Outdoor Discoveries

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!

When promised sunshine scarcely appeared

10th January 2023

These words are being written in a period of ongoing industrial relations turbulence. Whenever this happens, it can seem never-ending. Hope gets lost, but things can be resolved quicker than anyone can imagine.

Much of 2018 was blighted by Saturday-only stoppages that affected Northern Railway. It meant that outings were limited for me because I do not drive a car. In fact, they were an impossibility for many of the places that hill wanderer would go in the north of England. Thus, when the stoppages were halted, it was as if I was unleashed to take advantage of the restored sense of freedom.

Trips to the North York Moors and Derbyshire preceded two outings to the Yorkshire Dales. This piece describes the first of the latter, when sunshine was scarcer than predicted in the forecast. That encouraged another that will be described in a later posting.

The lack of sunshine necessarily limited the number of photos that I made on this trip, so figuring out the route again took some doing. Nevertheless, I reckon that I have recalled it. Recording GPS tracks or even filming hikes is something that I have avoided so far, but that needs a rethink unless I stop leaving it so long before writing trip reports.

On the day, I made my way from Settle’s train station towards Castlebergh Plantation. From there, I followed the Pennine Bridleway in the direction of Malham Tarn. That meant passing the turning for the crags that may have lured me out that way in the first place. They would be passed on the way back.

Everywhere lay under grey skies as I followed the track towards Langscar Gate and Malham Tarn. A young walking group was going this way too, so I dallied to give them time to move along for the sake of added solitude. Following the broad track appealed to me, as these so often do, especially when quietude can be found. That made up for any lack of sunshine.

When promised sunshine scarcely appeared

When promised sunshine scarcely appeared

Skies partially cleared of cloud around Malham Tarn, somewhere that I possibly had not visited for more than ten years. That made me linger and attempt a spot of photographic capture. The results may have been incompletely in their success, but they were proof that I was not totally out of luck. Now that I think of it, there may have been more sunshine available than I had thought.

When promised sunshine scarcely appeared

My next move was to make for Malham village. That took me past Broad Scars and Malham Lings before I returned to tarmac again. Descending by Malham Rakes gained me views over Malham Cove as well as getting me to the village where I enjoyed a refreshment stop.

When promised sunshine scarcely appeared

The shop was looking more tatty on the outside than when I was near there on previous visits. The paintwork was wearing off the stonework and the shopkeeper looked aged, which have explained the lack of maintenance to the outside of the building. Skies again broke to allow some sunshine, and I took in sights of the cliffs of Malham Cove on the next stage of my hike.

When promised sunshine scarcely appeared

My return to Settle took me near Town Head as I made my way onto Long Lane. That kept me off Cove Road until just before a steep ascent, after which I left the road for a public footpath that would take me back to the Pennine Bridleway near Kirkby Fell. There was empty countryside around Rye Loaf Hill, though I seem to recall seeing some mountain bikers around there.

More civilisation in the form of Stockdale Farm before I left the lane to follow the Dales High Way past crags that I had fancied photographing. The grey gloom put paid to that ambition, so I reconciled myself to enjoying the hike instead. There was one last uphill heave before the final descent into Settle, which felt very distant in the vicinity of the limestone outcrops that I was passing.

Another visit would be needed to make photographic use of the scenic delights that they offer, but the walk had left me content. There may have been a refreshment stop before I started on my train journey home in the knowledge that there was some unfinished business that remained in this part of the Yorkshire Dales. A return would follow.

Travel Arrangements

Return train journey between Macclesfield and Settle, with changes at Manchester Piccadilly and Leeds.

An Irish Year

25th December 2022

Changes that I am making to matters in Ireland were the cause of my spending a lot of time there this past year. That also meant that I really got to see more of the place than ever before. That was just as well for two reasons. One is that my explorations of Irish hill country have been more limited than I fancied. The other is that the pandemic had grounded me for 2020 and 2021. Being over there a lot allowed me to get more courageous again. There is further to go, but this start was useful compared to where I was earlier in the year.

The nerves applied during various trots starting and ending in Marsden during the spring, so some movement was needed. A day trip to Dublin got me started on flying again. After that, there was a hotel stay in Limerick that allowed me to sample the delights of Adare, the Limerick Greenway, the Lough Derg Way, the Slieve Felim Mountains, Killarney and around Lough Derg. Much of this was in unexpected sunshine, and some was inspired by what I saw from my hotel room as well.

A getaway from jubilee celebrations returned my Ireland. This time, my base was Tralee and I got some wet weather as well. Even so, any sunny interludes got used when other matters allowed. A hike along the Dingle Way from Tralee to Camp was one such beneficiary, as was a circular walk featuring Dingle and Ventry. An amble along part of the North Kerry Way also saw dry weather before something inclement arrived in for the evening time. That affected a second trip to Killarney as much as the presence of a bikers’ festival in the town. The weather also affected a hike from Dingle to Anascaul that might have seen me wander up to the Conor Pass if there were better views up there.

The Lake District got some attention for the first time in some years as well. One trip featured both Lingmoor Fell and Loughrigg Fell on a walk that attended to a photographic need as much as using up an idea that had lain in my mind for a few years. That was followed by a reprise of the Fairfield horseshoe, along with an ascent of Helvellyn. All of these enjoyed warm sunshine that allowed many photos to be made.

The same could be said for the major holiday trip of the year, for that took me to Ireland again. Killarney and Cork were the bases for this one. The former allowed me to frequent parts that I had not surveyed for nearly thirty years. There was one all-day stroll that took me around Knockreer Park, Ross Island and Muckross Lake. This was followed by a hike from Kenmare to Killarney that used past of the Kerry Way, with a diversion to the top of Torc Mountain. The Kerry Way also had a part to play in a serendipitous walk that took in the Gap of Dunloe, the Black Valley and the Upper Lake. These were followed by trips to Bantry, Whiddy Island, the Knockmealdown Mountains, Kinsale and Cobh as the weather continued to warm.

There was a return to Scotland too, though luck with the weather was such that a return trip is in mind. Staying in Stirling again would allow the Ochil Hills and Ben Ledi to be revisited. That awaits longer hours of daylight and a favourable weather window. The two trips that I have had already whetted my appetite for a part of Scotland that I either overlooked or surveyed twenty years before.

There was one trip to the Welsh hills too. This took me to the Ogwen Valley for a dramatic day that saw me go over Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr. Eroded slopes were the cause of some adverse comment, but this was a warm, sunny day that offered much. Any plans for descending to Pen y Pass and Llanberis were rejected for time and transportation reasons. Assessing one’s progress often needs a change of route, not that it mattered in this case.

The last Irish trip did not allow more hill wanderings. Time was short, the weather was unfavourable, and other matters needed attention anyway. It was not as if a lot of satisfaction had been given, so I was not put off by this. The temptation might have been unwanted anyway.

The rest of the year saw me grow increasing tired, mostly because of lack of progress with the things that I need to get done. They are spilling into 2023, but that is another year. It remains to be seen how that will go, but trips to Galway and Clare as well as other parts of Europe and North America entice. Only time will tell how things proceed.

A time with little sun around the counties of Galway & Clare

23rd December 2022

2022 became a year when I enjoyed many hikes in Ireland. Even with other things to do, I got out as much as I could. There was a lot of sunshine and some rain too, but the expansion of horizons was beyond my hopes. Another aspect of this was that I could enjoy seeing the country of my birth without feeling guilty. Before, my ventures had felt more like theft, in that I stole in and out of the place. This includes brief saunters around Howth Head and to the top of the Great Sugar Loaf near Kilmacanoge. The reason is that trips to Ireland were always about family, and it felt wrong not to do that. The passing away of my parents and the passage of time since then means that I can move beyond that now.

The seed for the Galway trip was sown one weekend when my father was still around when I was returning to the U.K. It was a fine, sunny Sunday afternoon, and I was tempted to stay on the bus all the way to Galway instead of disembarking at Shannon Airport as planned. The need to be at work the next day, together with a lack of accommodation, put paid to that proposal, so it had to wait.

Galway, Ireland

Looking towards Mutton Island, Galway, Ireland

That vigil lasted until August 2018. By then, inheritance works had settled, a career break has passed, and I was back in work as a freelancer. With those in place, my mind could turn again to longer excursions, and I stole into Galway without telling very many at all. Staying in a hotel about thirty minutes walk from the city was about keeping costs under control, not keeping a low profile. That distance did add peace and quiet, even if there were building works ongoing at the time; it never meant that any excursion from the city became impossible, though catching a regular city bus did speed things up from time to time.

On the day of arrival, I naturally pottered about Galway, especially with the evening becoming brighter. This was one of the sunnier periods during the whole trip, for grey skies were more common. There also was dampness that affected an incursion into Clare as well as the Saturday evening in Galway itself. Saturday itself was spent around Recess and Clifden in Connemara, with low cloud and leaden skies predominant. Sunday then had a grey start, but there was more brightness between Maam Cross and Oughterard, even if having it arrive earlier would have made my surroundings rather magical. On Monday, I ventured to Aran where there was some sunshine after a grey start, though rain showers were about the place at times.

All the dry sunny weather for which many recall 2018 was a passing memory, while the introductions could do with following up should life events allow. There was to be one trip report for the lot until it got too long. Thus, it got split into five other parts, which you will find linked in the preceding paragraph. Along the way, there were some awkward moments to recall, but there was a lot of solo wandering as well. This was the start of Irish hill country incursions that I followed with numerous others this year. Returning to Galway and Clare in better weather remains an unaddressed possibility for now, though.

Travel Arrangements

Getting from Manchester to Galway involved a return flight between Manchester and Knock and a return bus journey between Knock and Galway on Bus Éireann Expressway route 64.

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

20th December 2022

This is the third of four hiking trip reports from an August 2018 stay in Galway that allowed me to venture on day hikes in the counties of Clare and Galway. The first of the four ventured along part of County Clare’s Atlantic Coast, while the second related reconnaissance wanderings around Connemara. There is also an account of a preceding evening stroll around Galway among my Travel Jottings. The last of the lot will describe a day out on the largest of the Aran Islands.

This account is of a day hike between Maam Cross to Oughterard that used a section of the Western Way for much of its route. The night before had been beset with heavy rain, leaving some of the distance in a waterlogged state. That lay in the future on a dry, overcast morning when I caught a bus from Galway to Maam Cross. From there, I started along the R336 towards Leenaun.

There was motor traffic along the road, but it was not oppressive, and someone stopped to ask if I was a local. Whether it was someone who knew me and I might have known at one time remains unknown to me, but I shared what I was about anyway and continued my hike. You do not want to upset anyone, but the passage of time and my being in numerous places along a life journey can mean that you may not recognise people who you should know. The greying and loss of hair are no help for the recognition of old acquaintances either.

Lackavrea, Connemara, Co. Galway, Ireland

Like the previous day, low cloud obscured most summits. That limited views and photographic efforts in what would have been a bewitching location in sunshine and under blue skies. A French family were figuring out where they were going at the point where I joined the Western Way and left the R336 behind me. The ground was boggy underfoot, and I soon started along the longest section of boardwalk that I had met in my entire life.

This led me under the slopes of Lackavrea and through a waterlogged forestry plantation. Owning some forestry land myself, I was stunned to see where this state forestry plantation was sited, for it might not have been approved for a private scheme. It also meant that there was a chance of drowning if you fell off the boardwalk, especially with a hefty rucksack on your back. Careful foot placement was in order because there were places where repairs were needed.

The route shadowed the Forlore River that flows from Loughanillaun to Lough Corrib. It was not a boardwalk all the way and I rested at one point, which allowed the French family to ask the way to Lough Corrib, and I showed them using the ViewRanger app on my phone before leaving them to go on their way. That would have passed where the Forlore and Owenree rivers come together, with Lough Corrib nearby.

This was an enticing spot that had me longing for more sunshine and less greyness. On a bright, sunny day, I might have been rooted to the spot for a good while with all the hills that lay all around me. It was a matter of enjoying things as much as I could before joining the quiet single-track road that would carry the rest of the way into Oughterard. There was even a chance of a lunch stop as well, and I got wished Bon Appétit from another French speaker.

Boats on Lough Corrib, Co. Galway, Ireland

Road hiking is never rated highly by many who enjoy countryside walking because of the hard surface and its unforgiving effects on one’s feet. In Ireland, many Waymarked Ways proceed along this type of surface, and it might be said that Irish boreen walking is a unique experience not found anywhere else. At least, that came to mind during a walk on part of the Dingle Way earlier this year.

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

All the while, the cloud cover was breaking up over my head to allow for spells of sunshine. The sun was getting through with varying levels of success, and this variation was temporal as well. Still, there were moments you could use for added admiration of the surroundings. An All Ireland Hurling Final in which Galway were playing Limerick was ensuring that there was much quietude. Around Slievenavinnoge, though, some were out picking berries from roadside bushes as I was passing. Not everyone was dedicated to supporting their county team that day.

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

There was a side trip to Lough Seecon as well, and quite what made me do this is somewhat lost to me. My guess is that I fancied a little variety, as it was a short break from the road tramping. Timing was on my mind since I did not want to miss a bus connection in Oughterard, with more to walk before I got there. In the end, my fears were completely groundless, as they so often are, and I got the side trip that I fancied.

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

It was quiet around Oughterard when I got there. Galway had lost the game, and Limerick became All-Ireland Hurling Champions for the first time since 1973. They have had a run of such results in recent years, despite or maybe even because of the travails of a global pandemic. After a call to a shop for necessities and some small talk about my walk, I found my way to the banks of the Owenriff River where I enjoyed another food stop, this time in bright sunshine.

After that, the vigil awaiting the next bus to Galway could begin. There was even more time to spend than I could have expected for the Clifden Show traffic was heavy and causing delays. My departure was well late and very full, though I ended up getting a free ride. Someone else missed their intended connection for Dublin and was not best pleased when it left as the Clifden bus was arriving. If this was a Bus Éireann operation, the service to Dublin might have been held, but that is not always the case with private operators who employ drivers born outside of Ireland. Hopefully, she got where she needed to be.

That was left after me as I returned to my hotel following a long day spent in much quietude. Another visit when there is more sunshine would add more delights, but this was a good start. There is a lot around Connemara for a hill wanderer, though trailheads have to be identified and public transport planned. With initial encounters completed, deeper incursions can follow.

Travel Arrangements

Single journeys with Bus Éireann on route 419 from Galway to Maam Cross and with Irish Citylink on route 923 from Oughterard to Galway.

A damp hike along Clare cliff tops

18th December 2022

This report comes from a trip to the counties of Galway and Clare in August 2018. While that year brought a lot of sunshine, this was a fading memory by the time of a stay that was based in Galway city. The autumn was to bring a share of rain that was welcomed by farmers, who otherwise faced a tough end to a year when feeding for livestock was in short supply.

Though there were sunny interludes, grey weather was my lot for much of the time. Given the rather clandestine nature of the escapade (very few knew what I was doing, since I fancied some quiet time to myself in the country of my birth), the juxtaposition of less-than-glorious weather felt like a repudiation of what I was doing. Even so, I made the best of it.

The first full day of the trip came damp, yet that did not deter me from going to Cliffs of Moher and Doolin. The outbound bus journey rounded Galway Bay with a sighting of Dunguaire Castle near Kinvarra before we then continued around by Black Head. On a bright, sunny day, this would have been a glorious journey. Alas, another attempt will be needed for that, and the castle looked inviting too.

What was equally striking was the narrowness of the roads that the bus driver needed to negotiate, especially with ongoing cars. Several buses left Galway at the same time to follow the same route, each one having a different final destination. It seems that Irish summer school holidays allow extra bus services to run, and for existing ones to get capacity improvements. All get withdrawn at the end of summer, when schools reopen for the new academic year.

The bus called to Doolin, so I got to see its calling point for the end of my planned walk. There, most of the passengers appeared to leave too. Once at the Cliffs of Moher, there was a shout for us to pay for our way into the amenity. If I had gone to Lehinch or Liscannor, I wonder if that charge might have been avoided. For a better day, thoughts of walking from either of those to Doolin have their appeal.

Cliffs of Moher, Doolin, Co. Clare, Ireland

Instead, I pottered south as far as the Moher Tower on Hag’s Head before turning back again. Some were edging towards the cliff edge as I suppressed urges to roar at them to get back. Limestone is a slippery rock when wet, so any slippage would have been fatal; it was easy to see why superintendents were using whistles to tell people to stay back. The prospect of a long drop into the cold surf was enough to make me to the landward side of any fencing slabs that were present. Views were restricted by the damp fog and mist, and photography was limited. Only record shots were a possibility.

The way back towards the Visitor Center and O ‘Brien’s Tower often got slowed by those unaccustomed to walking, for these cliffs are world-famous and a must-see on any coaching tour of Ireland. My desire for speed may have intruded on their day, but I got past all of them on what was a narrow path. The way up Branaunmore was misty but well paved, and it was the descent down the other side that held my attention because that was less well surfaced with added exposure as well.

Things got less dramatic once I got past Knockardakin, and I largely had the trail to myself all the way to Doolin, too. The Burren Way briefly took me onto tarmac before returning to field crossing again. The obvious trail stayed back from any edges, so I got to relax a bit more. Largely having things to myself also helped with this as I shortened the distance to Doolin with a castle in view to my right.

The time of arrival meant that I had quite a wait for the next bus. That was used for getting something to eat and to see where boats depart for the Aran Islands and for trips under the Cliffs of Moher. The extra time may have been available because I had just missed a departing bus that I never saw, but there was no let-up on the greyness, even if the dampness had stalled.

There was no mistake made in getting on the next bus to Galway, and it went by a different route. This took us via Lisdoonvarna and gave us a brief stop at Corkscrew Hill to savour the view of Galway Bay below us. From Ballyvaughan, we were going back the way as the outbound bus had gone. Weather does not always work in our favour, so a revisit remains a plausible possibility.

Travel Arrangements

Return bus journey between Galway and Doolin on Bus Éireann service 350.