Outdoor Discoveries

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: Austria

Centrism

20th February 2022

My perusal of a recent copy of TGO magazine brought me across a few possibilities in an issue having the strapline "Walk the World" on its cover. When it comes to overseas journeying, I tend to take what alpinists might call a centrist approach. What I mean is that I have a habit of basing myself in one location and exploring that and places situated around and about it. The other approach would be to go from place to place on an itinerary.

Certainly, my usual approach makes it much easier to organise a trip and it matters more when I am going further away from home: just book somewhere to stay and sort out how to travel there and back again. After that, it is possible to concentrate on finding one’s feet and experiencing any local delights to a deeper level than you would if moving from place to place. It also works well for independent travelling and that is what I did before the pandemic came our way.

There are many trips to Scotland and the Isle of Man where I have taken the centrist approach and it has come in handy for overseas escapades featuring Iceland, Switzerland, Austria, Spain and Canada. One notable exception has been Norway but, even there, I have limited my stopping points and there was a time that I traipsed from place to place around Scotland too.

Thus, the list of possible base "camps" for European excursions in that recent issue of TGO caught my eye. Two places on the lists have seen my footfall already: Innsbruck in Austria and Sóller in Mallorca. The first of these has an embarrassment of riches surrounding it that easily caused quandaries during my extended weekend stay during May 2016. The others need to remain on file for the future. They include Senja in Norway, Gavarnie in the Pyrenees, Sotres in Picos de Europa, Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites and Bled in Slovenia. All are near to the type of countryside that I relish so they could be worth seeking should opportunities arise.

In a similar vein, Outside also listed the best mountain towns in the U.S.A. and this too struck a chord with me since I have had designs on exploring American mountain country for a while. For example, the prospect of spending time around Denver and Boulder in Colorado during the summer of 2020 foundered because of the pandemic. So, getting a wider list could be helpful and there are twenty-four entries. The source article is behind a paywall but it is worth becoming a paid subscriber to get a list like this.

The possibilities include Cordova in Alaska, Sedona in Arizona, Bentonville in Arkansas, Truckee in California, Durango & Telluride in Colorado, Stanley in Idaho, Copper Harbor in Michigan, Bozeman & Whitefish in Montana, Asheville in North Carolina, North Conway in New Hampshire, Taos in New Mexico, Lake Placid in New York, Bend in Oregan, Spearfish in South Dakota, Chattanooga in Tennessee, Terlingua in Texas, Park City in Utah, Stowe in Vermont, Roanoke in Virginia, Leavenworth in Washington State, Davis in West Virginia and Jackson in Wyoming. Here, I have ordered things by state so you will need to go to the article to get their ordering and the details that they supply for there is a lot to uncover about these. Many already are places that I have checked out but others are not.

It is all very fine to have lists of locations but there are other considerations like accessibility using public transport and the availability and cost of accommodation. Some locations are sure to be well known and hence will be busy places so knowing quieter times like shoulder seasons will prove useful as could using the services of a travel company. Of course, you cannot go anywhere without having the ideas in the first place.

Reeling in some leap years

27th February 2020

There was a series on Irish television called “Reeling in the Years” where each program covered happenings in a certain year in the past using archive footage. The concept may not have been all that original though the focus of Irish events gave it a certain uniqueness. It was the sort of light television programming that could be repeated endlessly should a vacant slot need occupying.

Of course, that is not how I tend to view the entries on here and I often struggle to complete a trip report as I have been doing for a while with a day spent along Derbyshire’s Great Ridge in the autumn of 2017. Sometimes, what should produce a timely report can gain the feel of an archive item.

Nevertheless, 2020 is a leap year and a very rainy, snowy and windy February gains an extra day; it is hard to believe that we were basking in unseasonably warm sunshine just over a year ago. Perhaps, it is little wonder then that I often state that we get weather instead of seasons and such is the defining characteristic of a maritime climate.

January and February often are the quieter months of the year so there is some time for looking back and a little forward planning. Thus, I take this opportunity to cast my mind back over leap years from a outdoor wandering vantage point since that stops me at 2000 when I commenced my working life after formal education.

By 2004, my pedestrian hill wandering had come into being with Scotland being a major focus along with England and Wales. The year itself was terrible from a weather standpoint with the summer being a washout. Only some flexibility at work allowed me to snatch a drier interlude to go north to Lorn and Lochaber to make the most of a fleeting opportunity.

2008 then was the third calendar year for this blog and saw a high point in my Scottish rambling. Until very recently, a week in August spent among some of the Western Isles became my most adventurous escapade ever. Skye was a staging point and I managed to avoid much of the rain that came from a stalled front lying across Ireland, England and Scotland. It now seems surreal that there was some glorious weather to be enjoyed on Harris, Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist.

The occasional good fortune of those islands again manifested itself in 2012 when they in fact endured a drought while the the rest of Britain has the wettest summer ever. It was only the dryness of the Outer Hebrides that stopped the year going down in records as being wetter than in 2000, a year that I hardly regard as being that rainy at all though there were autumn deluges. The differences in weather were missed in 2012, not only because of a certain weather myopia but also because the heavy workload of 2011 had drained me to the point that energy for planning a return to the Western Isles just was not there.

By 2016, major changes were taking place in my life after the passing of both my parents. These were becoming evident in 2012 and the combination of a busy working life and ongoing inheritance works became enough to break me. One saving grace was that I started exploring elsewhere in Europe and that began in 2015. 2016 saw an extended weekend spent in each of Austria and Norway while there also was a mid-winter break in Mallorca. It was the latter than really taught me a lesson with a heavy cold and the others might have been but palliative care for an ongoing malaise. Changes were coming.

As I look back, it is tempting to think that leap years are not always the best for me though I now reckon that they were not as bad as I might have thought them at the time. 2020 could prove no different but that remains to be seen. Changes are continuing and I now work for myself so overseas and other excursions can continue alongside the other things that need doing. Only time will show what chances are available.

Sharing or sparing?

18th September 2018

Having what is called a bucket list, a list of places that you would like to visit while you can, is common these days but I wonder if such a thing is all that desirable. By the its nature, the problems start when compiling a list of such ideas because chances are that you will select places that already are popular. That applies as much when perusing travel magazines or holiday brochures as it does when using social media.

One consequence of this is that certain locations become too popular for the sake of sustainability and that leads to restrictions that affect the independent traveller. South American destinations like Machu Pichu and Torres del Paine National Park come to mind here but the problem is spread around the world. Scotland’s Isle of Skye has experienced problems that never made the news  before and you only have to see how many visit well promoted attractions like the Cliffs of Moher to see how many people visit a small number of locations in Ireland at a time during the high season.

This then poses something of a dilemma: do you cater for the visitor numbers or do you restrict them? With wilderness and conservation areas, there is a tendency to do the latter though it does have the consequence of pushing up visitor costs and that may have its benefits for local tourism businesses as you may find on a trip to places in either the Canadian Rockies or Alaska. When you add in short summer tourism seasons, the effect by necessity is more pronounced.

In other destinations, they add in facilities for the extra visitors with some decrying the effect that this has had on Spain’s Mediterranean coastline because of hotel and holiday apartment construction. Parts of the Alps are afflicted like this but in a different way: it is the infrastructure of skiing resorts that hardly help appearances in mountain country during the summer season. Both examples make you wonder at the appropriateness of such developments and they must tug at the heartstrings of anyone who adores mountain and coastal scenery.

Another aspect of any overdevelopment is that you can install something that encourages the otherwise unprepared into wild places without realise the possible dangers that are there. For instance, I seem to have inherited my father’s unease at cliff edges and my knowledge of how slippery limestone can be almost made me shout at people to keep back from the edge on a damp day hike around the Cliffs of Moher and Doolin. It is little wonder that staff are equipped with whistles to direct the unaware away from peril.

There is overcaution too and one example is the boardwalk on Cuilcagh Mountain and how incongruous it looks in the landscape through which it conveys people to the top of the hill shared between Cavan and Fermanagh, between Éire and Northern Ireland. It also does not help that it stops short of the top too but the boggy morass deters most. Another location where path development attracted adverse comment was at Sliabh Liag in County Donegal but it might be that some sense prevailed there in the end.

Hillwalking is a growing pastime in Ireland so there remains a lot to learn in a country where there is neither experience nor tradition of path and track building in such places. Thankfully, organisations like Mountain Meitheal and Mountaineering Ireland together with initiatives like Helping the Hills are starting to address this so lessons are learned from places like Scotland and applied to get sensible solutions to the growing problem of erosion on popular hills. It is something that needs attention as much as securing access for hill wandering in the first place.

The mention of countryside access brings me to another factor that causes some places to feel overloaded: a lack of alternatives. It is not everywhere that has the liberal access rights that are enjoyed in Scotland and across Scandinavia so there can be a very really reduction in the number of places where you can explore. The options may not stop you going to those better known places like Norway’s Preikestolen before finding other quieter hikes nearby as knowledge grows and maps feel more confiding.

It is this last point that inspires the title and the theme runs through Fiona Reynolds’ The Fight for Beauty, a book that I read last autumn. It is not for nothing park rangers in Denali National Park tell you not to walk one after another in a group so a path never develops and that everyone’s backcountry journey is their own. When there is plenty of land for all, we can spread out and find our own space to recharge weary spirits. That is easier when we are not retracing the steps of others all the while and it can have a lighter impact on the countryside too with less erosion caused by many feet and much path widening. While it can be true that we get confined by or own lack of knowledge, physical restrictions caused by not having enough other places to go hardly help either. Overcoming both might be the ultimate answer to the visitor management conundrum.

A weekend stay in the Tirol that should have lasted a week

19th February 2018

Recently, I finished reading Kev Reynold’s Walking in the Alps, which was acquired while creating an article on the Pyrenees and the Alps for the travel section of this website. Given the size of the European mountain area in question, it only ever can make a starting point for any explorations. More detailed guidebooks are need for further planning.

Still, an overview has plenty of uses and I wonder how well I consulted the volume in question before my 2015 trip to Switzerland and the 2016 one to Austria that is the subject of this post. The fact that the Alps cross many borders to be in France, Italy, Germany and Slovenia as well as the principality of Lichtenstein means that a lifetime of exploring scarcely could scratch the surface of what is to be found among them. Thus, only seeing a little may have to do. So far, there have been memorable days doing just that.

My Austrian trip verifies this thought in many ways. It was a weekend visit, albeit with two added days, that left me torn between so many possibilities. Basing myself in Innsbruck meant that so many groups of mountains were nearby that I struggled to decide between them. A four day encounter never was going to be enough to even sample a little of everything that is close at hand.

Spending a week there would do the Tirol more justice. There are mountains looming all around Innsbruck and I only got to the Nordkette, leaving the likes of Patscherkofel for another time. Of all the surrounding valleys, Zillertal got a visit while others like Stubaital needed to left aside. It was a choice between spending more time between fewer places and hopping from one to another, making any visits very short affairs. The former always appeals more to me so I left many reasons for a longer return trip should the opportunity arise again.

Meeting with a Mixture of Weather

By going at the end of May, I was hoping to avoid the elevated temperatures of the high summer season. As a form of reassurance before the trip, I was checking an Innsbruck webcam and weather forecasts in the hope that sunny scenes would greet me but mixed weather meant that grey skies often were to be seen. The run of such weather was not to halt on my arrival but it did nothing to stop me coming away with nice photos and good memories.

There was a brief encounter with Bavaria on my way to and from Austria. My time in Germany on both Friday and Monday saw periods of clouds and warm sunshine. The necessity of onward travel meant that there was little time to savour the places that I passed on my way but the sights of evening sunshine lighting up the neat pastoral countryside over which the plane the past on my way home remain with me.

Austria’s weather was very mixed when I was there. Friday afternoon was a sultry scorcher as I made my way from train station to hotel. Thickening cloud cover cooled things for some afternoon and evening strolling but eventually brought heavy rain with thunder and lightning when I was retiring for the night. The time at which the latter came down from the overhead mountain tops where it had been in the preceding hours thankfully meant that I avoided a soaking.

Saturday was brighter than Sunday so the former was a better day for photography. Morning sunlight accompanied more strolling around Innsbruck prior to a journey to the heights of the nearby Nordkette. While there, a mixture of clouds and sunshine gave way to rain for a time before drying up again. Heavy rain punctuated the time after my return to Innsbruck before it too departed.

The trend for Sunday was one of continued deterioration from a dry period with some sunshine to rain and wind before a return to the former later on in the day. That did nothing to halt my trip to Mayrhofen in Zillertal for some exploration. Sunny spells turned to rain and then that changed to teasing momentary spouts of sun on nearby slopes and tops. Rain returned later, this time with wind, towards the end of my stay in Zillertal but there was enough satisfaction to make the possibility of returning a pleasing notion.

Monday saw a rain-accompanied departure for home. Final saunters around Innsbruck needed the umbrella with which I had furnished myself, both on a walk to the Tyrolia bookshop and then to the train station. The sentimental might be tempted to call this a tearful goodbye but it was yet more reason to be thankful for any spells of sunshine that I had enjoyed; this need not halt thoughts of a return.

Sauntering around Innsbruck

The weather may have offered something other than what I had in mind but my time was short so I was not about to allow it to confine me to a hotel room in a pretty part of the world. After all, Innsbruck is laden with buildings of pleasing antiquity dating from Austria’s imperial times. That was enough to lure me out and about in spite of any elevated temperatures or spells of rain.

Thus, I spent Friday afternoon and evening pottering about the place getting my bearings. Thunder could be heard at times as the day grew ever cloudier but temperatures cooled too. Wandering about the city centre’s grand boulevards preceded a trip to a branch of Bauhaus, a hardware store, for some duct tape for fixing a hole in my holdall made by an incorrectly placed adapter plug. There were other shop calls before then such as the Tyrolia bookshop and the city’s main tourist information centre. After that more strolling took me along the banks of the River Inn as well as by the funicular railway station that I would using the following day and through the Altstadt, Innsbruck’s Old Town.

Pfarramt Saint Nikolaus, Innsbruck, Tirol, Austria

More ambling was to top and tail a visit to the Nordkette on Saturday. Some of this gained me sights along the River Inn in morning sunshine instead of the prevailing gloom of the previous evening. Other such opportunities were to prove irresistible for some photography.

Not much of Sunday was spent around the city where I based myself but it was noticeable how few shops were open that day. Something leaves me with the impression that Sunday trading is limited in Austria and my time in Zillertal did nothing to challenge this though Innsbruck’s train station offered a chance for shopping that was absent elsewhere.

Monday morning saw me head to Tyrolia to peruse some books and maps before I went back to the hotel for my luggage before going to the train station to start on my way home. Most were in German, a language that I reckon that I should learn more. For one thing, enough knowledge of the tongue would open up a world of walking guidebooks that are unavailable in English and not just for German speaking parts either; Scandinavian explorations would become one beneficiary.

Maps had been acquired before I left home but others can tickle your fancy and shop at Munich Airport had shelves full of Kompass maps covering parts of Germany, Austria and Italy. Tyrolia was equally endowed and had maps from other publishers like the Austrian Alpine Club (Alpenverein in German) and Freytag & Berndt. The selection should have been enough for anyone’s needs though I then decided that adding to my collection would need to await another time since it was near the end of my stay in the Tirol. A return visit could bring more needs that would need addressing and knowing where to do that could have its uses yet.

Pottering about the Nordkette

Views of the Nordkette were unavoidable from the first time that I arrived in Innsbruck so I suppose that made an ascent of their flanks all the more likely. Using the services of a funicular railway and cableways made any ascent less arduous and it was good to escape any heat for a while. In a landlocked country like Austria, I suppose that this is one way to escape high summertime temperatures. Following high level trails around the Alps could prolong the escape while others flock to large inland lakes like islanders go to their coastlines.

Having never travelled in a cable car before, I never realised how unnerving such an experience could be. Two different ones are need to reach Hafelkar with the first going as far as Seegrube. It was that one that I found a bit foreboding. Rising at a steep angle above the ground with just cables to hold you adds a feeling of vulnerability that a cog railway never will. There is something to be said for feeling attached to the ground under you.

Looking towards Rumer Spitze, Innsbruck, Tirol, Austria

Nevertheless, the views from over 2000 metres above sea level were worth any sense of ardour. The sight of rocky pinnacles streaked with snow acted as a reminder that we had entered another world and there was little sign of any greener valleys lying below them. Also, there was no sign of the effects of the altitude of 2269 metres experienced at the top of Hafelkar Spitze like what I felt on the final approach to Kleine Scheidegg in September 2015. However, it has to be said that the required exertion was less. There was one aspect of commonality though in that they both retained wintry feel. Clouds came and went as did any sunshine while I pottered around the cross at the aforementioned summit.

Though map perusal had alerted me to the idea, there was little relish for wandering too far around these lofty pinnacles so I restrained myself before descending contentedly on a cable car as far as Seegrube. This was not that hairy an experience and I stopped for some much needed food and drink. As I enjoyed my meal, the weather deteriorated with the onset of a spell of rain. In spite of this, I decided that a downhill walk was in order and it avoided the more daunting of the cable car journeys too. What I realised later was that I had left sunglasses after me but they were not much needed during that wet start anyway and soon were replaced. Time was short and money could address that.

Conditions grew drier as I strolled around the zigzags of the downhill track with walking poles used to moderate the speed of travel and share the strain on my lower limbs. My GPS receiver was pressed into service for progress tracking since it had Alpenverein maps loaded on there and it was a chance to see how good their data were. If I remember correctly, the hike took around two hours with periods of sunshine allowing good views through the surrounding trees once the rain stayed away. Once back at Hungerburg, it was over to the funicular railway to carry me the rest of the way to Innsbruck under grey skies that were to bring rain.

While waiting for the rain to abate, I got to chatting with some Americans who were on a whistle-stop tour of Austria after not having been there for quite a while. It often feels that if you hear English being spoken overseas, the accompanying accent is American. It might be a numbers game or that Britons are less chatty. Both supposed reasons are plausible.

The approach followed by my American interlocutors differed form my own. They were happy to sacrifice depth of experience for added breadth while I was after the reverse. On the Nordkette, I got enough depth of exploration to whet my appetite for more. There may have been less solitude at the top but we all can share and there were plenty of quieter moments on the downhill hike that provided ample compensation.

A Day in the Zillertal

After the preceding pleasures of the Nordkette, another day around mountains was sought. The forecast may not have been as promising as I would have liked but I chanced going to the Zillertal anyway. In contrast to the day before, this was going to be a much quieter excursion on a day laden with an out of season ambience.

That extended beyond Innsbruck to Mayrhofen and even to the mainline train station at Jenbach. The latter was just as since a problem with a card reader and my own limited grasp of German, made the operation of buy return train tickets a longer task than otherwise might have been the case. Nevertheless, no train was missed and I achieved what I was setting out to do.

On arrival in Mayhofen, I strolled on for where the cable car stations were located. Maybe it was just as well that the Ahornbahn was not in operation given my feelings on its Nordkette equivalent the day before and it added to the out of season ambience that I was perceiving. My plans needed changing and I opted for the Penkenbahn instead even if this provided its own tests. Gaining height while the ground fell away on the crossing over Asteggertal introduced its own sense of edginess.

If I was hoping to enjoy a midday meal once I had finished with my upward cable car travelling, then disappointment was to be my lot unless I made time to use the only one that was open. That was around Penkenjoch and it was time to consider my next moves by then. The hike that far had followed a wide track for much of the way from Penkenalm and was use it for the return trip too. There had been diversions like a stroll around Speichersee while assessing the effect that all the infrastructure of skiing had on the landscape. It was easy to why Kev Reynolds thinks this kind of development to be desecration. In truth, I find it hard to disagree with him and I also got the grey day that made such idle installations appear even more miserable.

Ahornspitze, Mayrhofen, Zillertal, Tirol, Austria

Brandberger Kolm, Mayrhofen, Zillertal, Tirol, Austria

Though skies remained grey and scenes largely were monochrome, there were delights on show too. Any tantalising hint of sunshine was enough for me to see it an enlivened picture could be captured. Looking at the above photos, you may think otherwise but there is a certain majesty to those lofty pinnacles all the same. Though they are colour images, you might think them to be black and white affairs and I have not resorted to such a unneeded conversion.

There were other sights too in the form of a valley reservoir that I consider to be Speicher Stillup. Looking at a map as I write these words, I wonder why I went high among the paraphernalia of winter sports instead of a valley saunter. My guess is that I sought some lofty views even if it felt as if it meant being surrounded by the detritus of what I might consider to be extrovert overexhuberance. Those narrow defiles do offer possibilities for future excursions that may take me into wilder surroundings. It is only when there has been a first visit that new opportunities can be identified.

That is not to say that I was not blind to such things on my day around Zillertal. My way back from Penkenjoch had me walking downhill from Penkenalm to Bergrast so there was added walking before I got the brainwave of walking all the way back to Mayrhofen. In fact, I thought better of it after going as far as Gschössalm and returned hurriedly to the nearest cable car station before they stopped for the day. It was all uphill though so I was glad to make it in time. What convinced me of this course were the timings on signs that I found; the whole excursion could have made me late for the last train back to Jenbach.

The weather turned for the worse too with wind and rain battering the cable car on the way down. It did not help that the cable car in which I was travelling stopped dead after going perhaps a little too fast. Feeling the wind blowing against the thing and the rain lashing the windows, this got me wondering about phoning for a rescue if I was left suspended in midair. Things soon enough got going again and it happened that staff were coming down on one of the following cable cars anyway. It was good to learn that these machines can be stopped and that there were brakes on them. Such are the lessons that help to contain unnecessary fears and, with my feet back on terra firma, there was time to potter about Mayrhofen in the rain before leaving to catch my train back to Jenbach where I met with another that would take me to Innsbruck.

More Experiences Await

Any delay in returning to the Tirol for more exploring has less to with meeting  wet weather and searing temperatures or any disquiet at cable car travel than other things happening in my life. For now, I am conserving money during a career break but a return to income earning will change circumstances. Until then, I am contenting myself with day trips around England, Wales and Scotland and these have brought me so much satisfaction that it is not as if I am being denied that much.

Once trips overseas become feasible again, there is much around the Tirol that would lure me into returning. Having made a metaphorical toehold from added knowledge, venturing to other corners becomes more plausible. Other sights around Innsbruck await and there is more to be found among the Tuxer Alpen, Stubaier Alpen and Zillertaler Alpen. After those, there is Achensee and its surroundings. Even if all these were to be exhausted, such is the nature of exploring that yet more possibilities would be brought to my notice.

Returning to that book that I mentioned at the start of this post, it taught me that explorers of the Alps tend to fall into one of two groups: “centrists” and “ex-centrists”. In truth, I have been one of the former and may continue in that vein for a while yet. Basing myself in a single location and fanning out to other places feels more comfortable than the alternative: place to place trekking. The latter is the “ex-centrist” approach and I marvel at how anyone can plan an entire walking holiday from afar. Even with guidebooks, it seems scarcely possible given the intrusions of everyday life.

The other side of all this is that I like my explorations to have an air of serendipity about them. Only by visiting a destination can you learn unexpected things about the place and that is how I tend to operate. Finding something new often embeds a lasting memory into my mind so I would not want to overdo planning to a point where this cannot happen. Too much focus on an objective can cause its own blindness.

The May 2016 trip to Tirol revealed much and going deeper into alpine valleys has much to reveal yet. Finding a quieter corner to relish in pleasing sunshine is a moment to seek and treasure so I hope to return one day. Not knowing the future, I cannot know when such an opportunity should present itself but I am not one to turn down such a thing.

Travel Arrangements

Flights between Manchester and Munich. Return train journey between Munich and Innsbruck. Return train journey from Innsbruck to Mayrhofen.

Incidental ambles

18th January 2018

The start of a new year can be a useful time to take stock of life. January can be a month that some find too quiet but it has its uses as I am finding out for myself. A current career break means that I have added occasion to think over what I would like to do for a living. After five years of family bereavements followed by responsibilities added through inheritance, there is plenty of reason for this. What had not been obvious to me is that my last job was not a match and the experience left its mark, one that needs to be overcome.

Throughout all of this, I am not forgetting that I am an explorer at heart. There has been time to catch up on reading and I now have my fill of travel writing so I will not be lured into book purchases as easily as before. More discernment could be the way of things for me and that cannot be so bad when finances need to be kept in check during times like this hiatus from work.

Also, I have been travelling around England and Wales collecting ideas for walking trips like Roseberry Topping and Pumlumon Fawr. Surveying the countryside about the latter brought me the added benefit of a short if muddy stroll around Llangurig. Visiting nearby Rhayader is another thought and a short stay in Aberystwyth could facilitate more than initially had come to mind. Other parts of the Welsh River Wye are ripe for exploring too and the hills of the Black Mountain in the western side of the Brecon Beacons could be another tempting idea.

City visits to Edinburgh and Cardiff have come to pass. In the middle of the latter, the banks of the River Taff offered an oasis of calm with Llandaff Cathedral feeling as if it is in a country rather than where it is. Bute Park was another delight that makes me wonder why it took so long for me to make an independent visit to the place and there is Cardiff Castle if I wanted to include that as part of a return visit. There is plenty there for cyclists too and I am not surprised that bicycle hire is available.

Those city wanderings remind me that there have been times during the last few years when energy for more strenuous outings has not been as readily available. Edinburgh has featured quite a few times and there are regular haunts nearer my home in Macclesfield. Knutsford’s Tatton Park, Disley’s Lyme Park together with Macclesfield’s Tegg’s Nose Country Park and Dane’s Moss Nature Reserve all have been places where quick visits offered respite from life’s tumult when enthusiasm for longer trips was not to be found. The same could be said for more urban spots like Buxton, Chester, Sheffield and even Manchester. Anywhere where a coffee can be enjoyed away home has had its uses.

Strolls on my own doorstep like circuits taking in Prestbury all had their uses when my head needed clearing, like on Christmas Eve during my first ever Christmas spent in Macclesfield. That was a stormy affair, as much in my mind as it was out of doors. When a brighter interlude offered, it did not need much persuasion for me to head out on a longer round that linked Tegg’s Nose, the Saddle of Kerridge and the White Nancy. It became just the breather that I needed at the time.

The last few months have been as much about exorcising hurtful memories as anything else. That included the past Christmas and New Year period when it felt more normal than others. Trips to Tatton Park, Manchester and Lincoln all broke up the flow and I also got learning that camping stoves should be used out of doors too, a misadventure that I have no relish for repeating.

Getting past that was like everything else in life in recent times. 2017 became a year when I lightened some of life’s load so I need to think ahead now. Getting an enjoyable and fulfilling work life is one thing and my zest for exploring countryside continues. Overseas excursions could restart yet since I am making my way through Kev Reynolds’ Walking in the Alps at the moment and there is his The Swiss Alps, The Pyrenees and Trekking in the Alps after that. That lot should keep me going for a while yet and I am not overlook what hill country is nearer to hand either.