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!

Scottish return

3rd September 2022

It has taken quite a while but I recently enjoyed some Scottish hill-wandering around Stirling. Stirling also was where I went when I last was in Scotland so there is a sliver of continuity despite the break of over three years. The main cause of this was the arrival of the pandemic which added travel nervousness on my part.

In 2019, the main reason for my trip was photographic and I stayed near its castle even though part of the structure was covered in scaffolding at the time. Even so, I could not help admiring any views of the Ochil Hills that lay before me. These were to prove a lure for a return trip once I summoned the courage to do so.

Before that, I have been finding my feet in England and Ireland. The latter has seen a few trips this year and the former has hosted various visits to the Pennines and the Lake District. Before the trip to Stirling, I even enjoyed a hike from the Ullswater to Thirlmere that took in the tops of White Side, Lower Man and Helvellyn in pleasing sunshine. The way up was gradual but the same could not be said for the testing descent that was on the point of beating those who were coming the other way.

My time in Stirling saw me mount more summits but without the accompaniment of the sort of weather than blessed my ascent of Helvellyn. Because the second hill day was set to be overcast, I was divided over where to go because going to Callander for an ascent of Ben Ledi had entered my head. In the event, it was that which was done on the better day and got me back somewhere that I had not frequented for around fifteen years. Skies were largely clouded so another return trip is in prospect whenever bright sunshine and clearer skies are likely. Still, the sun did break through the clouds from time to time so it was not all gloom. The landscape was stunning though and seeing that in brighter conditions remains an attraction.

It must have been stubbornness that led me to hike the summits of Ben Ever, Ben Cleuch, Andrew Gannel Hill and King’s Seat Hill in poor visibility and it was just as well that I had wet weather gear given the enduring dampness on those tops. This was never a day for views but my navigation did not falter and the quietude of the experience was transporting. Perversely, the next day came sunny so a quick morning trip for some photography was in order before I needed to check out of the hotel. It was constrained by my not having charged camera batteries as much as was ideal but I still came away with much of what I had sought. Even so, a return in better weather cannot be ruled out since the incursion certainly got me away from everyday living and what I did get to see appealed to me.

Having reasons to return somewhere may be frustrating for any sense of closure but Scotland is laden with these for the weather does not always perform according to human desires. My only stay in Callander may have taken some of the sights around ben Ledi more than twenty years ago but it only was a halting point while en route to Fort William and Portree as I ran away from rain approaching from the east. As it happens, both Lorn and Lochaber have their share of sites where I fancy making better photos and even supplanting good images captured on film with digital counterparts. There is plenty of inspiration left yet.

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.

Musings on cycling

12th February 2022

This post nearly got called “Misgivings about cycling” after encountering a cyclist riding at speed on the pavement while out for two evening walks recently. While I accept that riding on the road can be forboding, going on the footway is illegal and these incidents happened when the road was quiet as well. It also peeves me a bit as I find it intrusive on narrow footpaths.

What lifted my spirits somewhat was the announcement of the following changes to the Highway Code:

  • A new hierarchy of road users now follows the following principle: the larger the vehicle, the greater responsibility the driver will have to protect those more vulnerable on the road. This will apply to all road users from HGVs through to cyclists and horse riders to reduce the danger to pedestrians.
  • Cyclists are now advised to ride in the centre of their lane to increase visibility on quiet roads, in slow-moving traffic or on the approach to junctions.
  • Previously, a driver had to give way to a pedestrian already on a crossing or who has stepped off the kerb at a junction. The new changes mean that a driver, motorcyclist, cyclist or horse rider should now give way to a pedestrian who is waiting to cross a road into which, or from which, you are turning.
  • Drivers should not turn at a junction if it causes the vulnerable road user to go straight ahead to stop or swerve. This applies whether the driver is turning on or out of a junction or changing direction and lane.
  • A requirement to leave a minimum gap of at least 1.5m when overtaking a cyclist at speeds of under 30mph. This increases to 2m when travelling at speeds over 30mph.
  • A requirement to leave a minimum gap of at least 2m when overtaking a horse rider at no more than 10mph.
  • Allow 2m distance when passing a pedestrian who is walking in the road.
  • Wait behind the motorcyclist, cyclist, horse rider, horse-drawn vehicle or pedestrian and not overtake if it is unsafe or not possible to meet these clearances.

Many of these help other road users as well and there is another thing that comes to mind regarding the mixing of cycling and walking. That takes me back to a bank holiday visit to Cardiff predating the pandemic. Then, there were so many cyclists that I felt vulnerable as a walker so it hardly was as relaxing as I had hoped. That the Highway Code tells cyclists to be aware of walkers is a good thing if it gets remembered and that also applies to those other changes.

While cyclists feel more relaxed away from motorised traffic, they also need to remember other users and this is for me as well since I also favour quieter places to ride. In this way, I see both sides of the proverbial coin and making walkers less relaxed is not great either. It is for that reason that I am cool when it comes to supporting the idea that cyclists should be able to use the public footpath network.

It always comes down to how people go about their respective activities and it is the speed that is the issue. Just as fast traffic is offputting, a bunch of cyclists going fast has the same effect and they may not realise the fact. Much is about the interaction between different modes of travelling but there also is an impact made by how people live their lives.

My preference is for slowing down and appreciating the moment and my surroundings at that time. Some are happier to be engrossed in activities instead and it can produce a clash that intrudes on an otherwise peaceful. All the rules in the world will not help if we do not remember to apply them and being more mindful of others negates the need for rules in the first place anyway. In short, we need to think about others and not just ourselves, letting go of a little relaxation for a moment to make everything go smoothly.

Vicissitudes of publishing

4th July 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

25th June 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.