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!

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

15th May 2024

Easter 2017 was supposed to be spent in Edinburgh. However, life matters and the fact that I had been in the Isle of Man not so long beforehand stymied things for me then. The weather was not so inviting either, as I found when I went there for a shorter stay. A damp afternoon was spent around Glen Sax near Peebles, while the John Buchan Way occupied me the next day in better weather.

The prospect returned in 2019 after cost-consciousness in 2018 curtailed my travels while on a career break. My arrival was on Holy Thursday and the departure on Easter Tuesday. In between, there was some time for catharsis, particularly the letting go of old hurtful memories from when I lived in the city while at university there.

That was while I pottered about the city, visiting old haunts like Calton Hill, Dean Village, Holyrood Park, Bruntsfield Links, The Meadows and Craigmillar Castle. There was also a crossing to Cramond Island, as well as two visits to Linlithgow. It was not all about rethreading old steps and exorcising old wounds, as healing as that was.

As if to prove that, I spent Holy Saturday around the Pentland Hills. My hill wandering only started once I was in England, so these were not frequented while I lived in Edinburgh. It feels like an oversight now, but computing and science were more attractive to me back then. If I ever thought of scenic delights, my mind ventured towards the Highlands instead.

Even so, I had traipsed parts of these before. There was a short sortie in 2008 that took in Caerketton Hill and Allermuir Hill. More recently, this was reversed on a Boxing Day (also known as St. Stephen’s Day after the early Christian martyr) in brighter weather near the end of last year. In between those, there was a return in 2009 that took in Capelaw Hill, Castlelaw Hill, Glencorse Reservoir, Loganlea Reservoir, Black Hill, Green Cleugh, Threipmuir Reservoir, Harlaw Reservoir, Wester Kinleith, Middle Kinleith, Easter Kinleith, Clubbidean Reservoir and Torduff Reservoir. Looking back on all of these, it appears that I had traipsed a good deal of the place.

That was not how it felt before revisiting these accounts, and 2019 felt no different. That Holy Saturday hike started from Penicuik. Handily, I found a local path that took me away from tarmac tramping for a while. Sadly, these are not marked on maps like their counterparts in the south, a travesty in my opinion. Even GPX tracks are not something that I have encountered yet; someone else can put me right there.

Proceeding along the A702 got me the rest of the way to Flotterstone. While traffic may not have been that heavy, I was happy to swap tarmac for a trail. Continuing straight ahead would have taken me by Glencorse Reservoir, rethreading steps taken in 2009. Wanting something different, I turned off to the left to begin an ascent of Turnhouse Hill. This was to be a day full of ups and downs on going from one hill to another.

Looking through my photos from the day in advance of writing these words, I notice just how hazy and clouded the morning was at the start of the ramble. The photos you find accompanying this piece may tell another story, since the skies cleared as the day wore along. Conditions were not so accommodating for photography at the outset.

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

After the descent from Turnhouse Hill, there was an ascent to a higher eminence, Carenethy Hill. If not following the map closely, it was all too easy to err regarding the identity of the hill you were frequenting. That really applied to Crooked Rig on the long descent to where the ascent of Scald Law started. Patience has its uses in these circumstances, especially when you have a false summit to fool you.

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

Scald Law marked the highest that I was above sea level for the whole day. It might have been near there that I took a call from a relative wishing me a Happy Easter and telling me of overseas travels in the Middle East and Asia. When I got to take them in, the views were wide and included Loganlea Reservoir too. The location also was where I had another decision to make: do I go out to the top of South Black Hill? In the event, I did and it at least marked the southeastern if not the southern extremity of my wandering.

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

Mor tops were to follow, the last pair of the day: East Kip and West Kip. More descending and ascending was in order, yet complaints for surely tiring limbs are lost to the mists of time. Some of these certainly were steep enough for that, with the top of West Kip being rocky enough to cause a momentary pause of thought. All passed without incident to allow gentler gradients to be reached.

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

The descent from West Kip dropped me onto Red Road, the track that would convey me by Bavelaw Marsh and Threipmuir Reservoir to reach tarmac again for the final approach to Balerno. Before all that, there were enticing views leading the eye back along the chain of hills that had been followed while allowing for the undulations. These were momentarily interrupted by walkers looking for the way to Nine Mile Burn. Once they were pointed in the right direction, I could return to relishing the views and any available quietude, not being disturbed by any sense of intrusion.

The warmth of the day was to be felt and perhaps deflected me from including the top of Black Hill on my perambulations. While this had me torn at the time, looking back on the 2009 hike now absolves me of any regrets. In any case, it might be the only remaining sign of increasing physical fatigue that resides in my memory.

Easter wandering around the Pentland Hills

Speaking of Black Hill, I found myself looking back in its direction across Threipmuir Reservoir on a momentary pause. After that, progress towards Balerno was to be continuous. Once there, I partook of some refreshments before catching a bus back into the city centre. Even so, my rambling was not over for the day. The added height of the sun in the sky, because of the time of year, allowed me a spot of photography by the banks of the Water of Leith with Dean Village providing an appealing subject for such efforts. This was a day laden with all sorts of pleasing gifts.

Travel Arrangements

Outbound bus from Edinburgh city centre to Penicuik. Return bus from Balerno to Edinburgh city centre.

From slim pickings to superabundance

14th May 2024

The lack of sunshine during my March 2019 trip to Settle and Malham brought forward a repeat encounter in advance of an Easter trip to Edinburgh in the same year. Compared to the previous trip, when there was photographic famine, this one brought an overwhelming number of possibilities. A little sustained sunshine can make choices of what to show and what not to show more difficult, especially when not every landscape feature has a name. It is time to leave a narrative to do the discriminating.

Donkeys near Settle, Yorkshire, England

As well as the sighting of the donkeys that you see above, the way out of Settle offered views of a passing steam train as well as the chapel of the independent Giggleswick School, a far grander structure than you would expect to see situated in the middle of the pastoral countryside. There was more to occupy one’s eyes than more distant views of Pen-y-Ghent.

From slim pickings to superabundance

From slim pickings to superabundance

The main drama of the day began once I left the route of the Pennine Bridleway for that of the Dales High Way. In the morning sunshine, the limestone outcrops festooning the Warrendale Knots and adjoining Attermire Scar did nothing to disappoint me. Clouds stayed away from the passage of the sun for long enough to keep me entertained all the way as far as Stockdale Lane.

From slim pickings to superabundance

From slim pickings to superabundance

Continuing past Stockdale Farm also led me past Rye Loaf Hill and Kirkby Fell on a somewhat expedited route to Cove Road, near Malham. Views of Malham Cove did tease as I went forth, yet clouding skies stopped me from everything my own way for photographic exploits. Nevertheless, opportunities did present themselves as I followed the route of the Pennine Way onto the limestone pavement above the one time ancient waterfall.

From slim pickings to superabundance

From slim pickings to superabundance

From there, it was a matter of continuing north to Malham Tarn. Sunshine was again liberated to light up a part of the world that I largely experienced under cloudy skies on previous visits. Names like Raven Scar, Ing Scar and Ing Scar Crag hint at what you find in this classy limestone landscape.

From slim pickings to superabundance

From slim pickings to superabundance

Following an ascent, the terrain levelled out on the final approach to Malham Tarn. The size of the lake makes photography a little tricky, but the availability of sunshine almost enforced such activity. That also meant that there was some dawdling before embarking on an alternative route to Langscar Gate. Any gain in height was rewarded by views over the tarn and what lay around it.

From slim pickings to superabundance

From slim pickings to superabundance

After passing Langscar, I took a south-westerly turn in the direction of Kirkby Fell. After passing Grizedales, I returned to my outbound route for a time. The return to Settle was to keep me on Stockdale Lane until it reached High Hill Lane, which I then followed the rest of the way to my starting point. Not only did that offer different viewpoints (which was just as well given the shadows that had fallen on what was fully lit in the morning), but it also made the descent easier than the more usual way that I had been using. On tiring legs, that is easier as long as tarmac traipsing is kept to a minimum.

A good day hike ended with my being well sated by what I encountered. At the time of writing, though, my appetite for such countryside has been dimmed by excursions to Scotland and other possibilities. If it ever gets rekindled, the prospect of walking from Malham to Skipton could be tempting. A desire to replace photos from my film-using days may be just the thing for that.

Travel Arrangements

Return train journey between Macclesfield and Settle, with changes at Manchester Piccadilly and Leeds.

More photos of North America

21st March 2024

Looking towards Double Point, Point Reyes National Seashore, California, U.S.A.

The North America section of the photo gallery now looks a little more substantial after adding an album for photos from last year’s trip to the San Francisco Bay Area. There already was one for those from 2019’s trip to British Columbia, and that looked a bit lonely on its own. It is not so easy to claim an interest in exploring another continent with only one substantive visit having happened.

While my appetite for North American explorations has been sated somewhat by those two trips, I cannot rule out the possibility of there being another this year. Seattle and Washington State both look tempting. A visit to Olympic National Park could be a possibility. However, as I know from my designs on Denver and Boulder in Colorado for the summer of 2020, anything could happen that stymies such schemes. Nothing has been planned yet, since I have a few things on my plate at the moment.

Slaughter

29th February 2024

Network Rail has been busy cutting down trees beside the Macclesfield stretch of the West Coast Mainline. The result is not pretty and affects a nearby walking route that I often use. Tree trunks have been denuded and left to look lifeless. If life restarts on these, the devastation may be softened, but that is not within sight just yet.

While I can understand that windthrow is a problem for trees next to a railway line during stormy weather, the aftermath of the cutting looked sad to my eyes. Shelter was removed, and it may be that walkers do not need such a clear view of the railway anyway. It all caused a trail that has something of a bucolic aspect to appear more industrial than it used to do.

The time of year hardly helps, with all the leafless trees and bare ground after the winter. Maybe things will look less brutal during the coming growing season. For now, though, there is a lot of carnage that needs healing. At times, I have had my misgivings about tree cover when seeking photos of scenic spots, yet that is not how I feel about this ongoing aftermath.

More time in Ireland

26th February 2024

Currently, I am a freelancer between contracts and that gives me some more time to attend to my Irish affairs as well as getting some added rest. Thus, I was in Ireland for a two-week stint, trying to buy somewhere that my brother and I can use once we have disposed of another house that I inherited.

Such is the business of viewing property that there was some downtime too, and I also needed to clear my head of any confusion caused by estate agent patter. The weather may have been mixed, but there were drier interludes too. Sometimes, you also need to walk during periods of dampness, especially if there is a mind to rest.

Before all the property hunting, a sunny day was enough to return me to Blarney after a break of several decades. Thankfully, they have made the way down from the top of the castle to follow an easier route, which is just as given the steepness of the way up. On a previous visit with my father, the arrangement may have been reversed, which did not help for an easy descent for someone unaccustomed to heights. At the time, I genuinely thought we were going the wrong way. Kissing the Blarney stone was not an option, though added eloquence could have its uses…

The castle was not the only attraction, though; this is just as well, given the €20 entry fee. There are many paths through parkland, especially areas with more attention to their layout. For those, the word labyrinth may not be such a ridiculous description. There is a longer through woodland that circuits a lake for those fancying added quietude. It all ensured that value for money could be sought.

The city of Cork is not without its amenity walks, either. Old railway lines have been converted into Greenways that came in handy for surveying property locations as well as getting in some coastal walking. Others choose to cycle or jog along these too, so they certainly are multipurpose. One starts near Páirc Uí Chaoimh and continues past Rochestown to finish at Passage West, though you can continue to Monkstown too. This even allows a crossing to Great Island, allowing for a stroll from Cork city centre to Cobh. That was how it happened for me on one of the days, and another sunny morning drew me out to Blackrock Castle as well.

There are yet unrealised ambitions for a full Cork Harbour Greenway, extending from the city’s Marina as far afield as Carrigaline and Crosshaven. The missing piece is between Passage West and Carrigaline, yet the Greenway between Carrigaline and Crosshaven has its uses as it shadows the course of the Owenboy River as well as the road between the two places. Crosshaven has Camden Fort Meagher as well as a few coastal paths, so that may make the quieter option should you desire it.

Fort Wildlife Park draws many to Fota Island, a possibility by train that uses the line between Cork and Cobh. There also is Fota House, which is currently under restoration, and its associated gardens. All served a purpose on a day with its share of dampness before the afternoon grew drier. The wildlife was the basis of a school tour for me many years ago, yet that did not stop another visit that was extended to get the most value from the €20 entry fee. The gardens around Fota House saw another visit on a sunnier day that was not without rain showers. Even so, there were more chances for some photography and that was enough to lure me to Cobh again.

My travels did not stay around Cork all the while. Youghal got a brief visit, as did Waterford. The first was mainly a leisure pursuit, while the second involved some property reconnaissance. There was none of that during a day trip to Killarney that needed later bus connections for a return to Cork. My wanderings had eaten up more time than I had intended on a circuit around Muckross Lake. There were designs on an alternative excursion to Glengarriff, but the ticket machine convinced me that this was not possible. That was just as well, since it felt like too much of a risk anyway, especially I need to do something on the day after.

So far, my trip to Ireland appears to be serving its main purpose, and it was good to revisit old haunts and explore new places as well. Apart from a stiff ascent near Killarney or getting to and from the shoreline near Crosshaven, gradients were a less significant feature of any strolling. Nevertheless, the mix was welcome; you cannot be attending to business matters all the time in any case.