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!

In search of real respite amid a lockdown

16th June 2024

Before the pandemic hit us, my way of getting a breather involved travel and nature. Hiking was as much part of that as reading about travel and nature. Photography and computing were other forms of refuge. Since then, I have found some others that might help during a similar episode if it were to happen today. Living means learning; it is the only way.

Impact

In search of real respite amid a lockdown

The restrictions that came in March 2020 disrupted my previous and customary coping mechanisms. Catching up with unread photography magazines further drove the point home. It just hurt too much to read about nice places where I could not go. That meant that do the same with travel magazines was out of the question, and they faced an existential crisis too. Outdoor magazines did not escape either. Most survived in time, with Lonely Planet Traveller being the only title that I know to have been discontinued.

It all added up to a sense of sensory deprivation, and broadcasting service were similarly thinned out. It was if there was little escape from morbidity and mortality. The latter really played on my mind, making some clinical encounters unavoidable at exactly the time when they needed to be curtailed.

Mercifully or perversely, depending on your point of view, we got a lot of sunny weather throughout the episode. If it did nothing but rain, I am not sure how we would have coped. That single episode of exercise per day was not just about physical health and well-being. It was nearly more important for keeping one’s mental health on an even keel through a period when there was so much around that was downbeat.

To add to it, I also cut out caffeine from my diet and my use of sugar has more or less gone the same way since then. Even if that added weariness, I continued to get outside. The confinement meant that social distancing was more difficult than might have been expected. My yearning for added solitude went largely unsated, too.

Coping

In search of real respite amid a lockdown

While Ireland placed limits on how far you could travel, I cannot remember that being the case in England, and it proved to be something of a lifesaver. Since public rights of way remained open, we were not confined to roads either, even if traffic plummeted so much that you could walk them in the name of social distancing.

We were not confined to urban parks like West Park, Victoria Park or South Park, all in Macclesfield. Others like Riverside Park or Tegg’s Nose Country Park remained available. The latter offered an escape from urban surroundings that got used one sunny Saturday in April as part of an emergence from a personal nadir.

Cycling was another useful release. The quieter roads allowed for added courage once I began with routes that took in Henbury or Gawsworth. The Victory in Europe Bank Holiday at the start of May saw me get as far as Siddington and Marton, where there were few people to encounter. The same could be said for an outing the following day that took me around by Nether Alderley and Jodrell Bank, though the final approach to Macclesfield was more peopled and hence less comfortable for me. Around the same time, there were walks that included Riverside Park and Tegg’s Nose. Thus, it was not all about cycling.

Making Space

Breaks from work were much needed and really beneficial. At least, I could keep working through the whole thing, unlike so many others. Even so, extra non-working days at the start of May had their uses, even if I muddled my bank holiday timings. Boris Johnson’s apparent preference for Bank Holiday Fridays was so new to me that I needed to make my client aware of changes in plan.

In search of real respite amid a lockdown

Still, the first of May saw an afternoon stroll that took in the Danes Moss Nature Reserve under grey skies and with some light rain at times. A late afternoon visit to Tegg’s Nose Country Park on Saturday found the place largely deserted, offering a great deal of respite from any tension that had built up in the preceding weeks. On Sunday, I went on a circuit that included Prestbury, again with the same escape from an artificial concentration of humanity.

In search of real respite amid a lockdown

In search of real respite amid a lockdown

When I noticed that Royal Mail were working on that Monday, I was surprised, but the change of date for the Early May Bank Holiday never twigged until I spoke with my brother the next day. Nonetheless, I strolled around by Rainow and followed the Gritstone Trail towards Tegg’s Nose and returned home via Langley. Tuesday allowed time for a circuit of Kerridge Hill and the adjoining Saddle of Kerridge that skirted Bollington and Rainow along its lower flanks. Looking back on things now, it was an extended weekend that became very full.

As we continued through May, there was a slight sense that pressures were easing. Experience with the new infection was increasing, and the grim toll was not as high as it might have been. Restrictions still remained, though; it would take until June before any real slackening could be felt. There still was an infection curve to be flattened.

Release

Thankfully, the Spring Bank Holiday was in the part of the week when I expected it to be. After what happened earlier in the month, this had been checked. The associated weekend was stretched with some extra days to allow further recuperation from the ongoing travails. In some ways, these were to be liminal.

In search of real respite amid a lockdown

On that Friday, I again went for a longer stroll. This followed the Middlewood Way until I was past Bollington. Many others were out along that trail, so it was not the most relaxing of walks. That was one reason why I sought other routes with fewer people around. Not having to worry about social distancing meant that more reinvigoration could come my way. On this hike, that came about by continuing to Pott Shrigley. Fancying a spot of photography, I spent a while in the churchyard, which granted me the people-free space that I so needed. Thus sated, I skirted Bollington on the way to Rainow. That meant meeting with more people again, though not as many as on the Middlewood Way. Even so, I still needed the quieter route to Tegg’s Nose that I constructed. On reaching there, I began the final stretch of my journey home.

In search of real respite amid a lockdown

If I needed it, the next day’s hiking supplied more than enough occasions where I could ramble with simple abandon. The mixed weather with some spots of rain in the afternoon did nothing to take from this. My route had me skirting Tegg’s Nose on the way to Langley before crossing fields and gaining height on the way to Ridge Hill. It was while I was going along this lane towards Higher Sutton that a final sense of complete release hit me. All was well at that moment and there was nothing to fear. The feeling is one that I recall readily today as I write these words.

Eventually, the name changed to Meg Lane and I opted not to continue to meet with the Gritstone Trail. Instead, I chose a public footpath that would drop me to Lowerhouse where I did just that. From there, I ascended Fox Bank to go further than another ill-fated attempted ascent of Croker Hill had stalled due to my feeling unwell in the summer heat. This time, I had to contend with a blustery day that easily dispelled any disquiet regarding infectious disease. Others may have been around, but they were few in number, and we were well spaced as well.

In search of real respite amid a lockdown

The descent into more sheltered spots was to take me along a quiet public footpath to the A54. Route finding took a little concentration, and it felt as if I was proceeding along a holloway (or sunken lane) at times. The variety provides yet more of an escape for the psyche. Crossing the A54 to pick up a path by Bosley Reservoir did nothing to take from this. It helped that it was not busy around there, either. This struck me as a pleasant place to be, and that was to draw me back later.

Before all that, I needed to continue home. Thus, I followed a right of way to the A523. Going north took me to Bosley. This was partly to see its church, not that it is the most prepossessing of buildings with its red brick construction. Another public footpath conveyed from the church to Tunstall Road, where I met with the Dane Valley Way.

It was by now well into the afternoon and I had some quiet space, the like of which I did not have since the arrival of the pandemic. Still, I left it for the towpath of the Macclesfield Canal because I did not fancy passing through what was marked on the map as a stud farm. In fact, this is more like a business park and going through there might have saved me some road walking along another part of the A54, never a nice road to walk.

My next destination was North Rode. Another part of the Dane Valley Way got me off the A54 to reach a public footpath taking me the rest of the way. Again, quietude was my lot and there was some time spent next to its pretty church before continuing from there to Gawsworth.

This was to be where things got a bit busier again. First, getting to Rodegreen took me off-road once more. Going right along Pexall Road not only took me to Shellow Lane, but also towards the public footpath leading to Gawsworth and its church. This was to be a more confined affair in spatial terms, a trickier situation when you need to pass people with pandemic wariness around. Later, I would pass fish-ponds attended by numerous people fishing. It looked a little too busy to me, so I passed on as best as I could.

This was a time when local public footpaths were never busier; you could find lines trodden in fields where you never would have had them before. They have faded since then, too. Thus, the path conveying me from between Gawsworth Old Hall and Gawsworth New Hall did little to deter others from using it. Having got so much from the day, that did little to perturb me; you have to share anyway.

Once on Woodhouse Lane, I continued in the direction of the Danes Moss Nature Reserve. Without photos because of the greyness of the skies, I am left with a quandary in this account: how did I get home from there? One thing is sure, it did nothing to take from the restorative nature of the stroll. For that reason, I wonder if I continued on paths to Congleton Road before following that into Macclesfield. Making for the Macclesfield Canal instead would mean going a busier way and one with people confined to narrow boats there too; it is not the best for them to have too many around during a pandemic either. Thus, I am siding with the first option.

That night, I felt very different. The relaxation in places with few if any people had done the trick. All the tension was gone, and I felt more normal than I had done for a while. The fact that I really could relax in such places again was a real help for my subsequent state of mind.

In search of real respite amid a lockdown

In search of real respite amid a lockdown

After the previous day, the Sunday that followed needed to be an easier day. It came hotter, too, which added impetus for just that. Some outdoor reading in South Park and Victoria Park became the main highlight, a good development for adding more normality. The Bank Holiday Monday came sunny and allowed a cycle that took in Bosley village and Bosley Reservoir before rounding The Cloud, a prominent local hill. That meant a descent along Peover Lane and nervous travel along the A54 before leaving that to reach North Rode, where a much-needed break was taken near its church in the sunshine. From there, I continued to Gawsworth, where I again stopped a while ahead of the last stretch to Macclesfield and home.

Looking through my photos from that Monday, I am surprised that none were made while I was on Tunstall Lane, given the views that were available. However, I set that to rights the following Saturday. The previous weekend must have worked up quite a bit of magic because I boldly ventured into Staffordshire, a first since the pandemic had arrived. Having crossed Hug Bridge nearby, I easily could see myself visiting Rushton Spencer before heading along the lane by Rushton Bank and Woodhouse Green. The steep ascent forced me to walk the bike in places but granted me the views over Bosley Reservoir to Croker Hill that I desired. Careful progress was made along Cloud Side because I am not so good with hills while cycling; descents particularly challenge me, possibly because of cycling bike with bad brakes while much younger. Once as far as Peover Lane, it was largely a reprise of Monday’s route back home. Courage and fortitude had been found, something that would propel me through the following June.

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