This year I am delighted to be teaming up with the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA) and joining in on their campaign to encourage people to go on a #SYHAdventure. In 2015 they are inspiring people to try something new or to visit places in Scotland they have never been before, each month they will also have a theme to give people ideas for activities, places to see and key events based around a stay at one of their hostels.
The theme for March is walking and I chose to head to their Glen Nevis hostel which provides a multitude of walking options for all abilities and is conveniently situated at the foot of Ben Nevis, the UK's highest mountain, for those wanting a more challenging experience.
I opted to follow two very contrasting walks, the first taking me through the start of The Great Glen Way and the urban environment of Fort William and the second journeying into the heart of the imposing natural surroundings of Glen Nevis itself.
DAY 1 - The Great Glen Way, Fort William to Banavie (4.5 miles each way, easy walking)
When you visit an outdoor haven like Fort William, flanked by mountains and a loch, it would be all to easy to head for a hike in the wilderness and ignore the urban pathways that weave through the housing estates. In fact had it not been for The Great Glen Way signpost and thistle markers encouraging me along I would have been guilty of this myself.
The Great Glen Way was officially opened in 2002 and spans 79 miles between Fort William and Inverness, the stretch I did was ideal for an easy stroll and exploring the area around the town.
Instead of dismissing the route I decide to follow the first part of this long distance walk from it's humble beginnings at the remains of the fort the town was named after to the famous Neptune's staircase in Banavie, approx 4.5 miles or 9 miles return, although you can walk as far as you feel comfortable and will still be rewarded.
After approx 1.5 miles I reached Old Inverlochy Castle, with just a slight detour off the route I arrived at the ruined remains of this former 13th Century stronghold. Abandoned in 1654 this was previously one of the most important castles in Scottish history and makes an interesting stopping off point. Retracing my steps and crossing the wooden Soldier's Bridge, the path soon leads you onward alongside the shore of Loch Linnhe with a picturesque Highland landscape opening up all around.
I was fascinated by the looming, hulk of a decaying old fishing boat standing upright in the rocky beach ahead. Making my way down for a closer look at this sad vessel I felt dismayed that it appeared so unloved and I'm sure the rusty old parts strewn across the shingle were not doing the environment much good either.
As I was busy taking photos of the towering craft, the sunbeams appeared from behind the clouds and lit up the rusty red timbers, giving the old lady a momentarily new lease of life.
Continuing the short walk to Corpach and the Caledonian Canal, the route follows the canal towpath towards Neptune's Staircase, with it's 8 locks rising up like well engineered stepping stones. Several years ago I sailed down the length of the canal and as I passed the places I had moored for the night and the tricky locks I had negotiated I smiled at the memories of what I still consider my best ever Scottish holiday.
I decided that this was a good point to head back to Fort William and with Ben Nevis continually towering in the distance my bed for the night at the foot of the mountain was calling.
With historical sights, picturesque backdrop and the opportunity to admire the engineering triumph of the canal, I found this route provided both variety and an interesting introduction to the area.
I recently visited Dundee to find out what Scotland's fourth largest city has to offer. I was invited to stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton which sits in six acres of beautiful landscaped gardens a few miles outside the centre of Dundee.
The hotel is comprised of a mansion house built in 1870 with a large modern extension which provides a contrast of old and new. As you would expect from an established, quality brand like the Hilton, the decor is warm and comfortable and every little extra has been thought of, even a welcoming warm choc chip cookie on arrival, yum!
There is a lounge bar, restaurant, business facilities and a fitness area with a small pool, sauna and steam room. The restaurant has been awarded an AA Rosette and there is also a choice of food available in the lounge bar if you are looking for a more casual dining option.
I didn't eat dinner at the hotel as I was out and about, however the quality of food and hot and cold choices at breakfast was excellent, only surpassed by the efficient and friendly service.
There is free WiFi throughout the hotel which thankfully worked well and plenty of free parking available.
I stayed in a deluxe room which had added extras including a refrigerator, air conditioning, sofa bed, super king bed, separate bathtub and shower and of course a fluffy bathrobe and slippers for extra pampering! I also enjoyed a nice open view from my window as you can see below.
If you are planning a Scottish city break, you are no doubt weighing up the history of Edinburgh against the culture of Glasgow. I'm sure that most of you haven't even figured Scotland's fourth largest city into the equation...yet!
'One City, Many Discoveries' is the current marketing slogan for Dundee and there are certainly many great discoveries to be found, they are just less in your face than other places. Thanks to huge investment in redevelopment and tourism, Dundee is very soon going to be discovered by the masses and that is just one of many reasons why you should visit now, in case you need any persuasion here are a few more!
1. Visit before the tourists arrive
There is nothing that makes me feel more satisfied than visiting a destination before it becomes the next big thing. Before the shiny buildings, boutique hotels and tourist prices, when there is still some decay and the layers of heritage can be viewed on the streets without the need to visit a museum. If you want to get away from the tourists and be among the first to 'discover' Dundee then now is the time to visit.
The UK's first UNESCO City of Design and the home of jute, jam, journalism and Grand Theft Auto is currently in a state of transformation, the rubble of demolished buildings along the waterfront is the first sign that big changes are on the way. The £1 Billion redevelopment will include the V&A Museum Of Design as it's jewel in the crown and will put the city firmly on the Scottish tourist map.
2. Enjoy uninterrupted views of the city
Head up 572 ft to the peak of The Law, an extinct volcano formed around 400 million years ago and take in the uninterrupted 360 degree vista of the city and beyond. You can walk, run or cycle to the top if you're feeling active or just cheat and drive up to the viewpoint car park!
Whatever way you get there the effort (or non effort) is worth it for the views. I found it a great starting point to get my bearings across the surrounding landscape.
2014 has been a strange year for me, full of ups and downs and major changes. It is the first full year I have lived away from Glasgow, the first year in a long time I have not travelled abroad, I also started a new job in January and of course in 2014 I also started 'Adventures Around Scotland' which has grown more than I could ever have predicted.
As the year draws to a close I am one of those people that likes to reflect back and look forward, set goals and begin anew. I think it is important to take time out to acknowledge changes that have taken place and where exactly your life path has guided you over the last 12 months. Although it is impossible to plan for a year in advance as fate always springs surprises, it is possible to set some small goals and a short term destination to give your life some focus and direction.
One of my biggest decisions I have to make will be on the direction that I take this blog. What started out as an enjoyable hobby has turned into a major commitment which takes up a large part of my free time. When I started writing about my travels I never really had a plan, I simply enjoyed sharing Scotland with the world. I have been taken aback at how much the blog has taken off and I now have the dilemma about where I go with it next year as keeping up my day job, fitting in travels and managing growing social media accounts, e-mails, networking and pr requests on top of my actual blogging has become more and more demanding.
Many people would think this is a good position to be in and I'm definitely not complaining but the only way to grow my blog further is reducing my hours on my day job which I do enjoy and it pays the bills, however my job also means that I have to turn down travel opportunities and potential earnings from my blog as I just don't have the time.
In an effort to work out my priorities and what I really want to accomplish in 2015 I am taking some time out over Hogmanay for a digital detox.
Everyone chooses to begin a New Year in various different ways and over the years I have started mine off at the usual parties, concerts, ceilidhs, dinners, family get togethers and on occasion I have done something different as the bells signal the 1st of January like fly to SE Asia or celebrate in a snow storm on Rannoch Moor with a whisky (cold but memorable!).
As the last days of 2014 appear on my calendar I have been desperately trying to figure out how I want to acknowledge this changing year and I have decided that it is time to get back in touch with the outdoors and beautiful wild landscape of the country I call home.
This may not sound very original but for me it is long overdue. 2014 has raced by with a new job, new home and ever growing blog which has left little time to truly relax, connect with nature and appreciate the simple things in life. It may sound an over romanticised image but I really do find sitting by a stream, walking through a remote glen or spending a night under the stars to be the best tonic for the mind and soul. With depleted energy and general lack of focus at the moment I can't think of a better way to take some time out and just breathe and be.
You may think that I do this all the time as my travel blog and photographs are full of beautiful, wild places around Scotland. In reality, I am usually taking notes, looking for a WiFi or 3G signal to upload images and posts or packing as much as possible into a day for a travel article. Whilst my blog has brought me many amazing opportunities, it has also distracted me from truly enjoying and being mindful of my surroundings (for anyone that thinks blogging is easy I can assure you it is HARD WORK!)
Adventures Around Scotland may be less than a year old, however I have enjoyed more amazing travel experiences than I could ever have imagined and visited so many beautiful places around Scotland, many for the first time. It has been hard to narrow months of blog posts into a few highlights, however the ones I have chosen really stand out for me and still bring a smile to my face when I think back, always a good sign!
I've decided to split my favourite adventures into my top 5 experiences and top 5 places I visited during 2014, I've included links to all the relevant blog posts if you feel inspired to check out any of these places for yourself.
MY TOP FIVE TRAVEL EXPERIENCES OF 2014
1. The Commonwealth Flotilla
My most memorable experience of the year and a true 'once in a lifetime' moment had to be taking part in the Commonwealth Flotilla. Sailing up the Clyde with tens of thousands of people lining the banks of the river, waving and cheering, was a sight I'll never forget. Read more...
2. Standing on top of the Forth Bridge
Earlier this year I wrote a blog post with my Scottish Bucket List. One of the things I really wanted to do was climb to the top of the Forth Bridge and little did I know that a short time later I would be enjoying the view from the top of one of Scotland's most famous icons. Read more...
When I was approached by Premier Inn to be their Glasgow city ambassador for the festive period and go on a Christmas themed expedition around the city for the day I jumped at the chance to share some of the best winter fun that is taking place over the holiday season. With the slogan 'Glasgow Loves Christmas' being used to promote the city I was keen to discover what extra offerings were available.
So this weekend I wrapped up warm, charged my camera and put on my special stripy expedition ear muffs before setting out with a vague plan. In case you were wondering my day ended up a going a little something like this...
An early rise, a flurry of snow and several thousand Santas ensured my day started off with a festive bang. The Glasgow Santa Dash is an annual event organised by Glasgow City Council and aims to raise money for nominated charities and good causes.
A sea of red swept through the city centre as Santas of every age and size, Including a few four legged hairy ones, made their way around the 5K route. If you are in Glasgow during December this is a spectacle you won't want to miss and you might even be tempted to take part next year!
Glasgow has had a lot to celebrate in 2014 after being the host city for a very successful Commonwealth Games in the summer, then continuing the party into the autumn by hosting the MTV European Music Awards. As the year draws to an end the city is looking more magical than ever as it sparkles under twinkling lights and the festive revelry begins.
Glasgow is already renowned as one of the best shopping destinations in Europe. With its style mile, designer names, traditional department stores, shopping centres and usual high street offerings there is no shortage of places to find the perfect present. However, Glasgow is also a retail haven for hand made Scottish goods from talented designers which can found at one of the many craft markets that take place around the city and of course at this time of year you can also hunt down some unusual goodies at the annual outdoor Christmas Market. I headed off with my pennies and my Christmas shopping list for some retail therapy at some of my favourite venues.
Frasers Department Store - The city's oldest department store is a much loved Glasgow institution, especially at Christmas time when it's shopping halls are adorned from head to toe in twinkly brilliance. Visiting Frasers at this time of year always takes me back to my childhood and I still find it just as magical an adult.
It really is a shopping mecca and I found myself spending a bit too much time (and money!) wandering around it's maze of floors brimming with tempting treasures.
If you're planning a visit to Scotland you will no doubt be wanting to experience as many things as you can within your budget. It's still possible to have a fantastic holiday in Scotland even if your finances are limited so I thought I would share a few of my tips to help make your money go that little further.
I have broken down my tips into two parts and this blog is designed to help you save money on transport, attractions and souvenirs. Watch out for part two which will have advice on saving money on your accommodation, food and drink.
Scotland is a small country and pretty easy to get around by car, however fuel prices in the UK can be costly and any savings you can make when filling up your tank will help you travel that bit further for that bit less. The cheapest fuel prices are normally found at supermarket petrol stations and it is possible to save up to 10 pence per litre over your out of town and rural garages. The main supermarkets with petrol stations are ASDA, Morrisons and Tescos.
If you are travelling by public transport then look out for off peak travel, all day tickets and multi journey tickets which can be more economical than paying for single journey tickets. For example if you were take a return train journey between Glasgow and Edinburgh for the day, travelling at on peak times it would cost £22.50 yet an off peak ticket would only cost £12.60, off peak times can vary so check the websites or ask at the ticket office.
The main transport providers that you will probably use during your journey are Scotrail for trains, City Link for long distance buses and CalMac for ferries. You can compare ticket prices online and order in advance.
If you are travelling in Glasgow then the Subway is a cheap and easy way to get around and if you are travelling in Edinburgh then the new tram system runs from the Airport and through the city centre, again you can check the website links for the best value tickets.
There are often travel discounts on national and local transport routes for senior citizens and students so it is worth carrying your ID and asking at the booking office.
In larger Scottish cities you can also get around by taxi with a choice of either a black cab or private hire car although only black cabs can be hailed in the street, private hires must be booked in advance for a designated pick up location. Black cabs can be costly to travel in so it would be worthwhile getting the number of a local reliable private hire company from your hotel which will work out much cheaper. It's acceptable to ask your accommodation or restaurant to call a private hire taxi on your behalf.
The cheapest and best way to see a place is by walking around, even the main cities have compact centres which are easy to explore on foot. Stop by the tourist information office and pick up a free city centre map and if you get really lost a friendly local will be happy to point you in the right direction!
Last weekend I enjoyed a much needed break at Lochearnhead and discovered some beautiful parts of Scotland covered in a tapestry of autumnal colours. After 2 weeks suffering from a literal pain in the neck and some serious sleep deprivation I really needed somewhere peaceful and picturesque to recharge my batteries.
Thanks to my lovely mum I had a voucher for a 2 night stay at the Clachan Cottage Hotel in Lochearnhead and the loch side location was just perfect for spending some relaxing time outdoors. Up until now I have only ever driven past Loch Earn but this was the perfect opportunity to stop and explore this popular tourist spot.
I enjoyed the most amazing walk through nearby Glen Lednock which runs from the town of Comrie. I followed the deserted road through the glen and up to the dam where I was rewarded with the most spectacular view of Loch Lednock. I can't recommend this area highly enough and there were quite a few walks to choose from, it really is one of the most tranquil and stunning places I've visited in Scotland. The nearby towns and villages of Comrie, St Fillans, Lochearnhead and Killin are all pretty stop off points and on the last day I enjoyed a short walk through Crianlarich on my way back to Bute.
Another highlight for me was the hypnotic sculpture by Rob Mulholland which stands reflecting the water near the shore at St Fillans. I had mixed comments when I put my photos of it on social media but you really have to see it to appreciate it!
If you are in need of some time out and your batteries need a boost, Loch Earn and the surrounding area is the ideal spot. If you are in need of any more convincing here are some of my photos from the weekend.
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