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!
Having had a few days to catch up with a few recent issues of TGO, a realisation has popped into my mind: maybe basing myself somewhere on a trip away might allow me to get more from it, especially for those places that take a little longer to get to them. Using Dunoon as a base for exploring Cowal worked very well in 2011 so I need to spend a little time pre-assembling some designs so that they have some hope of becoming reality. Along with the wilder parts of Scotland, Northumberland also comes to mind with the longer travel times needed for getting there and because of my whetting my appetite for its hill country during the summer of 2011. Parts of Wales such as the countryside round about Brecon or the Heart of Wales railway line also come to mind as do the eastern fells of the Lake District in Cumbria and the Cairngorms in Scotland. Methinks that setting aside a little time to think these over might be no bad idea and there others that I could list here too but there are enough mentioned for now.
The end of one year and the beginning of another is as good a time as any to take stock of things. One of these that comes to mind pertains to loose ends outstanding in my hill wandering from the last few years. The biggest of these is the Pennine Way, along which I haven’t walked for a while, and it now looks like multi-day trips are need to add to the mileage already completed. The mention of the Pennine Way also reminds that unused plans exist for walking Derbyshire countryside too, both new and already frequented. Then, there’s the prospect of extending what I have walked of the Rob Roy Way and the perennial desire to savour more of what my home country, Ireland, has to offer the hill wanderer. Those should mean no shortage of trip ideas like what I felt to be the case at the end of 2010, at least until I started to catch up with then unread issues of TGO anyway.
2011 has been a busy year for me and my hope is that 2012 lets me out of doors more often though the future will decide that when it first becomes the present and then the past. After all, there’s hill country near Macclesfield that needs to be revisited and other possibilities may come my way. Unlike the end of 2010 when I felt that I had ran out of ideas, a year later sees me pondering a fair few options as the blog goes into its seventh calendar year although its actual birthday is at the start of May; 2012 will see the sixth one being reached. Any designs that I concoct may not be as grand as those of other folk but having a few of them manage to come to pass will more than do me. Hopefully, 2012 will turn out to be a good outdoors year for you, dear reader, too.
It’s very human to look back at the turn of a year/decade/century/millennium/etc. and, this time last year, I took the opportunity to look over my travels in 2006. In the same vein, I now cast my mind back over the same sort thing but for 2007 instead. If 2006 was to be the year of seeking out pastures new, then 2007 has been a year largely taken up with following long distance trails into country familiar to me from a different angle and, more often than not, into country that I am visiting for the first time.
2007 was to start quietly with only one walking excursion in January. The weather didn’t tempt but for day when I went to Chirk for a trek to Llangollen that saw me hop over and back along the Wales-England border before picking up a small piece of the Offa’s Dyke Path and leaving that to get to Llangollen before nightfall. It was a case of something old, something new and put an idea into my head that laid the foundations for a walk later in the year. The long distance trail ethic that was to pervade my walking in 2007 had made an early appearance.
February built up the long distance trail trend with my exploring two trails. First up was the Pennine Way with a hike from Hebden Bridge to Littleborough giving me a feel for the moors above Calderdale. Walks along the Pennine Way, still unfinished business in 2008, were to pervade my outings until the end of April. My second excursion took me up to Scotland for the southernmost part of the West Highland Way: Milngavie to Drymen. This was also a case of going into countryside new to me and, like the Calderdale trot, it was to give rise to more excursions later on.
The Pennine Way hiking continued in March and it started again early in the month with a trek that saw me return to Calderdale for a walk from Todmorden to Burnley by way of both the Pennine Way and the Pennine Bridleway. This was followed up at the end of the month when I yomped from Haworth to Burnley.
My Pennine wanderings were set to continue in April and the first one plugged a gap in the itinerary from Edale to Haworth: Marsden to Littleborough via Wessenden Reservoir. It was to prove a claggy day until lunchtime, something that very much focussed the mind when it came to navigation. My next day along the Pennine Way was in clearer if blustery conditions. It also was to take me through some of the best countryside on the Pennine Way as I voyaged from Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Hawes. Rain was to beset me on my next excursion as I left Malham Tarn to head for Gargrave but I left the rain after me in Malham and things cheered up immeasurably as I was nearing my destination for the day. Those two excursions left a gap that was filled on a tramp from Malham Tarn over Fountains Fell and Pen-y-Ghent to Horton on a day that when it felt like summer.
I started May with another trip blessed by fair weather. After years of admiring it, I finally made my way up to the top of Skiddaw. Some may view the manicured lines of the "tourist track" that I followed as dull, I’d rather not scare myself with descents that are too steep so I well appreciated its gentler approach and I still found time to take in Little Man and Lattrigg as well. Next up in May was a trip that my memory reckons happened in July; it’s just as well that I have this blog! I made my return to Chirk for another stroll along the Offa’s Dyke Path, this time to Oswestry. Cloud predominated on the day so photographic opportunities were rare. Even so, it didn’t stop my having a good walk in countryside that was new to me. If I had more time, I would have dawdled more so it might time for a return. In walking terms, the month of May went out with a bang: a two day trek on the West Highland Way along the banks of Loch Lomond with an overnight stay in Rowardennan. I very much took a chance with the weather on this one but Scotland didn’t let me down on what is for me one of the finest stretches of the WHW.
June was to be a quieter month with regard to walking and the long evenings were allowing me to get out in the part of Cheshire’s hill country that is near me. These outings were to become a feature of the "summer". June soon became a sodden affair but I still returned to Rhinog country for a creditable stroll through a landscape that was anything but dry. The weather that we were getting was a foretaste of what was to come, making 2007 a year of two halves: one fabulous and one that returned us to reality. Alan Sloman was lucky to complete his LEJOG when he did.
July was for many a washout but I managed to get two decent Lakeland excursions out of the month. Both involved my heading to Windermere with the first being an over and back hike to Kentmere and the second being a trek to Staveley via Kentmere. On both outings, I enjoyed the fine scenery in excellent weather, something that must sound ironic to those sodden by the floods of 2007. Yes, water had accumulated underfoot but the worst difficulties, if any, were avoidable.
August saw me finishing two long distance trails and starting on another one. The first to be completed was the West Highland Way and that happened on my now habitual summertime stay in Scotland. That saw me complete of perhaps the noisiest stretch of the trail: that between Bridge of Orchy and Inverarnan and with some sun to enliven the views too. The other walking that I did during that trip was a soggy reconnaissance trip among the hills near Kinlochleven. The other trail completed was one passing not far from where I live: the Gritstone Trail. Hikes from Macclesfield to Congleton and from Eaton to Kidsgrove in pleasant conditions allowed me to bring my walking of the trail towards a good end. A final evening stroll was sufficient for me to walk the final short stretch around Bollington before I then walked home to my house. The bank holiday weekend at the end of the month allowed me the opportunity to start off the Rob Roy Way by walking from Drymen to Callander with an overnight stay in Aberfoyle. This got me into nice countryside that I hadn’t visited before and it seems more than worthy of a return.
After what must sound like a bountiful August, hillwalking activities were less prevalent for the rest of the year, even if I had planned not to have things slow down. September and November stand out as months when you could have said that I had gone into hibernation. October saw me head out for a local constitutional to take in the Autumn colour, follow streams in local hill country and visit the South Pennines for a hike lacking in any real progress on completing the missing link in my Pennine Way journey so far. In December, I decided to vanquish any sense of hibernation by another wander among the hills lining the Cheshire-Derbyshire border followed up by a fleeting unintended visit to the hill country of the Long Mynd near Church Stretton.
All in all, 2007 was another good walking year for me. Unless you lost out in the flooding (and I don’t envy anyone who did: hope it all works out all right for them), it would be a travesty to remember 2007 for its sodden summer when we had so much clement weather earlier in the year. As it happens, the continual greyness that pervaded nearly all of 2004 remains with me with 2007’s bright spots easily cause me to forget any grey bits. The proverbial question of what 2008 will bring does raise its head as it is wont to do; so also is the realisation that the future is not ours to see (we’re probably better off!). I never go in for big plans anyway but that doesn’t stop me having ideas in my mind for when the opportunities to explore them arise. We’ll see what happens…
Having dispatched my musings on the West Highland Way, I can now recount my wanderings on the last weekend in August, a bank holiday in England but not Scotland; they, like Éire, get theirs at the start of August. A Saturday free of driving lessons meant that an excursion was very likely so I returned to Scotland when I saw a promising forecast.
Saturday, though, was not to be the best so I chose that day for travelling. Everything was going hunky dory until I took a tumble in Dumbarton East train station and felt the worst for wear afterwards. I got to my hotel for the night and took it easier from then on. It had been a good train journey all of the way from Macclesfield, with changes in Lancaster, Manchester and Glasgow. The change in Glasgow allowed me to get a new Explorer 365 after its predecessor had somehow managed to disappear. My maps don’t usually do things like that but it was fortuitous in the sense that the Rob Roy Way is shown in it these days.
The sun made fleeting appearances while I was in Dumbarton but I wasn’t to make much use of my camera there. The nearby castle looked promising as did the Kilpatrick hills. A return sounds a good idea and I’ll watch how I go in train stations around there. Sunday saw me leave for Balloch where I caught a bus to Drymen for the start of my walk.
It was just as well, given my tumble, that I had chosen part of the less challenging Rob Roy Way as the route for my weekend stroll. I had designs on heading to Balmaha and starting from there and rounding Conic Hill but I dropped this idea because my start was later than originally intended. From Drymen, the RRW follows the old Gartmore Road for three and a half miles (5.6 km) before it heads west to Aberfoyle through Loch Ard Forest, where the trail is usefully waymarked. Views of the Campsie Fells were plentiful and there were glimpses of Ben Lomond to be had too. I am usually not a fan of road walking but the road was quiet and I appreciating the easier going. Having to remain alert for cars is my main reason for disliking road walks. Once off the road, northward views opened up with the Menteith Hills being among what was to be seen. The tarmac was lost too along with any sights of pylons and it was all pleasant stuff. I made decent progress even with carrying a heavy rucksack and I polished off the ten mile walk in five hours to reach a sun drenched Aberfoyle; cloud abounded so the sun wasn’t out all of the time.
For the evening, I settled myself in an Aberfoyle guest house before going on a stroll to and from Loch Ard itself. Surprisingly, I wasn’t feeling the effects of my endeavours and so enjoyed my walk along the quite road, which lead all of the way to Inversnaid on the shores of Loch Lomond. The sun was playing hard to get but some photographic opportunities did present themselves and I did my best with them. When I got back to the guest house, road workers from the council were proceeding with road repairs that were to continue all night, much to the annoyance of other guests at my lodgings. I suffered no such inconvenience, though, but I was extra careful when passing lorries, dumpers and other such carriageway maintenance machinery.
The next morning began promisingly. The sun was out and it wasn’t overly hot either, a feature of the whole weekend; walking and hot weather are not made for each other. I encountered some Americans at breakfast who were wondering what bank holidays and speed cameras were. I satisfied their curiosity before they were continue their way on a holiday that was to lead them to Ireland’s mid and south west. As I finished my breakfast, children were making their way to school. It was a normal Scottish weekday.
I took my leave of the guest house to follow the RRW to Callander. It was 10:00 by the time that I began to make progress away from Aberfoyle; this always seems to happen me on these trips: I leave somewhere later than I would have liked. From Aberfoyle, it was on to Dounan’s Centre and into more forestry; more RRW waymarks were there to resolve any confusion. Views of the Campsies and towards Ben Lomond still pervaded as I headed along the Menteith Hills. The forestry track turned into a path that was to take me through open with splendid views before me lit up by the sun. It was after an unnamed lochan that I again found myself with forestry track underfoot. That track was to drop me down to the shores of Loch Vennacher with views of Ben Ledi percolating through the trees.
Sadly, cloud predominated while I was walking by Loch Vennacher so the sun was nowhere to be seen. Still, the scenery looked glorious and I must return when the sun is unencumbered by cloud. The Trossachs proper were further west and a busy A821 could be heard though it wasn’t to be that intrusive. It remained cloudy as I bashed more tarmac to arrive in Callander at 15:00; I had made good time and put three miles behind me in an hour without too much effort.
Callander was the end of my walking for the weekend and I caught a bus from there to Stirling. It started to rain as I left: some sort of pathetic fallacy perhaps? At Stirling train station, I was in something of a dilemma regarding the next stage of my journey: was I going by Edinburgh or Glasgow? It should have been a no brainer; I had a return ticket from Macclesfield to Glasgow. Being overcautious me, I had to double check things before plumping for Glasgow. I made it to Queen Street station shortly after 17:20 and hot footed it to Central station in a pleasing 10 minutes. I’ll keep that in mind for the future. I hopped on the 17:40 departure for London Euston and was home by 22:30, having changed in Preston and Manchester on the way south. It was a good trip into countryside where I hadn’t been before and I hope to return.
I have finished adding photos from my break in Highland Perthshire last July. Initially, I thought that I wouldn’t have enough photos to share, so a gallery amalgamation resulted. The new section has the Perthshire photos but also includes the previous section that I had devoted to Loch Tay and the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. It’s all built on the scaffolding of the Rob Roy Way and, if I ever get to explore that trail a bit more, there should be more photos from areas that I have not visited a great deal. And for all my fears, that visit to Perthshire yielded a good number of new pictures…
I mentioned Rucksack Readers in an earlier post but I thought that I’d say a bit more about them. They offer a range of guidebooks covering trails in Scotland, Ireland and beyond. The idea is that you carry them in your rucksack while out on the trail. Consequently, they are waterproof and lightweight. Added bonuses are the inclusion of mapping and the ability to fold the guidebooks flat. Their Irish range includes: Dingle Way, Kerry Way and Wicklow Way. Apart from maybe the Dingle Way, I had heard of these and the guides are a welcome addition to the market. But it was the Scottish range that alerted me to some trails about which I had known nothing: Cateran Trail and Kintyre Way. Otherwise, stalwarts such as the West Highland Way and Great Glen Way are covered as are the Rob Roy Way and the Speyside Way. Going further afield, treks in Europe, Asia and South America get are featured.