Tag: Scotland

Why I Love the British Coast in Winter

Bamburgh castle

This weekend, I decided that I love being by the sea in winter, and being in the mountains in summer. You’re probably thinking that sounds quite strange. Don’t I want to be in both places in summer and tucked up in a blanket with a hot chocolate and a book in winter? Well yes… and no*. You see, despite it being rather wintery outside (for once there is actually a scattering of snow to accompany the doomsday headlines of a Siberian arctic blast hitting the UK), I still want to be outside.

But don’t most people want to go to the seaside in summer? You know, when it’s actually warm enough to bathe in the sea and sit around in a t-shirt building sand castles? Well, yes. Which is one of the reasons I’d rather go to the beach in winter. The same beaches that are full of people in summer are barren, windswept places to be in winter.

I’ve just come back from a long weekend in Northumberland. I walked for miles and miles along stunning sandy beaches and rocky coastline and saw only a handful of people. The wind blew me along, hail occasionally battered my face and it was bitterly cold. Dark clouds hung ominously low in the sky, the sea crashed against the rocks and sunlight fought its way through the chinks in the clouds to shine spotlights on the landscape. It was so beautiful it almost hurt.

And, though the British weather is notoriously fickle, you don’t get the same experience of the coastline on a balmy summer’s day. That feeling of being bound up with the elements, of bearing witness to the force and power of nature as the waves smash into the coastline and the wind whips the sand into a hissing snake that winds its way around your shoes. It’s the way the sky and sea change their mood within hours or even minutes. It’s the exhilaration of not just witnessing nature but being part of it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had some wonderful days out in the hills in winter. When crisp snow blankets the ground and the sun shines down from a blue, calm sky, it can be amazing. But I’ve also frozen my butt off on a number of occasions and had the odd winter climbing experience where I’ve been very grateful to get down to a hot shower. Because when the weather turns, it’s not so fun. The mountains in winter are beautiful, but they’re also a dangerous place.

Of course, anywhere can be dangerous if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nature is a wild and unpredictable beast and that’s part of what makes it so magical. I rarely venture into the sea and have a very healthy respect for the ocean. And while I’m more at home in the mountains, this means I’m better able to judge when it’s going to be an enjoyable day to head to the heights and when it makes more sense to stay at home.

But what if you could put the best bits of both worlds together? If you could stand with a beautiful coastline on one side and towering mountains on the other. Do such places exist? (Is that a rhetorical question?)

Yes, they do. (And yes, it was.) Places such as the northwest coast of Scotland, the Isle of Skye and parts of north Wales. And these are some of my favourite places in the world.

Red Point Beach

*Just for reference, curled up with a hot chocolate and a good book is one of my absolute favourite places to be in winter. After I’ve exhausted myself on a good run outside of course. 😉

5 of the Best Mountain Challenges in the UK

Best mountain challenges in UK

The Cuillin Ridge – one of the UK’s toughest mountain challenges

If the grey days and dark nights are draining your motivation for getting outside, then you need a challenge! While we may not have the towering snow-capped peaks of the Alps, the UK has a surprising range of mountain challenges for everyone from casual weekend walkers to skilled mountaineers and fleet-of-foot fell runners.

This isn’t a comprehensive list but if you’re after for some inspiration or itching for a new challenge, why not book in one of the UK’s best mountain challenges for 2018…

Yorkshire Three Peaks

The route linking the ‘Yorkshire Three Peaks‘ of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough is an ideal first mountain challenge for fit walkers. The route starts and ends in Horton-in-Ribblesdale and is 24 miles with 1,585m of ascent. To complete the ‘challenge’ you need to walk it in under 12 hours.

The Yorkshire Three Peaks is very popular with charity groups and can get busy in the summer, so a good-weather day out of season is your best bet for avoiding the crowds in the car parks as well as on the hills. There are no technical difficulties, but it’s a long day and if the weather’s bad, you’ll need to be confident navigating in low visibility.

The Welsh 3000s

If you want to step up from the Yorkshire Three Peaks, the Welsh 3000s, also known as the “14 Peaks” will challenge the fittest hill walker. The official challenge requires an ascent of the 15 (yes, 15 not 14…) Welsh peaks over 3,000ft in 24 hours, without using any form of transport.

The traditional route starts on the summit of Snowdon (sometimes with a bivvy) and finishes on Foel-fras. It’s around 24 miles long but the approach walk and final descent take the total up to 30 miles. There aren’t many technical challenges, but you’ll need to be comfortable with the scrambling on Crib Goch and Tryfan and a very long day in the hills.

The Bob Graham Round

The Bob Graham is to fell runners what the Cuillin Ridge is to mountaineers. The 66-mile circuit of 42 of the highest peaks in the Lake District includes 8,200m of ascent and, to officially complete the Bob Graham Round, the circuit has to be done in 24 hours.

For many fell runners, completing the Bob Graham is a lifetime achievement requiring years of preparation. Only around 1 in 3 attempts are successful and most take place in the summer, to make best use of daylight. I’ve spent long days in the Lakes hiking just a handful of the 42 peaks and I actually struggle to comprehend HOW people can be fit enough to complete the challenge within the 24-hour time limit.

For those who’ve completed the Bob Graham Round, more challenges lie ahead in the Welsh and Scottish equivalents: the Paddy Buckley Round and the Ramsay Round.

The Cuillin Ridge

The Cuillin Ridge is the most prized of all British ridge climbs and arguably one of the best mountaineering challenges in Europe. It requires stamina, excellent navigation skills and the ability to move quickly and safely on complex terrain.

The ridge itself is 12km, but including the walk in and walk out you’re looking at a 25km route with 4,000m of ascent and descent. Although none of the climbing is harder than ‘Very Difficult’, there are large sections of exposed scrambling and easier climbing and to have any chance of success at the traverse, you’ll need to be comfortable soloing most of the ridge.

If you’re super fit then it’s possible to do the Cuillin Ridge in a day but many parties take two days and bivvy overnight, either at the start of the ridge or part-way along. On many British ridge climbs, route-finding is fairly straightforward — you just keep to the crest of the ridge. On my one excursion into the Cuillin (to date) I was surprised at the level of technical route finding required. For this reason, if you’re looking to attempt the ridge it’s worth reccying different sections of the route in advance.

The Munros

This one may take you more than a year! The record for completing all 282 Scottish mountains over 3,000ft is an impressive 39 days and 9 hours (set by Stephen Pike in 2010) and the women’s record of 77 days was set in 2017 by Lisa and Libby from Beauties and the Bog. For most people, bagging all the Munros is a lifetime achievement, but if you have a lot of time on your hands or easy access to the Scottish Highlands, it’s possible to tick them all in a year.

While most Munros aren’t technical climbs (only one — the Inaccessible Pinnacle — involves a graded rock climb), many involve long days in the remotest parts of the UK and mountain skills are a must. Find out more about the Munros in our guide to Scotland’s ultimate ticklist.

Everything You Need to Know About the NC500

Gruinard Bay

Gruinard Bay: just one of the many stunning beaches you’ll find on the NC500

Where has the last month gone? If you’ve noticed my absence from the blog in recent weeks, I offer a humble apology. I launched my first novel at the end of last month (you can check it out here) and that, along with writing the sequel, getting two separate stories ready for anthologies and my freelance work has meant I’ve been spending way too much time in front of my computer screen. But I’m back! And I hope you’ll enjoy this week’s article which is all about the North Coast 500 (NC500): Scotland’s premier touring route.

I have frequently raved about Scotland’s beauties on these pages, and the North Coast 500 takes in some of the most beautiful and (until now) undiscovered parts of this fantastic country. Dubbed as Scotland’s answer to Route 66, it starts and finishes in the Highland capital of Inverness and loops for 500 miles around the northernmost part of the Scottish mainland. You’ll pass towering mountains, pristine white-sand beaches and ancient castles as you wind your way through the stunning scenery.

Although I’ve visited many of the places along the NC500 route, I’ve never linked them all together. But it’s on my bucket list to either take a leisurely drive in our campervan or cycle the route. If you’re looking for some inspiration for a cycling challenge, check out the Adventure Syndicate ladies who completed a non-stop team trial around the full 500-mile loop in 36 hours.

Raring to go? Great! Here’s what you need to know about the North Coast 500.

NC500 Factfile

The route: You start in Inverness and wind your way through the mountains to Applecross on the west coast. From there you head north through Torridon, Gairloch and Poolewe, and up to Ullapool. Continuing north, you visit some of the most northerly coastal areas of Scotland, including the famous John O’Groats, before returning down the east coast to Inverness.
Transport options: Car, campervan, motorbike or bicycle — the choice is yours! Whatever option you choose, be courteous to other road users and remember that many of the roads are single track and weren’t designed for the volume of traffic they now experience. If you need to swot up on your passing place etiquette, check out this useful summary.
How long does it take?: How long is a piece of string? The NC500 is not a speed race. If you rush, you’ll miss the beautiful sights and hidden secrets that this part of Scotland has to offer. Most official itineraries suggest a 7 or 8 day trip, but if you can spare the time, I’d recommend taking two weeks (or three!). This will allow you to spend a couple of nights in different places and explore the surrounding countryside.
When to go: This really depends on what you’re after. If you want good weather, then May, June and July tend to be the driest months. May and September are good months to avoid the midges and still get some decent weather, and if you’re willing to take a risk, April can be beautiful. (But can also be wet or snowy.) Just remember, you’re not in the Caribbean, so whenever you choose to visit, bring a warm jumper and a raincoat. If you don’t like other people, winter will be quiet, but be prepared for the roads to be icy and most tourist amenities and sites to be closed.
Where to stay: There’s plenty of accommodation available in most of the main towns to suit all budgets. It does pay to book ahead, especially in summer, when a lot of campsites and B&Bs get fully booked.
Essential kit: Midge repellent and a tick remover!
More information: Check out the official North Coast 500 website for more information on the route.

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.

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!