Outdoor Discoveries

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: Morar

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.

Went a week too early?

11th December 2009

Spending a weekend in Scotland just before the arrival of a sustained spell of settled weather sounds like unfortunate luck but stuff like that just happens. Still, it is the sort of thing that makes for wistful thinking and the only thing for it is to get out among well lit hills and that's what I plan on doing. Imaginings of how wonderful Ardgour and Loch Linnhe could have appeared can only drive one to snatch opportunities when they come the way. Then, there are visions like those of Glenfinnan, Loch Shiel, Loch Eilt, Morar and much more that cause the making of mental notes on the staging of returns. It may be ironic to see good coming of what should be an annoyance but it's thoughts like these that drive you out of any indoors bound rut into which you have fallen and make your way into the outdoors again, no bad thing at all.

There is another way of looking at my luck with the weather. On a near perfect weekend, it may not have been so easy to choose where to spend the time because of nagging doubts as to whether you are in the best spot and making the most of it. That's how it felt after a Spring Bank Holiday visit to Argyll when the weather surprised me with its gorgeous side. Knowing that everywhere is cloudy and being glad of any dryness does put questions like that out of commission.

When travelling south from Fort William on my way home, the situation was that I was coming away satisfied with my lot rather than being frustrated with a lack of sun. As my coach plied the A82, Ardgour's hills were lit up by the morning sun as if it was invitation to the onlooker for either a first or a return visit. Further along, it was the turn of the Black Mount to remind me that I had passed that way too often without stopping either. The angular contrasty light that those hills were catching certainly was a feast for the eyes and etched the idea on following up a hike from Kingshouse to Bridge of Orchy with more. You could say that there was a light show going on in order to draw back whoever was leaving. If anything, it just shows that you are never in a position to say that you are done with anywhere and life would be dull if that ever were possible.

Returning to the present, I plan not to waste the weekend that seems to be coming our way. There are plans and ideas in flux but the hope is that they are turned to good use. Even if it's a matter of blooming where you are planted, something can be made of crisp clear sunny winter days other than dreaming about how those far away hills might be looking. If my efforts reward me with some pleasing photos and some quality quiet time away from the pre-Christmas rush, they'll have been worthwhile.

A frosty start can give way to cloudy skies

9th December 2009

A freezing drenching is the last thing that’s going to put you in the mood for a trip away but, when plans have been set in place and you feel the need for a getaway, train tickets do tend to get collected from ticket machines at local train stations. Those tickets were for an overnight ride on the Caledonian Sleeper from Crewe to Fort William and I booked a berth this time around to increase the chances of getting some sleep; I needed a lie down after my overnight return journey from Aviemore in August so the matter was higher up my list of priorities than it otherwise might have been.

After an imperfect night’s sleep, I arose just north of Bridge of Orchy and opened the window to be greeted by the sight of snow-topped hills and clear skies. In that respect, it was to be very different to a similar journey that I made in January 2006 when snow was a very rare sight. With the sun struggling to get over the tops this time around, there was little scope for photography from a moving train though I did try some experiments when things got brighter, more for my own information than anything else.

Though a change in the weather was forecast, my arrival in Fort William was greeted by a certain chill in the air. It was a classic frosty morning with clear blue skies and the unmistakable signs of an overnight ground frost. The plan for the day was to pop over to Morar for a short visit but there was some time to go before the midday train and I used it to stock up on necessities and to make use of the photographic opportunities offered by the well lit hills surrounding Loch Linnhe.

Corpach & Loch Linnhe, Lochaber, Scotland

Mist and low cloud did fill some of the glens and a bank of grey cloud approached from the south-west until it was on the point of blocking out the sun when I got on the train that was bound for Mallaig. Before I got to Morar, that train was to pass through fog as it passed Loch Eil before gaining height to allow views over Glenfinnan and Loch Shiel under cloudy skies. After that, it was onto the empty wilds surrounding Loch Eilt before meeting the coast again at Lochailort and shadowing it loosely until my stopping point. This wasn’t countryside through which I never had passed before but it’s enough years ago that my memory of travelling from Mallaig to Fort William with a stop in Glenfinnan on a grey August day. The experience of the smokiness of the Jacobite steam train that took the first part of the way is ingrained in my mind but the continuation on a ScotRail diesel must have been unremarkable because I haven’t much recollection of that at all.

There were some remnants of blue sky remaining when I alighted at Morar’s train station but the breaks weren’t sufficient to allow for anything more than hazy sunshine and the cloudy barrage was to be completely effective within an hour of my arrival. In the month of December, it is difficult to see how the village could be anything other than a quiet backwater but their is a hotel here that was closed for the winter. Having limited time, I constrained my ambitions to an out and back stroll by Loch Morar. Before that, I popped upon a minor summit possessing a cross as well as fine panoramic views over both Morar Bay and Loch Morar. On the day, I might not have seen either at their best but what I saw was good enough to bring me back again should a suitable opportunity arise.

Morar Bay, North Morar, Scotland

Loch Morar, North Morar, Scotland

Eventually, I brought myself down from that unnamed hummock to continue my way to Bracara on the northern shore of Loch Morar. Though it would not be my usual choice, road walking was to be how I was going to spend those few hours around Morar. There was a tempting track that would have taken me away from tarmac and on to Loch a’ Bhada Dharaich by the banks of Allt an Loin but cursory investigation had me stymied by an an old Land Rover Discovery dumped on the track next to a dwelling house and on what seemed an appealing route up to that point. A winter’s afternoon might not have made the best timing for further poking and I stuck with following the banks of Loch Morar as far as the mood would take me. One of the necessities acquired in Fort William was a Petzl head torch and the possibility of extending the walk with a return in darkness did entertain me but sense took hold (saying that, thoughts of encountering Morag, the monster reputedly dwelling in Britain’s second deepest loch, weren’t the deciding factor but thoughts of rain needn’t have deterred me) and I was back in Morar for the 16:11 train to Fort William, where I was to be based for the weekend. That was after taking a deviation from the outward route that took me around by the River Morar, Britain’s shortest river.

While awaiting that train, a spot of sign reading was doable in the declining light and walking ideas are shared like this too. All that I did on my short outing was to make my acquaintance with the area and there’s much more to explore. Less adventurous wandering is on offer by the lochs between Morar and Mallaig with deeper immersion available beyond Brecorina on the shores of Loch Morar. All in all, it makes a fertile hunting ground for walking ideas without recourse to day outings to places further afield.

While I was mulling over the option of a week based in Mallaig this past summer, my mind was fanning out to such spots as Knoydart, Glenfinnan and the Small Isles. After my short outing to Morar, I see no need to spread myself far and wide like that and it might be better too because spreading yourself too thin can dissatisfy too. Even if the future is impossible to predict, I cannot rule out the possibility of a return. Who knows where that longer summer break that tends to happen every year might take me?

Travel details:

Arriva service 38 from Macclesfield to Crewe and ScotRail Caledonian Sleeper from there to Fort William. Return train journey from Fort William to Morar.