Outdoor Discoveries

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!


9th July 2023

In Britain, last year saw a public jubilee being celebrated though I took no part in that. This year marks some private ones of my own, but it is the silver jubilee of my own shamblings on the World Wide Web that I have in mind here. Things have come a long way since those tentative steps on the now defunct Geocities. In the meantime, my interests in technology and transportation have found other homes to leave what you find here.

In the dying years of the last century, explorations of the sort that you find shared here only could be a pipe dream. Even photographic efforts were only tentative and involved a compact camera. SLR’s and hillwalking all lay in the future. Explorations of English, Scottish, Welsh and Manx countryside could come only because of what I earned from a working life. These needed time to make them happen too and clement weather to make the experiences desirable.

It is only within the last ten years that I could have entertained notions of international travel that has taken me to various parts of Iceland, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Canada and France. Even a return to the Channel Islands to follow up on a school trip only happened this year. In the next few weeks, I hope to embark on another international escapade, the details of which I will share later.

The wanderings continue and photos keep coming. Since Easter, there have trips to Ireland, northwest Wales and highland Scotland. The last of these saw me spend some time around Aviemore taking Craigellachie National Nature Reserve, the top of Bynack Mór, Loch Morlich and Rothiemurchus. A tumble may have ruined a pair of trousers but it pained me to leave the place with a week of sunny weather in train. The Welsh trip had no such drama and featured the top of Y Garn near the Ogwen Valley on a day of gathering heat.

The weather on the Irish trip was mixed, yet there were a few highlights that avoided the razzmatazz surrounding a coronation. A walk from Newcastle West to Abbeyfeale along the Limerick Greenway convinced me that it is best enjoyed as a cycling route. That exertion may have left me feeling the worst for wear, but that did not stop me heading to Clonmel for a circular hike taking in part of the Comeragh Mountains as well as a walk by the River Suir.

The threat of rain did not stop me spending a few hours around Ballybunion or Galway. There was a soaking at the former after a stroll along the Long Strand and a cliff top walk. That was while I was awaiting the bus back to Limerick and I dried on the way back. The day improved in Galway and I got no wetting around Salthill, it somewhat pained me to leave sunny Eyre Square to return from there. Return visits to either place cannot be discounted, even though I have been scathing about the first of these; my parent’s chosen form of enjoyment was not mine, I need to say.

Stories of all the journeying over the decades would have stunned a young university student all those years ago, and there may be more yet. New locations continue to beckon to me and old ones entice return visits. More of those may await and inspire more writing on here afterwards.

An Irish Year

25th December 2022

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.

A time with little sun around the counties of Galway & Clare

23rd December 2022

2022 became a year when I enjoyed many hikes in Ireland. Even with other things to do, I got out as much as I could. There was a lot of sunshine and some rain too, but the expansion of horizons was beyond my hopes. Another aspect of this was that I could enjoy seeing the country of my birth without feeling guilty. Before, my ventures had felt more like theft, in that I stole in and out of the place. This includes brief saunters around Howth Head and to the top of the Great Sugar Loaf near Kilmacanoge. The reason is that trips to Ireland were always about family, and it felt wrong not to do that. The passing away of my parents and the passage of time since then means that I can move beyond that now.

The seed for the Galway trip was sown one weekend when my father was still around when I was returning to the U.K. It was a fine, sunny Sunday afternoon, and I was tempted to stay on the bus all the way to Galway instead of disembarking at Shannon Airport as planned. The need to be at work the next day, together with a lack of accommodation, put paid to that proposal, so it had to wait.

Galway, Ireland

Looking towards Mutton Island, Galway, Ireland

That vigil lasted until August 2018. By then, inheritance works had settled, a career break has passed, and I was back in work as a freelancer. With those in place, my mind could turn again to longer excursions, and I stole into Galway without telling very many at all. Staying in a hotel about thirty minutes walk from the city was about keeping costs under control, not keeping a low profile. That distance did add peace and quiet, even if there were building works ongoing at the time; it never meant that any excursion from the city became impossible, though catching a regular city bus did speed things up from time to time.

On the day of arrival, I naturally pottered about Galway, especially with the evening becoming brighter. This was one of the sunnier periods during the whole trip, for grey skies were more common. There also was dampness that affected an incursion into Clare as well as the Saturday evening in Galway itself. Saturday itself was spent around Recess and Clifden in Connemara, with low cloud and leaden skies predominant. Sunday then had a grey start, but there was more brightness between Maam Cross and Oughterard, even if having it arrive earlier would have made my surroundings rather magical. On Monday, I ventured to Aran where there was some sunshine after a grey start, though rain showers were about the place at times.

All the dry sunny weather for which many recall 2018 was a passing memory, while the introductions could do with following up should life events allow. There was to be one trip report for the lot until it got too long. Thus, it got split into five other parts, which you will find linked in the preceding paragraph. Along the way, there were some awkward moments to recall, but there was a lot of solo wandering as well. This was the start of Irish hill country incursions that I followed with numerous others this year. Returning to Galway and Clare in better weather remains an unaddressed possibility for now, though.

Travel Arrangements

Getting from Manchester to Galway involved a return flight between Manchester and Knock and a return bus journey between Knock and Galway on Bus Éireann Expressway route 64.

A day on Aran

21st December 2022

This is the last of four hiking trip reports from an August 2018 stay in Galway that allowed me to venture on day hikes in the counties of Clare and Galway. The first of the four ventured along part of County Clare’s Atlantic Coast, while the second related reconnaissance wanderings around Connemara, and the third followed a section of the Western Way as it went from Maam Cross to Oughterard. There is also an account of a preceding evening stroll around Galway among my Travel Jottings. This instalment describes a day out on the largest of the Aran Islands.

It often is the case that I get more adventurous on the last full day of a trip away. The cause is that I have got acclimatised sufficiently in a place to do so. This is something that I noticed on a trip to Iceland in 2015, and it has recurred so many times since then that it almost is a regular pattern. One downside to all this is that it can jeopardise making a return flight on time if things go awry.

There were a few reasons for my heading out to Inishmore, as it is known in the English language. First, there is a handy walking loop on the island with added side trips if I wanted to explore more of the place. One of those would take me to the well-known Dún Aonghasa, and there are others. The name of this first fort also echoes my own surname in the Irish language, Ó hAonghusa, though the link may be more incidental than concrete in nature.

Skies were grey as I left Galway and travelled by bus through south Connemara, and within sight of the coastline. There was plenty of time to buy a ticket and catch a passenger ferry, too. There were a few leaving at the same time, so there was plenty of space for everyone, a good thing since day trippers on coach excursions were going too. In fact, I got onto the island earlier than I might have hoped.

The chance of hiring a bike might have been tempting, but I kept things simple and stuck with the Shank’s Mare approach. As part of orientation, I followed the island’s central road a little before turning back on myself to go in the direction of Killeany. At An Poll Mór, I turned onto the Back Road to continue in the direction of Gort na gCapall, not having seen much in the way of sunshine. The lanes were quiet, though, and I wanted to avoid the minibus and horse-drawn excursion traffic going down the spine of the island.

A day on Aran

This section was to be the quietest part of my hike around Aran, and I certainly relished the quietude of it all. The grey barrenness of the landscape was as striking as it was reminiscent of the Burren in County Clare. Quite how anyone could make a living here was somewhat revealed during my reading of Tim Robinson’s Stones of Aran duology later in the year. It certainly is not easy harvesting seaweed or bird’s eggs while finishing off cattle for the market on the dry landscape in exchange for turf from the mainland.

A day on Aran

A day on Aran

Just as Aran’s human history is not so extensive in scale, notable event or record, its landscape is seemingly simple as well. There are no big hills to draw the eye, while its shoreline is another matter, with a long line of cliffs on its southern side. It is as if this land was sheared from the mainland at one time, given the similarities shared with the Burren in County Clare.

A day on Aran

Once I was past the collection of houses that is Gort na gCapall, I was either bound for the west of the island or on my return to Kilronan. Going to the western end of Inishmore did appeal only for time concerns and a visit to Dún Aonghasa to deflect me from such a course. Visiting the fort was a must for me and I encountered my first (and perhaps only) rain of the day while en route from the gift shop where I paid the entrance fee.

Thankfully, the sun returned for me to spend a pleasant time around the antiquity while admiring the surrounding views as well. There is a raised platform in its heart that prompts questions as to why it was there and what the purpose of the construction was. The sharp drop into the surf also focusses many minds; I was to hear an American lady caution her father over exactly that consideration. This is an antiquity seemingly severed by landscape erosion, after all.

On my return from Dún Aonghasa, I stopped at the gift shop again and was stunned to hear “Go raibh míle maith agat” following a purchase of an item that did not cost much. This sadly forced an expression of gratitude in English that I regretted. The incident is probably forgotten by the other party now, but a thousand blessings felt excessive in the circumstances. Sometimes, a combination of knowing too much and translating directly is not a good one…

A day on Aran

A day on Aran

A day on Aran

After that, I headed back to Kilronan while shadowing the north side of the island. The smell of horse manure was pervasive as I did so, since these roads do not get the planing that their Kerry counterparts get. This was a busier if narrow road, with pulses of added traffic intruding on a desire to keep moving. The beach at Kilmurvy too was an excuse to leave the throng for a while, but I also noticed the views of Connemara and the extra fertility of the landscape compared to what I passed through on the other side of the island. There were other opportunities to leave tarmac for a while, though, as I shortened the distance to Kilronan.

A day on Aran

In some ways, I might have been overcautious because I had more time in Kilronan than I had expected. Small islands tend to have that effect on me; thoughts of being marooned are not good ones, and they first arose on a primary school trip to Sherkin Island, even though we surely were OK that time. Others were not so burdened and could wait, but I left them to that after using Kilronan as a food and information gathering stop.

A day on Aran

Wake of Aran Island Ferries boat, Ireland

On the return sailing, I noticed just how the boat swayed from side to side in the sea. It was easy to see how some might get thrown overboard, and I need to stop myself going too far just the once. Otherwise, it was a case of admiring what basked in the sun as we passed it. For one thing, the hills of Clare were catching some sunshine in the otherwise grey gloom. The lighthouse on Oileán an Tuí was another beneficiary, as was Inishmaan.

On getting back to Rossaveal, I started to explore the place a little without much sunshine or other movement. To me, this was a stilly part of Ireland, where Aran Island traffic became the only cause of any hubbub. There may have been signs for a seemingly defunct hiking trail, but this did not feel like walking country. That meant there was time for another food stop before the bus came to collect me and those who arrived from Aran on a later ferry.

While I was happy to be going back to Galway to get ready for returning to the U.K. the next day, it had been a good day out and there are possibilities for going back to see more of the place. Inishmore’s hotel offers the chance of a stay, avoiding any anxiety about getting marooned should the weather play nice. That would allow wandering to the western and eastern extremities without qualms, and it may even mean that early and late hour quietude could be enjoyed, especially if pleasing lighting was on offer. That would make a nice short break with plenty of strolling and, perhaps, some cycling as well.

The same comments may apply to Inishmaan or Inisheer just as well. They might even fit in with a return to Clare’s western coastline. Exploring that in brighter weather really does appeal, and there are passenger ferry connections from Doolin too. When reconnaissance has happened, more possibilities can emerge.

Travel Arrangements

Return bus journey on Bus Éireann service 424 between Galway and Rossaveal and return boat sailing between Rossaveal and Inishmore with Aran Island Ferries.

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

20th December 2022

This is the third of four hiking trip reports from an August 2018 stay in Galway that allowed me to venture on day hikes in the counties of Clare and Galway. The first of the four ventured along part of County Clare’s Atlantic Coast, while the second related reconnaissance wanderings around Connemara. There is also an account of a preceding evening stroll around Galway among my Travel Jottings. The last of the lot will describe a day out on the largest of the Aran Islands.

This account is of a day hike between Maam Cross to Oughterard that used a section of the Western Way for much of its route. The night before had been beset with heavy rain, leaving some of the distance in a waterlogged state. That lay in the future on a dry, overcast morning when I caught a bus from Galway to Maam Cross. From there, I started along the R336 towards Leenaun.

There was motor traffic along the road, but it was not oppressive, and someone stopped to ask if I was a local. Whether it was someone who knew me and I might have known at one time remains unknown to me, but I shared what I was about anyway and continued my hike. You do not want to upset anyone, but the passage of time and my being in numerous places along a life journey can mean that you may not recognise people who you should know. The greying and loss of hair are no help for the recognition of old acquaintances either.

Lackavrea, Connemara, Co. Galway, Ireland

Like the previous day, low cloud obscured most summits. That limited views and photographic efforts in what would have been a bewitching location in sunshine and under blue skies. A French family were figuring out where they were going at the point where I joined the Western Way and left the R336 behind me. The ground was boggy underfoot, and I soon started along the longest section of boardwalk that I had met in my entire life.

This led me under the slopes of Lackavrea and through a waterlogged forestry plantation. Owning some forestry land myself, I was stunned to see where this state forestry plantation was sited, for it might not have been approved for a private scheme. It also meant that there was a chance of drowning if you fell off the boardwalk, especially with a hefty rucksack on your back. Careful foot placement was in order because there were places where repairs were needed.

The route shadowed the Forlore River that flows from Loughanillaun to Lough Corrib. It was not a boardwalk all the way and I rested at one point, which allowed the French family to ask the way to Lough Corrib, and I showed them using the ViewRanger app on my phone before leaving them to go on their way. That would have passed where the Forlore and Owenree rivers come together, with Lough Corrib nearby.

This was an enticing spot that had me longing for more sunshine and less greyness. On a bright, sunny day, I might have been rooted to the spot for a good while with all the hills that lay all around me. It was a matter of enjoying things as much as I could before joining the quiet single-track road that would carry the rest of the way into Oughterard. There was even a chance of a lunch stop as well, and I got wished Bon Appétit from another French speaker.

Boats on Lough Corrib, Co. Galway, Ireland

Road hiking is never rated highly by many who enjoy countryside walking because of the hard surface and its unforgiving effects on one’s feet. In Ireland, many Waymarked Ways proceed along this type of surface, and it might be said that Irish boreen walking is a unique experience not found anywhere else. At least, that came to mind during a walk on part of the Dingle Way earlier this year.

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

All the while, the cloud cover was breaking up over my head to allow for spells of sunshine. The sun was getting through with varying levels of success, and this variation was temporal as well. Still, there were moments you could use for added admiration of the surroundings. An All Ireland Hurling Final in which Galway were playing Limerick was ensuring that there was much quietude. Around Slievenavinnoge, though, some were out picking berries from roadside bushes as I was passing. Not everyone was dedicated to supporting their county team that day.

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

There was a side trip to Lough Seecon as well, and quite what made me do this is somewhat lost to me. My guess is that I fancied a little variety, as it was a short break from the road tramping. Timing was on my mind since I did not want to miss a bus connection in Oughterard, with more to walk before I got there. In the end, my fears were completely groundless, as they so often are, and I got the side trip that I fancied.

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

It was quiet around Oughterard when I got there. Galway had lost the game, and Limerick became All-Ireland Hurling Champions for the first time since 1973. They have had a run of such results in recent years, despite or maybe even because of the travails of a global pandemic. After a call to a shop for necessities and some small talk about my walk, I found my way to the banks of the Owenriff River where I enjoyed another food stop, this time in bright sunshine.

After that, the vigil awaiting the next bus to Galway could begin. There was even more time to spend than I could have expected for the Clifden Show traffic was heavy and causing delays. My departure was well late and very full, though I ended up getting a free ride. Someone else missed their intended connection for Dublin and was not best pleased when it left as the Clifden bus was arriving. If this was a Bus Éireann operation, the service to Dublin might have been held, but that is not always the case with private operators who employ drivers born outside of Ireland. Hopefully, she got where she needed to be.

That was left after me as I returned to my hotel following a long day spent in much quietude. Another visit when there is more sunshine would add more delights, but this was a good start. There is a lot around Connemara for a hill wanderer, though trailheads have to be identified and public transport planned. With initial encounters completed, deeper incursions can follow.

Travel Arrangements

Single journeys with Bus Éireann on route 419 from Galway to Maam Cross and with Irish Citylink on route 923 from Oughterard to Galway.