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: Scotland

Visiting castles and coastline around Aberdeenshire

Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

Sometimes, thoughts cannot be expressed as envisaged. For instance, it might have seemed a good idea to compare 2010 and 2017 in this post but it did not fit well and instead inspired another one. The choice of years could have included 1997 just as well since that year saw the first of three visits to Aberdeen and it is the third of these that gets related here.

Another factor that inspired the 2010/2017 comparison was the that both years bookended a period spent working for the same employer and the fact that my enthusiasm had waned became apparent to me during my spring sabbatical break. In a vain effort to ward off an eventual and inevitable resignation, I planned some excursions: the first took me to Aberdeen for the Spring Bank Holiday and June saw me go to Norway for nearly a week.

A trip into a book shop during the 2010 stay highlighted how many castles there are to be found in Aberdeenshire. That partly influenced what I got to explore during the 2017 getaway because both Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven and Crathes Castle near Banchory were visited during the weekend. The former of these lay on my wish list for a number of years and has graced many a calendar so I had designs on some photography too.

Getting Away

Prior to my career break and subsequent ongoing period of self-employment, an annual leave allocation was something to be managed carefully. Thinking back to my employer from 2001 to 2010, there was a possibility of buying two more weeks of holiday every year that I no longer had between 2010 and 2017. For what life had in store for me in 2016, the extra time off from work would been very valuable but it was not to be had. As it happened, I never had recourse to buying additional days of holiday during the first decade of the century in any case and the act added more personal independence than you might think.

That rationing mentality meant that I needed to leave my departure to the end of a working day or lose one day out of the weekend. After all, the journey from Macclesfield to Aberdeen takes between six and seven hours by train so it was little wonder that I booked one off from work for the 2010 escapade. For an evening departure, another approach is needed with overnight travel being a possibility that could leave one more tired than is ideal, especially if coach travel is involved. Overnight train travel can be an expensive affair that gets booked up before a bank holiday weekend.

Those considerations led me to considering air travel instead, especially given the way that the cost of train travel has risen in recent years. After looking at schedules, I found Flybe flights that did what I needed in spite of a delayed departure caused my needing to retrieve my mobile phone from the office desk where I accidentally left it. That scuppered a planned train journey but a taxi did the needful in its place. The flight itself was late anyway so getting into my hotel involved ringing a doorbell in order to secure access to the building. Aside form those very minor hiccups, all went smoothly.

Wandering About Aberdeen

After a decent night’s rest and a good breakfast, a day of strolling commenced. This was to have two parts with the first spent around Aberdeen and the second taking in Stonehaven. The pervading ambience was one with the same sort of peace that I tend to find along numerous North Sea coasts, regardless of they being in Northumberland, Lothian or Aberdeenshire. It was a vast contrast to the sensation associated with a terror attach in Manchester earlier that week or with the Grenfell Tower fire a few weeks later. There are times when life can bring too much despair so it is good to step away from that for a while.

Union Terrace Gardens, Aberdeen, Scotland

Oases from such horrors can be found in unexpected locations and Union Gardens in the heart of Aberdeen is but one of those. It may be found next to the city’s main thoroughfare but the fact that it lies below street level ensures that a certain sense of sanctuary can be found there. All of my wanderings around the city have found me drawn to the spot since I discovered it in 1997. In 2010, a day of city strolling began there with a looming threat of reconstruction to create a street level park that obscured any signs of a railway or a tarmacked dual carriageway. Thankfully, that scheme came to nothing and the park remained there in 2017 for the start of another day of stravaiging.

The quiet atmosphere on that sunny Saturday morning did its best to belie not only my location but also the times in which I was living. Simpler pursuits like photography caused me to linger until at least until the departure of council workers attired in high visibility clothing before making some photos but that was a mere passing intrusion. Bright colours like yellow and red did not fit my intended palate of green, blue, brown and grey so I awaited their exit before gaining my fill of satisfaction and more architectural delights awaited revisitation.

Part of Marischal College, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland

After climbing steps up towards His Majesty’s Theatre and taking in a statue of William Wallace, I continued on my way to the statue of another hero from Scottish history: Robert Bruce, one-time king of the country after winning its medieval wars of independence. Another landmark lay adjacent to its situation in the form of the once independent Marischal College that now forms part of the University of Aberdeen. If I was not bound for Old Aberdeen, it may have been worthwhile to try photographing the lofty edifice from a better vantage point than its immediate environs, whose low level presented many challenges despite such successes as the photo you see above.

Towers of Saint Machar's Cathedral, Aberdeen, Scotland

It only took two of the charms of Old Aberdeen to drew me there again but there happens to be more to the area than those. The first was King’s College, another part of the University of Aberdeen that once was an independent institution, and the second was St. Machar’s Cathedral Church, one of a small number under the custodianship of the Church of Scotland that retain that designation.

The mention of King’s College takes me back to 1997 when I was based near there for a chemistry conference during the very week after the death of Princess Diana and the displays of public grief that it provoked. Aberdeen then offered respite from the vagaries of the world and it has become a theme. The village like atmosphere of Old Aberdeen make it a pleasing place to visit with its cosy-looking houses clustered around larger university buildings, such of which are less elegant modern constructions that are kept away from the older architecture.

It took until 2010 for me to reach St. Machar’s Cathedral on a damp grey night but a repeat visit happened the next day though weather conditions were not so permitting of photographic activity. 2017 made up for that though I did need to allow a wedding party its privacy as it entered the church for a nuptial service. Such events are to be expected so a little patience and so time exploring other vantage points was all that was needed before I had the churchyard to myself again.

Trees in Seaton Park, Aberdeen, Scotland

The route that I had taken from King’s College to St. Machar’s Cathedral had been an indirect one that took me through part of Smeaton Park and I was to sample more of the place after leaving the churchyard. The weather had lured many others into the park and I was surprised to see a Segway tour being led along its paths. My own strolling took me along the south bank of the River Don and away from those other users.

Following the river, I hiked east to the Brig O’ Balgownie and from there to the A92. Crossing that, I headed for the Donmouth Nature Reserve, lured by the appeal of being near where the Don enters the sea.  Possibly because of geographic realities such as tides and the presence of mudflats, I did not venture so close to such a point but chose instead to continue south along the Esplanade.

As I did so in typical North Sea coastal peace and quiet, there were ships lurking in the sea haze. Some were stationary while others were passing. Others were out strolling but there was enough space for all of us with an amusement park drawing most of those who were attracted to the shore.

Castle Street, Aberdeen, Scotland

Most of the  way to Footdee, I remained on the solid walkway but I occasionally ventured onto the sand too. For reasons of human occupation and disordered building, my ambling around Footdee took a meandering course until I pottered out along the North Pier and then back again. Quayside rambling soon enough brought me to Castle Street in the heart of the city. Along the way a Northlink ferry had been spotted, a reminder that I never ventured north to either the Orkney or Shetland islands. However, another destination beckoned more immediately and that was where I went next. Island exploration was to be left waiting.

Seeing Another Stretch of the North Sea Coast

My pending and momentary departure from Aberdeen brought me to its train station and reminder of contemporary events. The sight of armed police officers at a city station far away from the site of a preceding terror attack in Manchester did not strike me in the same way as the removal from public use of luggage lockers at Fort William’s train station. Then, the overriding impression was one of overreaction but my mind was full of other thoughts in 2017. All I did was to catch a train to Stonehaven without greater contemplation of the situation.

Stonehaven may be but fifteen to twenty minutes away from Aberdeen by train but it might as well have been much further for the weather was very different when I got there. Skies were clouded and grey as I covered the longer than expected distance from the town’s coastline to its shoreline. At times, the air even felt damp but I remained undeterred from continuing as far as Dunnottar Castle. Others were doing likewise since this is well known Scottish landmark.

Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Given enough time, the cloud cover broke in concert with the passing of any light rain showers. These are times when a seemingly hopeless quest becomes fruitful and a momentary vigil gets its reward. For mine, I sought a quieter spot where no one else bothered to loiter by the dramatic coastline. All it took was a few minute southbound walk from the start of the path leading to the castle itself for that is where most had congregated without designs on further coastal exploration.

Dunnimaol and Maiden Kaim, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Maiden Kaim, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

In fact, my mind started to wander further along the coast than I did. It might have set to wandering as far as Montrose but my lack of time and equipment ensured that I did not do likewise. The cause had been the dramatic coastal scenery and there was a tempting path leading south but my self-discipline held.

War Memorial, Black Hill, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Though coastal views were hazy, brighter skies accompanied my return to Stonehaven. There was a brief stop at its war memorial before I descended to potter along the coast where another reminder of ongoing political tumult lay: election posters for the then incumbent SNP MP, Stuart Donaldson. He subsequently lost the election but that incursion of world events was left after me quickly as I ambled up the coast before stopping in the town centre for some food and making my way to the train station again. Once back in Aberdeen, I returned to my lodgings for the night after what had been a fruitful day.

Following an Old Railway Alignment

While its predecessor was divided between two pieces of recreational business, Sunday’s wandering was to consist of a single thread: walking the Deeside Way from Banchory to Aberdeen. What actually drew me to Banchory after attending to a matter that morning was the proximity of Crathes Castle but that proved to be a sideshow from the main activity of the day.

The Deeside Way extends from Ballater to Aberdeen yet it seems that the section going east from Aboyne to Banchory is not marked on OS maps while other parts are indicated. It was not my intention to walk all of the way to the trail’s eastern terminus but the sunny evening led me along all the way to Duthie Park where I arrived in the gloaming. The decision had been made with serendipity but it also could have been said a long walk was in order given what was happening in my life back then.

The start for my hike was a grey one and I even reckon that the weather was no different in Aberdeen though a lack of photos and the effect of other events on my recollection both mean that I cannot be sure. In any case, the city in question was left after attending to a matter and I pottered around Banchory before making for the River Dee where I met with the trail that I was to follow for all of the remaining hours of daylight.

Austin A35

Once I was on my way, the cloud cover began to break to allow the sun to work its magic from time to time. By then, I was strolling along the bed of the former railway line with the River Dee beside me. At times, the pastoral nature of the surrounding countryside was on show though I was among trees for much of the time. More vintage installations like the Royal Deeside Railway, a heritage line, and an event like the Crathes Vintage Car & Motorcycle Rally added a momentary feel of an earlier age, even reminders from my own youth when vintage rallies were momentary diversions from contemporary life.

Crathes Castle, Banchory, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Leaving the trail after me for a while, I strolled into Crathes Castle and that was what drew me this way in the first place. It also was an encounter with another heritage attraction, albeit one that was nearing the end of its opening hours for the day. My start had been an early afternoon one and the sun had drifted behind clouds so a vigil began in the hope of our nearest star escaping what might have felt like its cloudy prison.

As I did so, a request for a photo came my way from a mother who spotted my DSLR. Unfortunately, the sun was coming out right then and I was not as cooperative as I otherwise might have been. The above photo came at the cost of someone else’s disappointment but others had done the desirable before me so that was one consolation.

Disappointing others does not come readily to me so I was happy to have some solo time afterwards. This allowed me to move on from the moment a little and return to the Deeside Way. There was a choice to be made about what to do next. Quite why I rejected the possibility of returning to Banchory is lost to my recollection but I chose to continue east. Maybe there was a urge to explore a little more.

Deeside Way marker, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

While the Deeside Way uses the former railway alignment for much of its length, there are deviations but these thankfully are well signed. That notably helped near Milton of Crathes and I was sent along parts of the A957 and A93 at Crathes. In fact, the section between Crathes and Drumoak shadowed the A93 and made it much less of a wild walk though the road and the trail both were quiet at this part of that Sunday. In fact, this was the prevailing feel for rest of the walk.

At Drumoak, I was tempted to await a bus to Aberdeen but instead chose more walking and the Deeside Way also left the course of the old railway until not far outside Peterculter. Going this way also meant that thoughts of bus travel needed to set aside for a longer period but the feeling of being out and about in quiet countryside was more than enough reward.

Going along a narrow lane leading south from Drumoak brought me onto an off-road track that took me through forest and field before returning me to tarmac again. Some were using the facility for dog walking but that was no intrusion and quiet lane walking followed on a blissfully peaceful evening.

At Coalford, I returned to the railway alignment near where beef cattle were standing on a part that without any right of way. It was a curious scene but I did wonder at any damage that might be done by leaving such hefty beasts traipse around the embankment as they were doing.

My mind had other things to occupy it. Mid-evening was upon me and the prospect of fading daylight loomed large. Nevertheless, I strode onward with tiring limbs. Every landscape feature was noted as a progress indicator and there were information boards describing former stations that could be checked off against my map as I went along.

After all, this ended up as a purely suburban railway in its last days but there was a reminder of modernity as I was directed to plod across what now is a newer section of A90. Though the landscape was scarred by the then ongoing construction the River Dee remained in view and gentler surroundings lay ahead of me.

After this, light began to decline as the distance to Duthie Park became ever shorter. There were others about who were snatching a quick stroll before darkness fell, a practice that I also witnessed in Sheffield last November and December. Eventually, any thought of leaving the trail could be vanquished by its providing the clearest route ahead and that got me to its end near the aforementioned park.

There was a quick visit to the park that left me wondering at its being left open to the public at all hours, something that often is not offered by some of its Cheshire counterparts. The idea of seeing the place in daylight remained as I then went through the streets to my lodgings for the night. It had been a long hike accompanied by lengthy peaceful moments that were sorely needed at the time. Even a passing bus did little to intrude on that overriding ambience.

Returning to Real Life

Next morning, I arose to see grey skies overhead and largely is how things stayed. Even so, I still revisited Duthie Park before heading to the city’s airport to commence my journey home.The sun did struggle to break through the cloud but without much in the way of success. In its own way, it may have planted the idea of another visit in my mind.

Life has gone elsewhere since then though and the summer of 2017 was a dramatic one for me. There may have been trips to Norway and Sweden but the season is remembered for the emotional toll of the events that lead me to begin a career break dominated by recovery and re-energisation.

A renewed enthusiasm for living has resulted as much as a new way of working for a living that better suits my situation. It is a reminder that nature’s soothing embrace cannot work on its own but that you may need to do something constructive to gain a better outcome, not that such a lesson stops me from exploring countryside as should be apparent from this blog.

Travel Arrangements

Taxi ride from Wilmslow to Manchester Airport. Return flight from Manchester to Aberdeen. Return bus journey on route 737 between Aberdeen Airport to Aberdeen city centre. Return train journey between Aberdeen and Stonehaven. Bus journey from Aberdeen to Banchory. Train journey from Manchester Airport to Macclesfield.

Echoes of repetition

Friday, March 1st, 2019

There are times when trip ideas get re-used. The unseasonal sunny weather that dominated the second week of February became a backdrop to some of this. Firstly, it lured me up to Great Ayton for a day spent around Roseberry Topping, Highcliffe Nab and Easby Moor. This was a variation of a route enjoyed more than a year earlier when snow and ice were dominant. Then, the ground conditions added a need for extra care that probably should have precluded an ascent of Roseberry Topping that was facilitated far better in conditions more typical of late spring or early summer.

A few days later, I was drawn to Earl Sterndale for a walk that took in the tops of both Parkhouse Hill and Chrome Hill. The latter was more friendly to those whose tolerance of exposure is more limited. Some might go up and over the former but I did an out and back trip to its summit before kinder gradients were descended in a northward direction. In the autumn of 2017, I had passed both on the way from Sterndale Moor to Buxton but avoided their summits on that equally pleasant sunny day.

Sometimes, there are stronger patterns of repetition there is one shared between 2010 and 2017. Both featured trips to Sweden and Aberdeenshire as well as marking the start and end of my time with a single employer. Because of the changeover in employment arrangements, the destination pairing has a certain eerie resonance for me.

Neither the Swedish or Aberdeen trips were my first to either place but it took a third visit to the former for more of a leisure focus to show itself. September 1997 saw my first visit to Aberdeen and that was for a scientific congress while business was the main motivation for those first two trips to Sweden. Even so, there opportunities for personal exploration offer themselves too because conferences cannot occupy you for all their duration and long sunny Swedish summer evenings made for pleasant strolling around both Södertälje and Stockholm.

The 2010 sojourn in Aberdeen allowed for more city strolling and a visit to Braemar only months after starting a new job. There was no mountain walking in 2017 but Stonehaven, Dunnottar Castle, Banchory, Crathes Castle and the Deeside Way more than occupied the time not spent on city wanderings. In fact, the idea of doing some castle visiting was a seed sown during the previous trip. That it preceded my leaving the company that I joined in 2017 by a matter of months made it a kind of a bookend to my time there.

One of the motivations for heading to Aberdeen for the 2017 Spring Bank Holiday weekend was as a means of dealing with the fact that I no longer enjoyed working where I was. Together with a second trip to Norway, it was intended to salve the lack of enthusiasm that I had for what I was doing but it was not to be a long term strategy so I made the difficult decision to leave my then employer and take a career break while I worked through the aftermath of a number of life events as well as working out what my future career direction might be.

It was after starting the career break, that I then headed to Stockholm for an extended weekend stay. My previous time in Sweden preceded a departure from a then current employer and information transfer was its purpose. Only weeks later, I was going to start with the employer that I left in 2017 so there was a curious symmetry about my actions. Naturally, city explorations were to follow with even Gothenburg receiving a fleeting visit. Tyresta National Park became the starting point for the longest hike that I enjoyed while in the country. The whole experience was vastly more restive than the preceding months and it would take more than a year before I started to explore places beyond British and Irish shores.

If I have my way, such juxtapositions as pairings of trip destinations and career changes may not be repeated in the future. Though there are other places to see and experience, I also hope to continue my Scottish and Scandinavian encounters. My choice would be that they do not need career upheavals to make them happen because we need to keep making more happy memories to get us through times that are more testing.

A curtailed Easter escape

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

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.

Circumstances

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.

Cademuir Hill as seen from Glack Hope, Stobo, Borders, Scotland

Looking west towards Penveny, Stobo, Borders, Scotland

River Tweed near Stobo, Borders, Scotland

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.

Ladyurd Hill and Penvalla, Broughton, Borders, Scotland

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.

Tower of Old Parish Church, Peebles, Borders, Scotland

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.

Afterwards

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.

Travel Arrangements

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.

Journeys of others

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

Before my career break, I found it difficult time to read a book and often lapsed into watch television documentaries on the BBC iPlayer. The situation got reversed after a book called Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi encouraged the practice. Whenever I feel an emotion that I do not want to remain, a TV watching binge never helped but reading a book causes movement and the feeling can be left in the past. It is as if someone else’s journey brings you along too.

Currently, that is taking on the shores of the Aran Islands in the company of Yorkshireman Tim Robinson. Reading his two part work on the islands has lain on my reading list for far too long and I started Stones of Aran: Pilgrimmage back in the noughties only never to get very far with it. My paper copy may be gone but I made a new start on its digital counterpart and it is reading well so far.

Handily, I visited Inishmore (Árainn, as Gaeilge) so the localities are not all that lost to me. If another visit were to happen, then Iaráirne could see an encounter as could the opposite end of the island if I feel sufficiently adventurous. Sightings of Inishmann (inis Meáin, as Gaeilge) or the Brannock Islands could be additional rewards for such endeavours. Before such things, more of Robinson’s works like Stones of Aran: Labyrinth and his Connemara Trilogy await and who knows what they might inspire?

The world described by Tim Robinson is not dissimilar in ambience to that described in Chris Townsend’s The Munros and Tops, another of this year’s reads. After that came John McPhee’s Coming into the Country and it proved to be a book in three very different sections. The first section features the Brooks Range with a narrative split in two with the second part preceding the first. It still hangs together well with the second and third sections featuring more of the folk that are attracted to the idea of a wild place away from the strictures of everyday living.

That unleashes tensions when trying to find a new state capital or dealing with the encroaching bureaucracy keen on keep a wild landscape as it is when you fancy exploiting its resources on a small scale. The act of taking a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer into wilderness oddly aroused my concern for the machine and not the landscape as might be expected. Maybe it reminded me of of abandonment in a big hostile world and there could be a wider theme there. In the end, McPhee finds himself siding with industrious Alaskans earning a living rather than others solely following their perhaps unrealisable dreams. They might fancy abandonment much like Christopher McCandless only to find that they still need humanity or that it continues to intrude on their world.

Stepping away from humanity awhile is a recurring theme in my own wanderings and it is why such places as the Scottish highlands and islands are as amenable to my ends as the wilder parts of other places. That also explains a certain interest in North America that was accompanied by perusal of writings about Lewis and Clark crossing the continent though that was a very dry read that I was happy to finish.

There is another recurring theme in all of this: you often find Robert Macfarlane appearing in these with either a recommendation or a foreword. That applies to the McPhee and Robinson works as much as that by Nan Shepherd on the Cairngorms. It might be that he is using his fame to restore older books to our notice but I reckon that I might be reading them anyway given how I have been collecting them onto a reading list in recent months.

Speaking of those older books, it is unlikely but if I ever were to wnat more but I might be tempted by the Gutenberg project if I wanted eReader files of works from a very different era by Heny David Thoreau or Raplh Waldo Emerson. They are out of copyright but a visit to either AbeBooks, The Literature Network or Scribd could serve a use if I fancied a wider selection of those still covered by such restrictions. With more new tomes that appeal to me, that is unlikely to happen just yet. Usefully, the time taken to complete any single volume should put a brake on any overspending. After all, it is better to acquire for reading than to decorate a bookshelf and horde more than you need.

Forthside wanderings

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

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.