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: Scotland

Tops

4th September 2022

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.

Scottish return

3rd September 2022

It has taken quite a while but I recently enjoyed some Scottish hill-wandering around Stirling. Stirling also was where I went when I last was in Scotland so there is a sliver of continuity despite the break of over three years. The main cause of this was the arrival of the pandemic which added travel nervousness on my part.

In 2019, the main reason for my trip was photographic and I stayed near its castle even though part of the structure was covered in scaffolding at the time. Even so, I could not help admiring any views of the Ochil Hills that lay before me. These were to prove a lure for a return trip once I summoned the courage to do so.

Before that, I have been finding my feet in England and Ireland. The latter has seen a few trips this year and the former has hosted various visits to the Pennines and the Lake District. Before the trip to Stirling, I even enjoyed a hike from the Ullswater to Thirlmere that took in the tops of White Side, Lower Man and Helvellyn in pleasing sunshine. The way up was gradual but the same could not be said for the testing descent that was on the point of beating those who were coming the other way.

My time in Stirling saw me mount more summits but without the accompaniment of the sort of weather than blessed my ascent of Helvellyn. Because the second hill day was set to be overcast, I was divided over where to go because going to Callander for an ascent of Ben Ledi had entered my head. In the event, it was that which was done on the better day and got me back somewhere that I had not frequented for around fifteen years. Skies were largely clouded so another return trip is in prospect whenever bright sunshine and clearer skies are likely. Still, the sun did break through the clouds from time to time so it was not all gloom. The landscape was stunning though and seeing that in brighter conditions remains an attraction.

It must have been stubbornness that led me to hike the summits of Ben Ever, Ben Cleuch, Andrew Gannel Hill and King’s Seat Hill in poor visibility and it was just as well that I had wet weather gear given the enduring dampness on those tops. This was never a day for views but my navigation did not falter and the quietude of the experience was transporting. Perversely, the next day came sunny so a quick morning trip for some photography was in order before I needed to check out of the hotel. It was constrained by my not having charged camera batteries as much as was ideal but I still came away with much of what I had sought. Even so, a return in better weather cannot be ruled out since the incursion certainly got me away from everyday living and what I did get to see appealed to me.

Having reasons to return somewhere may be frustrating for any sense of closure but Scotland is laden with these for the weather does not always perform according to human desires. My only stay in Callander may have taken some of the sights around ben Ledi more than twenty years ago but it only was a halting point while en route to Fort William and Portree as I ran away from rain approaching from the east. As it happens, both Lorn and Lochaber have their share of sites where I fancy making better photos and even supplanting good images captured on film with digital counterparts. There is plenty of inspiration left yet.

Subscriptions and home deliveries

10th October 2020

This has been an exceptionally tough year for retail and hospitality businesses and it is not over yet. In fact, it looks as if the start of 2021 may be no better. My line of business differs from these so I am one of the lucky ones in many respects since I have been able to work throughout the whole episode. Even then, I have not been immune from the added tension of the times in which we find ourselves.

Path through woodland, Riverside Park, Macclesfield, Cheshire, England

That also means that I am not doing many of the things that I normally would be doing. International travel needs to wait as does staying away from home. The fact that town centres got too busy for my sense of personal safety has had its own effects so I avoid them as much as possible. One consequence is that I now subscribe to every magazine that I read aside from ones that I can get delivered whenever their content appeals to me. Going to a bookshop to see what new books are out is postponed because going online does much of that for me. Even with hand sanitiser usage, you never know what you could spread by touching books in shops.

Given all this, I still fancy getting out and about in hill country when circumstances allow. There is a walk from Hayfield to Chapel-en-le-Frith that I fancy reprising in brighter weather and with warmer clothing should the day be chilly as we can expect over the next few months. That would allow visits to the tops of Mount Famine and South Head together with a repeat encounter with Brown Knoll. The latter has planted in my mind the possibility of going from Hayfield to Castleton that could take in Rushup Edge along the route. With the way that things are at the moment, that probably needs to wait but ideas are needed for better times.

Speaking of idea collection, I have been catching up on unread issues of Scottish Island Explorer. In one sense, they have been planting in my thoughts the prospect of a long overdue return to the Western Isles and Arran together with other unvisited islands along Scotland’s western island call too. After those, there are the nation’s Northern Isles that have been on my radar only for other destinations to draw me to them instead. It is good to stock up with hope in the knowledge that some challenging months lie ahead and my ongoing reading may add more to these.

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.

Into the 2020’s

1st January 2020

2019 had its share of preoccupations, both political and professional, and I did get out and about more during the first half of the year than the second. Weather had its part in that as much as those aforementioned preoccupations but the dividing line appears to be my trip to British Columbia in July. That also needed recovery from jet lag together with financial restoration.

Before all that, there were numerous trips to Yorkshire and Scotland between February and May. The Yorkshire outings took me around Settle and Malham after a visit to the North York Moors near Great Ayton. Easter was spent around Edinburgh with excursions to Linlithgow, Peebles and Penicuik getting me out into more natural surroundings on a sunny weekend that rather spoiled me. Subsequent return visits in May even featured a return to Stirling as well as another stopover in Linlithgow.

The Canadian trip was the highlight though and my base in Vancouver allowed for plenty of exploration around the city itself as well as fitting in side trips to North Vancouver, Squamish and Vancouver Island. The introduction was so thorough that I struggle to think of an excuse to return and there should be plenty of those as long as I figure out how to spend time on any associated long flights.

To some, 2020 is not when the new decade begins but popular opinion is not awaiting 2021. For me too, a certain wistfulness has descended and I look back to 2000 when I began my career and 2010 when I changed jobs. The 2010’s have been life changing too and unwanted political developments to come in 2020 will bring more change. For that reason, I am not planning very much and will see how the year goes.

It this was 1990 or 2000, my sentiments would be more optimistic since that was the world view at the time. However, all that has dissipated and popular dissatisfaction is causing all sorts of upheaval. Throughout all this, it is important to keep a sense of perspective so it is likely that sunny days will lure me out of doors like the last days of 2019. After all, my late mother left me with a constant desire never to waste bursts of sunshine.

We appear to live in a time when making one’s own new happy experiences is never more needed and then there is the necessity to share them. Distractions in 2019 have lengthened the trip report backlog though I am writing one at the moment. As I now look to 2020, that motivation is one that feels sound even if I largely will let the opportunities come to me. Then, less of them get wasted and more stories are there to be told. If a few are uplifting too, that will be even better.