What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!
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 summer of 2017 was packed with many things and included among these were two Scandinavian excursions bookending a period of emotional angst that preceded my undertaking a career break. It was the second of these that took me to Sweden and it usefully covered up what was happening in my work life from those in whom I did not wish to confide any of the ongoing drama. The trip also offered as much to my inner explorer as it did to my emotional well-being and there was much to occupy the former, both familiar and unfamiliar.
My departure for Stockholm came near the end of the first week of my career break and even that space allowed me to collect myself a little after a trying few months. What I was not to realise was just how much time away from working was needed but that lay in the future. That the grey skies largely prevailed was of not concern to me given my other needs.
In fact my arrival in Sweden was accompanied by the same kind of weather but it remained dry, which was more important than having sunshine. At the airport, I got a travel card and loaded it with enough credit to last a week so I could travel on buses, trams and trains within Stockholm county without worrying about having change or buying tickets. It was a system that would come into its own for my explorations.
Its first use was in getting me to my hotel in Lidingö with a change in Stockholm’s central railway station, a place that I had last been just over seven years before then. My train journey came to an end at Ropsten so I then continued on foot though there was a tram service if I wanted it. Sometimes, finding one’s bearings takes precedence even if I had luggage with me.
A busy road bridge loomed overhead as I made use of a lower counterpart for pedestrians and cyclists that lay alongside that used by trams. My added burden ensure unhurried progress as I sampled the surroundings under grey skies before making landfall again and proceeding uphill to reach my destination near Millesgården.
That was sweaty work but it was not the end of my strolling for the day. Before nay such continuation, I needed to check in at my hotel and settle into my room. Apart from the need to find my bearings within the building, that happened without incident and I was again out of doors. Being unladen this time around meant that I could walk a little quicker and try out other routes.
The major itinerary of the day took me from the hotel to the heart of the city and, having seen the length of the stroll, it convinced me of the sense of getting around by train and tram. Before that lesson was learned, I dropped down to the tram stop to find a cycle trail that would take me back to the heart of the city for some rambling not done since my first encounter in 2010. It processed around port installations before venturing inland to pass Stockholm stadium, the half point of my urban hike.
My goal was to reach Mäster Samuelsgatan where Kartbutiken’s shop is to be found. However, it was closed by the time that I reached it and a call into a branch of Akadamibokhandeln happened instead. While there was a section featuring books in English and walking maps were to be found, I delayed any purchases until the next day and continued exploring. In any event, most books on sale were published in Swedish as might be expected.
Even though dull skies curtailed photographic designs, I still wanted to revisit sights not seen for more than seven years. That meant a visit to Stockholm’s City Hall from which good views of Riddarholmen are to be enjoyed. The sun may have tried to break through he cloud cover, another day was needed to see Gamla Stan at its best so I went back to my hotel by train and tram.
The combination of unfinished business from the preceding evening and the promise of sunnier weather was enough to draw me back towards the city centre again even if there was a cloudy start to the day and it remain thus as I crossed the bridge to the train station. A short train ride took to me to either Karlaplan or Östermalmstorg (it could have been any one of these but faded recollections mean that I cannot tell which it was) from where I headed to Humlegården and passed the Kungliga Biblioteket before I left it to continue to Mäster Samuelsgatan to make a visit to Kartbutiken.
The sun may have been lighting my surroundings well by now but I still spent time in that map and travel guide shop as planned. In fact, what I found came close to the spread of subjects that you would expect of a Stanfords store in England. Consequently, I lingered a while and I seem to remember coming away with a map that was to come in very useful for the trip’s long hike along the Sörmlandsleden.
That was to be two days away so I again made my way to the city hall to see how the Riddarholmen would appear in midday sunshine. The answer was that it was better lit than on the previous evening but with more shadows. Evening lighting appeared to be the answer and the time until then found good use for a short excursion through the local archipelago.
What had been missed in 2010 was the presence of boat tours (it might have been that they had finished for the day by the time when I arrived from Sõdertälje or I just overlooked their presence) so I decided to explore what these offered. In a way, this reminded me of the short excursion around Oslofjord that I had sampled in June and that may have made me more partial to the idea on that afternoon in Stockholm. What took my fancy was a return sailing to Drottningholm where a royal palace is to be found. Along the way, I discovered that bank notes that I held over from my previous encounter were out of date and could not be used but that was no dark spot on what otherwise was a blissful journey.
Since the characteristic shoreside view needs a morning approach to make the most of it for photographic capture, it just as well that Drottningholms Slott is situated in pleasing grounds. One quandary that I had was if I would have enough time to explore the place enough to do it justice before the last boat back to the city centre. In the event, there were no such problems and I had plenty of time to wander about to my heart’s content without needing to resort to alternative public transport options.
There was an evening left for city centre wandering on my return from Drottningholm and glorious sunshine lit the place fabulously. All I needed to do was set off strolling on foot and the city plan was engrained in my memory after being there in 2010 so I was not about to get lost. It was a matter of revisiting old sights and collecting new ones as I pottered around islands like Kungsholmen, Riddarholmen, Stadsholmen and Skeppsholmen. All of that sustained me until light failed and I then went back to the hotel for the night having earned a good deal of staisfaction.
Sunday morning began with some wandering about the island where my hotel was located. Handily, there was a nature reserve to be found only a short tram ride away and the sunshine offered enough encouragement to get me exploring. In some ways, this was include elements of aimless wandering though that is not the whole story even if weathered recollections make it appear thus.
Others had much the same inclination but there was ample space for all of us with solitude on offer during most of my ambling. A forest trail took me towards the shore of Kottlasjön, a pretty lake I was to shadow until I turned north on the way towards Ekholmsnässjön. Much of this was along part of the Lindingöloppet, a 30 km looped walking trail, but there was not so much to see of the lake itself and the sky was filling with cloud. That eventually limited photography but I still continued towards Gåshaga though road walking was my lot thereafter. Still, there were brighter interludes and I got see some passing shipping like the departing ferry from Gåshaga Brygga before returning to my hotel by tram.
What all that building cloud was bringing was rain and there was a midday shower that convinced to get a raincoat that became less useful than I had feared for that was the only wetting of the day. Sunny skies full of broken cloud was what I mainly enjoyed for the rest of the day. That applied as I crossed Ladugårdsgärdet to reach the bridge linking it with Djurgården. It may be an island with a ferry service but I entered and left it using handy bridges while enjoying the greenery in between these. After leaving, there were plenty of sightings of the place on offer as I continued towards the city centre.
After more city centre explorations, I moved onto Södermalm with a view to reaching Björkhagen since it is the northern end of the Sörmlandsleden, a trail that I was to follow north from Tyresta National Park the following day, and the green space that surrounded it. In the event, I never did get that far and it might have avoided a later quandary had I done so but that is history now. The declining light showed me it was time to return to me hotel for the night after a day that became laden with rambling.
My overseas trips always feature at least one hike and my time in Stockholm was no different. Complementing all of the city strolling was a day spent along the section of the Sörmlandsleden between Tyresta National Park and the outskirts of Stockholm. Getting to the national park involve rail and bus travel with the latter being a one way trip that added a sense of commitment to my endeavour.
While the transport changeover at Hansen had been made more pleasant by the proximity of lakes like Övre Rudasjön, surroundings easily felt more rural in the national park itself. In fact, there was a hint of the agrarian about the starting point for my walk with hens pottering about freely near what looked like a farmstead.
These surroundings were left after me to enter woodland that brought a certain sense of forest bathing to my day. Signs declared that any fallen trees were left where they fell for the benefit of nature though I was to find that pathways were excluded from this practice so there was to be no added element of bushwhacking or any sense of negotiating an obstacle course. All in all, this was to be a fairly gentle if lengthy stroll.
Forest bathing already got a mention but there was another wetter form available if anyone was so inclined. This was because I was wandering through a lake-studded landscape and the length of my endeavour ensured a similarly long list of lakes that included Bylsjön, Årsjötjärnen, Årsjön, Tyresö-Flaten, Albysjön, Alkärret, Kolardammarna, Öringesjön, Strålsjön, Sandasjön, Ulvsjön, Söderbysjön and Dammtorpssjön. Looking at the names now makes me wonder if I ever had passed so many lakes on foot during a single day and that may have been the case.
As I passed from lake to lake, the peace and quiet was striking. After all, it was a Monday so the weekend had passed and it also was coming towards the end of the summer season. Having wandered around a city over the weekend, country walking always was going to be quieter but, away from lakes, camping grounds and conurbations like Nyfors and Öringe, I was to have more than enough time and space for myself. There even were wilder interludes like the sudden appearance of a snake scurrying across a path at close quarters that awoke me from my reverie.
Even with those extra folk out and about in the evening, their presence hardly made an imprint on the ambience. The same applied to my reaction when my GPS receiver started to act strangely. It felt as if it was trying to tell me that I was walking too far but that was not how I was feeling at the time. Fatefully, I decided to switch off the device and resolve to depend on a paper map and any waymarks for as long as was needed.
As the evening wore on, thoughts of early exits from the trail were entertained before being rejected. After Öringe, my surroundings regained a wilder feel and that is how it remained as the time to sunset ever reduced. Human encounters were occasional and hardly intrusive. Conurbations were near yet felt so far away.
Eventually, dusk came upon me and I needed my headtorch though picking out flashes of red paint on tree bark in the gloaming became an ever more challenging pursuit. My GPS receiver was missed but I still got to the golf course near Dammtorpssjön without too much difficulty. It was on the way from there until the end of the walk that fatigue and scepticism finally caught up with me.
The result was the descent of a sense of uncertainty despite the present of streetlights; they looked so out of place that their presence threw me a bit. Even so, I remained largely on track until one final junction where a well-lit sign with an actual map was overlooked in favour of a signpost that sent me along a track to a dark roadside near another outdoors centre. After a little exploration, I started on my way back to the hotel by bus before continuing the rest of the way by rail.
The preceding night’s wrong turn must have weighed on my mind for I returned to the scene the next morning. A daytime visit set this to rights even if time did not allow for more complete closure of whatever was rumbling in my mind. That had to be left behind me.
The reason for the aforementioned time limitation was my wanting to visit Gothenburg on a day trip from Stockholm. High speed train travel made shorter work of the crossing even if the later departure time reduced my time in Sweden’s second most populous city to less than two hours. On the way, there was much window gazing and the quiet ambience allowed for some reading too.
Even so, there was enough time for me to get my bearings and find some nearby leafier parts. These may not be as accessible as Stockholm but I have spied some tempting green spaces on maps since then and there is an offshore archipelago. Making use of such possibilities will need a return visit given the time that I allowed myself. In any case, the added warm sunshine left me with some pleasing photos so they will suffice until then.
My time in Sweden was coming to a close so I went back to Stockholm for one more night. The return train journey was just as peaceful as its outbound counterpart and there was no need to rush next morning because of the timing of my flight back to Manchester. It helped that there were luggage lockers at the central train station and I popped out for one last visit to the city hall before making for the airport by train. It was time to leave Sweden to the rest of my career break, a longer journey specked with more outdoor wanderings that have yet to be related on here.
There was so much shuttling around Sweden’s capital by bus, train and tram that the individual journeys get too long to list. Instead, they appear in the main body of the narrative and it is the return boat trip between Stockholm that gets a special mention. That needed the payment of a special fare while the city’s Access card was charged for seven days to pay for my land travel needs (they can be purchased at the airport).
The longer journeys are easier to list and the return flight between Manchester and Stockholm was the longest of these. Travel to and from airports was by train and the Arlanda Express did the needful in Sweden. The services of SJ were used for the return train journey between Stockholm and Gothenburg though MTR Express also operate the same route, albeit with different stops.
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.
Over the past few years, I have fitted in visits to Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The one to Iceland concentrated on the south-east of the country and I now wonder what could draw me back again. With Norway, there is no such quandary after two visits that took in Oslo, Stavanger and Bergen. In the case of Sweden, last month saw me embark on my third visit there and it was my first leisure trip after two business ones too.
Iceland is something of a fashionable destination now and I took in Reyjavik, Þingviller, Haukadalur, Gullfoss and Landmannalaugar on my first trip there. They were easy pickings in a sense so next steps would take more effort. Þórsmörk is one spot that I did not get to see on that summer 2015 encounter and there is the Laugavegur if I really get adventurous enough to go for a multi-day trek; in any event, there is unfinished business around Landmannalaugar because there is more to see around there and sunshine was scarce on the day that I visited. Continuing along the south coast would bring me to sights like Jökulsárlón and Sellalandsfoss while there are mountains near Reykjavik itself that would reward exploration. A northern excursion to Akureyri would be rewarded by its nearby mountains while the celebrated Mývatn and Dettifoss is within reach of Iceland’s second city too. The whole collection should give me enough options to build up motivation for a return sometime and there also are those things that you only uncover by actually being somewhere that you have not been before.
In a lot of ways, Norway is laden with excuses for return visits to follow the pair that I already enjoyed. For instance, there are hiking options to the north of Oslo that deserve a share of my time. Bergen only saw me for a few days and there are possibilities that I had to exclude because of this. The chance of a fjord cruise was one exclusion that I had to make and I would like to know that part of Norway a bit more, much like what I did around Stavanger when I took in Lysefjorden, a few of the city’s lakes, Preikestolen and Revsvatnet. Of course, Norway’s long mountainous profile allows for other places to visit and that includes going north of the Arctic Circle to places like Tromsø and Loftoten as well as Trondheim and Jotunheimen National Park. It could be that a list like that could keep me going to Norway and I certainly feel as if I have made a foothold in the country already.
My recent Swedish excursion was long overdue and basing myself in Stockholm meant that I spent much of my time pottering about its varied quarters. The city centre was known to me from a business trip in 2010 but I also got to exploring a few of the many parks like Djugárden and the nature reserve on Lindingö together with Dronningen Palace and Tyresö National Park. There was lengthy walk along the Sörmlandsleden from the latter that brought me to the outskirts of Stockholm. That first taste of Swedish hiking needed an easier day afterwards so a short sortie to Gothenburg was the result so I got to see even more of the Swedish countryside through the window of a high speed train.
Though Finland and Denmark have been omitted so far and there remains the possibility of a visit to the Faroe Islands, I am more inclined to pursue further explorations of Norway and Sweden. For me, the prospect of cooler Scandinavian summers is a bonus since I see temperatures near the Alps can reach 30º C or above and that cooler high places can be plagued by thunderstorms. What I have been doing already is finding my feet in a manner similar to my explorations of Scotland’s wilder corners. From those beginnings, further incursions are possible and it feels that I might be on the point of doing just that.
There also are added rewards from all of this and that ironically is because of a lack of hiking guides in English. That hits home when you see a series of eye-pleasing walking guides to Swedish and most of them available only in the language of the country that they cover. German speakers do well too with Rother offering good coverage of both Norway and Sweden with some English translations available too. Cicerone offers good coverage for Iceland but their guide to Norway appears preoccupied with multi-day treks rather than routes for day walkers; it could do with the mix of day walks and treks included in its Icelandic stable-mate. Independent publishing also abounds with coverage of Noway’s Stavanger region and Sweden’s Kungsleden.
Maps are another matter and that trip to Iceland uncovered the deficiencies of a 1:100000 scale around Landmannalaugar and that is why a GPS found its way into my possession within months of the experience. Thankfully, Norway and Sweden are better served. In the case of the former, 1:50000 is the dominant scale with 1:25000 used for popular areas; the Oslo branch of Tanum has a comprehensive selection. Mountain areas of Sweden can be covered using 1:100000 while 1:50000 pervades elsewhere and the Kartbutiken shop in Stockholm is well worth a call.
For much of the first ten years of the century, I had a Scotland project on the go and, though there is more to see in that part of the world, a Scandinavian project has got going. Various trips are allowing me to find my feet there and they really are a break from my everyday world too. There also is much more to see and savour that is all very new to me. Quite how things go from here is anyone’s guess. They may send this blog down an intriguing course followed by no one else and that cannot be a bad thing.
2016 turned out to be a dramatic year in world affairs and it was set to be a busy one for me too so I could have done without the other developments. That work looking after my late father’s affairs is tailing off into more of a steady state and I hope that things become more manageable as the year progresses. There even might be time for a sabbatical from my day job.
The way that I feel at the moment is that such a thing would be well needed and I fancy a period of rest after all the upheaval of the last few years. It has sapped my spirit so a spot of renewal is in order. Overseas trips became a way to tide myself until a longer break becomes a reality.
In 2016, I got to three new countries: Austria, Norway and Spain. With my visits to the first two of these taking the form of extended weekends, I left feeling that there was more to see. It usually is not a bad thing but an extra day or two added to each would have allowed a bit more exploration. My Spanish escapade took me to Mallorca between Christmas and New Year and that brought what the other trips did not bring. There was a feeling of leaving the cares of life after me that was much needed.
In a way, it worked too well and a cold that I had caught somewhere began to make its effects plain enough that the return journey had more than a little dash of limp home mode about it. It took a week or two before I finally recovered and some extra time away from work was in order.
Before that took hold, there was ample time in the near constant sunshine as I explored the island from my Palma base. Port de Pollença was my first port of call with a little strolling about the place. A day trip to Sóller allowed for a chance to sample part of the GR 221, a long distance trail extending along the Serra de Tramuntana. After that, there was a trot about Port d’Andratx that was supposed to take me to Saint Elm but granted me a view of the place instead when I failed to find the path needed to get me from one track to another. Given that I was feeling less than my full self, it was just as well. The last day of my trip saw me lazing about Palma next to its impressive cathedral, helping sightseers with photos when asked to do so. There was ample time during my stay to make photos of my own too.
Despite the fever, I got a lot from my time in Mallorca and it offered the feeling of satisfying and more complete explorations. It also did me another favour. During December, I fell into a search for closure that I do not understand fully and even walks around Macclesfield over the Christmas did little to dissipate the feeling. It probably was grief that hit me but going away somewhere else fractured that unwanted continuity.
December saw me return to the Lake District for a walk between Great Langdale and Grasmere on a crisp winter’s day. The dawdling along the way was restorative and taught me that such experiences can be readily available in Britain. There also was a amble between Burbage and Whaley Bridge that revisited the Goyt Valley. Being denied much in the way of sunshine was no irritation and it also offers encouragement for a return sometime.
There were other longer walks during the year too with one returning me home from Leek by way of the Roaches. Thinking about that now recalls how soothing a largely solitary saunter it was. Another took me along the White to Dark Trail between Tideswell and Hathersage.
Hopefully, 2017 will be an easier year for me and it is something of an open book in some ways. Aside maybe from a possible stay in Stockholm, overseas excursions no longer loom as large in my mind now. Scotland could see more of me than that short visit in November that took in Inverness and a rainy Plockton. A spot of mental clearance could see me plodding around England and Wales more often too. Ireland might even see a spot of much needed exploration and I also fancy a stay around Killarney. Given how heavy my spirit feels now, the more important job for the year could be to lift things again for me.