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: Shropshire

A year when an unwanted adventure arrived

31st December 2020

We live in a time when all sorts of activities are being sold as adventures. Even a day hike falls into scope for this yet I do not need such branding to make me take advantage of such a possibility. A day with good weather spent in the midst of hill country or along a scenic coastline will do the job for me equally as well. In fact, it has been sufficient sufficient for longer than I care to recall.

2020 has been full of those in spite of the threat that it brought our way. They may have been near home for much of the time so it is just as well that I can walk into nearby hills from the front door of my own house. Long circuits taking in Shining Tor, Cheshire’s county top, along with Croker Hill, Bosley Reservoir and a host of other nearby landmarks saw me begin a summer of longer walks.

Some took me back home from a starting point reached by public transport. These included such places as Buxton, Knutsford, Disley and Whaley Bridge with the second entry on that list being the longest of the lot. The weather was mainly fair too apart from the occasional wetting.

Getting a little braver took me a little further afield. For instance, there were tow long hikes between Leek and Buxton, something that lay in my ideas shelf for far too long. Day trips to Church Stretton in Shropshire and Llandudno in Conway became the limits of my perambulations for the year before a cold weather walk from Hayfield to Chapel-en-le-Frith bookended things and an autumn of lockdown, less enticing weather and an indoor learning project became my lot.

Still, good memories got made in spite of the pandemic and these even included visits to Sheffield that I am not enthused about doing at the timing of writing these words. The hills may have been smaller but the wandering got me away from humanity even if more found their local countryside this year than ever before.

While 2021 lies ahead of us, it is difficult to plan ahead right now. There has been an upsurge in the number of cases of COVID that needs to abate and it does feel that vaccination cannot happen fast enough. This may may the darkest hour before a new dawn but I plan to get to a brighter future before making too many plans.

Of course, we still can dream. This time last year, I was pondering which part of the U.S. to visit  during the summer months. After reading about the states of Washington, Oregon, Wyoming , Montana, Colorado, I settled on the last of these and that remains on the ideas shelf. The Azores are found on there as is the possibility of Madeira and locations nearer home appeal too.

Webinars from Wanderlust as well as the Adventure Travel Festival all fuelled my imagination though dreams of round the world motorcycle or walking trips remain out of the question. It remains good to hear the stories of other explorers’ exploits though and they help to brighten what has been a dark time for many of us.

My book reading continues in much the same vein as I sit out the necessary period of time that is needed for things to settle again. Patience is much required by those of us able to stay safe while we think of those not in such a fortunate position. Adventures can take their toll and this one certainly has so we only can await the prospect of happier ones should they come out way.

Lazy loading

5th September 2020

It may be autumn now and the nights really are drawing in on us but I still have walking ideas. They are fairly local, which is useful given the times in which we find ourselves. For instance, I have another idea for a walk between Whaley Bridge and Macclesfield: this one would go via the Goyt Valley instead of Taxal Edge where the previous ones went.

There is another and that brings me to recent wanderings. One of those took me from Leek to Buxton via Ramshaw Rocks. Since the day became dull, I would like to go back to those rocky outcrops again to come away with better photos. The route could be varied according to available hours of daylight if so needed.

Other rambles did better with sunshine. One took me around hills near Church Stretton in Shropshire while another gained me my only exposure to sea air of the year so far. That was around the Great Orme near Llandudno in Wales and it rounded off an extended bank holiday weekend that also featured the aforementioned Shropshire and Staffordshire/Derbyshire hikes. All were good for my emotional well-being during what has been a very tough year.

As a dark patch continues to lift, I also got in some website tinkering and that explains the title of this post. Some may not have heard of the term but many will have encountered the behaviour: a web page that does not load all at once but only when a visitor scrolls down far enough to need the outstanding sections. That is called lazy loading and I decided to try it out with the images on this blog. If it is too much of an acquired taste or is too distracting, just let me know and I will make adjustments. Otherwise, the tinkering and the toddling will continue.

A look back at 2011

26th December 2011

For me, 2011 will have to be seen as one when work very much got in the way of hill wandering. Even if it did, I did get out on quite a few excursions over its course and some of them took me places where I hadn’t been before then. Also, there was a sense of unfinished business with a few of them and that always produces ideas for new trips into the outdoors.

January

January started out well with a few trips away. The first was to Wales when I walked from Roman Bridge station on the Conwy Valley railway line to Pen y Pass. A grey start became a glorious afternoon and repaid the nuisance of going through a forestry plantation where the right of way felt unwanted. Slipping on a branch into the wet didn’t help either but it soon forgotten with the pleasure granted soon afterwards. Sometimes, it is worth overcoming any ardour.

The January trip took me north to Fort William. This time, sunshine was in short supply and Fort William was so foggy that anyone would need to ask themselves why they had travelled overnight to get there as I did. Crewe was very foggy when I left it too so this was a general feature and not just a local Scottish one. Nevertheless, a trot down the banks of Loch Shiel was not fogbound and I was pencilling in plans for a return that have yet to be fulfilled. Glenfinnan saw a little sun too though it didn’t last but thoughts of explorations on a longer evening beguile. There’s thoughts of a shorter stroll around Cow Hill near Fort William that too could act as a lure yet.

The last weekend in January saw me use up a ferry booking that was a contingency for getting to Ireland during the pre-Christmas freeze of 2010 but got deferred so as to allow its cancellation and refund. That latter intention got set aside and  I got to have an enjoyable yomp around Howth Head near Dublin. There again was a quota in operation regarding the amount of sunshine but I got enough for photos of Ireland’s Eye and Lambay Island. It would have been nice to have kept it for rounding the headland itself but there was no detraction from my enjoyment apart from the need to return under cover street lights before it became too dark. Finding such a quiet haven so near Dublin was a pleasure and looking across Dublin drew my eyes to the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains. From a previous escapade, I could pick out Great Sugarloaf near Kilmacanogue in County Wicklow. Viewing twinkling street lights from a quiet corner was a contrasting experience too. It’s amazing what Dubliners have on their doorstep.

February & March

The only trip away during these was one that took me to Oxford at the start of February. That certainly wasn’t a waste of a good day and I might be tempted to return again. In fact, it has me wondering about more urban walking destinations now that I recall it. Cambridge certainly has come to mind but there’s more than those with more humble destinations like Shrewsbury, Oswestry, Lancaster and Carlisle all coming to mind briefly once in a while over the last few years.

April, May & June

In another year, the good weather in February and March would have drawn me out in the countryside on a few weekends but 2011 was to see the next chance taken to await the start of April when I walked from Bollington back home while taking in the Kerridge ridge and the White Nancy. It may have been local but became an escape into peace in its own right. It was a reminder that there are places on my doorstep that needed frequenting more often.

It was to take until latter half of the Easter weekend for there to be another trip away from home. Then, it was a return to Llangollen after a gap of a number of years and this was to be my first trip there that involved an overnight stay in the town too. The peace of Easter Sunday evening wasn’t lost on me though it meant leaving the crowds of Llangollen after me and a commotion of bleating to die down once a large party had passed a flock of ewes and lambs. The paths that I was walking were being retraced rather than being trodden anew but that did nothing to detract from the fact that the everyday hurly burly felt a world away. That there was no need to rush home was a blessing too. The next day saw me wandering through countryside where I hadn’t been before and part of the North Berwyn Way for part of my walk. Not planning to cover too much in the way of distance meant that it was an unhurried hike and they always are best. Those who hang around Llangollen without exploring the surrounding countryside really are missing out even if that leaves it quiet for those of us fancying an escape from the frenzy of our working lives.

The Mayday bank holiday weekend immediately followed Easter this year and was extended by a royal wedding too. That encouraged me to head to Cowal for the weekend and it was a worthwhile venture too with three walks on two days. The first took me by the shores of Loch Long and Loch Goil while en route from Ardentinny to Carrick Castle. That was followed by another on the same day: a section of the Cowal Way from the shore of Loch Goil to Strachur. It was all good quiet replenishing fare for the spirit and in a part of the world that must get overlooked a lot as well.

The weather in May wasn’t so encouraging and June was a busy month for me too though it too had its interludes of sunshine. One of those drew me out early one Sunday morning on a cycle from my home around by Pott Shrigley. A January encounter from a few years back had me wondering if some photography when the rhododendron bushes were in flower might be worthwhile. However, I hadn’t bargained on the obscuring power of trees when they are in leaf so I am not so sure about the results evening if the sun was in the right part of the sky. Maybe a trot to the top of nearby Nab Head might end up being more productive.

July

July saw a bumper crop of outings with the first taking me along sections of St. Cuthbert’s Way. That weekend started with a hike from Wooler to Kirk Yetholm whose length left me tired but with a feeling that I have made a real start on exploring the landscape though which I had passed. The next day saw me walk from St. Boswells to Melrose while taking in both Dryburgh Abbey and the Eildon Hills. Lastly, I got to spend a few hours around Melrose Abbey in the summer heat.

The Isle of Man was my next port of call with a walk along Raad ny Foillan from Port Erin to Port St. Mary and then to Castletown. Apart from single shower, I seemed to have managed to pick a single sunny day in the middle of an unsettled spell of weather. It was sunny weather too that drew me to castles and coastline about the Menai Strait. Apart from revisiting Caernarfon and its famous castle, there was Beaumaris Castle and a section of the Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path to be savoured too. That weekend finished with a sunny crossing over the Menai Bridge. It was a contrast to the damp weekend spent in Ireland that preceded it. The last weekend in July saw me pass through mid Wales on the way to Gower. Conditions may not have been perfect or photography either along the Heart of Wales railway or in Gower but these first tastes may be followed later with more.

Remainder of the Year

Autumn had its sunnier interludes too but a busy working life limited my use of them to local cycles. One Saturday, I headed to Hare Hill and Alderley Edge and that has put an afternoon walk between the two into my mind as a future possibility. Others were similar and there were midday walks during a stretch when I worked from home too.

A few days booked away from work in December offered their chances too. The possibilities lined up in form of excursions to Church Stretton, Abergavenny and even Edinburgh. In the event, only the first of these happened and it was a pleasurable outing too with sleet showers doing nothing to dispel any sense of reverie. The leftovers can do for other occasions so I need not be annoyed that they didn’t happen. It’s better not to be greedy.

Looking to 2012

Some years can be more predictable than others, especially when it comes to working lives. There were a few for me when they came close but unpredictability is back again for me. 2012 looks to be a largely open book after a busy 2011 and a 2010 of two halves. Life away from work always is unpredictable so there’s no point attempting to see around all the corners.

On the hill wandering front, there aren’t any big plans for me in 2012 although there is a good number of ideas that are available for turning into real escapades. A little is needed for making that happen and that perhaps is one of the main lessons of 2011. If you cannot plan for an excursion and be ready to get away, then it just won’t happen. A ready supply of ideas and a ready rucksack might turn those ideas into outings and confront any desire for torpor on the way out the door.

A wintry day spent in Shropshire

18th December 2011

It is a little difficult to take photos in the middle of a wintry shower of sleet so what you find accompanying this trip report are photos from the drier interludes. In fact, eastern Cheshire was beset by such things with Macclesfield and Wilmslow bearing the brunt of the showers as they ran in from the Cheshire Gap as if on a conveyor belt of a Friday morning more than a week ago. As if to demonstrate that weather is remarkably local, Crewe was enjoying sunshine and blue skies.

On leaving home, I might have been forgiven for thinking that I was taking leave of my senses to head out with all that was tumbling from the sky. As if that weren’t enough, western and northern parts of Britain had been battered by a ferocious storm just the day before. Scotland still was picking up the pieces after that when I embarked on a walk among Shropshire’s hills.

It wasn’t all that inspiring when I arrived in Church Stretton because a rain shower was in progress. Nevertheless, I resisted the temptation to catch the next train back home and waited out the shower. Maybe the price of the return train ticket had something to do with it but I also glimpsed sunnier weather as my train passed through Shropshire so hopes remained far from extinguished.

With the air drying, I made my way to Carding Mill Valley. The sun was being left to light the hillsides too, always a bonus. For a Friday, I was surprised by the number of people out and about. Nowhere was overrun but I might have expected less about in a part of the world that doesn’t come that high the list of places on anyone’s wish list. Saying that, it is good that there are folk who can overlook such things.

Mott's Road, Carding Mill Valley, Church Stretton, Shropshire, England

There is a wilder feel to what lies beyond the National Trust hut in Carding Mill Valley and tarmac can be left behind for a well-surfaced gravel path. Shropshire’s hills may not be high but they have steep sides and Mott’s Road soon started to gain height at such a rate that taking it steady and enjoy the surroundings made much sense. A pair of mountain bikers passed the way too and they were stopping a fair few times on their ascent so it wasn’t just me.

As I reached the stop, skies began to close in as another shower approached. Having got some satisfaction from the day already, this brought no disappointment; it just was a matter of wearing waterproofs to counter the dampness and enough layers to keep warm. Keeping moving helped with the latter point too as I headed south-west along part of the Shropshire Way.

Looking west from Pole Bank, Church Stretton, Shropshire, England

Skies cleared again as I approached Pole Bank following a road crossing. This was the second time that I had designs on Shropshire’s highest point with a lapse of concentration in the navigation department having caused me to abandon the venture when I last tried it. Now that I look back on that first ever visit to Church Stretton’s hill country of a Sunday in December a few years back, I am staggered to think that it happened at all; my error must have involved going straight at a junction when a turn to the right would been the intended line.

Skies stayed clear with plenty of sunlight to go around and I on the top of Pole Bank. Though there were photographic stops, they were brief because it was a day fro keeping moving. What turned out not to be brief instead was the drier interlude. It allowed me to amble about a fair bit while exploring where the lines of rights of way actually were after leaving the road reached on descending from Pole Bank. There was deliberate retracing of steps to see the set-up of paths across the hills and there was no one to disturb in so doing. Even the horses and sheep that were out on the hillside hardly took any notice.

Looking east over Ashes Hollow. Little Stretton, Shropshire, England

Eventually, I decided on a more direct course to Little Stretton, albeit with a little circuit about Round Hill. What surprised me was the way that the path took me by a number of different valleys; there were Ashes Hollow, Callow Hollow and Small Batch. It is as if this is hill country in miniature and it is none the worse for that. Because another shower came the way, photography stopped after the first of those valleys but there’s enough there to justify a return visit sometime when days are again longer. The sun was getting ever lower in the sky anyway.

Height loss was hardly gradual on the way down to Little Stretton and it must have knocked some of the stuffing out of my legs because they felt a little weary as I shortened the road back to Church Stretton. During the descent, the shower stopped and the latter stages underfoot became muddy too, an not unexpected situation at this time of year. After stripping off my overtrousers, I took a little time to look around Little Stretton with its timber-framed church especially catching my eye. Methinks it would be worth returning again to have more of a look around the place.

It was road walking that conveyed me from one Stretton to another and there was no sign at all of the sun; low hills still can hide it even if clouds don’t. The sky retained a blue tinge though as I coaxed myself along the roadside footway by not irregularly inspecting progress. Once in Church Stretton, I played with the idea of catching a bus to Shrewsbury until I saw that the one for Ludlow was around twenty minutes late. Scotching the idea, I stocked up on some provisions and returned to the train station to await a train home after a good little day out in compact and decent hill country.

Travel Arrangements:

Return train journey with a change at Stockport on the outbound leg and at Shrewsbury and Wolverhampton on the return one.

Wintry weather

10th December 2011

The last few days have seen dramatic weather conditions across parts of Britain and strong winds again are forecast for western parts of the U.K. on Monday night. Scotland got the worst of the battering and only now are some places up there returning to normal. It only was today that Blair Atholl got back its electricity supply and that the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh train service was restored to its normal timetable. Hopefully, no one got seriously hurt in all of this.

In spite of what came on Thursday, I ventured out to the Shropshire hills around Church Stretton yesterday. There was sleet and rain about but I braved both of these to escape the hurly burly of the everyday. In doing so, I was surprised to see others out doing the same around there. Sunny spells came the way too and felt all the more special when they did so. All in all, it was an enjoyable outing and I hope to savour more like it. Well, there is more of Shropshire’s hill country for me to sample. It’s good always to leave somewhere with a reason for returning.

This morning, I arose to find the hills near Macclesfield having gained a snowy covering. Various webcams such as the one at the Cat & Fiddle Inn and another at Flash Bar Stores told the story for other parts of the hill country lining the Cheshire-Derbyshire boundary. After a milder than usual autumn, a wintry reality has descended on us.