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!

Combining old ways around Barmouth

11th December 2022

2022 has turned out to be a very dry year, which probably has helped with my explorations of parts of Ireland. While we could not imagine it at the time, it has come even drier than 2018, a year that then was being compared to 1976. One June evening, when I went around by Sutton Reservoir, I was stunned by how empty it looked. It may have meant that there was no fishing to be had, but that left its banks emptier for strollers like me.

This past summer also had oppressively warm spells. One in July was not only record-breaking, but also oppressive in the extreme for many of us. For others, it was life-threatening, and I was happy to see temperatures cool afterwards. If I was brave enough, this might have been a good time to try camping or bivvying outside somewhere if it was not too hot to walk; it certainly was virtually impossible to work inside. Another spell arrived in August during my holiday in Ireland and got much hotter after I came home, even if temperatures did stay cooler than they were during the July spell.

In the past, I have written that hot weather is not good hiking weather, yet I have gone out walking in higher temperatures. Much of 2018 was warm, sunny and dry until things got wetter at the end of July. Before that, there was a lot of hot weather. Near the start of the month, I headed to Edinburgh for a day spent around Cramond and the city centre. Shady places were well appreciated whenever I passed through them. Normally, I have mixed feelings about tree cover, but they were set aside in the heat.

The continuation of the heat did nothing to keep me from heading to Wales more than once. The first of these took me to Barmouth, from where I undertook a circular hike that combined a route that I did in May 2005 with one done in November 2014. You could see from the landscape that the warm, dry weather was taking its toll. Vegetation looked dessicated in places, and heat haze bedevilled any photography.

Combining old ways around Barmouth

Combining old ways around Barmouth

Combining old ways around Barmouth

What I have needed to piece together is my route because it slipped from my memory. Even with photos, this has been challenging to work out, much like the places featured into the photos themselves. This is complex ground, with passes getting names instead of hill tops; you can see what was a priority for the locals in older times. One thing cannot be contested, though: the sea is near at hand and added to any views once the right vantage point was reached.

The Cambrian Way has made it onto modern OS maps, and my early wandering either followed or shadowed it, a major change from the days when publicity was curtailed by worries on the part of mountain rescue volunteers. This was the route that I used to ascend steep slopes before passing Dinas Oleu and Garn. The Cambrian Way was left after me for a while as I went around by Gellfawr, Ffridd y Craig and Bwlch y Llan. This was when the sea views opened up for me, though the hills of the Llŷn peninsula were lost in the haze.

Combining old ways around Barmouth

Combining old ways around Barmouth

Combining old ways around Barmouth

Once over Bwlch y Llan and across the route of the Cambrian Way, different views opened before me. Some of these were just as compromised by heat haze as the aforementioned sea views. That included anything situated to the south of where I was, like Cadair Idris and its immediate surroundings. Other hills like Craig y Grut and Diffwys were not so affected, and also occupied my senses as I made my way towards the Cerrig Arthur Stone Circle. This was something that I wanted to visit again for photographic purposes, even if the time of year and the time of day were not the best for what I wanted to achieve. Another visit in May might not be such a bad idea.

Combining old ways around Barmouth

Combining old ways around Barmouth

My next staging post was the Panorama walk, and memory haze again affects my recollection of the route. There are a few things that stick for me, though. One was a meeting with overly intrusive dogs around Cutiau, while another was the effect the afternoon was having on my energy levels. At least the shade offered by tree cover helped with avoiding the sun as I continued along the lane, and arrival at the Panorama Walk easily punctuated the way back to Barmouth. There was time to dally in the presence of entrancing views before setting off again.

Combining old ways around Barmouth

Leaving the environs of the Panorama Walk meant leaving tree cover behind as I went on via Gorllwyn. Barmouth was reached soon enough and with time to spare before my next train. That allowed for some strolling along the shore, taking in views of Barmouth Bridge and what lay beyond it to the east. It was a good end to a walk with its share of tests and delights; there were no regrets.

Travel Arrangements

Return train journey from Macclesfield to Barmouth with a change in Wolverhampton.

A new weather map

25th August 2022

In the past, seeing changes in the presentation of weather information is something that has raised my ire. When the BBC did away with weather maps, I moved over to the Met Office for sake of keeping the added overview that such things provide. Location-based weather forecasting undoubtedly is useful and I use it a lot but the overview remains especially helpful.

It may seem a niche interest to many but one thing that I find really useful is a rain radar map. Handily, both Met Eireann and the Met Office incorporate these into their phone apps so you can use them while out hiking. In the case of the former, it really saw usage during a recent trip to Ireland when light rain showers dampened at least some of the Kerry mountains. Seeing that the shower was only a passing affair helped enormously with decision-making. Naturally, this all depended on the availability of phone signal and it was never up to the minute but the lag never got in the way of seeing the way that things were moving.

A rain radar map often helps when you are indoors too since waiting out a passing shower or a spell of rain can allow you to do things outside when conditions are drier. This applies to cycling to and from work, going shopping, exercising or travelling further afield. For all these, websites are as useful as phone apps.

That brings me to the main subject of this piece since the Met Office is trying out things all the while. Some are appreciated and successful while others are unwanted with some needing to be tolerated when they become permanent. Of all these, there are some changes that get previewed and a new way of presenting past and predicted weather is among them.

Both now appear in the same place and it only is the timeline that tells you that you are dealing with observed or predicted weather. However, the difference between the two is not as clear-cut as it could be. With rainfall patterns, there are hints like the extra resolution of observed data compared to what is predicted. There is one other thing to realise: the frequency of the predicted data appears to be once every fifteen minutes. Thus, if you see timepoints that are not at 0, 15, 30 and 45 minutes past the hour, then you definitely have an observation map layer on display.

The new map may not be intended to remain open in a web browser from one day to the next but that is a habit of mine. The older maps work well with this since they reset to the latest data even if you may need to advance the timeline accordingly on the radar map. The new map does not do this but it is in its beta phase at the moment and hence could change according to user feedback. For that reason, I am not being as critical as I have been in the past when equivalent changes have been made and it is larger too, a boon for those of us using larger screens (I am writing these words on a 34″ widescreen monitor that I use with my home workstations). So far, what is there looks interesting so I plan to keep an eye on where it goes now.

Things change all the time anyway and not always for the better. The location-based forecasts on the Met Office website do not allow for favourites to be kept or previous searches to be retained so I would like to see them look at this as well. At the moment, I am looking at setting up a list on this website of links to ones that I commonly use for the reference of visitors to this website as much as myself. Handily, you can get forecasts for mountain tops like Helvellyn and even lakes like Ullswater so that might be the basis of an interesting selection.

Weather better suited to indoor investigations

28th February 2020

Unlike this time last year when I was in the middle of string of outdoor excursions, this month has little very little action at all. The weather has brought storm after storm and the rain is flooding down from the sky as I write this words. January may have been more appealing but other concerns like gaining a new contract took precedence. That has been sorted now so next week should see a start on revenue earning work again.

That is not to say that I have not been exploring ideas for overseas trips or one nearer home even if COVID-19 could limit such excursions for a while. Finding possible destinations in Washington State, Oregon, Montana and Wyoming has drive me to perusing various guidebooks and others for Colorado, California and Ontario have found their way onto my reading list. It is the prospect of extending North American explorations after last year’s stint in British Columbia that is the underlying motivation for all of this.

There is no shortage of wilderness areas but there is a need to find a base from which to explore them. Denver looks promising for a stay in Colorado but I need to uncover more about that state and, in a sense, the same applies to Lake Tahoe on the boundary between California and Nevada or Ontario where being based in Toronto could have a use.

Reading guidebooks may not sound exciting but they do advance all these pipe dreams. Consulting local magazines like Distinctly Montana, Wyoming Magazine, Big Sky Journal, Montana Outdoors and Montana Quarterly would augment these in a more bite-sized manner and some have email newsletters too so it is not a case of reading everything at once only then to forget it all afterwards. My European explorations have been more gradual affairs, after all, and it always helps to find ideas one at a time.

The next steps would be to make use of these but that will depend on how the year goes. COVID-19 is a reminder that events can derail such designs so it is best to see what can be facilitated. One thing is sure though: another visit to North America could happen yet.

Reeling in some leap years

27th February 2020

There was a series on Irish television called “Reeling in the Years” where each program covered happenings in a certain year in the past using archive footage. The concept may not have been all that original though the focus of Irish events gave it a certain uniqueness. It was the sort of light television programming that could be repeated endlessly should a vacant slot need occupying.

Of course, that is not how I tend to view the entries on here and I often struggle to complete a trip report as I have been doing for a while with a day spent along Derbyshire’s Great Ridge in the autumn of 2017. Sometimes, what should produce a timely report can gain the feel of an archive item.

Nevertheless, 2020 is a leap year and a very rainy, snowy and windy February gains an extra day; it is hard to believe that we were basking in unseasonably warm sunshine just over a year ago. Perhaps, it is little wonder then that I often state that we get weather instead of seasons and such is the defining characteristic of a maritime climate.

January and February often are the quieter months of the year so there is some time for looking back and a little forward planning. Thus, I take this opportunity to cast my mind back over leap years from a outdoor wandering vantage point since that stops me at 2000 when I commenced my working life after formal education.

By 2004, my pedestrian hill wandering had come into being with Scotland being a major focus along with England and Wales. The year itself was terrible from a weather standpoint with the summer being a washout. Only some flexibility at work allowed me to snatch a drier interlude to go north to Lorn and Lochaber to make the most of a fleeting opportunity.

2008 then was the third calendar year for this blog and saw a high point in my Scottish rambling. Until very recently, a week in August spent among some of the Western Isles became my most adventurous escapade ever. Skye was a staging point and I managed to avoid much of the rain that came from a stalled front lying across Ireland, England and Scotland. It now seems surreal that there was some glorious weather to be enjoyed on Harris, Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist.

The occasional good fortune of those islands again manifested itself in 2012 when they in fact endured a drought while the the rest of Britain has the wettest summer ever. It was only the dryness of the Outer Hebrides that stopped the year going down in records as being wetter than in 2000, a year that I hardly regard as being that rainy at all though there were autumn deluges. The differences in weather were missed in 2012, not only because of a certain weather myopia but also because the heavy workload of 2011 had drained me to the point that energy for planning a return to the Western Isles just was not there.

By 2016, major changes were taking place in my life after the passing of both my parents. These were becoming evident in 2012 and the combination of a busy working life and ongoing inheritance works became enough to break me. One saving grace was that I started exploring elsewhere in Europe and that began in 2015. 2016 saw an extended weekend spent in each of Austria and Norway while there also was a mid-winter break in Mallorca. It was the latter than really taught me a lesson with a heavy cold and the others might have been but palliative care for an ongoing malaise. Changes were coming.

As I look back, it is tempting to think that leap years are not always the best for me though I now reckon that they were not as bad as I might have thought them at the time. 2020 could prove no different but that remains to be seen. Changes are continuing and I now work for myself so overseas and other excursions can continue alongside the other things that need doing. Only time will show what chances are available.

Cabin bound

26th February 2020

The title of this post could have been “Cabin Fever” but there is a good reason why that is not the case. It is true to say that February’s weather has not been inspiring this year with a storm arriving most weekends but there is also the draw of indoors activity and the need to attend to working life matters too.

There also has been some tinkering on the technology side and that also applies to the operation of this website too. Most of this is behind the scenes and all of that is about keeping out unwanted visitors, spammers included, so that things run more smoothly. The appearance on mobile devices is another matter that needed attention and things should appear better on smartphones after the remediation.

Along the way, there was much to learn and there always was another thing to try. that may remain but, COVID-19 permitting, there is a need to get out of doors too. With the debt caused by the purchase of a new camera now paid off, any better weather in March could be used using an old trick of mine: booking an associated night in a nearby hotel. After that, there is the Easter weekend which rather spoiled me last year while I was in Edinburgh. Some pondering and planning lies ahead.