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: Wales

A bitter blustery day on Moel Famau

18th April 2021

Though there were plenty of things on my mind like executing my next career moves at the end of a long break, times certainly were simpler in February 2018 than they are now. Personal income was reduced heavily but I also controlled expenditure far better. Also, time largely was my own so I could pop out on day trips whenever the weather allowed so a sunny day was enough to lure me to Moel Famau, a place on which I had designs for more than a decade. A weekday excursion allowed for better public transport options so the previous stymied trip idea became a real outing.

Sign for Moel Famau, Loggerheads, Flintshire, Wales

Ironically, the trip that never happened was inspired by a bus timetable leaflet then produced by the now defunct Cheshire County Council. Instead, I was to encounter other parts of the Clwydian Range on a hike from Denbigh to Ruthin and on another than carried me from Llangollen to Wrexham when Ruthin seemed to far to reach that Sunday evening. Belatedly after those, I was not only to encounter the Clwydian Range but actually potter along part of its length.

River Alyn, Loggerheads Country Park, Mold, Flintshire, Wales

My timing also coincided with a school mid-term break and Loggerheads Country Park had attracted families but simply continuing on my way was enough to leave them after me. Given that there were many other spots that granted me more in the way of the solitude that I so relished, that was just as well. To get closer to those, I just followed the River Alyn as it flowed past limestone outcrops and was completely unaware that, behind them, most of the hill of Cefn Mawr was eaten up by a quarry. It just goes to show, that even in Wales, limestone country can hide such a thing.

The full revelation of the extent of scarring left on the landscape by Cefn Mawr Quarry needed some height gain and that was ahead of me if I wanted to reach the top of Moel Famau. Before that though, I remained by the banks of the River Alyn until I left the track to cross the river and some muddy fields to reach Bryn Alyn. There was a road-based route that would have taken me around by Bryn y Castell but I fancied keeping that to a minimum at this stage, possibly a good idea since so much tarmac travel was to occupy the end of the day’s walking.

Nevertheless, continuing uphill from Bryn Ayn on a minor road was needed to get me onto a bridleway that would round Ffrith Mountain and get me most of the way to Moel Famau. As I continued along the track, height was gained all the way and views of the surrounding landscape opened out before me. Much was pastoral and the size of Cefn Mawr Quarry became more and more apparent; most of the hill seemed to be gone!

Leaving sights of environmental sacrilege after me, I rounded the boundary of Clwyd Forest to reach the summit that I was seeking. While the bridleway got me most of the way there, I left it to make the final approach to the Jubilee Tower. As if to remind me of the season, a brief flurry of snow came upon me but the lasting impression is of the stiff and bitterly cold wind that blew along the ridge.

Jubilee Tower, Moel Famau, Mold, Flintshire, Wales

That did not deter me or the others who were there but this was not a day for lingering, especially with a wind that could knock you. Still, the tower dating from the reign of Queen Victoria was explored before I started to descend along Offa’s Dyke Path. Conditions underfoot were greasy enough for walking poles to prove unable to halt a muddy tumble. After that, more careful travel was in order but my surefootedness was not guaranteed even then.

Moel Dywyll as seen from Moel Famau, Mold, Flintshire, Wales

Moel Famau as seen from Moel Dywyll, Mold, Flintshire, Wales

Even with plains abutting the eastern and western edges of the chain of hills, it still was possible to make images that could make one believe that it was more extensive than it was. There was so much scope for that choosing photos for this trip report was an exercise in itself. All the while, the afternoon was edging towards its end so I needed to think about getting to Mold before it got too dark. Before that, I had plenty of moments full of uninterrupted quiet and had ensured that by continuing from Moel Famau to Moel Dywyll after seeing a sizeable group of walkers taking a route that I might have taken. Peaceful wandering was what I sought and there was plenty of that so it often does no harm to let others decide some things for you.

Pentre & Cilcain as seen from Moel Dywyll, Mold, Flintshire, Wales

After Moel Dywyll, I found the bridleway that start me on my descent. However, greasy ground proved to be my undoing as I endured my second muddy stumble of the day. That cause some muttering about my falling into a somewhat carefree mood but this was the last of these and I continued on my way without anyone seeing my blundering and with added care in spite of the alluring late evening sunshine. The shelter afforded by the valley was all the more appreciated as I passed Garth and two reservoirs on my way to Pentre.

While a side-trip to Cilcain tempted me, weary limbs and declining light informed my decision to follow a stream-side public footpath by Nain Gain instead. After that, it was road walking all the way to Mold’s bus station. Along the way, there was another crossing of the River Ayn and I passed such smaller places as Pontnewydd, Pantymwyn, Gwernaffield and Pant-glas. Light really was fading by then but I got within the street-lighting area in good time and reached the bus station as I hoped so my journey home started after a satisfying day in the hills laden with soothing quieter moments.

Travel Arrangements

Return train journey between Macclesfield and Chester. Bus service X1 from Chester to Loggerheads where my walk started and, when It ended in Mold, bus service 4 was used to get from there back to Chester train station.

A year when an unwanted adventure arrived

31st December 2020

We live in a time when all sorts of activities are being sold as adventures. Even a day hike falls into scope for this yet I do not need such branding to make me take advantage of such a possibility. A day with good weather spent in the midst of hill country or along a scenic coastline will do the job for me equally as well. In fact, it has been sufficient sufficient for longer than I care to recall.

2020 has been full of those in spite of the threat that it brought our way. They may have been near home for much of the time so it is just as well that I can walk into nearby hills from the front door of my own house. Long circuits taking in Shining Tor, Cheshire’s county top, along with Croker Hill, Bosley Reservoir and a host of other nearby landmarks saw me begin a summer of longer walks.

Some took me back home from a starting point reached by public transport. These included such places as Buxton, Knutsford, Disley and Whaley Bridge with the second entry on that list being the longest of the lot. The weather was mainly fair too apart from the occasional wetting.

Getting a little braver took me a little further afield. For instance, there were tow long hikes between Leek and Buxton, something that lay in my ideas shelf for far too long. Day trips to Church Stretton in Shropshire and Llandudno in Conway became the limits of my perambulations for the year before a cold weather walk from Hayfield to Chapel-en-le-Frith bookended things and an autumn of lockdown, less enticing weather and an indoor learning project became my lot.

Still, good memories got made in spite of the pandemic and these even included visits to Sheffield that I am not enthused about doing at the timing of writing these words. The hills may have been smaller but the wandering got me away from humanity even if more found their local countryside this year than ever before.

While 2021 lies ahead of us, it is difficult to plan ahead right now. There has been an upsurge in the number of cases of COVID that needs to abate and it does feel that vaccination cannot happen fast enough. This may may the darkest hour before a new dawn but I plan to get to a brighter future before making too many plans.

Of course, we still can dream. This time last year, I was pondering which part of the U.S. to visit  during the summer months. After reading about the states of Washington, Oregon, Wyoming , Montana, Colorado, I settled on the last of these and that remains on the ideas shelf. The Azores are found on there as is the possibility of Madeira and locations nearer home appeal too.

Webinars from Wanderlust as well as the Adventure Travel Festival all fuelled my imagination though dreams of round the world motorcycle or walking trips remain out of the question. It remains good to hear the stories of other explorers’ exploits though and they help to brighten what has been a dark time for many of us.

My book reading continues in much the same vein as I sit out the necessary period of time that is needed for things to settle again. Patience is much required by those of us able to stay safe while we think of those not in such a fortunate position. Adventures can take their toll and this one certainly has so we only can await the prospect of happier ones should they come out way.

Lazy loading

5th September 2020

It may be autumn now and the nights really are drawing in on us but I still have walking ideas. They are fairly local, which is useful given the times in which we find ourselves. For instance, I have another idea for a walk between Whaley Bridge and Macclesfield: this one would go via the Goyt Valley instead of Taxal Edge where the previous ones went.

There is another and that brings me to recent wanderings. One of those took me from Leek to Buxton via Ramshaw Rocks. Since the day became dull, I would like to go back to those rocky outcrops again to come away with better photos. The route could be varied according to available hours of daylight if so needed.

Other rambles did better with sunshine. One took me around hills near Church Stretton in Shropshire while another gained me my only exposure to sea air of the year so far. That was around the Great Orme near Llandudno in Wales and it rounded off an extended bank holiday weekend that also featured the aforementioned Shropshire and Staffordshire/Derbyshire hikes. All were good for my emotional well-being during what has been a very tough year.

As a dark patch continues to lift, I also got in some website tinkering and that explains the title of this post. Some may not have heard of the term but many will have encountered the behaviour: a web page that does not load all at once but only when a visitor scrolls down far enough to need the outstanding sections. That is called lazy loading and I decided to try it out with the images on this blog. If it is too much of an acquired taste or is too distracting, just let me know and I will make adjustments. Otherwise, the tinkering and the toddling will continue.

Traipsing through two countries and three counties

28th June 2020

The start of a new year often is a time for reflection on what has gone before as much as pondering the prospects of a year to come. In this, 2018 was no different and I was in the middle of a career break as well so the thinking turned to my next career moves and the choices that I arrived at in January 2018 continue to pervade more than two years later.

In fact, they affects the start of this year with a another work break that allowed the taking of stock in light of then seemingly pervasive threats. Throughout this, I also got to wondering about future transatlantic excursions as a form of distraction. Many do love planning but you need not to have an intrusive global event to make it happen. So all those dreams from January and February of this year are placed on hold.

Thankfully, it was only my own speed of inquiry and assessment that forestalled any overseas travel dreams in 2018. Other plans could be made to happen in a piecemeal if imperfect manner. What I needed to do is get over the residual stresses caused by what needed doing during 2016. At least, I did not have a global pandemic back and I count myself very fortunate for that.

Returning to 2018 though, it was not as if all the required introspection ruled out day trips quiet like the activities or the weather of the first two months of this year. In fact, a few of those took me to Wales and the principality had not seen my making trips there for quiet a while if I remember correctly. The sequence of Welsh outings actually began before Christmas 2017 when I embarked on a trip through the western end of the Brecon Beacons National Park. That took me through Abergavenny and Brecon as far as Neath before I continued my way home. In time, the possibility of exploring another quiet part of Wales may come to something.

My first Welsh excursion of 2018 actually took me to Cardiff, a city that I have long neglected and the outing was repeated in part on the Spring Bank Holiday of 2019. Then, there may have been a Spice Girls reunion concert but what intruded on my ambling more were posses of cyclists going along multi-use trails. Sunshine pervaded on both visits but thoughts of basing myself in Cardiff for a few days in order to explore the countryside within its vicinity retain their appeal. It might be that I do some cycling of my own too but I do intend to leave better space for walkers, especially around the delightful Bute Park and along the banks of the River Taff.

So far, what I am talking about is a spot of reconnaissance that may lead to future trips and there is one other excursion in January 2018 that deserves a mention before the main trip report and it leads easily into it. That took me from Macclesfield to Aberystwyth via Shrewsbury and Llangurig. Not only did that take me past Pumlumon Fawr by bus but the stopover at Llangurig also allowed some muddy walking along part of the Wye Valley Walk. What I really was exploring though were the logistics of getting near Pumlumon Fawr for a walk up one of the highest hills in mid-Wales. That left me with the framework for a scheme that either would use Aberystwyth as a base or involve a bivvy on the side of the hill, depending on how brave I feel.

The Wye and Severn rivers both rise on Pumlumon Fawr but that was not where my Welsh wandering took me next. It may have featured the same River Wye but this was a circular ramble with Monmouth at its starting and ending points. In truth, I also fancy a visit to Tintern Abbey but remains outstanding too and the idea for the Monmouth excursion lay in my mind for quite a while before it happened.

Calling the route a circular one does much to hide its actual complexity with some of that arising from serendipity. At my arrival in Monmouth, all that was yet unknown as I passed through it heart with older buildings like those of its church and its independent school adding interest along the way. The school’s students were going hither and thither in their boisterous ways and, fancying an air of greater peace, I left them to those to reach the River Wye.

River Wye near Monmouth, Monmouth, Wales

St. Peter's Church, Dixton, Monmouthshire, Wales

There, I met up with the Wye Valley Walk that was to convey me along the Welsh side of the river; Offa’s Dyke Path also passed hereabouts but that was not part of my designs since I was bound for Symonds Yat. With the hubbub of the A40 in the background, I relished the sunny morning as much as I could. Apart perhaps from the likes of St. Peter’s Church near Dixton, those early stages were not to be peppered with so much in the way of human construction.

Looking towards Headless Hill, Monmouth, Monmouthshire, Wales

Wyastone Leys & Little Doward Hill, Whitchurch, Herefordshire, England

Forested hills lay to my right and in front of me as I went and it was around these that I was to spend much of my time. Some were to be more easily named than others but that did not detain my thinking as I reached the point where the river parted from the busy motorised thoroughfare. Beyond Wyastone Leys, my surrounding were to become much quieter and much now forested.

The forested route may have limited opportunities for photography but I was soon enough at The Biblins where I would cross the Wye and encounter a greater human presence. Some were walking and others cycling but there was enough room for all of us and I still recall having the place to myself at times.

River Wye near Symonds Yat, Herefordshire, England

It was afternoon by the time that I reached the eastern part of Symonds Yat. Not only had the trail led me onto tarmac but I had crossed into England and was in Herefordshire. The road and any traffic that was passing its way was left behind to round Huntsham Hill and return through Elliot’s Wood. What became clear was how late in the afternoon it was getting so I was anxious to keep going and photographic efforts stopped.

After reaching a road again, I then left it to go though Mailscot Wood and into both Gloucestershire and part of the Forest of Dean. With the road to Christchurch never far away, I was lured along a trail nearly as far as Hillersland before I turned in the direction of the River Wye again. That felt longer than was ideal given how late it was in the shortness of a January day.

Soon enough though, I was back on the route of the Wye Valley Walk and heading towards Monmouth again. However, I decided again crossing the river until I reached the Wye Bridge in Monmouth, so following Route 423 of the National Cycle Network. By now I was back in Wales again and soon enough reached a section of the railway that once connected Monmouth and Symonds Yat. That made navigation less of a concern as the hours of daylight faded.

Eventually, gloaming would turn into full darkness and torch-lit walking along tarmac returned me to Monmouth, where I had plenty of time to find the bus terminus that I had not used on my arrival. Tintern was passed in darkness on the way home but that fact did nothing to spoil the satisfying day out. In fact, it remains a useful excuse for returning to a delightful part of Wales.

Travel Arrangements

Train journey from Macclesfield to Hereford with a change at Stockport followed by bus travel from Hereford to Monmouth using service 36. Bus journey from Monmouth to Chepstow using service 69 followed by train travel from there back to Macclesfield with a change in Birmingham New Street.

An exceptional summer

31st July 2018

The long dry spell that has dominated since April has some thinking back as far as 1976. There are some good reasons for doing so. In the Irish countryside, grass is not as plentiful and farm wells have gone dry. Over there, the extent of this has got farmers worried about keeping livestock fed and brought about water usage restrictions for everyone else. Temperatures soared to 32° C during June and roads melted, causing road closures and even bringing out gritting trucks for reasons completely at odds with their usual usage.

So far, 2018 can be said to have two seasons: winter and summer. Spring scarcely came at all and the northern hemisphere has been treated to a long hot sunny spell like few other summers. Fires have started, either naturally, through error or as a result of vandalism. The last of these defies reason yet it is said to have had a human cost in such disparate places as Greece and California. The moors around Manchester and Bolton had their blazes but these thankfully did not threaten life and limb as much.

My venturing into the world of self-employment had limited my enjoyment of the long sunny spells more than a general inclination to keep in out of the heat. Still, I got to spend a day around Edinburgh that took me by the Firth of Forth and the banks of the River Almond before venturing into the Cammo Estate and the heart of Scotland’s capital city. Any shady spots were relished because of the afternoon heat. The same applied on a day trip to Barmouth that took me strolling towards Cerrig Arthur before returning via the Panorama Walk while enjoy the views all around that part of the Mawddach estuary. The day was long and felt all the longer on a hot crowded train between Barmouth and Shrewsbury. What remains though are newly made good memories and they always outlast any recollections of ardour.

There has been a week spent in Ireland too with its usual mix of business and leisure. Evening walks took me by Springfield Castle and the village of Kilmeedy and it well bedecked in flowers everywhere you could look. Towards the end of the stay, much needed rain arrived but there was dry weather to savour before that happened. In fact, it may be that the idea of a trip for exclusively leisurely purposes can come to mind and there is a slot when it might happen.

Other than these, evening walks around Macclesfield have made pleasant use of the longer hours of daylight. No longer do I chide myself for not making good use of every sunny day that comes but using enough of them is sufficient nowadays. As long as the burdens of a working life are managed more carefully to leave enough emotional space, the energy and motivation could be enough to keep up my wandering.

The heat may have restrained things this summer but it also had me looking back through previous episodes that had me writing entries on here and that happened in both 2006 and 2007. In 2008, I even got to the subject of warm weather walking. Neither of these compares with 2018 and it even beat the benchmark summers of 1983, 1984 and 1989 that I recall from my childhood and adolescence. This has been a summer that will live long in younger minds as they mature and age. Surely, it will be the better bits that get recalled the most clearly.