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!

More photos of North America

21st March 2024

Looking towards Double Point, Point Reyes National Seashore, California, U.S.A.

The North America section of the photo gallery now looks a little more substantial after adding an album for photos from last year’s trip to the San Francisco Bay Area. There already was one for those from 2019’s trip to British Columbia, and that looked a bit lonely on its own. It is not so easy to claim an interest in exploring another continent with only one substantive visit having happened.

While my appetite for North American explorations has been sated somewhat by those two trips, I cannot rule out the possibility of there being another this year. Seattle and Washington State both look tempting. A visit to Olympic National Park could be a possibility. However, as I know from my designs on Denver and Boulder in Colorado for the summer of 2020, anything could happen that stymies such schemes. Nothing has been planned yet, since I have a few things on my plate at the moment.

Something for muddy going

12th March 2024

The amount of rain that has beset our lives since last summer has made some places so muddy that I am contenting myself with wellington boots on local walks. They are not the most comfortable, but they deal with the surface water and the greasy conditions underfoot.

These are not the times for crossing fields and the like with footwear that you might like to keep in a respectable state. Aside from formal wear, this also includes anything that I might use for hiking overseas. Meindl boots are the mainstay there, so I also have a pair of Scarpa Ranger II Activ GTX boots that I do not mind covering with mud.

In the autumn of 2022, these replaced a pair of Berghaus boots that frankly were too big for me and even hurt my feet enough for their becoming a charity shop donation. The Scarpa boots fit better, though going a European size down might not do any harm either. So far, even they have gone overseas, even if that might change if they start to look too muddy.

Thus far, the Scarpas have been all around Great Britain as well as Ireland, the Channel Islands and France. Aside from a trip beside Loch Morlich, their size has done no harm and certainly has not caused any foot injury. Thus, I am sticky with these. It might be useful to have older boots like my now retired Meindl Bhutan pair (after losing a sole, repair was unrealistic given how battered the uppers looked) for muddy walking, but these will do for now.

It helps to have good maps…

1st March 2024

While writing trip reports for Tenerife, I was reminded of the travails that I encountered with using the maps that I had in my possession. At the time, I found myself cross-referencing data between different providers for working out where I was going. That was not ideal, but I managed to make it work.

Something similar happened in Canada. When the maps from Natural Resources Canada did not have all the detail that I expected, I resorted to using the base map provided by ViewRanger because it showed trails on there. For my various traipsings, that did suffice, even if there are possible risks like those highlighted in an article on the TGO website.

In the UK or Ireland, it may be that the tracks shown cannot be used by the public, so you need to check how things look on the ground. Then, there are possible errors because many trails are crowdsourced. That is another reason for checking on what surrounds you and applies when using user routes found on various apps and websites. The likes of AllTrails and Outdooractive come to mind here.

It helps to have good maps...

In my case, I ran into no problems in Canada because I was following low-level trails and established tracks much of the time. For off-trail use, mapping from National Resources Canada would have proved as necessary as the use of a compass and awareness of wildlife. Hiking in North America takes one into wilder places after all. Finding paper maps takes a bit more work, as I found, but the added effort pays dividends as long as you watch coverage of where you are planning to go.

In a more recent excursion to California, the Gaia GPS app became invaluable as long as I had downloaded the map data before setting off on hiking trips. Topo Maps+ from Glacier Peak Studios may be another option for users of Apple devices, but I stuck with what I had courtesy of a subscription to Outside+. In any case, Gaia GPS did whatever I needed, and I hardly needed to check any paper maps that I had.

That was just as well, since map scales vary widely for U.S. hiking areas anyway. USGS quads may be standardised, but the same cannot be said for other publishers, with National Geographic being a prominent example. Still, any device has a limited battery lifetime so being proficient with a map and compass remains a necessity, especially in remote areas where mobile signal may be too limited.


27th February 2024

The magazines Cumbria and Lakeland Walker have been combined, a move that makes me wonder about the wisdom of remaining a subscriber. The strictures at the height of the pandemic saw me subscribe to a number of magazines, mainly to cut down on shop visits and also to contribute to keeping going through a tough time. Lakeland Walker was one of these and had its uses for getting ideas for Cumbrian outings.

Since then, there have been a number of changes. The world has turned against plastic, so many magazines are mailed in paper envelopes, not the best for keeping them dry during some of the deluges that have beset us during the last twelve months. What once was a title printed on A4 paper now is part of a combined title printed on what appears to be A5 paper, an increase from the size of Cumbria magazine, though.

So, we have the perhaps clumsily titled Cumbria and Lakeland Walker magazine. In some ways, the combination is reminiscent of The Scots Magazine, which also has an outdoors section, albeit without maps. Thus, the merged entity can work and there may be a finite number of walking ideas among the Lakeland fells anyway. Only time will tell how things will out for the new title and if I remain a subscriber, for there can be too many magazines and not enough time to read them all.

More time in Ireland

26th February 2024

Currently, I am a freelancer between contracts and that gives me some more time to attend to my Irish affairs as well as getting some added rest. Thus, I was in Ireland for a two-week stint, trying to buy somewhere that my brother and I can use once we have disposed of another house that I inherited.

Such is the business of viewing property that there was some downtime too, and I also needed to clear my head of any confusion caused by estate agent patter. The weather may have been mixed, but there were drier interludes too. Sometimes, you also need to walk during periods of dampness, especially if there is a mind to rest.

Before all the property hunting, a sunny day was enough to return me to Blarney after a break of several decades. Thankfully, they have made the way down from the top of the castle to follow an easier route, which is just as given the steepness of the way up. On a previous visit with my father, the arrangement may have been reversed, which did not help for an easy descent for someone unaccustomed to heights. At the time, I genuinely thought we were going the wrong way. Kissing the Blarney stone was not an option, though added eloquence could have its uses…

The castle was not the only attraction, though; this is just as well, given the €20 entry fee. There are many paths through parkland, especially areas with more attention to their layout. For those, the word labyrinth may not be such a ridiculous description. There is a longer through woodland that circuits a lake for those fancying added quietude. It all ensured that value for money could be sought.

The city of Cork is not without its amenity walks, either. Old railway lines have been converted into Greenways that came in handy for surveying property locations as well as getting in some coastal walking. Others choose to cycle or jog along these too, so they certainly are multipurpose. One starts near Páirc Uí Chaoimh and continues past Rochestown to finish at Passage West, though you can continue to Monkstown too. This even allows a crossing to Great Island, allowing for a stroll from Cork city centre to Cobh. That was how it happened for me on one of the days, and another sunny morning drew me out to Blackrock Castle as well.

There are yet unrealised ambitions for a full Cork Harbour Greenway, extending from the city’s Marina as far afield as Carrigaline and Crosshaven. The missing piece is between Passage West and Carrigaline, yet the Greenway between Carrigaline and Crosshaven has its uses as it shadows the course of the Owenboy River as well as the road between the two places. Crosshaven has Camden Fort Meagher as well as a few coastal paths, so that may make the quieter option should you desire it.

Fort Wildlife Park draws many to Fota Island, a possibility by train that uses the line between Cork and Cobh. There also is Fota House, which is currently under restoration, and its associated gardens. All served a purpose on a day with its share of dampness before the afternoon grew drier. The wildlife was the basis of a school tour for me many years ago, yet that did not stop another visit that was extended to get the most value from the €20 entry fee. The gardens around Fota House saw another visit on a sunnier day that was not without rain showers. Even so, there were more chances for some photography and that was enough to lure me to Cobh again.

My travels did not stay around Cork all the while. Youghal got a brief visit, as did Waterford. The first was mainly a leisure pursuit, while the second involved some property reconnaissance. There was none of that during a day trip to Killarney that needed later bus connections for a return to Cork. My wanderings had eaten up more time than I had intended on a circuit around Muckross Lake. There were designs on an alternative excursion to Glengarriff, but the ticket machine convinced me that this was not possible. That was just as well, since it felt like too much of a risk anyway, especially I need to do something on the day after.

So far, my trip to Ireland appears to be serving its main purpose, and it was good to revisit old haunts and explore new places as well. Apart from a stiff ascent near Killarney or getting to and from the shoreline near Crosshaven, gradients were a less significant feature of any strolling. Nevertheless, the mix was welcome; you cannot be attending to business matters all the time in any case.