Outdoor Discoveries

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.

Tops

4th September 2022

While I am not really focused on bagging summits of hills, a good number of them have featured on hikes this year. If conditions are clear, it often can be surprising how much of the surrounding countryside you can see from a lofty vantage point. Admittedly, some work better than others but it has been a noticeable trend and it is about the height above the neighbouring landscape rather than the actual height above sea level that matters.

That point has been proven on some trips to Ireland too. In April, I happened on the top of Feenlea Mountain near Killaloe in County Clare only to be stunned by the expanse of Lough Derg that lay below me with the nearby Arra Mountains in County Tipperary drawing my attention too. It helped that the morning was sunny and there are times when you need to try again with better conditions.

That was the case with Torc Mountain near Killarney in County Kerry. My first summit ascent was in poor visibility and only got done for the sake of personal satisfaction while the second was a diversion from the route of the Kerry Way that I was following from Kenmare to Killarney. Though sunshine was limited by cloud cover at that stage of the day and my legs were weary, the rewards were unmistakable; an American that I met on my way was awestruck by it all. The lakes of Killarney (Upper Lake, Muckross Lake and Lough Leane) lay below me and eastward views led my eyes as far as Lough Guitane and the hills that lay around it.

My encounter with Knockclugga in the Knockmealdown Mountains near Clogheen in County Tipperary was another case in point. While being surrounded by hills can limit what can be seen, this was no drawback on this rounded top. To the north, there were the Galtee Mountains while fellow hills like Knockshanahullion, Sugarloaf Hill and Knockmealdown brought scenic interest while the Comeragh Mountains lay to the east of everything mentioned so far.

None of the above hills is particularly high so it is their sitting that matters but I do not limit myself to those lower hills and trips to the Lake District have been a case in point. That did start with lower tops like Lingmoor Fell and Loughrigg Fell with the former allowing sightings around Great Langdale and Little Langdale while the former facilitated some photography capturing scenes around Grasmere that had been on my wishlist longer than might have been wise.

Greater heights were walked on the Fairfield Horseshoe and that included other tops like Heron Pike, Great Rigg, Hart Crag, Dove Crag, High Pike and Low Pike in addition to Fairfield itself. There were ample views of Grisedlae Hause, Grisedale Tarn, Helvellyn, St. Sunday Crag and Patterdale to occupy the time and the available if warm sunshine added greatly to the experience. One walk often begets another and so it proved in this case.

While part of the inspiration was provided by Terry Abraham’s feature film on Helvellyn, the reminder came from the Fairfield Horseshoe. Having some free time in July might have allowed the trot to happen earlier but for uncooperative weather, rail strikes, the prospect of a then-forthcoming trip to Ireland and my not having thought of using Carlisle as a base. The latter was to enable the escapade and get around rail travel constraints so I got to Glenridding and chose a route that avoided both Striding Edge and Swirral Edge to contain any sense of exposure. That may have limited my sightings of Red Tarn but I was glad of the gentler way via White Side and Lower Man. There was a punishing descent to Thirlmere but any sightings of Catstye Cam, Ullswater, Skiddaw, Blencathra, Thirlmere and other landscape features made it all worthwhile.

That was followed by a Scottish incursion that did not enjoy the same kind of weather. Ben Ledi near Callander stayed largely clear on a day with cloud-filled skies that limited any sunshine but the views round about it inspire thoughts of returning. There was an associated hike around the Ochil Hills with limited visibility and pervasive dampness that adds even more impetus to the idea of returning when better conditions are in prospect. Tops can be clear and they can be clouded so it is the former that we all seek. Nevertheless, having gained so much from hilltops this year means that there is much for which to be grateful.

Scottish return

3rd September 2022

It has taken quite a while but I recently enjoyed some Scottish hill-wandering around Stirling. Stirling also was where I went when I last was in Scotland so there is a sliver of continuity despite the break of over three years. The main cause of this was the arrival of the pandemic which added travel nervousness on my part.

In 2019, the main reason for my trip was photographic and I stayed near its castle even though part of the structure was covered in scaffolding at the time. Even so, I could not help admiring any views of the Ochil Hills that lay before me. These were to prove a lure for a return trip once I summoned the courage to do so.

Before that, I have been finding my feet in England and Ireland. The latter has seen a few trips this year and the former has hosted various visits to the Pennines and the Lake District. Before the trip to Stirling, I even enjoyed a hike from the Ullswater to Thirlmere that took in the tops of White Side, Lower Man and Helvellyn in pleasing sunshine. The way up was gradual but the same could not be said for the testing descent that was on the point of beating those who were coming the other way.

My time in Stirling saw me mount more summits but without the accompaniment of the sort of weather than blessed my ascent of Helvellyn. Because the second hill day was set to be overcast, I was divided over where to go because going to Callander for an ascent of Ben Ledi had entered my head. In the event, it was that which was done on the better day and got me back somewhere that I had not frequented for around fifteen years. Skies were largely clouded so another return trip is in prospect whenever bright sunshine and clearer skies are likely. Still, the sun did break through the clouds from time to time so it was not all gloom. The landscape was stunning though and seeing that in brighter conditions remains an attraction.

It must have been stubbornness that led me to hike the summits of Ben Ever, Ben Cleuch, Andrew Gannel Hill and King’s Seat Hill in poor visibility and it was just as well that I had wet weather gear given the enduring dampness on those tops. This was never a day for views but my navigation did not falter and the quietude of the experience was transporting. Perversely, the next day came sunny so a quick morning trip for some photography was in order before I needed to check out of the hotel. It was constrained by my not having charged camera batteries as much as was ideal but I still came away with much of what I had sought. Even so, a return in better weather cannot be ruled out since the incursion certainly got me away from everyday living and what I did get to see appealed to me.

Having reasons to return somewhere may be frustrating for any sense of closure but Scotland is laden with these for the weather does not always perform according to human desires. My only stay in Callander may have taken some of the sights around ben Ledi more than twenty years ago but it only was a halting point while en route to Fort William and Portree as I ran away from rain approaching from the east. As it happens, both Lorn and Lochaber have their share of sites where I fancy making better photos and even supplanting good images captured on film with digital counterparts. There is plenty of inspiration left yet.

A new weather map

25th August 2022

In the past, seeing changes in the presentation of weather information is something that has raised my ire. When the BBC did away with weather maps, I moved over to the Met Office for sake of keeping the added overview that such things provide. Location-based weather forecasting undoubtedly is useful and I use it a lot but the overview remains especially helpful.

It may seem a niche interest to many but one thing that I find really useful is a rain radar map. Handily, both Met Eireann and the Met Office incorporate these into their phone apps so you can use them while out hiking. In the case of the former, it really saw usage during a recent trip to Ireland when light rain showers dampened at least some of the Kerry mountains. Seeing that the shower was only a passing affair helped enormously with decision-making. Naturally, this all depended on the availability of phone signal and it was never up to the minute but the lag never got in the way of seeing the way that things were moving.

A rain radar map often helps when you are indoors too since waiting out a passing shower or a spell of rain can allow you to do things outside when conditions are drier. This applies to cycling to and from work, going shopping, exercising or travelling further afield. For all these, websites are as useful as phone apps.

That brings me to the main subject of this piece since the Met Office is trying out things all the while. Some are appreciated and successful while others are unwanted with some needing to be tolerated when they become permanent. Of all these, there are some changes that get previewed and a new way of presenting past and predicted weather is among them.

Both now appear in the same place and it only is the timeline that tells you that you are dealing with observed or predicted weather. However, the difference between the two is not as clear-cut as it could be. With rainfall patterns, there are hints like the extra resolution of observed data compared to what is predicted. There is one other thing to realise: the frequency of the predicted data appears to be once every fifteen minutes. Thus, if you see timepoints that are not at 0, 15, 30 and 45 minutes past the hour, then you definitely have an observation map layer on display.

The new map may not be intended to remain open in a web browser from one day to the next but that is a habit of mine. The older maps work well with this since they reset to the latest data even if you may need to advance the timeline accordingly on the radar map. The new map does not do this but it is in its beta phase at the moment and hence could change according to user feedback. For that reason, I am not being as critical as I have been in the past when equivalent changes have been made and it is larger too, a boon for those of us using larger screens (I am writing these words on a 34″ widescreen monitor that I use with my home workstations). So far, what is there looks interesting so I plan to keep an eye on where it goes now.

Things change all the time anyway and not always for the better. The location-based forecasts on the Met Office website do not allow for favourites to be kept or previous searches to be retained so I would like to see them look at this as well. At the moment, I am looking at setting up a list on this website of links to ones that I commonly use for the reference of visitors to this website as much as myself. Handily, you can get forecasts for mountain tops like Helvellyn and even lakes like Ullswater so that might be the basis of an interesting selection.

Added meaning

21st August 2022

Reading about a location without having been there is not the same as reading about places where you have been. By having been somewhere, there is an added resonance that otherwise would be missing. It is as if a connection has been made and its absence is very noticeable when I go looking at destinations in North America, Australasia or any other part of the world where I have not travelled. Moreover, it is especially apparent if I go writing about any of these.

For whatever reason, I most often seem to build such associations through solitary perambulations rather than being with others as so many do. Even if it feels like a false dualism, there are some reasons why I operate in this way. One is that it allows serendipity that otherwise would be confounded by the preconceptions of others. Another is that my personality type often causes me to act too deferentially to avoid any form of conflict.

That may how explain Irish outings with my late parents often were constrained by their preferences and what they had fallen into doing. Even so, my having developed an aversion to how they enjoyed coastal scenery meant that we went to Gougane Barra and Killarney quite a bit. Walks and photo stops were limited compared to what would be had on a day hike and the abundance of photos that I have brought back with me from recent trips to Ireland are ample proof of that.

While it is the place of my birth, upbringing and much of my formal education, Ireland was always one of those places that I had not visited like the others. When you have family somewhere, the connectedness is good but it can limit opportunities for personal exploration when you live in another country as I have done.

Some ongoing life changes mean that this year is changing that state of affairs with various trips across the Irish Sea. Every county in the province of Munster has seen my footfall on three different trips. The first offered unexpected opportunities as much as I was glad of those during the second one. Then, there was a third that gave me what I had hoped to get and then went beyond this again.

In each of these, being out for walks in the Irish countryside allowed me to connect with it in a way that I have not done before. Going on foot meant going slower and that really helped since you do lose something by running or cycling through a landscape and using motorised transport means that you lose even more than self-powered travel. Walking means that you can stop whenever a view halts you so it can be savoured and embraced. 2022 has allowed a lot of this so far.

An endpoint is that I no longer look through Mountain Views or other published material about Irish hillwalking as if I am separated by a pane of glass but have found my own way into and around the Irish hills. There is added meaning for me now while I mull over trip ideas that take me into the Dublin, Wicklow and Mourne Mountains while also visiting or revisiting western locales. A return to Clare and Connemara would follow up on my 2018 trip nicely and there also is much to savour around Mayo and Donegal. My mind wanders as I muse over these prospects and what I have enjoyed so far might even free me up to act on such designs.

Rekindling thirty year old connections

20th August 2022

After a break of more than three years, I finally experienced a summer getaway from my usual home turf. Rather than heading across the Atlantic as I did in 2019, I returned to the country of my birth to spend some time around Ireland’s south and southwest.

There was a lot of hiking and the weather essentially obliged much as it did on my Western Isles escapade in 2008. My time around Killarney did see some clouded skies and the occasional light rain shower but there were spells of sunshine too. The rest of the time saw near-constant sunshine with associated heat that might have limited my strolling but for an inbuilt determination to keep exploring. The timing of my return was near impeccable because even hotter temperatures were to come and they might have curtailed activities a great deal.

The days around Killarney were long ones that made up for disappointments earlier in the year while they also allowed me to follow up on residual inspiration from those encounters. The first day had me traipsing through Knockreer Park to reach Ross Castle where the nearby peninsula of Ross Island used up a bit of my time. From there, I continued to Muckross Abbey and Muckross House from where I was lured into completing a circuit of Muckross Lake before returning to my accommodation again. Sunshine came and went but there were enough interludes to allow some photographic efforts on my part.

The same could be said for the hike from Kenmare to Killarney that followed part of the Kerry Way. That was inspired by an otherwise unexceptional into Killarney from a damper Tralee when I ascended Torc Mountain when it was beset with a low cloud base. The sight of a track going into the distance was enough to get me inspired and a later bus departure did nothing to stop me. The ascent to the saddle between Peakeen Mountain and Knockanaguish was near constant but the scenic rewards were plentiful. The same could be said for what lay beyond on the way by Windy Gap and a lunch stop was in order to make the most of it. There was an ascent for tiring legs for passage by Cromaglan Mountain on a rough path. Torc Mountian was the next landmark and I could not forego an ascent in clear conditions. Sunshine may have been occasional on the day but extra lighting was there so often that I could not complain and some shortcuts were taken on the return to Killarney that made me wonder at my lack of attention while passing through the Muckross estate. That might have more to do with how fatigued I felt at the time.

The next day was to be a less intensive day involving an out and back walk into the Gap of Dunloe from Beaufort Bridge with a return bus journey to lessen the walking. Skies were clouded but I persevered in hope that was not in vain. The head of the gap was reached at a good time for returning to the bus stop again but even a passing shower could not stop me from dropping into the Black Valley with lighter footwear than might have been best for what was to come. The rewards were such that I do not regret what I did for this was revisiting some countryside that I only got to see from a car bound for my two parents’ home after a long driving trip. Then, there were stories from short breaks that they enjoyed in the area so my actions may have been inevitable. The Kerry Way again guided my steps for I passed Lord Brandon’s Cottage and the Upper Lake in surroundings that felt quite wild. After Derrycunihy, I was set to retracing steps from the day before without the ascent of Torc Mountain. There was time for a food stop near a quiet cascade and I chanced passing Torc Waterfall too even if there were more people there than I might have expected. Passage by Muckross House and Muckross Friary was enlivened by evening sunshine and the same could be said for the rest of a hike that left me less tired than I might have expected. A visit to Tomies Wood might have ensured the shorter day that I had in mind but I was missed out on so much if I did. That and O’ Sullivan’s Cascade get left for another time but that is no bad thing.

The next morning saw me revisit Knockreer Park before onward travel to Cork city where I would base myself for the remainder of the trip. Travelling forced a quieter day on me before taking up things again with a day trip to Bantry that featured some time spent strolling around Whiddy Island and enjoying its views of the Beara and Sheep’s Head peninsulas. Thoughts of time spent around Glengarriff and Castletown Bearhaven may inspire me for any future trips since outrageously long day driving tours did pass those. The Beara peninsula also features vantage points like the Healy Pass and there are islands like Beare and Dursey for some offshore walking too. There is much in the area and a gift of some good weather would help greatly too.

Inland wanderings in the Knockmealdown Mountains gained me wide views not only of those summits but also those of the Galtee Mountains and there might have been a glimpse of the Comeragh Mountains too. This is quiet countryside and I relished the empty hillsides around Knockshanahullion near Clogheen. Sugarloaf Hill and Knockmealdown may have been more attractive to those seeking more height but I was happy to admire them and avoid the crowds. There may have been no sighting of The Vee for me but any tree covered offered shelter from the heat and I was back in Clogheen to catch the last bus of the day to Cork. In addition to the hill wandering there was another reason for my interest in the area since my father wrote an essay on martyred priest Fr. Nicholas Sheehy who ministered in the area and was hanged in Clonmel on false charges. His remains rest in nearby Shanrahan Cemetary and there are monuments to his memory both there and in front of Clogheen parish church.

My last full day of the trip dedicated to wandering saw me spend more time around Kinsale than I expected. The cause was coastal walking between and around two old military forts. Of these, James Fort was the first and needed a circuitous amble to get there because it was across the harbour from Kinsale town. Charles Fort may have been nearer the town but did not feel that way in the afternoon heat and I was lured along the coast by a good path to extend the walk. Damien Enright’s guidebook did some good service when it came to adding information and inspiration. The return to Cork may have been in warm weather but I could not be stopped from wandering an old university alma mater of mine and it has changed a bit since I was a student there. A quick rendezvous with Cobh ensued before I was content to leave things at that for the day. Blarney Castle might have been another prospect but that needs to wait.

All in all, this was a trip that allowed for so much to be done. There are some loose ends but they do not weigh on me at all. If anything, there was what felt like a sense of closure and reconnection that may open up other parts of Ireland for visits. The extra sense of connection now reduces my self-repudiation for not seeing my home country and adds to a sense of meaning in anything I read about its areas of hill country since they will not feel so alien to me now.

It was good too to again frequent parts where I had been with my parents, albeit in a different way. Going on foot really slows you down enough for a landscape to seep into you and any ambiences to become embedded in your memory. Doing the same with places in Clare, Galway, Mayo, Donegal, Down and Wicklow would build on this but no one knows what a future can bring.