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!
One thing that I do not keep myself is a written diary though photos from various outings act as prompts for my memory at times. Until his health no longer allowed him, my late father used to keep a diary and often referred to it when trying to unearth what happened on a particular day. After his passing, they were put somewhere more discreet for the sake of maintaining a sense of dignity.
It is not recent encounters with lapses of memory that has brought this to mind but recent reading. Over the summer, I got to catching up with Chris Townsend’s Rattlesnakes and Bald Eagles where a long hike along the Pacific Crest Trail from thirty years before was recounted lucidly. That was followed by Hamish’s Mountain Walk by Hamish Brown where mentions of journal keeping appear in the a narrative that includes reminiscences from twenty or so preceding years of wandering about Scotland’s hills. Going back further in time, I then read Mary T. S. Schaffer’s Old Indian Trails of the Canadian Rockies where journal keeping again must have made the retelling of summer expeditions from several years before that bit more successful.
Thinking about it now, I find myself wondering just how much travel writing needs a supporting diary or journal to make it work. Currently, I am making my way through Bradt’s Roam Alone with its tales of solo travelling that read so fresh that you have to wonder if some contemporary notes assisted the various short stories.
All this probably should make me consider if scribbling a few notes at the end of each excursion might be worthwhile given how long I have tended to leave things before writing them on here. It is true that less adventurous rambles leave less of an imprint on anyone’s memory as I found with one more recent trip report so that might be a hint that new experiences should be sought on a continuing basis. In the meantime, my memory often beats others so that might explain how I never got thinking these thoughts before now.
Life’s journey has followed that trail in recent years and new things have been tried. Maybe, it might be no harm to keep doing that with my wanderings too. Revisiting old haunts brings satisfaction but exploring new places keeps things from feeling stale. Adventurous thoughts lead to roaming North America, New Zealand or Australia in my mind’s eye but there are other possibilities closer to hand. It is a matter of making some time to uncover them and then make the most of what is there.
A warm sunny bank holiday weekend may be a rare thing but I have not been lured out and about. In any event, temperatures have risen a little too high for what I call comfortable walking and other preoccupations have overtaken me. Still, they have not been all-consuming so I have not passed the twelfth anniversary of my setting up this blog after a May Day bank holiday trip to Scotland that took in Lochaber, Inverness and highland Perthshire. Sometime in June (the actual date itself is lost to me) marks the twentieth anniversary of my setting up a website for the first time and November is when my public transport website reaches its tenth birthday.
It goes without saying that a lot has happened during these time intervals. Family and work circumstances have changed while my explorations of hill country have become more international; the process of recounting my Norwegian wanderings is an ongoing project. There have been new beginnings and false starts but life has continued in its many ups and downs. The need for constant supply of new and happy memories has been made plain to me as my explorations continue.
Finally, I have got to reading Graham Wilson’s Climbing Down and I have other books by the same author to keep me going after that. Guidebooks to parts of North America as well as New Zealand have been perused in the off chance that my wanderings may become intercontinental. Canada’s western reaches have their scenic allure together with a hint of danger added by the presence of bears and other wild creatures. It is my intention that those readings continue as I rediscover the necessity of reading books from cover to cover in place of dipping in and out of certain sections. Any way that adds an extra overview has its place. They have added thoughts of visiting Vancouver Island and the Canadian Rockies while any prospect of going as far as New Zealand is more of a long shot.
Before all that, there is a possible venture in my working life that will need setting up if it comes to pass. Once such a thing is place and things are more settled, my hope is that my outdoor explorations will continue. After all, May is the best time of year in Britain and Ireland and I hardly want to let that slip by me if I can help it. Longer outdoors outings may not have happened since February for a variety of reasons but there should be more of the year left for such pursuits. Life’s adventure continues.
With things weighing on my mind, this has not been a summer full of getaways like the one two years ago though local walks and outings have been known to happen. Last summer was one full of cycling and this one has not gone like that for a number of reasons.
That is not to say that there have been no thoughts about trips away and I am wondering about a mid-winter getaway while pondering what 2017 might hold. Things might remain uncertain for me but looking through magazines to collect website links has been setting me to thinking. Some of these have been outdoors magazines while others have been travel ones so quite a selection has built up for clearance and I am glad to have filed things away for most of the backlog by now.
Most of these pertain to visitor information that I am filing away for reference as well as adding to the travel section of the website and some trails have been added to the More Outdoor Activities Inspiration page. There are some that don’t fit as easily and ones like Get Ireland Walking, Britain on Foot, and Walking for Health fitting into the activity encouragement category, something that I probably need at the moment. Then, there are conservation organisations like Buglife, RSPB, BirdLife International, Scottish Wildcats, Vincent Wildlife, Vincent Wildlife Ireland, Scottish Beavers and Hedgelink UK that I also found in Ramblers’ Walk magazine. These are a reminder that we cannot forget about the natural world about us no matter what comes our way in life.
Another diversion has been a BBC documentary series on New Zealand, a country that I would not mind seeing even if the distance there means that it is not an essential destination for me. Still, it is good to see what is there it appears to be a greener counterpart of Iceland in many ways. My mind is getting used to roving around the world now but I still should rove about Britain and Ireland when the opportunities arise. They may have a use in soothing my spirit over coming months.
As anyone with elderly parents should know, life can be a roller coaster ride when their health declines. It certainly has felt that way over the last few years for my family and I. However, escaping out into the countryside has helped in its own way when dealing with life’s rougher moments. Getting through December 2012 certainly called for those head clearing escapes, be they into Tatton Park near Knutsford in Cheshire or along Irish country lanes. Both of my parents were frail then with my mother having been shook up by a hospital visit and my father’s strength in free fall since the summer. By Christmas, he really needed to be in a nursing home but mentioning the subject only resulted in angry exchanges. It took a brush with death due to a kidney infection for the matter to be forced and the issue to get resolved as it needed to be. He still was not intent on staying where he needed to be, and it was a nice place too, so no one could relax and a walk along the Macclesfield Canal between Congleton and Macclesfield as well as a shorter stroll around Buxton were well needed.
What really changed everything was my mother’s passing away not so long before what would have been her eighty first birthday and the loss was a raw one that not only resulted in next to daily evening walks by the River Bollin but also had me venturing further afield is search of a spot of solace. April 2013 saw me make two trips to Derbyshire and the area was to see me more than any other in that year. The of those April visits had me encountering banks of snow left over from a late winter as I hiked from Hayfield to Glossop, rounding Kinder Scout from below as I did so. The weather was much milder later in the month when I embarked on a circular yomp from Bakewell that took in both Ashford-in-the-Water and Monsal Dale. These were followed in June by a walk from Bamford to Edale that took in the southern edge of the Kinder Scout plateau and a walk from Monyash to Bakewell via Lathkill Dale. That last big walk of the year had me passing swollen rivers too; it had been a month of heavy rain and much flooding. A July escape to Fort William that took in Glen Coe and Glenfinnan could not have been more different with its sweltering temperatures and dry sunny weather. There also were sunlit walks from the Cat and Fiddle Inn back to my home that took in Shining Tor and Lamaload Reservoir. The first of these took me onto Rainow and Bollington while I passed close to Shutlingsloe on the second.
The combination of the scare that began 2013 and the loss of our mother meant that I tended to be more precious about my father and I suspect that my brother probably felt the same. The sense was that we could lose him sooner rather than later and it pervaded most of 2013. It sounds churlish to say it now but I started to wonder in the light of my father living longer than we might have expected if it was not before time to abandon any putting of my life on hold that there might have been. That is not to say that there was any sense of abandonment because, if anything, my visits to Ireland became more frequent. For much of 2014, I crossed the Irish Sea on a monthly basis.
In between those though, I began to get out and about again and last summer saw me make three visits to the Lake District. The first was to Buttermere when I crossed the top of Haystacks while the second facilitated a walk from Patterdale to Grasmere that went over the top of St. Sunday Crag and the last revisited Orrest Head and Loughrigg Fell. January and November saw me spend time around Llantysilio Mountain near Llangollen with the first trip enjoying bright sunshine all day and the weather disintegrating to spells of rain while I was up high. That makes an excuse for another return sometime though I did get more than a little compensation from spending some time by the Mawddach estuary near Barmouth the next day. There were more Welsh visits though with a summer solstice one that visited Sgyryd Fawr and Sugar Loaf near Abergavenny and a September retracing of steps between Rhossili and Port-Eynon in glorious weather. Yorkshire too saw a visit before the Tour de France did and that took in Pateley Bridge and Brimham Rocks in Nidderdale on a largely grey day. Northumberland was paid a visit during October with the delights of the coastline around Bamburgh being sampled on a day that felt more like it belonged to summer. Local trots around Macclesfield were not neglected either with Alderley Edge and Hare Hill seeing two visits. A pesky Jack Russell terrier took a set on my left leg the first time around so a hospital visit was advised and no such intrusion was experienced the second time around though I could have done with more sun.
There was more to my normalisation with a bike trainer being put to good use to see if my fitness could be bettered. The second half of 2014 also had my father see a good run of health that lasted until last month. There was a smaller scare in February 2014 but things steadied after that and I felt in the need of all that walking. Still, he was growing weaker as I found during last Christmas and I returned to Britain before New Year sensing that we might be on the cusp of a big change of some sort. In fact, I also wondered to myself how he would fare if he caught an infection. That question was about to get an answer only weeks later. A heavy chest infection was to confine him to bed after a traumatic experience when the nursing home thought him strong enough to sit up in a chair for a while. With that in mind, I made what I thought was a flying weekend visit in case there were to any further developments. Much of Saturday was spent with him and my brother was there too. When we left, he was comfortable and we thought that a peaceful night was in store. That changed after midnight and we dashed to the home. By the time that we got there, he had breathed his last only minutes before. Some would find that heartbreaking but the final peace is what I recall. His suffering was over and that nearly was more important than we might have felt.
A word said during one of the many conversations we had with others over the ensuing days remains with me: release. My brother and I felt it while nearby neighbours were stunned by our father’s departure; they surely felt it more than we did and some were crying on the phone to us. There may be another factor: we both had our homes and our lives while they see breakage in a continuity that they held dear. Also, the period with our father allowed us to come to terms with where things were going and have a partial glimpse of where things would go after he went. Of course, there are ups and downs as well as twists and turns of which we know nothing yet. The turbulence within me after my mother’s passing has not come after my father’s and there are times when I wonder why though that is not to see that there was no weeping or no jabs of the heartstrings. Maybe it’s that sense of release again.
There are matters that need attending yet but my mind also is starting to explore possibilities too. Visits to Ireland are sure to continue but not at the same frequency and certainly not with the same purposes as before though you hardly can abandon your relatives or former neighbours. There may be opportunities to visit places in Connemara, Mayo, Donegal or Wicklow that I have yet to see. That would be continuing something that they did after their own parents were deceased and there was many trip to Kerry and West Cork. Some of those gave me the love of hill country scenery that has taken me around so much of Britain and the Isle of Man. Over the past weekend, I was strolling around old haunts in Edinburgh like Blackford Hill, Bruntsfield Links and The Meadows before crossing over to newer haunts like Dean Village and Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens. Except for the occasional incursion of rogue clouds, there was sun shining on me throughout and I pondered the possibility of spending a week in the city sometime. Even in a place like Edinburgh, there was much opportunity to wander down memory lane (I graduated from one of the city’s universities) and have time and space to yourself if you needed it. Nearer destinations will remain attractive in a new life situation.
Speaking of memories, there is one that returns to my mind when I mention Edinburgh for I gained a research degree in a science subject while there. My parents were hoping that I would find a job in Ireland afterwards but the world of science is an international one, especially if you fancy a career in academic research. Some of my contemporaries gained post-doctoral jobs in the U.S. and that option did appeal to me not a little. The phrase “seeing the world” came to my notice and sharing it while on a trip back to Ireland must have tugged rather too strongly on parental heartstrings for I was asked to leave such designs until after they were gone. Now, youthful naivety has been displaced by realism so I now am amazed at the sorts of thoughts that went through my mind back then, especially when after experiencing more of the delights of Britain and Ireland.
Even so, that is not to say that I am not tempted by foreign destinations. The likes of the mountains of Canada or New Zealand or the American Rockies may not be what I have in mind but other spots in Europe have a certain allure. For instance, business trips to Sweden appear to cultivated a soft spot from Scandinavian destinations such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark or Iceland. There are areas of hill country in three of those and any photos of Norwegian fjords that I have seen look stunning. The Faroe Islands also have detained my attention and it helps that they are compact too. Going there would build on a 2008 escapade that to Scotland’s Western Isles and the islands of Orkney and Shetland have not missed my attention either. To return to the European theme though, you cannot overlook the Alps or the Pyrenees and they are but some of the mountainous regions on the continent that get mentioned in walking magazines from time to time.
None of this means that responsibilities are about to be overlooked and it can feel that you are able to make new obstacles for yourself too. The ones that appear of their own accord are enough for anyone and a life after my parents will bring its ups and downs will come soon enough. In between, pondering those other destinations may bring its own comfort while realising that short visits only uncover so much. After all, I lived in Edinburgh for over four years and still have parts of it to see anew along with those nooks and crannies that I continue to revisit. As ever, only time will reveal what comes to pass and what adventures may be had yet.