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: Ayrshire

Subscriptions and home deliveries

Saturday, October 10th, 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.

It would be a pity to see them go

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

A recent poke around the SYHA website revealed some sad news: hostel closures. In total, there have been 46 but 5 of them are facing closure. There’s Canisbay near John O’Groats in Caithness, Arden near Loch Lomond and three in the Scottish Borders. These are Broadmeadows, Kirk Yetholm and Melrose. The latter losses will leave the network looking very bare between Scotland’s central belt and its border with England.

A weekend in early July had me staying in both Kirk Yetholm and Melrose. Both seemed well used though neither was completely full. Both are near long distance trails so that should explain their locations. St. Cuthbert’s Way goes by both of these and that’s how I chose them as places to stay. Kirk Yetholm also is the northern end of the Pennine Way and both the Southern Upland Way and and the Borders Abbeys Way pass Melrose. That makes both of these a big loss for long distance walkers who now need to make alternative arrangements unless others take them over and run as independent or affiliate hostels. After all, Melrose also is useful for cyclists.

In the article on the SYHA website announcing the news, the reason given is one that will be eerily familiar to those who have witnessed YHA closure announcements. Yes, the cost of refurbishment has been mentioned in concert with the standards expected by hostellers these days. The upgrades to Oban and Lochranza are mentioned and I can vouch for the one on Arran being a good job. However, it sounds like it took a dedicated husband and wife team to make it happen.

The announcement has me pondering the future of youth hostel associations and it’s a line of thought that may spawn another entry on here regarding the subject yet. There are those who consider that youth hostels are on borrowed time. At Kirk Yetholm, I met a grandmother taking her grandchildren hostelling before she felt it was too late to do so. That Kirk Yetholm now is facing closure makes here views sound prophetic.

A year in two halves

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

There was one event in my life over the last year that very firmly punctuated the year in outdoors terms: a change of job. Whether it was the cause of putting my hill-going off track or not, there clearly were less outings in the second half of the year and those that were enjoyed weren't so extensive. The strange thing though is that a Christmas spent with the folks in Ireland seems to have recharged things for me. After all, there already has been a proper day out among the waterlogged hill country around Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in Wales very early in this year with a mad dash up to Fort William and Glenfinnan together with a crossing to Ireland to savour the delights of Howth near Dublin following it. In previous years, it often has fallen to the last weekend of January before I managed to get out at all. There are other schemes in mind but more armchair exploring could be needed before anything comes of them.

The first few months of last year had me standing on hilltops more often than is usual for me and January and February fitted into this pattern with walks over Place Fell in Cumbria and Diffwys near Dyffryn Ardudwy, respectively. The weather was very amenable in both cases with a touch of spring being felt on the second excursion to contrast with the sights reminding onlookers of winter during the previous one. The other major outing in February was a cycle that took in Gawsworth, Astbury, Little Moreton Hall, Holmes Chapel, Goostrey, Over Peover and Chelford. Though I was tired after that jaunt, it sowed the seeds for a cycle to Chester later in the year.

March saw me move things up a gear again by heading to Scotland to see some Scottish snow-covered hillsides around Glen More among the Cairngorms. Braving some showers was the price that I had to pay for this but the rewards from the short sampling session more than compensated. In fact, it may have set the scene for a busy April that featured an Easter Sunday trot from Baslow to Bamford while shadowing the River Derwent. That wasn't as low level as it might sound but I headed to greater heights in the form of Carnedd Moel Siabod and Y Llethr in Wales too. Revisiting the trip reports for these makes me realise that I was more active than I now remember myself to be.

My recollections of May are stronger and it started with a Mayday bank holiday weekend visit to the Isle of Man where I savoured some of the ups and downs of the coastal path, Raad ny Foillan. That was a good introduction to Manx walking and I hope to follow up the outing some time. A trot from Selkirk to Melrose had it share of ascent and descent too as it brought back to a part of the world where I hadn't been for a few years. Later, I discovered that the Kerry mountains around Killarney can get some hot sunny weather. In fact, it could have been the most sun that I have had on a visit to the alluring area.

As it happened, May ended with the commencement of the distraction that was to occupy my mind for much of the next few months: a change of job. It was amazing to see how this really punctuated my outdoors year. The weather remained balmy as I pondered what I was doing with visits to the National Trust managed woods around Alderley Edge for some unwinding on lengthening evenings. That spell of good weather came to an end later in June but not before I snatched the chance to head north to the Isle of Arran and Kintyre for what became my only real longer summer break in Scotland. That didn't prove to be the end of my feeling hot sunshine for the year because a business trip took me to Sweden where long hot evenings allowed me to savour the delights both of Sodertalje and Stockholm.

From July on, the rest of the year gained a much quieter feel when it came to enjoying the outdoors. Nevertheless, I did manage to base myself in Aberdeen for the English August Bank Holiday weekend. Having not been there after a first visit more than a decade before, it was time to revisit places encountered before and exploring those that were new to me. The latter point brings to a first visit to Braemar that took me up to the top Morrone/Morvern with heavy showers making rainbows in the sunshine before things dried up later on an otherwise chilly day. The outing had a real end of year feel with that coolness though Edinburgh felt warm in the sun when I sneaked in a trot about its heart between trains. Maybe I should have based myself there instead, like I did for the same weekend in 2009.

For some reason, the rest of the year felt as if the stuffing had been knocked out of it for me and my outings appeared to reflect that. Nevertheless, I did get to cycling all of the way from Macclesfield to Chester, a brainwave that came to me earlier in the year. It also proved that Cheshire is far from flat though I knew that anyway. Ironically, my end of British Summer Time hike along the High Peak Trail and the Tissington Trail from Pomeroy to Ashbourne on a day when cloud overcame sun as I went further south. Following old railway alignments meant that ups and downs were kept to a minimum on that October afternoon but the distance covered was felt for a while afterwards, ironically for longer than the effects of my exertions in crossing Cheshire if my memory is not failing me again.

Breaking away for a hill country outing seemed to have become difficult for me but November saw me on top of Caer Caradoc in Shropshire due the perceived accessibility of the hill. Shrewsbury remains another idea for urban pottering as does Oswestry so it wasn't about standing atop a hill. In fact, the very next issue of Country Walking featured low hills with good views and put into my head the idea of collating a list of a few of these for times when inspiration was hard to locate.

December's snows may have been disruptive and I was to feel the effects of that when I popped over to Ireland for the Christmas but they were restorative when it came to getting me out of doors again. For one thing, there was a quick visit to the hills near Glossop that was more about broadening my experience of winter condition than covering much in the way of distance. Then, there was wandering around local haunts in Wilmslow (Lindow Common became a 2010 discovery for me), Macclesfield, Prestbury and West Limerick. Surroundings may have looked totally different and very pretty on these short strolls but they very much helped me in the restoration of my hill wandering mojo. Now, I need to ensure that it doesn't leave me again. After all, 2011 has started well and I really do need to set down some more trip reports as well as ensuring that my working life doesn't overwhelm everything else on me again.


Saturday, July 17th, 2010

July's often a month that sends me into a sort of hiatus. Maybe, for all the hopes of scorching summers that seem to circulate every year, it's because the weather isn't ever as good as what gets anticipated. This year, it's being a damp one after the very dry weather of May and June. Having rain now cannot be such a bad thing when reservoirs are low and the earth scorched and bone dry. That situation makes it hard to knock the dampness though it might make walking outings wetter.

Within the last few weeks, I was sent off on a business trip to Sweden where I got to feel the full force of a scorching sun on evening strolls around Södertälje and Stockholm. It made me glad of our maritime climate and reminded me of the realities of outdoor walking in hot sunny weather even if I was never in the middle of civilisation in comparison with some of my day walks through the British countryside. It often seems as if the trade off for summer walking is between uncomfortably high temperatures for walking or cloud cover that cuts down on photographic opportunities. Last month's escape to Arran and Kintyre saw times when both extremes were encountered. It's not so often that we get a happy medium like what I met on Harris a few years ago.

With a change of job next week, I am not sure what opportunities I'll be having for getting out in the countryside but it looks like being the occasional day trip for a while. As I opined on here before, the idea of a week long trip to somewhere in Scotland has to be placed on hold for this year though I still will see what may come my way as the year continues on its downward trajectory. Time may look limited but I've made do with that before. Autumn,  a season that at least some Swedes await after a hot summer, is on its way to us too and may offer good things as it did last year when an Indian summer was in order after the non-summer that we got. The future's not ours to see but hope springs eternal too.

Sampling Kintyre with Arran and Cowal in View

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

The Met Office weather forecast for my few days in Arran and Argyll displayed an ever improving trend with Saturday being among the best of the lot. Of course, weather trends can change and there wasn’t as much sun as predicted. However, that has its advantages because cloud shields you from the heat of the midday sun and that makes for more friendly conditions for walking. At times when I felt the full force of a strong sun, I was grateful for those times when under a cloudy shield.

That last Saturday in June got a cloudy start and it stayed like that for much of the day. Over time, breaks did appear in the cloudy cover that allowed the sun through until it took over around Tarbet, where my walk was set to end. The starting point for the hike was Claonaig so a ferry crossing was in order to get there from Lochranza, on the ferry that I saw the previous evening in fact.

Ironically for a part of modern day Ayrshire, Arran is closer to Argyll and may have been considered part of that part of the world in previous. That meant that the sailing on the small ferry only took around 30 minutes as opposed to around an hour for the bigger boat between Ardrossan and Brodick. Saying that, I can see the draw of civilisation result in a greater pull from the east that overwhelms any from the west. Well, the boat from Lochranza is a summer only affair while the Brodick one travels all year around.

Arran only grew a little smaller with the north-westward sea travel and it was unmissable from the shores of Kintyre as I started north along the Kintyre Way for Tarbert. The northernmost section of the long distance trail was to be my lot for the day with helpful mile posts counting down the distance that I had left to travel. That decreasing numerical trend told its own story in that the Kintyre Way should be walked in a southbound direction rather than reversing it as I was doing.

First, I had to make up the road towards Skipness with a sleepy atmosphere in the air. Tempting seats were to be found in places by the road and I topped up on food while resting on one of them. Though the predominant colouration was more steel grey in nature, I still enjoyed any glimpses of Arran from across the sea. These were captivating vistas on a day with more sun but they were still to blame for my going slower than usual. However, there was a long day ahead of me before I was to meet with a Scottish Citylink coach at Tarbert so there was no need to rush.

At the quiet collection of houses that is Skipness, I left tarmac to give my legs a blast of steep ascent up a gravel track. Unlike the day before, walking poles were with me to help and the assistance was well needed with my carrying everything around with me. From this point forward, I was on the route of the Tarbert to Skipness Walk as well as that of the Kintyre Way.

In order to meet up with the banks of Skipness River, that hard earned height gain was lost, not something that I found alluring after the earlier effort and in the knowledge that more ascent was ahead of me. Arran was lost from view with much forestry surrounding me, very much a feature of the route that I had chosen for myself.

Good progress was made and I began to go uphill again with the hills of Arran rising up over their lower counterparts on Kintyre. A longer lunch stop was made near Meall Donn, where I found a handy picnicking table at the end of the gravel track that I had been following. There was no real bother from midges either and the sun was finding a way through the clouds too though the effect wasn’t as strong as that observation might suggest.

After the midday stop, it was along a well defined path that I was following as it weaved around among the firebreaks in the forestry plantation. Though planted with trees, there was bog too with bridges placed over Allt Carn Chaluim to keep the wanderer on a raised bank throughout. Progress was slower than inspection of a map might suggest but Loch na Machrach Mòire came in its own good time anyway.

Tarbert and Skipness Forest, Kintyre, Scotland

Once the loch was behind me, I left the forestry too to find myself among a boggy landscape replete with untidy rocky hummocks. Out of curiosity, I popped onto one of the nameless ones before returning to locate my belongings again before continuing along the path again to reach a piece of hill track brutality that was a recent addition to the landscape. For all the world, it looked as if a gravel track wide enough for two cars to pass each other had been gouged out of the hillside. Let’s hope that nature softens the unpleasant handiwork in its own good time but it too is easy to see why there is a campaign against such things in train in Scotland. Not only are they ascetically disturbing but they also can confuse the unwary by making maps out of date at the scoop of a large mechanical digger. There has to be better ways of enabling timer harvesting and the Forestry Commission should know better.

Very soon, I was back among conifers gain and the sun was making a better job of battling the clouds. That also meant that it started to feel hotter too as I began to come down from the none too heady heights that I had scaled. Any views of Arran were lost completely and it was those over Loch Fyne that replaced them. The Portavadie-Tarbet ferry was crossing beneath me as I made good any opportunities to look eastward to Cowal, a place on which I have designs of doing some exploration.

All the while, I was on the lookout for the path that would take me from the forestry track and drop me into Tarbert. It may have taken its time coming to me but it was welcome sight when it came. The subsequent stop for rest and sustenance might appear a kind of celebration but my eyes were drawn by the brightening surroundings and the growing semblance of the development of a wonderful summer’s evening, much like the opening of a beautiful flower.

Sròn Garbh, Tarbert, Kintyre, Scotland

The way down was to be very steep and I didn’t envy those who I had seen coming up against me earlier on in the afternoon. As I neared Tarbert Castle, the gradients eased so that easier walking became my lot with a quick diversion to a view point. While thankful for less taxing slopes, I was questioning the attentiveness of the waymarking but I filled in any lapses in signing without a blunder.

The castle was unavailable for photography due to ongoing restoration work so I continued onto the shoreside road in what is quite a pretty place with nicely presented and colourfully painted buildings. After asking directions in a shop where I bought some refreshments, I found the coach stop where my walk ended with plenty of time to spare.

Inverary was my my next port of call and I did some exploring before settling down for the night. Sunday was to turn rainy up there while other parts of the U.K. sweltered and England crashed out of the World Cup. If you had wanted to find a world away from that outcome, Scotland would have been more than forthcoming. There may have been occasional places where the sound of the vuvuzela could be heard but there they were many more where peace, quiet and stillness reigned supreme as I had discovered for myself.