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!

In times of plummeting mercury

12th November 2009

It had to come as it often does at the start of November. Temperatures fell on a Sunday night after a fairly pleasant day that saw me fail to get out into the open air as I would have liked. What followed it was a day that mixed fine crisp winter sun and typical November misty murkiness. Some may say that it’s still autumn, but the weather feels like winter even if trees retain the last leaves after some stormy interludes. A lunchtime walk had me surveying what’s left of the golden shreds after the Indian summer that came to us in September and October.

Autumn foliage between Hocker Lane and Bradford, Nether Alderley, Cheshire, England

Apart from the chill in the air, November brought us some unsettled weather too and that seems set to continue; we may be in the midst of a lull at the moment but something more dramatic lies ahead of us if forecasters are right, and they are far from infallible. Thus, it is somewhat timely that The New York Times has brought us an article concerned with the avoidance of hibernation. The activity at the heart of it may be running, but the same malady afflicts those who explore the outdoors world so it’s interesting to read another take on the subject, especially given November’s habit of bringing grey murky weather with it.

It is tempting to retreat to virtual explorations on one’s PC when it looks not so alluring out of doors. Nevertheless, that can have its place too and might even result in putting you out over your activation energy barrier to enjoy what abounds at this time of year. In recent weeks, I have been sprucing up old members of my online photo gallery. The ones of Skye are as good as done until I get to add to that collection from a day’s walking over Ben Tianavaig last year. Lochaber has come next for a spot of improvement and Argyll hasn’t escaped either with an old print taken by the shores of Loch Etive seeing an attempt to better it with a new scan and subsequent Photoshop work; there’s a knack in keeping things realistic, a line on the wrong side of which I don’t want to find myself.

The trouble with all this tinkering with old photos and is that it consumes spare time like it’s going out of fashion, so a short session can gobble time that was set aside for other things. That’s what happened to me on Sunday but it has its benefits too. Looking at those old photos reminds you of places where you haven’t been for a while. For instance, I now think of that photo of Loch Etive as a less than sharp specimen and wonder about a return visit. In the past, I have played with the idea of a two-day walk from Taynuilt to Glen Coe or vice versa with an overnight stopover at a bothy. Nothing has come of it so far, but the idea of revisiting Loch Etive and passing along Glen Etive for the first time makes the notion attractive. If the weather was to play ball, then it would be even better.

While on the subject of a wandering mindset, there are places in Lochaber to revisit. Loch Treig and the Grey Corries fit in here and there’s what’s around Corrour too; the idea of disembarking from a Sleeper to walk to Fort William has come to mind from time to time. More civilised spots like Loch Lochy and Loch Arkaig also beckon. Mind you, a spot of bicycle hire might be an idea for the latter pair because progress along the Caledonian Canal as it rounds Meall Bhanabhie can seem so slow as to be infuriating. Still, this is a nice part of the world that should be traffic free and the distances involved make bicycle travel look the more useful. For long-distance travel on foot, there’s the Great Glen Way of which I have sampled only a little and it would take me by Loch Lochy on its way to parts that have yet to host my footfall.

Continuing the theme of exploring pastures new, there’s around Mallaig too with some introductory possibilities from Morar to gain a sense of what lies about there; it is remote country too, replete with possibilities around Loch Morar and Loch Arkaig for the more adventurous. It’s been a few years since I ventured around by these parts while en route from Skye to Oban and the only stops were Mallaig and Glenfinnan. With the options already described and others like Knoydart and the Small Isles within reach, it is perhaps small wonder that the summer excursion that eventually took me to Aviemore could have taken to towards Mallaig instead. In the end, I decided that it was better to try for a time when the weather would have been more suitable for showing off the landscape at its best. Nevertheless, it is good to have such a scheme in mind, for the sake of avoiding indecision if noting else.

Having skirted around it, I suppose that Skye well deserves a longer mention. That walk from Elgol to Sligachan may not get repeated after seeing my surroundings bathed in the sort of light that would have been in order for a week based in Mallaig. However, there are other paths to follow and other parts to savour. Glen Brittle is but one of these and a spot of cycling might be in order given that’s how I got about on my first visit to the island. It’s never any harm to see new sides to an old favourite.

With all of these, what really hits me is how well peering at old photos can act as a muse as well as being an uplifting distraction from any greyness that is about. It is tempting to say that shortening days curtail the possibilities but I am minded to convert the delights of afar into experiencing what lies on my doorstep. Making use of the latter may set me up for heading further afield yet. In a way, it’s amazing what indoor inspiration can achieve so long as you don’t spend all of your time lost in the reverie and fail to get out at all. After all, November isn’t always murky and December’s bright moments should not be missed either.

Midsummer madness can be rewarded

24th June 2009

The past weekend saw me set off on an incursion into Scotland. My arrival at the road end for the White Corries ski centre was in utterly unpromising conditions: continuous rain and low cloud obscuring the tops. Oddly undeterred, I stuck with my original plan to ply the West Highland Way all the way to Kinlochleven only to receive continual encouragement from a steady improvement in the weather; it dried up after King’s House Hotel with light showers continuing until the middle of the day and sun coming out from the clouds for a grand evening. From the top of the Devil’s Staircase, I popped up onto Beinn Bheag and Stob Mhic Martuin before carrying on towards Kinlochleven. Those ascents afforded opportunities to disentangle and put names to the various humps and bumps that surrounded me, a matter that has perplexed me every time that I get to look at photos taken when I was last this way a few years back. Ideas for future hikes have been planted in my mind, too, so the proverbial ideas shelf continues to be replenished.

River Ness and Ness Islands, Inverness, Highlands and Islands, Scotland

Having been forewarned about a sailing event in Fort William, I opted for a night in Inverness instead. Saying that, Fort William didn’t look so overrun while I was there, but my plans were set, and I sat back to see the sights through the coach windows. A Sunday morning stroll changed my view of Inverness from a less than positive one to a more favourable standpoint. The cause of this change of heart was my discovery of the delights of walking by the River Ness and its islands in bright sunshine. My first visit to Inverness was on a cloudy dreich day prone to dampness, never good conditions to see anywhere, and I popped out to Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness without ever venturing around by the Ness islands in the city itself. In some respects, I am amazed by that omission, but it seems that the Great Glen Way isn’t routed that way for nothing. If anything, my time in Inverness on this occasion may have been overly short; after all, I did have a long train journey ahead of me. Even so, the delights of the city displayed themselves so well that they could be translated into the traditional Scottish phrase “Haste Ye Back”.

That may well set things in play for a mental distillation session ahead of my now habitual longer summer break. This year, there isn’t a single silver bullet like the Western Isles became last year and foul weather alternatives are in order too, even with the Met Office’s optimism. There’s nothing for it but to lay out all the possibilities somewhere and assemble something reasonable from them. In the meantime, though, that Lochaber hike commands a longer description, so my intention is that one will appear on here in due course.