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!
There is a saying or proverb in the Irish language that becomes the following when translated into English: the sandpiper cannot attend to two beaches. This and other pieces of wisdom are to be found in The Little Book of Celtic Mindfulness. In fact, the title likely is a misnomer, at least to me, for wisdom fits the contents better than mindfulness, though the greater fashionability of the latter possibly won out in this case.
As someone who has divided his life between different places for so long, the phrase with which I open this piece resonates more easily with me. With family remaining in Ireland and work taking me to the U.K., there always has been a sense of there being different shores. Add explorations across two different continents to the mix, and you very easily can end up without a sense of permanent abode.
Maybe that is one meaning of the Christian wisdom about gaining the world only to lose one’s soul, even if the idea of pilgrimage is baked into that tradition as well. Sometimes, too much application of logic and reason to the ways of life can show you that nothing retains self-consistency, no matter how hard you try.
There is something ongoing in my life at the moment that reinforces the opening point. It causes me to remain focussed on that, so I cannot go further afield, Nevertheless, there remain opportunities for wandering that I can take, and their descriptions may follow at another time. Whenever the weather offers, my body goes wandering too.
Thinking back to last year, my wandering took me to Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Channel Islands, France and California. This is quite unlike the pandemic years that grounded me in my local area, allowing for many deeper explorations. That is being rested these days when I can see other parts. North America remains tempting, as does seeing more of Scotland. Other places may feature yet because life’s plans cannot be set in the stone. The explorations continue.
For various reasons, there has been a festive season getaway for me since 2018/9 when I spent the New Year period on Tenerife. 2019/20 was forestalled by the need to secure some freelance work, and the pandemic intruded after that. Thus, it was not before time that I did something different for the time of year.
So, I stayed in Edinburgh around Christmas before moving to Aviemore for a stay around the New Year period. The forecast was not promising, and hence I kept my expectations low, which was just as well given that only one day came sunny while I was in the Scottish capital. Even with rain and showers, I pottered by the Water of Leith, while the best day was spent going up and down various members of the Pentland Hills: Capelaw Hill, Allermuir Hill and Caerketton Hill. These had not been traipsed since August 2008, and I thought it to be a good idea for a short winter’s day with some ice on the ground and a sprinkling of what looked like snow on the tops.
The arrival of Storm Gerrit made the transfer to Aviemore more challenging. Having got as far as Perth, I ended up returning to Edinburgh for a rethink because of a closed railway line and a flooded road. Handily, the hotel in Aviemore altered my booking for me, and I was able to find a humble abode elsewhere where I could regroup. The next day, I embarked on a long if uncertain journey around Scotland to reach Aviemore. The first leg was by coach to Aberdeen before catching a crowded double-decker bus to Inverness. The latter thankfully got less busy after Huntly, but seeing a southbound railway departure from Inverness started to make me concerned about progress. Everything was OK in the end, though the timing was tighter than I would have liked. What might have been a three-hour journey became more than three times that length; though not waiting for news on railway reopening could have got me on a coach instead, thus avoiding the need to go the long way around.
Thankfully, the weather was less intrusive while I was in Aviemore. A hike into Glen Eanaich followed my gallivanting around Scotland. There was some sunshine too, which was a bonus. Any designs on reaching Loch Eanaich were forestalled by the amount of water flowing in burns; it is one thing to chance a difficult crossing on a one-way passage, but doing it on an out and back hike is quite another matter. In the event, I did not feel denied, though previous thoughts of doing the journey by bicycle evaporated from my mind. The hike is one that I fancy repeating when the waters are lower.
The prospect of rain and the need to attend to a matter lured me to Inverness the next day. What followed was some traipsing along the banks of the River Ness and the Caledonian Canal. The dafter idea of walking as far as the shore of Loch Ness was stopped by a wrong turning that instead sent me to the shore of the Beauly Firth at Clachnaharry. On the day, I thought that just as well, and I picked up on the idea a few days later. Then, I watched my navigation and got as far as Lochend with a walk along the side of the A82 that I had no appetite for repeating. Otherwise, there was much to savour and other ideas like walking to Inverness from Drumnadrochit using the Great Glen Way or checking out the South Loch Ness Trail got deposited into my mind.
Before this, I walked from Kingussie to Aviemore using sections of the Speyside Way as well as the East Highland Way. There was some sunshine but plenty of cloudiness too. Initial progress along the Speyside Way was at a sensible pace, until fallen trees made getting through Inshriach Forest more challenging than anticipated. Crossing one or two fallen trees at a time is one thing, but if five or ten come down together, heading back to a minor road makes a deal of sense. It might have been my stubbornness, but I continued around or over any obstacles in my way. Instead of continuing to Kincraig, I turned for Feshiebridge from where I continued by Moor of Feshie towards Loch Gamhna and Loch an Eilean, where the light really started to fail for the day. Being on familiar ground and having a head torch meant that encroaching darkness was no issue, and I looked forward to a quiet New Year’s Eve after the long hike.
With no public transport services on New Year’s Day, it paid to stay local, and the weather could not have been better. New Year’s greetings abound as I rounded Loch an Eilean and Loch Gamhna before I made for the Cairngorm Club Footbridge to cross Am Beanaidh, the river originating in Gleann Eanaich. My next destination was Loch Morlich, where I made good use of the available light for photographic purposes, dallying longer than on my previous ill-fated encounter when a tumble ripped my trousers. There was no such mishap on my return to Aviemore using the Old Logging Way. Even though the light was failing, I got away without using a head torch when I got under street lights in time. There were no complaints about the day, and staying low avoided the difficulties of snowbound upland travel, though I was amazed by the amount of motor traffic.
The whole Scottish escapade brought many gifts my way, as well as a few obstacles. Rain and storm intruded, but other compensations more than made up for any wettings or travel disruption. They may even have planted other ideas in my mind for future excursions. That is often the sign of a really good getaway.
Around the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, I made a Scottish Highlands return. Due to intrusions of life and escapades that convey me to foreign shores, I have not frequented a part of the world that I continue to admire as much as I once did, and there is much more to savour.
The reminders come from my dipping in and out of Seton Gordon’s Scotland, a compilation of selected writings from the selected author of some renown, made by Hamish Brown. This follows my devouring of Seton Gordon’s Cairngorms while flying from London to San Francisco last month. That followed much the same format and also involved Hamish Brown.
In truth, I often think of the West Highlands as being the epitome of the Scottish Highlands, though the most recent incursions have used Stirling and Aviemore as bases. The latter of these was where I headed for this year’s visit, partly because hotels in Stirling were fully booked and that possibly was caused by a Harry Styles concert in Edinburgh. The Cairngorms return was a welcome one in any event.
2009 and 2010 was when I last was there, so my going back was long overdue. Then, hostelling became my choice of accommodation, but the latest trip saw me ensconced in a hotel for greater privacy. In many ways, the ground covered in May overlapped with those earlier incursions.
There was an ascent of Bynack More, made in blustery conditions that briefly brought some light rain. This lay in my mind since 2010, and it felt not before time when I did it. This also is my first Munro; it was its relative accessibility that initially put the idea into my head and not the fact that I stayed in a dorm of the same name in Glenmore hostel. The day improved during my walk, and I might have liked lingering around Loch Morlich but for my feeling worn after my exertions.
That was resolved by going back there and returning to Aviemore on foot to take in both Rothiemurchus and Loch an Eilean, though any sunshine was made hazy by a thin cloud covering. There was a reprise on the next day, while walking from Nethy Bridge to Aviemore under clear skies and in warm sunshine. Other haunts like Ryvoan Bothy were passed on my hike and there were ample opportunities for photography too. What I could have done without was a tumble that ripped my trousers that cast a shadow over the rest of my wandering.
That mishap and its aftermath feels brief now and I might have fancied staying longer given the continued sunny weather. The trousers were replaced anyway, and any scuffs that I had suffered were well bandaged. However, the size of the Cairngorms began to enter my thoughts enough for me to consider hiring a bike for future off-road wanderings. Cycling would make a good way to reach Loch Einich, for instance.
Craigellachie National Nature Reserve was not ignored either, especially given its proximity. Now that I think of it, there were four incursions. The lochans are best savoured in the morning light while going above the tree line in the evening time grants you views east towards the Cairngorms and south along Strathspey. This is a wee place that offers so much.
Further Highland returns are possible. Seeing Ben Ledi in wonderful sunshine remains an unfinished business, as does reprising parts of the West Highland Way north of Bridge of Orchy to get better photos. The more adventurous prospect of a short backpacking trip from Taynuilt to Glencoe or Kinlochleven has entered my mind too. What went from being a place to explore to becoming a refuge from life’s woes now becomes somewhere to experience again and anew.
Last month, I made a return to North America after an absence of nearly four years. There might have been a trip to Colorado in 2020 only for the pandemic but I chose the San Francisco Bay Area as a follow-up to my time in British Columbia.
This time around, it was hiking around the Bay Area that provided the main lure. San Francisco itself is often beset by fog during the summer because of climatic conditions, but there are clear spells too. The meeting of cooler oceanic air with hotter continental air is the cause of this, and that cooler air also makes the city much cooler than other surrounding areas too.
For photography, that means that you need to take your chances when you get them. My first evening there was a cloudy affair as was the next day, apart from a break in the cloud cover during the morning time. The return of cloud cover did little to help photographic efforts around Golden Gate Park, Land’s End, Bake Beach, Marshall’s Beach, Golden Gate and Crissy Field. There was a lot of fog obscuring the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands too. A partial reprise a few days later benefitted from an afternoon break in cloud cover to provide some impressive lighting at times.
Before that though, I went to Angel Island State Park where some unusual weather was seen. There was an odd juxtaposition of fog and low cloud along with hot strong sunshine. The latter won out much of the time and I got to see many little lizards scurrying about the place on a hike that took in Mount Livermore as I went around the island. On my return to the mainland, I was drawn back to Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Bridge by way of the Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharfe. There were rewards for this reprisal and I tried out a bus on the way back to the city too.
That reconnaissance came in handy for a trip to Muir Woods National Monument since the journey to Sausalito used the services of the same bus company. Once there, a pre-booked shuttle conveyed me to the National Monument where I spent most of the day. The shade of the tree cover provided some respite from the intense warm sunshine. On the way back from Sausalito, I got a good sighting of the Golden Gate Bridge that encouraged me to walk over and back across it to get some pleasing photos. A mistake with a bus made the return to my lodgings a lot longer, but no harm was done. That misstep was to have its uses for someone else during the following weekend.
Point Reyes National Seashore was my target for the next day, though it might have been better to head to Stinson Beach instead since the weekend bus timings were better for that location. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a shaded hike around Mount Wittenberg and returned to San Francisco at the time that I had planned. Since this was my first time there, I did not overstay to avoid problems with transportation.
Two days later, it was the turn of Stinson Beach and Mount Tamalpais State Park. If this had been a weekend venture, there might have been a circular hike taking in more of the Matt Davis Trail. However, I was sated with the ascent that took me along part of the Dipsea Trail and the Steep Ravine Trail, though the segment of the Matt Davis Trail that I briefly sampled more than intrigued me so it pained me to turn back. That was to catch the last bus of the day to Sausalito, which met with the ferry to San Francisco despite a need to attend to a poorly man at the side of the road on the way. That ferry boat’s close passage by Alcatraz was my closest approach to the iconic location of my trip, and I feel no need to have got any nearer.
Souvenir hunting had its effect on my choices too. For one thing, it drew back to Point Reyes National Seashore for another hike. This time, I headed towards the coast on the Bear Valley Trail before making a loop at the end using the Glen Trail and the Coastal Trail. That gained me expansive views up and down the coast before returning to the Bear Valley Trail near Arch Rock. There was a lot of tree-shaded hiking too, which was just as well given the heat of the day. Getting back to the visitor centre early meant that I could go back to San Rafael on an earlier bus. From there, I went around by El Cerrito to gain some inspiration for a visit to the East Bay Parks.
Before that, I headed to Sausalito for another souvenir and then to San Francisco City Hall once the sky had cleared. From there, it was back to El Cerrito where I made my way to Wildcat Canyon Regional Park. Though there were possibilities for gaining more height, I eschewed these because my legs felt less strong after all my exploits. My passage took me through Tilden Nature Park and then to Tilden Regional Park. After that, I descended to North Berkley, from where I went to Daly City to see if I could reach Mount San Bruno State Park. Fog halted that exploit so I returned to my lodgings, not displeased at being halted. Much had been gained and I flew home the next day without any regrets.
In Britain, last year saw a public jubilee being celebrated though I took no part in that. This year marks some private ones of my own, but it is the silver jubilee of my own shamblings on the World Wide Web that I have in mind here. Things have come a long way since those tentative steps on the now defunct Geocities. In the meantime, my interests in technology and transportation have found other homes to leave what you find here.
In the dying years of the last century, explorations of the sort that you find shared here only could be a pipe dream. Even photographic efforts were only tentative and involved a compact camera. SLR’s and hillwalking all lay in the future. Explorations of English, Scottish, Welsh and Manx countryside could come only because of what I earned from a working life. These needed time to make them happen too and clement weather to make the experiences desirable.
It is only within the last ten years that I could have entertained notions of international travel that has taken me to various parts of Iceland, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Canada and France. Even a return to the Channel Islands to follow up on a school trip only happened this year. In the next few weeks, I hope to embark on another international escapade, the details of which I will share later.
The wanderings continue and photos keep coming. Since Easter, there have trips to Ireland, northwest Wales and highland Scotland. The last of these saw me spend some time around Aviemore taking Craigellachie National Nature Reserve, the top of Bynack Mór, Loch Morlich and Rothiemurchus. A tumble may have ruined a pair of trousers but it pained me to leave the place with a week of sunny weather in train. The Welsh trip had no such drama and featured the top of Y Garn near the Ogwen Valley on a day of gathering heat.
The weather on the Irish trip was mixed, yet there were a few highlights that avoided the razzmatazz surrounding a coronation. A walk from Newcastle West to Abbeyfeale along the Limerick Greenway convinced me that it is best enjoyed as a cycling route. That exertion may have left me feeling the worst for wear, but that did not stop me heading to Clonmel for a circular hike taking in part of the Comeragh Mountains as well as a walk by the River Suir.
The threat of rain did not stop me spending a few hours around Ballybunion or Galway. There was a soaking at the former after a stroll along the Long Strand and a cliff top walk. That was while I was awaiting the bus back to Limerick and I dried on the way back. The day improved in Galway and I got no wetting around Salthill, it somewhat pained me to leave sunny Eyre Square to return from there. Return visits to either place cannot be discounted, even though I have been scathing about the first of these; my parent’s chosen form of enjoyment was not mine, I need to say.
Stories of all the journeying over the decades would have stunned a young university student all those years ago, and there may be more yet. New locations continue to beckon to me and old ones entice return visits. More of those may await and inspire more writing on here afterwards.