So hey! I’ve not packed it in, I’m still here. September started with a Cold That Would Not Die and some pretty bad family news – a combination that left me completely physically and emotionally cleaned out. I shut down for a few days and then threw every shred of what I had left into planning and prepping for a group trip to the Cairngorms thinking if I could just get to that, I’d maybe feel human again.

And you know, crazily enough, it worked. For a month that started off as horrendously as it did, it’s done a pretty big flip. Starting with, at long last, the Foo Fighters gig of Grohl Scream-Along Therapy on the same day I put my notice in at work, I got a lot out of me that had probably been building up for a long, long time. Then there was a double shot of absolutely amazing weekends.

I do feel like I may be a broken record here but I was just picked up and fixed in every way by the incredible people I know. From just listening to me dump my brain, to sitting in pubs or living rooms with beer or tea or one very, very well-timed hot toddy, to jumping around at rock shows, to dumping each other in freezing cold rivers, to dancing our faces off til the wee small hours, and everything in between. It has been the best month. And that is not something I would have expected to say two weeks ago.

Sometime in mid-August, when everyone was itching to get another trip planned following our jaunt to Glen Coe, I threw a weekend (second in September) and a place (Aviemore) out on Facebook to see who’d bite. Then Dimitris suggested we should maybe go whitewater rafting and that quickly became The Plan.

My main goal was to get us sole use of a hostel for at least one of the two nights so we could have a little party after whatever outdoor madness we got up to for the day. I did not have high hopes as we were only a few weeks out and there are not billions of hostels in the area we were going. However, by some stupid luck or grace of the universe, I managed to snag the Strathspey Mountain Hostel in Newtonmore for us all on the Saturday night. We were split into another place down the road on the Friday but it didn’t much matter because all we did was roll into town, have a DELICIOUS pub dinner, and go to sleep in prep for early starts and cold water the next day. But I felt like the grand fucking wizard of all organisational kingdoms for getting the place for just us. (That was sorted before the bad beginning of the month, so maybe the stars were lining up to make up for things. Who knows. I’m just happy it worked out that way.)

Saturday morning, ten of us got carted up north to somewhere on the river Spey where we all changed glamourously into wetsuits at the side of the road and goofed off with the air pump and the rafts while the guides dropped the van off at the end of the route. The river wasn’t too crazy because strangely enough, it hadn’t rained in a while, but we made up for it with extra spinning, drenching each other via paddle splash fights, and straight up tipping each other into the water. Then they had us trampolining off the upturned rafts into a deep bit of river. We were often accompanied by the smell of lovely, autumn-y smoke wafting along from the wee fishing huts along the banks, and we even saw salmon jumping out of the river. No joke. It was amazing. At the end of the run, we carried everything up the hill, changed into dry clothes, threw things around, and ate our picnic lunch on what used to be a railway platform.

That all would have been good enough to make a weekend, but that was only the start of it. We snoozed and chatted on the way back down to Newtonmore in the van and plotted our evening. There was a tea and cake run when we got back, and a few of us played Cluedo while the rest went shopping for food and booze. Gav took charge of making us an epic pot of mac and cheese and the giant playing cards came out again until the dancing started. Dee’s birthday was coming up so we surprised her with cake and a jam circle, and then we just kept dancing til about 2.30 in the morning. Thanks to my Spotify account, a good WiFi connection, and Gav’s speakers brought up for the occasion, we were the bangin’-est party in Newtonmore. I had been slightly worried about possibly getting in trouble with the owners, but it turned out that Graeme actually knew them (SCOTLAND IS DELIGHTFULLY SMALL), and in the morning, they insisted we come back and do it again, and next time invite them to watch the dancing. How much better can it get?

Well, I’ll tell you: plenty. Because after we cleaned up the party and moved all the furniture back and said goodbye to the fantastic Helen and Laurie, we went for a hangover-curing walk around Loch an Eilein in the sunshine and watched the boys climb a tree and then swim 100 freezing metres out to claim the castle for their own. Then we had some ice cream and drove to Feshiebridge where the majority of us caught the freezing wild swimming bug and did some ice cold sliding down chutes in the river. And to cap it off, before we started the long drive back down to Edinburgh we got the NICEST fish and chips overlooking Loch Insh and skipped some stones in the water while trying to spot Ospreys.

There was not one single part of the weekend that was less than freaking great. It didn’t even matter that there was traffic on the drive back. We sang along with Graceland in the car and that alone can heal a broken anything. I felt so good about life at this point I could barely believe my luck.

And one of the million wonderful things about this trip is that after all the texts and calls and emails and prodding to get everyone accommodated and transported and paid for and advance-medical-and-sizing-information-for-the-rafting-ed, every part of the actual weekend fell into place so nicely because everyone was so up for it and helpful and generally awesome. We had no reception from about an hour away from Newtonmore but we all ended up in the same pub at roughly the same time for dinner, and they kept the kitchen open for us despite our lateness. Everyone pitched in with the shopping and the cooking breakfast and dinner and making lunch. Everyone shared stuff and cleaned up and helped decide what to do. We all danced and sang and took care of each other and no one was ever in a foul mood because how on earth could they be when surrounded by the loveliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know?

I know I’m spouting a lot of sunshine and rainbows here, but it’s all true and it’s all very well appreciated.

And in terms of cost, because I’m all about spelling that out around here, it was so INCREDIBLY cheap. We will do this again and again and again as long as people are willing.

The total per person was about £156, give or take a few quid.

We all had slightly different transportation and some people didn’t go rafting, but here’s a rough breakdown per person for the weekend:

  • £31 – 2 nights accommodation including one where we had sole use of the hostel.
  • £55 – 1 day whitewater rafting on the Spey including all equipment and transport to and from Newtonmore
  • £18 – share of rental car and petrol for the weekend
  • £17 – share per person for 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 1 dinner, lots of cake and tea, and a TON of booze split across us all (this is a ridiculous bargain for a weekend away)
  • £35 – (roughly) 2 pub dinners plus a few pints on the first night

I feel like these costs are so insignificant in comparison to how brilliant a time we had that it may as well have been free. I can’t wait to do this again.

And I know I keep saying this, but as if that weren’t enough, this past weekend was Edinburgh Lindy Exchange, which was equally awesome in all kinds of other ways. I’ll save it for the next post though because I’ve gone on enough here as it is.

But I do want to say that the past two weeks have been some of the best I’ve had, and it’s not only my Lindy friends I have to thank for it. Kristina and Yann are basically my family and scraped me up off the metaphorical ground with the aforementioned hot toddy AND A PUPPY (my new best friend Magni). I had a brilliant-as-always lunch with my ex-Galleries Pie and Pint crew. And even a few of the people I work with (I do like some of them) have provided welcome relief from the daily drudgery, including a noise-making minion toy of sheer joy.

So, thanks Universe, for all this awesome right when I needed it. And thanks friends, for being ten million times better and more than I could ever ask for.