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!

Time for a return to cycling?

4th January 2014

Due to a problem with its brakes that I could not get myself to sort for too long, I have been away from cycling for the most of two years. Today, I finally decided to see if I could draw a line under the problem. While the result of my efforts was that I took the bike out for a quick run, I am not so convinced that the back brakes are fully up to the job just yet. Nevertheless, I have no intention to leave this one lie.

Even on that short cycle, I noticed that I was using muscles that were not used as much as they once were. So, I plan to do something about that during 2014. In fact, I am playing with the idea of getting a folding bicycle for trips to other parts that could offer some cycling. While doing some online and offline window shopping, it is amazing me who will sell you one of these. While Evans Cycles would be expected on many a shortlist and Halfords have been doing so for a while, names like Decathlon and Go Outdoors also come up. Also, for a name associated with motoring, it surprised me to see that around half the floor space in the Macclesfield branch of Halfords is devoted to cycling and there is a large variety of bikes on display too. Decathlon have a very nice commuting bike in stock and Go Outdoors have folding bikes for between £100 and £200 so there is a lot of temptation. Quite how cheaper bikes do over longer distances is another matter so it might be worth paying a little extra for something more decent.

As for those destinations where a folding bike would be handy, my mind does not need to roam far from home.  Parts of the Peak District that are served by train come to mind and going along the Monsal Trail, the High Peak Trail or the Tissington Trail may become possibilities. The Longdendale Trail is served by trains to Hadfield but a folding bike is still handier than a full sized item. These are just a few off road cycling trails and pondering others takes into Wales for the Mawdach Trail and tracks into remote country in the Scottish Highlands become possibilities for more robust bicycles. The track by Loch Ericht first came to mind here but that by Loch Shiel also falls into the same category and both are served by convenient train stations at Dalwhinnie and Glenfinnan, respectively. Maybe hiring out a bike for a day would be no bad idea. Before then, my legs need more cycling acclimatisation (as does my head when it comes to road sense and confidence if a minor misjudgement at one end of the road on which I live is any indication) and staying modest for a little while sounds sensible. Longer days may have something to offer yet.

Postscript 1

Since writing this, I found an article about bicycle braking that suggests that front brakes are better than back ones for stopping a bike. Of course, that makes me wonder about putting yourself out over handlebars on doing so yet the author says that keeping your arms straight avoids this. Nevertheless, speaking with someone at work revealed tales from childhood of getting thrown over bicycle handlebars and with broken wrists after one such mishap. Maybe I need to consult a book on cycling technique…

Postscript 2

During a conversation with a work colleague, minds wandered back to harem scarem antics with bicycles on Irish country roads. Her dad and his pals used to race downhill as fast as they could to see far they could freewheel uphill afterwards. If want a picture in your mind’s eye, think of a steep drop to a bridge crossing a stream and a steep rise immediately afterwards. Only for cars being rare in Ireland at the time, one doesn’t dare to wonder what would happen if one did pass the way around this hilly part of Wicklow.

As for myself, recollections of travelling around none too flat roads around West Limerick on a hand-me-down bike from my brother with ineffective brakes come to mind. A set of trainers got well worn on tarmac that summer; foot braking was in order. There was one mishap when my aged Brooks saddle broke and I somersaulted onto the grass roadside verge as a result. Small wonder then that my trust in bicycle brakes is so minuscule. Having cycled around Edinburgh’s hills cannot have helped, especially when a torrential downpour was the cause of my being unable to stop on Lothian Road one July afternoon. Even now, it is an effort to get myself cycling down steeper inclines so gaining some extra confidence is well in order.

An archaeological dig

6th June 2013

It’s a lovely sunny summer evening as I write this and there have been times when I was out and about in the sunshine during the past few weeks. Last Sunday afternoon saw me trot from the Cat and Fiddle Inn back to my house. Spying a useful right of way that dropped me down from Shining Tor to Lamaload Reservoir was the cause of taking me around there though my hopes of seeing the former in sunshine largely came to not as much as I’d hoped. However, there was sun to be enjoyed while I was around Shining Tor and a peaceful atmosphere pervaded much of the walk so I wasn’t embittered. There was no rushing about either as I continued to Rainow and then along Ingersley Vale to Bollington. The Macclesfield Canal and the Middlewood Way were what conveyed me much of the rest of the way home without the itinerary feeling overly long. In fact, I can foresee another wander by Lamaload happening when a chance offers itself.

The previous bank holiday weekend should have seen me do more with it but for fatigue and computer tinkering taking from my resolve. The greatest extent of my outdoors wandering wasn’t to be limited to various shopping errands or watching Terry Abraham’s The Cairngorms in Winter with Chris Townsend though. The latter turned out to be a pleasing use of time with there being plenty of stunning countryside to ogle; the quality of the film footage was stunning. While the Cairngorms were the star of this film, Chris got to draw us to the area by tracing his love of wild country. The realities of camping (includes bothy usage), walking, snowshoeing and skiing in winter mountains got a necessary airing and the featuring of a walk through the Lairig Ghru that was abandoned was no harm either. If that was insufficient, there is wealth of social outdoors history surrounding the Cairngorms that could have been added too but the sparing of that probably got us looking at the scenery more closely. After all, that was centre stage in this production and with a stirring soundtrack too. It probably was odd to be enjoying this film with sunny weather outside, and that’s how it was, but I was lured out at far as Tegg’s Nose on the Sunday evening. Just like a warm summer evening among Scottish hills, it too was quite and peaceful as I took in views towards Shutlingsloe on a circuit that took me by Langley and Sutton along paths and tracks that I have travelled a fair few times, so often that I hardly need a map for these anymore.

Alongside all of this and midweek evening walks around Macclesfield’s Riverside Park, I got the idea of adding more details to photos featured in the site’s photo gallery. These include the camera used and the date that the photo was made. The first of these is not too hard to recall but dates have been the more trickery because there have been times when I have wondered if part of my memory managed to fall into some sort of black hole. The blog certainly has helped from mid 2006 on and the move to digital photography almost nails your dates for you. Before both of those, unless a certain scarcity of trips, coincidence with a memorable event or the imprinting of dates on photos helps. There also is the trawling of old emails (yes, inertia has meant that more of these have been retained than might seem conventional) to see when train tickets were booked and peering at now historical calendars . The last two of these especially have a more archaeological feel to them, hence the title of the post. The fact that dates do not surface without some effort for trips between 2004 and 2006 is a reminder to me that I should be thinking of improving records for the future. After all, you never know what another bout of stress can do to a memory and, like anyone, I have had a share of that in recent years.

The addition of that extra information to the photo gallery continues and some refreshed or new photos are to come online too when all is done. Looking at those older photos has another effect too. When you see a photo and think that it can be improved, then a trip idea emerges. It already has been the cause of retracing some steps in the Peak District and it may be that 2013 could be a year spent exploring more of this alluring part of the world. What has been in my mind for a little while is a potential walk from Edale to Hayfield or Glossop that follows Grindsbrook Clough at the start so as to replace a photo that dates from the Summer bank Holiday Monday of 2001. Hopefully, it can happen before we lose the current run of good weather. There also is walking north along the West Highland Way from Bridge of Orchy, at least as far as Kinlochleven, to see if I can better photos from previous outings along the route of that well trodden trail. With the way life is going for me now, that is a longer term ambition and it’s always good to have them.

Things may be quieter on here these days but the walking continues and I need to add a number of trip reports as you can see from the Trip Reports to Come page. What’s needed is the summoning of energy and it’s hard to commit to scribbling them when sunshine is peering in your window as it is this evening.

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

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

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.

Restoring Reasons for Visiting

20th February 2011

A few weekends ago, Scotland drew me north for a weekend around Fort William. As it happened, the overnight journey had me leaving a very foggy Crewe to go to an equally foggy Fort William. Though I am well aware of temperature and cloud inversions, the lack of visibility was sufficient to get me questioning my plan to go to Glenfinnan for another look around its surroundings. After all, a previous visit to Morar showed me how fog can linger in glens around there.

Stob a' Choire Mheadhoin & Loch Treig, Lochaber, Scotland

Adding to the confusion was what I saw out the train window on the way to Fort William. On arising north of Bridge of Orchy, I lifted up the blind to be greeted by a stirring view over Loch Tulla towards the Black Mount. Last time I travelled on the Caledonian Sleeper, I was looking the other way but this was what was on offer on my first ever Sleeper journey more than five years ago. This time, the loch was still and the white-capped hills utterly majestic. If I had thought of cranking up the ISO rating on my Pentax DSLR, I might have tried to record what lay before me like I did with Loch Treig later on as you can see above. It was this clarity of air that caused my quandary in Fort William on my arrival there.

In the event, all that was needed was patience because the fog eventually clear as the time came for me to head to Glenfinnan. The reward for my perseverance came in the form of a sunny start to my second ever visit to the place. Unfortunately, I was to find that cloud cover was to snuff out those rays of sun all too soon. Nevertheless, I was decided on enjoying my wandering regardless of that development.

The sun stayed long enough for me to get from Glenfinnan’s train station to Loch Shiel. My first visit to these parts came on a cloudy day in August 2001, in times preceding any vestige of hill walking in my outings, and it brought home to me the distance between the train station and the loch. While I was more laden back then, I still didn’t hurry along the roadside footway on this year’s trip either. A few walkers passed me in the opposite direction but that was limit of human incursion into my reverie until I got beyond the Jacobite memorial.

It was as I neared that monument that I got my only rain of the day and it was far from being a deluge. There was a final decision to be made at this point in the day: either exploring the glens to the north or going along the track along Loch Shiel. An unexpected discovery that steered me towards the latter was a walk through woodlands over duckboards that included a bridge crossing over the Callop River. The well-kept state of the path had me asking if anyone else had found this but two developments changed my mind. First, there was a child’s red glove dropped on the ground and there were a group of relaxed cyclists coming after me while out on a lochside bimble. The fact that I was saved a round trip involving road walking was very welcome.

Beinn an Tuim from Torran Giubhais, Glenfinnan, Scotland

Those cyclists were to go ahead in front of me and I took the chance to hop up on a hump in the name of adding to my views of what surrounded me. Tree cover meant that what lay across the A830 from me was easier to see than any sights down along Loch Shiel. On retracing my steps to rejoin the vehicle track, I inspected the signpost that had been erected. Callop was one option and I would have passed by there if that welcome path hadn’t been put in place. Polloch was the other and I was to set in that direction though time meant that I never was to cover all the distance to that place. Looking at a map while setting down these words, I spotted a hilly single track road leading from Polloch to Strontian and has caused my mind to ponder cycle touring around Ardgour, a prospect that excites me a little so long as I could get a bike around there. Could I hire out a bicycle for a few days rather than having to take my own that far north? It certainly would be handy if I could but some investigation is in order beforehand, methinks.

That pondering is for the future and never came to mind at the time though I could have wondered where those cyclists were going. My being intent on savouring my surroundings to a stop to that. The sun may have been staunched by the clouds but I have out among Scotland’s hill often enough to see the possibilities. They almost demand a return on longer days with even the ca. 19:00 train back to Fort William having its place in my deliberations. Now that I think of it, later departures to Mallaig are beginning to feature in my thinking. There was nothing wrong with the brown hillsides that surrounded me and magic came in the form of wisps of low cloud that appeared for all the world to be affixed to those too. As if that were insufficient, I also came across a deer eating silage from a creep feeder. There was no move in this antlered beast as I stopped to gaze on a normally elusive creature at relatively close quarters. Maybe hunger during a lean winter dispelled any fear momentarily.

While the weather constrained any photographic opportunities, I still sensed that this was a special part of the world. Well, the lack of a breeze brought a stillness that soothed the spirit. As with all out and back lochside walks, the tricky part was deciding when to turn back. Similar trots beside Loch Eilde Mor near Kinlochleven come to mind here. The first one saw me needing to await a later bus to Fort William on a murky midge-infested August evening after missing an earlier departure. In contrast, my second trip there saw me leave too early and left some spare time in Kinlochleven. In the event, I got it about right with Loch Shiel. As it happened, the cycling party themselves had turned earlier and were coming back against me before I reached my pre-appointed turning point. Even so, my return was relaxed and steady rather than frantic and rushed though light was starting to fade on me.

Loch Shiel at Sunset, Glenfinnan, Scotland

Knowing exactly you are going stops any panic if you find the end of a day approaching and so it was with me beside Loch Shiel. So relaxed was I that I popped up onto another elevated vantage point for one last peek around me rather than rushing ahead. What was to be spotted was a streak of light in the sky with spouts of sunlight lighting part of the loch as the sun dropped towards the horizon. While light really was failing on my reaching the A830 again, I shared a few words with a fellow Irishman going to see a monument that drew his curiosity. By this point in the day, it had been lit up though it was difficult to make such lighting apparent in any photos. Even with an eye on the time so as to catch a train back again to Fort Willam, there was no way that I would not pass a polite Asian asking me of the whereabouts of the “Harry Potter bridge” (the Glenfinnan viaduct, of course). Suitably directed, he turned his car to get a glimpse of the movie icon. Glenfinnan’s train station had more human activity than I had met during my whole walk with some folk awaiting trains to Mallaig and to Glasgow. The words “Haste Ye Back” seem to sum up my afternoon around Glenfinnan and I hope that they ring true.

That Scottish saying was to crop up again in spirit if not in mind before I left Fort William to return home. There was a brainwave regarding a circuit around by Cow Hill that would have taken me into Glen Nevis before reaching the bus stances where my southbound journey was to begin in earnest. My reason saw to it that I wasn’t to try rushing about before leaving Lochaber. What I did was to gain height by going up Lundavra Road and look out over Loch Linnhe and towards Ben Nevis and Meall an t-Suidhe too. A reprise of the circuit was left for another time and the weekend reminded me that there are plenty reasons to return to these parts. Even retracing old steps has its appeal and memories of old escapades are flooding into my head now. Who knows what could come from them?

Travel Arrangements:

Bus service 38 from Macclesfield to Crewe, Caledonian Sleeper from Crewe to Fort William. Return train ride from Fort William to Glenfinnan. Scottish Citylink service from Fort William to Glasgow, National Express service 538 from Glasgow to Manchester, train from Manchester to Macclesfield.

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.