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!

Glenfinnan revisited

4th May 2015

This is the last instalment in my report of walks around Glen Coe and Lochaber during a hot weekend in July 2013. My day spent around Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste has been recounted already and , on returning to Fort William that evening, I was pondering something easier for the next day. After all, it too was likely to be another hot one and some lower level walking was in order. What came to mind was reprising an out and back stroll along Loch Shiel that I had done under cloudy skies in January 2011. With blue skies and sun, more photos might be had and I headed over to Glenfinnan for some gentler Sunday afternoon strolling.

The train timetable allowed me a chance to attend to some needs in Fort William before I headed off for the afternoon. The train passed some alluring scenery on the way around Loch Eil and took its time going over the world famous Glenfinnan viaduct to give passengers a chance to have a look look around them. Some may have made photos though anything taken through a train window can be no substitute for being outside, especially with glare caused by bright sunshine.

Glenfinnan Monument, Loch Shiel, Lochaber, Scotland

On arriving at Glenfinnan train station, I did not hang about though its café was open and started on my way down the A830 towards my rendezvous with Loch Shiel. Folk were filing into the little Catholic church for 13:00 Sunday Mass as I passed so life for locals was going on as ever. In contrast, my initial destination was the monument at the head of the loch that commemorates the raising of the standard that heralded the start of the Jacobite campaign that ended in defeat at Culloden. This was my first time seeing this in sunshine after the aforementioned winter visit in 2011 and a summertime encounter in 2001 while en route from Portree on the Isle of Skye to Oban, via Fort William and preceding a flying visit to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull.

Lochan Port na Creige, Glenfinnan, Lochaber, Scotland

Leaving that lonesome memorial to an ill-fated act of rebellion that caused the momentary outlawing of Highland culture, I went as if to return to the A830 but took a path shadowing it in order to reach the track along the southern shore of Loch Shiel. This was something that I found on the previous visit in 2011 and signs were in place showing that it was the work of Forestry Commission, a then poignant note given the ongoing uncertainty about the future of publicly owned forestry land. Since that time, public protest materialised that made the U.K. government back down so all is looking brighter than it once did. Not only is there a good path but the handiwork also includes duckboarding over soft ground and a bridge over the Callop River too. All this usefully negates the need for a long schlep along the A830 to reach the track leading from Callop to Loch Shiel.

Eilean Ghlean Fhionainn, Glenfinnan, Lochaber, Scotland

The covering of forestry over the path from the monument to the track may have been sketchy in places but what was there offered some relief from the heat of the day. Increasingly from then on, the tree cover decreased and, soon enough, the oppressive heat was inescapable. Unlike my day around Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste, there was to be no puff of breeze to offer respite and the surrounding greenery along with any body of water looked a little delicate in the strong sunshine. Nevertheless, I made steady progress while relishing what lay about me.

Meall na h-Airigh & Loch Shiel, Glenfinnan, Lochaber, Scotland

The track down the side of Loch Shiel never is heaving with folk but I got the sense that it was less attractive to active folk than otherwise might have been for I had it to myself for most of the time. On that January visit, parties of cyclists had been out and about but there were none to be seen this time around. In fact, the only person I remember seeing was a lone jogger and I marvelling at how she coped with the heat. Given that my spirit needed healing after the loss of my mother, solace from solitude was what I needed so I was not complaining at all in the still atmosphere.

Meall a' Bhainne & Meall na h-Airigh, Glenfinnan, Lochaber, Scotland

Meall a' Bhainne & Sgorr nan Cearc, Glenfinnan, Lochaber, Scotland

Sgorr nan Cearc & Sgorr Craobh a' Chaorainn, Glenfinnan, Lochaber, Scotland

For much of the way, I found that rocky topped hills ascended steeply from just beside the track but things spread out a little around Guesachan where Allt Coire Ghiùbhsachain flowed into Loch Shiel after a short journey or two to three kilometres taking it on a steep descent from just under nearby Sgùrr Ghiùbhsachain and Sgorr Craobh a’ Chaorainn. It was the latter that took up more photography time and others doing the same included Meall a’ Bhainne, Sgorr nan Cearc and Meall na h-Airigh, all of which faced the right way away from the sun so lens flare could be avoided. The sight of each of these felt worth recording before I continued further along the loch.

Looking towards Glen Finnan & Sgurr nan Coireachan, Glenfinnan, Lochaber, Scotland

Two factors might have me turning around prematurely to head back to Glenfinnan. One was how hot the day felt because the lack of any cooling breeze certainly made walking a little less pleasurable that it otherwise might have been. Then, covering steep untracked ground the preceding day had me wondering what my legs could manage. Even without either of these, I have a tendency for possible overcaution anyway because the return leg can be quicker than the outbound one. Sometimes, it is because height is being lost rather than gained and this was not one of those so it probably was down to seeing the same sights again and being able to leave the camera aside to continue onward.

In retrospect, this would make a good track for off-road cycling and the slightly faster pace would do it no disservice either. Then, I could travel further along before turning around and still enjoy the peaceful ambience. Interestingly, I saw some folk do something like that on my previous January visit so it remains a possibility for the folding bike that I have acquired since then.

Glenfinnan Viaduct from Torr a' Choit, Glenfinnan, Lochaber, Scotland

After coming back from my stroll by the shore of Loch Shiel, I escaped out of the heat into the National Trust for Scotland visitor centre. Mainly, this was a café visit but a few souvenirs were acquired in the shop too. After being indoors for a while, I pottered out again and found my way to the top of a hillock behind the visitor centre called Torr a’ Choit. From this spot, I suspect that many a photo over Loch Shiel has been taken but such an errand needs to be a morning one and the sun was obstructing any such designs for my afternoon visit so I satisfied myself with photos of scenes around Glen Finnan with its world famous railway viaduct. Up close, this concrete structure is not such a thing of beauty but the setting is gorgeous and, when viewed from a distance, it does nothing to diminish its location.

Beinn an Tuim and Glenfinnan Viaduct, Glenfinnan, Lochaber, Scotland

Looking towards Ben Nevis, Glenfinnan, Lochaber, Scotland

After lingering a good while around Torr a’ Choit, I made my way towards the railway station. Now that I recall this, I wonder why I did such a thing as early in the day as I did for there was quite while to go before the train was due to arrive. Maybe I thought that my speed of travel was not so speedy after strenuous exertions the day before. While at the train station, I noticed signs for waymarked walks and, with an increased sense of distance, I now chanced following one of these. It took me a little higher but nothing like the sort of heights that I had scaled on the preceding day. Nevertheless, some of the views took the eye over greater distances with even the distinctive profile Ben Nevis making an appearance. Mostly, the scenic delights were local to Glen Finnan as I dropped down towards the railway viaduct and made my way back towards the road again to retrace my steps. Temperatures were a little cooler than earlier so there were others strolling about at lower levels and the sun worked its magic on the surrounding hills and glens.

Back at the train station for the last time of the day, I awaited that train back to Fort William. An easier day had not meant one with less mountain scenery to enjoy and being able to take things more slowly was something to relish too. Life in preceding months had been a roller coaster ride and there was more to follow. Getting any respite immersed in glorious hill country only was going to help and my visit has remained in my memory as much to coax a return as to bring a reminder of calm when life goes through one of its rough moments.

Travel arrangements:

Return train journey from Fort William to Glenfinnan.

Hot weather escapades with views of Ben Nevis

23rd March 2015

Some may adore sunshine holidays in destinations where scorching temperatures are commonplace but that is not my preference. Childhood memories of the summers of 1983 and 1984 feature sweaty journeys across fields on afternoons with sweltering temperatures and this was Ireland’s south-western corner. Strangely, the higher temperatures of around 30° C experienced around Saint Malo on a school trip in 1989 have no such associations in my memory and I am left to wonder if the coastal location with its sea breezes had anything to do with it. Nevertheless, it is those sultry inland days that have  convinced me earlier that cooler days were more to be my liking.

In spite of that thinking, there are times when the desire to go for a walk with summer sunshine gets the better of me; there was a time when a heatwave was a time when I scotched the idea of embarking on a walking excursion. Much of the time, this has me out in temperatures hovering around 20° C but there are times when those in excess of this are overlooked. The trouble with physical activity on warm days is that staying well hydrated becomes more of a concern. It is all too easy to let yourself go to the point that headaches and other symptoms start to strike so you never can be too careful.

The summers of 2013 and 2014 brought a good share of warm sunny weather to Britain after winters that were either long and cold (2013) or wet and stormy (2014). In some ways, they were not so unlike those from thirty years earlier. Even so, I so needed a getaway after the events of springtime 2013 that I booked in an extended weekend during July that I used to head to Fort William. It was one of those “come what may” bookings and it was hot sunny weather that I got.

Sgùrr a' Mhàim, Glen Nevis, Fort William, Lochaber, Scotland

Travel days were Friday and Monday so Saturday and Sunday were available for spots of exploration. Friday was so hot that train and coach air conditioning could not be but relished. The stifling heat around Glasgow was all the more unmissable as I trotted from Glasgow Central train station to Glasgow Buchanan bus station and Fort William felt similar. Things must have a cooled a little for I wandered out on an after dinner stroll before retiring to bed for the night.

Glenfinnan from Loch Shiel, Lochaber, Scotland

With that in mind, I am not surprised that I went for light strolling around Glenfinnan on the Sunday. Then, I walked a little of the shore of Loch Shiel to reprise a walk that I had done of a Saturday in January 2011. Skies were clearer the second time around and enjoyed the views before taking a break from the sun in the cafe at the National Trust for Scotland visitor centre. After that, I went up the small hill behind it and lingered so as to take in what I could see from the vantage point. That was not all for I stumbled on a walk that dropped from Glenfinnan’s train station down under the scenic railway viaduct that features in many photos and in the Harry Potter films too. Temperatures must have cooled because I only have pleasant memories of these and others were out savouring the surroundings too.

Beinn a' Chrùlaiste and Buachaille Etive Mor, Glen Coe, Scotland

Stob Coire Easain and Stob a' Choire Mheadhoin, Spean Bridge, Lochaber, Scotland

It was the preceding Saturday that saw me being more adventurous. It is something that I ponder with amazement now but the idea of walking from Kingshouse Hotel to Kinlochleven with a diversion to the top of Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste somehow trumped what now looks like my better reason. Thankfully, there was a cooling breeze assisting the ascent and views opened up all around me. What also became apparent was the amount of heat haze that abounded on more distant hills. The Mamores and the White Corries were most affected and I have been experimenting with the Neutralhazer plugin in Photoshop to see what it can do for me. Of course, a day with less challenging lighting would be better and Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste is such a place that a return is worthwhile.

Stob Dearg, Stob a' Ghlais Choire and Meall a' Bhùiridh, Glen Coe, Scotland

On the day, the hill forestalled my plans to go all the way to Kinlochleven. That is not to say that I did not try myself out before going the way of reason. Now that I think of it, the lost golden evening may not have got me much more than I had anyway. The day have been a good one and looking over things now opens up more possible escapades like walking from Rannoch train station to Kingshouse Hotel or even an out and back hike from Glencoe village to the top of Meall Ligiche. The more modest height of the latter could afford some stirring views of higher eminences too so the TGO route idea could be a goer. Repeating sections of the West Highland Way north of Bridge of Orchy also tempts me so Glen Coe may not be see me deserting the place just yet when there is so much more to see.

What I have not done either is say all that I can do about those walks for what was intended to be a single entry has turned into a three part series. Next up is the piece on Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste with that on Glenfinnan set to follow that. Hopefully, those should not be the last you hear of my exploring these areas. After all, there is much left to savour since I barely have scratched the surface and that is after numerous visits over the years.

Travel arrangements:

Return train journey from Macclesfield to Glasgow and return Scottish Citylink coach journey between there and Fort William. Return Scottish Citylink coach journey between Fort William and Glen Coe. Return train journey between Fort William and Glenfinnan.

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 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 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.

Reminders of unfinished business

29th January 2011

Last weekend saw me follow a flight of fancy in that I journeyed up to Fort William on the Sleeper from Crewe. A forecast showing some sunshine was what unleashed me but the reality was more foggy when I reached Fort William. Incidentally, it was very foggy when I left Crewe too but that didn't stop me wondering at what I had done, even if I had gained a glorious view of the Black Mount beyond Loch Tulla or of the hills around Loch Treig on the way.

Despite a quandary induced by the weather that I , I stuck with my original design of popping over to Glenfinnan with two options in mind. The one that came to pass was a short trot along the banks of Loch Shiel and there was some the sun was found to be out when I arrived too though it wasn't to last with grey clouds eventually taking over the sky. Wisps of low cloud affixed themselves to hillsides too as if to amaze the passing wanderer. Add a stag to the scene and he partaking of some silage left out for feeding and there was some wild magic in the peaceful stillness. The surrounding hills looked majestic too so this was a good introduction that needs following up but more thoughts of unfinished business came to mind.

After all, it was ongoing unfinished business at work that made me wonder if I was doing the right thing in undertaking a weekend away but there were more instances from the outdoors world that overtook this. On Sunday morning, the thought of a trot around by Cow Hill and Glen Nevis came to mind but there really wasn't the time for doing that in any state other than in a worried rush and Scotland's fine countryside deserves better than that.

Other examples also joined the queue. Reprising the part of the West Highland Way between Bridge of Orchy, Kinlochleven and Glen Nevis is but one. Seeing more of the hills of the Black Mount and around Loch Etive or Glen Etive is another. Then, there's following up on fleeting visits to Morar and Ardgour more than twelve months ago. Part of the motivation for all of this is my coming away with pleasing photos but that has been an ever present motivation in my explorations of hill country and it's good to see that it still does the trick for me.

On the way home, the sight of Cameron McNeish's The Skye Trail on a bookshelf in Glasgow was enough to have a copy come away with me and that reminded me that I have unfinished business up there too. A fuller review has appeared elsewhere on the blogosphere so I won't be doing one but it's a pleasing mix of route description and social history that also was typical of the volume on the The Sutherland Trail, itself also in my possession and needing further perusal.

All in all, this is far cry from my state of mind last autumn when it became difficult to overcome any sense of fatigue to get out in the countryside all that often. Now, I blame the sense that there was nothing out there that drew me out anymore. Of course, that is fallacious and it's good to have cured it for now. All that it took was the arrival of arctic weather with a good deal of snow and a Christmas spent in Ireland (catching up with a few issues of TGO too) for that one to be put out of commission.

2009: a year of reconnaissance and rediscovery

26th January 2010

Before Christmas 2009, I tried making a start on this round-up but the attempt came to a full stop. One cause was a memory block and a certain loss of chronology in the trip report postings. Along with this, end of year fatigue and lack of inspiration had their parts to play too. The latter came home to roost when I failed to capture the year in a nutshell. It's a chicken and egg sort of problem: you have to get writing to crack what it is that lies at the heart of your planned jottings but you also need a theme in mind before you can get writing. Perhaps, it is for that reason that a month by month structure falls into place for these pieces each year.

Eventually, I cracked the problem and here is the posting that fell into place. At its heart lies a few recurring themes that the words reconnaissance and rediscovery help to convey. The first of these turns up a lot in the trip summary and reflects my iterative approach to exploring the countryside. While there are times when I go somewhere and it all falls into place, there are many when I am setting things up for a return. The second refers to my realisation after a ten year spell (call it a decade if you want) that was a lengthening list of places where I hadn't been for a while. Compounding that was a review of photos in the gallery that revealed that a new visit was in order to make new replacement photos. Having another go at image processing can only do so much and that especially applies to scanning prints. It was a successful tack when it came to encouraging to go back to locations that once used to attract a lot of my attention.

Still on the subject of rediscovery, the joys of two-wheeled travel along country lanes were enjoyed too. Before the pedestrian hill wandering took hold, cycling was the way that I did all my exploring but 2007 didn't see much time spent on my bike. That was addressed in 2008 and continued into last year. On some of my walking trips, the usefulness of cycling was brought home to me and 2010 may become a year when I go away somewhere and hire out a bike for a little while, something that I haven't done for more than a decade. Who knows but I may get to taking my bike with me to somewhere further afield once I get over a certain fear of the consequences of mechanical failure or a wheel getting punctured.

Slowly Building Up A Head Of Steam

Appropriately for a year that was to see me revisiting a number of locales where I hadn't been for a while, the first walking trip was on familiar local turf. Mind you, it take me until the last Saturday of January to get things moving and you really end up with tight leg muscles if you decide to go up a hill in such blustery conditions that even standing upright takes a huge effort. That hike started outside the Cat and Fiddle pub before dropping down towards Wildboarclough and going up again to the top of Shutlingsloe before dropping back into Macclesfield again.

Two descriptions that were to fit February of last year were freezing and frenzied. The first of these was down to a visit to British shores by a spell of cold and snowy weather that tested out a Mountain Equipment down jacket obtained at a knockdown price in the January sales. Though the cold snap was nowhere near as severe as the one that we have had since before Christmas, mountain rescue teams were littering the media with warnings about the need for winter skills and equipment. Even so, that did little to stymie my walking in four nations in four weekends, the last of these slipping into March. Nevertheless, the first of these was a low level walk along Great Langdale that followed the Cumbrian Way for much of the journey to Ambleside. Even though I stayed low, that's not to say that I didn't need to keep my eyes peel for ice on the ground and some of it was none too nice, if I remember correctly. That Cumbrian adventure was followed by an Irish escapade, my first ever dedicated hillwalking trip over there. Snow still abounded though it was on the retreat and I was to find bare rock near the top of the Great Sugarloaf not far from Kilmacanogue. The outing was a good start and on a mild springy if grey day but it needs following up on a suitable occasion. After one outing on the western side of the Irish sea, there was another on its eastern flanks. That took me to Dyffryn Ardudwy in Wales for a circular yomp around by Moelfre with clag covering even lower tops. That put an end to any idea of reaching the summit of Moelfre but it didn't mean that the day was spoilt; low cloud has its own appeal too and the sun did get through from time to time, especially near the coast where I found old burial chambers reminiscent of Irish dolmens. After walks in England, Ireland and Wales, it was Scotland's turn and the escapade was a very wet one with an hour or two of dryness and sunshine. The starting point was Tarbet on the shores of Loch Lomond and I rounded the lower slopes of Cruach Tarbet before doing the same with the head of Loch Long and following Glen Croe to reach Rest and Be Thankful. There was some dryness at my finishing point after a wet weather walk up the glen but Argyll soon got if hefty shower conveyor belt going to convince me that I was going home at the right time.

The remainder of March was quiet so it was over to April to be busier and it is here where the order of things got a bit confusing so I'll eschew the practice of following chronological order. At Easter, I fitted in a memorable if short first visit to Aviemore to spend a wonderful day around Rothiemurchus with some ascent of lesser summits to really set off the proceedings. Other outings were less dramatic and featured a contorted trot from Congleton to Leek on a mixture of public rights of way. There may have been a battle between sun and cloud overhead but the walk was not spoilt at all. A long overdue return trip to Derbyshire was in the same vein with the low-level walking offering a perfect opportunity to break in a pair of Meindl Burma boots that I purchase in the January sales at a knockdown price. My chosen route shadowed the River Derwent between Baslow and Matlock. My choice of starting point exposed me to a busy Chatsworth with a TVR owners' meet no doubt helping the visitor numbers. The hoards were lost by continuing south on an ever brightening afternoon. In between all of this, there was a trip to Wales for a hike from Dolwyddelan to Llyn Idwal on a gloriously hot sunny day that needed the hat that I purchased in Capel Curig after rounding Carnedd Moel Siabod. There may not have been so much height gain involved but I was content with being surrounded by hills.

Into Early Summer

May started with a trip to Eden or, to be more precise, to Cumbria's Eden Valley. I hadn't ever gone walking around Appleby-in-Westmorland before but this was to become a good introduction. This is Pennine Way country and I was to find my way onto the said trail in the vicinity of High Cup Nick. Any designs on reaching the Nick were stymied by a late train but a good day of walking was enjoyed on an ever improving afternoon when cloud surrendered to the sun. Another sampling of the verdant scenery that makes May my favourite month of the year took my from Leek back home to Macclesfield. It might have been Plan B on the day but I was rewarded for my patience around Tittesworth Reservoir with wondrous piece and quiet as I continued to Dane Bridge from where I picked my way for the rest of the journey home. Another Cumbrian outing completes the set for the month with a jaunt from Coniston by way of the Cumbrian Way and Loughrigg Fell, an idea inspired by a cold weather trip in May. It was not quietest of routes and the day was sure to draw the masses anyway but it had its quieter stretches too.

The Cumbrian theme continued into June with my embarking on a walk from Kirkstone Pass to Windermere by way of Stony Cove Pike, Threshthwaite Mouth, Park Fell and Troutbeck Park. It was a day often spent in the sort of splendid isolation that allows some clearance of mind. Any idea of taking the high route around by Ill Bell was left for another occasion in the interests of time. The steep ascent from Stony Cove Pike may have had its role in persuading me of the sense of a lower level route. There was a weekend visit to Scotland too with a wet and dry perambulation along the West Highland Way from Glen Coe to Kinlochleven. The start was none too promising but the improvement soon started but, while I sorted out some hill identification by topping out on Beinn Bheag and Stob Mhic Mhartuin, the idea of obtaining better photos than those which I already had has yet to be fulfilled. With the scenery that resides up there, there's never any harm in returning time after time. The day after saw me enjoying a resplendent Sunday morning stroll among Inverness' leafier parts; the Ness Islands are well worth finding. As was to be the case throughout the summer, my bike was carrying me out on local outings with an evening trip around by Congleton and an hot afternoon cycle taking in a busy Tatton Park and a quieter Duham Massey. After that deluge of outdoors activity, the month ended with a social trip to Ireland that took in the hills around Gougane Barra and the cliffs around Kilkee.

Barbecue Summer?

Except for ongoing local cycling trips, July was a much quieter month for me and the weather that we got was to make a mockery of the barbecue summer predictions in the long term forecast from the Met Office (these must have become an embarrassment by now and the winter forecast was more accurate). The month did start with a visit to Liverpool while on a damp day trip to the Isle of Man, a place where I hadn't gone before and hope to revisit sometime for some hill country hiking. Even with a continuous mixture of weather, I found a dry afternoon (and evening) at the end of the month to go walking from Kidsgrove to Wheelock. Along the way, I took in Mow Cop before getting to the Macclesfield Canal on the South Cheshire Way and then crossing to the Trent and Mersey Canal for the remainder of the trek.

August proved to be more active on the hillwalking front and it began with a flourish too. A day spent walking around Cwm Cau may have caught more low cloud than sun but what could have been a continually hot August day had its cooler interludes. It was that point that kept annoyance at bay when I saw sun gracing the sands near Barmouth. Generally, August was like July in that a mixed bag of weather was on offer. There may have been visions of basing myself in Mallaig for a week and spreading out to the likes of the Small Isles, Knoydart, Ardnamurchan and Glenfinnan but I was deflected by thoughts of seeing the are in less than ideal conditions. The result was that I headed east to Aviemore for a few days instead and the weather offered quiet a mixture, quite unlike the faultless day spent up there earlier in the year. Day one got me a soaking as I walking over the summits of Meall a’ Bhuachaille, Creagan Gorm, Creag a’ Chaillich and Craiggowrie and dampness wouldn't leave well alone as I went exploring around Craigellachie. Day two was better behaved with only light showers about while on what became a low-level reconnaissance walk Inshriach that took in Loch Gamhna and Loch an Eilean. The evening saw me seek out the start of the Speyside Way in much the same vein. Day three had an unforeseen damp start that was the cause of my making use of the Strathspey Railway, an experience that changed my mind about steam locomotives. After that, it was onto Glen More where more "rooting around" ensued as I reached Strath Nethy under dull skies that were battling the sun. Later, I followed the "Old Logging Way" back to Aviemore to await the overnight train for the south. That wasn't all of my Scottish wandering because the end of the month saw me ensconced in Edinburgh with the Festival in its death throes. An escape to the Pentland Hills occupied Saturday after a stroll over Salisbury Crags. What otherwise was a dry sunny day was punctuated by light rain showers but there still was much to enjoy. There may have been notions of an excursion to Melrose but they were parked for an easier day around the city revisiting old haunts. For now, the Eildon Hills lay unvisited but there always needs to be a reason to return. That itself reminds of what I did between those Scottish outings when I cycled to and from Lyme Park near Disley in Cheshire. The outbound route took in the Middlewood Way, Marple and part of the Macclesfield Canal while the way back went out the back gate of Lyme to take a more hilly course that skirted Kettleshulme and dropped into Pott Shrigley and Bollington. The latter course may have involved more walking due to the gradients encountered and under ever whitening skies. The cycling was broken otherwise by restful exploration of Lyme Park on what was a busy day. Nevertheless, I still found a quiet spot where I could linger while and discover one of the joys of cycling: having more time to loiter in between all the travel. It was all part of a little photography project of mine that was sending sending me around by various locations in the hope of improving the Cheshire album in the photo gallery. That was set to prove successful though there are other places that I'd like to revisit with the same purpose in mind. Anything that gets you out of doors has to be a good thing.

A Quieter Time Following A Rush

It seems that every busy month is either preceded or followed by a quieter one and August had both. September was less frenetic though there was a social visit to Ireland at the start of the month. Apart from a walk around by Springfield Castle, there was no Irish excursion of note while I was over there. An "Indian summer" visited us later in September and the realisation that I hadn't been there for a few years sent me back to Wharfedale in Yorkshire. The weather on the day was splendid and many were out and about. To a point, that limited the enjoyment of walking all the Wharfe between Burnsall and Howgill but it was quieter from there on and there was plenty of space for all around Bolton Abbey. The last stretch to Ilkley offered plenty of solitary moments should they have been required.

October wasn't the busiest of months for outdoor trips either though I did make my way to the Yorkshire Dales again. This time, it was a circular walk around Ingleton that drew me. That took in limestone country and crossed both Scales Moor and Ingleborough. Sunshine was a rare commodity until late in the day but that didn't dull the delights of being among limestone pavements and outcrops. On a brighter day, it would have been photographic heaven so I'll keep the idea on file for when such an opportunity arises. The same applies to explorations of the Lune Valley along which I had made my way while travelling out from Lancaster and back again.

Waking Up For The Winter

People in Cumbria will have good reason to remember last November and not for the best of reasons. The deluges were partially to blame for my outdoors activity being limited to a day trip to Chester with urban strolls there and around Stockport. My giving old photos the treatment that they needed was the cause of spending a lot of spare time sat in front of a computer too so I set up a plan to snap myself out from what was beginning to feel like a rut.

The result of that plotted escape was a weekend trip to Fort William at the start of December and the it started with a frosty morning too. The evening before saw me getting drenched while picking up tickets for the Caledonian Sleeper that was to carry me north overnight. While cloud was advancing from the south-west, I enjoyed the morning sunshine with a stroll around Fort William before heading out to Morar for a spot of reconnaissance after taking in the sights from the train while on way over there. The next day was relentlessly cloudy while I set to undertake my first visit to Ardgour. It looked as if Glen Coe was catching the sun but some ideas have been planted in my mind for future excursions. As if to draw me back again, the sun seemed to making a better battle with the clouds and I on my way home on the day after. The weekend reminded me of the plans that might have come to fruition in August but I wonder if the way that things have come about is better. A Sunday afternoon visit to Derbyshire followed a week later but an onset of wet conditions may have put paid to any notions that my Scottish break had been a week too early. Even so, I enjoyed a walk from Edale to Hope that took in Mam Tor and the Great Ridge. What amazed me was how fast I got from the top of Lose Hill to Hope's train station and with some time to spare before a Manchester train came along too. It still was a nice complement to the few hours spent testing a puncture repair on a cycle that took in some of Cheshire's hill country as well. They were the last outings of 2009 that I made before snow came and visited us. For making something of the white stuff, I embarked on a local stroll that took in the Macclesfield Canal, Tegg's Nose, the Gritstone Trail and Rainow. The lying snow was pristine and clear skies allowed the sun to do its magic so I reached home again satisfied with what was gained by my labours. A trip across the Irish Sea completed the year and, though another social one, there were hikes around by Springfield Castle and Kilmeedy in West Limerick.

And so to 2010…

In summary, there was quite a mix of destinations with new locations like Wicklow and the Cairngorms mixed in with local haunts in Cheshire and places visited a while back. 2010 is without big plans and has a feeling of a watershed about it. The idea of doing something a little different from previous years appeals. As of now, I have no idea what it might be but it won't be a case of consigning all previous things to the bin. Saying that, having a bit more variety and less repetition wouldn't be a bad thing.