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!
There have been a few things that I have been meaning to write about in recent times but I never got around to doing that because of other distractions. Anyone who has been here before should know that I have a fascination with maps and the advance of technology has done nothing to change that. If anything, it has meant that two interests of mine come together: computing and hillwalking.
As part of going lighter weight, using the OS Maps app on my phone has become a common occurrence and I still bring paper maps with me on longer hikes even if I use phones with long battery life. The old skills remain invaluable when technology fails because of a lack of signal or electrical power.
The OS Maps subscription also means that you gain access to extra content on the associated web portal and that got a recent refresh. One advance is that it can be made full screen but a hardware driver issue meant that it would not work on one of my PC’s until I sorted the software problem.
Aside from the OS Maps app, I also have made much use of the ViewRanger app, especially on overseas trips. Ones to Ireland and Canada come to mind but the mix of content from existing providers with freely available mapping data proved to be a very useful one. That I managed to acquire enduring licences for some of these instead of subscriptions was an added attraction. It certainly made the option better in my eyes than what Geolives was offering through SityTrail even if subscriptions are how things are moving nowadays.
However, ViewRanger became part of Outdooractive so things changed. Because the pandemic kept me in the UK, I have not looked into the new operation so much but it could be something that I need to check for overseas escapades now that restrictions are easing again after the arrival of the Omicron strain of COVID-19 near the end of last year. Others have commented that the changeover has not been smooth but the free maps look comprehensive and I appear to have been able to carry over access to mapping data that I already had.
Speaking of travelling overseas, I am now a subscriber to Backpacker magazine and so have access to content from the Outside network. One part of that is GAIA GPS and the things are with hiking maps in the U.S.A. means that this is an interesting offering, especially if I get access through my existing subscription. When I tried before, I was able to see maps through its online portal but it would take an actual visit to really check out what is on offer. Though I am cautious, that might be more realisable than it has been for a long time.
Over the last few months, I have gone walking under hours of darkness by design rather than by accident as often has been the case. Much of this has been in urban areas in the name of remaining active after a day of working from home but some have taken me away from hard surfaces as well.
The first time that I ever tried this was during a much-needed career break at the end of 2017. Then, I chose a nearby route that I knew well and I relished the quietude once I had over some initial nervousness. The same route was plied by night several times during the winter of 2020/21 and the reduction in the chances of encountering others was as much an attraction as being out on moonlit ones and ones that were not so bright. Naturally, a head torch was put to good use in the process.
The same sense of peace and solitude drew me out again and other routes were chosen. Most were near at hand and with better staring points as well. Each time, I was reminded of the reduction in the amount of information from what we have by day and I always was on familiar ground. It was not just the one’s whereabouts that demonstrated this but the placement of one’s feet and one’s sense of balance.
This traipsing reached its zenith on New Year’s Eve at the end of a long day out that added an extreme elbow to two places that are not that far apart. Mostly, I try to keep away from where people live because having unexpected lights around a home in the countryside could feel unsettling and intrusive. Nevertheless, the countryside feels very different at night and being out there feels more adventurous than it might during the hours of daylight.
Those of you who are regulars may note a certain change in the colours around here. Another bit of electronic fiddling was the cause of bringing the background colour to my notice. The new year has yet to see a proper piece of outdoors action. That’s not to say that I didn’t inspect the recent snow, especially given how much of it was plastered on the hills between Macclesfield and Buxton. That viewing took place on the second Saturday of the year from the confines of a warm bus rather than in an attempt to flounder through fields hosting feet of snow. Hearing and seeing how much was up there, thoughts were attuned to the need for snow shoes in such circumstances. It’s little wonder that folk took to skis and going downhill on unexpected slopes like those of Kerridge Hill near Bollington. Drifting snow was starting to impede traffic while I was on my little excursion and it later closed the A537 Cat and Fiddle road almost completely. Buxton looked very pretty in its white coat on a bright day, but things were duller by the time that I reached Bakewell. It all made for an enjoyable spot of reconnaissance but a fuller bout of hill wandering is in order now that things are calming down, though there is more snow on the horizon for the middle of the week. It would appear that 2010 is getting an interesting start.
Because my head for heights is far from being in the top tier, I usually watch the gradients that I am crossing so to avoid ever being frozen by fright. The same consideration means that scrambling is not one of my outdoor pursuits and may explain why climbing holds no appeal for me. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that I never ever end up successfully negotiating rocky crags while on the way up or down a slope. A walk from Kirkstone to Windermere a week ago on Sunday was a case in point and the question that continually entered my mind on the more challenging stretches pertained to finding a way to negotiate something rather than whether it was possible or impossible for me. To my own mind, that’s a positive step forward from the usual trepidation. The trick is always to remain safe either when going up and, especially so, on the way down. There was only one occasion on the descent when I asked myself whether there was a way around a difficulty. In the event, there was and I gingerly got myself around it with a certain amount of satisfaction.
Starting from the Kirkstone Pass meant that I already had a head start with regard to altitude but it did not make things effortless. The way up to St. Raven’s Edge was steep and crags underfoot made for careful footwork on the way. Once atop the Edge, the gradients eased markedly. In fact, there was some gentle height loss as I continued until it was gained again on the way up Pike How. It took longer to reach the summit of Stony Cove Pike than I might have liked, but the longer distance made for easier slopes and opportunities to take in the fells round about me. To my east, Ill Bell and its fellow summits of Yoke, Froswick, Park Fell and Thornthwaite Crag lay in the shade while I was enjoying the sunshine. The last of these hosts a beacon that was clearly visible and all were to get their turn in the sun as the day wore on. The fells to the west, those lining Scandale or making up the Fairfield horseshoe, already were catching the sun.
The gradient of the descent from Stony Cove Pike to Threshthwaite Mouth was far from kind and I was set to feel the effects on my thigh muscles for several days afterwards. Nevertheless, steady and calm progress was the order of the day as I got myself down. This is also where I met the aforementioned crux of the entire walk: a downward step that looked far too high and the idea of a leap didn’t appeal to me one bit given the amount of rock that was on view. Too many stories about what happens to those who bump themselves have detained my attention for me to take risks like that. Even so, retaining a cool head and taking my time allowed for a less adventurous or foolhardy diversion about the obstacle; all was done with presence of mind rather than terror, easier to do when you know that no one is being held up by your deliberations.
It’s one thing to be negotiating crags on a steep hillside but deciding the route you will be following next at the same sounds like overdoing multitasking. The ardour of the way down and the sight of steep slopes ahead reinforced my view that picking up a path towards Troutbeck village was the best thing to be doing with the time that was available to me; a higher route around by Ill Bell tempted, but sense prevailed and it was stored on an ideas shelf that has been getting depleted lately. That gives me time to ponder the route and starting from Hartsop may be a better way to approach things, even if it means more ascent.
The path down Park Fell Head wasn’t exactly conspicuous but having a handrail such as Trout Beck does ensure that navigational nerves were held at bay. In fact, it wavers between distinctness and non-appearance along its length, depending on whether the terrain is stony or boggy (a great path eraser). Progress was steady as I emerged from the breezy coolness of the tops into the heat of the valley bottom. Walls were met and passed and photos were taken as distance until The Tongue became ever shorter. The Tongue itself took a while to pass and I started to encounter the first folk since Threshthwaite Mouth. A bridge that I needed to cross over Trout Beck was passed in error, so backtracking was to find the slate construct and get back on track. The inclination of the residents of Troutbeck Park to put up signs that aren’t the friendliest to walkers (the fact that paths have been diverted since my map was published didn’t help either…) caused me to opt for a diversion for Hagg Bridge that avoided any cause for upset.
Before Ing Bridge, I cheekily hopped east to the track that is known variously as High Street or Longmire Road for different parts of its length. By this point, any glimpses at my watch weren’t reassuring me so I was unable to devote much time to stopping and staring at my surroundings on what was a fabulous evening; it would have been deserved. The result was that I made for the A592 perhaps sooner than I might have done to ensure that I caught my train home. Apart from the surface underfoot, it’s not that as walker unfriendly as might be supposed with footways appearing for some stretches with others having unmetalled paths shoehorned between the edge of the carriageway and the field fences; I think that the latter is a consequence of National Trust ownership of the adjacent land. The A591 was joined at Troutbeck Bridge with a check for any useful buses. There weren’t any so I maintained my on foot course for Windermere’s train station, getting there with some time to spare. On the way home, I was allowed a chance to steady myself after the blistering progress at the end of my walk. I am still asking myself if I tried to squeeze in too much, but that’s a consideration for planning future escapades. The day had been another cracker and very different in feel to my previous Cumbrian outing with its mix of quieter places and more challenging terrain, the latter perhaps ensuring the former.
Return rail journey from Macclesfield to Windermere with coach transfers between Macc and Wilmslow due to engineering works (changes at Manchester, Preston and Oxenholme on the outbound trip and at Oxenholme and Manchester on the way back). Bus 517 from Windermere to the Kirkstone Inn.
I don’t know which JH Darren Christie had in mind when he included a link to here among his illustrious list of blogging TGO Challengers. What I do know is that I’d be extremely surprised if it was me and I hope that I haven’t disappointed you with that admission. For one thing, I don’t believe that I’ve ever mentioned the Challenge on here before so I suspect that the link came (many thanks, anyway) amid the last minute rush before departure. Getting ready for something like this cannot be the simplest of tasks and I wish all of them the very best in their endeavours. Doubtless, there will some tales appearing online in time and I only hope that they are happy ones.
However, the episode does prompt a question for me about the Challenge and this is its thirtieth year, after all: what about it? There is one thing in its favour, and that should be apparent from various blog postings that you find here, is that the parts of Scotland through which an itinerary would take me are among my favourite parts of the world. Nevertheless, the idea of a two week crossing adds other points to ponder. Back to back multi-day treks are something that I really haven’t been doing much since I finished off the West Highland Way and made a more concerted start on the Rob Roy Way. Then, there’s the matter of lessening dependence on serviced accommodation (well, hostelling is gaining some favour with me over hotels and guest houses) in favour of a more independent alternative; some may use the former option for the whole Challenge but it seems to be the exception rather the rule. After that, there’s the subject of personal fitness and I very much realise that work is needed there too.
So, my answer to the question of doing the challenge is not just yet. What I am not saying is that it is not for me because many of the things that I enjoy these days were activities that I was happy to leave for other folk at one point. Apart from the whole hill wandering habit, this is true to an extent also of how I earn my living. When you ease yourself into something at your own pace, things start to happen and heaven only knows how far you’ll get.
In the meantime, the longer days of summer are now at hand. Of course, that is no guarantee of fine weather in these parts and I don’t like it too hot anyway. Even with those caveats, my mind is turning to multi-day excursions again. Having a selection of Graham Uney’s Backpacker’s Britain Cicerone Guides, I shouldn’t be short of a few ideas and the prospect of managing walks for which public transport logistics might be tricky has a certain footloose appeal. Much of Chris Townsend’s The Backpacker’s Handbook has been read and there is nothing at all to stop re-readings. Gear has been building over time up but more acquisitions remain in order. What I really need to do is decide when I am sufficiently equipped for stepping just across that threshold from walker to backpacker while not going in too deep too soon; that should keep the wish list under control. Suspicions are building that there could be some tinkering and familiarisation before I embark on anything more adventurous. A summer of exploring the paraphernalia of independent backpacking might be no bad thing, even without their being used in anger on an escapade.