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!

An irritating week around Argyll and Lochaber

24th May 2017

Sometimes, my trips to Scotland do not work out how I want them to do. Even with all the watching of the progress of the jet stream, that was how it was in 2003. Unlike 2002, I brought my week in Scotland forward from the end of August to the end of July. It would have been a week earlier but I did not want to clash with someone else’s holiday plans. Putting your work first can have its drawbacks.

In hindsight, waiting an extra week would have been the better outcome because I returned home with sights of sunshine on Lakeland Fells. Further visits to Cumbria in an effort to dispel any irritation but it took a Summer Bank Holiday weekend around Fort William to truly put my poor run of luck behind me.

My journey from home to Oban still was made in hope and it took me around by Edinburgh where I spent a little while before continuing on my way. The cause was my inability to catch an onward connection in Glasgow because of the late running of an earlier train.

The following day came dull and eventually turned to rain but I fitted in a walk from Oban to Taynuilt by way of Glen Lonan before the dampness arrived. My lot was road walking but it still got me out into Scottish countryside so it was a good start. The wet evening allowed for some shopping around Oban and maybe some thoughts of what I would do next.

For what turned out to be the best day of the week, I returned to Taynuilt for an out an back walk along the shores of Loch Etive. Unlike the previous November’s stroll with mates from Edinburgh, I was set to continue beyond Glen Noe to reach the foot of Glen Kinglass and go a little further along before starting to retrace my steps again. The day was sunny so I was making photos with what I thought to be a full complement of colour camera film. What I later found is that not all the allocation came with me so I was left with a shortage during the best time of the day. In spite of this irritation, it is the utter peace of my turning point that stays with me as much as the sights that I saw. There have been further return visits since then with August 2014 being the most recent one. That photographic oversight has been well overshadowed since then and the lesson has not been forgotten.

What I did next now sounds a bit foolish given what I knew about the need for northward movement of the jet stream. Instead of finding somewhere else to be around Argyll, I continued north to Lochaber for what turned out to be a series of soakings. Any efforts to make contact with a friend in Edinburgh regarding alternative arrangements proved fruitless so I stayed a few nights in Banavie instead. Being a few miles away from Fort William meant that the any poor fortune with a spell of wet weather resulted in my needing to dry out afterwards. You hardly can have enough clothes with you when this happens repeatedly.

Still, the rain cleared enough on my arrival in Lochaber to allow me to head into Glen Nevis to find the path leading to Cow Hill that became the basis for a longer walk. Friday was drier if devoid of sunshine yet I returned to Kinlochleven for another taste of the West Highland Way. This time, my course took me north through Lairig Mor to Glen Nevis. Even without a sunny day, the scenery was stunning and seeing it again became an excuse for my return around a month later. Though the trail is a popular one and the location is among its high points, this was a quiet day to be sampling it with hardly a soul passing the way. That might have had something to do with the weather of that week.

Saturday saw me head into Glen Nevis again. This time, I caught the bus to get me there faster and I pottered in beyond the car park. My lot was boggy ground and heavy rain showers but the surroundings would have looked stunning in better weather. Constant hope continued to drive me in spite of my poor fortune so any glimmer of sunshine on the way back to Fort William was enough to see me reach for my camera.

Thinking about this disappointing episode now makes me realise that my attentions veered elsewhere and that some of these spots need revisiting. A walk taking in Cow Hill in pleasant weather would complement one going deeper into Glen Nevis than I ever have gone before. Maybe I should not be devoid of inspiration for future explorations on a longer stay in Fort William after all. Other possibilities come to mind but I will restrain myself here in case I repeat those described elsewhere.

Travel Arrangements

Train travel from Macclesfield to Oban, from Taynuilt to Oban and from Fort William to Macclesfield. Coach service 918 from Oban to Fort William. Bus service 44 from Fort William to Kinlochleven.

A day spent around Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste

19th April 2015

My first memory of passing through Glen Coe dates from May 1998. It was Scottish Cup Final day and Heart of Midlothian won the match. My mind was on other things and I was making my first-ever trip to Fort William. It was not the sight of Rannoch Moor that stays with but that of seeing mountains emerge from the surrounding near level ground. At the time, it both gobsmacked and mesmerised me with the splendid sunshine falling on these marvels. In all my years in Ireland, I had not come across anything like this sight and I likened up to an upside egg carton. The analogy still remains with me now and my experience was a powerful next step from occasional incursions into Highland Perthshire that exposed me to what lies around Loch Tay. The way that the Tarmachan ridge extends and the shape of Ben Lawers were nothing like their western counterparts. In fact, they were more like MacGillycuddy’s Reeks in profile and I had glimpsed those a good few times thanks to my parents’ escapades.

For all the wonder of Glen Coe, it is striking that my visits to this part of Scotland have not been as frequent as those to other places. That now seems a travesty when I come to think just how many times that I passed along the A82 that goes right along the glen. Maybe it has been a payback that I did not have so much look whenever walking trips did take me there on foot. The first of these was a trot south from Kinlochleven along the West Highland Way on a day in August 2002 when clouds gradually hijacked the sky. The evening before had been spent in Glen Nevis so I was not offering any complaint.

It amazes me now to think that I played with the idea of going from Kingshouse Hotel to Kinlochleven via Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste on a day that was as warm as the one on which I was planning a walk from the head of Glen Coe; this was during July 2013 when a heatwave came our way. However, there was another person who alighted near Kingshouse Hotel who had it in mind to walk from there to Glencoe village. It certainly would make for a lovely walk if it existed, apart perhaps from any hubbub of road traffic along the A82. As things stand, the National Trust for Scotland has been improving things near the aforementioned village so it might be a thought for the future.

Buachaille Etive Mor, Glen Coe, Lochaber, Scotland

It did not take long for the few of us who got off the coach to disperse and go our separate ways. My choice of route was to ensure that there was plenty of undisturbed peace coming my way for the rest of the day. Some may find the expanse of Scotland’s Highlands intimidating but they do offer plenty of spaces where life’s hustle and bustle can feel very far away indeed and that is what makes them so special for me. Even on the walk in from the A82 to Kingshouse Hotel did not feel so crowded and this was along a snippet of the West Highland Way too. That left me with plenty of opportunities to stop and take in the views that surrounded me and Buachaille Etiive Mor especially drew my photographic attention even though I had seen it loads of times in other people’s photos.  Sometimes, there is never any harm in having a memento of your own to have afterwards and everyone gets different weather and lighting too.

Later, I left the West Highland Way after me beyond the hotel, and made my day even quieter than it had been up to then. In fact, it was to be a good few hours spent with hardly a soul going my way and a bit of peace and quiet immersed in glorious scenery was just the tonic for me. First, I went a little along the track towards the Black Corries Lodge before leaving it to follow Allt a’ Bhalaich uphill towards Coire Bhalaich. Though the steep south-western slopes of Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste would have offered a way up to its summit, I chose to continue towards the bealach between it and nearby Meall Bhalach. Though the day was growing even hotter, there was a cooling breeze that counteracted the growing heat, so my slow steady progress over trackless ground was pleasant enough. Of course, the surrounding views helped too.

Blackwater Reservoir from Beinn a' Chrùlaiste, Glencoe, Glen Coe, Scotland

There was no let up on the gradient for the last stretch onto the bealach and I ended up a little higher than the 629-metre-high saddle point too. In the clear conditions, this more freestyle approach to navigation was no trouble and it further opened up views over Blackwater Reservoir too. Poring over maps afterwards, I came to the conclusion that I was being granted views of all sorts of hills to the north of me. Even the Grey Corries were within sight and I reckon that both Stob Coire Easain and Stob a’ Choire Mheadoin appear above too and these are found beyond Loch Treig! One Mayday bank holiday weekend saw me traipse from Corrour train station to Spean Bridge underneath these and that gives me at least a little sense of how this crumpled landscape fits together.

Mamores, Grey Corries and Blackwater Reservoir, Kinlochleven, Lochaber, Scotland

The distance from the bealach to the top of Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste felt longer than I had expected and I now reckon that my less direct approach had added at least a kilometre to my walking distance. As I picked my towards the trig point at the summit, there were plenty of northward views to keep me busy, even if my photographic efforts were bedevilled by heat haze though lens flare could have been a factor too. To see if I could make the results appear more like what I thought I was seeing in reality, I resorted to a Photoshop plugin and the above photo looking over the dam of Blackwater Reservoir has been produced using this. The main bulk of the Grey Corries are to be seen in the far distance with members of the Mamores such as Sgór Eilde Beag and Sgùrr Eilde Mòr to their left.

Mamores and BenNevis from Ben a' Chrùlaiste, Glencoe, Glen Coe, Scotland

The additional height around the top of Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste allowed me to do better with working out what I had been seeing on previous trots along the West Highland Way between Kinlochleven and Glen Coe. For one thing, the looming rocky dome of Ben Nevis could be picked out as well as the nearby pinnacle of Carn Mòr Dearg to its right in the above photo. With the position of Britain’s highest mountain established, you can start picking members of the Mamores like Na Gruaigaichean, An Garbanach, An Gearanach, Stob Coire a’ Chàirn, Am Bodach, Sgùrr an Iubhar and others. Even some of these may be tentative, but that, and the prospect of getting images unblemished by blue heat haze, can be another excuse to return to a fabulous part of the world.

Stob Beinn a' Chrùlaiste, Glencoe, Glen Coe, Scotland

Getting to the top of anywhere is one thing but getting back down again proves that any ascent is only part of the job. This so proved to be the case with Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste even though the initial descent was down gentler gradients with additional views of what lay on the other side of Glen Coe. It was now that Buachaille Etive Mor and the Black Mount began to come back into view as I made my way to Stob Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste with some boggy stretches still not dessicated by the summer heatwave. Things really got steep, with rough sections underfoot, on the way off Stob Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste and I lost any cooling breeze too. Taking things slow and steady was the order of the moment with progress being frustratingly slow at times; nevertheless, it always is better not to become a mountain rescue statistic. As it happens, I have seen one route description for Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste that started up the slopes that I was descending, and the author may have had a point in getting these out of the way early for even the descent took a lot out of me and I was glad to be by the side of the A82 again afterwards.

Looking East Along Glen Coe, Lochaber, Scotland

If my designs on getting to Kinlochleven were firm, they could have been behind time after yomping over Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste. There still was a long summer evening ahead and I decided to have a go before letting discretion take the greater part of valour and returned to the roadside to catch a coach back to Fort William. The blue heat haze may not have dissipated anyway and I have got a lot from the day, so extending the walk might have been greedy of me. Nevertheless, staying with the route of the West Highland Way on a day as bright as the one that I got would be a delight and cooler temperatures would enhance the experience; it can await another opportunity. Other stunning sections of the trail such as that between Kinlochleven and Fort William or from Bridge of Orchy to the head of Glen Coe remaining tempting reprises too. There may be more hill wandering around here yet.

Transport arrangements:

Return Scottish Citylink coach journey between Fort William and Glen Coe.

Hot weather escapades with views of Ben Nevis

23rd March 2015

Some may adore sunshine holidays in destinations where scorching temperatures are commonplace, but that is not my preference. Childhood memories of the summers of 1983 and 1984 feature sweaty journeys across fields on afternoons with sweltering temperatures and this was Ireland’s south-western corner. Strangely, the higher temperatures of around 30° C experienced around Saint Malo on a school trip in 1989 have no such associations in my memory and I am left to wonder if the coastal location with its sea breezes had anything to do with it. Nevertheless, it is those sultry inland days that have convinced me earlier that cooler days were more to be my liking.

In spite of that thinking, there are times when the desire to go for a walk in summer sunshine gets the better of me; there was a time when a heatwave was a time when I scotched the idea of embarking on a walking excursion. Much of the time, this has me out in temperatures hovering around 20° C, but there are times when those in excess of this are overlooked. The trouble with physical activity on warm days is that staying well hydrated becomes more of a concern. It is all too easy to let yourself go to the point that headaches and other symptoms start to strike so you never can be too careful.

The summers of 2013 and 2014 brought a good share of warm sunny weather to Britain after winters that were either long and cold (2013) or wet and stormy (2014). In some ways, they were not so unlike those from thirty years earlier. Even so, I so needed a getaway after the events of springtime 2013 that I booked in an extended weekend during July that I used to head to Fort William. It was one of those “come what may” bookings and it was hot sunny weather that I got.

Sgùrr a' Mhàim, Glen Nevis, Fort William, Lochaber, Scotland

Travel days were Friday and Monday, so Saturday and Sunday were available for spots of exploration. Friday was so hot that train and coach air conditioning could not be but relished. The stifling heat around Glasgow was all the more unmissable as I trotted from Glasgow Central train station to Glasgow Buchanan bus station and Fort William felt similar. Things must have a cooled a little as I wandered out on an after dinner stroll before retiring to bed for the night.

Glenfinnan from Loch Shiel, Lochaber, Scotland

With that in mind, I am not surprised that I went for light strolling around Glenfinnan on the Sunday. Then, I walked a little of the shore of Loch Shiel to reprise a walk that I had done of a Saturday in January 2011. Skies were clearer the second time around and enjoyed the views before taking a break from the sun in the café at the National Trust for Scotland visitor centre. After that, I went up the small hill behind it and lingered to take in what I could see from the vantage point. That was not all, since I stumbled on a walk that dropped from Glenfinnan’s train station down under the scenic railway viaduct that features in many photos and in the Harry Potter films too. Temperatures must have cooled because I only have pleasant memories of these and others were out savouring the surroundings too.

Beinn a' Chrùlaiste and Buachaille Etive Mor, Glen Coe, Scotland

Stob Coire Easain and Stob a' Choire Mheadhoin, Spean Bridge, Lochaber, Scotland

It was the preceding Saturday that saw me being more adventurous. It is something that I ponder with amazement now but the idea of walking from Kingshouse Hotel to Kinlochleven with a diversion to the top of Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste somehow trumped what now looks like my better reason. Thankfully, there was a cooling breeze assisting the ascent and views opened up all around me. What also became apparent was the amount of heat haze that abounded on more distant hills. The Mamores and the White Corries were most affected and I have been experimenting with the Neutralhazer plugin in Photoshop to see what it can do for me. Of course, a day with less challenging lighting would be better and Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste is such a place that a return is worthwhile.

Stob Dearg, Stob a' Ghlais Choire and Meall a' Bhùiridh, Glen Coe, Scotland

On the day, the hill forestalled my plans to go all the way to Kinlochleven. That is not to say that I did not try myself out before going the way of reason. Now that I think of it, the lost golden evening may not have got me much more than I had anyway. The day had been a good one and looking over things now opens up more possible escapades like walking from Rannoch train station to Kingshouse Hotel or even an out and back hike from Glencoe village to the top of Meall Ligiche. The more modest height of the latter could afford some stirring views of higher eminences too, so the TGO route idea could be a goer. Repeating sections of the West Highland Way north of Bridge of Orchy also tempts me, so Glen Coe may not be see me deserting the place just yet when there is so much more to see.

What I have not done either is say all that I can do about those walks for what was intended to be a single entry has turned into a three part series. Next up is the piece on Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste with that on Glenfinnan set to follow that. Hopefully, those should not be the last you hear of my exploring these areas. After all, there is much left to savour since I barely have scratched the surface and that is after numerous visits over the years.

Travel arrangements:

Return train journey from Macclesfield to Glasgow and return Scottish Citylink coach journey between there and Fort William. Return Scottish Citylink coach journey between Fort William and Glen Coe. Return train journey between Fort William and Glenfinnan.

An archaeological dig

6th June 2013

It’s a lovely sunny summer evening as I write this and there have been times when I was out and about in the sunshine during the past few weeks. Last Sunday afternoon saw me trot from the Cat and Fiddle Inn back to my house. Spying a useful right of way that dropped me down from Shining Tor to Lamaload Reservoir was the cause of taking me around there though my hopes of seeing the former in sunshine largely came to not as much as I’d hoped. However, there was sun to be enjoyed while I was around Shining Tor and a peaceful atmosphere pervaded much of the walk so I wasn’t embittered. There was no rushing about either as I continued to Rainow and then along Ingersley Vale to Bollington. The Macclesfield Canal and the Middlewood Way were what conveyed me much of the rest of the way home without the itinerary feeling overly long. In fact, I can foresee another wander by Lamaload happening when a chance offers itself.

The previous bank holiday weekend should have seen me do more with it but for fatigue and computer tinkering taking from my resolve. The greatest extent of my outdoors wandering wasn’t to be limited to various shopping errands or watching Terry Abraham’s The Cairngorms in Winter with Chris Townsend, though. The latter turned out to be a pleasing use of time with there being plenty of stunning countryside to ogle; the quality of the film footage was stunning. While the Cairngorms were the star of this film, Chris got to draw us to the area by tracing his love of wild country. The realities of camping (it includes bothy usage), walking, snowshoeing and skiing in winter mountains got a necessary airing and the featuring of a walk through the Lairig Ghru that was abandoned was no harm either. If that was insufficient, there is a wealth of social outdoors history surrounding the Cairngorms that could have been added too, but the sparing of that probably got us looking at the scenery more closely. After all, that was centre stage in this production and with a stirring soundtrack too. It probably was odd to be enjoying this film with sunny weather outside, and that’s how it was, but I was lured out as far as Tegg’s Nose on the Sunday evening. Just like a warm summer evening among Scottish hills, it too was quiet and peaceful as I took in the views towards Shutlingsloe on a circuit that took me by Langley and Sutton along paths and tracks that I have travelled a fair few times, so often that I hardly need a map for these any more.

Alongside all of this and midweek evening walks around Macclesfield’s Riverside Park, I got the idea of adding more details to photos featured in the site’s photo gallery. These include the camera used and the date that the photo was made. The first of these is not too hard to recall, but dates have been the more trickery because there have been times when I have wondered if part of my memory managed to fall into some sort of black hole. The blog certainly has helped from mid-2006 on and the move to digital photography almost nails your dates for you. Before both of those, unless a certain scarcity of trips, coincidence with a memorable event or the imprinting of dates on photos helps. There also is the trawling of old emails (yes, inertia has meant that more of these have been retained than might seem conventional) to see when train tickets were booked and peering at now historical calendars. The last two of these especially have a more archaeological feel to them, hence the title of the post. The fact that dates do not surface without some effort for trips between 2004 and 2006 is a reminder to me that I should be thinking of improving records for the future. After all, you never know what another bout of stress can do to a memory and, like anyone, I have had a share of that in recent years.

The addition of that extra information to the photo gallery continues and some refreshed or new photos are to come online too when all is done. Looking at those older photos has another effect too. When you see a photo and think that it can be improved, then a trip idea emerges. It already has been the cause of retracing some steps in the Peak District and it may be that 2013 could be a year spent exploring more of this alluring part of the world. What has been in my mind for a little while is a potential walk from Edale to Hayfield or Glossop that follows Grindsbrook Clough at the start so as to replace a photo that dates from the Summer bank Holiday Monday of 2001. Hopefully, it can happen before we lose the current run of good weather. There also is walking north along the West Highland Way from Bridge of Orchy, at least as far as Kinlochleven, to see if I can better photos from previous outings along the route of that well trodden trail. With the way life is going for me now, that is a longer-term ambition and it’s always good to have them.

Things may be quieter on here these days, but the walking continues and I need to add a number of trip reports, as you can see from the Trip Reports to Come page. What’s needed is the summoning of energy and it’s hard to commit to scribbling them when sunshine is peering in your window as it is this evening.

Reminders of unfinished business

29th January 2011

Last weekend saw me follow a flight of fancy in that I journeyed up to Fort William on the Sleeper from Crewe. A forecast showing some sunshine was what unleashed me but the reality was more foggy when I reached Fort William. Incidentally, it was very foggy when I left Crewe too but that didn't stop me wondering at what I had done, even if I had gained a glorious view of the Black Mount beyond Loch Tulla or of the hills around Loch Treig on the way.

Despite a quandary induced by the weather that I , I stuck with my original design of popping over to Glenfinnan with two options in mind. The one that came to pass was a short trot along the banks of Loch Shiel and there was some the sun was found to be out when I arrived too though it wasn't to last with grey clouds eventually taking over the sky. Wisps of low cloud affixed themselves to hillsides too as if to amaze the passing wanderer. Add a stag to the scene and he partaking of some silage left out for feeding and there was some wild magic in the peaceful stillness. The surrounding hills looked majestic too so this was a good introduction that needs following up but more thoughts of unfinished business came to mind.

After all, it was ongoing unfinished business at work that made me wonder if I was doing the right thing in undertaking a weekend away but there were more instances from the outdoors world that overtook this. On Sunday morning, the thought of a trot around by Cow Hill and Glen Nevis came to mind but there really wasn't the time for doing that in any state other than in a worried rush and Scotland's fine countryside deserves better than that.

Other examples also joined the queue. Reprising the part of the West Highland Way between Bridge of Orchy, Kinlochleven and Glen Nevis is but one. Seeing more of the hills of the Black Mount and around Loch Etive or Glen Etive is another. Then, there's following up on fleeting visits to Morar and Ardgour more than twelve months ago. Part of the motivation for all of this is my coming away with pleasing photos but that has been an ever present motivation in my explorations of hill country and it's good to see that it still does the trick for me.

On the way home, the sight of Cameron McNeish's The Skye Trail on a bookshelf in Glasgow was enough to have a copy come away with me and that reminded me that I have unfinished business up there too. A fuller review has appeared elsewhere on the blogosphere so I won't be doing one but it's a pleasing mix of route description and social history that also was typical of the volume on the The Sutherland Trail, itself also in my possession and needing further perusal.

All in all, this is far cry from my state of mind last autumn when it became difficult to overcome any sense of fatigue to get out in the countryside all that often. Now, I blame the sense that there was nothing out there that drew me out anymore. Of course, that is fallacious and it's good to have cured it for now. All that it took was the arrival of arctic weather with a good deal of snow and a Christmas spent in Ireland (catching up with a few issues of TGO too) for that one to be put out of commission.