While still in Lake District, near Coniston water, I set off to explore the Cathedral Cave, which was aptly named for its spectacular cavern in the first chamber. This whole landscape had been shaped by industry, with slate quarries and copper mines dotting the Tilberthwaite and surrounding areas. Records of quarrying dated back to the sixteenth century, with the Little Langdale quarries booming during the nineteenth century due to a high demand for slate during the housing boom.
The slate was extracted using explosive-packed holes in the rock face, and then riven and dressed on site. Finished products were transported down the valley by horse and cart, and later by railway across the country. Beatrix Potter even purchased one of these quarries in 1929, and donated it to the National Trust.
Slate, a metamorphic rock formed from layers of ash and dust spewed out by volcanoes millions of years ago, proved to be an excellent material for roofing and building due to its water and wind resistance, as well as its ease of splitting.
Holme Fell is a real gem among the lesser heights of Lakeland. Although not very high (1,040 ft), it more than compensates with its ruggedness, as even smaller hills can prove challenging to climb. The lower tops were covered in a thick tangle of vegetation, but I persevered and made my way to the top with my trusty Summit Journal.
The path winding its way north of the summit was simply charming, starting from Yew Tree Farm and mostly among trees. It led me to Uskdale Gap on the ridge, and from there, it was an easy climb to the top. The highest point was a platform of naked rock, weathered into pockets of small pebbles. It was an awe-inspiring sight, and I took a moment to enjoy a lovely luncheon at the summit.
Earlier this Summer, I’ve set off to my five days Scotland tour by car from Loch Lomond through the Highlands to Inverness. The tour included ascent to Ben Nevis, canoeing on Loch Ness and camping in Glen Affric. Here, then, is my beginner’s observation to the wonders of Scotland. Tips I’ve penciled in to my notebook while on my first trip.
There are some things you should definitely consider why planning your trip to Scotland. There are DOs and also DON’Ts. The main narrative here is that Scotland is about NATURE. If you love wild nature and natural landscapes this will be paradise for you. There are a few places on the planet Earth as remote and unspoiled as Scottish Highlands. This probably leads to your first question.
Is it legal to camp anywhere in Scotland?
Having said that Scotland is about nature, you may follow up with question about a legality of wild camping there. Well, thanks to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, it is perfectly legal to pitch your tent pretty much anywhere. Apart from a few exceptions. It is in fact the only country in the UK where there is a law in favour of wild camping. So you don’t have to hide anywhere or apply the arrive-late-leave-early rule, risking somebody telling you off. You can actually enjoy the camping in Scotland. So that’s one think to DO in Scotland.
How cold is the water in Loch Lomond?
My Scotland trip started by inflating my canoe in Milarrochy Bay, which is a free parking spot on Loch Lomond in The Trossachs National Park. With area of 27.8 mi² (71 km²), Loch Lomond is one of the largest piece of water in the UK. And there are 23 islands, easily reachable on kayak or canoe in my case. There is island called Inchconnachan, which is also called ‘Wallaby island’. Yes the wallabies are hopping around there. I know it because I’ve been camping there and I’ve seen them. They were introduced to the island in the 1950s by Fiona, Countess of Arran and because they have no predators, they live happily on the island ever after.
Inchconnachan island is a great place for wild camping. If you ever find yourself on one of it’s lovely beaches and decide to have a swim prepare your self for a water that has no more than 15°C during a Summer. And as always in Scotland, don’t expect a good weather. The weather tends to be very changeable. In fact, according to Wikipedia, there are 1160 sunshine hours on average per year, meaning that the sun shines just over 25% of the time in Scotland. Have you ever been swimming in rain? I was.
How long does it take to climb Ben Nevis?
Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Scotland, the United Kingdom and the British Isles. It was once a massive active volcano, which collapsed inwards on itself. So says the board at the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre near Fort William, which is official base camp, where you can find weather information and pay-and-display car park (£8 per day). However, if you arrive early, you will find yourself a free parking spot along the Glen Nevis road.
The summit is 4,413 feet (1,345 m) and the easiest way up is from the visitor centre. The journey long 10.6 miles (17 km) will take anything from 4 hours (if you almost run) to6 hours if you take a lot of tea breaks. However the summit obviously attracts a lot of attention. So one thing to avid is to choose weekends or even worse bank holidays for your ascent. Otherwise you risk that you be queuing to get on top, and the round trip can take up to 12 hours. Unless you set-up early (like me) at 5:00 in the morning.
How deep is Loch Ness?
After you’ve conquered the highest mountain of the British Isles, you will probably look for some ways to rest your tired libs. What I recommend, starts right from the nearest town of Fort William. It’s the Great Glen coast to coast canoe expedition. A multi day (usually five) canoe trip, travelling 79 mile (127 km) across Scotland to finish in Inverness. It is usually paddled from west to east to take advantage of the prevailing winds. You should prepare yourself for rain storms, rapids, bugs but also beautiful wilderness and great people.
You travel across the Caledonian Canal, through Loch Lochy, then onto Loch Oich where you join the wild river Oich and than you spend two days paddling and wild camping onto Loch Ness. Speaking of which … locals in the local pub near Urquhart Castle told me that one fisherman with his sonar equipment just recorded a new deepest point in Loch Ness 889ft (270.9m). It’s been immediately dubbed a new hiding place for Nessie, the mythical Loch Ness monster. Another tip from Scotland is; Don’t storm the pub and tell people that the Loch Ness monster doesn’t exist. Scotland is a rough country with smooth whisky.
How to avoid the tourist crowds in Scotland?
My last tip is quite obvious. Each year around 14 million visitors come to Scotland to explore the top tourist attractions. If you love Scotland’s wilderness but you hate being jostled by tourists which are constantly getting in your way and stopping suddenly in front of you to take selfies, simply avoid the amazing tourist attractions during the main season. Places like Edinburgh Castle, city of Glasgow or Loch Ness.
Instead of being stuck on A82 along the Loch Ness, behind a bus full of tourists just go 15 miles (25 kilometres) west to Highlands. For example Glen Affric. My personal tip are islands on Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin. The loch itself is popular for trout fishing and if you feel like hiking again, the north side of the glen forms a ridge with eight Munro summits. I’ve had some great time camping there with some whisky tasting (finally). Other places would be the Hebrides or Shetland Isles.
Fed up with the English winter in February, we simply bordered a 2h 40m flight from windy, cold and damp Manchester to warm, dry and sunny Palma de Mallorca.
Needless to say that this paraíso Balear makes for a great winter destination. Avoiding the strong summer heat, busy streets and high prices, there is something magical about the Winter there. Mallorca makes simply a great Winter travel destination.
Even in this part of the year, it’s still paradise for hikers and cyclists. One can also hire a motorcycle and disappear in the heights of Serra de Tramuntana like we did. A two hour journey from Palma to Far De Formentor, the lighthouse on the northernmost point of the island is offering some challenging ascents and spectacular views.
You also have to try mallorquín tapas dishes called Pica Pica. It’s made out of cuttlefish or sepia and it will give your tastebuds a good chilli burn. Another gastronomic pleasure that is simply unforgettable is taking a stroll through an orange grove and picking the oranges directly from the tree. The centre of mallorquín orange growing is Port de Sóller and in February the oranges are ripe. You can even smell them everywhere. As I said, un paraíso completo.
If you are more into culture, you will enjoy a peaceful strolling through the little town called Valldemossa. There you can find a monastery and museum. The very same rooms there, were occupied during the winter of 1838/39 by a classical music composer Frederic Chopin and a writer George Sand. You can see there the authentic piano that Chopin used to compose his preludes. The live 15 minute Chopin concert is a nice bonus too!
In any case, you can always spend a day at the beautiful beach. The sea is a bit colder in February (around 14 C°), but I can guarantee you it won’t be super crowded or full of sun loungers. In fact you will be alone there. And a moderate swimmer, like me, can easily swim in the sea for up to 10 minutes without a wetsuit.
It’s January 2022 and I just arrived to Northumbria. The plan is to explore the Hadrian’s Wall over the weekend. For quite a some time now, I’ve been immensely interested in the history of this monument built by Romans in Britain.
However the weather is completely rubbish. The MetOffice just issued a yellow weather warnings for the strong wind (up to 80 mph). Later in the day the wind is named by the Danish Meteorological Institute as a Storm Malik.
As a consequence, most of the sites and museums I inteded to explore are: “Closed due to an adverse weather forecast of high wind.” And to add insult to injury I’m unable to cancel the hotel because: “Bookings made using any promotional code are non-refundable and non-transferable”. And surely I used the promotional code though.
So our expedition is stuck here for the weekend. I’m sitting in the lobby of the hotel with my notebook and I decided to start a travel blog. For the past 10 years I’ve been keeping diary anyway. And some of the entries are quite interesting or quite fun to release online.
Let’s go back to the Hadrian’s Wall. The guide book says:
The Hadrian’s Wall is the best-known frontier in the entire Roman empire and stands today a reminder of the past glories of one of the world’s greatest powers.
For nearly 300 years, Hadrian’s Wall was the north-west frontier of an empire that stretched east for 2,500 miles to present-day Iraq, and South for 1,500 miles to the Sahara desert.
And as we are at numbers, the year 2022 is the 1900th anniversary of the building of Hadrian’s Wall. It was built on the orders of the emperor Hadrian, who visited Britain in AD 122. His biographer states that its purpose was to separate the Romas and the barbarian. It certainly did that. At 73 miles (80 Roman miles) long, Hadrian’s Wall crossed norhtern Britain from Bowness-on-Solway to Wallsend on the river Tyne, though frontier installations continued for at least a further 25 miles down the Cumbrian coast.
Later on, I brave myself enough to go outside. The wind is so strong that the trees are bending almost to the ground. It is not raining though, which is always good. With my girlfriend Michaela, we try to walk towards the Steel Rigg, the nearby section of Hadrian’s wall. She gives up, I continue.
The photo, you can see on my Instagram is a Sycamore Gap. Right there, at that point I gave up the battle with the wind too and diverted in the local brew house for the roast pheasant and a pint of good old, hand pulled cask ale. The plate sign on the brewery said: “In the loving memory of a sunny day.”
Some places are to be visited more than once. And Hadrian’s Wall for me is now one of them. I’m already looking forward to the spring. As Richard, Duke of Gloucester said in the opening line of Shakespeare’s Richard III: “Now is the winter of our discontent, Made glorious summer by this sun of York”.
‘Wall’ by Katrina Porteous
I, the Wall, Defend this place. Across a dizziness Of space I am control: A ruled line, Mark of the safe, The sure, the known. I am the edge – The Frontier. This is where the world ends: Here.