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!

2006, a walking year

5th January 2007

Now that we have reached the beginning of 2007, it seems an appropriate place to take stock of 2006. So far, this year has begun as cloudily as 2006 but the latter did brighten up as January moved on and opportunities for walking trips soon presented themselves and continued to do so over the course of the rest of the year.

January began with a trot to Edinburgh for the post-Christmas sales. After that, the idea of catching a Caledonian Sleeper – a first for me and an expensive one at that – from Crewe to Fort William proved too tempting for me. After travelling overnight, I woke up to a memorable morning in the Scottish Highlands. Once I had sorted out somewhere to stay, an easy task in Fort William of a January, I started walking in the sun on what turned out to be a very memorable day. It started with a trot along the Great Glen Way to Caol before I headed into Glen Nevis. Once there, I climbed to Dun Deardail via the West Highland Way, taking in memorable views along the way. A tired but happy walker made his way back to his base for the night, snoozed a little before getting something to eat and walking under the street lights along the coast road pondering the quiet of Fort William, hardly believing that it was the same tourist magnet frequented many a time during high season. Pathetic fallacy prevailed with rain accompanying my departure by coach after the short but memorable visit. Next weekend saw me head to Northumberland for a hike along the coast between Alnmouth and Craster, a day trek that showed opportunities for the future. The following weekend saw me sampling the Pony Track up the slopes of Cadair Idris, near Dolgellau. A little snow was encountered high up but the sun was well out, though the north-facing slope remained frozen underfoot: a pleasurable experience (then new to me) that could not be spoiled by a little slip on frozen grassland as I neared the end of my descent. I also snaffled a Sunday stroll around Lyme Park among this lot.

February was largely unfavourable, unless you enjoy walking in the rain. However, I took my chances at the end of the month and completed Yorkshire’s Three Peaks; I summited Pen y Ghent a few years ago. Snow and ice were negotiated carefully on the higher east-facing slopes of Ingleborough and its summit; a descent of its western slopes avoided descending with such conditions underfoot. The walk started at Ribblehead railway station on the Settle-Carlisle railway line and finished in Ingleton, which used to have a railway station of its own time, a different line that hasn’t survived the passage of time. Buses got me back to Skipton, from where my train journey home commenced. The following Saturday saw me ascend Whernside, completing Yorkshire’s trio. The weather remained pleasant until the final approach to Whernside’s summit when clag, snow and rain came down from the north. I also had to watch my step due to the paved path up Whernside’s eastern slopes having become iced up; I can cope with snow but ice has me considering the purchase of crampons; I have yet to acquire such items. The clag made me pay attention to my map reading but a useful stone wall and clear track guided me up and over. However, what was snow on the top became rain at lower altitudes and the return to Ribblehead station became a bit of a slog. After a chilly wait, I was delighted to see my train home. The experience of a wet jacket in cold conditions sowed the seeds that bore fruit in my acquisition of a Rab Latok jacket later on.

Early March greeted us with snow and an intended Sunday trip to the Derbyshire dales got interrupted by arresting views around the Cat and Fiddle Inn between Macclesfield and Buxton. My new plan took me from the aforementioned pub around the slopes of Shining Tor into the Goyt Valley, with wonderful grippy powder dry snow underfoot, before I picked up the Midshires Way that took me into Buxton for my return home.

April provided its chances too, staring with a Wednesday afternoon stroll from my house, around Tegg’s Nose, through Macclesfield Forest to Forest Chapel and Shutlingsloe before returning home via Langley; a good day’s walking from my doorstep. Easter weather was a mixed bag but I did end up overnighting on Ayrshire’s Isle of Arran on Easter Sunday, taking in Goat Fell and taking a bus trip around the island during my short visit. The weather had its moments but my sojourn could inspire a future return. At the end of April, I took an overnight journey to Fort William for the start of a Mayday bank holiday weekend trip to Scotland’s Highlands. Bikers had descended on the town for the weekend as is they are wont to do every year but I did manage to get somewhere to stay on Saturday night. Following hill tracks got me from Corrour Station to Spean Bridge, yet another memorable day spent among snow-capped mountains. Next day saw me travelling to Inverness before heading to Pitlochry for a flying visit before I made my way home again. That Scottish trek takes us into May, an otherwise quiet month on the hillwalking front but one in which my blogging began and I got to know the pungent aroma created by a field of flowering oil seed rape on my journeys too and from work.

With the coming of June, my walking again stepped up a gear. Its first weekend saw me sampling coastal walking in Pembrokeshire. This was followed by a weekend trip to Galashiels and Peebles in the Scottish Borders. The main event was a trek from Peebles to Innerleithen starting on used to be a droving road followed by some cross-country travel, made legal thanks to the Scottish Rights of Way Act, before road travel got me to Traquair and Innerleithen. Berwick-upon-Tweed was my jumping off point after a Friday night stay and Galashiels was my Borders base until I returned home on Sunday. Lockerbie was my base for the following weekend from where I went for a recce around Moffat: the Southern Upland Way and views of the Devil’s Beef Tub featured.

With the coming of July, I ventured into Yorkshire again, this time for an amble from Ribblehead to Sedburgh. From Ribblehead, I followed the slopes around Whernside to reach the Craven Way before I joined the Dales Way for the final part of my walk. The track to Whernside felt like the M6 with loads of folk abroad, a big contrast to my owning summiting of Whernside when only a few souls were out and about but that made things more pleasurable, and I was glad to leave it for the Craven Way. The rest of the walk was a largely quiet affair. A taxi journey from there to Kirkby Stephen train station set me up for my journey home. Later on in July, I took my chance for what has become my now annual summer stay in Scotland. Pitlochry was the base this year and I have to admit that I did get away from the heat of England. From Pitlochry, I radiated out to Kinloch Rannoch, Kingussie, Kenmore, Aberfeldy and Killiecrankie. I also took in Pitlochry’s local summit of Ben Vrackie. It wasn’t all sunshine but cloudy dry days are good for walking although sunshine is often better for camera-wielders like me.

Apparently, August was forecast as being a continuation of the July heatwave but, if it was, it was to be a no-show. August’s wet weather turned my mind to waterproofs but it also meant that sunny September weekends did not get wasted. I took myself off to Moffat with a walk along the Southern Upland Way from St. Mary’s Loch back to base forming the centrepiece of the weekend. Sunday was also offering in weather terms but, sadly, other things like recovering and returning home had to take priority. I was also tired after the excursions of the previous day. For me, the other walking high point of September was a trip to Northumberland on another glorious autumn (for me, anyway) day. Views of the coast were taken in on a longer than usual journey (thanks to railway engineering works) to Berwick-upon-Tweed. While there, I took a risk and headed to Wooler for a sample of St. Cuthbert’s Way and while I did get home that night, I was concerned more than once along the way.

October and November were quieter affairs. In October, my sole outing was a trot from Hadfield to Glossop by way of the Longdendale Trail, the Pennine Way and the Doctor’s Gate footpath. The sun was well out and the temperatures higher than you would expect for an October Sunday. This preceded a cold snap that returned us to reality. The walk was uneventful apart from a slight misnavigation that was easily corrected. In November I got one fine interlude that allowed me to explore the central Brecon Beacons before a long spell of wet and unsettled weather set in. On that day though, Corn Du, Pen y Fan and the other summits that I encountered were resplendent in the sunshine and their memory tempts me back.

December may be winter’s pivot but the walking continued once it stopped raining. I got to Bellingham in the heart of Northumberland by way of Carlisle and Hexham. A tramp along the Pennine Way was as muddy as could be expected after all of the rain that we were getting. In fact, the day of my ramble was what we in Ireland would call a “pet day” and it was all the better for it. Later the weather settled down a little and I got to savour the delightful views around Harlech: castle, coastline and crags. There is more to see here so I would not rule out a return.

In summary, 2006 could be said to be the year when I started to go beyond my usual haunts a lot. England’s Peak District did see me from time to time as did Yorkshire and North Wales. Cumbria’s Lake District has attracted my attention a lot over the years but only saw me flying by on the railway line during last year. Scotland has seen a lot more of me than in previous years so 2006 could be labelled the Year of Scotland for me, in walking terms at least. Southern Scotland and Northumberland have seen me more than before, Northumberland hosting my boots for the first time. Continuing the southern theme, new areas of the south of Wales experienced my attentions for the first time. It has been an interesting year.

What will 2007 bring? We have to await the answer to that one. In the meantime, all the best for the coming year and happy walking.

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