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!

Pondering midsummer torpor

6th July 2009

With all the attention given to winter hibernation, it is easy to forget that there is summertime laziness too. Regular readers will realise that I prize the period of the year between the winter solstice and its summer equivalent highly and especially the eruption of verdant vegetation that gives us the wonders of May. The trouble with that is that the wind can evade your sails after the longest day of the year and you get to wondering if the year has passed its best like I did on here about this time last year. This time around, I am less bothered by the matter and I am seemingly more open to the attractions of the time of year and the observation that the countryside still delights even with cloudy skies.

Speaking of last year, July was a quiet month with a perhaps foolish walking trip to Welshpool on an oppressively hot Sunday at the end of the month. Apart from that, it was left to bike rides to capture any episodes of dry or sunny weather because of other preoccupations and distractions about this time; some involvement with dramatic activity in the world of WordPress was only partly to blame.

It’s all too easy to have a bout of mid-year lethargy round about now. For one thing, feeling that you have made ample use of any opportunities that arose can only dull the hunger for thrusting oneself into hill country. That can place your motivation at the mercy of other things like the weather. On one end of the spectrum, you have heavy rain showers like those that we have been seeing recently, the type that makes the idea of mobile roof appealing and the heat emphasises the advantages of umbrellas over raincoats in certain conditions. Then, there’s hot sunshine and my running hot means that I favour cooler temperatures than some. Also, classic summer weather isn’t the best for photography, another mechanism that gets out among those hills. Saying that, pleasant mornings ahead of a rain or wonderful evenings after one often offer the most. These circumstances offer a certain freshness and clarity that is missing from heat haze obstructed equivalents that abound during a heatwave.

The myth may indicate otherwise but July can be a very unsettled month, even in a year not known for a rubbish summer. In 1999, for instance, it was very grey in Edinburgh until the end of the month when a sunny propelled me onto Skye on a multi-day outing that sowed the seeds for many more. Speaking of Scotland, you end up awaiting the departure of the jet stream before settled weather is visited upon the country. In 2003, I called it wrong and had my week up there far too early. Though it felt that I was getting a constant soaking at the time, looking back does highlight its brighter times: a wonderful day spent beside Loch Etive and a dry if dull trot from Kinlochleven to Fort William along the West Highland Way. Staying with hindsight, it might have been better off sticking with reconnaissance on the damper days, but the soakings that I got while travelling between my lodgings in Banavie and Fort William couldn’t have been avoided by this approach. However, I did keep it in mind for my Western Isles escapade last year and foul weather alternatives will be placed on file for any trip in August. That isn’t to say that July is always damp but 2006 saw a scorcher visited upon us and I extricated something of value amid the uncertainties in 2004 and 2005 too. Last year and the year before were far from inspiring, but dry sunny weather was there to be enjoyed too and that’s how I’ll remember them.

Tower of Refuge, Douglas, Isle of Man

All in all, that mixture should tell us that it’s best not to expect much of July and this year seems to be following suit after the dryness of June. Last weekend mixed in downpours and sunshine so I grabbed the opportunity for a day sailing trip from Liverpool to the Isle of Man. As it turned out, I left a grey Liverpool for a damp Douglas that made me glad that I hadn’t committed to spending a lot of time on the island. Along the way, I learnt a little more about what is on offer over there and thoughts are turning to longer trips, more realistically to be occasional but a useful entry on the ideas shelf nonetheless. From what I have seen so far, there seems to be plenty of coastal walking and there’s hill country to be savoured too. Public transport on the Isle of Man looks workable too with a good level of service on offer. Sunshine may have been encountered in Liverpool rather than my destination but I am not so easily discouraged. If I was, I might have stopped exploring the British and Irish countryside long ago.

Ideas for that week in August are collecting and they aren’t all Scottish either. For one thing, there’s always the Pennine Way, but Connemara has come to mind already and now the Isle of Man. Scottish proposals like the Rob Roy Way, extending out from Mallaig, the Cairngorms and the north-west Highlands remain in the running. The options may be more open this year but it’s good to have them too. Hopefully, something can come of them.

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