Category Archives: The Wilds

I Would Walk 828 Miles…

Found this quote in Patrick Baker’s The Cairngorms. William MacGillivray has transformed my understanding of both being a walker, and the value of the British Museum.

MacGillivray’s commitment to life as a field naturalist was whole-hearted, and as a result he became a prodigious walker. At the age of 23 he decided to visit the British Museum in London, walking a circuitous route from his home in Aberdeen, covering a remarkable distance of 828 miles in just eight weeks, an average of almost 15 miles every day.

Raised on Harris, MacGillivray (1796-1852) was rather extraordinary, not just as an ornithologist and writer of natural history, but maybe possibly one of the first professors to undertake field trips. Awesome. Read the riverofthings blog, there are way more fun facts, like there is a hooded crow named after him because he kicked it with James Audobon and more. Much more. As you’d expect from anyone who walked 828 miles to the British Library.

Baker, Patrick (2021) The Cairngorms: A Secret History. Birlinn: Edinburgh.

The Ingleton Waterfalls

Our final day of 2021, a hard year, long year, covid year but also a year that brought great change for 2022 and many good things. The day dawned wet, with low cloud. It has been raining heavily. Water thundered down with wild force enough to take the soul and cast it up into the air light as foam.

I can still hear it in my ears.

Continue reading The Ingleton Waterfalls

Settle to Victoria Cave and the Craven Lime Kilns

Such a splendid walk today, although we weren’t sure about weather. The wind had finally died down, but we left the cottage in a fine drizzle to catch the train down to Settle. An incredible breakfast at the Naked Man Cafe and straight up the hills.

The sun graced us, lighting up the world below.

It only appeared now and then, but drew extraordinary colours out of land and sky. Blues I have never seen and clouds like feathers that touched the earth.

Continue reading Settle to Victoria Cave and the Craven Lime Kilns

Christmas Eve Walk: New Houses

I miss going to Arizona to spend Christmas with my mum, but this lovely cottage, Fawber Cottage, in the Yorkshire Dales is a good second best. Just released from Covid quarantine — I caught the stupid virus at our Christmas lunch, which was also doubling as my going away lunch.

The irony is not lost on me.

So I was stuck home until Christmas Eve, and even with trains cancelled and delayed, managed to get to New Houses to meet Mark in time for a walk. Just up the road from Horton-in-Ribblesdale, it is beautiful here. We walked further up the dale, up to Sell Gill where the stream pours into the earth, swalled up by the cave beneath the limestone.

The wind has surely been wuthering though.

Continue reading Christmas Eve Walk: New Houses

Kingussie to Glen Banchor

Our first day, a lovely bright summer day. We were so very lucky with the weather. Not so lucky in other ways maybe. This would have been so much better split into two, not least because we found out at the end that the trains have been on strike every Sunday and we had a last three miles to walk (16 miles…my poor partner). The loop up from Newtonmore was the best and I wish we had started there to walk further up the Glen, though Gynack Burn out of Kingussie is quite lovely.

Gynack Burn is, of course, the falling water that the Duke of Gordon planned to harness to his industrialising schemes, powering factories for flour, wool and linen. One mill still stands — now The Cross, a most lovely, delicious (and expensive) restaurant that I recommend highly. But up the burn you can see worked walls of stone that once served as dams, attempts to wrest power from the water.

Continue reading Kingussie to Glen Banchor

Highland Landscapes

We’re just back from a week in Kingussie, a small village on both the trainline and the edge of the Cairngorms. It’s a place that feels wild, that looks wild. I loved it, for though I know I’ve been steadily domesticated since the age of 17, I still miss the wild intensely. Here there are moors, mountains, the 1% of ‘ancient’ Caledonian forest that still exists with its host of rare species unlikely to be seen elsewhere. Just look at this beautiful place.

I came having read Nan Sheperd’s The Living Mountain, one of my very favourite books. She writes

The Cairngorm Mountains are a mass of granite thrust up through the schists and gneiss that form the lower surrounding hills, planed down by the ice cap, and split, shattered and scooped by frost, glaciers and the strength of running water. Their physiognomy is in the geography books – so many square miles of area, so many lochs, so many summits of over 4000 feet – but this is a pallid simulacrum of their reality, which, like every reality that matters ultimately to human beings, is a reality of the mind. (Sheperd, 1)

Like her, I am captive to this place.

Yet I hadn’t quite realised before we came just how many layers of human intervention have shaped the land even here in this wild place. I should stop being surprised perhaps, after walking glorious hills where the pits left by coal mining now sit in what feels like pristine countryside, or overgrown factory ruins spill down along the stream banks of remote valleys in the Pennines.

Continue reading Highland Landscapes

Wild Walks: Buxton to Whaley Bridge

Another escape onto the moors as lockdown eases. Still glorious. Today was an effort to do better than our last attempt at these particular moors, walking from the station Buxton. That was a grim, cold walk and no mistake, and a closed pub at the end of it. I almost cried.

This was a beautiful sunny day, we sat on a wall eating pasties and taking in a view of the now-open Crescent Hotel (I rather fancy staying there when things open again), bought ice cream as we walked through the Pavilion Gardens. My last memory of it I was tired, hungry and bedraggled. And there were mummers. I never know what I think about them. But no mummers today.

This was lovely, a bit long to get out of Buxton maybe, but then a swift climb up hill, over an old rail line, and up where you feel on top of the world. Across the hills in sun and shadow. A brief encounter with a geezer in a tweed waistcoat, awesome. The lovely blue waters of the reservoir. The ruins of Errwood hall and a brief wish we’d arrived a little later to see the hillside of rhododendrons in full bloom. Exhausted stumble into Whaley Bridge. Home.

see more

Almost home: Tucson Mountain Park

Taking care of mom, hardly leaving the house for shielding as much as a terrible unrelenting heat. Starting work at 6 am latest to speak to people in the UK, so can’t even go walking when the temperature might make that possible. Until today. A drive out to near where we used to live. A walk with Cat Mountain almost always in view. Not living there still feels like a hole in the heart. An impossibility. For all the talk about modern mobility and all my own mobility, this is still where I am anchored. A piece of my heart still in that adobe house. The wind still carrying me amidst the deer, coyotes, rabbits enjoying the sun, the cactus wrens and towees and gila woodpeckers and roadrunners and threshers and this host of wild things making the desert such a vibrant place of life.

Formby Beach

I am backdating this to the day we saw we came to this beautiful place but writing this late (maybe late, who knows how late) in lockdown (25 May). I long for a beach, air, space, emptiness, woods, trains, travels, pubs, new things.

A cold, windy day of great dark clouds and blue sky, we hoped to find the beach empty. The older I get, the emptier I like my beaches. Formby was surprisingly full of people along much of the beach itself, but for the most part spread across the long horizon’s sweeps like Lowry figures. But in the glorious dunes there were few people, and the bright sun and deep shadow showed the beauty of low wind carved hills.

Across wet hard-packed beach the wind swept wide rivers of dry sand, swiftly racing undulations of changing currents and rivulets that stung against my shins.

We saw many dogs with joy quivering in every bound and wet shake.

People did fill the woods, one of the last places that red squirrels can still be seen. We did not see red squirrels, only a notice that we might encounter them dead or dying among the pines of squirrel pox. Devastating on many levels.

Nor did we comb the waters edge as the tide ebbed out for the prehistoric footsteps, not knowing that was the only place they could be seen. I’m still a little heartbroken about that. Walking to Formby from the train we missed the informational boards positioned for the passengers of cars, but even for them it wasn’t all that clear.

I loved that this was also a productive landscape, a world of small holding (or so it was once) and asparagus beds — ah, asparagus! How I love asparagus. There is a plaque for the Aindow family, a rare local name. The plaque tells us:

William Aindow… with his brothers Ellis and Douglas and sister Joan, he leveled new fields next to Victoria Wood. The Aindows also grew asparagus on part of Pine Tree farm and a long pointed strip of land next to Jubilee Wood called tongue sharp piece! It was here they had their sheds ad a couple of caravans where they stayed during the main asparagus season.

Horses were used on the Aindows’ farm into the 1990s. The narrow drills suited horse cultivation and the horse would move between the ridges without damage to the roots of the asparagus plant. When the ridges were formed by tractor cultivation, they tended to be wider. It wasn’t always easy to plough or harrow with a tractor o the sand because of the risk of getting stuck, especially when the sand was dry.

The ridges of their fields can be seen here:

A splendid walk, if cold and the wind, well the wind was really something.