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.

Rekindling thirty year old connections

20th August 2022

After a break of more than three years, I finally experienced a summer getaway from my usual home turf. Rather than heading across the Atlantic as I did in 2019, I returned to the country of my birth to spend some time around Ireland’s south and southwest.

There was a lot of hiking and the weather essentially obliged much as it did on my Western Isles escapade in 2008. My time around Killarney did see some clouded skies and the occasional light rain shower but there were spells of sunshine too. The rest of the time saw near-constant sunshine with associated heat that might have limited my strolling but for an inbuilt determination to keep exploring. The timing of my return was near impeccable because even hotter temperatures were to come and they might have curtailed activities a great deal.

The days around Killarney were long ones that made up for disappointments earlier in the year while they also allowed me to follow up on residual inspiration from those encounters. The first day had me traipsing through Knockreer Park to reach Ross Castle where the nearby peninsula of Ross Island used up a bit of my time. From there, I continued to Muckross Abbey and Muckross House from where I was lured into completing a circuit of Muckross Lake before returning to my accommodation again. Sunshine came and went but there were enough interludes to allow some photographic efforts on my part.

The same could be said for the hike from Kenmare to Killarney that followed part of the Kerry Way. That was inspired by an otherwise unexceptional into Killarney from a damper Tralee when I ascended Torc Mountain when it was beset with a low cloud base. The sight of a track going into the distance was enough to get me inspired and a later bus departure did nothing to stop me. The ascent to the saddle between Peakeen Mountain and Knockanaguish was near constant but the scenic rewards were plentiful. The same could be said for what lay beyond on the way by Windy Gap and a lunch stop was in order to make the most of it. There was an ascent for tiring legs for passage by Cromaglan Mountain on a rough path. Torc Mountian was the next landmark and I could not forego an ascent in clear conditions. Sunshine may have been occasional on the day but extra lighting was there so often that I could not complain and some shortcuts were taken on the return to Killarney that made me wonder at my lack of attention while passing through the Muckross estate. That might have more to do with how fatigued I felt at the time.

The next day was to be a less intensive day involving an out and back walk into the Gap of Dunloe from Beaufort Bridge with a return bus journey to lessen the walking. Skies were clouded but I persevered in hope that was not in vain. The head of the gap was reached at a good time for returning to the bus stop again but even a passing shower could not stop me from dropping into the Black Valley with lighter footwear than might have been best for what was to come. The rewards were such that I do not regret what I did for this was revisiting some countryside that I only got to see from a car bound for my two parents’ home after a long driving trip. Then, there were stories from short breaks that they enjoyed in the area so my actions may have been inevitable. The Kerry Way again guided my steps for I passed Lord Brandon’s Cottage and the Upper Lake in surroundings that felt quite wild. After Derrycunihy, I was set to retracing steps from the day before without the ascent of Torc Mountain. There was time for a food stop near a quiet cascade and I chanced passing Torc Waterfall too even if there were more people there than I might have expected. Passage by Muckross House and Muckross Friary was enlivened by evening sunshine and the same could be said for the rest of a hike that left me less tired than I might have expected. A visit to Tomies Wood might have ensured the shorter day that I had in mind but I was missed out on so much if I did. That and O’ Sullivan’s Cascade get left for another time but that is no bad thing.

The next morning saw me revisit Knockreer Park before onward travel to Cork city where I would base myself for the remainder of the trip. Travelling forced a quieter day on me before taking up things again with a day trip to Bantry that featured some time spent strolling around Whiddy Island and enjoying its views of the Beara and Sheep’s Head peninsulas. Thoughts of time spent around Glengarriff and Castletown Bearhaven may inspire me for any future trips since outrageously long day driving tours did pass those. The Beara peninsula also features vantage points like the Healy Pass and there are islands like Beare and Dursey for some offshore walking too. There is much in the area and a gift of some good weather would help greatly too.

Inland wanderings in the Knockmealdown Mountains gained me wide views not only of those summits but also those of the Galtee Mountains and there might have been a glimpse of the Comeragh Mountains too. This is quiet countryside and I relished the empty hillsides around Knockshanahullion near Clogheen. Sugarloaf Hill and Knockmealdown may have been more attractive to those seeking more height but I was happy to admire them and avoid the crowds. There may have been no sighting of The Vee for me but any tree covered offered shelter from the heat and I was back in Clogheen to catch the last bus of the day to Cork. In addition to the hill wandering there was another reason for my interest in the area since my father wrote an essay on martyred priest Fr. Nicholas Sheehy who ministered in the area and was hanged in Clonmel on false charges. His remains rest in nearby Shanrahan Cemetary and there are monuments to his memory both there and in front of Clogheen parish church.

My last full day of the trip dedicated to wandering saw me spend more time around Kinsale than I expected. The cause was coastal walking between and around two old military forts. Of these, James Fort was the first and needed a circuitous amble to get there because it was across the harbour from Kinsale town. Charles Fort may have been nearer the town but did not feel that way in the afternoon heat and I was lured along the coast by a good path to extend the walk. Damien Enright’s guidebook did some good service when it came to adding information and inspiration. The return to Cork may have been in warm weather but I could not be stopped from wandering an old university alma mater of mine and it has changed a bit since I was a student there. A quick rendezvous with Cobh ensued before I was content to leave things at that for the day. Blarney Castle might have been another prospect but that needs to wait.

All in all, this was a trip that allowed for so much to be done. There are some loose ends but they do not weigh on me at all. If anything, there was what felt like a sense of closure and reconnection that may open up other parts of Ireland for visits. The extra sense of connection now reduces my self-repudiation for not seeing my home country and adds to a sense of meaning in anything I read about its areas of hill country since they will not feel so alien to me now.

It was good too to again frequent parts where I had been with my parents, albeit in a different way. Going on foot really slows you down enough for a landscape to seep into you and any ambiences to become embedded in your memory. Doing the same with places in Clare, Galway, Mayo, Donegal, Down and Wicklow would build on this but no one knows what a future can bring.

Unleashed yet reassociated

19th August 2022

Every time that there has been a royal jubilee while I have lived in the U.K., I have not been in England for it. The chance of a double bank holiday weekend is enough to make me think of getting away from home for a while. 2002 saw me spending time in Edinburgh while 2012 saw me heading to Pitlochry and Highland Perthshire. While such pageantry has never been my thing, it really is not the case these days after political events during the past ten years.

That set the scene for a real escape from Britain so I ended up in Ireland. There was the added motivation of my needing to do a few things over there as well. My base this time around may have been Tralee but Killarney was in my sights after a cloudy afternoon in April downed my spirits after a sunny morning. In hindsight, it was just as well that I had not stayed there for the place was thronged with bikers attending BikerFest but that was a later discovery.

After a day spent meeting people in West Limerick, there was time for exploring newer horizons before attending to necessary matters. With the Dingle peninsula on Tralee’s doorstep, that perhaps was unavoidable and a sunny afternoon saw me lured along the Dingle Way as far as Camp before returning again by bus. Before all that, some morning sunshine brightened up the town’s park so some camera work ensued after days of sunshine struggling through heavy cloud cover. The windmill at Blennerville was another sight to savour as I discovered that Tralee has a ship canal even if it only sees use for leisure pursuits these days. When I finally entered hill country, I was still decided on an out and back walk but the glorious afternoon lighting of the scenery was enough to disabuse me of such a notion. It proved not to be a move to regret.

The next day came cloudy with afternoon rain but I still got as far as walking along the ship canal tow path before the rain came. Business phone calls and other plotting occupied me while the weather was inclement and the following morning need some more of the same before the advent of afternoon sunshine drew me to Dingle. From there, I was drawn out on a circuit using parts of the Dingle Way and Siúlóid Cholmáin as I ventured as far as Ventry and back. It made me cast my mind back to another royal occasion when my aunt and late mother ventured as far as Dingle on what was a cloudy day and the road felt as if it would keep rising forever. My brother was painting the kitchen at home with the wedding of Charles and Diana on television. Dingle did not seem to impress my mother but it possibly was more of a fishing port back then. Coastline, sandy beaches and mountain scenery were more to her liking and I do seem to recall the mention of Inch while I wonder what they might have made of Ventry if they had got that far. The beach there is large with a lifeguard on duty but my sights really were on hills like Brandon and what lay across Dingle Bay. Being able to glimpse the Skelligs in the distance was an added bonus. Mapping make-believe waylaid me on the way back to Dingle but I made the bus back to Tralee with minutes to spare after a glorious afternoon.

The Irish June bank holiday weekend was not to be blessed with sunny weather so Saturday saw me embarking on a circuit near Tralee. Though still under construction, the completed part of the Tralee to Fenit Greenway got me started. Being a bit sleepy and not realising that I was crossing the busy road to Ballyheigue, Ardfert and other parts of North Kerry got nearer to a moving car than I would have liked. thankfully, they paused to let the distracted wanderer pass. Curiosity about building progress led me along that road to see what was happening to the greenway before I retreated to quieter roads near silage making and golfing. Leaving those near Spa, I then followed the coast using the North Kerry Way until I reached the ship canal again. Breaks in cloud cover persisted to allow some sun before that eventually was lost. A local rowing club was out training in the canal with an observer on a bicycle that was not an aid to uninhibited strolling before the rowers really got moving. Then, it was back into Tralee where dry weather and some sunny persisted later into the afternoon. One might have considered that the weather forecast was wrong but it sadly was not. We were facing into what might be called a “fine dirty” or “nasty” evening in rural Irish parlance.

Oddly, the wet weather was coming from the east and not the west so figuring out drier places to be for the last two full days of the trip was to be challenging. The penultimate of these took me to Killarney where I reached the top of Torc Mountain, where some low cloud cover obstructed the views and I started to consider the possibility of walking from Kenmare to Killarney along the Kerry way but that needed to wait. The location that I reached still was an oasis of calm compared to Killarney town itself since there was a crowd of people in the place attending the aforementioned BikerFest. Muckross was similarly unaffected even if the throaty rumble of bike engines was to be heard as their riders went towards Moll’s Gap. Some seem so fascinated by the idea of filling quiet places with a racket that others like me wonder at them since we so value the calm. Seeking that led me away from Muckross Road to reach Knockreer Park on the way to the town’s train station. The rain finally caught up with me at this point but I had snatched drier interludes from a day that did not promise much.

The following day was similarly troubled yet I headed to dingle, reputed as one of the wettest places in Ireland. What was to get me wet on the way to Annascaul was a fine mist. Even so, I might have been tempted to make for the Conor Pass but for the lack of any view. Thankfully, the day dried with the passage of time but not before my imagination conjured up images of Mananan mac Lir enjoying a late lie in among the Kerry mountain shower bed. While sunshine weakly broke through at times, the greyness prevailed while I noted that boreen walking possibly is unique to Ireland on a day when such whimsical thoughts kept entering my mind. The dry weather was lost while I awaited a bus in Annascaul, one time home to Antarctic explorer Tom Crean, but I remained glad that I had not tried walking from there to Camp. The scenery may have been more majestic but it really needs to be seen in better weather. Such are ideas for future visits.

A look back at 2008 Part 2: Until Midsummer

16th January 2009

While 2009 has yet to see its first proper hill outing of the year for me, I have to say that anyone who doesn’t make the most of the first half of any year is missing out on something special. It is nice to think that everything is on the up and your next outing could be more wonderful than the last. You are less likely to be overrun by hoards too and there’s much to admire from the skeletal forms of the trees to the way that fine landscape is enlivened by the gentler light. I can see some being put out by such things as the shortness of the days or the lingering feel of winter but I see wonder in these too and it allows one to be ready for the annual crescendo that is April, May and even June. After that, I feel that the year passes its peak and regard the traditional summer holiday months of July and August as being ill-timed but that means that we are more likely to have things to ourselves, never a bad thing. Here’s how the first half of 2008 fared.

January

Casting my mind back to January, I remember expressing an inclination to stay home when the weather wasn’t so inviting. What had been a tactical device for ensuring that necessary life chores got done had developed a less than desirable side effect: being too choosy about when to go walking among those wonderful hills. A sunny Sunday at the start of the month drew me out on a cycle between Macclesfield and Leek with a diversion round by the Roaches on the way back. It was a good start to the year and I followed it up by strengthening my resolve in order to head to Leek for a circular walk through Staffordshire’s muddy moorlands (encountering clay was rather apt given the county’s fame for pottery production) that took me over Hen Cloud. The need for inner strength was prompted by greyness of skies earlier in the day but that soon evaporated to uncloak blue skies and unleash the sun to do its magic, a sort of reward for my endeavours.

February

That "get out there regardless of everything but personal safety and other much more important things" mentality was to serve me well in February. When a dusting of snow presented itself, I was off to Northumberland to explore more of the hills near Wooler. There was an ample coating of powder dry snow about and that both enlivened the views and brought out a little of the inner child in mind as I bobbed downhill on my return to Wooler. The middle of the month saw that replaced by a settle spell of glorious if nippy weather that allowed me to narrow the gap between Haworth and Gargrave in my Pennine Way hiking project. In line with the "bag-of-nails" approach that I have been adapting, a southbound walk from Gargrave to Lothersdale came first with a northbound hike from Haworth to Ickornshaw following it. The narrow gap between Ickornshaw and Lothersdale remains a possible irritation but it’s also another excuse to revisit those parts, even if public footpath signposting isn’t what it might be. The end of the month saw me undertake my visit outing of the year in Scotland with a wander through the countryside by Tarbet and Arrochar. I needed my new found resolve as the showers started to gang up on me with the ageing of the day; it was certainly good weather for any frogs that I saw.

March

In contrast to February, March was a much quieter month when it came to exploring the outdoors. A heavy flu was partly to blame for that but I felt a need to clear out some physical and mental clutter too, an activity that kept me busy over the early and white Easter. The latter fact should have drawn me out because a good walk is often good for garbage clearance but I ended up looking out at the Maxonian (that’s to Macclesfield what Mancunian is to Manchester) hills instead.

April

April’s two excursions mean that I was among hills instead of looking at them from afar. The first of these saw me traipse along part of the Offa’s Dyke Path near Knighton on a day that had me frequenting both Powys in Wales and Shropshire in England. I even dropped in on Church Stretton on the way home for a short sortie that preceded a heavy shower. Another weekend trip to Scotland followed with my exploring around the villages of Glencoe and Kinlochleven. The weather couldn’t have been better and snow still lay on the mountain tops though I remained at lower levels. On the way home, I began to feel that I had seen enough of the pervading browns of the hills for one sitting.

May

May made another good month for wandering through open hill country and its being topped and tailed by bank holidays surely helped. The first of these saw me exploring Teesdale on a grey if dry day with sun struggling to make any headway through the cloud cover. Even so, I got taken along another part of the Pennine Way and it made for a good day out. The next day was a damp affair so my next trip took advantage of the fact that normal weekday train services run on a bank holiday to get to Bethesda in North Wales for what turned out to be a linear hike to Bangor by way of the foothills of the Carneddau and the North Wales Path. Cloud broke to release the sun even if sea fog somewhat curtailed the sunshine later on in my walk. Another Welsh outing followed with my planned walk near Dolwyddelan being displaced by an out and back hike from Dolgarrog to Llyn Eigiau due to transport misinformation. It didn’t matter because a good day of walking followed anyway. Scotland surprised me with perfect weather for the second bank holiday weekend of the month, so much so that I was barely ready to take full advantage of what was offer and I left for home with a certain amount of regret. That’s not to say that a good tramp from Inverarnan to Dalmally or a few hours spent on Kerrera wasted the time that I had but I would have preferred more extensive planning than was done. If I had known what was ahead of me, I might have booked some time off from work and made a longer weekend of it. Having Monday would have avoided the bank holiday traffic and allowed for some very enjoyable walking too. Maybe the weather forecasters were so taken up by what was coming to England that they forgot Scotland…

June

June started well with a walk along the Cumbria Way through Langstrath on my way from Borrowdale into Great Langdale. Though I had glimpsed the Langdale Pikes from afar, this was to be my first visit to Great Langdale and, though cloud got to obscure the sun as the day wore on, a return to these wondrous parts remains in order. A primarily social visit to Ireland followed with my only snatching short strolls on a visit to Killarney on a damp day. Nevertheless, the sight of Torc waterfall retained its appeal and I was sorely tempted by the idea of going further along the Kerry Way.

Not a bad weekend…

15th June 2008

It’s the sort of one where I might have been off somewhere braving the threat of showers. However, a bout of flu picked up last weekend in Ireland has meant that staying at home has been the most sensible option. Still, getting grounded with sunny skies outside does wonders for the outdoors enthusiasm, never a bad thing. For one thing, it allows ideas for excursions to foment and the same could be said for that weekend in Ireland.

Regular visitors will know that my native Ireland has never played host to a proper hillwalking outing of mine to date and that I am always wanting to change that, even if plans have never come to fruition to date. Last weekend’s outing to Killarney was as strong a reminder of that as any. It was anything but my typical outing with it involving a lot of driving and I doing it. My people are not big into walking but I still managed to get a stroll lasting up to two hours out of the day.

This part of Kerry plays host to a goodly amount of quality hill country and there’s a very tempting long distance trail that threads its way though a lot of it: the Kerry Way. As it happened, my short walk wandered along part of the said trail as I plied my way from Muckross House to Torc Waterfall and back again. The day was a grey one, damp at times, but the scenery was nonetheless wonderful; if we had the weather of preceding and subsequent days, then the appearance of the surrounding landscape would have been next to peerless. I had to leave the tempting track of the old Kenmare road after me or those with me might have been wondering what happened to me on my brief escape. The wander was a good taster and I must sort out that proper Irish hillwalking trip…

Torc Waterfall, Killarney, Co. Kerry, Éire