Outdoor Excursions

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: Ireland

Some Irish hiking titbits

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

In the middle of the first decade of the century, blogging was an activity that felt new and novel. Thus, walking, hiking, backpacking and other outdoor activity blogs felt likewise and I did mention other blogs on here in those early days. That has lapsed but some reading about Irish outdoor activities stoked it up again.

It was perusing an Irish adventure guidebook that had lain unread for more than two years that caused the perhaps momentary restart. Hiking and walking are my main interests but the book also included others like swimming, diving, snorkelling, surfing, caving and climbing. It also promoted responsible enjoyment of nature’s delights so it perhaps was not a surprise to have mentions given to Leave No Trace Ireland with its Seven Principles and Invasive Species Ireland.

There are very good reasons for highlighting the need to respect the countryside when legal access is so limited that there is much dependence on the permissive kind and goodwill can be lost so easily by a spot of carelessness. It is a theme that recurs in reports on the Mountain Views website where many a hill outing gets documented. It is not just the likes of James Forest who visit Irish hilltops.

Of course, not everyone is bound for a summit so initiatives that have given us the National Waymarked Trails or Loop Walks more than retain their importance. Satisfyingly, there is about 4,000 km of walking covered by the former of these and someone set to walking all of them and that story gets told on the Tough Soles blog. However, this was not what brought it to my attention but rather the maps that are shared on there. Completing the lot is quite a feat and others might be inspired to do the same and make Ireland even more of a walking destination. Anything that drives enhancement of facilities has to be a good thing.

Trip reports often get accompanied by photos and that is very true of my own offerings. What is more unusual is when artwork like sketching or painting is used instead as is the case on the Hikelines blog. Initially, this featured a lot of longer hikes in Ireland but a knee injury sadly changed that. Even so, the shorter strolls still suffice for adding those alluring handcrafted images and new posts retain the same amount of interest.

Even now, my own incursions remain more limited than anything mentioned above so there remains more scope for advancement beyond what I did in the counties of Clare and Galway during August 2018. For this, the prospect of an extended weekend in Killarney appeals when there is so much near at hand there. For that, the Killarney Shuttle Bus may or may not have a use depending on its intent though I have seen it mentioned in the book described near the start of this entry. If not, longer self-devised circular walking routes would support any desired exploring like they have done for me in other places.

Another thought arose while writing these words: using previously visited places as launchpads for exploring new locations. Dursey Island in West Cork or the Blasket Islands near Dingle are examples that come to mind and small offshore islands do have much to offer a seeker of wider adventure. The Irish mainland does some of that too and I even get to thinking about counties where I never have set foot; Down, Donegal or Sligo are just three of these with hills that await attention.

What gets in the way of seeing all this is a wider wanderlust that is cause of my reading guidebooks while surveying other prospective holiday destinations. That will continue and it is premature to talk of these possibilities and the ones that might have come to my notice during the Adventure Travel Show that I went to see last weekend. Some plans are best described when they have happened and, in marked contrast to my Irish ruminations, that will remain my approach to these other putative designs.

History

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019

It appears that we are living in one of history’s more turbulent epochs and such is the drama that I have avoided reading very much history until now. The cause has been as much about the fear of reliving what is unnerving about our current times as the allure of other interests. However, I have relented and started on books that have awaited my attention for far too long.

Completing Tim Robinson’s Aran Island duology and his Connemara trilogy made me more open to Diarmaid Ferriter’s On the Edge, a modern history of Ireland’s offshore islands that was published towards the end of last year. When that proved eminently readable, I then started on the same author’s The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000 and that will keep me going for a while before finishing two more from other authors would complete the same backlog.

History remains a subject to which I am more than partial with Christopher Clarke’s The Sleepwalkers, Norman Davies’ Vanished Kingdoms and Robert Kee’s The Green Flag all acting as staging posts on an ever continuing expansion of perspective. More may follow if I ever decide to look further into the stories of various other countries that I have explored in recent years and Switzerland comes to mind here.

That is not to say that other titles will not be perused during this run of historical reading but they are likely to lighten the mix. In any event, there is a pile of unread magazines that also needs reducing so that should help my idea collection to grow. At this time of year, it usually is opportune to think ahead to what excursions may be possible and North American ones are tempting options for this coming summer. What happens in reality still remains another matter though.

While it can be pleasant to allow your imagination to take flight, political and financial realities do help to ensure restraint. The acquisition of a new lens for my Canon EOS 5 Mark II and the rebuild of a five year old desktop PC involved such an investment that I am not so willing to expend too much more at the moment. Nevertheless, the new lens needs more testing so that adds incentive for an outing should more sunshine come our way. It is fine to dream but modest excursions do much for any overburdened spirit.

Pairs

Monday, December 17th, 2018

Thinking back to a year ago when I was in the middle of a career break, I am struck by how much reading I was doing. There were two from Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia and Songlines, and both gave me my fill of travelogue writings by the time that I got as far as January. Both contained a certain air of desolation that also came in its own way from Kev Reynold’s Abode of the Gods. It might have been a certain end of year feeling with the dull days of a passing December as much as what I was reading. After all, I found myself again detached from the mainstream flow of living much like I did when transitioning from university into the world of work.

The sense of desolation might have befallen my impressions of Tim Robinson’s Stones of Aran duology but for other distractions. Work has been among these as much as seasonal activities like sending cards and buying presents. Becoming engrossed in computer tinkering has been another factor and it certainly helped with speeding up this website. All of this delayed my completion of the aforementioned pair of books with their incompleteness of ending. The second was supposed to resolve a conundrum posed by the first but I get the impression that it may have proved to be a voyage of acceptance rather than resolution.

For all that, I now have moved onto the same author’s Connemara trilogy and there is extra life in its early pages. A quieter place like Aran has less documented history while most of the action is elsewhere so it is easy to find loose ends that never can be brought to a satisfying conclusion. For one thing, oral history can bring its own challenges with an intermingling of myth and actual events together with loss of memory as one generation hands over to another. Eve today, this remains an elemental place as I found when I was there last August.

Throughout all this recent activity, two visits have been made to the moorland around Hathersage, Grindleford and Sheffield. In fact, there is such an extensive path network that more may follow because of the possibilities that are offered. That thought popped into my mind during last Sunday’s hike from Grindleford into Sheffield during an interlude between spells of heavy rain. In truth, I should have been attending to seasonal matters but my enthusiasm for hill country got the better of me.

Anything that grants views of such sights as Padley Gorge and Higger Torr cannot be a bad thing and the area could be a fallback should all other forms of inspiration fail me. December was not much of a walking month for me in 2017 so I embarked on bus journeys that took me around mid-Wales and by the area that I walked last Sunday in their stead. It helps that collecting ideas is as good as making use of them and those from then led to one walk from Hathersage to Sheffield in November and another from Grindleford to Sheffield last Sunday. In turn, each of the duo could be the cause of return visits to the area and longer hours of daylight could allow more scope for any future explorations.

Journeys of others

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

Before my career break, I found it difficult time to read a book and often lapsed into watch television documentaries on the BBC iPlayer. The situation got reversed after a book called Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi encouraged the practice. Whenever I feel an emotion that I do not want to remain, a TV watching binge never helped but reading a book causes movement and the feeling can be left in the past. It is as if someone else’s journey brings you along too.

Currently, that is taking on the shores of the Aran Islands in the company of Yorkshireman Tim Robinson. Reading his two part work on the islands has lain on my reading list for far too long and I started Stones of Aran: Pilgrimmage back in the noughties only never to get very far with it. My paper copy may be gone but I made a new start on its digital counterpart and it is reading well so far.

Handily, I visited Inishmore (Árainn, as Gaeilge) so the localities are not all that lost to me. If another visit were to happen, then Iaráirne could see an encounter as could the opposite end of the island if I feel sufficiently adventurous. Sightings of Inishmann (inis Meáin, as Gaeilge) or the Brannock Islands could be additional rewards for such endeavours. Before such things, more of Robinson’s works like Stones of Aran: Labyrinth and his Connemara Trilogy await and who knows what they might inspire?

The world described by Tim Robinson is not dissimilar in ambience to that described in Chris Townsend’s The Munros and Tops, another of this year’s reads. After that came John McPhee’s Coming into the Country and it proved to be a book in three very different sections. The first section features the Brooks Range with a narrative split in two with the second part preceding the first. It still hangs together well with the second and third sections featuring more of the folk that are attracted to the idea of a wild place away from the strictures of everyday living.

That unleashes tensions when trying to find a new state capital or dealing with the encroaching bureaucracy keen on keep a wild landscape as it is when you fancy exploiting its resources on a small scale. The act of taking a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer into wilderness oddly aroused my concern for the machine and not the landscape as might be expected. Maybe it reminded me of of abandonment in a big hostile world and there could be a wider theme there. In the end, McPhee finds himself siding with industrious Alaskans earning a living rather than others solely following their perhaps unrealisable dreams. They might fancy abandonment much like Christopher McCandless only to find that they still need humanity or that it continues to intrude on their world.

Stepping away from humanity awhile is a recurring theme in my own wanderings and it is why such places as the Scottish highlands and islands are as amenable to my ends as the wilder parts of other places. That also explains a certain interest in North America that was accompanied by perusal of writings about Lewis and Clark crossing the continent though that was a very dry read that I was happy to finish.

There is another recurring theme in all of this: you often find Robert Macfarlane appearing in these with either a recommendation or a foreword. That applies to the McPhee and Robinson works as much as that by Nan Shepherd on the Cairngorms. It might be that he is using his fame to restore older books to our notice but I reckon that I might be reading them anyway given how I have been collecting them onto a reading list in recent months.

Speaking of those older books, it is unlikely but if I ever were to wnat more but I might be tempted by the Gutenberg project if I wanted eReader files of works from a very different era by Heny David Thoreau or Raplh Waldo Emerson. They are out of copyright but a visit to either AbeBooks, The Literature Network or Scribd could serve a use if I fancied a wider selection of those still covered by such restrictions. With more new tomes that appeal to me, that is unlikely to happen just yet. Usefully, the time taken to complete any single volume should put a brake on any overspending. After all, it is better to acquire for reading than to decorate a bookshelf and horde more than you need.

Sharing or sparing?

Tuesday, September 18th, 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.