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!
Around the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, I made a Scottish Highlands return. Due to intrusions of life and escapades that convey me to foreign shores, I have not frequented a part of the world that I continue to admire as much as I once did, and there is much more to savour.
The reminders come from my dipping in and out of Seton Gordon’s Scotland, a compilation of selected writings from the selected author of some renown, made by Hamish Brown. This follows my devouring of Seton Gordon’s Cairngorms while flying from London to San Francisco last month. That followed much the same format and also involved Hamish Brown.
In truth, I often think of the West Highlands as being the epitome of the Scottish Highlands, though the most recent incursions have used Stirling and Aviemore as bases. The latter of these was where I headed for this year’s visit, partly because hotels in Stirling were fully booked and that possibly was caused by a Harry Styles concert in Edinburgh. The Cairngorms return was a welcome one in any event.
2009 and 2010 was when I last was there, so my going back was long overdue. Then, hostelling became my choice of accommodation, but the latest trip saw me ensconced in a hotel for greater privacy. In many ways, the ground covered in May overlapped with those earlier incursions.
There was an ascent of Bynack More, made in blustery conditions that briefly brought some light rain. This lay in my mind since 2010, and it felt not before time when I did it. This also is my first Munro; it was its relative accessibility that initially put the idea into my head and not the fact that I stayed in a dorm of the same name in Glenmore hostel. The day improved during my walk, and I might have liked lingering around Loch Morlich but for my feeling worn after my exertions.
That was resolved by going back there and returning to Aviemore on foot to take in both Rothiemurchus and Loch an Eilean, though any sunshine was made hazy by a thin cloud covering. There was a reprise on the next day, while walking from Nethy Bridge to Aviemore under clear skies and in warm sunshine. Other haunts like Ryvoan Bothy were passed on my hike and there were ample opportunities for photography too. What I could have done without was a tumble that ripped my trousers that cast a shadow over the rest of my wandering.
That mishap and its aftermath feels brief now and I might have fancied staying longer given the continued sunny weather. The trousers were replaced anyway, and any scuffs that I had suffered were well bandaged. However, the size of the Cairngorms began to enter my thoughts enough for me to consider hiring a bike for future off-road wanderings. Cycling would make a good way to reach Loch Einich, for instance.
Craigellachie National Nature Reserve was not ignored either, especially given its proximity. Now that I think of it, there were four incursions. The lochans are best savoured in the morning light while going above the tree line in the evening time grants you views east towards the Cairngorms and south along Strathspey. This is a wee place that offers so much.
Further Highland returns are possible. Seeing Ben Ledi in wonderful sunshine remains an unfinished business, as does reprising parts of the West Highland Way north of Bridge of Orchy to get better photos. The more adventurous prospect of a short backpacking trip from Taynuilt to Glencoe or Kinlochleven has entered my mind too. What went from being a place to explore to becoming a refuge from life’s woes now becomes somewhere to experience again and anew.
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.
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.
Aside from getting windows upgraded in a house in Ireland and an announcement of future disruptive tax changes, the autumn of 2018 was steadier for me. It was a big difference from that of 2017 when emotional decompression was in order, or in 2016 when I had a big task in progress in Ireland. With less weighing on me, I was able to get out more whenever the weather offered.
One such occasion happened during a weekend stay in Edinburgh. That allowed me to walk from North Berwick to Seton Sands, surveying the East Lothian coastline as I did so. This had been inspired by an issue of The Great Outdoors magazine that I had read shortly beforehand.
There may have been a plan to follow the John Muir Way, but I was lured onto the beach at North Berwick, so I attempted to do most of my walking in the intertidal zone with exceptions when it did not work out. Views of offshore islands like Lamb, Craigleith and the more distant Bass Rock all held my attention as I continued on sand and over rocky outcrops.
It took time for views to change, although the ground underfoot was ever varied. Eventually, the islands that had been near where I started began to grow ever more distant. Others were out strolling too, but there was ample space for all of us. The tide was well out, and I even spied some kitesurfing going on in the shallow waters near the island of Fidra. After that, my lot included crossing of dunes and rocky outcrops to get to Gullane Bay. My course was changing from westerly to southerly as I went.
Eventually, I needed to go inland a smidgen around Gullane Point to reach Gullane Sands and Aberlady Bay. The prospect of a rising tide began to occupy my thoughts as I made my way across a broad expanse of sand. Behind me, I could see North Berwick Law catching some sun. My way to Gosford Sands was blocked by the depth of Peffer Burn, so I had no option except to turn inland to Aberlady. Momentary concern about tides cause me to cross the burn and get my trousers well wet in the process. A calmer mind would have ensured a retreat to a bridge instead of that more drastic action.
Sunshine had been terminated by a cloud-filled sky by this stage, but views of Edinburgh’s hills were not obstructed. Following the route of the John Muir Way conveyed me from Aberlady to Seton Sands, where a waiting bus convinced me not to walk any further. Nearby Gosford Sands or the beach of Seton Sands itself did not tempt me. Wet attire, though drying, was one dampener, but another came in the form of a little rain for a time. As it happens, I do not remember Gosford Sands not having that much extent at the time, in any case. What was also comforting was the quietness of the trail as light began to decline, since I was feeling more than a little foolish after my dunking.
While there might have been the prospect of following the John Muir Way for most of the way back to my hotel, it probably was best to curtail those ambitions for another time. Another trip to Edinburgh could use such a scheme, and there also is the possibility of including Dunbar in a hike. Neither idea has been used yet, but one hike easily inspires more, as I have found over the years. My wander along the East Lothian coastline had brought many delights and I even hear the sea as I look at the photos too.
A return train journey got me from Macclesfield to Edinburgh and back. A single train journey got me from Edinburgh to North Berwick for the start of the walk, while Lothian bus services returned me to my lodgings from Seton Sands.
It is too easy for me to think that autumn is my least favourite season but it is also the one when many transformations happen and when it is possible to think ahead to the next year. The hours of daylight are shorter so there is time to think about other things. Admittedly, the ongoing pandemic stalled any forward-thinking but these still were times of change. 2020 saw me begin to learn new computing languages while 2021 saw me embark on spiritual explorations. Both journeys are still ongoing.
2019 was the last year when thought could be given to a future even if that was devoted to continuing my freelance consulting business. Until that was more assured, I could not think too much about overseas journeying and then the pandemic intruded. A possible trip to Colorado became unthinkable in July 2020. Going to Vancouver, Canada in July of 2019 became a reality because of reading undertaken during the autumn of 2018. The next steps that I took in my career during 2018 were made possible by a career break that itself began in August 2017. The rest of that autumn was taken up with decompression and healing before I could do a rethink at the start of 2018. This necessity was brought about by fatigue after heavy work done at the latter end of 2016 to fulfil my late father’s will.
In between the more weighty matters of 2016, much thought was given to mid-winter sunshine escapades that took me to Mallorca in 2016 and Tenerife in 2018/9. It may be tempting to think that a year is done for when you get to its final quarter so that there is an overflow to the following year only for surprises to come. Thus, mid-winter walking trips to Arizona, Malta, Madeira or the Azores can be kept in mind should an opportunity arise.
For 2023, Scotland again offers multiple possibilities and North America also looms again after my watching Ken Burns’ monumental documentary film series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. While I probably was after the scenery that was shown, the series mainly was about the history of the National Parks and was just as fascinating for that. Learning about the efforts of John Muir and other actors was as intriguing as seeing the learning journey where lessons that we now take for granted had to be learned on the fly with no precedents for guidance. That the winter of 2017/8 saw me reading the works of John Muir only helped things to resonate with me. It also helped that there was enough scenic footage to restart dreams of Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Park visitations, to name but a few, and the soundtrack was as alluring as the footage.
All in all, I am rethinking my appraisal of autumn. It no longer might be a season of mourning the passing of summertime and springtime, or indeed the year itself, but could be a time of inner growth and expanding horizons. That is how it is starting to appear now. Work for 2022 continues with there being some asset downsizing in progress but time flows ever onward to bring whatever comes our way.