It's not every day you get invited on a trip to a mystery destination in Scotland (well I certainly don't!), so needless to say when I received such an invite from VisitScotland, I immediately cleared my diary and packed my bag for all eventualities. Okay they did specify dress cosy and warm but that seemed a bit vague so I stuffed my rucksack with as many clothes as I could fit, although the fact that one of the zips burst was a sign that I might have packed a few things too many, oops! The trip was a media event to coincide with the launch of their new global marketing campaign 'Scotland - A Spirit of its Own'.
In search of some top secret #ScotSpirit I boarded a minivan in Glasgow, accompanied by a group of journalists and bloggers from around the UK and Ireland and we quickly set off towards our still undisclosed destination.
I was delighted when we eventually stopped and I realised we were in the depths of Galloway Forest Park in a stunning spot overlooking Loch Riecawr. It seemed rather fitting that our secret destination turned out to be in Dumfries and Galloway, a region which still remains secret to many tourists despite it being rich with scenery and steeped in history. Our immersive local experience provided an opportunity to discover some of the elements that make up the Dumfries and Galloway #ScotSpirit.
After a quick chance to stretch our legs, a children's playpark provided a viewpoint and variety of unconventional seating for the group to sit quietly, while we were encouraged to reflect and inhale the unique detail of the surrounding landscape, looking for original photography ideas rather than randomly clicking away with our cameras and phones. Thankfully we had some expert advice on hand from one of the park's new Dark Sky Rangers, Morag Paterson, who handily also happens to be a professional photographer and artist.
In 2009 Galloway Forest Park gained status as an International Dark Sky Park, the only one in the UK and only one of four in the Western world. In a bid to increase tourism to the area in the quieter months, four Biosphere Dark Sky Rangers, from a variety of backgrounds, have been trained to use their personal specialisms in a way that will encourage wider use of the park, with photography being just one of the activities on offer.
Getting a literal flavour of an area, is an essential ingredient to any immersive local experience but how do you provide an authentic fine dining setting in the middle of a remote and commercially undeveloped forest? Well naturally you deliver the restaurant to the park! This is much easier when the restaurant happens to be a converted shipping container on wheels pulled by a tractor.
Once you realise it is one of the latest brainwaves from brothers, Tom and Dick Lewis, of the family run Mhor brand, the quirkiness of it all makes perfect sense. Owners of a hill farm in Perthshire, an esteemed hotel, motel, fish restaurant and bakery among other smaller ventures, a transportable eatery seems like a perfect addition to the family.
However, it is also their passion for local produce that made them the perfect hosts for the evening and both brothers were on hand to tell us more about the ingredients behind the delicious dishes which were either sourced from within 30 minutes of our location or raised on their own farm.
I know first hand that travelling anywhere for any length of time can add up financially. As you may have guessed I love to explore Scotland at every opportunity and share all the wonderful places I find on my blog. Like most people I don't have a huge bank account and my travels are funded by my 'real' job but there is a way to stay in some pretty special places for cheap and even better for free!
Yes, I'm going to use the 'C' word, if you want to travel on a budget then it is time to embrace camping.
My most recent camping trip took me along the west coast from Ayrshire to Dumfries and Galloway. For 2 people and our four legged companion we managed to visit some pretty special Scottish places and our accommodation costs for 4 nights were only £36. The possibilities for camping are endless but this is a summary of my trip which you could easily do or seek out your own little haven under canvas.
We spent our first 2 nights in the lovely village of Maidens in Ayrshire with a beautiful harbour view, a handy picnic table, 2 minutes from a toilet block and a couple of minutes from the beach where we watched the sunset. Can you believe we enjoyed all this for free? We basically found a nice piece of public grass and pitched our tent.
This is classed as wild camping which is permitted in Scotland providing you follow some common sense rules. For more info have a read at the Visit Scotland guide.
People passing by kept commenting on how envious they were as we had such an idyllic place to stay for the night. Camping may not be for everyone but for me it's hard to beat if you're looking to save money and still have a great adventure.
There is a hotel in Maidens if you don't fancy cooking and it is nearby Culzean Castle and Country Park which is worth visiting for the day, you can read about it on my blog. As I sat on the rocks watching the sunset with our tea brewing on our little camping stove I did wonder if life gets any better than this?
Ever since stumbling across a link to the Mull of Galloway on social media I have been inspired to visit Scotland's most southerly point and I was excited to finally get there this week. For some reason I have never reached the extremities of my country and recently added them to my Scottish travel 'to do' list.
As I drove down the Rhins of Galloway peninsula on the southwest corner of Scotland looking towards the Irish Sea I expected it to be a harsh and windswept environment, however it is anything but.
Instead you are met with wide sweeping vistas of sandy beaches and colourful patchwork fields. There is a peacefulness and lush beauty that I didn't expect and I was also rewarded with the sight of my first Red Kite hovering and swooping over the farmland below.
Drummore is the last little town you pass heading south and If like me you still enjoy sending mail the old fashioned way and not via virtual messaging then Scotland's first and last post office is situated here and makes a unique postal stop. Across the road you can also stock up on supplies at Scotland's most southerly store!
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