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!
After my trip to Ireland in March, I noted how much good it did me and started pondering an Easter getaway to further the improvement. After surveying possibilities and rejecting a few because of the predicted inclement weather, I decided to base myself in Jersey instead.
For the sake of speed, I flew there and back to enjoy a week-long stay. St. Helier was where I based myself and a good bus network got me where I wanted to go. After that, ferry services allowed day trips to Saint-Malo and to Guernsey. What was not so convenient were some of the timings with an early morning arrival from Manchester along with early morning sea and air departures. The departures particularly meant that breakfast was skipped on some mornings in favour of getting something on the way.
Arriving early on Wednesday did mean a day of exploring though and it was possible to check in early at the hotel too. A stroll across the beach took me to St. Aubin, from where I ventured to Noirmont and wandered around its German gun emplacements. Sunshine was in short supply when I began this and cloud cover grew all the while with rain encroaching on the way back to st. Helier with the tide having come in while I was in Noirmont. It moves fast on these islands and covers a large area as it does so.
Thursday saw me head to L’Étacq, from where I was to walk all the day to Rozel in bright sunshine. Along the way, I passed Grosnez Castle, Plémont, Greve de Lecq, Bonne Nuit and Bouley Bay. After Greve de Lecq, there was an inland detour before the coast was reached again near the Devil’s Hole. A motorsport track meant another slight detour later on, but this was no deprival. There was plenty of dramatic coastal scenery to savour on what was the longest hike of the trip, and all the ups and downs made for tired legs too.
Friday became a day composed of shorter trips. The first was to La Corbière, whose dramatically sited lighthouse grabbed my attention while passing on the bus the previous morning. Next was Noirmont again, this time in bright sunshine so better photos could be made before strolling back to St. Helier across the beach. After that, there was an evening visit to Gorey to see and photograph Mont Orgueil Castle. That was a short stay but it was still long enough for the tide to come in to its full extent.
For Saturday, I went to Saint-Malo to retrace old steps from a school trip longer ago than I care to admit. The old town looked stunning as ever despite being festooned with a crane. Most of my time was spent beach hiking as far as Pointe de la Varde. The sun beat down on me as I did so and it felt unseasonably warm to me too. On the way back, I followed the GR34 and along a promenade much traipsed in that August numerous years ago. There was a brief call to Centre Patrick Varangot where we stayed back then. The hostel had not changed much apart from the sports facilities in front of it. Being there and spotting the hypermarché where midday lunches were sourced brought back some memories before I returned to the coast again. That was a quieter interlude before I ventured among others again, and especially so around the old town, which was very busy. Fancying somewhere quieter, I went out along Môle des Noires, a breakwater with a lighthouse at its end. By this time, I felt tired so I returned to the ferry terminal even though it was a bit early. It had been a good wander anyway.
On Sunday, the skies grew cloudier, but there was ample time for photographic wandering around St. Helier. That was followed by a saunter from Rozel to Gorey past St. Catherine’s under clouded skies. That may have limited photographic activity yet it was still a good stroll and finding a good vantage point for viewing Mont Orgueil Castle in the wrong weather was no perturbation.
Rain made a visit on Sunday night but I still went to Guernsey, perhaps with more hope than expectation. The weather improved as the day wore on, so there were plenty of dry interludes and occasional sunshine too. My wandering took me out of St. Peter Port, past Fermain Bay and as far as St. Martin’s Point before retracing my steps with some unintended deviations. There were views of nearby Herm and Sark to complement what was on Guernsey itself. There was a motorsport event at St. Peter Port so I was happy to get away from that, and there was plenty of peace and quiet away from that. While I might have fancied a visit to Castle Cornet, I thought it to be best to be at the ferry terminal in plenty of time with a deliberate detour through the town centre.
Tuesday morning was the drier part of the day and desire for a sighting of Jersey cows sent me out to St. John. That errand duly satisfied, I then made my way to the Waterworks Valley, through which I headed to First Tower on the island’s south coast. That was a rewarding hike and would benefit from a sun-blessed return, yet I did not feel short-changed. A stroll along the promenade by the beach returned me to St. Helier before the rain got too heavy and I was back in my hotel relaxing before my early departure the next day.
The whole trip had been very rewarding, and whets an appetite for a longer visit to Guernsey and perhaps Brittany. Only time will tell what becomes of such prospects with what else there is in my life. There was much gained in any event.
In a previous post, I mentioned Ken Burns’ magisterial The National Parks: America’s Best Idea and even wrote a few words about this documentary film series. Not living in the U.S.A., I found this quite accidentally when reading an article on either the Outdoor website network (probably the Backpacker part but I am not sure now). Both are part of the same media group and I became a subscriber to Backpacker magazine in 2020. In Canada, there is Explore and they perform much the same function for that part of the world.
Before this, I was inclined to do long trawls through guidebooks for acclimatisation and awareness. This can work but it is not just time-consuming but also can be trapped within one’s own predispositions. After all, America’s National Parks are known by many around the world so it can be easy to gravitate towards them but there are other kinds of public lands that are amenable to exploration, some of which abut conurbations so they can be easier to reach. Here, I am thinking of what lies on the doorsteps of San Diego in California, Portland in Oregon or Phoenix in Arizona. Two of these came to my notice in a serendipitous manner, the first from a tragic story on the Backpacker website and the last from a Wanderlust webinar.
There also is the usefulness of a more gradual approach taken with an open mind. A concerted effort can and does help but the slower accumulation of insights and possibilities is how I got going in hillwalking in the first place. It happened so naturally that I hardly noticed what was happening and this also brought with it a growing cultural awareness. The same approach might help to restart nascent explorations of North America yet.
All this highlights background realities regarding the scale of North American wilderness as well as equipment choices offered by brands that are not so pervasive on this side of the Atlantic like Canada’s Durston. There are times when you need to watch for product placement though and Backpacker’s online webinar series from 2020 was a case in point, especially given they erred on the side of overdoing just that at the expense of conveying an experience of the wild places that were featured.
Still, knowing the cultural side of things remains ever useful and that returns me to the feature film series mentioned at the start of this piece. The history of the American National Park system was not that well known to me, even if I was well aware of the influence of John Muir from my reading of his writings during the winter of 2017/8. What happened after him and the issues surrounding the various contradictions of a motto like “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People” became plainer to me as I watched the film series.
The tension of high visitor numbers is very clear to us now and it always has been a problem as has allowing people to visit using their cars. That there has been road-building in otherwise pristine areas is part of this, even if that was curtailed in Denali National Park in Alaska by a persistent campaign by one of the park naturalists. The conflict between conservation and having visitor services like hotels and other amenities pervades today and that is likely to continue. Even so, there has been progress too with a different attitude to wildlife meaning that we now need to keep away from wild creatures rather than mingling among them as once was the case.
There is much to learn about another continent half a world away and doing this one morsel at a time makes things stick better. The more gradual approach also allows for added serendipity so you get to find out about places that do not come to light from a concerted effort.
It is too easy for me to think that autumn is my least favourite season but it is also the one when many transformations happen and when it is possible to think ahead to the next year. The hours of daylight are shorter so there is time to think about other things. Admittedly, the ongoing pandemic stalled any forward-thinking but these still were times of change. 2020 saw me begin to learn new computing languages while 2021 saw me embark on spiritual explorations. Both journeys are still ongoing.
2019 was the last year when thought could be given to a future even if that was devoted to continuing my freelance consulting business. Until that was more assured, I could not think too much about overseas journeying and then the pandemic intruded. A possible trip to Colorado became unthinkable in July 2020. Going to Vancouver, Canada in July of 2019 became a reality because of reading undertaken during the autumn of 2018. The next steps that I took in my career during 2018 were made possible by a career break that itself began in August 2017. The rest of that autumn was taken up with decompression and healing before I could do a rethink at the start of 2018. This necessity was brought about by fatigue after heavy work done at the latter end of 2016 to fulfil my late father’s will.
In between the more weighty matters of 2016, much thought was given to mid-winter sunshine escapades that took me to Mallorca in 2016 and Tenerife in 2018/9. It may be tempting to think that a year is done for when you get to its final quarter so that there is an overflow to the following year only for surprises to come. Thus, mid-winter walking trips to Arizona, Malta, Madeira or the Azores can be kept in mind should an opportunity arise.
For 2023, Scotland again offers multiple possibilities and North America also looms again after my watching Ken Burns’ monumental documentary film series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. While I probably was after the scenery that was shown, the series mainly was about the history of the National Parks and was just as fascinating for that. Learning about the efforts of John Muir and other actors was as intriguing as seeing the learning journey where lessons that we now take for granted had to be learned on the fly with no precedents for guidance. That the winter of 2017/8 saw me reading the works of John Muir only helped things to resonate with me. It also helped that there was enough scenic footage to restart dreams of Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Park visitations, to name but a few, and the soundtrack was as alluring as the footage.
All in all, I am rethinking my appraisal of autumn. It no longer might be a season of mourning the passing of summertime and springtime, or indeed the year itself, but could be a time of inner growth and expanding horizons. That is how it is starting to appear now. Work for 2022 continues with there being some asset downsizing in progress but time flows ever onward to bring whatever comes our way.
It has taken quite a while but I recently enjoyed some Scottish hill-wandering around Stirling. Stirling also was where I went when I last was in Scotland so there is a sliver of continuity despite the break of over three years. The main cause of this was the arrival of the pandemic which added travel nervousness on my part.
In 2019, the main reason for my trip was photographic and I stayed near its castle even though part of the structure was covered in scaffolding at the time. Even so, I could not help admiring any views of the Ochil Hills that lay before me. These were to prove a lure for a return trip once I summoned the courage to do so.
Before that, I have been finding my feet in England and Ireland. The latter has seen a few trips this year and the former has hosted various visits to the Pennines and the Lake District. Before the trip to Stirling, I even enjoyed a hike from the Ullswater to Thirlmere that took in the tops of White Side, Lower Man and Helvellyn in pleasing sunshine. The way up was gradual but the same could not be said for the testing descent that was on the point of beating those who were coming the other way.
My time in Stirling saw me mount more summits but without the accompaniment of the sort of weather than blessed my ascent of Helvellyn. Because the second hill day was set to be overcast, I was divided over where to go because going to Callander for an ascent of Ben Ledi had entered my head. In the event, it was that which was done on the better day and got me back somewhere that I had not frequented for around fifteen years. Skies were largely clouded so another return trip is in prospect whenever bright sunshine and clearer skies are likely. Still, the sun did break through the clouds from time to time so it was not all gloom. The landscape was stunning though and seeing that in brighter conditions remains an attraction.
It must have been stubbornness that led me to hike the summits of Ben Ever, Ben Cleuch, Andrew Gannel Hill and King’s Seat Hill in poor visibility and it was just as well that I had wet weather gear given the enduring dampness on those tops. This was never a day for views but my navigation did not falter and the quietude of the experience was transporting. Perversely, the next day came sunny so a quick morning trip for some photography was in order before I needed to check out of the hotel. It was constrained by my not having charged camera batteries as much as was ideal but I still came away with much of what I had sought. Even so, a return in better weather cannot be ruled out since the incursion certainly got me away from everyday living and what I did get to see appealed to me.
Having reasons to return somewhere may be frustrating for any sense of closure but Scotland is laden with these for the weather does not always perform according to human desires. My only stay in Callander may have taken some of the sights around ben Ledi more than twenty years ago but it only was a halting point while en route to Fort William and Portree as I ran away from rain approaching from the east. As it happens, both Lorn and Lochaber have their share of sites where I fancy making better photos and even supplanting good images captured on film with digital counterparts. There is plenty of inspiration left yet.
Reading about a location without having been there is not the same as reading about places where you have been. By having been somewhere, there is an added resonance that otherwise would be missing. It is as if a connection has been made and its absence is very noticeable when I go looking at destinations in North America, Australasia or any other part of the world where I have not travelled. Moreover, it is especially apparent if I go writing about any of these.
For whatever reason, I most often seem to build such associations through solitary perambulations rather than being with others as so many do. Even if it feels like a false dualism, there are some reasons why I operate in this way. One is that it allows serendipity that otherwise would be confounded by the preconceptions of others. Another is that my personality type often causes me to act too deferentially to avoid any form of conflict.
That may how explain Irish outings with my late parents often were constrained by their preferences and what they had fallen into doing. Even so, my having developed an aversion to how they enjoyed coastal scenery meant that we went to Gougane Barra and Killarney quite a bit. Walks and photo stops were limited compared to what would be had on a day hike and the abundance of photos that I have brought back with me from recent trips to Ireland are ample proof of that.
While it is the place of my birth, upbringing and much of my formal education, Ireland was always one of those places that I had not visited like the others. When you have family somewhere, the connectedness is good but it can limit opportunities for personal exploration when you live in another country as I have done.
Some ongoing life changes mean that this year is changing that state of affairs with various trips across the Irish Sea. Every county in the province of Munster has seen my footfall on three different trips. The first offered unexpected opportunities as much as I was glad of those during the second one. Then, there was a third that gave me what I had hoped to get and then went beyond this again.
In each of these, being out for walks in the Irish countryside allowed me to connect with it in a way that I have not done before. Going on foot meant going slower and that really helped since you do lose something by running or cycling through a landscape and using motorised transport means that you lose even more than self-powered travel. Walking means that you can stop whenever a view halts you so it can be savoured and embraced. 2022 has allowed a lot of this so far.
An endpoint is that I no longer look through Mountain Views or other published material about Irish hillwalking as if I am separated by a pane of glass but have found my own way into and around the Irish hills. There is added meaning for me now while I mull over trip ideas that take me into the Dublin, Wicklow and Mourne Mountains while also visiting or revisiting western locales. A return to Clare and Connemara would follow up on my 2018 trip nicely and there also is much to savour around Mayo and Donegal. My mind wanders as I muse over these prospects and what I have enjoyed so far might even free me up to act on such designs.