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.
1. Step aboard a fishing boat on the River Clyde, Glasgow
Book a cabin and stay the night on the MV Reliant, a converted fishing boat situated on the river Clyde in Glasgow. Read about my stay here.
This week I'm having a staycation which when you live on a lovely Scottish Island feels a lot like you're on holiday anyway. However with the dark nights drawing in and some spare time on my hands it has given me the opportunity to start researching some ideas for Scottish travel adventures in 2015.
If you are a regular reader of my blog you have probably gathered that I like to search out places that are a wee bit unusual and wanted to share with you some of the quirky accommodation that I have come across during my internet trawling. From old fire trucks to trains to gypsy caravans, there is no shortage of fun choices of places to spend the night in Scotland. I should really have called this blog post 10 quirky places I want to stay in Scotland! I'm not sure my budget is big enough to sample them all next year but I hope to at least visit a few and review them for you on my blog.
So here is my guide to 10 quirky places you can spend the night in Scotland.
2. Enjoy a sleepover on a traditional railway carriage overlooking Loch Awe
This self catering converted railway carriage has stunning views over Loch Awe towards the historic Kilchurn Castle. Visit website
3. Let your stress melt away in this converted fire service truck in Aviemore
This converted Commer Q4 fire service truck was rescued from the Manston Fire Museum in Kent and is now situated in the grounds of inshriach House, Aviemore. Visit website
When researching accommodation for my recent Outlander blog trip to Fife I firstly needed to find somewhere in a convenient place for visiting all the filming locations on my list. I also decided on self catering as I wanted somewhere that felt like a home from home to really immerse myself in the area and get a feel for living as a local in one of the historical towns I was going to write about. I also needed somewhere quiet, with all mod cons so I could do my research and blogging in comfort and without disturbance.
Whilst browsing TripAdvisor I came across The Tanhouse Studio Holiday Apartment in Culross which looked perfect as it was situated in one of the villages used for filming, was very reasonably priced at £55 per night, I only needed to stay a minimum of 2 nights and as it had excellent reviews it seemed to tick all the boxes.
The little studio apartment is situated above a double garage next the owners' house which is one of the large, old properties in the heart of the village. My first impression of the flat was 'WOW' as it is totally my style in bright fresh white with simple contrasting blue coastal decor. Although small it feels surprisingly spacious and the three windows provide plenty of light and amazing views over Culross and the Firth of Forth and you can even see the Forth bridges in the distance.
The owners, Gail and Douglas, were very welcoming and although they live in the adjacent house the flat felt very private but they are close enough should you have any problems (which I didn't).
The finish on the apartment is to a very high standard and everything provided was of excellent quality, John Lewis mugs no less! After a long drive the little welcome basket was indeed very much appreciated as it meant I could enjoy a cup of tea and a biscuit before heading out to the supermarket for proper supplies.
There is a small kitchen with all the cooking utensils, crockery and cutlery you need, a micro/oven, dishwasher fridge/freezer, kettle and toaster. There is also a handy seating area with table and chairs.
The Outlander book series by Diana Gabaldon has taken on a whole new lease of popularity and growing international fandom since the TV series began broadcasting this year.
Much of the story takes place in the 18th century Highlands of Scotland and surrounds the adventures and romance of the two main characters, Jamie and Claire.
The filming of the show took place at multiple locations around Scotland with many scenes shot in the historical towns and castles of Fife. It may not have the mountains of the Highlands or Skye but Fife is one of the most important royal historical regions of Scotland and is still often referred to as the Kingdom of Fife.
From a Pictish Kingdom to Scotland's ancient capital, from the home of golf to the resting place of King Robert the Bruce, this area of the country is steeped in history. If you add in some colourful fishing villages, the only award-winning blue flag beaches in Scotland, the highest number of national attractions in the country and the fact it has been voted 'No 1 outdoor destination' by Scottish Natural Heritage for seven years in a row and you might wonder why this area is often overlooked in favour of a Highland roadtrip.
If you are a fan of Outlander you now have even more reason to visit (six more in fact) and explore some of the filming locations of the show.
Thanks to a contact from TayScreen I managed to get a list of the Fife locations where the filming of Outlander took place and decided to book myself a few days in the area to explore them all and compile a blog post with the details. My list included the towns of Falkland, Culross and Limekilns, and the castles of Balgonie and Aberdour. Quite by chance I also found some standing stones nearby Culross which I have included in my guide just as a point of interest and in case anyone fancies testing them out! So here is my guide to 6 places you must visit in Fife if you are a fan of Outlander.
Many fans will already be aware that Falkland was used for filming a 1940s Inverness which is quite ironic as many of the houses are preserved from the 17th and 18th century, some even older. With traditional pubs, shops and 28 listed buildings it is certainly a glimpse of times gone by (if you can block out the cars!).
The town is dominated by Falkland Palace which is well worth visiting so make sure you set aside an extra 1- 2 hours to explore the former country residence of the Stuart monarchs and it's unusual gardens. The guides in the Palace are very helpful and will provide you with lots of interesting stories about it's original use as a royal getaway to it's restoration and sometimes dark and turbulent past.
Outlander fans can recreate one of the first scenes of the show by standing at the Bruce fountain in the town centre and looking up to the window of Mrs Baird's B&B just as the ghost of Jamie did in the first episode. Mrs Baird's is in fact The Covenanter Hotel so you can go inside and enjoy a drink if you need a refreshment to quell all the excitement! Just along from the hotel you will find Fayre Earth which was used as Farrell's in the show, although it does look quite different on the outside in it's 21st century colours. Campbell's Coffee House in the show was previously a pharmacy. however after filming it has remained a coffee house and is situated just opposite the fountain.
If you are visiting the town make the most of your time here, take a walk around and look out for all the little details on the buildings including marriage lintels, stone carvings and original signs and get a real sense of historical Scotland.
I recommend half a day here if you want to explore the town, palace and enjoy a meal or drink without feeling rushed.
Follow me as I search for the best and most original travel experiences in Scotland.