Outdoor Excursions

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.

Curtailed adventuring

August 19th, 2021

In spite of the pandemic, 2020 turned out to be something of a vintage outdoor activity year though most of that was local and I never got to Scotland, let alone overseas. If anything, 2021 has turned out to be more restricted even if I have been fully vaccinated for a while now.

During late May and early June, I was starting to get out and about though numbers of others doing likewise meant that it did feel uncomfortable at times. The Spring Bank Holiday weekend showed me both quiet countryside and busy places. A reprise of a walk between Disley and Macclesfield proved to be a quieter affair though the same could not be said for one from Monyash to Bakewell. With few places to go and the onset of warm sunny weather, places like Bakewell or even Youlgreave meant that these were not places to linger. The same could have been said of the Hope Valley the following weekend but I still walked from Hayfield to Hope while keeping to quieter parts of the Great Ridge. Again, warm sunshine had drawn many out of doors and there were busy trains to bear as well. Nevertheless, there were no longer term effects even if I was not fully vaccinated at that stage.

From then on though, it looked as if things were reopening too quickly given the case numbers. Even delaying the full withdrawal of restrictions was insufficient for my sense of safety. In many ways, a more gradual reduction would have been better since so-called “Freedom Day” was in fact “Anxiety Day” for anyone was nervous in their disposition. To be fair, many have been sensible and much continues as it was with the use of face coverings and social distancing.

Last month, I took a break of several weeks from work but the timing was not in many ways the best for outdoor excursions. “Freedom Day” came in the midst of it so that was one reason not to be so carefree and a scorching heatwave persisted for the entire week as well so outdoor activities were stymied by lack of acclimatisation. After those, there was yet another reason for my persisting with a “homecation”.

In some ways, this takes me back to my student days in Edinburgh when research work, lack of money, living in a wonderful city and a strong interest in computers conspired to delay the development of any interest in explorations of hill and coastal countryside. The interest in computing still remains and I embarked on a major PC upgrade that did not run so smoothly so it took several weeks to settle everything done again. That not only kept me indoors a lot but was the cause of my working up quiet a sweat as I carried things between my work area and my home office. Also, worries about wreckage of expensive equipment entered my mind and heat was not helping the machinery either.

Those worries were to prove groundless and everything has settled in again though ongoing assessments regarding cooling and noise reduction continue. Usefully, the weather has cooled and become more autumnal in feel though warmer temperatures are predicted without their reaching abnormal highs. Damper weather now abounds though there are interludes for getting out and about on sunny evenings as well.

Video viewing earlier in the year became the cause of my acquiring a GoPro camera and an extension pole. Later, a magnetic mount for attaching the device to clothing and other similar materials was acquired and all has been put to some use. However, videography is a very different activity to photography so things are very experimental at the moment since there is much to learn.

After all that, it feels like a time to realise that there is a need to live with the ongoing pandemic and I am of a cautious persuasion. Yet, I am spotting some possibilities that may help with confidence building since case numbers have not gone as high as was predicted. They did rise dramatically in July but it looks as if the Euro 2020(1) football tournament cause a lot of that since they also reduced substantially afterwards. If there is a chance for some stability and the weather offers some motivation, this may become a good time to get going on longer trips again. The pace of advance will be slow and there are other things to occupy me too since there has been a lot of self-learning of new computing tools over the last year. Life can become very full so gaps do not always happen so they often need to be made.

A bitter blustery day on Moel Famau

April 18th, 2021

Though there were plenty of things on my mind like executing my next career moves at the end of a long break, times certainly were simpler in February 2018 than they are now. Personal income was reduced heavily but I also controlled expenditure far better. Also, time largely was my own so I could pop out on day trips whenever the weather allowed so a sunny day was enough to lure me to Moel Famau, a place on which I had designs for more than a decade. A weekday excursion allowed for better public transport options so the previous stymied trip idea became a real outing.

Sign for Moel Famau, Loggerheads, Flintshire, Wales

Ironically, the trip that never happened was inspired by a bus timetable leaflet then produced by the now defunct Cheshire County Council. Instead, I was to encounter other parts of the Clwydian Range on a hike from Denbigh to Ruthin and on another than carried me from Llangollen to Wrexham when Ruthin seemed to far to reach that Sunday evening. Belatedly after those, I was not only to encounter the Clwydian Range but actually potter along part of its length.

River Alyn, Loggerheads Country Park, Mold, Flintshire, Wales

My timing also coincided with a school mid-term break and Loggerheads Country Park had attracted families but simply continuing on my way was enough to leave them after me. Given that there were many other spots that granted me more in the way of the solitude that I so relished, that was just as well. To get closer to those, I just followed the River Alyn as it flowed past limestone outcrops and was completely unaware that, behind them, most of the hill of Cefn Mawr was eaten up by a quarry. It just goes to show, that even in Wales, limestone country can hide such a thing.

The full revelation of the extent of scarring left on the landscape by Cefn Mawr Quarry needed some height gain and that was ahead of me if I wanted to reach the top of Moel Famau. Before that though, I remained by the banks of the River Alyn until I left the track to cross the river and some muddy fields to reach Bryn Alyn. There was a road-based route that would have taken me around by Bryn y Castell but I fancied keeping that to a minimum at this stage, possibly a good idea since so much tarmac travel was to occupy the end of the day’s walking.

Nevertheless, continuing uphill from Bryn Ayn on a minor road was needed to get me onto a bridleway that would round Ffrith Mountain and get me most of the way to Moel Famau. As I continued along the track, height was gained all the way and views of the surrounding landscape opened out before me. Much was pastoral and the size of Cefn Mawr Quarry became more and more apparent; most of the hill seemed to be gone!

Leaving sights of environmental sacrilege after me, I rounded the boundary of Clwyd Forest to reach the summit that I was seeking. While the bridleway got me most of the way there, I left it to make the final approach to the Jubilee Tower. As if to remind me of the season, a brief flurry of snow came upon me but the lasting impression is of the stiff and bitterly cold wind that blew along the ridge.

Jubilee Tower, Moel Famau, Mold, Flintshire, Wales

That did not deter me or the others who were there but this was not a day for lingering, especially with a wind that could knock you. Still, the tower dating from the reign of Queen Victoria was explored before I started to descend along Offa’s Dyke Path. Conditions underfoot were greasy enough for walking poles to prove unable to halt a muddy tumble. After that, more careful travel was in order but my surefootedness was not guaranteed even then.

Moel Dywyll as seen from Moel Famau, Mold, Flintshire, Wales

Moel Famau as seen from Moel Dywyll, Mold, Flintshire, Wales

Even with plains abutting the eastern and western edges of the chain of hills, it still was possible to make images that could make one believe that it was more extensive than it was. There was so much scope for that choosing photos for this trip report was an exercise in itself. All the while, the afternoon was edging towards its end so I needed to think about getting to Mold before it got too dark. Before that, I had plenty of moments full of uninterrupted quiet and had ensured that by continuing from Moel Famau to Moel Dywyll after seeing a sizeable group of walkers taking a route that I might have taken. Peaceful wandering was what I sought and there was plenty of that so it often does no harm to let others decide some things for you.

Pentre & Cilcain as seen from Moel Dywyll, Mold, Flintshire, Wales

After Moel Dywyll, I found the bridleway that start me on my descent. However, greasy ground proved to be my undoing as I endured my second muddy stumble of the day. That cause some muttering about my falling into a somewhat carefree mood but this was the last of these and I continued on my way without anyone seeing my blundering and with added care in spite of the alluring late evening sunshine. The shelter afforded by the valley was all the more appreciated as I passed Garth and two reservoirs on my way to Pentre.

While a side-trip to Cilcain tempted me, weary limbs and declining light informed my decision to follow a stream-side public footpath by Nain Gain instead. After that, it was road walking all the way to Mold’s bus station. Along the way, there was another crossing of the River Ayn and I passed such smaller places as Pontnewydd, Pantymwyn, Gwernaffield and Pant-glas. Light really was fading by then but I got within the street-lighting area in good time and reached the bus station as I hoped so my journey home started after a satisfying day in the hills laden with soothing quieter moments.

Travel Arrangements

Return train journey between Macclesfield and Chester. Bus service X1 from Chester to Loggerheads where my walk started and, when It ended in Mold, bus service 4 was used to get from there back to Chester train station.

Preoccupations

April 11th, 2021

Though it has been quiet on here over the last few months and COVID-19 restrictions complement the wait for vaccination, I have managed to get out for some local wandering. Some of the walks necessarily have not been of much note but there have been deeper incursions into nearby hill country too when time and weather allowed. Even the threat of wintry weather was not enough at times.

One outing took me to the top of Croker Hill via Langley before returning via Bosley, North Rode and Gawsworth. That was at the end of February when a sunny Saturday was on offer for a long day out that started from my own doorstep. Having some time off around Easter allowed for more like this with Shining Tor and Shutlingsloe acting as fulcrums for to six hour hikes, again without recourse to any motorised transport whatsoever. Tegg’s Nose Country Park and Dane’s Moss Nature Reserve saw visits too, which all helped for getting out in fresh air to burn off fat gained over the winter.

That I got engrossed in learning new computing languages probably helped me to pass the time though that did no favours when it came to keeping up the amount of physical activity. My hope is that the arrival of longer evenings and the presence of spring followed by the coming of summer will help me to get further afield subject to any restrictions brought on us by the ongoing pandemic. Like last year, we all only have to see how things proceed.

Visual treats

January 3rd, 2021

Over this weekend, I have been watching Life of a Mountain: Helvellyn on Vimeo. That meant renting the title for 24 hours at a cost of £7 and I have a copy of the DVD on order from Striding Edge too. The latter action was a result of watching the online version though I somewhat mourn the loss of SteepEdge where I used to buy digital versions of such wares.

The film was made by Terry Abraham and is the last of a trilogy concentrating on best loved Cumbrian fells. Scafell Pike and Blencathra have featured before now and I have copies of those too. The latest installation is long with a running time of nearly two and a half hours but it is packed with such visual delights that the length is deserved. This still feels a much tighter and less padded out piece of work. The others had me going back to The Cairngorms in Winter with Chris Townsend, Abraham’s first accomplished effort and he also has shorter films introducing parts of the Lakeland Fells.

The Helvellyn film re-uses contributors from earlier films like Alison O’ Neill, David Powell-Thompson, Stuart Maconie and Mark Richards but there is a host of other new ones like Peter Gibbs, Mary-Ann Ochota and Julia Bradbury among others. Even the Royal Air Force and Ordnance Survey get included. They all complement the backdrop of dramatic scenery accompanied by a stirring soundtrack, especially the action sequences involving the RAF, skiing down to Red Tarn from the summit of Helvellyn or paragliding off the same starting point. That the footage came from a time before the present pandemic was a reminder of how things should be.

The whole combination has re-ignited a desire to walk around Helvellyn that has lain dormant for too long. What that needs is determination and opportunity to accompany ongoing patience needed by the course of the ongoing pandemic. After all, I have visited Patterdale and Ullswater a few times now and they were so heavily featured in the film that I at the time wondered if it was about them and not very much about the mountain (that probably is what happens when you need include something on the lives of people living in the area). Nevertheless, 2020 did not involve a Lakeland visit for me so a return is not before time and having a lure to draw you through darker times has to be a good thing.

Hanging new calendars

January 1st, 2021

The first day of most years for me involves the changing of calendars and there have been times when that happened later because I was away from home at the time. For one thing, spending the Christmas and New Year period with family in Ireland meant that it was as my late parents’ house where I went changing calendars at the start of a new year so doing the same in my own one was something that had to wait. In 2019, I was in Tenerife for New Year’s Day so there was a delay then too. In 2016, 2017 and 2018 there was no such thing and 2020 has followed that trend.

The calendars that I like to hang on my walls are of the scenic variety. If at all possible, ones with bright skies are preferable, especially during the darker months of the year. Scotland has featured a lot with ones from Colin Prior, Scottish Field and the Scotsman all having been former mainstays. Expanding travel horizons has changed that with scenes from Norway, Sweden and Iceland adorning my walls this year together with two from Wales. Last year, there were two from Ireland in  place of the latter but the other mix was the same.

For a long time, I liked Colin Prior calendars until they seemed no longer as fresh a concept as they once were. Photography has changed a lot in the last two decades so the original appeal of panoramic format photos of similar localities in Scotland no longer has the hold it once did. Instead, I now order panoramic calendars featuring Scandinavian scenes from a German publisher and I have been known to get Alpine ones too.

Otherwise, Swiss, Austrian and Spanish items have been acquired according to where I went during a given year and there are times when I buy too many calendars so I need to keep a watchful eye on that. Even with sending some as gifts, there can be a surplus without due care so I do some accounting as I go and 2020 was good for that. Some magazines come with calendars but there have been less of those this year.

The current times mean that we need every form of brightness that we can get so the scenes that I have arranged on my walls have more of a use than they usually do. Good memories can be recalled until opportunities to add more become more realisable. Unlikely as it appears for now, 2021 may help with that yet so our ongoing patience and perseverance could see their eventual reward in time.


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