Are you a wanderer, a bit of an explorer? Do you delight in finding new places, away from the main tourist trails, where few people have been before? Do you especially love coming across exquisite spots where everything feels right, the views, your immediate surroundings, the feel of the place, so that you just want to linger awhile and admire the scenery? Or, to put it more fancifully, do you like wandering in Eden? If so, then maybe this website is for you. Let me try to explain what it is about.
For the last thirty years or so, since I discovered the joy of walking, I’ve been wandering around these islands of ours in the North Atlantic from the Isles of Scilly to the Shetlands, from the West of Ireland to the East of England. Recently, I’ve branched out to visit various European countries. On these trips, I find myself drawn to certain areas, either by interpreting a map or reading a guide book or just by noticing them as I wander about. Then, within those areas, I often find a particular spot which evokes in me a sense of wonder and appreciation of nature, a spot that really does ‘hit the spot’.
Many features may contribute to that special quality: the lie of the land, the views, both near and far, the weather and the light at that particular time, even the route I have taken. Yet, in the end, the magic is indefinable, except as an uplifting, ‘wow’ feeling.
To me, such a spot differs from what is usually referred to as a ‘beauty spot’. If you google ‘beauty spots in Great Britain’, you will get a list of places such as ‘Glens of Antrim, ‘Malham Cove’, ‘Glenfinnan’, ‘Tintagel Castle’ and ‘Rhossili Down’. These are truly beautiful places but each of them covers quite a large area so they are not really spots in the sense I am using the word: somewhere very specific where everything is just right so that if you were to move even a few metres that feeling of rightness would be lessened or lost altogether.
I am also looking for spots off the beaten track where there is a search involved, not the kind of beauty spot you can drive up to and park beside. They require a bit of effort to find. For me, the effort is part of what makes a spot special: it’s like the sense of satisfaction on reaching the summit of a mountain after the effort of the climb, or the effort expended in a treasure hunt contributing to the exhilaration of finding the treasure. So you have to do a bit of work for these spots which, as Wainwright used to say, is as it should be.
My idea is to offer a selection of such spots in such a way that you can discover them for yourself, rather like a treasure hunt, by giving you the general area with the help of a map, and marking the trail that I followed so that you can ‘hit the spot’ for yourself. I describe the trail and the views from the spot and what made it special, without actually marking it on the map. This is because I would rather leave you free either to find your own spot or to seek out mine. The descriptions of the views in the various compass directions should help you to find the precise spot that I favoured, if you so wish.
On the whole, the photographs are not views of or from the spot itself as I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you. They are rather of the trail leading to the spot to give you a feel of the place and perhaps help you decide if this is a trail that might appeal to you. However, sometimes I have chosen to include photos from the actual spot because I felt there was no other way to convey what makes that spot special or even because the photos are so darn good I didn’t want to leave them out. To begin with, I did not take my own photos so I have reproduced postcards. Later on, I got myself a camera and include many of my own photos and a few really good ones from postcards. The numbers on the photos are purely for my convenience so that I can trace them on my camera. The spots are numbered in chronological order. After Spot 149, I decided to change to numbering trails rather than spots. At the same time, I decided to drop the compass point directions for each spot in favour of a shorter general description under a title specifying its location.
I shall group the spots in geographical areas so that you could combine finding several of them in one visit to an area plus there are some ‘odds and sods’ that I discovered on various shorter trips. These trails are not only for serious hikers; they are also for old codgers like me – I was 67 when I started on this enterprise, with dodgy knees and a daily limit of 20k, and I have done all these trails recently. You will notice that many of my spots are high up or amongst mountains but none of them are difficult to reach for the average walker such as myself.
However, after Trip 10 (Iceland 2), it’s safe to say this website is no longer for long-distance hikers – my legs simply aren’t up to trails of more than 15k on the flat and 10k up and down mountains. But that is OK by me and in line with the philosophy of this website: it’s not about the distance covered but about our enjoyment of the trail and the quality of the spots visited. In fact, as I slow down, I find I enjoy more since I stop and stare more, I notice more and I appreciate more. The trouble with many hikers (and I know because I used to be like this) is that they are trying to get somewhere, which tends to mean: walk fast, take the most direct route, don’t stop unnecessarily, see how far they can get in one day, etc.. Since letting go of this approach, I am open for surprises and changes of plan, which is how I find many of the spots on this website. I intend to go on doing this on a steadily reducing scale until I am 90 and can no longer put one foot in front of the other.
This attitude is summarized in this polemic written while hiking on Trail 179:
‘I know they say that size and length matter but, as far as a trail goes, I maintain that they don’t – it’s what you do with it that counts: how much do you notice on the trail? How often do you just stop and stare? Do you enjoy the path itself and the plants beside it? Do you turn off to visit spots that look inviting? Or do you just blunder ahead, saying “Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am” to Nature?’
Now I want to say what this website is not about: these are matters that I personally do not find interesting or helpful so have not included, although they feature in most guides and blogs:
1. There’s very little history, despite my interest in archaeology and prehistory: I find it a distraction from my appreciation of nature and enjoyment of the silence
2. There’s not much agriculture, botany, geography, geology, meteorology or ornithology either, for the same reason.
3. I don’t include travel arrangements, places to stay and places to eat, since all of that is now so easy to find online.
4. I don’t give detailed directions for the trail I’m describing, except where the path is difficult to follow. I’m assuming you can, and would prefer to, find your own way with the help of a map.
These judgements are backed up by Frederic Gros in ‘A Philosophy of Walking’ (1):
“In the silence of a walk, when you end up losing the use of words because by then you are doing nothing but walk (and here one should beware of those expedition guides who recode, detail, inform, punctuate the walk with names and explanations – the relief, the types of rock, the slopes, the names of plants and their virtues – to give the impression that everything visible has a name, that there is a grammar for everything that can be felt), in that silence you hear better, because you are finally hearing what has no vocation to be retranslated, recoded, reformatted.” (p.62)
Having said all that, there may be occasional exceptions, if something seems really interesting, amusing or relevant to your enjoyment of the walk (and I do like to break my own rules occasionally).
Nor do I claim that these are the best spots or the best views in Britain, Ireland or anywhere else because such judgements are so subjective. These are my favourite spots in the areas I have visited recently, most of which have great views. I just hope that you have the same taste as mine.
So, dear reader, that’s what’s on offer. I am trying to distil for you what was special for me about these walks and these spots so that you can go out and discover them for yourself. I trust that my efforts will be rewarded by your pleasure in “hitting the spot on trails less trodden”.