Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

One last escape before an onslaught

11th June 2024

After my trip to Canada in 2019, hill wandering just about ground to a halt. The August bank holiday weekend did come sunny, yet other preoccupations kept me indoors. Otherwise, day trips to cities like Bath and Oxford made use of any sunny days that came my way. Of these, it was the first that saw a stroll outside the city into nearby hills for a time.

The, there was an existential threat to my freelancing business that needed attention. That lay on my mind throughout the autumn and into the following winter. A changeover was needed, and that process took until early 2020 to complete. The result was that there was no New Year getaway like the previous year. Whatever brighter days did not get used for incursions into hill country because of what lay on my mind, even if I did get to exploring North American trip ideas.

While my freelancing was set on former ground after all this, it did mean that I was otherwise unprepared for the travails of a pandemic that I might have been. The weather had not been so enticing, and was not to turn out that way until our lives became very restricted.

All the while, I was watching the approach of a new infectious disease with some trepidation. The stories in the news were serious and brought home the fragility of life. The way that the pandemic arrived so soon into Europe was not how influenza spread. Anyone should see that we could not escape the strictures, even if many were hoping for the best; it was a matter of when, not if.

This was the shadow that was cast over Mother’s Day in 2020. The restrictions were beginning, with places for usual celebrations not being available. With nowhere else to go, many headed for the outdoors and some locations were left crowded, to the disdain of political leaders and the authorities. This affected the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland as well as Snowdonia in Wales. Umbrage was expressed publicly, and further restrictions followed that would test the mental health of many of us. Everyone was learning to deal with something that remains infrequent, not that anyone should be complacent.

In some ways, the day felt like one last hurrah before the doom-laden weeks that lay ahead. The prospects ruled out the use of public transport, and I already was avoiding large assemblies of people anyway. There were no regulations barring the former, apart from my sense of prudence. That would change.

One last escape before an onslaught

If I had hoped that staying local, and frequenting spots that I previously had found to be quiet, would allow a spacious expanse for the spirit, I was about to be very surprised. The initial signs were there when I spotted a family trying to figure out which way to go near Higher Swanscoe Farm. By then, my route already had me along part of the Macclesfield Canal before following a public footpath that passed Jenny’s Farm. Later, passing Higher Swanscoe Farm got me onto Well Lane.

One last escape before an onslaught

Tarmac tramping got me onto Kerridge Road before I left the road to pass by both Lower Swanscoe Farm and Swanscoe Farm on another right of way. In time, I was to reach the Saddle of Kerridge to gain my first sightings of the village of Rainow for that year. Picking up the Gritstone Trail drew me near there before I followed the road leading to Lamaload Reservoir. This part of my route was as quiet as it usually was, with no sign of the upheaval that was facing us in the coming weeks. The scenery was timeless, allowing a momentary escape from all threatening portents.

One last escape before an onslaught

When near the pumping station below the reservoir dam, I opted to turn right to follow a path passing a Larch plantation. That took me uphill towards Brock Low, testing the strength and resilience of my legs in the process. In time, the gradients relented and views of the reservoir opened out beside me. They were lost behind more trees for a while before I left the track that I was following.

One last escape before an onslaught

The uneasy sense of normality continued, and an instructor was seen with a group working on their navigation skills. Such activities were to be interrupted within days in the spirit of containment and confinement that was to envelop us. My own route finding was a test too as I headed toward Higher Ballgreave Farm, which I passed on the way towards Buxton New Road. That provided yet another test for the climbing capacity of my legs before I could look back on the reservoir, enjoying the views.

One last escape before an onslaught

Going onto Buxton Old Road meant that I needed to find a public footpath that would take me towards Forest Chapel. There were a few options. The one passing Whitehills possibly is better than any passing Greenways Farm. Recollections are foggy now, yet it may have been one from the latter that landed me where I wanted to go. More uphill progress was needed regardless of the route followed, further testing out unacclimatised legs.

One last escape before an onslaught

What remains in my mind now is that sense of quietude, and not the amount of traffic or the presence of others. There must have been nothing remarkable at this point in the hike because that was to change once I began to approach Macclesfield Forest, which was more mobbed than I had seen it before then. There was even a bit of bother between cars because of the amount of traffic. The single track roads could not take up the slack that the usual locations for celebrating Mother’s Day would.

One last escape before an onslaught

Though there was a certain unease at having so many people around, I nevertheless continued as planned. That unease unfortunately intruded when anyone asked for directions (there was one family that perhaps needed more than they got from me, and that weighs on my mind a little now; hopefully, they worked things out as they needed to do). Another intrusion was the effect of the long stroll on me as I passed Shutlingsloe, went over Nessit Hill and descended to Ridgegate Reservoir.

One last escape before an onslaught

Leaving the multitude after me, quiet road walking was what returned me home again. Macclesfield felt like a much quieter place than some of the spots that I had traipsed. Since a corner shop was open, I popped in for some much-needed refreshments. They sustained me the rest of the way until I could rest after the day’s exertions. In some ways, I may have overdone things, which added some disquiet given all the reported symptoms in the news at the time. What was ahead was a period that would much test my patterns of thought, changes to which remain with me to this day.

An insurance price hike

19th May 2024

My BMC multi-trip insurance policy is set to expire in the next few weeks. Though I have an annual policy with another provider, this is a more standard affair that may not cover the sort of outdoor activities that I enjoy overseas. Thus, I went with the BMC policy to increase the coverage, particularly with a multi-week trip to the San Francisco Bay Area in the offing.

Other transatlantic prospects are in my mind for this year, in advance of any political drama on the other side of the Atlantic. However, the price of a renewal for this year has jumped by several hundred pounds. That has been enough for a rethink, even if the BMC’s finances are in a parlous state, and they could do with added income.

Thus, I am not going to renew for this year. For any overseas escapades, I am going to go with single trip cover instead. Other providers like True Traveller or Battleface may be a better fit for what I need, since it is hiking that I do rather than climbing or anything more adventurous than that. The latter of these quoted me a price close to that of the BMC, though, while the former is cheaper. This can be revisited closer to any trip away.

Getaways closer to home in the last few weeks, like those to the Trossachs or Badenoch and Strathspey, were far less risky anyway. Others may follow if the weather allows. The insurance side of things can wait.

An eventual completion of the Glen Sax horseshoe

17th May 2024

A previous account on here described a Holy Saturday ramble around the Pentland Hills in 2019. What you find here is what I did the next day, Easter Sunday.

Prior Encounters

Completing a round of the Glen Sax hills lay in my mind for what felt like too long. The first encouragement came on a glorious sunny evening in June 2002. While there was a grey start to the day, I still ventured as far as Peebles and tentatively continued along the Cross Borders Drove Road. As I gained heights, the views opened all around me, with everything looking resplendent. Ultimately, the late start and a need to return to Edinburgh to meet with friends all curtailed things and I truncated the trot with a steep descent to the floor of the glen before returning to Peebles for a bus ride back to Edinburgh. The others were left in a little wonderment as to when I might turn up; that is the trouble when an evening turns out so well.

While the first encounter may have been a tentative affair, the same could not be said for the designs that I was having the next time around. That was on what I recall as a hot, sunny Saturday in June 2006. The original idea had been to explore some Northumberland hill country, only for a lack of accommodation availability to scupper this design. A one night stopover in Berwick-upon-Tweed allowed for a bus journey from there to Galashiels, where I dropped off part of my load at the Abbotsford Arms Hotel before continuing to Peebles.

Once there, I reprised a hike along the Cross Borders Drove Road. That took me over both Kailzie Hill and Kirkhope Law. While there was a useful, if strong, breeze, something stopped me from completing the rest of the round. Maybe, it might have been the later start and seeing how long the route can be. In hindsight, it looks as if I lost heart, especially give my later experience. Instead, I decided to descend towards Glen House to meet with a minor road beyond there, after making use of Scotland’s Right to Roam on the way. Road walking then took me past Traquair to reach Innerleithen, where I awaited a bus back to Galashiels.

After that, we come to Easter Sunday in 2017. Since that curtailed escapade has been recounted elsewhere on here, I direct you there for a fuller account. In summary, my mood was forlorn and the weather obliged with some pathetic fallacy. There had been some hope for an improvement that never arrived. Even so, I persevered past Kailzie Hill, Kirkhope Law, Birkscairn Hill and Stake Law. It was not the soggy conditions underfoot that stymied me, but the lack of visibility over what were set to be somewhat featureless hummocks. Depending on a fence as a navigational handrail is all well and good as long it does not cease to continue on you. Given that, I thought it to be best to return to the saddle between Stake Law and Birkscairn Hill to commence a zigzag descent down some steep slopes. Once on the floor of the glen, there was a crossing of Glensax Burn to reach the sheep pens before I could join the track leading back towards Peebles. From there on, progress was swift in drying conditions until I back at the stop for the next bus to Edinburgh.

The Day Itself

By this stage, it might feel as if there has been a lot of rethreading of old steps. In some ways, that probably was just as well, given how much haze was lurking on Easter Sunday, 2019. To ensure that I had enough time, I caught the first bus of the day from Edinburgh to Peebles. While a long day was envisaged, it did not turn out to be as long as that. There may have been extensions in the contributed route profiles that I read in magazines and books.

While I continued to use my camera, the open views from the way to Stake Law were troubled by the aforementioned haze. Beyond documenting my whereabouts for an account like this, I now wonder why I bothered. Accordingly, they have been omitted, though some have found their way into the Southern Uplands & Borders album that you find elsewhere on the website.

The hills that I was traipsing were more brown and yellow than green. That was not such a surprise to me, given that I was familiar with the photographic work of Colin Prior and my own explorations of Scotland in its low season. Conditions were dry underfoot, which made faster progress than otherwise may have been the case. Much like the previous day around the Pentland Hills, ascents and descents appear to have been taken in their stride. In part, that might be the rose-tinting of memory as much as the more rounded profile of what I was traipsing.

Beyond Stake Law or even before it, OS maps do not help you very much with any paths on the ground. Still, finding one’s way onto Dun Rig was no puzzle in the bright, sunny conditions. Fences did change locations, but this was no impediment. Also, the neck of land linking Dun Rig to Glenrath Heights felt broader than the map made it look.

An eventual completion of the Glen Sax horseshoe

Steady progress took me over Strummeadow Hill and Middle Hill. After Broom Hill came Scawd Law in Hundleshope Heights. From there, it was all downhill to the floor of the glen. Gradients were more human-friendly in the main, except perhaps for the descent from Dead End, where contour lines contract a little.

An eventual completion of the Glen Sax horseshoe

An eventual completion of the Glen Sax horseshoe

An eventual completion of the Glen Sax horseshoe

An eventual completion of the Glen Sax horseshoe

An eventual completion of the Glen Sax horseshoe

It was along that last stretch of the hike that the location of the sun in the sky and where I was on the ground came together to allow the capture of pleasing images. The flanks that lay before me were those that I had traipsed earlier in the day. With more distant sights now hidden from view, everything worked better. There are times when photographic composition is about what you subtract from a scene rather than what you add, and this was one of those occasions.

If there was another perturbation to the day to complement those haze-laden hillsides, it was awkward meetings with some that I may have known years before. The passage of time made the encounters non-workable, with uncertainty and unexpectedness being the drivers of this. Recalling that hurts a little now (I hate the idea of my upsetting or insulting others), even if the passage of twenty years may be too much for any accidental reunion. Add in daydreaming and a desire for solitude, and everything really can sunder.

Even with that, the day had been a satisfying one. For those wider views, a return visit could be a possibility. However, other places call out more loudly now. Nothing takes away from my completing the round after so long.

What Came Next

The next day brought more sunshine and more traipsing, this time around Edinburgh. A circuit taking in Princes Street Gardens, Calton Hill, Holyrood Park and Craigmillar Castle was another photographic escapade that suffered no intrusion, allowing some healing after any awkwardness experienced during the previous day.

Afterwards, there was one photographic composition that irritated me, bringing about a return journey to Scotland’s capital on the weekend of the Mayday bank holiday. That addressed the overly tight framing that was on my mind while also seeing me visit Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens before getting as far as Corstorphine Hill with its own Rest and Be Thankful, a spot with Robert Louis Stephenson associations and the siting of the final parting of characters in his novel Kidnapped. The skies had completed clouded by then (clouds had been intruding on photographic exertions in any case), encouraging yet another Scottish trip the next weekend.

While Stirling was my actual final destination then, it did little to stop me rambling around Edinburgh first. Corstorphine Hill was a port of call, even if the clouds in the sky curtailed lighting of what lay around me. There was some time spent in Princes Street Gardens and around The Royal Mile as well. When I did get to Stirling, it was the castle that drew me out for an evening stroll with some photographic exertions, even if there was scaffolding intruding on the views at that point. More photography followed the next day, around both Stirling and Linlithgow. Some roguish youths may have perturbed the journey between the two places for me, but that is in the past now.

My home country wanderings were coming to a close for the year anyway. The Spring Bank Holiday saw a trip to Cardiff, where revellers were focussed on a Spice Girls concert and I felt the need to get away from all the cyclists that were speeding along multi-use trails. That was found too, and some photos of Cardiff Castle got made as well.

Things were attenuated after that, not least by what lay on my mind regarding a first transatlantic leisure escapade. A week in Vancouver was in the offing to get me over any trepidations of long haul flying and hiking in places where bears may be encountered. Those were overcome, and then it was the turn of my freelancing to suffer an upheaval, with the background travails of Brexit thrown into the mix. Even then, city trips to London, Oxford and Bath came to pass.

No one could see what would come our way in 2020, so looking back on all of this is like looking back on the end of an era. With that in mind, it was just as well that my Easter trip to Edinburgh went the way that it did. Loose ends were resolved, old demons were laid to rest and life could take a new direction.

Travel Arrangements

Return bus journey between Edinburgh and Peebles on route X62.

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

15th May 2024

Easter 2017 was supposed to be spent in Edinburgh. However, life matters and the fact that I had been in the Isle of Man not so long beforehand stymied things for me then. The weather was not so inviting either, as I found when I went there for a shorter stay. A damp afternoon was spent around Glen Sax near Peebles, while the John Buchan Way occupied me the next day in better weather.

The prospect returned in 2019 after cost-consciousness in 2018 curtailed my travels while on a career break. My arrival was on Holy Thursday and the departure on Easter Tuesday. In between, there was some time for catharsis, particularly the letting go of old hurtful memories from when I lived in the city while at university there.

That was while I pottered about the city, visiting old haunts like Calton Hill, Dean Village, Holyrood Park, Bruntsfield Links, The Meadows and Craigmillar Castle. There was also a crossing to Cramond Island, as well as two visits to Linlithgow. It was not all about rethreading old steps and exorcising old wounds, as healing as that was.

As if to prove that, I spent Holy Saturday around the Pentland Hills. My hill wandering only started once I was in England, so these were not frequented while I lived in Edinburgh. It feels like an oversight now, but computing and science were more attractive to me back then. If I ever thought of scenic delights, my mind ventured towards the Highlands instead.

Even so, I had traipsed parts of these before. There was a short sortie in 2008 that took in Caerketton Hill and Allermuir Hill. More recently, this was reversed on a Boxing Day (also known as St. Stephen’s Day after the early Christian martyr) in brighter weather near the end of last year. In between those, there was a return in 2009 that took in Capelaw Hill, Castlelaw Hill, Glencorse Reservoir, Loganlea Reservoir, Black Hill, Green Cleugh, Threipmuir Reservoir, Harlaw Reservoir, Wester Kinleith, Middle Kinleith, Easter Kinleith, Clubbidean Reservoir and Torduff Reservoir. Looking back on all of these, it appears that I had traipsed a good deal of the place.

That was not how it felt before revisiting these accounts, and 2019 felt no different. That Holy Saturday hike started from Penicuik. Handily, I found a local path that took me away from tarmac tramping for a while. Sadly, these are not marked on maps like their counterparts in the south, a travesty in my opinion. Even GPX tracks are not something that I have encountered yet; someone else can put me right there.

Proceeding along the A702 got me the rest of the way to Flotterstone. While traffic may not have been that heavy, I was happy to swap tarmac for a trail. Continuing straight ahead would have taken me by Glencorse Reservoir, rethreading steps taken in 2009. Wanting something different, I turned off to the left to begin an ascent of Turnhouse Hill. This was to be a day full of ups and downs on going from one hill to another.

Looking through my photos from the day in advance of writing these words, I notice just how hazy and clouded the morning was at the start of the ramble. The photos you find accompanying this piece may tell another story, since the skies cleared as the day wore along. Conditions were not so accommodating for photography at the outset.

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

After the descent from Turnhouse Hill, there was an ascent to a higher eminence, Carenethy Hill. If not following the map closely, it was all too easy to err regarding the identity of the hill you were frequenting. That really applied to Crooked Rig on the long descent to where the ascent of Scald Law started. Patience has its uses in these circumstances, especially when you have a false summit to fool you.

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

Scald Law marked the highest that I was above sea level for the whole day. It might have been near there that I took a call from a relative wishing me a Happy Easter and telling me of overseas travels in the Middle East and Asia. When I got to take them in, the views were wide and included Loganlea Reservoir too. The location also was where I had another decision to make: do I go out to the top of South Black Hill? In the event, I did and it at least marked the southeastern if not the southern extremity of my wandering.

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

Mor tops were to follow, the last pair of the day: East Kip and West Kip. More descending and ascending was in order, yet complaints for surely tiring limbs are lost to the mists of time. Some of these certainly were steep enough for that, with the top of West Kip being rocky enough to cause a momentary pause of thought. All passed without incident to allow gentler gradients to be reached.

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

The descent from West Kip dropped me onto Red Road, the track that would convey me by Bavelaw Marsh and Threipmuir Reservoir to reach tarmac again for the final approach to Balerno. Before all that, there were enticing views leading the eye back along the chain of hills that had been followed while allowing for the undulations. These were momentarily interrupted by walkers looking for the way to Nine Mile Burn. Once they were pointed in the right direction, I could return to relishing the views and any available quietude, not being disturbed by any sense of intrusion.

The warmth of the day was to be felt and perhaps deflected me from including the top of Black Hill on my perambulations. While this had me torn at the time, looking back on the 2009 hike now absolves me of any regrets. In any case, it might be the only remaining sign of increasing physical fatigue that resides in my memory.

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

Speaking of Black Hill, I found myself looking back in its direction across Threipmuir Reservoir on a momentary pause. After that, progress towards Balerno was to be continuous. Once there, I partook of some refreshments before catching a bus back into the city centre. Even so, my rambling was not over for the day. The added height of the sun in the sky, because of the time of year, allowed me a spot of photography by the banks of the Water of Leith with Dean Village providing an appealing subject for such efforts. This was a day laden with all sorts of pleasing gifts.

Travel Arrangements

Outbound bus from Edinburgh city centre to Penicuik. Return bus from Balerno to Edinburgh city centre.

From slim pickings to superabundance

14th May 2024

The lack of sunshine during my March 2019 trip to Settle and Malham brought forward a repeat encounter in advance of an Easter trip to Edinburgh in the same year. Compared to the previous trip, when there was photographic famine, this one brought an overwhelming number of possibilities. A little sustained sunshine can make choices of what to show and what not to show more difficult, especially when not every landscape feature has a name. It is time to leave a narrative to do the discriminating.

Donkeys near Settle, Yorkshire, England

As well as the sighting of the donkeys that you see above, the way out of Settle offered views of a passing steam train as well as the chapel of the independent Giggleswick School, a far grander structure than you would expect to see situated in the middle of the pastoral countryside. There was more to occupy one’s eyes than more distant views of Pen-y-Ghent.

From slim pickings to superabundance

From slim pickings to superabundance

The main drama of the day began once I left the route of the Pennine Bridleway for that of the Dales High Way. In the morning sunshine, the limestone outcrops festooning the Warrendale Knots and adjoining Attermire Scar did nothing to disappoint me. Clouds stayed away from the passage of the sun for long enough to keep me entertained all the way as far as Stockdale Lane.

From slim pickings to superabundance

From slim pickings to superabundance

Continuing past Stockdale Farm also led me past Rye Loaf Hill and Kirkby Fell on a somewhat expedited route to Cove Road, near Malham. Views of Malham Cove did tease as I went forth, yet clouding skies stopped me from everything my own way for photographic exploits. Nevertheless, opportunities did present themselves as I followed the route of the Pennine Way onto the limestone pavement above the one time ancient waterfall.

From slim pickings to superabundance

From slim pickings to superabundance

From there, it was a matter of continuing north to Malham Tarn. Sunshine was again liberated to light up a part of the world that I largely experienced under cloudy skies on previous visits. Names like Raven Scar, Ing Scar and Ing Scar Crag hint at what you find in this classy limestone landscape.

From slim pickings to superabundance

From slim pickings to superabundance

Following an ascent, the terrain levelled out on the final approach to Malham Tarn. The size of the lake makes photography a little tricky, but the availability of sunshine almost enforced such activity. That also meant that there was some dawdling before embarking on an alternative route to Langscar Gate. Any gain in height was rewarded by views over the tarn and what lay around it.

From slim pickings to superabundance

From slim pickings to superabundance

After passing Langscar, I took a south-westerly turn in the direction of Kirkby Fell. After passing Grizedales, I returned to my outbound route for a time. The return to Settle was to keep me on Stockdale Lane until it reached High Hill Lane, which I then followed the rest of the way to my starting point. Not only did that offer different viewpoints (which was just as well given the shadows that had fallen on what was fully lit in the morning), but it also made the descent easier than the more usual way that I had been using. On tiring legs, that is easier as long as tarmac traipsing is kept to a minimum.

A good day hike ended with my being well sated by what I encountered. At the time of writing, though, my appetite for such countryside has been dimmed by excursions to Scotland and other possibilities. If it ever gets rekindled, the prospect of walking from Malham to Skipton could be tempting. A desire to replace photos from my film-using days may be just the thing for that.

Travel Arrangements

Return train journey between Macclesfield and Settle, with changes at Manchester Piccadilly and Leeds.