few years later when I finally went a little beyond it and I maintained control of my ambitions even with the equipment and experience gained in the meantime. This is wild country that commands respect and is not something for a spur of the moment decision of a casual tourist.

We retraced our steps with a stop at a cafe so there was no rush in our movements. On returning to our car, we set off for Oban. Skies had been grey overhead all day but they now were to darken and bring rain. Scotland was to show its less favourable side that evening. Nevertheless, we still sought food that evening and pottered about Oban too. The rain must have passed sufficiently to allow this. We also figured out what to do the next day: a tour of Mull and Iona.

The weather next morning showed that we were not to see Scotland under sunny skies. Still, we crossed to Mull by ferry before catching a coach to Fionnphort with the driver providing commentary laden with dry wit. A mention of the once regular arrival of wet newspapers onto the island at Grass Point remains in my memory and does the description of the, at times single track, road as the island’s answer to England’s M6.

Once at Fionnphort, we crossed to Iona in dry conditions. Skies remained grey but were strolling Baile Mòr without any wetting. We also visit the restored abbey buildings so we would have been under cover for a time too. Still, it was good to have respite while we were there and we reversed our outbound travel to get back to Oban again.

From Oban, we headed to Balloch where we stayed the night. Sadly, we arrived too late to walk along the shore of Loch Lomond in daylight. In any case, we would have some of it while in the way there. Next morning, we continued to Stranraer where we crossed to Ireland and I got a short stay over there before returning to Edinburgh again.

Going Solo

Because of starting a new job in England and having to move home, there was no Scottish touring in 2000. Though it remains the wettest year on record across Britain, my recollections of the summer are not in agreement with the statistic. The autumn that year was another story and I soon learned not to cycle the five or six miles to work in Cheshire rain.

Being lonesome after life in Edinburgh, I resolved to return from time to time and it is something that I still do. There was a weekend visit in November 2000 when I stayed with a friend up there. That became a regular feature for a few years and it was to another friend that I came to stay in August 2001. That was to be a jumping off point for another tour of Scotland, travelling solo this time around.

After arriving in Edinburgh on Monday afternoon and spending the night there, I headed off to Skye on Monday afternoon after spending the morning sorting out my accommodation arrangements. After the sunshine of the previous evening, it was under grey skies that I set off on a Scottish Citylink coach to Fort William. On the way there, we were to pass through heavy rain but it was drier if still grey when I reached Fort William. Bright skies were to persist for the onward journey to Portree though there was a sense of stormy conditions whenever any showers came our way.

The Quiraing from near Staffin, Trotternish, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Eilean Flodigarry, Trotternish, Isle of Skye, Scotland

The following day could not be more different for it came fabulously sunny. Having not been there before, I chose to head for the Trotternish by bus as far as Culnacnoc. From there I trotted along the road as far as Flodigarry and lots of little places like Staffin and Brogaig were passed on the way. Though the road walking left me footsore, there was next to no traffic so I could soak in my surroundings. The gorgeous weather and scenery also meant that my Canon EOS 300 got plenty of use and I made sure that I had enough film this time around. It made a good introduction to the place and I returned to Portree by bus.

After another night on Skye, I caught the bus to Armadale where I caught a ferry to Mallaig. Memories of any sights of Knoydart and the Small Isles are lost to me know but there was some sunshine. Skies were greyer around Mallaig and I travelled from there to Glenfinnan on the Jacobite steam train, a rather expensive endeavour to me at the time. Photography was limited by the sun but I still got a stroll to the shore of Loch Shiel, albeit pulling a heavy trolley bag after me. From Glenfinnan, I got to Fort William on a more ordinary train before catching a Scottish Citylink coach to Oban where I stayed the night.

My third visit to Mull took place next day and I left most of my luggage in safekeeping on the mainland while I made for Tobermory by ferry and bus. Sunshine was rather hazy but I still tried my luck with making some photos of Tobermory with somewhat pale skies. My long SLR photography lesson was only beginning so there was a lot left to learn. Returning to Oban by bus and ferry, I retrieved my luggage and caught the coach to Glasgow. Once there, I continued to Edinburgh on another.

This was the English and Welsh August bank holiday weekend so I stayed there until that Sunday. Saturday came grey so I went shopping for better walking footwear at Tiso and came away with a pair of Columbia trail shoes that I still have somewhere today. They complemented the pack of thick socks that I bought in Tobermory just the day before. It is amazing what sore feet cause you to do.

Sunday morning was spent around Edinburgh and it all felt autumnal. Any photos that I tried making then reflected that more than what I believed I was seeing at the time. It was later that I set to travelling south again and the bank holiday was to see me trying out my new footwear on a trail by Grindsbrook Clough near Edale in Derbyshire. An interest in countryside walking was beginning.

Making a planned escape in the midst of a time of turmoil

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

In a lot of ways, 2005 was an eventful year. My mother’s health was poor for much of it and several weeks with a vomiting complaint resulting in her having to go to hospital, a move that she resisted. We could have done without the clueless inexperience of the consultant that had here in his care. It all meant that an Easter visit to Ireland proved inevitable. During the summer, the poor woman suffered an episode of shingles if life was not hard enough as it was.

In the world at large, there was a general election in Britain where the government got itself re-elected with a reduced majority. Times were changing and July brought two terrorist attacks in London, one horrifically successful and the other resulting in failure. Neither did anything to steady nerves and I resolved to keep away from London for a time; it was to be a few years before I made any return visit.

Not a Good Time to be Going Away

With all this happening, my by now customary week long summer break was in order. The timing was not nearly as bad as my brother’s trip to London with a friend of his. An abortive terrorist attack happened on 22/7 while he was staying in the city and I was to travel to Scotland the very next day. Paternal nerves needed steadying after I sensed that I might have said too much about London events so I got my brother to make contact with Ireland. London turned out to be big enough that he saw very little of anything that happened.

As I travelled north, there was heightened awareness as I topped up on a few things at a WHSmith’s branch in Manchester Piccadilly train station. Otherwise, the security situation does remain so much in my memory these days. My journey was to take me to Edinburgh where I would spend the weekend with a friend before continuing to Skye.

Any recollection of how the weekend was spent has faded as much as that of the journey from Edinburgh to Broadford on the Isle of Skye. Shortly after arriving, my brother phoned to see where I was because our mother  had shingles. Both of us were away from our normal bases so our father had to be supported in another way, possibly with help from an aunt and uncle. While the security situation felt very far away, life’s tribulations displayed their ability to follow you. Still, I got out for a stroll along Broadford Bay and found my way to somewhere where I could get something to eat.

2005-07-27

Gars-bheinn and Sgurr na Stri, Strath, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Next morning, I caught the bus to Elgol. Then, services were not as regular as they are today and that influenced my choice of walk. It is a scenic spot with coastal views of the Cuillin hills. There were to be plenty of those as I followed the path north along by Loch Scavaig.

As this took me along the steep side of Ben Cleat, my mind was focussed by the possibility of slipping into the see if I was to lose my foothold. It reminded me of walk along Offa’s Dyke Path by the side of Eglwyseg Mountain only a few weeks earlier. Tripping there would not have dropped me into the sea though.

Camasunary, Strath, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Reaching Glen Scaladal brought with it a sense of relief though the amount flotsam and jetsam from the sea made for a surprising sight. Next up were the slopes of Beinn Leacach but they were not as intimidating as those along Ben Cleat had been. Camasunary was reached without incident.

Loch na Crèitheach, Strath, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Strath na Crèitheach, Strath, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Sgurr nan Gilleann, Minginish, Isle of Skye, Scotland

From this point, many continue towards Loch Coruisk by way of The Bad Step near Sgurr na Stri. That way would take you into the heart of the Cuillin but I was not so adventurous. My choice took me towards Loch na Crèitheach and Glen Sligachan before I would finish my walk at Sligachan itself. This would continue the scenic grandeur to which I had been exposed.

Bla Bheinn, Strath, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Glen Sligachan, Minginish, Isle of Skye, Scotland

The sun was set to shine for most of the way too. Thus, I would get to see a whole range of delights like Blàbheinn and Marsco at their best. This was a small helping of wilderness walking with encumbrance from scarcely a soul, exactly what I needed after all that had happened that year. Waterways like the River Sligachan and lochs like Loch an Athain or Lochan Dubha would be watery companions for parts of the hike. Map inspection was as much for working out what surrounded or what other walking possibilities there might be as much as it was for progress assessment.

The famous south-facing view from Sligachan was not a photographic possibility as I awaited the next bus to Broadford. Taking some refreshment at the Sligachan Hotel tempted too but I decided to play safe though buses were not so irregular here. This is a place to which I probably need to return.

2005-07-28

After the enjoyment of the previous day, I was off again and the destination this time was the Trotternish. With a stopover in Portree, I went from Broadford to Brogaig. It was on the second leg of the journey that i saw that newspaper delivery to Staffin was done by bus. Once I had disembarked, I was on the minor road across the ancient landslip that so dominates sights on this part of Skye.

Though the curiosities of the Quirang lay to my right, I chose instead to turn left and stroll south along the inland cliff top. Quite why I had overlooked an out and back stroll in the other direction is a little lost to me now but it might have been because the day was dull at this point. Leaving the making of photos of rock formations like The Table, The Prison and The Needle for a sunnier day does have a ring of sense about it.

My course was to carry me over humps and bumps as far as Beinn Edra. For whatever reason, the stroll felt a long one. Whether it was because the day before had spoilt me with its delights or the ground underfoot was less compatible with rapid progress is not something that I can answer readily. Either way, I dropped into Glen Conon on the way to Uig under breaking cloud cover.

Rha Glen, Uig, Isle of Skye, Scotland

The sun was out by the time that I reached Uig and, with time to spend before the next bus to Portree, I found my way to a shady glade at the foot of Glen Uig where I rested a while. It was to be August 2008 when I would be here next and that would be when I made my first, and so far only, trip to Harris. Explorations were set to continue.

The way back to Broadford cannot have been eventful for I have little recollection of it now. After my last evening in Broadford, it was time to start heading south again. That must have been a journey without much ardour too for next to no detail remains in memory. That autumn, I was set to embark on a career move so the changes were set to continue.

None of the changes in 2005 were anything as dramatic as those in 2016. My life was set to continue in a readily steady direction with one thing leading to another. Good memories remain and yet may call me back to those places where they were first made.

Travel Arrangements

Train from Macclesfield to Edinburgh. Scottish Citylink coach journey from Edinburgh to Broadford with a change of coach in Fort William. Highland Country bus services from Broadford to Elgol, Sligachan to Broadford, Broadford to Portree, Portree to Brogaig, Uig to Portree and Portree to Broadford. Scottish Citylink coach journey from Broadford to Glasgow with a change of coach in Fort William. Train from Glasgow to Macclesfield.


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