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!

Collected Walking Destinations

Track beside Cumberland Brook, Wildboarclough, Cheshire, England

Many good walking areas have their own dedicated websites, so I have thought it to be a good idea to offer a list here. This list used to live on the blog sidebar but seeing how long that was and my wanting to say a little about each entry caused this move to the dedicated page that you find here. Many of the websites for areas in the U.K. belong to national park authorities and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). Scenic walking oases from the Irish Republic aren’t alone in falling outside of areas meeting those classifications, since there are some unprotected parts that remain alluring and deserve more in the way of conservation than is the case at the moment. Wherever you decide to venture, enjoy what you find.

Ballyhoura Country

While it gets included here for its hosting the Ballyhoura Mountains and the Galtees among others, a brief look at the website will demonstrate that its reach includes surrounding lowlands too. That means taking in much of counties Limerick, Cork and Tipperary. There’s a pretty wide mix of trip ideas on the website, with walking and cycling having to share space with the rest. Still, there’s enough for getting a feel for what the area has to offer the visitor.

Brecon Beacons

Not the best named of the national parks because the name only applies to one of the mountain ranges found within its boundaries. Others include the Black Mountain, the Black Mountains and the Carmarthen Fan. Naming aside, there is plenty here to be explored. I cannot say that I have been all that often, but that means that there are plenty of reasons for a return.

Cairngorms

Until I had a look at the map of this national park, I was convinced that I never really had ventured within its boundaries. It turns out that anyone who passes along the A9 between Pitlochry and Inverness or by rail will do so. On a summer stay a few years back, I even managed to go beyond passing through en route to somewhere else when I went for a walk around Kingussie. Other than that, my explorations have been minimal, so a longer visit exploring the main part of the park further east is in order, and there’s a hell of a lot to see here.

Cannock Chase

So far, this part of South Staffordshire has escaped my attentions, and I even missed it when doing a round-up of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Was it because of a certain gravitation towards hill country, or that I was featuring places that I had frequented? Not knowing the answer to that is immaterial because this might be worth visiting if I am after somewhere more level for a day out.

Clwydian Range & Dee Valley

In these austere times, it is less usual to hear some good news about conserving the countryside, and that is the case with this part of Wales. Until recently, this AONB only covered the hills of the Clwydian Range, until it grew to take in the Dee Valley around Corwen and Llangollen too. That not only increased its size, but it also should boost its visitor numbers. It is all too easy to pass the Clwydian Range en route to the delights of northwest Wales, so I hope to see more of these hills than I already have. They deserve better than the single day visit that I have paid them so far. After all, the Offa’s Dyke Path national trail passes here and there is the Dee Valley Way, the North Berwyn Way and the Clwydian Way should more route options be needed.

Cotswolds

Being kept busy exploring the crumpled bits of countryside in the north and west of Britain has meant that southern delights can escape my attention. Included among these is an AONB that takes in parts of Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. The countryside may be rolling rather than dramatic, but that has its place too, though I could foresee some busy spots with its being close to large population centres in the south and midlands of England. Nevertheless, there are sure to be quieter parts, and they may lure me in time.

Denbighshire

The county has a lot to offer with the Clwydian Range and the Dee Valley, but that is not all, as you should see from this website. The western end of the area borders on Snowdonia, so you get a mention of the Tegid Trail and others. Cycling and horse riding are mentioned in addition to walking, so the website is useful to more than walkers.

Eryri/Snowdonia

Even those not inclined to wander through Welsh hill country should have heard of Snowdonia. Personally, I find the Welsh name Eryri more appealing than its English equivalent, which to my ears sounds a little pretentious. No pretence is needed regarding the quality of the countryside, though, with that surrounding the Rhinogs being very near to what you’d find in the Scottish Highlands. I have been here a good few times, but there’s always much more to explore.

Howardian Hills

As if hosting three national parks weren’t enough, Yorkshire also has this AONB abutting the North York Moors National Park. The landscape is pastoral, but that is not to say that it isn’t attractive to those who fancy somewhere to explore and walkers, cyclists and horse riders are welcome.

Isle of Man

It took me until 2009 to get as far as the Isle of Man on a short day trip when rain beset the island. Two more followed, with one on the Mayday bank holiday weekend in 2010 and another during July 2011. Both saw some coastal walking and there are some hills at the heart of the island too. There is more left to sample.

Lagan Valley Regional Park

It was an article regarding a learning project named Laganscape on the BBC News website that drew my attention to this part of Northern Ireland. The park extends for 17.6 km of the length of one of Northern Ireland’s major rivers and features a canal that once was a primary conduit for freight. All in all, there appears to be a lot to see here with the canal towpath offering something for longer distance walkers too.

Lake District

Another of my regular haunts, though there are some years when I spend more time there than others. It might be a walking honeypot, but you can always escape the crowds, even if it’s only for a little while. Many visit and confine themselves to its towns and, while it makes for quieter hills, it is difficult to fathom how you cannot experience the countryside instead of perambulating up and down a high street.

Lleyn Peninsula

Nearby Snowdonia may get all the attention, but this area has its merits too, with its mix of attractive hills (Yr Eifl) and coastline; there’s a length of path following the line of the latter. The area’s being a staunch stronghold of the Welsh language adds character, so you need to know the Welsh place names and not just their Anglicised variants to get about. There are wildlife havens such as Bardsey Island, too, so there should be something for everyone. In fact, I am left wondering why I haven’t been there before; maybe that’s something that I need to fix.

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs

This is one of Scotland’s first national parks, and its proximity to Glasgow makes it an invaluable place for that city’s citizens to escape the cares of modern life. It has the West Highland Way and the Rob Roy Way going through it, so they offer a means of getting a sample of what’s here, but there’s so much more than this too. I must admit that my explorations of the area have increased lately after passing through to locations further north and west. There’s a lot to be seen here, and I suspect that exhausting its possibilities is nigh on impossible.

Manchester’s Countryside

Greater Manchester wouldn’t strike anyone as an outdoors destination but it does have some Pennine moors on its doorstep and there are green belts dispersed around the metropolitan county too. With some effort being put into facilities, it’s little wonder that they are being promoted like this and green spaces like them are invaluable for anyone living in the city itself (and always have been, by the looks of things).

Mersey Forest

This is no single forest but rather a network of smaller woodland areas across Cheshire and Merseyside. Though I did not realise it at the time, I encountered one of them on a cycling visit to Northwich. These were the Northwich Woodlands, and I only sampled a little of their appeal from the saddle of my bike. Of course, there are more than these awaiting exploration on foot or by bicycle, and the website tells you more.

Mournes

These are the highest mountains in Northern Ireland and, thankfully, are protected by an AONB too. There may be talks about a well-deserved National Park designation, but that’s not imminent at the moment. While I haven’t paid a visit, it looks as if it would be worth my while doing so.

Nidderdale

In some respects, this was a strange omission from the Yorkshire Dales National Park, but geology can have a part to play, as it did in the various discussions surrounding the establishment of the South Downs National Park. For some reason, I am left with the impression that this is gritstone country, but there is pride here too and the comprehensive visitor website is testament to that. My only visit so far took me to Pateley Bridge for an out and back walk to Brimham Rocks, and a follow-up trip may be in order.

North Pennines

This is another AONB that could be ignored in place of other better-known spots. Usefully, the Pennine Way allows the chance to get a flavour of what’s here but it looks as if there’s plenty of wilder country for a spot of decluttering of the mind.

North York Moors

This is a Yorkshire National Park that has yet to see my footfall. Unsurprisingly, this is walking country too, but it perhaps is better known from its appearances in television dramas and its preserved railway. With all that flowering heather in the photos on the website, August sounds like a good time to pay the area a visit.

Northumberland

Apparently, this is the least visited of the national parks. I suppose that it’s too easy to keep going for the Scottish Highlands when you get up this far. I have been a few times, but I cannot say that I have done anything but scratch the surface. There’s a hell of a lot of wild bumpy stuff about the Cheviot, and the most challenging section of the Pennine Way passes through here.

Northumberland Coast

Given that this AONB has the advantage of having beaches, I suspect that it could get visited by a fair few (local) folk when the weather is right. I have only ever walked here in January and there were a few taking in the sea air on what was a mild and cloudy day. The other occasion that I have passed the way was on a bus from Alnwick to Newcastle, and I still enjoyed what I saw, even if making my train home was uppermost in my mind.

Peak District

Given that I live on its doorstep, it should come as no surprise that I have enjoyed a lot of hiking here. That especially applies in the last few years because of the ongoing pandemic. The Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire portions all have acted as respites where I used walking to help with my fragile mental health. The national park’s location between Manchester, Sheffield and Derby has meant that locations need to be picked with care to avoid the masses. Kinder Scout, the Hope valley and around Bakewell can become busy and that is exacerbated by others not having alternative places to be or things to do. Nevertheless, there are quieter moments to be had if you play things appropriately.

Pembrokeshire

This national park exists to protect the wonderful coastline that is found here, but it also includes the Preseli Hills too. Conveniently, a national trail passes through much of the wonders, allowing a good introduction to them.

Pentland Hills

These hills are protected by a regional park, which is just as well as the Edinburgh City Bypass acts as their northern boundary. I only paid them a visit recently, and the heather-covered hills looked inviting. Edinburghers are really lucky to have them on their doorstep, but I do wonder how many get the idea of exploring them. I know that I didn’t when I lived there and I had a good view of them from a one-time bedroom window.

Reeks District

This is recently re-badged are around Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohil, and other neighbouring summits that many access from Cronin’s Yard. While my interest is in walking, other pursuits are covered too. Hopefully, the added promotion is matched with funding for such things as path maintenance, since MacGillycuddy’s Reeks have some that are unsafe. Otherwise, it is great to see this part of Ireland getting deserved attention.

Rothiemurchus

It’s an estate near Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park that is superbly located and with distinctive scenery to boot. It is surrounded by famous hills like Braeriach and Cairngorm, as well as being at the northern end of the Lairig Ghru. This is countryside that is accessible to the less adventuring, while the harder stuff is not too far away either.

Scottish Highlands

This two-word combination is probably famous the world over, and justly so. There are multiple lifetimes of exploration to be enjoyed here, and masses of less peopled parts to let solitude and quietude do their healing work. While there are two National Parks found within the area, there is so much more outside their boundaries to savour that you could include most of the Scottish mainland in one single National Park to conserve the lot in a manner that perhaps could be better than how things are done today.

Shropshire Hills

A haunt of Andy Howell, the proximity of this bunch of largely deserted hills to Birmingham makes it surprising that more don’t come here. This part of Shropshire is an AONB and deservedly so. Bus services can be patchy, so it’s best to be careful. Saying that, trains do a good job of getting you near the hills.

Sperrins

Just like its southern neighbour, Northern Ireland has its lesser-known scenic areas, so here’s one of them. From the walking point of view, there’s the Ulster Way and the Central Sperrins Way long-distance trails to investigate, along with other options. As if that isn’t enough, the hilly area’s an AONB too.

The Broads

This may be a member of the British National Park family, of which I may not see so much, but I thought that it needed adding to this compilation. The area that it conserves lies in the east of England, and is largely flat, with areas of fen and marsh to go with the rivers that flow through it. This is a landscape that many find special, so I am happy to overlook its lack of hills in favour of that.

Wye Valley

My discovery of this part of the world is virtual at the moment and, while the photos look idyllic, I really need to visit the area before I can say any more. The lower reaches of the Wye are what is being managed by this AONB. That ensures that the area extends into both England and Wales, with the counties of Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire falling within its catchment.

Yorkshire Dales

Another of Yorkshire’s national parks and an area that offers so much to the hiker. The countryside is diverse too, ranging from the wide-open spaces around Ribblesdale to the more pastoral country around Wharfedale.