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Sun, Silkies and Surf

The camper, or day van as it is technically called, has had it’s first foray into the world! A few days on the West Coast of Scotland, at Knapdale and the Kintyre Peninsula.

When the Rest and Be Thankful is open it is only a couple of hours or so from home. Yet, it really does feel like a proper getaway, remote, quiet and incredibly beautiful. With rolling hills and the golden sandy beaches that the West Coast is famous for. It causes you to stop a moment, catch your breath and just be. Something I think everyone needs this year!

The entire trip was around 430miles in total. This being such a beautiful part of the world means I could easily write many a blog, sharing the sights, smells and scenery with you. Instead, I am going to pick just 5 highlights from the trip to tell you about. Each selected for it’s own reasoning, each different from the next.

Sunrise at Furnace

I don’t know about you, but the first night of a holiday is never a good nights sleep. A new bed in a new location makes it hard for me to settle and harder yet to stay asleep. The first night away was exactly that. I went to bed early, before 10pm, but was properly awake by 4.30am.

I am not normally an early riser but there is a magic in the air at that time in the morning. I quickly packed up camp before heading back along the road towards Furnace for sunrise.

As the sun rose that morning I felt the daily grind fade away. The world changing from dark blues to purples and pinks as I slowly made my porridge. Time to just stop and breathe was amazing after the last few months.

Skipness Beach

When holidaying in Scotland I am more prepared for midgies and mizzle than sunbathing. I simply do not expect to lie on a beach, in swimwear after taking a swim and feeling my skin slowly tighten, knowing I should have put some lotion on. But that’s the magic of Skipness.

The drive to here, along the tumbling kinking roads was pleasurable but required focus. To discover the shallow waters, warmed thanks to the spell of sunny days was the perfect respite from it.

Since a fright in the waves whilst on summer holiday a few years ago I have always had a wary, almost fearful respect for the sea. I will rarely venture in alone, even to paddle. But the serenity here encouraged me to swim in the shallows all on my own. I relaxed and enjoyed it. And remember, the sea is not always a scary place.

Silkies at Machrihanish

Scotland is awash with tales of the others. The other beings, from fairies to kelpies, monsters and giants. But at Machrihanish I had the most unsettling of experiences followed by a magical one.

I was tired after a day of exploring and swimming, walking and driving and decided an afternoon nap before moving on would be ideal. I went for a swim at the main beach at Machrihanish before heading along to the first quiet layby. I curled up in the back of the van to nap for a hour or so before moving on for dinner.

90 minutes later I woke with a start. I was convinced a father and grown son were shouting at me, telling me I was not welcome and it was time to move on. I woke with my arms outstretched to protect myself saying aloud that I was going. Fear in my voice. Yet when I properly came to there was no sign of anyone.

I jumped out to go to the drivers seat. I knew I needed a moment to centre myself and calmed myself looking out to sea. Wildlife can be found in abundance on the coastlines here. Was that a splash? A tail? A head?

As I calmed, I was aware of a seal watching me as it swam closer before slithering onto a rock. As graceful as these creatures are in the water, well, they are the opposite on land. As it lay there looking towards me it appeared to motion me over with its flapper. A come hither expression in its soulful eyes.

I stood a while, entranced, before remembering that unsettled feeling and making to move on. But as I slipped my key into the ignition another seal appeared. This one too appearing to lounge around, like an old tart, trying to catching the eye of passing fishermen.

But again, time was passing, I needed to find somewhere to make dinner and bed down for the night.

But more movement. One by one 7 seals appeared in total. I felt a honoured that they appeared and were comfortable with me observing them. It was almost as if there were trying to make me feel secure and let me know I was not alone after that awful dream.

Watching them, you could understand where the tales of silkies come from. How human they could appear. How intelligent and empathetic. Time passed in the blink of an eye, but all in I stood with them for over a hour before it was time for me to leave them and move on.

Sunset at Westport

After leaving the silkies I headed down to Southend before the road northwards stopping at Westport. The beauty of nature is surreal here. It takes your breath away and I am not ashamed to admit it made me well up more than once.

From long golden sandy beaches to stunning wildflower meadows and a sunset which simply stole my heart. There are no filters needed at this part of the world. They simply would not do nature a justice.

I slept long and late here. Lulled by the crashing waves. In the morning the sky was grey and the water billowing from the waves onto the beach. At times the coast here can feel inhospitable, the winters are sure to be long and the days short. But this beach showed why anyone would want to run away here. There must be many a poem, painting and creation inspired by it.

Cups and Rings at Achnabreac

My final night on this trip was spent at Achnabreac Forest. This is a site filled with mystery. The signs let you know that it is part of Kilmichael Forest, a remnant of the Atlantic oakwoods. These are woodlands that began spreading across a vast distance when the last ice age ended. It stretched along the Atlantic seaboard to Norway and all the way to the south of Spain.

It is also home to one of the most extensive and important cup and ring trails known, with parts 4000 or more years old.

At heart, I am a wee hippy and open minded, though I will always try and find an explanation for things. But the vibe within this site and the strange way energy worked, well, it defies my explanations. There is something elemental and age old about this place. There is a real magic here that you can touch, smell, taste almost. The energy pulsates, you can you feel it. There is true power here, the kind our modern life has taught us does not exist. Yet it is there. Waiting to be remembered.

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A New Adventure Begins

Like everyone, Covid has impacted upon my adventuring. I have not been able to get to the water or the hills and have missed that. But that has not stopped the dreaming or the planning. Take the Slow Road Scotland by Martin Dorey and Wild Guide Scotland have both been hugely inspirational. Highlighting secret gems and helping me day dream.

So, with those in mind, we have started converting Mabel from being a van into a camper or day van. Now, I am the first to admit that Ian has done most of the work, not me. I will get him to write about the process of converting it. My focus has been on the cabin and creating a tiny functional home in there (there will be a post coming about that too!).

After we both spent a ridiculous amount of hours researching work begin. He started by stripping it right back and cleaning it. Then he has sound deadened, insulated, opened up the space and more. The bed is on order and the kitchen implements bought (that was my job 🙂 ) and now we are ready to plan.

So, what am I planning?

To start, a month of escape and van life! I will be going a solo trip in it. I love a wee solo trip away once a year or so. The freedom to live life at my own pace, eating, sleeping and not worrying about anyone else is a treat.

So, where am I off to?

I have literally no idea. I plan to stay in Scotland and away from the tourist areas. I want to wild camp as much as possible. I shall go wherever the wind blows me. And I shall hit up some of the suggestions in those books!

Then, after a week or 2, I shall come home and collect Ian before we set off again. He has a few ideas where he would like to go, again, keeping off the beaten track and living life at a slow pace.

So, what hidden gems in mainland Scotland would you suggest visiting? We have completed the NC500 and, well, want to stay off the beaten tracks. So share your ideas!

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Warm Chocolate and Love

The Hermitage at Dunkeld

Is there a better way to start the year than with people you love, in the outdoors and making memories?  This was a fitting way to start my 52 adventures this year.  We headed to Big Tree Country – Perthshire and The Hermitage.  We meet in the carpark, our friends and their kids travelled in their car with Ian and I in ours.  We organise the treat bag and head off.  This part of the Perthshire was originally designed as a rural idyll for the Dukes of Atholl in the 18th century but is now cared for by the National Trust for Scotland.

You begin with a meander along the River Braan, a canopy of Douglas Firs above you, as you fleetingly pass before them.  Some of the trees here, within the Craigvinean Forest, have survived more than 200 years, they are tall, strong and beautiful.  I often like to imagine everything a tree has seen.  Can you imagine life through their eyes?  Watching the Queen, Wandsworth and others pass before them.  It really helps put life into perspective.

Even with 2 excited children chattering away with us, you soon start to hear the thunder of the Black Linn Falls. You first notice the bridge, standing here the falls have a power.  But take a moment to look up and you will spot Ossian’s Hall.  This old hall, builtin 1757, is not only the best place to take in the ferocity of the falls, but also contains the Hall of Mirrors. This really is a stunning room, designed to reflect the power of the falls.  The hall was partially blown up in 1869, however, the NTS have since restored it.  A stunning hall and room which really is magical within this setting.

Just along from the hall, you will find several wishing trees.  These are trunks with coins hammered into them.  A few years ago, there was only the 1 wishing tree, but now the site now seems littered with money trees.  This old tradition is undertaken in the hope of making a wish, often for fortune.  Whilst making offerings to deities goes back hundreds of years, it was undertaken with a certain degree of respect.  Seeing the many, many money trees and stumps I feel this act has lost some of the magic it once had.  It seems haphazard, unthoughtful, almost disrespectful due to the large quantity of wishing trees. There has been reports from NTS that this harms living trees, with trees succumbing to copper poisoning.  As has been discussed, some of the trees here are over 200 years old.  We do not want to kill them, though I fear NTS have a tough battle controlling this now. 

The youngsters I was with did enjoy hammering their coins into an old felled tree, which already had hundred of coins in it.  They saw the magic in this act.  Of selecting their special spot and making their wish.  They chose their tree carefully, ensuring one with coins already in it.  One that had been felled a long time ago.  One that would do the least harm.  It is a spot they can now take their children when they are old.  It is a spot they won’t forget.  And we do need to instil this love of nature in children if we wish to preserve the environment and herein lies the complexity of this act.

From here, we journey onwards to Ossian’s Cave.  This was built around 1760 and despite advertising for a hermit, none came forward.  I wonder if the same would happen now or if there might be someone tempted to live in the old cave, with the sounds of nature close by and a cafĂ© just along the road.  It certainly wouldn’t be the hardship it once was. 

From here, we explored into the woods, allowing the children to wonder and roam whilst we spent time together, relaxed and happy.  It is winter, and we had set off late.  Light was fading.  We headed back towards the bridge and the children took great joy in making the adults a hot chocolate treat.  It maybe wasn’t the warmest, but it was made with lots of love.  To stand, in a beautiful setting and enjoy a warm drink really was special.  It is the simple things in life!

Eventually though, with darkness descending, we packed up and headed back to the car.  The first day of the year was on its way out but it had been filled with beauty and love.  I might be turning into an old hippy here but there really isn’t much more I could wish for!


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Stunning Indecision

Loch Achray

Today we set out to kayak the isups but weren’t quite sure where we were headed.  With over 30,000 lochs in Scotland, we aren’t exactly short of a place or two.  Add to that beaches, canals and rivers, well, we really are spoiled with choice.

We quickly decided to aim for Loch Drunkie.  This is one of the lochs on the 3 Lochs Drive near Aberfoyle.  It seemed the perfect location, small, quiet (hopefully) and scenic.  The drive from Aberfoyle cannot be rushed.  The road, whilst in fine condition, is winding, with hairpin corners and steep ascents through the Achray Forest.  The views are plentiful, every tight corner reveals another stunning sight.  

Before long, the road to the 3 Lochs appeared to the right.  We took it, anticipating our afternoon on the water.  Those hopes were soon dashed.  The gate was closed.  It turns out the road is closed for winter.  We shall return after 1st March when the road reopens.

With little choice, we rejoin the A821 and soon discover Loch Achray.  This small, sheltered freshwater loch is popular with fishermen, photographers and walkers.  The fishermen enjoy catching brown trout, sea trout, pike, perch and salmon.  The photographers love the stillness of the loch with stunning reflections and the walkers enjoy Ben A’an and Ben Venue.  It really is a spot for all.

We inflate the isups, with our new pump and tightened valves.  Thankfully there is no unforeseen hitches, except the heavy wintery shower which hits just as we are about to hit the water.  We know the day is filled with showers so we retreat to the car, enjoy a little food, before it quickly passes, and we can take to the water.

The water is still and peaceful, an easy paddle.  We hug the shoreline, heading round clockwise.  As we progressed the beauty soon presented itself.  The view of the snowy hills surrounding the loch was breath taking.  There was little choice but to stop and enjoy it.  We really are blessed to live in such an amazing country. 

Like much of the country, there is flooding in this area too.  This allowed the exploration of some spots which would generally be on land, the flooding creating some short-term islands.  Soon though, it was time to head back to shore and pack up the gear.  Again, the short days in Scotland playing their part.  The boards deflate very quickly and are easily rolled up and stowed in the boot.  Getting changed was a chilly experience, but the only time I had been cold all day.  Thankfully, there was a handy flask so hot chocolate could be enjoyed before heading home. 

To head home, we drove towards Brig o’ Turk where there were some stunning signs by a cottage to remind you to look out for red squirrels.  This area is still a stronghold for them!  Eventually we reached Callander before heading towards the motorway for home.  This route forms part of the “Kick up the Trossachs” route by Martin Dorey in his book Take the Slow Road. He writes beautifully about it and I would suggest buying this book if you enjoy a wee adventure.  It shall certainly be used plenty in this year of adventure.  Now, we are only on 12th January and already I am 4 adventures in for the year!  I cannot wait to see how it will pan out!

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Positive Failure

Meall a’ Bhuachaille 

Many moons ago, as a trainee teacher I was lucky enough to do a residential at Glenmore Lodge.  This was part of our social studies course and we looked at history, ecology and more.  One part that stood out was the Pass of Ryvoan, taking us to Ryvoan Bothie.  Within a couple of years, I headed back, with a view of completing the Meall a’ Bhuachaille walk.

This walk is advertised as a great introductory walk to hill walking.  With paths and being easily accessible it should be a great one for starting to explore this activity.  However, not for me.  Over halfway up, with the rainstorm heading towards us along the valley, I took a bit of a panic and had to come down again.  This haunted me for years, I do not like to fail.  But I felt I had.  So today was time to address that, today we were going to complete the walk.

This is a gorgeous walk, and with much of Scotland, has its own dose of history.  We started at Glenmore Lodge and quickly bumped into some family, returning from a walk to the wee green loch.  Good wishes for the new year exchanged and then we continued onwards, following in the footsteps of cattle drovers and thieves from times gone by.  Ancient Caledonian Pines dotted along the path. 

I love old trees.  They are strong and beautiful and have weathered so many storms.  They remind me that no matter what life throws at me, I can withstand it.  I am a tree hugger, the power within these old trees is immense.  I like to imagine some of them may have even seen, who they’ve seen and what they may see. 

Before long, we arrive at An Lochan Uaine.  This is the wonderful little green loch.  Legend has it, the loch has its green colour from the fairie folks washing their clothes in it.  When the water is a little lower, you’ll find a sandy beach here, for you to relax and fairie spot.  Unfortunately, at this time of year, the water was high, and the beach was hidden beneath.

Onwards we venture.  We reach a fork in the path with signage for Nethy Bridge, just passed this lies the bothy.  This bothy has been maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association since 1972 and has a supply of wood should you require it.  No wood was required today though as this was merely a stop for food before continuing onwards.

The word Ryvoan comes from Ruighe a Bhothain, or Sheil of the Bothy.  This building was a farm many years ago and was said to have been two or three times as big as it is now.  It was abandoned in 1877 and the land not worked thereafter.  Certainly, whilst the little building does have a fire, some candles and a sleeping platform, there is no mistaking that life here would have been hard. 

However, soon the food was consumed, and it was time to continue the walk.

From the bothy, a path heads west up Meall a’ Bhuachaille.  This is a clear path, with stone steps at the steeper sections.  We set off up at, passing the odd walker coming back and watching as the weather closed in upon us.

When I first attempted this walk many years ago, mother nature sent a rainstorm which caused me to panic and descend.  This time, she upped her game, and sent a snowstorm.  This time I was determined, I would succeed. 

However, I now suffer anxiety and could feel an anxiety attack starting to take hold.  My thoughts were going 100mph, all filled with doom, death and destruction.  An anxiety attack is hard.  The small piece of my logical brain tries to talk sense, but my anxiety yells over it, trying to take over.  Logic can easily fall by the wayside.  It is incredibly hard to fight the monster which is anxiety. 

But I voiced my anxiety, I focused on my breathing and I kept going.  The anxiety was not going to beat me.  Despite every cell in my body aching to succumb to it.  We climbed higher than I had ever been, the views really were beautiful.  However, the worsening weather was slowing us. 

Eventually, with the summit within site, we took the decision to head back down towards the bothy.  With the conditions and limited amount of daylight, we decided to be cautious.  We were unsure what footing would be like on the descent and decided we would rather know our route. Those steps, well they aren’t very fun to descend.  My ankles aren’t the strongest, so I took my time. 

Reaching the bottom, and the bothy, without incident was a relief.  Now it was an easy walk back to the car.  What surprised me was the number of people setting out along the path with darkness descending and with no equipment.  I can only presume they were only out for a short stroll, at least I hope so. 

We didn’t finish the way we had hoped.  It was a little disappointing.  But I had beat an anxiety attack and my fears.  I had gone further and higher than I had previously achieved.  I had faced everything mother nature had thrown at me.  To me, that makes this walk a win.

I am writing this almost 2 weeks on from that walk.  I am sat asking myself if I will I go back and complete it?  The honest answer is probably not.  I have finally admitted I do not get any enjoyment from hillwalking.  I have tried for years to enjoy it, I like the thought of it, but the actual doing and then aftermath of it, I get no joy from.  There are plenty of walks I can enjoy and other ways to spend time outdoors. I do not need to climb a mountain.  So, I feel ok about hanging up my hillwalking boots.  I would rather find ways to enjoy the outdoors that I gain pleasure from!

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Castles in the Loch

Loch an Eilieen

December came and passed but with it we saw the purchase of some fun equipment for outdoor adventures.  We bought inflatable standup paddle boards (thanks to Tasha for giving me my first real taste of this) and an inflatable canoe.  Being Scotland, in winter, we also bought a lot of neoprene, from 5mm boots to trousers and vests, life jackets and more.  We might want outdoor adventures, but we also want to be warm.  We set off to use these at one of the prettiest places in Scotland, nay the world.

Within the Cairngorm National Park, you find one of the UK’s favourite picnic spot, Loch an Eilieen.  This is a site owned and ran by the Rochiemurchus Estate.  If walking, it is a simple low level winding paths, surrounded by pine trees.  You may even spot Red Squirrel, Scottish Crossbill, Crested Tit, Ospreys or even the lesser spotted Scottish Paddler. 

Yes, today we hit the water at Loch an Eilieen for the first kayak trip on our isups (inflatable stand up paddle boards).  Now, these are rather ingenious, there are D rings attached to the board which let you then attach a seat.  The board can be converted, and this set up makes for a comfortable paddling experience.  Plus, it is winter, was snowing and the idea of falling into the loch really wasn’t appealing!

Nevertheless, we had to get the boards up and into the water before we could start, and this is where disaster struck!  We are new to standup paddle boarding.  We arrived, chatted with the carpark attendant and then headed to set up.  We took the boards and pump down to the water and started pumping up mine.  Unfortunately, we discovered what we thought was a leak. (It turns out you need to tighten the valves on isups and you get the tool, there was even a red tag to tell us, yet we missed all this in our excitement).  This meant my board was slowly letting out air!

As we finished pushing the last few pumps of air into my board the pump then decided to break.  We tried our best but could only get the other board up to around 3psi (rather than the recommended 15-17psi).  We were far from home, had came all this way to try paddling, we were not going to give up.  Even 5 minutes in the water would be better than none!

Loch an Eilein means loch of the island.  So, unsurprisingly, there is an island in this loch!  Upon this island, there is the remains of a castle, or small fort.  It is believed this castle was constructed around the 14th century, as a place of safety against the marauding clans and thieves.  By the 1700s the stronghold had fallen into disrepair but the 1800s saw attempts to strengthen and support the masonry.    

It was towards this island castle we paddled.  I remember when I first saw this castle as a little girl.  It was used as the backdrop for a scene on Monarch of the Glen.  It was a stunning sight then and has not diminished over the years.  Indeed, at one point I had hoped to get married on the shore overlooking the castle.

We kept our distance from the island, but it was still wonderful to be close to it.  As we relaxed a little in the water, we could spot countless walkers around the loch.  I wonder what they may have made of the paddlers.  I imagine they thought us a little odd and a lot chilly.  Well, thankfully, whilst the kit didn’t work as well as planned for this time, the clothing and neoprene did.  I was lovely and cosy throughout, well until it came time to get changed afterwards!

The other beauty of this managed site is that there is even a toilet block handy.  This means we could quickly get changed in there before heading back to the hotel for a well-earned hot chocolate!

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