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: U.S.A.

A year when an unwanted adventure arrived

Thursday, December 31st, 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.

Virtually goes it

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020

Many events are becoming virtual these days. My first notice of the ongoing trend was with business conferences in my line of business but it has not stopped there. As it happens, the pandemic means that large gatherings of people are not the wisest right now so this is perhaps less of a surprise. That last point had me questioning the sense of even delaying events like the Photography Show for six months but even that is going virtual next month as well. This is a trend that applies to both business and lesiure.

After all, Wanderlust have a YouTube channel with recordings of a few of these collected. Some are recordings of live events from before the start of the current pandemic but others like Incredible Iceland or Uncover Guyana are entirely virtual affairs. In fact, I got to join the two events that I have mentioned and would not have got to them if in-person attendance was a must because they often have been held in London.

That last point has not gone unnoticed by organisers either. Regardless of the professional or leisure character of the subjects being covered, attendances are higher with more joining from different parts of the world. The ongoing pandemic may be keeping us apart in some ways but it is bringing us together in others.

There also is the matter of travelling virtually as well. This year, I might have hoped to get to Colorado but that became totally unrealisable and that reality even applies to the matter of getting to and from Ireland too. Normally, I should have gone to my home country at least twice by now and there should be two more before the year is out. 2021 looks more feasible now and it is hard to say how that might go at this stage. Given that, it is little wonder that services like Trek Ireland are turning up for those of us restricted to armchair explorations.

In my case, those home-based global explorations have cause me to survey Backpacker’s Get Out More TV on their own YouTube channel. It is true that these feature a lot of product placement as well as segments from outdoor retailers but keeping our attention on a hiking film possibly demands a lot of patience anyway. Still, they do show something of the areas that each episode showcases so that probably will be enough to get me watching more than the first three episodes that I have seen so far.

Pondering time’s passing

Saturday, June 6th, 2020

Earlier this year, I spent a stretch of time perusing guidebooks while pondering and plotting a summertime North Atlantic escapade. U.S. states like Montana, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon and Colorado all came within the scope of this armchair knowledge gathering. Of the lot, it was going to be Colorado that was getting my nod for a July 2020 excursion with Denver and Boulder offering themselves as likely basis. Of course, the arrival of a global pandemic has eliminated the possibility of any such thinking becoming reality for this year but ideas remain live in spite of this so another year may offer and I now need to wait for that.

Another guidebook for Colorado may await and there are others for California and Ontario too but guidebook reading has been parked for now even if continue to get through a backlog of travel magazines. After all, there now is plenty of time to get back to it again. In the meantime, I have returned to other nature and travel books. The planet’s northern reaches have become part of this with Malachy Tallack’s 60 Degrees North and Gavin Francis’ True North having been completed and I am now in the middle of Peter Davidson’s The Idea of North before going on to Barry Lopez’s Horizon. The time feels right for reading these since guidebook reading for me involving website address gathering and I just want something engrossing that will help to relax me in these testing times.

In parallel, outdoor reading in local parks during the now departed spell of warm sunny weather saw me complete Edward Thomas’ Icknield Way before making a start on his In Pursuit of Spring. The first of these documented a journey on foot trying to retrace the route  of the eponymous long distance thoroughfare while the second describes a journey by bicycle from London to the Quantock Hills in Somerset. If anything, the latter happens to be the more readable of the two and I intend to get it completed even if warm sunny weather does not return to us all that soon.

The reason for the title has nothing to do with the forestalling of trips away by current necessary travel restrictions though. It was caused by my listening to a program hosted by Don Letts on BBC Radio 6 Music last Sunday night in an effort to curtail restlessness at bedtime last Sunday night. What occurred to me then was the passage of recent decades and the way that I have not caught up in some ways.

This matter brings up the subject of music and that is not customary for this blog. It reminds me of how the 1960’s felt to me in previous decades. During my childhood, it was a mere 20 years before and figures like Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and David Bowie were active as part of what felt to me like an afterglow of that decade. This was before the revival of interest in music from the same decade during the 1990’s when it was just 30 years before. Now that the last decade of the last century itself is pushing on for being 30 years ago and it was the decade when I began to find my feet in life, the 1960’s feel even more distance and that realisation gave me something of a shock when it hit me.

An upshot of all this is the added need to collect new experiences as restrictions are lifted. Such is our current situation that I will not be in the vanguard of wider travel and that especially is the case given my dependence on public transport. Nevertheless, those expanded horizons discussed at the start of this entry again begin to loom larger after other places nearer to hand are revisited before them. These will be in Britain first before other European destinations around Scandinavia or in the Alps get tested first. There may be a need to do these in a new way, not only because of our changed world but also because of my changed perspective. More time may allow me to further develop what that might mean.

Weather better suited to indoor investigations

Friday, February 28th, 2020

Unlike this time last year when I was in the middle of string of outdoor excursions, this month has little very little action at all. The weather has brought storm after storm and the rain is flooding down from the sky as I write this words. January may have been more appealing but other concerns like gaining a new contract took precedence. That has been sorted now so next week should see a start on revenue earning work again.

That is not to say that I have not been exploring ideas for overseas trips or one nearer home even if COVID-19 could limit such excursions for a while. Finding possible destinations in Washington State, Oregon, Montana and Wyoming has drive me to perusing various guidebooks and others for Colorado, California and Ontario have found their way onto my reading list. It is the prospect of extending North American explorations after last year’s stint in British Columbia that is the underlying motivation for all of this.

There is no shortage of wilderness areas but there is a need to find a base from which to explore them. Denver looks promising for a stay in Colorado but I need to uncover more about that state and, in a sense, the same applies to Lake Tahoe on the boundary between California and Nevada or Ontario where being based in Toronto could have a use.

Reading guidebooks may not sound exciting but they do advance all these pipe dreams. Consulting local magazines like Distinctly Montana, Wyoming Magazine, Big Sky Journal, Montana Outdoors and Montana Quarterly would augment these in a more bite-sized manner and some have email newsletters too so it is not a case of reading everything at once only then to forget it all afterwards. My European explorations have been more gradual affairs, after all, and it always helps to find ideas one at a time.

The next steps would be to make use of these but that will depend on how the year goes. COVID-19 is a reminder that events can derail such designs so it is best to see what can be facilitated. One thing is sure though: another visit to North America could happen yet.

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.