MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “Aberdeen”

Exploring Myths and Memories

Out of the dark and cold waters of a Scottish loch, illuminated by the midnight moon, there comes the beautiful form of a horse. Broad muscles and mane dripping with water, he finds a poor soul to whom he laments a tale of loneliness, tugging at their heart strings before leading them back to the water’s edge. Enveloping them in his spell, he leads them out into the darkness and drowns them. The mythical Kelpie, or water horse, is a long-standing feature of Scottish folklore, although the stories vary depending on their source. It is said that many lochs in Scotland have their own Kelpie, and mariners of old used to relate tales of Kelpies coming out of the sea during storms to sink their ships. In some stories, the Kelpies take the form of a woman on land, to seduce some unsuspecting man before leading them to water and drowning them.

Before I moved to New Zealand in 2012, I must have seen or read about a public art piece that was planned for Falkirk in Scotland, so when finally they were constructed and opened to the public, I knew I would have to visit them on my next trip home. The Kelpies are two 30m high steel structures shaped as horse heads beside a section of the Forth and Clyde canal. Representing both the heavy horses previously used in Scottish industry and agriculture as well as the transformational change of Scotland’s waterways, they have become an iconic structure in Scotland’s Central Belt.

After a nice lie-in in Glasgow following my road trip round the north coast and the previous day’s hike up Ben Nevis, I set off with my parents on a very cloudy day to go visit the steel behemoths. The sculptures have proven to be a popular place to visit, and even though there was an occasional drizzle, there was plenty of people about. Like so many things, they have their critics but I personally love them. I think they are stunning. It is possible to walk round them and view them from different angles, and nearby the canal played home to some swans with their cygnets. My parents had been here before, but they were more than happy to come again.

 

It was only a relatively short drive from there to the Falkirk Wheel, a boat lift opened in 2002 to connect the Forth and Clyde canal with the Union Canal, and the only one of its kind in the world. Built to help regenerate the canal network and to link Glasgow with Edinburgh via the waterway, it is an impressive feat of engineering even if some people do think it’s ugly. Granted, it has weathered quite a lot, and doesn’t look as grand as it does in pictures from when it opened, but it was still worthy of a look. There is a large visitor centre next to it, and my parents and I enjoyed a wander round the large gift shop and a meal in the cafe whilst we waited for our boat trip. Two canal boats alternate at taking passengers onto the wheel and up to the top, passing through a tunnel and out the other side before making a return trip. Unfortunately, the heavens opened whilst we were on this trip, so we didn’t get to experience much in the way of views at the top. But it was a pleasant and relaxing hour, as well as time well spent with my parents who I only get to see every few years.

 

That night I met my best friends for a night out in Glasgow. In April, I enjoyed going to see The Proclaimers, a Scottish duo, on their New Zealand tour in Christchurch. So when I found out that Ladyhawke, a musician from New Zealand, was touring the UK, I thought it only fitting to see her in Glasgow. One of Glasgow’s best known music venues is King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, which has a bar downstairs, and an intimate music venue upstairs. It had been many years since I’d last been there, and these days, thanks to a back injury in 2013, I prefer to enjoy gigs in a seated arena where I don’t get jostled or spend hours on my feet. The support acts as well as Ladyhawke herself were fantastic, but I felt old amongst the younger music lovers, feeling sore from being on my feet throughout the whole gig. Aside from having to stand, King Tut’s has seen some major names play there, and it is worth checking their gig guide for any stay in the city.

It was obvious the following day that my run of good weather had well and truly ended. Having lived in Aberdeen in the north-east for 5.5years, I had friends that I wanted to catch up with, and setting off on the 3hr drive north from Glasgow, it wasn’t long till I hit torrential rain that refused to give up. It’s never a good sign when your car’s wiper blades struggle to keep up with the force of horizontal rain that is lashing at your windscreen, and this went on for the majority of the second half of the drive. The Granite City that sparkles in the sunshine, looked dour and grey on such a miserable day. I flitted from friend to friend, unfortunately short of time to spend as much time with most as I would have liked to. I got a beautiful surprise from some dear friends in Aberdeenshire who had put a lot of effort into a surprise den for me, and after many hours catching up, I went to bed under the stars.

The rain continued in Aberdeenshire the following morning, and although lighter, went on into the afternoon. I managed to get lost on some back roads trying to take a short cut to the coast, ending up much further north than I’d planned, and nearly an hour late for meeting some more friends. I was in Scotland in the run up to the ‘Brexit’ referendum and it was an interesting time to be back in the country, with lots of opinions and discussion abound. I was intrigued and curious listening to my friends put forth their varied opinions on the matter, amongst catching up with everyone on the movement of their lives since I had left.

Despite the thick clouds and showers, my friend had dogs needing a walk, and I have a favourite spot north of Aberdeen to go seal watching, so we drove to Newburgh beach to face the elements. Luckily we managed a dry spell to walk along the south bank of the river Ythan to the North Sea, where curious seals swam close by, eyeing us up as the river’s current moved them along. There are always seals hauled up on the north bank of the river mouth, an area that is a nature reserve where people and dogs can’t go. But on this occasion, the numbers of seals were incredible. In all my visits when I used to live there, I had never seen this many and we watched them for a while before the return of the rain.

 

I couldn’t leave Aberdeen behind without a drive down the promenade, a place where I spent many an evening walking its length listening to the crashing waves on the shore. At the southern end near the harbour is Footdee, a historic fishing village which I had a quick wander around before setting off on the long journey south. I took a detour to Kirkcaldy in the Kingdom of Fife to visit another friend before following the Firth of Forth west and then onwards to Glasgow.

 

With my hire car due back at lunchtime, I set off early the next morning to head south to visit a place that I hadn’t been to since I was a school kid. Nestled amongst bush on the Ayrshire coast on the west of Scotland, Culzean Castle and Country Gardens is a popular addition to the National Trust of Scotland. Built in the 18th century, the castle sits on a clifftop and is one of Scotland’s most photographed castles. It even features on one of the Scottish bank notes. I took a wander around the gardens first which open to the public ahead of the castle. It was threatening to be a scorching day so it was actually a nice reprieve to step inside out of the sun and take a look around.

 

Inside the castle, there are resemblances to a stately home, and it was built for the Marquess of Ailsa, clan chief of the Kennedy Clan. Reputed to be haunted, I wandered around unawares enjoying the views out to the sea through the large windows. Back outside, a path lead down to a stony beach near where the entrance to some sea caves at the base of the castle lay. Near a gas house, another beach gave a prospect back towards the castle as it perched on the cliff.

 

I had unfortunately picked a day where several bus loads of school kids had come on an end-of-year visit, and every inch of grass around the old stables was covered in children noisily chasing each other. I left them to it and looped back through the old archway and across the bridge to the gardens below the castle where the sun now illuminated the scene. Here it was more peaceful and deserted but before long it was time to make the drive north back to Glasgow, returning my rental car ahead of the next adventure.

Lochnagar

About an hour and a half drive to the west of the ‘Granite City’ that is Aberdeen, down a long and winding road with no exit, lies an unassuming car park near a small copse. The drive there on a beautiful day is an adventure in itself. The River Dee snakes its way from its origin in Cairngorm National Park towards the North Sea at Aberdeen, and heading upstream, the A93 on the northern side, and the lower grade B976 on the southern side brings you to Ballater. Crossing the river from the northern side, there is little further to travel to the signposted turn-off for Loch Muick. This long road follows the route of River Muick, a feeder river for the larger River Dee, up stream to its source from Loch Muick. Initially through some woodland, it opens up into an open glen of the same name, flanked by hills either side, and a smattering of trees and low shrubbery. At the right time of year, the heather bloom turns the normally green and brown landscape into a glorious purple.

Heather in bloom in Glen Muick

 

At the end of this long and windy road is a car park which on busy days can get very full. There is also a parking charge here, so having small change handy is a must. From here, the track heads down across a small river to a copse where picnic benches mark a picnic area, and a toilet block is located. From here there is a choice of walks. For a less challenging walk, or with families, the main destination is the nearest shore of Loch Muick. For a longer, but low grade walk, a path circumnavigates the entire loch, and for something more serious, some day and multi-day hikes can be reached from there too. More often than not, when I have visited Glen Muick, there has been a herd of wild red deer grazing in the area, and on one occasion, they were wandering amongst the picnic tables and very close up.

Red deer in Glen Muick

 

Lochnagar, a Munro (a Scottish mountain of >3000ft) is an easily accessible and rewarding hike. Standing at 3789ft (1155m), the ascent can be reached from the copse by not following the main route to the loch side, but by taking the path that goes up the side of the copse, crossing the river, and passing by some buildings before carrying on through another copse and coming out the other side. An easy stream crossing is followed by the start of a gravelled cut out path that starts to wind its way up the neighbouring hillside. A bit of altitude is gained before the path splits: the right fork continuing on towards Balmoral, and the left fork crossing over shrubbery before the slog up the mountain begins.

Looking back towards Glen Muick after the path splits

The start of the Lochnagar track

 

The path is clearly marked, and in good weather, it is very busy. The first section takes you up to a col between Meikle Pap (980m/3215ft) and Lochnagar ridge itself. Some of this section involves stone steps, and this col overlooks the water of Lochnagar, sitting below the ridge of the same name. Lochnagar burn can be seen disappearing off into the distance. Even in the height of summer, there can be patches of snow from this point onwards, and it is a fabulous spot to park up for some lunch before the final ascent. The summit and ridgeline takes the brunt of the weather and is often windy and cold, so this relatively sheltered spot is a far better spot to spend some time.

Approaching the col with Lochnagar in the background

Lochan Lochnagar below the ridge of Lochnagar

Lochnagar burn disappears into the distance

 

The steepest section is the second part, known as the Ladder, which picks its way up through the increasingly rocky terrain, at which point the path becomes a little less obvious, and it is best to focus on a spot to reach and just pick a way there. Eventually a plateau is reached, which is barren and rocky, and the path again becomes slightly vague across the central buttress until an obvious path appears again. A path that hugs the edge can be followed across Eagle Ridge, but as it goes quite close to a very long drop, it is certainly one to be very careful following, and the main route is somewhat further back. Some large rocks mark the west buttress, and finally the last lot of rocks to climb over marks the true summit, marked with a plinth. In all directions, mountains and hills roll off into the distance, with Ballochbuie forest in the far north-west, and Loch nan Eun to the south-west. There are plenty of rocks to hunker down next to if it’s windy, but even on a warm day, it quickly feels cold up here.

The Ladder

Crossing the plateau

Western Buttress

At the summit of Lochnagar

 

From the summit, you can retrace your steps the way you came, but I always chose to make the circuit, and follow the path down the backside of Cuidhe Crom and Little Pap, which follows the route of Glas-Allt. It is a well-maintained pathway, with an easy descent through low shrubbery, and lots of little waterfalls to ogle at. Eventually, Loch Muick comes back into view at the top of a large waterfall, Glas-Allt Falls. This is the steepest section of the descent which arcs down the side of the waterfall, and offers a viewing point of the falls at the bottom. From here, it is an easy walk along the side of Craig Moseen, and a final, easy descent to Glas-Allt-Shiel, in full view of the western edge of Loch Muick.

Glas-Allt

Small waterfall on Glas-Allt

Loch Muick viewed from the top of Glas-Allt Falls

Upper section of Glas-Allt Falls

Glas-Allt Falls

Loch Muick

The head of Loch Muick

 

Near a royal lodge (used by Queen Victoria, and later Prince Charles) hidden amongst a copse, the path joins the circuit path of Loch Muick, and the car park can be reached by either taking the left, northern (quicker) circuit back, or turning right, and following the path round the head of the loch, to return on the southern aspect. At the foot of the lake on the more northern route, a little boat house marks the end of a small pebbly beach where you can stroll along the side of the lapping tannin-tainted water, and cross the bridge to join the more southern track back to the car park.

Loch Muick

Boathouse on Loch Muick

Loch Muick beach

River Muick leaving Loch Muick

 

Realistically, this is a full day hike, averaging 6-7 hours dependent on fitness, and time spent ogling the views at the various viewpoints. With many exposed sections, and potential for year-round snow, this is not a hike to take lightly, and warrants being well prepared. Hiking this route in winter is best left to those with winter skills experience, but in summer it is a fantastic walk well worth making the drive for.

Scottish Castles

There are two things I miss about Scotland: snow and history. Don’t get me wrong, New Zealand clearly has history (and snow for that matter), but with its discovery by Europeans occurring only in the 17th century, and the discovery by any settler suspected to be in the 14th century, its historical background and development are a mere blip in comparison to the 12,000 years of known settlements in Scotland. Getting away from the region known as the Central Belt (the urban region that spans Glasgow to the west and Edinburgh to the east), it isn’t hard to find buildings or remains that easily out-date the point in time when New Zealand was discovered.

Scotland has over 2,000 castles in varying states of repair – some well maintained and open to the public, others a mere crumbling shell left to ruin. Edinburgh Castle is the most well known to foreigners, but for me it is far from my favourite. Living for several years in Aberdeen in the north east, I was within an easy drive of several castles, and over the years of my life and over multiple holidays, I’ve visited and explored many of them in varying parts of the country. Unfortunately I don’t have photos of several of them, having visited them as a child, but below is a mere selection of the castles out there waiting to be explored.

Inverness Castle.

Inverness Castle

Urquhart Castle.

Urqhart Castle, Loch Ness

Urquhart Castle

Castle Fraser.

 

Duart Castle.

Duart Castle, Isle of Mull

Duart Castle, Isle of Mull

Duart Castle, Isle of Mull

Duart Castle, Isle of Mull

Torosay Castle.

Torosay Castle, Isle of Mull

Torosay Castle, Isle of Mull

 

Glengorm Castle.

Glengorm Castle, Isle of Mull

Aros Castle.

Aros Castle, Isle of Mull

Invermark Castle.

Invermark Castle, Grampian

Dunnottar Castle.

Dunnottar Castle, Grampian

Dunnottar Castle, Grampian

Crathes Castle.

Crathes Castle, Grampian

Crathes Castle, Grampian

Crathes Castle, Grampian

St Andrews Castle.

St Andrews Castle

Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle

Eilean Donan Castle.

Inveraray Castle.

Inveraray Castle

Slains Castle.

Slains Castle, Grampian

Slains Castle

Dunrobin Castle.

Loch An Eilein Castle.

Castle on the island, Loch An Eilein

Noltland Castle.

Noltland Castle, Westray

Earl’s Palace.

Earl's Palace, Birsay

Ardvreck Castle.

Culzean Castle.

 

Newark Castle.

Pictorial Guide to Scotland

I have to admit to feeling a bit homesick of late. I live in a beautiful country, which has many similarities to the beautiful country I grew up in. Having recently been to Adelaide in South Australia, a state which feels it has been left out of the tourist stakes by its flashier cousins to the east, it got me thinking about my home country of Scotland, an amazing country that is often overlooked. In some parts of the world, Scotland is considered as nothing more than a state of England, or a country of little significance in the world, or one not worth making the effort to visit. Worst still, is that many people who do visit go nowhere other than Edinburgh and maybe Loch Ness to try and spot a mythical creature that doesn’t even exist. The amount of people I’ve met on my many travels who regale me with their trip to Scotland when in actual fact they saw little more than the capital city is astounding. Certainly, being a Glaswegian, I can’t deny my biased preference for the country’s largest city, but the beauty of Scotland lies in its myriad of islands scattered all up the west coast and to the north, and in the ruggedness of the mainland’s west coast and stark isolation, as well as the endearing draw of the National Parks. Whilst I could write multiple posts about this amazing country, I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

NATIONAL PARKS:

Cairngorm National Park.

Loch An Eilein in the Rothiemurchus forest

Loch An Eilein in the Rothiemurchus forest

Cairngorm Mountains

Cairngorm Mountains

Glen Clova in Cairngorm National Park

Glen Clova in Cairngorm National Park

Heather in bloom in Glen Muick

Heather in bloom in Glen Muick

Loch Muick

Loch Muick

Old boathouse at Loch Muick

Old boathouse at Loch Muick

Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park.

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

CITIES & TOWNS:

Glasgow.

Flying over the suburbs of Glasgow

Flying over the suburbs of Glasgow

Strathclyde Park in Glasgow

Strathclyde Park in Glasgow

Edinburgh.

Forth Rail Bridge across the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh

Forth Rail Bridge across the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle as viewed from the back

Edinburgh Castle as viewed from the back

The city of Edinburgh viewed from Arthur's Seat

The city of Edinburgh viewed from Arthur’s Seat

Aberdeen.

Union Square Gardens, Aberdeen

Union Square Gardens, Aberdeen

River Dee frozen in winter

River Dee frozen in winter

Aberdeen promenade

Aberdeen promenade

Inverness.

The river Ness passing through Inverness

The river Ness passing through Inverness

Kessock Bridge spanning the Beauly Firth near Inverness

Kessock Bridge spanning the Beauly Firth near Inverness

Fort William.

Crinnan Canal outside Fort William

Crinnan Canal outside Fort William

Perth.

Flying over Perth

Flying over Perth

ISLANDS:

Isle of Arran – Firth of Clyde.

Goatfell on Arran

Goatfell on Arran

Barra – Outer Hebrides.

Traigh Sgurabhal with Beinn Sgurabhal in the background

Traigh Sgurabhal with Beinn Sgurabhal in the background

Cidhe Eolaigearraidh, with Fuday across the bay

Cidhe Eolaigearraidh, with Fuday across the bay

On Barra, looking towards Orosaigh

On Barra, looking towards Orosaigh

Benbecula – Outer Hebrides.

Benbecula

Benbecula

Benbecula

Benbecula

Rueval summit, Benbecula

Rueval summit, Benbecula

Berneray – Outer Hebrides.

Berneray

Berneray

Sandy beach on Berneray

Sandy beach on Berneray

Looking across to Ensay & Killegray from Beinn Shleibhe on Berneray

Looking across to Ensay & Killegray from Beinn Shleibhe on Berneray

Looking towards Ensay & Killegray from a beach on Berneray

Looking towards Ensay & Killegray from a beach on Berneray

Sand dunes on Berneray

Sand dunes on Berneray

Bute – Firth of Clyde.

Cows on the Isle of Bute

Cows on the Isle of Bute

Looking towards Isle of Arran from Isle of Bute

Looking towards Isle of Arran from Isle of Bute

Cumbrae – Firth of Clyde.

Millport on Cumbrae

Millport on Cumbrae

Eriskay – Outer Hebrides.

Eriskay

Eriskay

Flodda – Outer Hebrides.

Flodda

Flodda

Gigha – Inner Hebrides.

Achamore House on Gigha

Achamore House on Gigha

Looking towards Islay from Gigha

Looking towards Islay from Gigha

Beautiful Gigha coastline

Beautiful Gigha coastline

Grimsay – Outer Hebrides.

Grimsay

Grimsay

Iona – Inner Hebrides.

Iona

Iona

Iona Abbey

Iona Abbey

Isle of May – Firth of Forth.

Looking towards the lighthouse on Isle of May

Looking towards the lighthouse on Isle of May

Lismore – Inner Hebrides.

Flying over Lismore Island

Flying over Lismore Island

Isle of Mull – Inner Hebrides.

Tobermory, Isle of Mull

Tobermory, Isle of Mull

The barren west of Mull

The barren west of Mull

West coast of Mull

West coast of Mull

Abandoned boats on the Mull coastline

Abandoned boats on the Mull coastline

North Uist – Outer Hebrides.

North Uist

North Uist

North Uist

North Uist

Triagh Iar, North Uist

Triagh Iar, North Uist

Oitir Mhor, North Uist

Oitir Mhor, North Uist

Orkney Mainland

 

Papa Westray

 

Isle of Skye – Inner Hebrides.

Uig bay

Uig bay

Quiraing

Quiraing

Waternish

Waternish

Point of Ness, Durnish

Point of Ness, Durnish

Loch Slaplin

Loch Slaplin

Loch Slaplin with the Cuillins Range behind

Loch Slaplin with the Cuillins Range behind

South Uist – Outer Hebrides.

Road sign at the South Uist to Eriskay causeway

Road sign at the South Uist to Eriskay causeway

Looking towards Eriskay from South Uist

Looking towards Eriskay from South Uist

Ludag, South Uist

Ludag, South Uist

Beautiful, secluded, white sandy beach

Beautiful, secluded, white sandy beach

South Uist

South Uist

Staffa – Inner Hebrides.

Fingall's Cave, Staffa

Fingall’s Cave, Staffa

Ulva – Inner Hebrides.

Ulva

Ulva

Vatersay – Outer Hebrides.

Vatersay beach

Vatersay beach

Westray.

 

MAINLAND REGIONS:

Highlands.

Kyle of Loch Alsh with the Skye bridge

Kyle of Loch Alsh with the Skye bridge

Loch Duich in the lowering sun

Loch Duich in the lowering sun

Gairloch

Gairloch

Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness

Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness

Flying over the mountains to the east of Oban

Flying over the mountains to the east of Oban

Loch Etive

Loch Etive

Ben More & Loch Lubhair

Ben More & Loch Lubhair

Grampian.

Near Loch Kinnord

Near Loch Kinnord

Loch Kinnord

Loch Kinnord

Loch Lee

Loch Lee

Invermark Castle

Invermark Castle

Balmedie beach north of Aberdeen

Balmedie beach north of Aberdeen

Slain's Castle

Slain’s Castle

North Sea coastline at Slain's Castle

North Sea coastline at Slain’s Castle

Ythan Estuary at Newburgh

Ythan Estuary at Newburgh

Sand dune near Newburgh

Sand dune near Newburgh

Beach south of Collieston

Beach south of Collieston

Perthshire.

Loch Turret reservoir

Loch Turret reservoir

Queen's View, Loch Tummel

Queen’s View, Loch Tummel

St Fillans on the bank of Loch Earn

St Fillans on the bank of Loch Earn

Stirlingshire.

 

Fife.

St Andrews

St Andrews

South-eastern corner of the Kingdom of Fife

South-eastern corner of the Kingdom of Fife

Patchwork quilt of farmland in Fife

Patchwork quilt of farmland in Fife

Argyll.

Inveraray bridge

Inveraray bridge

Loch Awe

Loch Awe

Journeys in the Homeland

As a child, many of our family holidays were to places within my home country of Scotland. As an adult, whilst eagerly heading off on adventures on foreign shores, I’ve always made a point of travelling across my homeland as well, revisiting favourite places and discovering new locations. Whilst I have my favourite places on the mainland, my absolute favourite parts of the country as a whole are out on various of the islands dotted up the west coast. I have lugged my trusty tent around a few of them, done road trips on a few others, and a few more still have been the destination for day trips. My passion for the country is yet to dwindle.

I spent 23 years of my life living in a suburb of Glasgow, the largest city in the country. Whilst not having the visual appeal of the capital city, for me it is the city to go for shopping and socialising. I love it. I do not, however, love its weather. The Scottish weather is not the most reliable at the best of times, and whilst I have many memories of gorgeous sunny days, I have a lot of memories of grey, dreich winter days where the rain slams off the streets. Contrast this to my home for the subsequent 5.5 years in Aberdeen on the east coast (Scotland’s 3rd largest city), where it is much drier, and the sun shines for longer. Whilst Aberdeen gets bitterly cold in winter, and gets a good covering of snow, it is complimented by beautifully crisp, clear days where the sun bounces off the snow, making it truly sparkle. Where Glasgow won out, was with its locality as the gateway to some fantastic areas of the west coast: the Trossachs, Loch Lomond, and the islands of Arran, Cumbrae, Gigha, and further afield to Oban and beyond. I missed the ease of access to the Western Isles and the Firth of Clyde islands when I lived in Aberdeen, having to chug across the width of the country to get out to these. Having said all that, the Cairngorm Mountain National Park was within an hour’s drive from the Granite City, and I used this as my playground for hiking and camping as often as the weather was reasonable.

 

Most of the years of my life I have at some point visited the Spey Valley within the country’s original National Park, Cairngorm Mountain. This is one of my favourite parts of the mainland, and I have visited it in blizzards, and fantastic sunny days, and a full spectrum of weather in between. The Cairngorm Mountain range is littered with Munros (a Scottish mountain >3,000ft high), and these are accessible from the Grampian (Aberdeen) side, as well as the Spey Valley to the west. It is home to Scotland’s 3 ski resorts and the 2 highest roads in the country, the most famous being the ‘Cock Bridge to Tomintoul’ Road (the A939), which is usually the first road to close in the country when the snow appears due to it reaching an altitude of 2,112 ft. Incidentally, this is one of my favourite roads to travel along, and is the access road to the Lecht ski resort, but it needs a really sturdy gear box due to an incline of 20-26% depending on the section.

There are so many fantastic hikes in the National Park that I could write a whole separate blog on these. My favourites are to the summit of Lochnagar (3,789ft) which starts in the glorious glen around Loch Muick, a good 1.5hr drive west of Aberdeen with red deer being a common sighting on this hike; the forest of Glen Tanar near Aboyne; the Spey river valley walk; and the shorter walks to Loch an Eilann and around the Glenmore forest at the foot of Cairngorm Mountain. A fantastic trip to do here is a guided walk into the foothills of the Cairngorm range to visit the local population of reindeer. It is a free ranging herd, the only one of its kind in the whole of Great Britain, and they can be seen roaming the mountains in the summer, or lower down in winter, where they come in for a regular feed and an up-close opportunity to hand feed these delightful creatures. A few of the herd tour the UK at Christmas time to pull Santa’s sleigh at parades and festivals.

 

The Isle of Mull and the Isle of Iona west of Oban are beautiful islands to visit, and they both demand to be savoured slowly. Mull is littered with single track road, and the best parts of the island are reached on these. Tobermory, the colourful town on the north-east of the island is famous for 2 reasons: the buildings on the waterfront are all painted in differing pastel shades, and it was also the set for a famous children’s tv programme a few years ago, called Balamory. It is an excellent location to hop on board a boat and go searching for whales and dolphins. I was lucky enough to see a sunfish which is exceedingly rare in such northern waters. On one of my visits I attended a production of Macbeth in the Mull Theatre, situated in the village of Dervaig. At the time it was the World’s Smallest Professional Theatre, with around 32 seats, and being so close to the actors, several of us got regularly sprayed with phlegm as the erudite actors portrayed their characters with immense enthusiasm. It is almost a little sad that this delightful little theatre has been replaced with a more modern, and larger production hall near Tobermory.

 

Taking a long drive to the south-west corner of Mull, the ferry terminal at Fionnphort hails the crossing point to the islands of Iona and Staffa. Staffa is an uninhabited sea stack with the famous Fingal’s Cave, and patrolling the waters around it are the populous basking sharks. These sharks are plankton feeders, and are beautiful to watch trawling the water, sieving the micro-organisms out the water with their giant mouths. I have lost count of the number of times I have visited Iona, and the weather has been glorious every single visit. I love hiking north from the ferry terminal to the northern beaches, and just relaxing as the Atlantic Ocean laps on the shore before me.

 

I only discovered the Outer Hebrides 2 years ago. I had been to the Western Isles of Skye and to Lewis and Harris in my adolescence, but I decided to take the long drive from Aberdeen across the width of the country, up the length of Skye and on the ferry out to the chain of North & South Uists, Benbecula, Barra, and Berneray. This region has a strong Gaelic (pronounced ‘Gah-lick’, as opposed to the Irish Gaelic, which is pronounced ‘Gay-lick’) heritage, and the signage is bilingual, with a preference towards the Gaelic. One of the many MacDonald clans can be traced back to the Uists. I spent a week touring the chain of islands, and I’ve never been anywhere so idyllic, so remote, and so far from the stress of suburbia in all my life. It is a very wild and rugged region, and it is exposed to the full brunt of the harsh Atlantic weather. Most of the island chains are barely above sea level for large portions, and the tide has a lot of influence on the coastal landscape. As a result, the place is teeming with shore birds, sea birds, and thanks to a plentiful supply of inland water, wetland birds too, not to mention the birds of prey that these smaller species encourage. I can’t think of a better place to go and watch bird life. The only wild otter I have ever seen was also on this trip. Whilst generally colder than the rest of the country, the Outer Hebrides boasts some amazing expanses of white sandy beaches, many of which stretch some distance. It was on one such beach on Berneray where I was walking along daydreaming, that my attention was drawn to a movement ahead of me. An otter had just returned from a trip out at sea, and it was drying itself off on the sand, rolling over and over and having a full body shake down. I stood quietly watching it for several minutes before it disappeared up the sand dune and over the ridge.

 

Last year, the cogs were already in motion for me to make a move abroad. In an effort to both conserve money whilst taking a break, and to immerse myself in the country I would later leave, I packed up my tent, my stove, and sleeping bag and headed off first to the Island of Arran, and then to the Isle of Gigha. With the exception of the last day on Arran, I lucked out with the weather, basking in the 20s most days, and getting sunburnt on Gigha. Disembarking the ferry at Brodick on Arran, I set off with my 15kg backpack up Goatfell (2,866ft, a Corbett). I was in prime fitness at this point, and although it slowed me down, I amazed myself with how quickly I made it up to the summit. I enjoyed my lunch at the summit, taking in the glorious vista, before heading down the far side and through the glen below to my camp spot for the night. It was only May, not quite in season yet, and I had the campsite to myself. Over the proceeding days, I worked my way south, camping in the forest and enjoying the changing coastal scene. Thankfully the rain only came in the morning I was due to leave, so I managed to get packed up and under cover without getting too drenched.

 

Gigha is a comparatively small island on the exterior side of the expansive Argyle Peninsula. Getting to the ferry terminal is a mission in itself, but once out on the island, I spent several days soaking up the rays and meandering from one end to the other, pitching my tent wherever I felt like it. One of the glorious things about Scotland is the ‘Right to Roam’ Act. Apart from individual properties, most land is generally classed as public, and therefore free access is allowed nearly everywhere. It is also possible to pitch a tent nearly anywhere you please too on the public land, as long as you’re not causing an obstruction or being a nuisance. As a result, I’ve had some glorious nights in my tent in the middle of nowhere, in some wilderness somewhere that I’ve hiked to. Gigha was no exception. I spent each night camped on the shoreline at a different bay, waking up to the sunlight dancing off the gentle water. It was such a relaxing holiday.

 

Unfortunately, my memories of the northern isles, Orkney & Shetland, are very faint, having been there in childhood and never having made it back in adulthood. I can remember visiting puffin colonies, and some incredible archaeological sites in Orkney, mainly the World Heritage Site that is Skara Brae, a neolithic settlement from the BC era. There is not enough space to write about every place I’ve ever visited in my home country, many of which I’ve been back to over and over again, and putting more detail into those places I have mentioned would take an inordinate amount of time. Needless to say, I am proud to report that my home country still remains the one that I have travelled most extensively, and I think it is important for travellers to remember that your home country is well worth exploring too.

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