Exploring The Best of Gairloch and Poolewe

Photo of Charlestown harbour with mountains behind

North-west Scotland is one of my favourite places in the world. I haven’t explored nearly enough of it yet, but one place I keep returning to is the area around Gairloch and Poolewe. Nestled between Torridon and Ullapool, it’s a family-friendly haven of beaches, mountains and lochs.

While some parts of the Highlands are arguably becoming overwhelmed by tourists during peak season (hello Skye!), so far Gairloch and Poolewe seem to have escaped this fate. Its remoteness probably helps this, along with the dreaded Scottish midge, but those who do make the journey will be rewarded with some of the most stunning scenery Scotland has to offer.

Gairloch and Poolewe: The Lowdown

Where is it?: Gairloch is part of Wester Ross on the northwest coast of Scotland, around 70 miles west of Inverness.
How to get there: Gairloch is about four and a half hours drive north of Edinburgh. Unfortunately, Wester Ross isn’t the most convenient area to navigate by public transport. The nearest train station to Gairloch is Achnasheen (connecting trains from Inverness) and there’s one bus a day to and from Inverness.
Where to stay: There’s plenty of accommodation in the area, including camping and caravan sites, B&Bs and self-catering cottages. Many campsites back onto beaches, including Gruinard Bay Caravan Park and Sands Caravan and Camping Park. There are also more basic (but beautiful) sites at Mellon Udrigle and Firemore Cove. We travelled in our campervan and spent most of the time wild camping (which is legal in Scotland). There are hundreds of beautiful spots to park up for the night – just make sure you follow proper wild camping etiquette.
When to go: Thanks to the nearby Gulf Stream, Gairloch and Poolewe typically have a milder climate than their northerly latitude would suggest. That said, this is Scotland, so if you go in the winter, don’t expect to be sunbathing. Being Scotland, it can also rain a lot. May–September are the best months to visit, but it’s pot luck as to whether you hit a sunny spell or a rainy week.
What to bring: A waterproof, sun cream and lots of midge repellent. Oh, and a camera, to capture the beautiful views.

Gairloch and Poolewe Highlights

You can find the ‘official’ highlights of what to do in Gairloch and Poolewe here. This is my unofficial guide, focused on the outdoor stuff you people love!

Badachro and Red Point Beach

Red Point Beach

Red Point Beach lies nine miles down a dead-end road off the A832. There are actually two beaches – one on either side of the headland – from which you can look across to the Isle of Skye. It’s a great beach for swimming (if you dare brave it!) and seal-spotting.

Badachro Bay

Back down the road, stop in at the Badachro Inn, a great pub located right on the harbour. Good food, good beer and great views.

Fairy Lochs

Fairy lochs

Fairy Lochs are a small group of freshwater lochans that lie in marshy ground in the hills behind the Shieldaig Lodge Hotel. They’re also the site of a wartime plane crash. An American Liberator bomber, flying back to the United States via Iceland crashed with the loss of all 15 crew and passengers. The strewn wreckage remains on the crash site as a memorial to those who lost their lives.

A pleasant 6 km circular loop takes you up to the lochans and back via Loch Braigh Horrisdale. Be warned – it’s boggy!

Wild Camping on the Beach

Wild camping

If you can brave the midges, the area around Gairloch and Poolewe has some of the most beautiful wild camping spots in the world. A campfire, hot dinner and the sound of lapping waves make for a perfect evening. If you’re new to wild camping, here are some tips.

Gruinard Bay

Gruinard Bay

There are many, many beaches to explore in this area. But Gruinard Bay is one of the most spectacular. It’s actually a series of bays, with a huge tidal reach that can catch out unsuspecting sunbathers. You can scramble back to the car park above the high tide line, but I wouldn’t recommend it. (Voice of experience…)

An Teallach

An Teallach

Of all the Munros and other hills in this part of Scotland, An Teallach is the most intimidating. The full ridge is a Grade 3 scramble and a great day out. We started at Corrie Hallie and dropped down into Glas Tholl Corrie to give a circular route without too much road walking. It’s a popular day out and if the sun is shining, you’ll need to get there early to grab a car parking spot.

12 Delicious Blackberry Recipes

Blackberry bush, chocolates and blackberry gin

Blackberry season is here! Although it feels rather early in the year, dark, juicy, plump berries are popping up in the hedgerows across West Yorkshire. Blackberries are one of my favourite fruits. Not just for their tastiness and versatility, but because they are free food! A forager’s delight.

I’m one of those people who finds it impossible to pass a packed blackberry bush without stopping to graze. Blackberry season gives me an added excuse to escape the office for half an hour. Though as my planned walks often turn into stationary blackberry-picking sessions, I’m not sure it’s helping my resolution to fit more exercise in.

Of course, blackberries are perfect eaten just as they are. A good half of all the blackberries I pick each year are eaten with porridge or muesli for breakfast or frozen to eat in fruit salads and with pancakes later in the year. But in celebration of this fabulous fruit, I’ve drawn together some of my favourite blackberry recipes. Blackberries freeze really well, so if you’re pushed for time now, just rinse and freeze the fruit then bag them up in the freezer for later consumption.

So, what are you waiting for? Find a spare tub (empty ice cream or margarine tubs are ideal) and go for a stroll to your local hedgerows.

Blackberry Gin

Blackberry gin liqueur is ridiculously easy to make. To get the most out of the berries it’s worth leaving them to seep for up to three months. This means your blackberry gin will be ready around the end of November – just in time for Christmas! I made several batches of blackberry gin last year using this recipe.

Blackberry Vodka

If you’re not a fan of gin, then blackberry vodka is just as easy to make and really tasty. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say I actually prefer it to blackberry gin. It is dangerously drinkable. Buy (or recycle) some pretty bottles, fill them with the finished vodka and give them as Christmas gifts. If you can bear to give it away! Find the recipe here.

Blackberry Ice Cream

Homemade ice cream is a real treat. I’m definitely going to be investing some of the blackberries I pick this year to make some tubs of ice cream for the winter. Served with some homemade shortbread, it’s a special last-minute dessert for when you have friends round for dinner. Ice cream is a lot easier to make than you might think. Whip some cream, add sugar and fruit puree and that’s pretty much it! Here’s a great recipe to test out.

Blackberry and Apple Crumble

Is there a more classic British dessert than this? There’s a reason apples and blackberries come into season at the same time: they complement each other perfectly. In fact, as we’ve got some early windfalls from my parent’s apple tree, this is what we’re having for pudding tonight. Nom nom. I’m guilty of making up my own crumble recipe, but if you prefer a more structured method to follow, check out this recipe.

Blackberry and Apple Jam Or Jelly

Home jam or jelly (have a look at this article if you’re not sure of the difference) is far tastier than shop-bought alternatives. You’ll need a good amount of berries, so a jam-making session is perfect for the day after a family blackberry-picking session. If you’re a jelly person, check out this recipe and if you’re a jam fan, this one’s a winner.

Blackberry and Cardaman Pavlova

This week’s guilty confession: last week was the first time I’ve ever made pavlova. And I have NO IDEA WHY. It’s super easy, a great way to use up a glut of eggs and makes a fabulous BBQ dessert. We will definitely be having more pavlova in the future! I made a variation on this recipe (with a bit more cardamon in the base) and mixed a homemade lemon curd through the cream. Well, I needed to use up the egg yolks somehow …

Raw Vegan Blackberry Cheesecake Bars

Cheesecake is, hands down, one of my favourite desserts. And now I can have it on vegan days, with this delicious vegan recipe. Ok, so it doesn’t have actual cheese in it, but those creamy cashew nuts do a good job of tricking your taste buds. Though I suspect the yield in our household may be more like five portions rather than fifteen!

Chocolate Blackberry Pudding

This may be my new favourite blackberry pudding. It may even replace crumble and that is a BIG DEAL as crumble is basically my favourite pudding, ever. It would be in my final meal if I was ever on death row. But this, well this is pretty good. You can’t really go wrong with chocolate and blackberries and the only thing ‘wrong’ with this recipe is that I’m going to need to do a lot of running to justify eating it on a regular basis.

Blackberry Muffins

I am still recovering from the after-effects of last year’s blackberry muffins. Not because there was anything wrong with them. They were made with the leftover booze-soaked blackberries from the vodka making so were pretty tasty and we had plenty, so I froze a batch. But as a tip to the wise, if you’re heating up muffins in the microwave, remember that the fruit inside will be a lot hotter than the outside of the muffin. My burnt oesophagus is currently reminding me of this fact. Anyway, here’s the recipe and in the interests of avoiding burnt mouths, wait until they’re cool before eating.

Pork Sauteed with Blackberries

I have to admit that I’m not a huge pork fan. But I can appreciate that pork and blackberries are a great combination. And if you don’t like pork, this recipe works just as well with chicken or turkey. Quick, tasty and worthy of a listing on a restaurant menu – who’s arguing with that?!

Blackberry and Brie Grilled Cheese Sandwich

While we’re on the subject of savoury food, what is quicker and tastier as a lunchtime snack than a grilled cheese sandwich? Or as we say in the UK, a cheese toastie. Brie and fruit were meant to be together, and although the traditional combination is brie and grape, blackberries work even better. And if you’re missing your grapes, that sounds like a good excuse to open a bottle of red wine to go with it. Here’s the recipe.

Blackberry Chocolate Truffles

There’s only one way to end a meal and that’s with chocolate truffles. They are incredibly easy to make, you can freeze them and are absolutely delicious. They’re also a great foodie gift if you can bear to give them away. Here’s a recipe for blackberry truffles, but you can also substitute the fresh blackberry puree for your homemade blackberry jelly or blackberry gin or vodka.

What are your favourite blackberry recipes? Share them with me on Twitter!

Why a Digital Detox Can Make You Happier and More Productive

Sitting-on-beach-journalling

Enjoying some creative time during my digital detox

Last week I had a digital detox. Ok, so just saying those words makes me feel rather poncy and hipster-ish. Like I’m some new-age hippy who lives off green juice and rises at 5 am for an hour of meditation. Which, I’m not. (5 am starts are reserved for very special occasions, like watching the sunrise in the mountains, or flying somewhere exciting.) But, somewhat accidentally, I spent a full seven days with no internet access (bar one hour to check our hiking routes), no social media and talking to almost nobody apart from my new husband.

New husband? Oh yeah, I should probably mention that … Two weeks ago I got married! Which is why there’s been a yawning gap in blog posts this month, for which I apologise. (Oh, you didn’t notice? Okay then …) I had planned to schedule a pile of articles in advance, but I was so busy finishing off client work, setting up my new author website and frantically trying to get everything ready for our DIY wedding that, well, it just never happened. But the hard work paid off; we had a fabulous wedding day and our friends and family appreciated all the personal touches that had gone into making it extra-special. More on that in a future post!

After a crazy six months of going full-time with Windswept Writing, writing my first novel and prequel novelette and planning the wedding, I was pretty exhausted come W-day. We’ve got a super-exciting (and energetic!) honeymoon planned next year (more on that in a future post), but we had no time to plan anything for after the actual wedding. So we decided to pack up our biking and hiking gear in our campervan, Sadie, and head to wherever the sun was shining.

I should probably make it clear that I did not in any way plan to have a digital detox. I did think I should probably separate myself from my phone and Twitter for a day or so to look lovingly into my husband’s eyes and all that jazz. But taking a full week away from the digital world and my computer? Well, that was completely accidental. A whim of fate perhaps, that the place with the best forecast in the UK happened to be the north-west coast of Scotland. Where, if you happen to be on EE’s network, you get absolutely zero mobile phone signal.

A Whole Week Without the Internet?

Why, yes! And not just without the internet, but without contact with friends and family. No text messages. Or WhatsApp. And it was bliss.

We walked in the hills, went on gentle cycle rides to deserted beaches, swam in rivers and the sea and slept a lot. I read a book and got half way through a second and scribbled down ideas for a new book, the words tumbling from my head through my pen and out onto the pages of my notebook. We wild camped on the beach and drank wine by our campfire.

It took me back to my childhood. In the days before the internet, or when you could only access the internet through your desktop PC at home. (Showing my age here!) Smartphones hadn’t been invented. Social media wasn’t a ‘thing’. There was no pressure to showcase your perfect life to the world, or to be in constant touch with online media. There’s a reason I read many more books as a child than I do as an adult. The internet has changed our world – in many ways for the better – but there are two sides to every coin.

The Benefits of a Digital Detox

The internet is the world’s largest city. The city that never sleeps. Where everyone and everything is on show. Where things move at a hundred miles an hour and even if you learn to work faster and smarter, you can never keep on top of it all. I will admit to being a bit of a perfectionist at heart. I want to know everything, be good at everything and achieve more. The internet feeds these desires. But it can also distract from what is really important to me. The love of my family and friends. Spending time in beautiful, remote places. And a lot of the time, rather than promoting my creativity, the internet detracts from it.

Do you ever feel as if you’re permanently attached to your smartphone? Like you need an extra pair of hands and eyes to manage that as well as day-to-day life? Like me, you may feel guilty for spending so much time online, away from your loved ones. But social networking is necessary for your business right? Right. But your business is YOUR business. And that means you can make it what you want.

When we finally got phone and 4G signal back, on our drive south, I was strangely reluctant to check my phone and connect with the real world. But we could stay in our bubble of escapism forever. But I could feel the benefits of my time away from the internet and social media. I went away exhausted and overwhelmed. I came back relaxed, revitalised and determined to get a better balance in my life going forward. Part of this was down to having a long-overdue holiday. But part of it was also due to my digital detox.

How to Make the Most of Your Digital Detox

If your earn your living online (or are simply addicted to Facebook), the thought of unplugging yourself from the internet may fill you with horror. But it’s easy enough to plan for. Schedule your social media posts and any publications in advance. Tell clients you’ll be away for a bit. Put an out of office on your email, or, if you can afford to, employ a VA to check and respond to anything urgent on your behalf. And accept that life will not end if it takes you a few days to get back to people, or respond to tweets.

Then leave your computer behind. Lock your smartphone in a drawer (or go somewhere where there’s no phone signal!) and enjoy having time to yourself. Whether that’s walking in the hills, going on a mammoth bike ride, meditating by a river or reading a good book, do something that makes you happy.

Many people escape the internet to have a period of time for reflection. Sophie Radcliffe, of Challenge Sophie, took time out to think and plan where she wanted to take her business. Tim Ferris freely admitted that one of his priorities for 2017 was to take long periods of time away from the internet. Everyone needs some space to breathe. To be themselves.

Coming Back Down to Earth

Or, should I say, back to digital life! Of course, it’s inevitable. But there are things you can do to build moments of digital detox into your everyday life. Some people meditate, others journal. Morning and evenings are good times of day to focus on this. Here are some ideas for morning rituals that can help set you up for the day. You probably don’t have time to do all of them (unless you’re one of those 5 am risers), but choose something that works for you.

I took some time to reflect whilst on my digital detox and made a few of my own resolutions for how I wanted my life to be. In the interests of accountability, here they are:

  • Have a minimum half a day digital detox each week (I.e. no internet or phone!)
  • Have one weekend a month where I go completely offline, and ideally off-grid
  • Let my body sleep. When I’m exhausted, my creativity drops
  • Prioritise outdoor time with my man!

Have you ever taken a digital detox? Do you feel the need to? And what resolutions did you set yourself? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

5 Steps To a Wild Night Out

People camping by lake

This Saturday, people across the UK (and possibly further afield) will be taking to the hills, woods and fields for a night of wild camping. If this is the first you’ve heard of it, it isn’t too late to join in the fun.

Just follow these five steps to plan your own wild night out.

Step 1: Find a Friend

Don’t get me wrong. Wild camping solo is one of the best experiences you can have. (And in some cases the most nerve-wracking, but let’s not go there.) But if you’re new to wild camping then you may enjoy it more if you bring along a couple of friends.

If your friends are proving to be less than willing (what? Miss Casualty?) then it may be time to find some new ones. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to do so. Legendary adventurer Anna McNuff has been rallying women to meet up in various locations across the UK. You can sign up here. (Guys, you’re just going to have to organise your own fun for the night.)

Step 2: Decide on a location

Time for some research. As much or as little as you want. Decide how far you want to travel and how you want to get there. By train? Bus? Bicycle? On your own two feet? Anything goes.

Bear in mind the weather when you’re planning (currently – fingers crossed – looking dry!). You may get a beautiful view from a hilltop, but if it’s a windy night, you may also have a cold, sleepless night. If it’s looking like rain, then pick a spot in or near a wooded area to give you a bit of shelter if the heavens open.

Step 3: Organise Victuals

I love the word ‘victuals’. It makes me think of the Famous Five and lemonade, hard-boiled eggs and freshly-picked blackberries. But basically, I’m talking about food and drink.

A nice country pub is the easy option and a good starting point if you’re meeting people for the first time. Even if you eat at the pub, it’s always nice to have a hot chocolate before bed so be sure to pack a stove.

Step 4: Get Your Kit Together

You don’t need much to go wild camping. A sleeping bag and mat and either a bivvy bag, tent or hammock. That’s about it. A wee nip of whisky is always nice. As is hot chocolate. (Or chocolate full stop.)

If you’re not sure what to bring here are a few ideas.

Step 5: Choose Your Spot and Settle Down for the Night

Wild camping can be a fickle thing. You’ve spent hours pouring over maps and choosing the perfect spot for the night, then you get there and, well, it isn’t all that great. But don’t be downhearted. Sometimes your perfect spot is just around the corner.

A couple of things to bear in mind when choosing your spot:

  • The direction you’re facing so you can watch the sunset or sunrise (or possibly both).
  • The likely wind direction. It’s worth checking the forecast before you set out as the wind direction can sometimes change overnight. (Yes, that is the voice of experience talking.)
  • How visible you are. You may not be bothered by early-morning dog walkers or locals coming across you, but it’s worth remembering that in most of England, wild camping is technically illegal. If you’re a guest on someone’s land, it can pay to be discreet.

Wild Camping Tips

You can find out more about the legalities and practicalities of wild camping in this post. But the most important thing is to have fun and respect the environment. And don’t forget to share your adventures on social media with the hashtag #microadventures if you want to be in with a chance of winning a prize in Alastair Humphrey’s 2017 Summer Solstice Challenge. You have until the 9th July to enter.

7 Tips To Stay Cool When Exercising in the Heat

Woman Exercising in the Heat

It’s been scorchio in the UK this week! Have you been making the most of the good weather? Or is exercising in the heat too much for you to deal with? (And sunbathing with an ice cream too tempting.)

I have to admit to having a bit of a love-hate relationship with the heat. Sun is great. Warmth is lovely. But as the thermometer starts to rise, I begin to wilt. Much above twenty degrees (centigrade, for you non-Brits) and I’m scurrying for a patch of shade. Ironically, my better half is something of a sun lover. Which makes for a heated debate about optimum climbing conditions when we climb in hotter parts of the world.

Although exercising in the heat can have benefits, particularly if you’ve got a race in a hot country coming up, it also has dangers. Exercising raises your body temperature and, if you’re already hot from being in the sun, this could push it to dangerously high levels. Dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are all things to watch out for.

Here are some tips for staying safe when exercising in the heat.

Exercise Early In the Morning

You can beat the heat by exercising first thing in the morning. Try and juggle your schedule so you can get out early, or get up an hour earlier in the morning to take advantage of the coolest part of the day.

If you’re really not a morning person then exercising late at night is another option. It’ll still be warm and muggy, but you won’t have the sun blazing down on you.

Keep Hydrated

Dehydrating is one of the main risks when exercising in the heat. Although you may want to carry water or an electrolyte solution when training, it’s just as important to make sure you’re hydrated before you start. This can be tricky if you’re exercising first thing in the morning, as you’ll dehydrate overnight. (Unless you’re one of those crazy people who doesn’t sleep.)

If you’re exercising in the evening, check the colour of your pee throughout the day. Pale yellow is good, dark yellow or brown means you need to drink more. Checking your pee is a good way of making sure you’re not drinking more than you need to.

Make Sure You’re Replacing Sodium

When you sweat, you’re not just sweating out water but also sodium. Our bodies need sodium to help keep a proper balance of water and for nerve and muscle function. You’re likely to get most of the sodium you require from your food, but your body may crave a little extra salt during hot weather.

An electrolyte solution can help rebalance your sodium levels after a hard workout (as opposed to energy drinks which tend to be full of sugar). Don’t overdo the electrolytes though as you could end up with too much sodium in your body.

Slap On the Sunscreen

As you’ll be sweating off sunscreen, you may want to opt for a higher factor sunscreen when exercising. You want something that’s water resistant, at least SPF 30 and protects from both UVA and UVB rays. If you’re doing a long run, hike or bike ride, you’ll probably need to reapply sunscreen part way through.

Take It Easy When Exercising In the Heat

If you’re used to training in cooler temperatures the heat can feel debilitating at first. You may feel slow and sluggish and be tempted to push harder as a result. But listen to your body. If it’s telling you to slow down, then slow down. You can start increasing the length and duration of your workout when your body begins to acclimatise to the heat.

Wear Loose, Light-Coloured Clothing

Light-coloured clothing will help reflect the heat and loose clothing allows air to reach your skin and cool you down. Save the dark, tight clothing for winter.

Go indoors

Now, we all know I’m a fan of the outdoors. The whole point of this blog is to promote and encourage you all to get outdoors! But, even I have to admit that sometimes gyms have their place. Not that being in a sweaty gym is the most pleasant experience. But at least most of them have air conditioning. So if the mercury in the thermometer continues to rise, going to the gym may be a safer option than exercising in the heat.