Outdoor Excursions

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: Cycling

Vicissitudes of publishing

Saturday, July 4th, 2020

For many, 2020 will be recalled as being very testing whatever their endeavour. Thankfully, my own line of work continues throughout the turmoil but others are not so lucky and the world of magazine publishing is just as affected. Even without an ongoing global pandemic, market conditions for the publishing of paper magazines are challenging anyway even if many have embraced electronic delivery.

The effects of all the change are more evident in photography and other activities affect by rapid changes in technology. Looking at computer magazines, numerous titles have disappeared from what once were loading newsagent shelves during their heyday in the 1990’s. Even long-standing ones like PC Plus were not immune nor were others like PC World, PC Answers, PC Format, Linux User & Developer, Web Designer and Net. As personal computing became more mainstream and mobile devices became more powerful, the preceding interest waned and anything that remained often went online for technology news.

Of course, this is not a technology blog but photography is closer to the interest in outdoor activity. Here, there also was a surfeit of titles but some have gone. Photography Monthly and Advanced Photography are among these but most remain, perhaps due to digitisation of photographic capture and other innovations. Photography also is a subjective practice so it is easy to concentrate on camera performance when it is the combination of composition and exposure mastery that really matters.

Maybe that is why Outdoor Photography remains the only such title that I read. It focusses on technique, experiences and results so the content feels more substantial to me and I enjoyed clearing my backlog of unread issues throughout April and May. Its publishing scheduled has been buffeted by the ongoing pandemic to the extent that it virtually became bimonthly instead of monthly. A lockdown cannot help when it comes to getting new photographic content and the economic impact also diminishes advertising revenue.

Outdoor and travel magazines are similarly afflicted. For instance, Backpacker skipped an issue (July/August) because of the falloff of advertising revenue while the team focussed on creating useful email newsletters and content like How to Hike During COVID. Its content may be American in focus but there remains some commonality for elsewhere too and I look forward to seeing what is in the next issue of their magazine.

Another title that has had its publishing schedule altered is Wanderlust. Admittedly, thoughts of overseas travel are something that many are putting on hold and I count myself among them. Maybe that is why the current issue of the magazine focusses on Britain itself and that follows surveys that they did. It could be that I am not the only one thinking of a staycation this year.

Even though there is a chance of flights to some destinations becoming more realistic, my own sights are set closer to home for the moment. A backlog of unread issues of Ireland of the Welcomes is being reduced at the moment and there are there are unread copies of Scottish Islands Explorer to follow those. Reading will be plentiful for a while yet. There are other possibilities like the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man but getting to any of these remains restricted for now.

Despite all of this, one still can dream about heading further afield. Giving the way that things are at the moment, it is better to be patient. That will allow one to see if Lonely Planet Magazine returns to news-stands as well as gaining greater experience in very changed circumstances. We already have learned much and there is more to add to our knowledge and experience. Given the risks, it is better to be vigilant and careful since we need a sustainable return to some sort of normality that will persist. That also is better for anyone adversely effected since there is nothing worse than a regression.

On stress & tension

Thursday, June 25th, 2020

This year has been one of the most stressful that I can remember and came after months of uncertainty about my business affairs as well. The latter was sorted but the new combination of fear of the unknown and being reminded strongly of one’s mortality was enough to provide a poor foundation for dealing with subsequent reductions in liberty. The result was a tension episode that lasted several weeks and needed discussions with professionals to help clarify my thinking so I could do what was really needed.

Throughout all of this, getting out for walks and cycles proved crucial. Some were longer than others; the time spent ranged from thirty minutes to a few hours and even whole days, all in the spirit of dealing with what I was experiencing. Having things open up more has helped the mood though I remain cautious and try to observe social distancing as much as I can though that involves the cooperation of others, something that is not always forthcoming. It might be that a mix of fatigue and complacency is not helping such compliance.

Aside from the above tooling for dealing with tough times, there ironically have been other things that I could have been doing if I had thought of them. Relaxation exercises are among these and I have an audio recording that I got in 2010 that really has helped. Two and five breathing exercises on a fitness watch have had benefits too. Both have helped me get back to other forms of relaxation like reading, which really does help and some of the books that have been occupying my time already have seen mentions on here. It also happens that magazine backlogs have been cleared too so I have been taken on other journeys as well as being taught new things.

All that means that my situation has come a long way in the right direction and I now have more of an understanding of my own neurology than I ever would have requested. Sensations are not treated with the severity that they once were since they could be caused by stress and it now appears that doing otherwise has been the cause of adding tension, resulting in the creation of a vicious circle. In other words, a new sense of perspective has been discovered and the new understanding can be applied equally well to other previous experiences.

As things progress to a more bearable counterpart to the normality that we once enjoyed without valuing it as much as we should have done, I can look back on other occasions and recognise other stress-busters like spending time exercising on a bike trainer while reading. We are enjoying long hours of daylight now but darker evenings could need an alternative and being on a bike trainer could help and might even have got me through tough times before without my realising it.

In so many ways, there were things in my favour like being able to work from home and having activities that occupied my time. Still, the situation got to me and I did not make as much use of the tools available to me as I should have done. If nothing else has been learned from the episode, that will be retained in memory for future reference.

Green, Blue & White

Sunday, May 31st, 2020

This was an entry that I meant to write last year but other intrusions got in the way. The need to face some fears surrounding a stay around Vancouver were among these. The latterly unrealised possibility of meeting a bear on a hike was uppermost but the length of the transatlantic air journey was another one as was my reproving myself for spending so much on a holiday. It turned out to be a year for major discretionary expenditure but all was paid off in good time.

The way of the world was another matter with an unwanted political change in the offing and business rules threatened my contracting enterprise. In the end, neither turned out to be as existential as feared and have been trumped by the ongoing pandemic in any event. That has added unnatural tension with which I have been learning to deal. It remains a work in progress and has encouraged me to get out and about in any sunshine.

The Spring Bank Holiday weekend was so good to me that I am left wondering if I can wait too long before having another longer break from work. Given current restrictions, travel will not be all that extensive and my dependence on public transport makes it more so even if I dream of short bus trips away from home. Even without this, I still see the benefits of taking a week or more away from work.

It helps that it is a time of year when colours that I find appealing are in such abundance. Many of my favourite photos are based around blues, greens and whites so I have started to wonder why. It may be that my tastes are simpler but these are calming colours as well. Other outdoor photographers may decry the summertime with early starts and late finishes being needed if you want to make images in the golden hours of sunrise and sunset. Others again look to autumn, a season that I find more challenging for photography with its directional light and added colour complexity. Then, winter can have tricky lighting conditions of its own but it does have its fans.

For me, springtime is my favourable and it has been glorious this year. Ironically, the pandemic restrictions and added sense of tension have been more enough encouragement to get out and experience what is there. Once I find a quieter spot and that is challenging when people cannot travel far, it is relished all the more. The feeling of added relaxation is as much a bonus as seeing the countryside at its best.

The main drawback of all the sunshine is that places are looking a bit parched and utility companies are asking us to conserve water. It is as if the transition from green to brown starts in summer with winter being its zenith before spring eventually greens things up again. That of course is the cycle of life as much as the lengthening and shortening of days.

June is ahead of us tomorrow so the solstice looms, a time of a little sadness for me since it marks the zenith of daylight hours before we start on an inexorable journey to their nadir. The winter solstice oddly marks a time of hope for me because days start to stretch after that. With all this, it is best to take each day at a time and marvel at how we adjust and adapt. That has been an ever present feature of the last few months for me and the bittersweet time beyond the summer solstice may be counterbalanced by any hope given by things opening up more and more as the year progresses.

Then, we might be able to contemplate a wider range of possibilities. July this year might have seen me go to Denver and Boulder in Colorado but that kind of escapade will need to wait. We never really know the times for making use of opportunities, something that is being driven home to us in this year. It is one where remaining in every moment and taking things day by day looks more sensible. It also causes us to make the most of every one of these and stops us merely passing by it all. That could drive how 2020 gets remembered: happy satisfying moments in the midst of a challenging time.


Sunday, May 24th, 2020

Looking back on last year now, it strikes me just how I never went walking the countryside as much as I might have done. However, there were preoccupations weighing on my mind. Ongoing political events were among them but a then forthcoming upheaval in my working life was a more pronounced concern. The latter continued into this year but was sorted in March though it had limited excursions in January as much as the weather did likewise in February.

Whatever tricky challenges I had imagined for 2020, they became nothing compared to a new viral disease that had sent us all into lockdown. In my case, it also brought added tension that got the better of me in April. Chats with clinicians have helped and I am moving beyond the episode now thanks to clarification of thinking as much as daily relaxation exercises.

Throughout all of this, I ventured out of doors every day for physical exercise in the locality. Some days, I have contented myself with local parks (Riverside, Victoria, South and West) but my horizons have expanded on other ones. As well as walking, I have returned to cycling too in an effort to make the current time feel less confining. While fairer weather and the time of year add encouragement, it also is amazing how a level of restriction causes you to make more use of what you have and that applies to me too.

All the while, I have been seeking our quieter places for an added sense of relaxation. Generally, I would have sought solitude anyway but social distancing is another motivation. Living in Macclesfield, I am fortunate to have nearby hill country into which I can escape. Of course, others can have similar ideas and that is why I limit travel along both the Macclesfield Canal and the Middlewood Way.

Tegg’s Nose and Croker Hill have seen encounters along with a variety of local places like Henbury, Gawsworth, Bollington, Prestbury, Rainow, Siddington, Marton, Alderley Edge, Chelford, North Rode and Bosley. The latter list sounds fairly extensive in its disorderly arrangement but it is good to have such surrounding countryside when so many are staying close to home.

Some places like Henbury can be busier that might be expected so it is taking some time to learn how to ensure social distancing is ever improving. Cutting down on touching of surfaces and bringing hand sanitiser on an outing is part of the way of things at the moment though there have been little moral boosters as well.

It might any some but the pervasive of sunny days is a blessing too and I have been making photos as I go. It is amazing what new sights you can find on a local patch. For instance, Macclesfield’s South Park offers views of Shutlingsloe and Croker Hill that add to a sunny evening stroll. There are new rights of way to find and travel as well as amenities like Bosley Reservoir. It all helps to lift a mood and can grant you a quiet relaxing cycling or stroll if you get things right with timing. Going out when others are not inspired to do the same remains a possibility as much as finding where they have not been inspired to go.

Travel shows

Monday, February 18th, 2019

For me, a rural Irish upbringing brought with it participation in agricultural shows and other country events. Trade stands were manned, cows got lead around show rings and vintage fairs got stewarded. The last of these became the cause of getting sunburnt; being indoors studying for so much of the year ensured that young bare skin remained unseasoned.

Though these contained hints of the agrarian about them, there were other hints that my future mainly lay outside of farming. When helping with trade stands promoting the advantages of Jersey or Simmental cattle, I was not the one doing the selling. Aside from my not having a salesperson’s bone in me, I simply did not know enough about animal husbandry to do any promotion and stuck to simpler tasks like keeping videos playing or giving out stickers to anyone who wanted them. Even back then, I knew my strengths.

More recently, industry conferences came into my life even if I am more likely to read their published papers rather than being there to watch them being presented to fellow colleagues. As it happens, that is something that I would like to address later this year should circumstances allow. These are busy events with a certain social aspect and have so many presentations that one hardly needs to go around stands; also, there can be good reason not to do so if you are not looking to switch job or buy some software tool.

The cause of all the above entering my mind is more leisure-focussed: a single weekend in January was occupied by my going to two travel shows. The first was the Adventure Travel Show in the London Olympia and the second was Destinations at Manchester’s EventyCity. The latter was the northern counterpart of the London version of the same show that took place two weeks later. Attending the southern counterpart may have been tempting but there is only so much that can be gained by going to the same show twice.

Having gone to the Photography Show in March of last year and gained so much, I was not surprised by the mix of talks and trade stands on offer at both of January’s travels shows. My having been at the 2018 event only made me more courageous that I once would have been. Stand holders prove not to be that much more pro-active than those encountered at the agricultural shows of my younger days. Being able to look before asking any questions has its appeal.

Picking up brochures is part of many a show and I had a hobby of doing such things at agricultural shows though stand holders much preferred them to end up in the hands of prospective customers than mere youngsters. Though never that interested in motor cars, my brother did get to an Irish motor show in 1986 and an ensuing, and much prized, bounty of brochures found its way to me. A residual interest in cars may persist but it is better these days by more active pursuits like travel, photography and the main subject of this blog.

This year’s travel shows also caused my to collect a bounty of brochures, especially at the Destinations show. It might have been that there was more to pick up but I also wondered if I was overdoing things are the relative restraint of the Adventure Travel Show. Still, there was overlap between with activity holidays being quite a mainstay. Walking, cycling and wildlife watching all featured with a certain more out of the way feel to the London event.

That certainly applies to the talks that took place there and, unlike the Photography Show, they all were free to attend. Featured destinations included Greenland, Patagonia, Spain and others and there were seminars too though I stayed away from those because of their time commitments when there were so many stands to browse with a range extending from tourist agencies to travel magazines with plenty of tour operators in attendance. Choosing to return home at a reasonable hour also meant missing out on a film night but enough was gained without that.

There was less in the way of audiovisual information at the Manchester event though it did feature cookery demonstrations and talks on travel health matters such as avoiding overseas infections and infestations. Still, there were talks on visiting such diverse destinations as Sri Lanka and Canada for those who wished to rest weary legs for a while. Being there on the last day revealed something that I last met at those Irish events: there was a certain anticlimax as things drew towards a close, especially after lunch when a neighbouring camping and caravanning show also opened for attendees.

Naturally, both events featured eateries even if they were nowhere near as extensive as last year’s Photography Show. Getting to them involved its own lesson learning, especially the London event at the Olympia. Getting there from Macclesfield in the future will avoid use of the London Underground in favour of changing trains at Stoke-on-Trent and Milton Keynes to arrive at Kensington Olympia station on the national rail network. The Manchester event was easier to reach by public transport with a return train journey and bus journey combination easily facilitating the needful.

Having missed the events on previous years for one reason or another, it was good to get to them. While independent travel remains my preference, it was good to see what package tours are on offer and what tourism agencies have to say about what is possible in their respective countries. Those brochures need perusal while other thinking continues.