Outdoor Discoveries

It's amazing how things develop. After all, this blog started out as a news section for the rest of the website. With encouragement from readers, it has become a place for relating my countryside wanderings and musings about the world of outdoor activity. Walking, cycling and photography all are part of what I do out-of-doors and, hopefully, they will continue to inspire me to keep adding entries on here. Of course, there needs to be something of interest to you, dear reader, too and I hope that's the case. Thanks for coming.

Category: Outdoor Activities

A Marsden project

28th May 2022

This past spring has been a busy time for walking in areas of hill country and growing boredom with what is near me in Cheshire and Derbyshire after traipsing around various places repeatedly during the constrained times of the pandemic led me to look elsewhere and Marsden caught my attention again after around fifteen years of not venturing near the place.

First up was a trot from Marsden to Hadfield that retraced steps not taken since 2002 when I was only starting hill wandering and a dull day heavily limited photographic efforts even if it brightened up near the end of the day. The reprise saw brighter sunnier weather albeit with a bracing aspect in the form of a stiff chilling easterly wind. Even so, I enjoyed my stroll along the Kirklees Way as it rounded Wessenden Moor and passed numerous reservoirs. Eventually, I passed onto the Pennine Way that conveyed me across the A635, over Black Hill and down into Longdendale. There was an intrusion in the form of an American hiker with two dogs who asked for a photo while my mouth was full of food but that passed and it was the edge above Crowden Great Brook that really held my attention.

On Holy Thursday in 2007, I headed north from Marsden to Littleborough as part of an ongoing Pennine Way project but low cloud intruded on the start of that walk so photos were limited. That made a partial reprise of that hike a possibility so I started from Todmorden on a southbound hike to capture what I had missed. Ultimately, I overdid it and arrived in Marsden in darkness so the compensation had not been gained and it took several returns to the area before photographic possibilities were largely consummated. Still, Calderdale and its nearby moors were kind to me even if their popularity slowed me down at times. From Blackstone Edge, things were much quieter but the day was moving on as I made the most of the available light. Even so, my sightings of the Castleshaw reservoirs left me in doubt as to my misremembrance enforced tardiness. More was to come in my sightings of Pule Hill and Holme Moor in very much faded light. That was to apply to Redbrook, Black Moss and Swellands reservoirs as well so thoughts of a return were forced into my mind. Eventually light failed and I decided against a steep descent on not finding the path so I went another way that got me to Wessenden Reservoir after an improvised crossing in the absence. Still, the waterfall looked appealing in the night light and it was now easy strolling back into Marsden in the quietude of the time of day. That did nothing to remediate my mixing up train times so I had a much-delayed train journey back to Macclesfield with a tight connection in Manchester that was aided by the last train to Macclesfield being late. That was just as well since there should have been another but for there being a shortage of train drivers at the time. The day had been eventful and I am not just talking about a momentary standoff with a cyclist around Calderdale either; they seem to be getting everywhere but that is another subject.

While the stage was set for several returns, the weather was not playing ball when I needed it to do just that. Still, I returned to Marsden in hope. Things looked promising as I headed out of Marden along Waters Road. My good fortune persisted as I continued along the track by Willykay Clough. Unfortunately, it was not to last and I lost out when I was wanting the cloud cover to stay away. There also was a biting wind from a northerly direction but that did nothing to keep away the numerous hill runners who were out and about. They went another way so all was quieter again but the sun was in hiding. Scrambler bikes were heard and I wondered what the point of their short rides was with their turning back at a pass to avoid being spotted. To me, it looked a little cheeky and I continued on my way on a day full of compensations. One was finding that path that I missed on the previous hike and I was glad that I had not tried it in the dark even if I had a head torch (there has been a scary moment when one did not fall to hand but all was well). The could cover had broken by this point and it have been understandable if I had been wondering at my impatience but the cold would have explained that. By the time that I got back to Marsden, many were outside enjoying what by then was feeling like a warm summer’s day. For me, it was back to the train station for a more timely return home.

Even with the same midday prediction of trouble with cloud cover as the previous encounter with the area, I persisted with another Marsden to Hadfield walking idea. There were variations from where OI had gone on previous trots that the walked started similarly to its predecessor. It took a map enquiry from another walker to highlight my slow progress in adjusting to a post-COVID world and I reproached myself for being unforthcoming but I had a long way to go and an appointment with hope. There were bright spots and I made images of the Castleshaw reservoirs that advanced on what went before. The same could be said about Pule Hill and its surroundings because the aftermaths of hail showers bring their recompenses. Other places brought a bit more photographic joy too and a bit of National Trust work made the way to the A635 much easier. Beyond that, navigation and bog trotting became more challenging so getting to Black Hill was slow work. Once there, I did not delay and started the descent to Longdendale by a gentler moorland route that left me with a longer walk to Hadfield and its train station. Even so, the gentle quietude of what is now a heavily industrialised valley laden with reservoirs and pylons prevailed and other walkers shared words with me. Daylight was in short supply as I neared Hadfield but it held long enough for me not to need a head torch. The day had been long and tiring but there was a lot to savour.

Eventually, there was resolution and near-complete closure. The last Friday of April came free and the weather remained sunny all day so another attempt was made. In many ways, this was a reprise of the third Marsden trip of the year, albeit with many deviations. It also saw me take my time in many ways. The route took me away from Waters Road and around by March Haigh Reservoir before I retraced old steps. Heat haze may have affected views over the Castleshaw reservoirs but what I go was as good as I needed it to be so I was sated. Brun Clough Reservoir saw a visit and I got over the wire fence to rejoin the Pennine Way because my patience did not extend to finding the stile and I often wonder how entry points to access land get so rationed. That made no impact on my mood as I attended to my photographic objectives. Various reservoirs were ticked off a list that also included Wessenden Reservoir and I crossed some rough ground using my access rights so as to avoid retracing steps. There even was an ascent of Pule Hill so this was a day that was working for me and the evening light was attractive as I returned to Marsden to start my train journey back to Macclesfield. it was now time to look to other places because the moors around Marsden may have seen times when things did not work out for me but they also kept me engaged in so many other ways as well.

 

Centrism

20th February 2022

My perusal of a recent copy of TGO magazine brought me across a few possibilities in an issue having the strapline "Walk the World" on its cover. When it comes to overseas journeying, I tend to take what alpinists might call a centrist approach. What I mean is that I have a habit of basing myself in one location and exploring that and places situated around and about it. The other approach would be to go from place to place on an itinerary.

Certainly, my usual approach makes it much easier to organise a trip and it matters more when I am going further away from home: just book somewhere to stay and sort out how to travel there and back again. After that, it is possible to concentrate on finding one’s feet and experiencing any local delights to a deeper level than you would if moving from place to place. It also works well for independent travelling and that is what I did before the pandemic came our way.

There are many trips to Scotland and the Isle of Man where I have taken the centrist approach and it has come in handy for overseas escapades featuring Iceland, Switzerland, Austria, Spain and Canada. One notable exception has been Norway but, even there, I have limited my stopping points and there was a time that I traipsed from place to place around Scotland too.

Thus, the list of possible base "camps" for European excursions in that recent issue of TGO caught my eye. Two places on the lists have seen my footfall already: Innsbruck in Austria and Sóller in Mallorca. The first of these has an embarrassment of riches surrounding it that easily caused quandaries during my extended weekend stay during May 2016. The others need to remain on file for the future. They include Senja in Norway, Gavarnie in the Pyrenees, Sotres in Picos de Europa, Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites and Bled in Slovenia. All are near to the type of countryside that I relish so they could be worth seeking should opportunities arise.

In a similar vein, Outside also listed the best mountain towns in the U.S.A. and this too struck a chord with me since I have had designs on exploring American mountain country for a while. For example, the prospect of spending time around Denver and Boulder in Colorado during the summer of 2020 foundered because of the pandemic. So, getting a wider list could be helpful and there are twenty-four entries. The source article is behind a paywall but it is worth becoming a paid subscriber to get a list like this.

The possibilities include Cordova in Alaska, Sedona in Arizona, Bentonville in Arkansas, Truckee in California, Durango & Telluride in Colorado, Stanley in Idaho, Copper Harbor in Michigan, Bozeman & Whitefish in Montana, Asheville in North Carolina, North Conway in New Hampshire, Taos in New Mexico, Lake Placid in New York, Bend in Oregan, Spearfish in South Dakota, Chattanooga in Tennessee, Terlingua in Texas, Park City in Utah, Stowe in Vermont, Roanoke in Virginia, Leavenworth in Washington State, Davis in West Virginia and Jackson in Wyoming. Here, I have ordered things by state so you will need to go to the article to get their ordering and the details that they supply for there is a lot to uncover about these. Many already are places that I have checked out but others are not.

It is all very fine to have lists of locations but there are other considerations like accessibility using public transport and the availability and cost of accommodation. Some locations are sure to be well known and hence will be busy places so knowing quieter times like shoulder seasons will prove useful as could using the services of a travel company. Of course, you cannot go anywhere without having the ideas in the first place.

Yearning

19th February 2022

We live in stormy times and stormy weather has been our lot in recent days. There also is a wintry feel since snow is falling in places as I write these words. Often, I have written here about the storms of life with the understanding that being out in nature is so restorative.

That has been the refrain from John Muir and so many others. We hear in the outdoor press about those who are unhappy in their everyday life and then leave that after them, at least for a while, to take on an outdoors challenge. That also features in the stories of people like Elise Downing who ran around the coast of Britain and became a Silver winner in The Great Outdoors Awards for her book Coasting. Some even have followed this kind of endeavour by changing their whole lifestyles.

The subject of soothing solitude has been mentioned in my writings numerous times and is one of the motivations for my excursions into nature. The landscapes may be human-influenced in so many ways yet it is their present-day emptiness that draws me. It might my introversion but I relish being away from others for periods. It certainly has drawn me out in wilder lands in Scotland and England but it also has its limitations.

Dependence on incursions into emptier lands still does not eliminate dependence on others. First of all, they need to be conserved but there are other things too. Political developments can affect them and my reverence for the Scottish Highlands and Islands made me emotionally vulnerable in 2014 when Scotland was debating its constitutional future. That led me to look elsewhere.

Unfortunately, that too can be bedevilled by global events like the ongoing pandemic and geopolitical tensions in different places. Developments like Britain’s exit from the European Union can unsettle as well. In many ways, this demonstrates the problems with having oases and havens outside of oneself. Going elsewhere for peace and healing can be forestalled by other intrusions all too easily.

At the start of 2020, I was reading Anthony Storr’s Solitude and the enduring lesson from that book was the power of interior self-efforts. That certainly has for me been an ongoing effort in life when solitude allowed me to heal enough during a career break to go back to working again and get through an emotional period in my work life. The same could be said for dealing with grief, loss and upheaval since the passing of my parents who thankfully were spared the travails of the pandemic and other intrusions.

It has taken interior efforts to deal with the fear and restrictions of the pandemic too. Initially, I was left floundering and a heavy withdrawal from caffeine consumption lasted several months but has left me sleeping more soundly nowadays. It took me a while to find again the relaxing effects of outdoor wandering and I will not forget the benefits of a circular stroll from home in May 2020 that took in Croker Hill, Bosley Reservoir, Bosley and Gawsorth in what was a wider sweep than I recognised at the time.

Books feature in interior journeys too and they certainly do in my case. Peaceful, evocative descriptions of nature have been mentioned in other postings that you will find here but there has been another strand to this over the last twelve months that may make some readers feel awkward. That has gone along the paths of faith and spirituality. Authors like John Barton, Karen Armstrong and Edward Feser have been on the left-brained portion of this reading ramble but it has taken a more mystical turn with authors like Richard Rohr, John O’Donohue and others that I have yet to read. This is experiential reading with a little more than what you might find in nature or travel writing.

That is not to say that I have abandoned nature writing because it deals with bodily sensing but that it has taken more of a backseat for now. There is a whole body of writing that awaits experiencing and brings its share of helpful peace, healing and meaning. To mention this is to bare my soul a little yet it could influence how I approach my wanderings and show them in a different light. The wonder of nature and the way that light falls on a landscape remains attractive for me but this may be encountered in a more holistic mindset.

Too often, I have felt that some frame outdoor activity too superficially and focus on their efforts to the point of disregarding their surroundings. That makes me look at the athleticism of some as being too shallow an existence when a more transcendental experience is possible. Certainly, that follows from the thinking of people such as John Muir and Henry David Thoreau as well as even the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Physical condition and skillfulness remain important but they need to serve some higher purpose.

For many people, this involves being with others and adding the ambience of nature’s wonders to this certainly enhances that. That is good in itself but there is something about being alone in a landscape that it soothes and heals with its peacefulness. There are times when apparent absence is full of presence and becomes what is needed by a stressed and overwhelmed soul.

Recent changes in mapping technology

15th February 2022

There have been a few things that I have been meaning to write about in recent times but I never got around to doing that because of other distractions. Anyone who has been here before should know that I have a fascination with maps and the advance of technology has done nothing to change that. If anything, it has meant that two interests of mine come together: computing and hillwalking.

As part of going lighter weight, using the OS Maps app on my phone has become a common occurrence and I still bring paper maps with me on longer hikes even if I use phones with long battery life. The old skills remain invaluable when technology fails because of a lack of signal or electrical power.

The OS Maps subscription also means that you gain access to extra content on the associated web portal and that got a recent refresh. One advance is that it can be made full screen but a hardware driver issue meant that it would not work on one of my PC’s until I sorted the software problem.

Aside from the OS Maps app, I also have made much use of the ViewRanger app, especially on overseas trips. Ones to Ireland and Canada come to mind but the mix of content from existing providers with freely available mapping data proved to be a very useful one. That I managed to acquire enduring licences for some of these instead of subscriptions was an added attraction. It certainly made the option better in my eyes than what Geolives was offering through SityTrail even if subscriptions are how things are moving nowadays.

However, ViewRanger became part of Outdooractive so things changed. Because the pandemic kept me in the UK, I have not looked into the new operation so much but it could be something that I need to check for overseas escapades now that restrictions are easing again after the arrival of the Omicron strain of COVID-19 near the end of last year. Others have commented that the changeover has not been smooth but the free maps look comprehensive and I appear to have been able to carry over access to mapping data that I already had.

Speaking of travelling overseas, I am now a subscriber to Backpacker magazine and so have access to content from the Outside network. One part of that is GAIA GPS and the things are with hiking maps in the U.S.A. means that this is an interesting offering, especially if I get access through my existing subscription. When I tried before, I was able to see maps through its online portal but it would take an actual visit to really check out what is on offer. Though I am cautious, that might be more realisable than it has been for a long time.

Into nighttime

14th February 2022

Over the last few months, I have gone walking under hours of darkness by design rather than by accident as often has been the case. Much of this has been in urban areas in the name of remaining active after a day of working from home but some have taken me away from hard surfaces as well.

The first time that I ever tried this was during a much-needed career break at the end of 2017. Then, I chose a nearby route that I knew well and I relished the quietude once I had over some initial nervousness. The same route was plied by night several times during the winter of 2020/21 and the reduction in the chances of encountering others was as much an attraction as being out on moonlit ones and ones that were not so bright. Naturally, a head torch was put to good use in the process.

The same sense of peace and solitude drew me out again and other routes were chosen. Most were near at hand and with better staring points as well. Each time, I was reminded of the reduction in the amount of information from what we have by day and I always was on familiar ground. It was not just the one’s whereabouts that demonstrated this but the placement of one’s feet and one’s sense of balance.

This traipsing reached its zenith on New Year’s Eve at the end of a long day out that added an extreme elbow to two places that are not that far apart. Mostly, I try to keep away from where people live because having unexpected lights around a home in the countryside could feel unsettling and intrusive. Nevertheless, the countryside feels very different at night and being out there feels more adventurous than it might during the hours of daylight.