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: Books


19th February 2022

We live in stormy times and stormy weather has been our lot in recent days. There also is a wintry feel since snow is falling in places as I write these words. Often, I have written here about the storms of life with the understanding that being out in nature is so restorative.

That has been the refrain from John Muir and so many others. We hear in the outdoor press about those who are unhappy in their everyday life and then leave that after them, at least for a while, to take on an outdoors challenge. That also features in the stories of people like Elise Downing who ran around the coast of Britain and became a Silver winner in The Great Outdoors Awards for her book Coasting. Some even have followed this kind of endeavour by changing their whole lifestyles.

The subject of soothing solitude has been mentioned in my writings numerous times and is one of the motivations for my excursions into nature. The landscapes may be human-influenced in so many ways yet it is their present-day emptiness that draws me. It might my introversion but I relish being away from others for periods. It certainly has drawn me out in wilder lands in Scotland and England but it also has its limitations.

Dependence on incursions into emptier lands still does not eliminate dependence on others. First of all, they need to be conserved but there are other things too. Political developments can affect them and my reverence for the Scottish Highlands and Islands made me emotionally vulnerable in 2014 when Scotland was debating its constitutional future. That led me to look elsewhere.

Unfortunately, that too can be bedevilled by global events like the ongoing pandemic and geopolitical tensions in different places. Developments like Britain’s exit from the European Union can unsettle as well. In many ways, this demonstrates the problems with having oases and havens outside of oneself. Going elsewhere for peace and healing can be forestalled by other intrusions all too easily.

At the start of 2020, I was reading Anthony Storr’s Solitude and the enduring lesson from that book was the power of interior self-efforts. That certainly has for me been an ongoing effort in life when solitude allowed me to heal enough during a career break to go back to working again and get through an emotional period in my work life. The same could be said for dealing with grief, loss and upheaval since the passing of my parents who thankfully were spared the travails of the pandemic and other intrusions.

It has taken interior efforts to deal with the fear and restrictions of the pandemic too. Initially, I was left floundering and a heavy withdrawal from caffeine consumption lasted several months but has left me sleeping more soundly nowadays. It took me a while to find again the relaxing effects of outdoor wandering and I will not forget the benefits of a circular stroll from home in May 2020 that took in Croker Hill, Bosley Reservoir, Bosley and Gawsorth in what was a wider sweep than I recognised at the time.

Books feature in interior journeys too and they certainly do in my case. Peaceful, evocative descriptions of nature have been mentioned in other postings that you will find here but there has been another strand to this over the last twelve months that may make some readers feel awkward. That has gone along the paths of faith and spirituality. Authors like John Barton, Karen Armstrong and Edward Feser have been on the left-brained portion of this reading ramble but it has taken a more mystical turn with authors like Richard Rohr, John O’Donohue and others that I have yet to read. This is experiential reading with a little more than what you might find in nature or travel writing.

That is not to say that I have abandoned nature writing because it deals with bodily sensing but that it has taken more of a backseat for now. There is a whole body of writing that awaits experiencing and brings its share of helpful peace, healing and meaning. To mention this is to bare my soul a little yet it could influence how I approach my wanderings and show them in a different light. The wonder of nature and the way that light falls on a landscape remains attractive for me but this may be encountered in a more holistic mindset.

Too often, I have felt that some frame outdoor activity too superficially and focus on their efforts to the point of disregarding their surroundings. That makes me look at the athleticism of some as being too shallow an existence when a more transcendental experience is possible. Certainly, that follows from the thinking of people such as John Muir and Henry David Thoreau as well as even the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Physical condition and skillfulness remain important but they need to serve some higher purpose.

For many people, this involves being with others and adding the ambience of nature’s wonders to this certainly enhances that. That is good in itself but there is something about being alone in a landscape that it soothes and heals with its peacefulness. There are times when apparent absence is full of presence and becomes what is needed by a stressed and overwhelmed soul.

Welly walking

30th December 2020

Things have been quiet on here since October but life has been busy for me too. Perhaps, that may be a lot of the cause for the online absence. During times of running in and out of pandemic lockdowns, I have a had a technical project to keep me busy: learning a new scripting language that could have a use in my line of work.

Boardwalk at Dane's Moss Nature Reserve, Macclesfield, Cheshire, England

In some ways, that helped with getting through the autumn and early winter periods but I now realise that I could have done with more exercise even if that means encountering more people during risky times. Over the Christmas period, there have been more walks and so sodden and muddy is the landscape that I have been using wellington boots more than I otherwise would. For one thing, they certainly help to keep leg-wear cleaner and drier.

Having the extra cushioning of dedicated walking footwear on my now exclusively local strolls would bring more comfort but wellington boots have a certain convenience about them and even help when crossing the snowy surfaces that we have at the moment. The ongoing cold spell is set to continue yet that is not going to stop my outdoor recreation either, particularly should sunny days come my way.

My reading has been as wintry as the weather. It is impossible to avoid references to snow and ice when reading about Antarctica so finishing off Gabrielle Walker’s Antarctica became a sort of prelude to the ice and snow lying on the ground in my locality at the moment. Then, there is Bernd Brunner’s Winterlust that I spotted in an Explore magazine newsletter nearly twelve months ago and I am working my way through that too. Suitably enough, it adds a quiet muffle spirit reminiscent of its subject as it courses the world while doing so.

Travel is not high my agenda right now given the that things are going and I am not expecting so much of 2021 either. Its first few months may be occupied by an occupied by an ongoing lockdown if my sense is correct and vaccination will take a while to reach a level that helps us. After that, we only can hope that new variants will not outwit vaccines too readily.

Given that, it fills as if local walking and cycling will have a large part to play in my outdoor wanderings for a good while yet. Some will yearn for better while just dreaming and hoping seems safer for now. Taking each day at a time probably is the best way to proceed.

Subscriptions and home deliveries

10th October 2020

This has been an exceptionally tough year for retail and hospitality businesses and it is not over yet. In fact, it looks as if the start of 2021 may be no better. My line of business differs from these so I am one of the lucky ones in many respects since I have been able to work throughout the whole episode. Even then, I have not been immune from the added tension of the times in which we find ourselves.

Path through woodland, Riverside Park, Macclesfield, Cheshire, England

That also means that I am not doing many of the things that I normally would be doing. International travel needs to wait as does staying away from home. The fact that town centres got too busy for my sense of personal safety has had its own effects so I avoid them as much as possible. One consequence is that I now subscribe to every magazine that I read aside from ones that I can get delivered whenever their content appeals to me. Going to a bookshop to see what new books are out is postponed because going online does much of that for me. Even with hand sanitiser usage, you never know what you could spread by touching books in shops.

Given all this, I still fancy getting out and about in hill country when circumstances allow. There is a walk from Hayfield to Chapel-en-le-Frith that I fancy reprising in brighter weather and with warmer clothing should the day be chilly as we can expect over the next few months. That would allow visits to the tops of Mount Famine and South Head together with a repeat encounter with Brown Knoll. The latter has planted in my mind the possibility of going from Hayfield to Castleton that could take in Rushup Edge along the route. With the way that things are at the moment, that probably needs to wait but ideas are needed for better times.

Speaking of idea collection, I have been catching up on unread issues of Scottish Island Explorer. In one sense, they have been planting in my thoughts the prospect of a long overdue return to the Western Isles and Arran together with other unvisited islands along Scotland’s western island call too. After those, there are the nation’s Northern Isles that have been on my radar only for other destinations to draw me to them instead. It is good to stock up with hope in the knowledge that some challenging months lie ahead and my ongoing reading may add more to these.

American authors

27th July 2020

On the day that I am writing this, it has been raining much of the time. It is a day for indoor activities like reading and two large volumes have dominated mine over the last few weeks. One has been started, John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World, while another was finished yesterday: Barry Lopez’s Horizon.

Neither was the first occasion that I read works from either of these authors. McPhee’s Coming into the Country came first. While I might have expected much on the nature of Alaskan wilderness, that also ventured into the human side of the place with its realists and its dreamers. It was the former with whom McPhee sided and I was left feeling concerned for a Caterpillar bulldozer outwintering in wilderness awaiting retrieval though its fate surely was known decades before.

It was Lopez’s Arctic Dreams that I enjoyed during the past few months. Its prose evokes the sparse atmosphere of a variety of arctic locations in North America, a soothing escape for a frantic world in the midst of a global pandemic. Horizon remains the authors latest work even though it was published last year. Though there are reminders of its 1986 predecessor in chapters describing journeys around Skraeling Island in the Canadian Arctic and Antarctica, this is a very different work.

There are preoccupations with the state of our planet and its future that only fade slightly at the end. These percolate thinking at Cape Foulweather in Oregon and in Tasmania. Otherwise, hominid remnants in Kenya and present day life in the Galapagos Islands dominate the chapters devoted to them. At times, the journey reflects how our world is as well as how it is in places that are not so troubled. There might be an autobiographical element to the text but there are so many undercurrents that it is impossible to state that any dominates the whole work. Maybe, it reflects how lives are lived in a more serendipitous manner that we might admit and mine probably would fit this mould.

It is early days for Annals of the Former World with its healthy helping of geological narrative but it already is reading well for me. It is made of four preceding books (Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, Rising from the Plains, Assembling California) with an added fifth, Crossing the Craton. In its own way, this is building up my knowledge of North American geological history after Tim Flannery’s Europe: The First 100 Million Years added similar insights with regard to that for my home continent.

Given I am attracted by hill and mountain country, an interest in how landscapes came to be formed should not be such a surprise. Not all areas appeal to me but there is little harm in knowing how they came to be as well. Nevada and Utah are such places given how desert-like they are and how hot they become. McPhee’s writing centres around what nature does rather than what man alters as you will find in Nicholas Crane’s The Making of the British Landscape. That we can also do damage cannot be avoided in Barry Lopez’s Horizon and this even pervades nature writings from the likes of Jim Crumley, whose The Nature of Summer was among my reading during the last few weeks. After all, we are said to be living in the Anthropocene era of earth’s history with all the responsibilities that it brings.

From north to north

27th June 2020

As a western European with a liking for cool temperate conditions, the sweltering temperatures we got on Wednesday and Thursday did not suit me so much and hot nights did my sleep little favours. One saving grace is that these did not stay around that long and today though is cooler if rainier. It would be better to have it dry too but I will more than make do with lower temperatures.

One thing that strikes me is my wanderings often take me northwards. Scotland was a favoured haven for many years and Scandinavia also retains my favour. Of course, we cannot travel so far at the moment and Swedes are even more restricted given their management of the pandemic. In any event, it is either Norway, Iceland or even the Faroe Islands that would lure me their way.

All of that is for the future right now so I am sating my wanderlust through my reading. This often takes me north and that especially has been the case with Gavin Francis’ True North, Malachy Tallack’s 60 Degrees North and Peter Davidson’s The Idea of North. The first of these featured much of Scandinavian Sagas with the second being much more like a journey of personal discovery.

The last of the three is even more literary than the others and conflates British thinking on the north along with that in other more obvious places around Europe, North America and Asia. To me, it feels like a bifurcation even if some British authors and painters did venture to Iceland and Greenland themselves. It may be that the point happens to be that there is no universal feeling towards the northern reaches of our planet.

After all, it might be that what draws me north sends others south and that could apply to reading choices like anything else. As it happens, there is quite a canon of northern reading in my e-book collection. The list also includes Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams, John McPhee’s Coming into the Country and Sara Wheeler’s The Magnetic North. It may be that the spareness of the empty landscapes is what allows the creation of more meticulous prose or that the stories are about how insignificant humankind is in such places and is that which draws me. After all, my idea of a good walk is one that includes plenty of solitude.

A growing collection of Scottish could be added here too but for there then being too many lists in one blog entry. Still, there might be something to the explanation being the attraction of emptier lands. Nevertheless, many account feature stories of people too so there may be the sort of tension in my reading that Peter Davidson includes in The Idea of North.

When I went checking to ensure there was no title repetition, I met up with a post from 2014 written after I completed Paul Morely’s The North. That was a peopled tome and included England’s north-west that I read largely on buses and trains during a testing bunch of years when family bereavements turned over my life. Reading my own words now feels a bit like reading those written by another author. All it took was the passing of a few years to do the separation.

We all are going through testing times at the moment so you only can dream of long distance travel even if you see airlines restarting some of their routes. Until I go from north to north in reality, there could be more virtual travelling via accounts written by others. Some will be adventurous enough to start roaming soon enough but I reckon that it is better to see what their experiences are before doing the same myself. The pandemic journey is not over quite yet.