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Tag: Scotland


It took me six months to go away for a full week this year, which is quite out of character. I don’t know what happened. Being on contract. Not really feeling like going alone. Something like that. But by the time the end of June came around I desperately needed it. I was in the middle of the process of buying a flat, work had been nonstop all year, and I’d unsurprisingly taken on far too much in terms of swing dance organisation.

So Holly and I planned a week of (mostly) wild camping in the Outer Hebrides. We hired a car, booked some ferries, and left the bits in between to be determined as we went along.

We invited the rest of our usual crew, but people were busy with other summer things, so we went on our own. I think this is part of what made the trip amazing. I love a good group trip, but we were able to faff around as much as we wanted without worrying about holding anyone up. Decisions were easier and there was precious little organising to do, which is precisely what I needed.

Also, you get a bigger share of wine when there’s only two of you.

The only thing about the trip that was a potential minefield was the fact that I was driving. I passed my UK road test in January after about 3 months of lessons driving manual. Then I didn’t drive again til I picked up the car we hired. About 5 months later. I stubbornly decided that I needed the practice and so insisted on being the only driver. I was fairly certain I was, at best, going to destroy the car and our holiday.

Thankfully this did not happen. I can’t say I was a pro, but I didn’t get us killed, and I at least provided some entertainment ¬– I managed to pull off a total boy racer wheelspin coming off the ferry between Berneray and Harris, where we’d been parked right at the back on a terrifying incline. (Holly and the ferry attendant were laughing. I was mortified.)

Despite the occasionally questionable driving, it was one of the most relaxed holidays I’ve had in a very, very long time. The Monday I was back, I remember thinking, well, shit, now I have to pay attention to time.

We somehow picked a week with the most bizarrely incredible weather. Conditions that would, in mainland Europe or any more accessible beach-type destinations, cause people to swarm. But in a lot of places we saw absolutely no one.

It’s a bit of a trek to get to the Western Isles, so I suppose this is unsurprising. We drove 4 hours from Edinburgh to Mallaig to catch a 3.5 hour ferry to Lochboisdale on South Uist. The ferry back to the mainland from Stornoway is 2.5 hours, and then another 4.5 hours drive back to Edinburgh.

You could fly there, but I feel like that’s cheating. You’d miss out on the drive through the highlands and the CalMac ferries. And who doesn’t love a good boat?

Training at sea.

On the way out, we saw dolphins and had a chat with a GP who was going to work for the week in North Uist. On the way back, I took a bit of a nap only to wake up to an announcement that the helicopter I saw hovering right in front of the window I was lounging in front of was a coast guard helicopter and would be doing some training exercises off the back of the boat for the next 30 odd minutes. They then proceeded to drop a guy onto the boat, send a stretcher down and back up, and then pick the guy back up. You certainly don’t see that if you fly.

When we drove off the ferry on South Uist, there wasn’t a whole lot going on. I mean, it was a Sunday, but even if it had been a Saturday night, I really don’t think we’d have seen the secret bangin’ nightlife of the Western Isles.

We found an almost unfairly amazing spot to camp on Eriskay (of Whisky Galore fame). Our only company was some sheep, who were completely uninterested, if not slightly annoyed by our presence. We had some beer and pies from the legendary Mhor Bread in Callander that we’d picked up on the drive up, watched the sun set over the sea, and poked around on the hill a bit before going to bed. Because of our latitude, the horizon was glowing all night long.

I ended up waking up around 3 in the morning (because: beer) and unzipped my tent to see the moon setting right in front of me. A sunset and a moonset in the space of about 5 hours! I’m not even sure I’ve watched a moonset before or even considered it was a thing. Both made me feel a bit strange about being able to see the speed at which the planet moves.

I wondered if I wasn’t quite able to perceive it properly, because it seemed to skip at some points instead of running smoothly. Surely the Earth should move in analogue, not digital? And I did not have THAT much beer. But perhaps my mind was playing tricks. There we were at the edge of everything, in a place quiet enough to give focus to how fast can seem glacial when you’re very small.

Most of our days were spent crawling our way northwards up the island chain. We weren’t ever in a rush to find a camping spot because the sun wasn’t going down until 10.30. So for the most part, we took our time getting up in the morning, making epic poached eggs on rolls (Sometimes with salmon! Sometimes with black pudding!), and plotting out a course, or the start of one.

We had coffee in a totally deserted hotel pub, made friends with a particularly inquisitive wild pony, visited smokehouses (all of the salmon) and craft shops, wandered along all kinds of stunning beaches, turned down random roads that led nowhere in particular, then turned around and tried other roads, all of which gave me ample practice at dealing with passing places.

We bought Harris Gin and Harris Tweed and whisky from Abhainn Dearg, the westernmost distillery in Scotland, where I watched the woman working there label and seal the bottle I ended up buying as we walked up to the counter in the workshop. I probably won’t buy a lot of bottles like that in my life. The whole place smelled incredible.

We had lunch in a community cafe with epic cakes and the best damn black pudding and egg roll I’ve ever had. We overheard mums talking to each other in Gaelic then turning and talking to their kids in English and back to Gaelic seamlessly.

The day it got so hot that I thought I was going to lose the plot was also the day we dropped ourselves into a completely remote town on the coast looking across to Skye and I brought my core temperature down by snorkeling (badly) in my new wetsuit in a freezing cold tiny bay among the rocks while a seal or two bobbed around nearby keeping an eye on us.

It was also the only night of midges we had. And the only night we didn’t take a picture of where we camped. We put up with the flying terrors and cooked and ate through our midge nets because the sea was so flat and the moon was so big and the view was so amazing we couldn’t bear to give up and spend a night inside a bunkhouse.

After we’d gone into our tents, we heard an incredible rumbling noise that started at around 12.30 and just got louder and louder. I started to think an apocalyptic machine was going to come roving over the hills and end the day like some mechanical Langolier.

The sound soon revealed itself to be an enormous boat, lit up like a Gatsby party, slowly crawling down the bit of sea between Harris and Skye. And then in the morning we looked down from the top of our cliff into the crystal clear water to see a lion’s mane jellyfish solitarily blobbing along like an alien menace. It’s possible we were in someone’s sci fi novel rough draft offcuts.

When you look back at such a collection of things that happened in the space of less than 24 hours, it seems unlikely that anyone’s real life can contain that many curiosities, even on holiday.

But the very next day included wandering around some rocks at low tide that were absolutely covered in mussels at least 2 feet over my head. And then having the haar quite literally sneak up on us in about 5 minutes to transform what could be mistaken for a tropical island beach to a strange ghost-story moor where you couldn’t see further than 50 or so feet . The sounds of dogs barking and the odd far off car motor and the water itself were impossible to place because being in the middle of a cloud makes everything sound like it’s coming from everywhere.

I think I’ve made it obvious in the past how in love with Scotland I am, but after everything I’ve written about far-flung countries, it may seem strange that a holiday where I live could be at least as exciting. Parts of this country often feel like completely different planets though. So many odd, unexpected, wonderful little things happen on the trips I’ve taken within our borders. Planning something foreign is exciting, sure, but even on those trips, it’s the weird stuff you don’t plan that makes them awesome. So why should someplace a few hours away be any different?

When the apocalypse comes, I know where I want to run

I just got back from an idyllic weekend up north with friends and I still can’t handle reading the interweb, or even thinking much about what the hell is going on. So instead I will tell you what I learned far, far away from WiFi and mobile reception.*

  • The Spanish can turn a phrase like none other.
  • The Shim Sham can (and should) be done to nearly anything with a beat, but most importantly, Gwen Stefani’s ‘Rich Girl’.
  • The cure for a hangover is the top of a hill and a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer. The jury is out on whether or not hail also helps.
  • Every body of water in Scotland is warmer than Lake Baikal is in December, and this is how I convince myself I absolutely must get in when given the chance.
  • Midges are some kind of award-winning level of awful. (But they’re still better than Nigel Farage.)
  • Economies of scale are for real. I still can’t believe how little we paid for the amount of food and booze we consumed. I guess this highlights one of the only downsides of living alone. More big, communal dinners, please!
  • Watching beer freeze instantly upon opening is better than watching probably 95% of what’s on television these days.
  • 3.30am is a fine time for a walk. I recommend you bring a bottle of port, too.
  • Three words: Slow. Motion. Video.
  • This country. Let me tell you. In any light or weather, at every time of day. Scotland is beautiful.

*Note that this is not nearly an exhaustive list.

I wish we didn’t have to leave our paradise as soon as we did.

HOWEVER. I think my next project will be creating some regular forms of escape for the wider population. If everyone had weekends like we just had – even once a year – the world would be a nicer place.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to not reading the interweb for a while.

I suggest you do the same.

Let me tell you that I love you, and I think about you all the time

‘Maybe Tomorrow’ by Sterophonics has been on heavy rotation in my Chill The Eff Out playlist for this whole trip, most likely because it’s used on Long Way Round, so it was somehow already intrinsically connected. But it’s on an album called ‘You Gotta Go There To Come Back’, which is a phrase that’s been bouncing around my brain since I boarded my first train at Waverley in November. I had unexpectedly got to a place I never really considered I’d be, which is, loving the place I live in so much that I missed it before I even left.

It’s not true of everyone who travels like this, but a majority of the people I’ve met along the way have some sort of restlessness with where they come from. Sometimes they’re a bit bored of it, sometimes they’re indifferent, and sometimes they flat out hate the place. Those are as good reasons as any to find somewhere new for a while, but I have no such negativity towards my home. I did not aim to get (or run) away from anything – except possibly my old job, but I could have easily done that without leaving the city.

What’s happening here is more like the fulfillment of something I’ve been thinking about for such a long time that it felt like I’d be doing myself a disservice NOT to go. The idea of this trip felt strange and not necessarily impossible, but so big it couldn’t possibly happen in my normal life. So of course I had to prove that wrong. Now that I’m at the end of it it still feels that way. It’s really hard to believe I’ve just done all the stuff I’ve done in the last three months. Rolling into St Petersburg feels like a lifetime ago. This will all fade into a sort of memory legend quite quickly, and I suspect sometimes it will feel as though it never happened.

But I had to go there to come back. Not many people get the chance to prove to themselves they are precisely where they need to be. That’s not what I set out to do. I just wanted to see some stuff really. There was no big deeper meaning or life changing goal. It wasn’t as much of a why as a why not?

Perhaps I’m a bit more patient in some ways, or slightly more adaptable to difficult situations. Maybe my problem solving or resilience is better. Hopefully I’m a slightly better dancer. But I’m still mostly the same. In a bit of an email chat with a friend the other day, he said that clearly I must be tired of being alone because it means I’ve got no one to kick off to. And I laughed because not 30 minutes earlier, I’d been walking down the street thinking, ‘WHY IS IT THAT EVERY HUMAN BEING EVERYWHERE ON THIS PLANET CANNOT WALK DOWN THE STREET WITHOUT THEIR FACE IN THEIR FUCKING PHONE’ (seriously though, why?) but I had no one to rant to. So it’s true – more patient on the outside I may well be, but I am still quick to call out the world’s bullshit. Some things will never change.

Anyway. If you’ve been reading this you know that I was kind of ready to go home a few weeks ago, but I had this one last weekend to look forward to – my first international swing dance camp. This trip has been powered on many things, but predominantly: free WiFi, the kindness of strangers, and Lindy Hop.

Dancing in the street. (Photo credit to Big Bang Swing.)

Dancing in the street. (Photo credit to Big Bang Swing.)

I have been welcomed like family to so many places just because I dance, and I really don’t think this trip would have been as amazing as it was without that. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end it than The Big Bang. To the point where I teared up when writing a thank you on the Bangkok Swing Facebook page because there is really no way it could have been better, and I appreciated the awesomeness of it all even more because of the low-ish place I’d been in the week or so before. Lindy has not only saved every low moment of this trip, it has turned it around into something joyful and magical. Everywhere I danced was great, but Bangkok was truly the best.

Now I’m sitting in the airport (a novelty!) drinking a very strong coffee to combat my total exhaustion from the weekend and waiting to finally go home. I am. So. Happy. About that.

So. Thank you to everyone who put me up, showed me around, woke up early to call me taxis in their language, made me breakfast, bought me lunch, dropped me off, picked me up, jumped in lakes with me, and ordered local food for me. And of course thank you to everyone who danced with me.

Thanks to my rockstar friends who all provided support from afar via some form of modern technology at some point along the way. Every short message and long chat was appreciated more than you know.

Thanks to my family for trying to understand all this and not worrying too much too openly.

And I end with another thing in my regular rotation. You may have seen this coming. It’s the best song for the occasion.

See you soon, Scotland.

A (freezing cold) river ain’t too much to love

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.

Lindy Hoppers do Glen Coe

Before we left on Friday, this is what the forecast looked like for Glen Coe.

Optimism is key.

Optimism is key.

We (or at least I) I was running on serious faith that the weather in Scotland really does change every 24.9 minutes and that there was no way it could possibly be rubbish all weekend.

I got a lift from Graeme and after we left an intermittently sunny Edinburgh around quarter to 8, the rain started and then didn’t quit the entire drive. We wound through wooded roads and around lochs and eventually through massive mountains without seeing much of it. We had the music on my phone (Foo Fighters and Movits! followed by Radiohead for extra weather-matching atmosphere) the sound of the wind running through the roof racks, and the pounding rain for company on what would normally be an incredibly scenic drive.  But it was great! And about 10 minutes from the campsite, we passed this waterfall which was roaring so impressively that Graeme turned around to pull over in the deluge and take a photo of it.

We pulled up to the campsite around 10.30 to find Dimitris, Nick, and Nelly putting up their tents with Rupert and Andrew’s help. I borrowed/inherited a tent from Kristina, which looks like it wouldn’t be up to much, but this sucker took everything Scottish nature could throw at it over the weekend and I stayed dry and not-blown-away when I was in it. And it went up in the rain in about 5 minutes flat. I have to confess I didn’t so much of the pitching because I took stuff out of the bag and helped thread one pole in, then I blinked about twice and Rupert and Graeme had finished the job. Total experts. After a bit of a group challenge to finish getting Nick’s tent up, we escaped to the Clachaig Inn for a drink and a warmer, drier planning place for the next day.

We were booted out an hour later to face the wild Scottish weather overnight. I don’t sleep well in unfamiliar situations, and I’m far too fidgety to be the ideal sleeping bag occupant, so I knew I wasn’t going to get much rest. But if that first night didn’t put me off camping, it’s a testament to my sheer excitement for the weekend as a whole. And probably the wonder tent. It was freezing, and I chose the wrong side of the tent to claim as the dry side (all my wet stuff was on the slightly higher ground and my head ended up in the lowest corner) but the wind and rain did not get in, and my strategic taking of benadryl knocked me out for at least 3 hours of strange, frantic dreams of Rupert running through our wee tent city yelling ‘GET UP, THE WATER’S COMING!’ (We were camped next to the pretty rapidly rising river.)

In any case, we all survived the night. Any plans of and early start or breakfast at the campsite were scuppered by the weather, and we missed breakfast at the Clachaig, so we ended up at the Glencoe Cafe where I had the best damn breakfast roll I have ever had. Fried egg and black pudding. I could have eaten three of them. After suiting up, we checked our stock of snacks and water and drove out to one of the parking areas at the side of the road and headed into the hills.

We were just doing a walk up one of the valleys, but because of the high water in all the streams from the rain the night before, we couldn’t stick to the fairly easy looking path. So for the first hour or so, we trudged straight through boggy hillside in high wind and sometimes needle-like, sideways rain. I’m fairly sure at that point most of us were thinking ‘WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK ARE WE DOING, THIS IS PAINFUL AND INSANE AND THE WORD ‘WATERPROOF’ IS A BOLD-FACED LIE (well, unless you’re Katie and spent £57 on fancy waterproof cycling trousers), WHY ARE WE NOT IN THE WARM DRY PUB LIKE SENSIBLE PEOPLE.’


We persevered. There was more bog. There were various stream crossings. One where I totally missed the rock I was jumping for and got properly (and effortlessly) saved by Rupert, who grabbed me from certain death. There was a full on river crossing where, because we decided going all the way down to the road to cross was just too much to fathom, we found the least frightening looking spot and went in up to our knees while Rupert and Andrew helped us across, because we were already completely soaked anyway.

And then. THEN. On the way back up the hill to the next valley, squelching in our boots, we turned around to see the sun breaking over Glen Etive and the weather started to pull back and give us a very well deserved break.

And that’s when I really started thinking, a la Vonnegut, if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

Because how lovely to be with a group of people who will suck it up and trudge through the hellish weather this country is capable of simply because they all believe that this weekend away is going to be awesome, and if nature doesn’t feel that, we will keep going til it believes us. And incredibly enough, from the moment that sun busted out, it all just got better and better.

Three of the boys broke away to go up some actual Munros while the rest of us had a very pleasant walk out down the valley. The sun eventually got so strong that I was passing around the sunscreen I was ridiculed for including in my bag that morning. By the end of the day my sunglasses were on. By the time we got back to the cars, the only things still wet were our feet.

We got a big newspaper on the way back to the Clachaig so we could stuff our boots and put them in the drying room (two words which are the sweetest music ever when you’re starting to fear trench foot) and ate a massive dinner in our socks. The proper hill walkers were only about an hour or so behind us and made it in plenty of time for food. Then we rounded out the night by hatching a plan for a massive skills exchange (Sewing storm trooper costumes! Miniature gardening! Chainsaw hedge-sculpting! We do more than just swing dance, you see.), playing a game of spoons using MASSIVE playing cards, and finally retreating to the back bar to dance around to the live music til closing time.

I didn’t sleep much the second night either, but it rained a lot less. And Sunday morning we went back to the cafe for breakfast where I had some seriously heavenly porridge that I’d been jealous of the morning before. The sun was already hanging around and we set off for a much easier walk up to the hidden valley. (I observed that we were seeing TONS of people on Sunday’s walk, where on Saturday we saw no one once the road was out of sight.) We crossed a river again, but this time we took our shoes and socks off to do it because our feet were still gloriously dry.

When we got up to the valley, we climbed a massive rock for a group picture (well, I didn’t make it very far up, but whatever, I got off the ground) and then the sun REALLY came out and we all took a nap in the grass. Then we threw a golf ball around and contributed some rock art to the place with Graeme’s natural building skills.

I spent the whole time thinking, well, not that I ever had any doubt, but this is a country well worth becoming a citizen of. Beautiful is an understatement.

We took a pretty boulder-y route down the hill, which for me was terrifying as I do not have the mountain goat tendencies some of the others do, but Fiona and Rupert started in on a stellar rendition of ‘Hakuna Matata’ followed by various other tunes which calmed me way down and took my mind off the fact that my footing and balance is the worst in the land. And everyone helped each other down the difficult bits and we played leapfrog on the last bridge out where Andrew and Cicely played an epic game of Pooh Sticks and the day was just so ridiculously perfect.

The drive home was gorgeous and STILL sunny and I got to see all the things that had been obscured by the rain on the way up. We stopped for fish and chips on the way and all wondered aloud when the next trip would be.

I think between my compulsion to organise things and everyone’s sheer, unadulterated joy about the weekend, I can guarantee it will be very, very soon.

The places that have chosen me have already done so

I could have written about the crazy camping kit I just bought this week, or my friend’s annual BBQ in Selkirk where I rocked up in a home-made Joan of Arc costume, but all I really want to do is continue devouring the hell out of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. And as this is my 100th post, I decided I’m allowed to do whatever I want. Including not write a proper post this week.

So next week I’ll be back with wonderful stories of my first ever Scottish camping/hiking trip, which starts Friday. But for now, I leave you with this:

You write that tourism is a search for a place that will embrace you. Is that partly what you’re doing with your walks?

No, not really. I’m an unrepentant Londoner, and the places that have chosen me (because I think it’s that way round: places choose you, rather than vice versa), have already done so. I think you only have room for two or three serious affairs of place in a lifetime, just as you only have emotional space for two or three serious love affairs.

Will Self

Psychogeography is next on the list then.

A wee bike trip and a trot up a hill

Since I’ve got this lovely bike now and I decided I wanted to use the next few months to enjoy Scotland, the incredible weather on Saturday seemed like a good time to start.

Due to a somewhat heated and ill-advised debate on Friday night, I had scads of frustrated energy to burn, so Saturday morning I packed a sandwich, sunscreened myself up, and got on my bike to ride to North Berwick which is 23 miles away.

On yer bike.

On yer bike.

I’ve never cycled NEARLY as far as that in one go. I did about 10.5 on Tuesday night, and I think I did about 14 when I was at my parents’ house in October (but with a long beer and lunch break about halfway through) and that’s probably the closest I’ve come.

But last year I walked from Prestonpans to North Berwick, and followed more or less the same route as I would be biking, so I knew what I was in for, and it’s not bad in terms of terrain. A few small climbs, but mostly flat and about half on bike paths, the rest on reasonably quiet roads. And sunshine or no, you can’t beat the views.

Not too shabby for a lunch break.

Not too shabby for a lunch break.

Google said it would take just under two hours. I took about three including a few short stops, so I think I did pretty well. I was originally going to go with some friends, but other plans happened and I ended up just doing it on my own. That was probably for the best, as I think I needed the time to have a few words with myself, and I also didn’t have to worry about my speed in relation to anyone else. And now that I know the trip, I can go back with people!

My Steampunk coffee and cookie reward shot got some jealous reactions, and that is excuse enough to take another trip next time the weather’s good. There’s also a fish and chip van about halfway along the route on the beach outside Longniddry, and I’d love to try it out.

A photo posted by Kate (@kateamann84) on

It was a good way to get to know my bike better too. I’m still a little wobbly on it but I know what gears are cranky and what’s comfortable and how my brakes like to behave and all that.  (And I finally decided its name is Alicia. Because The Good Wife. Obviously.) I’m not super happy about the Po Campo bag I bought, which I’d been excited about, but it doesn’t like to stay upright on the rack. It’s too much of a hassle to send it back to the US, so I just need to figure out how to modify it to make it work. Can’t win them all.

The beach in North Berwick, hooray!

The beach in North Berwick, hooray!

Anyway, once I’d had a bit of a walk round North Berwick and along the beach, I headed to the station to get the train home. And somehow I still had a lot of energy, so I went with my friend Katie round the back of Arthur’s Seat for a drink at the Sheep Heid. After which we ended up going nearly all the way back up the hill, sort of by mistake, but it was a good scramble. It was the first outing of the new hiking shoes I bought for our trip to Glencoe next month too, so there was some proper breaking-in going on.

It was such a lovely evening and I didn’t get home until about 10.15, which is one of the nicest things about summer in Scotland – you can be going up hills at 9 at night and still have plenty of light to do so.

I was certain that after all that activity I’d be screaming in pain when I woke up this morning, but since I finally remembered to stretch properly before bed, I’m more or less fine. It felt really good to just run myself ragged all day. I think I’m finally so fed up of sitting at a computer all the time that my appetite for escape is like a perpetual motion engine. Dancing, cycling, going up hills. There’ll be plenty more of that.

Summer’s gonna rock, you guys

This beauty is on its way to me.

Right as I got home from the US and declared it’s now The Six Months Of Saving A Lot For The Trip, I just spent a whole load of money this weekend. And NOT on travel.

I bought a bike (and related accoutrements) and I registered for a few swing dance events.

I feel this is all justified.

A lot of what I thought about on my lazy train rides to and from North Carolina was what I wanted the summer (and all the time preceding my whole rip-it-up-and-start-again thing) to look like. My priorities surfaced pretty quickly: friends, dancing, Scotland. All of these overlap quite nicely.

I tend to say yes to way too much extra work and crap I really don’t need to. Between that and seemingly endless life admin bullshit, I’ve been feeling really overloaded when all I really want to do is make time for the stuff that makes me feel like life is awesome. So really I just want to say yes to doing more with my friends around Edinburgh and the rest of the country. And I want to do as much dancing as possible. And hopefully feel like I’m getting better at it.

You may remember that I was thinking of going to Sweden for a week of Herräng dance camp this summer. I decided in the end that I’d have to push that plan to another year in order to save more for the Trans-Siberian. As luck would have it though, Rob and Diane Van Haaren, who have taught at Herräng for most of the last 20 or so years, are doing a workshop in Edinburgh in July, so I can get a taste of swing dance summer camp without leaving home (and for an incredible price). Then just before I run away in November, Edinburgh Winter Swing Weekend happens, which also includes super amazing teachers (Jo Hoffberg, Kevin St. Laurent, Jenny Thomas and Scott Cupit) and a whoooole lotta dancing. It’ll make for an excellent leaving party.

I’m incredibly excited about all of that. And I’ll also be doing Edinburgh Lindy Exchange in September as well as all my usual weekly stuff and various social dances here and there. All of this covers every single one of those priorities – in addition to helping keep me relatively sane. It’s good money to spend, and it’s not actually all that much in the end.

As for the bike, I had already decided to buy it before I went away, because I thought if I didn’t budget for it before the trip, I’d never afford it right away when I got back. I am not exaggerating when I say just about everyone I know has a bike, and I’ve been considering it for a pretty long time. I got a pretty entry-level one in terms of price and fanciness, but good enough that it should last a fairly long time. (And I can’t waaaaait for it to arrive. 7-10 days, gah!)

So now I can zip back and forth between home and dance stuff and friends’ places and the beach and anywhere else I feel like going. And I can go for longer rides on the weekends or take it on the train and explore other places relatively cheaply. I walk everywhere in this city, which I love to do, but it does take up a lot of time, so this will allow me to claim some of that time back without losing the exercise. Then I can spend more time with people or reading books or sleeping, which I need to do a bit more of as well.

These things are all making the summer look pretty awesome. Plus there are hiking trips to the highlands, Balkan music club nights, Foo Fighters at Murrayfield (finally!), lazy Sunday morning breakfasts in cafes, local beer festivals, and all manner of other things planned. And my parents will be visiting in September, when we’ll probably go to Arran or somewhere equally cool.

And I think I’ve managed to fit it all in the budget while still saving enough for 3 months away. Seriously. HOORAY!

Flying home

Edinburgh just before landing

Hey, I can see my house!

When you fly into Edinburgh, the plane always comes in the same way. From the south, you pop out of the clouds somewhere over Dunbar and turn left over the Forth, slingshotting around Bass Rock like it’s some kind of waterfowl-covered moon. You then continue to drop, more or less parallel to shore from North Berwick, sloping in over the coast just before Cramond and skimming over the rail line just before touching down.

This sometimes makes for a bumpy ride, as there is often WEATHER over the Forth. The time I came in from Orkney in a very small plane, I was pretty sure we were going to be tossed unceremoniously from the sky, and had visions of my unsecured backpack conking me out before I knew what was happening as it flew off the seat adjacent (the flight attendants get very laid back about luggage the smaller and more rural the flight).

However, it also makes for one of the loveliest returns home I have ever known. Despite being an aisle seat lady, this view ensures I pick seat A on the last leg of any trip whenever I can. Preferably somewhere just behind the wing. I can stand to be cramped up for an hour or so if it means seeing Edinburgh from this angle. In any light or weather, it’s just the best. To visitors and natives, I highly recommend it. (If you end up on the right side of the plane instead, you’ll get a cracking view of the bridges.)

To top it off, there’s this fantastic truth when you come ambling out of the airport, which I also love fiercely and look forward to every time. It’s great to see when you’re at the start of an adventure too. I seriously hope this ad campaign runs forever.

RBS 'This is home' campaign at Edinburgh Airport

Yes it is.

Scotland decides

Scottish flag and Forth rail bridge

SCOTLAND. (If the colour in this picture was a little better, you’d probably find it in some kind of brochure.)

Today is a big day for Scotland.

Getting to be here for a vote on independence is pretty exciting. How many people can say they were there when a group of people decided together on their future in such a significant way?

I can’t vote in the referendum because, while I am already eligible for citizenship, I couldn’t afford to get it sorted out in time. (More on that whole thing in an upcoming post.) But that doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion.

After being undecided for a long time, I am now a solid Yes. And what sealed that for me was not really political. Sure, there are political issues I agree with on the Yes side, but I made up my mind when I realised that this is not about the SNP or any other political party or issue. It’s about representation and whether or not Scotland can govern itself. And I know we can.

Edinburgh from Calton Hill

One of my favourite shots of Edinburgh from Calton Hill.

The campaigning has gotten pretty heated around here, and while the American portion of my Facebook feed is, for the most part, blissfully unaware of what’s going down in this wee corner of the globe, the Scottish portion is blowing up. Even people who never say anything about anything are weighing in. There are points being made and fingers being pointed. There’s a lot of hope and a lot of vitriol. And a lot of people are getting tired of it. But I think it’s amazing that this many people feel so strongly about it. The voter turnout for this is projected to be something mental like 80%. That’s is astonishing and wonderful. People CARE about this. And however the vote goes, that kind of number shows Westminster that Scotland demands to be heard.

Yes or No, life will go on tomorrow. Things will be fine. Even in the event of a No vote, I think there will be momentum to push for significant change. But either way, we’re lucky to live in a place where we can do this without a violent, horrendous war.

I may be a Yes, and now a very firm one, but I don’t begrudge people their opinion, and No votes are just as valid as Yes ones. That’s the whole point of a vote. You have your opinion and you use it. And it is inspiring to see so many people moved to do so.

This blog is mostly about travel, so I’ll rarely write about home. But as tempting as it sometimes is to think I might become this permanent nomad with no real fixed base, I know myself, and I know I will always want something solid to come back to. I may be American, and I love visiting my family and friends who are still in the US, but Scotland is my home. It’s the place I always want to come home TO. It’s a small country, but a great one, and it’s treated me well. I believe in it. I love it. I’m rooting for it.

Me in the highlands

Me and the highlands (2006). What’s not to love?