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.
2019 had its share of preoccupations, both political and professional, and I did get out and about more during the first half of the year than the second. Weather had its part in that as much as those aforementioned preoccupations but the dividing line appears to be my trip to British Columbia in July. That also needed recovery from jet lag together with financial restoration.
Before all that, there were numerous trips to Yorkshire and Scotland between February and May. The Yorkshire outings took me around Settle and Malham after a visit to the North York Moors near Great Ayton. Easter was spent around Edinburgh with excursions to Linlithgow, Peebles and Penicuik getting me out into more natural surroundings on a sunny weekend that rather spoiled me. Subsequent return visits in May even featured a return to Stirling as well as another stopover in Linlithgow.
The Canadian trip was the highlight though and my base in Vancouver allowed for plenty of exploration around the city itself as well as fitting in side trips to North Vancouver, Squamish and Vancouver Island. The introduction was so thorough that I struggle to think of an excuse to return and there should be plenty of those as long as I figure out how to spend time on any associated long flights.
To some, 2020 is not when the new decade begins but popular opinion is not awaiting 2021. For me too, a certain wistfulness has descended and I look back to 2000 when I began my career and 2010 when I changed jobs. The 2010’s have been life changing too and unwanted political developments to come in 2020 will bring more change. For that reason, I am not planning very much and will see how the year goes.
It this was 1990 or 2000, my sentiments would be more optimistic since that was the world view at the time. However, all that has dissipated and popular dissatisfaction is causing all sorts of upheaval. Throughout all this, it is important to keep a sense of perspective so it is likely that sunny days will lure me out of doors like the last days of 2019. After all, my late mother left me with a constant desire never to waste bursts of sunshine.
We appear to live in a time when making one’s own new happy experiences is never more needed and then there is the necessity to share them. Distractions in 2019 have lengthened the trip report backlog though I am writing one at the moment. As I now look to 2020, that motivation is one that feels sound even if I largely will let the opportunities come to me. Then, less of them get wasted and more stories are there to be told. If a few are uplifting too, that will be even better.
One I feature a trip report for an overseas trip on here, chances are that urban strolling gets mixed in with rural hiking. Separating the two has a habit of feeling very wrong even when the the countryside explorations are subsets of what else occupied me. The comment applies as equally to Swedish explorations as much as they do to Aberdonian ones. It might be tempting to move the urban activities into my Travel Jottings and leave the shorter incursions into more more natural surroundings for here but it just feels like I am doing the whole task a disservice so they all end up here instead.
That has its consequences and the Swedish trip report was the cause of getting in the way of adding other content on here. After all, the trip was a six day affair and writing up each day would have proved challenging on its own but I left the whole lot go together. With overseas outings always likely to combine urban and rural, that conundrum is likely to remain but there may be chances for a split just as well. An Easter sojourn in Edinburgh could lend itself to such division and they are some ideas in my mind for purely urban explorations just as well. It all depends on how I feel about things at the time.
Another outcome of the uncomfortable juxtaposition of walking around built-up and wilder areas is that I decided on a name change to cover what is here that little bit better. After all, all my walking and cycling takes me out-of-doors so Outdoor Excursions is now the name you find at the top until I find something else or get in the mood for a change.
As it happens, there have been a few names for this place over the years and Collected Musings of a Hill Wanderer still feels the best even it now longer fits the style of the rest of the website. Maybe, it can return as a strapline even if I mix up the destinations for my wanderings these days. What will not alter is the intended focus on celebrating quality time in more natural surroundings while a better name might come to mind.
The continuing non-availability of Northern train services on Saturdays due to industrial action became such a source of personal confinement that their restoration produced such a dramatic effect. From February until now, I have been away most weekends making use of the increased opportunities for train travel. The promising weather helped too even if it meant that water supplies were not getting replenished as required after last summer’s extended spell of hot and dry weather.
The result was that Yorkshire got a lot of attention throughout February and March. It started with a visit to the North York Moors on a sunny day in February that felt more like summer than the actual time of year. Roseberry Topping was revisited as well as nearby hills as I traced out part of the Cleveland Way on a circuit centred on Great Ayton’s Train station.
Other circuits were followed by train as dictated by the extent of day ranger ticket areas. Two of these took me between Leeds and Carlisle so it might have been inevitable that I ended up getting ideas for walking outings as a result. The departure point for such attentions was Settle since I had not passed Attermire Scar or visited Malham and its nearby tarn for far too long. Sunshine may not have been in ample supply through my walking rounds so another trip to Malham Cove cannot be ruled out and it could see me going to Skipton on foot as well. There were two outings in total and there already is another in mind.
It has been a spring full of city visitations too. In the north of England, the tally included Newcastle, Leeds and Sheffield and Scottish cities like Edinburgh and Stirling got their share of attention too and there even was a trip to Cardiff for some wandering by the River Taff. More will be written about these below while Newcastle saw more wandering than other northern cities as I pottered along by the River Tyne on the way to Wallend using part of Hadrian’s Wall Path. That again was a quieter stroll and there was much to savour on a journey from a city centre to greener parts of its suburbs.
An elongated Easter weekend allowed for a longer stay in Edinburgh that has been in mind for some time and there was a truncated effort in 2017. 2019 saw no such intrusions so I was there from Holy Thursday through to Easter Tuesday as planned. That allowed for a lot of city rambling and there there were two visits to Linlithgow. Hill wanadering featured too and days were spent among the Pentland Hills and doing a round of the hills encircling Glen Sax. Along the reminisces and silly daydreams entered my mind but the time spent around a city where I spent part of my university years also became a chance to deal with any episodes of unfulfilled promise that returned to haunt me.
When I moved away from Edinburgh in 2000, there may have been an element of unfinished business that drew me back again and again to somewhere for which I still hold much affection. The 2019 version of the same was a suboptimally composed photo on Calton Hill so I returned on the Mayday bank holiday weekend to set that to rights. Other sights like the city’s botanic gardens and Costorphine Hill Local Nature Reserve were frequented too and the latter featured on another visit during the following weekend.
Though I was bound for Stirling, a stopover in Edinburgh did allow me to revisit the Royal Mile and Costorphine Hill in good sunshine for the sake of a little closure of what was becoming like an Edinburgh trilogy. Stirling saw plenty of sauntering with photographic pursuits in mind but the prospect of a walk among the nearby Ochill Hills remains outstanding so that could be another excuse to go back up there again.
After all those weekend forays elsewhere, it now feels as if some quiet time at home is in order and that pervaded the Spring Bank Holiday weekend aside from the aforementioned day trip to Cardiff. Others making the same journey had the attendance of a Spice Girls concert in mind but designs were far more demure as I avoided bands of cyclists to amble by the River Taff to take in the spring foliage on trees around Bute Park and Llandaff on a sunny afternoon that could not be enjoyed further north, such was the available weather. The summer awaits so only when that arrives will its roaming be revealed.
At the end of January 2017, an idea came to mind. Preceding years had seen holidays being little more than elongated weekends and I fancied a little longer. Also, the idea of feeling ensconced in Edinburgh for a longer period of time appealed to me. Both thoughts came together to get me thinking of stretching the forthcoming Easter weekend with taking the preceding Thursday and the trailing Tuesday to make for a six day trip to Scotland’s capital city.
The days were booked off from work and bookings made. An early train ticket purchase got me a great deal using advance purchase tickets, which was just as well given the cost of the hotel booking. At this stage in the year, the chance of a springtime sabbatical was a tenuous prospect though it had been discussed with my manager. The longer time off, unpaid as it was, required approval from more senior management and that took until March. That lack of notice meant that grander plans could not be made, which in retrospect probably was just as well.
Though what I really needed was quiet time at home, I could not help myself and spent a pleasant weekend on the Isle of Man at the start of April, just before the Easter weekend. In hindsight, returning from there on Monday and departing again for Scotland on Thursday within the same week probably was asking too much and an Irish matter was to prove that. It through me into indecision and pulled someone else through the proverbial emotional wringer as well. All was sorted in the end and there have been no lasting consequences but such things did not half weight on my mind at the time.
The result was that my Thursday departure was aborted, my non-refundable advance purchase ticket forfeited and my hotel booking cancelled. Though there was some money lost, there also was more money gained. A quandary descended on me at the same time and I ended up booking a journey to Edinburgh with National Express for the forthcoming Saturday morning as well as rebooking the hotel for fewer nights. Such an act still left me unconvinced but I went through with it.
Though there might have been an element of resolution regarding the piece of Irish business, there was a raw emotion evident during my journey north. The longer journey time was spent reading Mary Beard’s SPQR and taking a phone call from my brother. Some hot nourishment was enjoyed at Tebay motorway services as well.
When I reached Edinburgh, it was not as bright a day as the one that I had left in England. Occasional rain showers were a threat. Before I made for my lodgings, I pottered around St. Andrew’s Square and Princes Street Gardens. After settling into my room, I attended an Easter event in the heart of Edinburgh before retiring for the night.
A Wet Day around Glen Sax
Easter Sunday came wet in spite of suggestions of rain clearing away in any weather forecast. Even sitting out the morning in the hotel was to no avail. At other times, a day indoors might have sufficed but I felt other needs and braved the damp weather.
There were phone calls and text messages regarding a neighbour having passed away and useful conversations were had on the bus to Peebles. Once there, a little wait by the Tweed seemed to be rewarded by a partial clearance of rain so I set off along a drove that I had not trodden for a good while. Grey skies lay all around and there was none of the pleasing light witnessed on the first Monday of June 2002 or what was to be savoured on a hot sunny day in June 2006. Nevertheless, I continued and others were out walking so it was not just any aberrant activity on my part.
If there were ever any ambitions to complete a round of the Glen Sax hills, poor visibility put paid to such an idea. Still, there were visits to Kailzie Hill, Kirkhope Law, Birkscairn Hill and Stake Law so I had gone further than any previous encounter with the place. As expected, wet ground was my lot and it was soggy in places too. Still, the walk was much needed regardless of this.
With the signs of any path becoming ever more tenuous and visibility declining all the while, I thought it best to return to the saddle between Stake Law and Birkscairn Hill to commence a descent down steep slopes. These were negotiated more liberally than the path suggested by the OS map would have done. Zigzags were added to my course to ease the task sufficiently for the avoidance of any sense of cragfastness. Water entered my boots as I did so and wet feet were the result, another hint that my boots needed reproofing.
Soon enough, I was on the floor of the glen for a crossing of Glensax Burn to reach the sheep pens where I joined the track leading back towards Peebles. Though the air was heavy, the rain had stopped and steady progress left me marvelling at how fast I was going. In fact, I hardly felt the length of the five kilometres to the gate near Gallow Hill where I again was on tarmac for the last stretch into Peebles to await the next bus back to Edinburgh.
The day had been satisfying and I still would like to complete that Glen Sax Round at some point. It needs an early start since the walk will be a long one but I now have some sense of how to make it happen. Also, a better day with plenty of daylight hours will be in order. Having a less cluttered life could help too but the Easter Sunday 2017 walk started an emotional recovery that was much needed. The following day would take things further.
In Better Spirits along the John Buchan Way
Easter Monday got the benefit of a better forecast. Fancying the prospect of walking somewhere anew, I plumped for the John Buchan Way; another attempt at going around Glen Sax could wait. My choice also involved a hike from one place to another, something that I prefer to the idea of an out and back venture. Much like Glen Sax on Easter Sunday, it also offered much needed solitude and felt a world away from the usual run of my life.
There was a bit of dawdling around Peebles as I sought the actual route that the trail took on the way out from the town. Though grey, the morning was dry and I was to escape rain for most of the day with cloud breaking to leave bright sunshine holding sway before a late afternoon rain shower made a visit.
Once I had got as far as Peebles’ extremities, the next task was to go around Morning Hill and the path on the ground took a slightly different course from what my map suggested. The line taken was good enough for me so I was not about to pursue the matter. The course became clearer as I shadowed the Cademuir Plantation to reach a lane that would convey me around a hill topped with a fort.
The up and down course continued to take me through pastoral surroundings laden with signs reminding drivers that pregnant sheep were all around there. The hint was that they should slow down but that naturally did not apply to pedestrian stravaigers like myself. Crossing Manor Water, I continued towards The Glack where I would leave tarmac tramping behind me for a while. That a pesky pothole had nagged an ankle was more reason for going over softer ground.
The way to Stobo was to take me through many fields as I threaded my way along Glack Hope and over the lower slopes of White Knowe and other neighbouring hills. As the route went this way and that, a certain amount of attention was needed so as not to wander off it until matters became simpler after Easter Dawyk. Any height that had been gained was being lost all the while as the A712 grew ever closer. Eventually, a second crossing of the River Tweed (the first had been in Peebles itself) was in order to reach the road and seek out another escape from tarmac.
If I was seeking a bus stop from which to get back to Peebles, there might have been some uncertainty about such a plan but I was seeking out the trail for Broughton. That was to shadow Easton Burn for much of the way to Hammer Rig. By then, any vestiges of pastoral living were petering out and I could feel that I was in wilder terrain though civilisation never was that far away.
It also helped that sunshine lit up the surrounding hillsides as I cross some of their number. This was where hilltops like those of Hammer Knowe, Hog Knowe and Hopehead Rig acted as progress indicators while I wondered at how far I was going up Stobo Hope to reach the isolated output of Stobo Hopehead.
Dark grey cloud was gathering from the east while my surroundings remained sun-blessed but it was not about to last. Just beyond Hopehead Rig, the rain caught up with me to ensure a damp finish to my walk. It might have been nice to have retained sunshine for the descent beside such heights as Clover Law or Cat Cleuch Head but I hardly felt denied because of what else that have been there to savour.
It was dry when I reached a dampened and quiet Broughton and the bus stop was easy to find and I was there in plenty of time before the next departure. That meant I could stroll about the village a little and note the laid-back youths who were hanging around with one of their number set to be a fellow passenger on the bus back to Peebles.
Once in Peebles again, there was time for strolling about the banks of the Tweed but the sun was not being so co-operative so photographic opportunities were limited. Maybe that was just as well given my need to return to Edinburgh before a southbound journey next day.
The day after Easter Monday was when the matter in Ireland finally got sorted and I must admit some trepidation interrupted any peace of mind on the train from Edinburgh to Manchester. Any yapping on a phone by a Scottish NHS IT administrator was remediated before or at Carlisle and was a lesser intrusion in any event. At least, this train journey was one that I had booked back in January. On arrival in Macclesfield, I found out the good news from the other side of the Irish Sea and could look back on my weekend with satisfaction. Emotional rest was the order of service for the rest of the week until I realised how close my return to work was becoming.
Train journey from Macclesfield to Manchester followed by coach journey from Manchester to Edinburgh. Two return bus journeys between Edinburgh and Peebles. Bus journey from Broughton to Peebles. Return train journey from Edinburgh to Macclesfield with a change in Manchester.
This year’s trips to Edinburgh have seen a developing trend: a tendency to go walking along the southern shore of the Firth of Forth. February saw me pottering along Edinburgh’s northern shores on a stroll that took me from Edinburgh’s city to and along the water of Leith before I headed west as far as Silverknowes where I caught a bus to Waverley train station where I caught my train home.
That necessarily cut off an approach to Cramond but the omission got addressed on a July visit when I walked along the coast west of Silverknowes before going inland along the banks of the River Almond and that was followed by a quick visit to the Cammo Estate before I found a bus stop from where I began my journey home. There was no crossing to Cramond Island because it was a time of high tide so examining tide times ahead of a coastal hike and that lesson was reinforced more recently.
As it happened, this past Saturday saw the longest stroll of the lot with my going west from North Berwick to Seton Sands. Mainly, it involved travel over sandy beaches and dunes as well as rocky shorelines. Many coastal rocky prominences like Bass Rock or Fidra caught my eye and led to photographic activity. Part of the John Muir Way was followed too, especially after a crossing of Aberlady Bay was stymied by the depth of Peffer Burn. That crossing left me wetter than was ideal but thoughts of getting cut off by an advancing tide spurred me along. Next time, a sighting of a beach watercourse on a map will cause me to be more cautious about my intentions than I was on this occasion.
Still, much sunshine was enjoyed and it did wonders for the coastal scenery much like on previous visits to the Edinburgh coastline in February and July. Unlike those days, cloud came in the afternoon and brought a little rain but that did nothing to take from what preceding better weather brought to me earlier in the day. My route had been inspired by one included in The Great Outdoors and offered something very different to other possibilities like the Pentland Hills or the Glen Sax round near Peebles. Both of those await future explorations now that the bracing sea air of the Forth has been savoured and there are other parts that need exploring so return visits to Edinburgh remain likely.