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!

Hillwalking and me: a history

6th May 2006

I started hillwalking relatively recently. The idea never even dawned on me when I lived in Ireland. Even when I lived in Edinburgh, I thought that it was an activity for other people. In any case, I thought then that cycling was more to my liking. In 1998, the idea came into my head that I’d better see a bit more of Scotland than just Edinburgh and Loch Tay. The reason for this? I was coming to the end of my degree in Edinburgh and I didn’t know then what the future held.

That took me on day trips to Fort William, Inverness and Loch Ness. 1999 saw me head to Oban, Mull and the Isle of Skye. Back then, my walking was only done on roads when I couldn’t bring a bike. My 1998 trip to Fort William would have involved me carrying a bike but for the fact that Scottish Citylink wouldn’t carry it (Bus Éireann in Ireland probably would have and I thought that things were the same in the UK: they aren’t). My trip to Skye had me cycling a rented bicycle around the island and I had been known to cycle around Loch Tay.

What changed all this? A bicycle ride from Macclesfield to Buxton on a late August evening in 2000. Admittedly, I couldn’t get the bike into first gear, which wasn’t a help on the hills: they weren’t half steep in places. I got to Buxton but I caught the train when I was going home. There had to be another way to get out and about in hilly country. It was coming, though. I had cycled around the Yorkshire Dales when working there and, while going up was not too bad, it was the descents that gave me the heebie-jeebies. I loved being out in the countryside so thoughts turned to walking it…

2001 was blighted by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease but my explorations had begun. I got myself some trail shoes and some OS Landranger maps and started to head off road in the Peak District. 2002 saw me buying hillwalking boots and moving on to OS Explorer mapping, my staple ever since. The Yorkshire Dales saw a lot of me, even though I was (and am) working in Cheshire. My annual Scottish ramble saw me take in Callander, Fort William and Portree: for their proximity to attractive countryside rather than for the places themselves.

However, it was 2003 that really had me walking. There was a bountiful amount of sunshine that year and I got out and about loads of times. For me, it was the year of the Lake District with loads of walking trips in and around Keswick. The only bum note was that I holidayed in Oban and Fort William in the worst week of the summer!

I didn’t get on too badly around Oban because I got to walk along the shores of Loch Etive in pleasant sunshine (pity about the fact that I didn’t bring enough colour film with me!). However, it was Fort William that really left me down, though I did walk the final section of the West Highland Way northbound from Kinlochleven on a cloudy but dry day. For the rest of the time, there were ample amounts of drenching rain. Nevertheless, all was set right with bright sunshine for my visit to Lochaber on the last weekend of August. I wasn’t to be deterred yet.

If there was a year that could put paid to my walking ambitions, it would have been 2004. When it came to weather, it was a washout in comparison to the previous year and I didn’t get out much at all. I suppose that we had to make up for the glory of 2003 sometime… It was very telling when Trail magazine featured an article that hillwalking need not be fair weather activity. It has to be said that fair weather helps, though! Surprisingly, my annual visit to the Scottish Highlands didn’t suffer too badly: I managed to get some decent weather in Lorn and Lochaber. I got down to Bridge of Orchy on the West Highland Way. It was all down to very careful timing, though. Other opportunities did present themselves and these were taken enthusiastically: a traverse of Fairfield horseshoe in Cumbria, explorations of the Ogwen Valley in North Wales.

In contrast, 2005 was more like 2003 and allowed plenty of opportunities to get out and about without getting soaked through. I got to spend several weekends exploring around Dolgellau (pronounced dol-ge-thl-eye, I believe) in the south of the Snowdonia National Park. Plenty of walks with views of Cader Idris and the Rhinogs were undertaken. At one point, I ended up on the foothills of Cader Idris itself. Nevertheless, its ascent remains on the to do list. The hills around Llangollen (try pronouncing it as thlan-go-thl-ann) also attracted my attention. Along with visits to my usual haunts of the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District, I also made visits to Mull, Lorn and the Isle of Skye. My hillwalking had continued apace.

All of this brings me to 2006. To date, this year has had its share of fine weather. However, the past winter has been colder than those of late: this has meant that I have encountered more snow than I usually do. I even got walk on crisp snow in a yomp among the hills lining the Cheshire-Derbyshire border. Snow or no snow, I have managed a few visits to Scotland: Lochaber, Arran and Perthshire. I hope that I am not spoiling the allure of Scotland for me! In addition, Yorkshire has featured on my list of "adventures". Having ascended Pen-y-Ghent last year, I completed Yorkshire’s "Three Peaks" by walking Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent. Will it go on like this? I have no idea. Only time will tell…

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