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!
Changes that I am making to matters in Ireland were the cause of my spending a lot of time there this past year. That also meant that I really got to see more of the place than ever before. That was just as well for two reasons. One is that my explorations of Irish hill country have been more limited than I fancied. The other is that the pandemic had grounded me for 2020 and 2021. Being over there a lot allowed me to get more courageous again. There is further to go, but this start was useful compared to where I was earlier in the year.
The nerves applied during various trots starting and ending in Marsden during the spring, so some movement was needed. A day trip to Dublin got me started on flying again. After that, there was a hotel stay in Limerick that allowed me to sample the delights of Adare, the Limerick Greenway, the Lough Derg Way, the Slieve Felim Mountains, Killarney and around Lough Derg. Much of this was in unexpected sunshine, and some was inspired by what I saw from my hotel room as well.
A getaway from jubilee celebrations returned my Ireland. This time, my base was Tralee and I got some wet weather as well. Even so, any sunny interludes got used when other matters allowed. A hike along the Dingle Way from Tralee to Camp was one such beneficiary, as was a circular walk featuring Dingle and Ventry. An amble along part of the North Kerry Way also saw dry weather before something inclement arrived in for the evening time. That affected a second trip to Killarney as much as the presence of a bikers’ festival in the town. The weather also affected a hike from Dingle to Anascaul that might have seen me wander up to the Conor Pass if there were better views up there.
The Lake District got some attention for the first time in some years as well. One trip featured both Lingmoor Fell and Loughrigg Fell on a walk that attended to a photographic need as much as using up an idea that had lain in my mind for a few years. That was followed by a reprise of the Fairfield horseshoe, along with an ascent of Helvellyn. All of these enjoyed warm sunshine that allowed many photos to be made.
The same could be said for the major holiday trip of the year, for that took me to Ireland again. Killarney and Cork were the bases for this one. The former allowed me to frequent parts that I had not surveyed for nearly thirty years. There was one all-day stroll that took me around Knockreer Park, Ross Island and Muckross Lake. This was followed by a hike from Kenmare to Killarney that used past of the Kerry Way, with a diversion to the top of Torc Mountain. The Kerry Way also had a part to play in a serendipitous walk that took in the Gap of Dunloe, the Black Valley and the Upper Lake. These were followed by trips to Bantry, Whiddy Island, the Knockmealdown Mountains, Kinsale and Cobh as the weather continued to warm.
There was a return to Scotland too, though luck with the weather was such that a return trip is in mind. Staying in Stirling again would allow the Ochil Hills and Ben Ledi to be revisited. That awaits longer hours of daylight and a favourable weather window. The two trips that I have had already whetted my appetite for a part of Scotland that I either overlooked or surveyed twenty years before.
There was one trip to the Welsh hills too. This took me to the Ogwen Valley for a dramatic day that saw me go over Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr. Eroded slopes were the cause of some adverse comment, but this was a warm, sunny day that offered much. Any plans for descending to Pen y Pass and Llanberis were rejected for time and transportation reasons. Assessing one’s progress often needs a change of route, not that it mattered in this case.
The last Irish trip did not allow more hill wanderings. Time was short, the weather was unfavourable, and other matters needed attention anyway. It was not as if a lot of satisfaction had been given, so I was not put off by this. The temptation might have been unwanted anyway.
The rest of the year saw me grow increasing tired, mostly because of lack of progress with the things that I need to get done. They are spilling into 2023, but that is another year. It remains to be seen how that will go, but trips to Galway and Clare as well as other parts of Europe and North America entice. Only time will tell how things proceed.
While I am not really focused on bagging summits of hills, a good number of them have featured on hikes this year. If conditions are clear, it often can be surprising how much of the surrounding countryside you can see from a lofty vantage point. Admittedly, some work better than others but it has been a noticeable trend and it is about the height above the neighbouring landscape rather than the actual height above sea level that matters.
That point has been proven on some trips to Ireland too. In April, I happened on the top of Feenlea Mountain near Killaloe in County Clare only to be stunned by the expanse of Lough Derg that lay below me with the nearby Arra Mountains in County Tipperary drawing my attention too. It helped that the morning was sunny and there are times when you need to try again with better conditions.
That was the case with Torc Mountain near Killarney in County Kerry. My first summit ascent was in poor visibility and only got done for the sake of personal satisfaction while the second was a diversion from the route of the Kerry Way that I was following from Kenmare to Killarney. Though sunshine was limited by cloud cover at that stage of the day and my legs were weary, the rewards were unmistakable; an American that I met on my way was awestruck by it all. The lakes of Killarney (Upper Lake, Muckross Lake and Lough Leane) lay below me and eastward views led my eyes as far as Lough Guitane and the hills that lay around it.
My encounter with Knockclugga in the Knockmealdown Mountains near Clogheen in County Tipperary was another case in point. While being surrounded by hills can limit what can be seen, this was no drawback on this rounded top. To the north, there were the Galtee Mountains while fellow hills like Knockshanahullion, Sugarloaf Hill and Knockmealdown brought scenic interest while the Comeragh Mountains lay to the east of everything mentioned so far.
None of the above hills is particularly high so it is their sitting that matters but I do not limit myself to those lower hills and trips to the Lake District have been a case in point. That did start with lower tops like Lingmoor Fell and Loughrigg Fell with the former allowing sightings around Great Langdale and Little Langdale while the former facilitated some photography capturing scenes around Grasmere that had been on my wishlist longer than might have been wise.
Greater heights were walked on the Fairfield Horseshoe and that included other tops like Heron Pike, Great Rigg, Hart Crag, Dove Crag, High Pike and Low Pike in addition to Fairfield itself. There were ample views of Grisedlae Hause, Grisedale Tarn, Helvellyn, St. Sunday Crag and Patterdale to occupy the time and the available if warm sunshine added greatly to the experience. One walk often begets another and so it proved in this case.
While part of the inspiration was provided by Terry Abraham’s feature film on Helvellyn, the reminder came from the Fairfield Horseshoe. Having some free time in July might have allowed the trot to happen earlier but for uncooperative weather, rail strikes, the prospect of a then-forthcoming trip to Ireland and my not having thought of using Carlisle as a base. The latter was to enable the escapade and get around rail travel constraints so I got to Glenridding and chose a route that avoided both Striding Edge and Swirral Edge to contain any sense of exposure. That may have limited my sightings of Red Tarn but I was glad of the gentler way via White Side and Lower Man. There was a punishing descent to Thirlmere but any sightings of Catstye Cam, Ullswater, Skiddaw, Blencathra, Thirlmere and other landscape features made it all worthwhile.
That was followed by a Scottish incursion that did not enjoy the same kind of weather. Ben Ledi near Callander stayed largely clear on a day with cloud-filled skies that limited any sunshine but the views round about it inspire thoughts of returning. There was an associated hike around the Ochil Hills with limited visibility and pervasive dampness that adds even more impetus to the idea of returning when better conditions are in prospect. Tops can be clear and they can be clouded so it is the former that we all seek. Nevertheless, having gained so much from hilltops this year means that there is much for which to be grateful.
Over this weekend, I have been watching Life of a Mountain: Helvellyn on Vimeo. That meant renting the title for 24 hours at a cost of £7 and I have a copy of the DVD on order from Striding Edge too. The latter action was a result of watching the online version though I somewhat mourn the loss of SteepEdge where I used to buy digital versions of such wares.
The film was made by Terry Abraham and is the last of a trilogy concentrating on best loved Cumbrian fells. Scafell Pike and Blencathra have featured before now and I have copies of those too. The latest installation is long with a running time of nearly two and a half hours but it is packed with such visual delights that the length is deserved. This still feels a much tighter and less padded out piece of work. The others had me going back to The Cairngorms in Winter with Chris Townsend, Abraham’s first accomplished effort and he also has shorter films introducing parts of the Lakeland Fells.
The Helvellyn film re-uses contributors from earlier films like Alison O’ Neill, David Powell-Thompson, Stuart Maconie and Mark Richards but there is a host of other new ones like Peter Gibbs, Mary-Ann Ochota and Julia Bradbury among others. Even the Royal Air Force and Ordnance Survey get included. They all complement the backdrop of dramatic scenery accompanied by a stirring soundtrack, especially the action sequences involving the RAF, skiing down to Red Tarn from the summit of Helvellyn or paragliding off the same starting point. That the footage came from a time before the present pandemic was a reminder of how things should be.
The whole combination has re-ignited a desire to walk around Helvellyn that has lain dormant for too long. What that needs is determination and opportunity to accompany ongoing patience needed by the course of the ongoing pandemic. After all, I have visited Patterdale and Ullswater a few times now and they were so heavily featured in the film that I at the time wondered if it was about them and not very much about the mountain (that probably is what happens when you need include something on the lives of people living in the area). Nevertheless, 2020 did not involve a Lakeland visit for me so a return is not before time and having a lure to draw you through darker times has to be a good thing.
2016 was a very full year. There was a lot of Irish business to be completed along with two political upheavals and a new job that I now realise was not a match for me. Towards salving the last of these, there were no less than three overseas trips with on each to Austria, Norway and Mallorca. Even with these and maybe because of them, I still did not feel that I getting the emotional space that I craved so much. It set the scene for changes in 2017 that led to the start of a career break.
This post tells the tale of another trip that preceded the personal tumult of 2017 while coming after the global turbulence of 2016 and in the midst of finishing the personal work for the year. It too was a reminder that not all was well with my lifestyle and there was another in the form of an inability to stop spending on some things as if the future never existed. Looking back on this now, I realise that it was caused by a lack of personal emotional space caused by having too much happening in my life. That theme was to result in some adjustment in subsequent years.
To avert any loss in motivation, I booked a single room in YHA Ambleside so I travelled up there by train and bus on Saturday. A later departure meant that I arrived in the dark but that did not stop me strolling about the place. After all, the shore was near at hand and I even got into the heart of Ambleside which was a kilometre or two away; in spite of the name, the hostel is found at Waterhead on the shore of Lake Windermere. A fish supper was enjoyed too, a rare thing for me these days. For the way back, I should have had my headtorch for going along a darkened lane though I came to no harm because of my risk taking.
After all that, I settled down for the night and arose next morning to a pleasing scene. Between 08:00 and 09:00, the sun leisurely arose. Before this all started, I made a solitary photo that recorded a peaceful scene on Windermere with the sky having a rosy hue about frosted grassland. This also preceded breakfast and I was lured out again after that to savour a scene whose tinting was changing from red to blue. Cloud cover steadily broke as I did so and, after collecting my belongings and checking out, it was time to await a bus to Great Langdale.
It may have been down to thinking of exploring the place at the wrong time but I never had much luck with seeing Great Langdale in bright sunshine. Admittedly, the visits have been few with the first being on a walk from Borrowdale that took in the Scottish sounding Langstrath and that was followed by a winter wander from Great Langdale to Ambleside. Both were greeted by grey skies. More often that not, I viewed the distinctive Langdale Pikes while on other hikes so it was not before time that I saw them up close in favourable conditions.
The bus dropped me at its terminus near the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. Frosted grass told a story of a preceding cold night on the valley bottom and the following morning was little warmer. This was more than a little noticed as I pottered along the flat ground by Great Langdale Beck between Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel and New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. In fact, I was reproaching my forgetfulness when it came to having gloves. Local shepherds were moving their flock, something had me wondering if such an act could not have been done on another day. After letting them on their way, I shortened the distance to Stickle Ghyll while warming my hands as best as I could.
Following what had been a largely quiet interlude, I joined the busy path up to Stickle Tarn. The gradient was testing and it helped little that the perceived throng stopped me from stopping as much as I would have liked. Passing and re-passing the same people needs energy so I was not willing to allow that to happen so readily. The others were bound form the tarn with some continuing to the top of Pavey Ark. After the fleshpot, quieter surroundings were sought and found. The distraction had its uses for my hands warmed on the ascent while the presence of snow patches attempted to belie any sense of the day having become that little bit warmer too.
Looking back on what happened next, it might have been that the expected right of way was not a path on the ground but even having a GPS receiver could not stop me veering off it. A determined effort could have addressed this as I was to find afterwards in similar circumstances on the moors between Bamford and Hathersage in Derbyshire. Then, I stuck with the line almost regardless of what lay underfoot. Returning to its Cumbrian predecessor, I took the hint and adopted a freestyle approach. In any case, there were multiple paths so it was a case of picking one that went in the desired direction and the benign weather allowed for such an approach.
My wandering course took me around by Blea Rigg and Great Castle How. Though it was afternoon at this point, it was around these that I gained the most satisfaction. Few were about so I could amble as I liked and the momentary sense of relaxation was just what I needed with wonderful views round about me. Windermere could be seen to the south while both Codale Tarn and Easedale Tarn lay below me in the growing afternoon shadows. It did not matter that I ought to have been beside them and not above them as I was.
What began to occupy my mind was finding a way down to the eastern end of Easedale Tarn. Once the initial steepness of the chosen descent was past, it was replaced by more gentle slopes as I negotiated the way to the track by Sourmilk Gill. The sun may have been lowering all the while but I had daylight with me and there were a few others passing the way but in nothing like the numbers encountered on the way up to Stickle Tarn.
All navigational travails were behind me for the clarity of a defined track aided passage as much as the onset of a quiet lane. The surrounding land was falling increasingly into shadow but my timing was good when I got to Grasmere. There even was some time for self-tidying before the next bus to Windermere. The air may have been cooling again but I was on my way soon enough.
That afternoon had provided a much needed interlude that was the forbear of longer ones like a subsequent springtime sabbatical and a longer career break. The identification of a need for more personal emotional space became a search that remains ongoing. It even seeps into how I approach work these days and a spot of quiet time among Cumbrian fells became the start of an ongoing journey.
What has not happened so far is the incorporation of repeat visits to that itinerary. Vantage points like Lingmoor Fell, Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle all take my fancy and should add the familiarity whose absence was felt while figuring out what subjects were in the photos selected for this trip report. Doing so in similarly sunny and serene condition would add to such experiences and I would return in hope of such things. Life still needs quieter moments.
Train journey between Macclesfield and Windermere. Bus service 555 from Windermere to Ambleside and from Grasmere to Windermere. Bus service 516 from Ambleside to Great Langdale.
More than a decade ago, I had planned on a Sunday day trip to Snowdonia only for my plans to get extinguished by a cancelled train service. By these stage, I was in Manchester so I reviewed my options and continued to Windermere instead. The required train fare refund had to wait for another time because one operator (Virgin West Coast) was unable to refund a ticket sold by another (First North Western) and this was for standard tickets sold at a train station. Nevertheless, any associated frustration was to be pacified by what my chosen alternative was to offer.
From Windermere, I made my way to Ambleside by bus and a hike over Loughrigg Fell ensued. That exploit granted me stunning views over Grasmere on what turned out to be a wonderful evening. It must have been May when all this happened for hawthorn bushes were shrouded in white blossoms. The display was one of the best that I have ever seen. It all just begged for some photographic attention. However, in those days of film photography, my choice of film made for results that were redder than was ideal.
Still, that was not realised at the time and I descended to Loughrigg Terrace and continued past Rydal Water to reach the A591 in a very satisfied mood. Roadside walking returned me to Ambleside and I retraced my journey home again. The disruption was forgotten and only the actual photographic results were to send the idea of a return visit into my head.
It was 2009 when I next crossed Loughrigg Fell while walking from Coniston to Ambleside. Though the hike included sightings of Coniston Water, Tarn Hows and Windermere, there was none that included either Grasmere or Rydal Water. That had to wait until 2014 when the promise of decent weather of a Saturday was enough to lure me north again for the last instalment of a summertime Cumbrian walking trip hat-trick.
Once in Cumbria, my first port of call was Orrest Head. Despite its close proximity to Windermere’s train station, it took me until 2007 to discover this delight. The chance of a quick return on another fine sunny day was too good to overlook. That it was a short walk up there made it a possibility for using up time while awaiting a bus. Now, I wonder if it was the cause of my deciding to catch a later bus than planned for it was idyllic even with others about the beauty spot. Those westward views over Windermere towards the Langdale Pikes and their eastward counterparts featuring nearby fells like Red Screes were stunning on the day. Hopes of getting pleasing photos around Loughrigg Fell were raised.
Once in Ambleside, I pottered out along the A591 nearly as far as Rydal Bridge before I dropped onto a public footpath leading to steeping stones over the River Rothay and onto a minor road. Walking poles were essential for a river crossing that required the summoning of added resolve. The apparent chance that this could be a long sunny evening was enough to ensure that.
Turning left along the road, I continued as far as Fox Ghyll before leaving tarmac again to commence an ascent of Loughrigg Fell. A family group had similar ideas and I happily left them to amble at their own enjoyable pace. In the warm sunshine, the climb was sweaty business devoid of wider views until I got beyond surrounding woodland. Then, they really opened out before me. With enough height gained, the gradients happily eased too. All still looked promising.
The route that I took puzzles me now it went back on itself and I could have pottered along the side of Rydal Water in the sunshine before reaching Loughrigg Terrace for its views over Grasmere. Crossing Rothay Park in Ambleside was another option though I now wonder if I was after another path that I missed on my way out from Ambleside. That is the more likely explanation.
My abiding memory of the my time on Loughrigg Fell that day is one of disappointment at having been caught by advancing cloud. However, looking through my library of photos from the time makes it apparent that my recollection is being selective. Any breaks in the cloud cover allowed the sun to peep through and spotlight the landscape. It may not have been the widescreen lighting that I had in mind but there were plenty of delightful moments too. In any case, cloud shadow added to the scenes before me in their own way.
In hindsight, it appeared that I was being every photographic possibility but the one that brought me to Loughrigg Fell in the first place. At times, the sun shone brightly on nearby eastern fells like Red Screes, High Pike, Low Pike and Heron Pike. Looking at the resulting photos now is some recompense for the fact that the repeat of that grand view over Grasmere towards Dunmail Rise was laden with too much shadow for my liking.
That presence of cloud shadow did not deter me from having a go at capturing the scene before me. It was as I dropped down from Loughrigg Fell to the road that take me to the nearest YHA hostel, that any spotlighting really came to a halt. The cloud thickened and the sky darkened all the while as I made my way to my lodgings for the night.
Even so, I still had designs on a stroll towards Elterwater once I had sorted things at the hostel. Soon enough, I found what the cloud was to bring and I had overlooked bringing a rain coat. still, I got back under cover without too much of a wetting. A night of heavy rain lay ahead.
It still was raining well when I rose the next morning so the atmosphere felt rather melancholic and autumnal. In order to late the rain pass, I dallied after breakfast while packing together my things. It was not to be so I walked along the minor road to Grasmere in the rain. Traffic was light and I was well equipped with waterproofs so the hike was no chore. The peace and quite was more than a compensation. If the sun had been out instead, it even could have been quite special in its own way though I suspect that Elterwater would have drawn me instead.
All in all, there is unfinished business on Loughrigg Fell so a return remains a possibility. Last December’s trip to Cumbria could have addressed matters had a walk from Great Langdale to Grasmere not been the bigger attraction in my mind. After all, I never had seen the Langdale Pikes up close in sunshine; cloud always pervaded whenever I was around those parts before then. The same might be said for Elterwater too so the reasons for new visits remain.
Return train journey between Macclesfield and Windermere. Bus service 555 or 599 from Windermere to Ambleside. Bus service 555 or 599 from Grasmere to Windermere.