The Clever Camper Cookbook – Review and giveaway competition

If you’ve ever taken a campervan away you’ll know that cooking quick, easy and tasty meals is not always as straightforward as it seems.  Those trusty staples from home might rely on that extra burner or grill that you’re lacking, or perhaps some spices or other ingredients that make it just a little too complicated.  Alternatively, keeping things too simple – relying on that favourite pasta-and-sauce combo, for example – might just become a little boring after the first couple of nights away.

Clearly, there’s a balance to be struck between a culinary experience and the ‘boy scout’ approach.  And I think the new Clever Camper Cookbook achieves just the right happy medium, featuring over 20 no-fuss but delicious home cooking recipes.



Megan Winter-Barker and Simon Fielding spent months exploring the world in their VW camper, and have honed their tried-and-tested menus into the  Clever Camper Cookbook.  All their meals can be cooked on just two burners, together with a small fridge or coolbox.  They know a thing or two about food too, with Simon’s family business, The Apple Pie Café and Bakery, located in the Lake District .



Having tried out some of the recipes I have to say that these are exactly the kinds of meals that we often eat at home and would happily eat away in the campervan.  Forget those cookbooks that require you to go foraging in the woods or on the beach before you could contemplate settling down to a meal.  Megan and Simon’s recipes for risotto, bolognese and pasta and bean stew are not only filling and tasty but very straightforward. But what about a one-pot Mexican breakfast?  I’ve never cooked something like this but I found it really yummy and a doddle to make. 

I particularly like the ingenuity and waste-not-want-not attitude in this cookbook.  Whatever’s-in-the-fridge Risotto is practical and self-explanatory.  If you’ve ever fancied making your own fajitas and wraps from scratch, it’ll show you how.  Curry with homemade naan bread … no problem.  And you don’t need to take the proverbial kitchen sink away with you to create these delicious meals.  As you can see in the picture at the foot of this post, something that most campervanners will have in their cupboard can double up as a very handy cooking utensil!


Giveaway competition

The Clever Camper Cookbook is published this week by Dog ‘n’ Bone and is available to buy for £8.99.

However, I also have two copies to give away to two lucky readers.  If you’d like to be in with a chance of winning a free copy please share a favourite campervan recipe in the comments box at the bottom of this page.

To enter, please describe a trusty recipe that fits the ‘clever camper’ theme of this new cookbook.  Ideally I’m looking for a meal that’s no-fuss, delicious and with just a hint of ingenuity.  It can be a meal or snack for any time of the day.  All I need you to do is to name the recipe and leave a short description of the ingredients and cooking method – just enough that would enable someone else to easily follow the recipe.

The two winning recipes will be selected by Megan Winter-Barker and Simon Fielding personally and the winners will be notified shortly after the closing date.  Please read the competition rules below carefully.

Good luck!

The rules
  • Entries must be received by 10pm on Friday 30th March
  • Entries must be submitted as comments to this blog post
  • Two winners will each receive one copy of ‘The Clever Camper Cookbook’ by Megan Winter-Barker and Simon Fielding
  • The two winning entries will be chosen on merit by the authors personally, selecting meals or snacks that are ‘no-fuss, delicious and with just a hint of ingenuity’
  • Open to UK residents aged 18 or over
  • Only one entry per person
  • The winners will be informed by email within 7 days of the closing date, and must respond within 7 days to claim their prize
  • The prizes will be sent out by post within 28 days of receiving the winner’s address.



5 reasons why walking is good for physical and mental wellbeing

It’s official: nature is good for you.

In fact, according to England’s Chief Medical Officer in 2010: “If a medication existed which had a similar effect to physical activity, it would be regarded as a “wonder drug” or a “miracle cure”’.

But nature isn’t just a remedy for a healthy body, it also nurtures a healthy mind.  Going to the outdoors boosts our self-esteem, reduces stress and anxiety, increases energy and endorphins, and stimulates our creativity.  Physically active people have up to a 30% reduced risk of becoming depressed, and staying active helps those who are depressed recover.  Come back from a walk outside and you feel renewed and with a fresh perspective.  The very language we use reflects these benefits to mental wellbeing: “recharging our batteries” and “reconnecting”.

There’s a growing focus on removing the stigma often attached  to mental health and bringing it out into the open.  I’m fully behind this and delighted to support the current ‘Walk and Talk’ campaign organised by Winfields.

I’ve blogged about this topic before, when I described how going walking and wild camping helps me escape the stresses of ‘life’ and regenerates my own wellbeing.  However, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to look again at the physical and mental health benefits of walking, and getting outdoors generally.  Since I’ve also been reading John Muir’s writing lately I’ve selected several well-known quotes that I think are particularly apt for this topic.




Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity”  John Muir


Walking reduces stress

Escaping the house or the office into a natural environment is a great way to calm and clear your mind.  It gives us a renewed sense of perspective and helps us relax.  Studies have shown that stress levels are directly related to the amount of green space in the local area – the more green space, the less stressed a person is likely to be.

It’s important to note that we’re not talking about ‘wilderness’ here: even a walk in a neighbourhood park, a trip to a local beauty spot or a walk through a wood will give the same benefits.

But there are even greater benefits when we carry out physical activity in a natural environment.  Not only does exercise release stress-reducing endorphins, giving us a natural ‘high’, but freed from our usual constant focus on work, people, money and so on, there’s more head space available for internal reflection.  How many times have you been on a long walk and lost track of time?  You engage auto-pilot and your mind is stimulated by internal thoughts and feelings in an almost zen-like trance.  I often need this.



We are all, in some sense, mountaineers, and going to the mountains is going home”  John Muir


Walking gives us a renewed perspective

John Muir famously wrote that “wilderness is a necessity“.  As humans we instinctively need to re-connect with nature every once in a while, resulting at least in part from our genetic make-up and evolutionary history.  In fact, our separation from nature has only been relatively recent, over the last 250 years or so.  The Norwegians have a name for it: friluftsliv.  This is literally translated as “free air life” (free-loofts-liv) but like hygge, its cultural connotations go far beyond any English approximation.  Both words refer to uplifting ambience but while hygge focuses on cosiness and human relationships, friluftsliv captures the essence of our relationship with nature.

A classic introvert, I need time alone to re-energise myself, and walking and camping solo is a great way to let my subconscious ideas percolate.   I often think I’m at odds with other folk who enjoy the outdoors as part of a group and need that social stimulation.  I definitely don’t feel lonely – quite the opposite in fact! – but for me it’s about restoring my sense of ‘balance’.

There’s a big difference between solitude and loneliness and this great piece by Alastair Humphreys draws out the distinction.  Loneliness is a negative state characterised by isolation, whereas solitude “is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself“.  Solitude is a personal choice and not imposed on us like loneliness.  “Solitude is refreshing; an opportunity to renew ourselves“.


I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees”  Henry David Thoreau


Walking increases energy

It’s often tempting to stay on the sofa when you’re feeling fatigued or down.  But in fact, studies have shown that when individuals with sedentary lifestyles take part in just 20-minutes of low or moderate intensity exercise, such as walking, swimming or cycling, their energy increases by 20% and fatigue levels drop by 65% when compared to individuals undertaking no exercise at all.

Exercising improves self-perception and self-esteem, mood and sleep quality, and reduces anxiety and fatigue.  In older people, staying active can improve cognitive function, memory, attention and processing speed, and reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.


In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”  John Muir


Walking boosts creativity

Magically, the combination of nature and exercise seem to stimulate our brain in unexpected ways.  How often have you been out for a walk when an idea pops into your head?  Our subconscious makes connections that help us generate new and creative solutions.  In fact, many companies and organisations encourage quick, walk-and-talk sessions so staff can benefit from these social and creative connections that come from conversations on foot.

On the radio just yesterday I head someone commenting that high-achievers in many areas of life such as business, sports and the arts also have wide general interests.  I’m sure it’s no coincidence that their brains benefit from different types of stimulation, helping them succeed and keeping them at the top of their game.


Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike”  John Muir


Walking keeps us physically fit

Inactivity is a key factor in the dramatic growth of obesity: 65% of Scottish adults and 29% of children are either overweight or obese.

We know that while all walking helps, walking briskly gives the greatest benefits to heart, lungs and blood pressure.  We should be breathing a little faster, getting warmer and feeling our heart beating just a little faster – but still able to comfortably hold a conversation.

Spending time in the outdoors and in contact with the natural environment improves well being and helps fight stress and depression:

  • We feel fitter and controlling weight helps improve body image and confidence
  • Active people have a reduced risk of suffering clinical depression
  • Walking in a group is a sociable activity that can help improve mental health and overcome feelings of isolation.


So whatever you do, just make sure that …

Of all the paths you take in life make sure a few of them are dirt”  John Muir




Skye – Photo book competition

The Isle of Skye has a special place in Scots’ hearts.  It’s a land forged from hard, jagged rocks, often swirling in cloud, that evokes wildness, mystery and grandeur.  Rich in history and culture, its communities now depend on crofting, tourism and whisky for their livelihoods.

I’m delighted to announce the second of my collaborations with Allan Wright, a well-known Scottish landscape photographer, in which I have two free copies of his collection of Skye images to give away.  Read on for details of how to enter this latest competition and win a copy of ‘Skye: A photographic communion‘ (RRP £20).

Sunlight and shadows over Uig Bay (Copyright Allan Wright Photographic)

I’ve visited Skye many times over the years.  Although it’s Scotland’s second largest island (next to Lewis and Harris) it somehow seems more compact, containing immense drama and landscape variety in a comparatively small land mass.  A series of peninsulas and bays fans out from the Black and Red Cuillin mountains in the south, with the Trotternish Ridge in the north characterised by such distinctive landscape features as The Old Man of Storr and The Quiraing.  Some say that the shape of the peninsulas and sea lochs gives rise to its Gaelic name – An t-Eilean Sgiathanach – ‘the winged island’.

Allan Wright’s images expertly capture the majesty and grandeur of this wild land.  Light and shadow pick out snow-capped mountains and lochs.  Big skies provide an impressive backdrop to lonely beaches.  Brooding clouds are an ever-present reminder of the dominant forces of nature.

I have two copies of Allan’s book to give away to two lucky readers.  If these landscapes have whetted your appetite then please find out how to enter the competition.


View from Elgol to Loch Scavaig and the Skye Cuillin (Copyright Allan Wright Photographic)

The competition

To enter the competition and be considered for one of the two prizes please take a look at the gallery of images on Allan Wright’s site and answer the following question:

Inspired by Allan’s images, describe the memorable location that best sums up Skye’s wild and scenic beauty for you.  Or if you haven’t yet visited Skye, describe which location you would most like to visit and why.

We’re looking for descriptive answers that capture the essence of Skye and your relationship with the island, its culture and landscape.

You will need to leave your answer as a comment at the foot of this post in order to be considered.  Entries submitted by e-mail, on social media or a different page on this blog will not be valid.

There are over 104 images to choose from so hopefully there’s plenty of inspiration for you.  Which location best represents the character of Skye?  How does the image make you feel?  Have you a personal story to tell related to the location?  Does it hold memories or aspirations for you?

The rules
  • Entries must be received by 10pm on Sunday 11th March
  • Entries must be submitted as comments to this blog post
  • Two winners will each receive one copy of ‘Skye: A photographic communion’ by Allan Wright
  • The two winning entries will be chosen on merit by the photographer personally
  • Open to UK residents aged 18 or over
  • Only one entry per person
  • The winners will be informed by email within 7 days of the closing date, and must respond within 7 days to claim their prize
  • The prizes will be sent out by post by Bonnie Communications (on behalf of Allan Wright) within 28 days of receiving the winner’s address

Good luck!


Gesto Farmhouse and Loch Harport (Copyright Allan Wright Photographic)


This competition has now closed.  The two winning entries were from Katrina Little and Prentice Baines.


Skiing the slopes of Les Arcs

It’s been a particularly good year for snow in the French Alps, the best for six years.  Already, Les Arcs has enjoyed over 4 metres of snow, double the snowfall for the whole of last season – and it’s still only mid-February.

Last week I had a great time skiing in Les Arcs with my son.  It was the first time we’d been to this resort and were looking forward to the variety that comes with a large ski area.  It didn’t disappoint.

Les Arcs was built in the late 1960s and has 200km of pistes over 113 runs.  But since the Vanoise Express cable car was completed in 2003 it now forms part of the much larger Paradiski area, connecting Les Arcs and neighbouring Peisey-Vallandry to La Plagne to give 256 pistes and 435km of skiing.  During the week we didn’t even ski all of the runs on the Les Arcs side of the valley, far less venture over to La Plagne.


A mix of runs above and below the tree line

Our week got off to a great start.  While some of the highest mountains were draped in cloud at the beginning of the week, the snow was plentiful and in perfect condition.  It was cold, bright and sunny.  There were two almost cloudless days midweek: great conditions for cruising long runs, both above and below the tree line.

Les Arcs is actually a collection of seven, largely purpose-built resorts set high above the town of Bourg Saint Maurice.  We were staying in Plan Peisey, just beside the Vanoise Express, which at 1600m is one of the lowest villages and just below the tree line.  While there are some great high-level runs above the newer resorts of Les Arcs 2000 and 1950, we actually preferred the fast red runs through the trees at Peisey-Vallandry.  On days where low cloud covers the high peaks, and it’s difficult to discern sky from piste in flat, white light, this is definitely the best place to be.  Some may prefer the ‘mountain village’ feel to Les Arcs 1950 but if you want variety and the flexibility to choose between Les Arcs or La Plagne for your day’s skiing, then I think Peisey has the upper hand.


A superb tree-lined red run


The snow-covered basin above the resorts of Les Arcs 2000 and 1950

We took the cable car to the highest point in Les Arcs, Aiguille Rouge which stands at 3,226 metres.  The peak gives an absolutely stunning panorama across the French and Italian Alps and on a still, clear day this is a place to stop and marvel for a while.

After we soaked in the views we skied down towards the little hamlet of Villaroger, a descent of almost 2km.  Not only did we want to try out the longest continuous run in Les Arcs but we wanted to go for afternoon drinks and cake at Chalet Sollier, arguably one of the best mountain restaurants in the entire resort.  The hot wine and tarte aux myrtilles (blueberry pie) were definitely worth skiing down for, and the view just divine.

The cable car ascending Aiguille Rouge (3226m)


The view from the top of the Aiguille Rouge


Les Arcs has had over 4 metres of snow so far this season


The Aiguille Rouge red run, descending down to Villaroger


Le Chalet Solliet had arguably the best view of all the mountain restaurants we ate at

It was a week of two halves though.  After the glorious midweek sunshine a low pressure heralded rising temperatures, low cloud and — horror! — drizzly rain.  The temperature in Peisey reached 8 degrees by the end of the week and combined with the rain, meant that the deep, powdery snow had become heavy.  It’s not much fun skiing in damp cloud either.  Along with the return of my son’s fluey virus he’s been battling over the last month, we spent much of the last half of our holiday holed up in our apartment.

Still, we’d had a great trip and these photos bring back memories of great skiing in a fantastic resort.  With so much of the Paradiski area still to explore it’d be great to go back.


Chasing the ‘super blue blood moon’

The moon shining through the clouds above the Wallace Monument

For the first time since 1982 this week we were treated to the spectacle of a ‘super blue blood moon’.  It was a chance to see the convergence of three rare events: a supermoon, a blue moon and a total lunar eclipse, which turns the moon a blood coloured orangey-red.

A supermoon is when there’s a full moon that happens when the moon is positioned closest to the Earth in its orbit, and a blue moon is the second full moon in a calendar month.  It’ll be 2037 before these three phenomena coincide again.

I decided to use some of Stirling’s historic locations as foreground.  It was a pity that the sky was largely cloudy when I headed out early in the evening but in fact the high cloud simply amplified the effect.  The moon appeared like a huge disc above the Wallace Monument and shone brightly above Stirling Castle.

Atmospheric clouds above Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle, backlit

If you appreciate good photography (not necessarily mine!) don’t forget that the Galloway giveaway competition is still open until Sunday 11th February.  Featuring the fantastic landscape photography of Allan Wright, you could win a copy of one of Allan’s latest books all about his home region of Galloway.

It’s dead easy to enter so please take a look!



Galloway – A photographic portrait

I’m pleased to be teaming up with Allan Wright, a well-known landscape photographer, to showcase a new book he’s published on Galloway.  If you’re a fan of Galloway then read on since I also have free copies of his book to give away to two lucky readers.

Overwintering geese, Southerness, Solway Firth    (Copyright Allan Wright Photographic)

I’m a fairly recent convert to the quiet charms of Galloway, having enjoyed recent visits to the coast near Kirkcudbright, visiting the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory on the edge of the Galloway Forest Park as well as cycling across the region en route to John O’Groats.

Taking in the Southern Uplands, the Solway coast and fertile agricultural land, its rolling hills and steadfast towns seem to have an understated appeal.  But take the time to discover Galloway and you’ll find a land of real beauty.  From hidden bays, rolling fields and bluebell woods to imposing castles and wide-sky vistas it’s a region that has much to offer.

Allan Wright is a leading Scottish landscape photographer who has captured images of Scotland as well as his adopted home of Galloway for the last 30 years.  One of his recent books, simply called ‘Galloway’, brings the character of the area to life.  His exquisite photographs show the area through the seasons, from dawn to dusk.  I particularly like the way he captures light in his images, including reflections in still rivers, rich sunsets and shadows cast across rough moorland.

If, like me, you’re a fan of high quality landscape photography – or you simply love Galloway – then you’ll be keen to see Allan’s latest book of images.  I have copies to give away (RRP £20) to two competition winners.

Carsphairn Lead Mine (Copyright Allan Wright Photographic)

The competition

To enter the competition and be considered for one of the two prizes please answer the following question:

Which image (from the gallery on Allan’s website) do you think best evokes Galloway and why?

You will need to leave your answer as a comment at the foot of this post in order to be considered.  Entries submitted by e-mail or social media will not be valid.

There are over 130 images to choose from so there’s plenty scope to find an image that sums up Galloway to you.  How does the image make you feel?  Do you have a personal story to tell related to the scene?  Does it hold memories or aspirations for you?

The rules
  • Entries must be received by 10pm on Sunday 11th February
  • Entries must be submitted as comments to this blog post
  • Two winners will each receive one copy of ‘Galloway’ by Allan Wright
  • The two winning entries will be chosen on merit by the photographer personally
  • Open to UK residents aged 18 or over
  • Only one entry per person
  • The winners will be informed by email within 7 days of the closing date, and must respond within 7 days to claim their prize
  • The prizes will be sent out by post by Bonnie Communications (on behalf of Allan Wright) within 28 days of receiving the winner’s address

Finally, I’ll shortly be running similar competitions featuring Allan Wright’s recently-published books on Glasgow and Skye.  If you want to be in with a chance of winning one of these two books too please follow my blog so you’ll be sure not to miss them!

Good luck!

This competition has now closed.  The two winners were Liz Gettoes and  David McKellar, and their prizes have been sent out to them.


Lismore’s tranquil charms

My recent excursion to the island of Lismore was book-ended by two encounters with the local Church of Scotland Minister.  A stern chap, he only shared a brief ‘hello’ with me on our second meeting.  Since I was kitted out head to toe in protective gear, bike in hand, I briefly entertained the thought that he might disapprove of people cycling on the Sabbath .  Perhaps that explained the short, gruff meeting?

More likely, though, Reverend Barclay had a lot on his mind.  Where did we meet?  Not in church or near the manse but on the small passenger ferry that plies the short crossing from Port Appin across to the island.  You see, Ministers in remote island communities have not one but many jobs; he was skipping over to the mainland to take the 10am service in Appin before returning to Lismore church for 12.30pm worship.

I was on a fairly tight schedule but had a little more time to play with than the Minister.  I’d woken up in time to get the 9am ferry and enjoyed seeing the sky turn a gorgeous salmon-pink over Loch Linnhe as the sun slowly lifted its head above the horizon.

First light from Port Appin

I reckoned the two ferrymen had also had trouble lifting their heads that morning.  9am came and went.  No sign of any ferry, nor any other passengers for that matter.  Had I misread the timetable?  Did everyone else know something I didn’t?  Just as I was asking the waitress in the hotel a pick-up truck raced past and two overalled workmen jumped out and walked down the jetty.  Ah!  The ferrymen.

Before long I had my bike loaded on to the boat (but only once they’d safely deposited the most important passenger in Port Appin that day, the Minister).  I’m unsure whether 9am means “somewhere round about 9ish” in Argyll time, or whether they’d had a late night the evening before, but once they got going the two ferrymen seemed to run an efficient service.  They were also great company, asking what I was planning to do on Lismore and chatting about their jobs.

I’m sure making the same 10 minute crossing back and forth half a dozen times a day might get a little tedious after a while but on a morning like this I was more than a little envious.  The snow-topped mountains beamed in the cold, crisp sunshine and Ben Nevis stood proud above a thin layer of cloud, lit up by the low morning sun.  There are worse views from your place of work.

The ‘Lismore’ makes its way from Port Appin to Lismore


The Corbett Creach Bheinn – the Morvern one, not the Appin one!


Ben Nevis a-glow in the early morning sunshine

Lismore is a long, low-lying and fertile island with fewer than 200 inhabitants.  The name comes from the Gaelic ‘lios mòr‘ which means ‘big garden’.  It has one single track road running down the spine of the island and at 19km long, meant that I could plan to cycle down to the southern end and back in a morning.  And with a little luck and careful planning I would still have time for a couple of detours.

It was frosty.  The fields were white, clouds of condensed air hung above cattle in the cold air and occasional patches of black ice covered the road.  There was little danger of getting caught up in traffic though since on this Sunday morning in early January Lismore was very …. very … quiet.  I was the only passenger for starters and the only other people I saw were farmers out feeding their animals.  Quite a few houses seemed to be empty and I wondered if these were second homes; however, the Isle of Lismore website lists 12 self-catering properties for rent.

Lismore must be one of the most accessible islands in the Inner Hebrides.  Sitting right in the middle of Loch Linnhe it has great views north to Ben Nevis and Beinn a Bheithir, east to Ben Cruachan and west towards Mull and the Morvern hills.  I could also see the long snowy ridge of Creach Bheinn that I’d climbed the previous day.  (And very confusingly, there are two Creach Bheinn’s visible from Lismore, both Corbetts, one on either side of the island).

The view from the middle of the island


Ben Sgulaird (left) and Creach Bheinn (the Appin one), right

I’m told that the Lismore Gaelic Heritage Museum is a ‘must’ if you’re visiting the island.  It certainly did look worth visiting, with an attractive cafe.  However, it was closed the day I there and so I could only look round from the outside.  I admired the restored cottage, Taigh Iseabal Dhaibh, a late 19th Century ‘cottar’s house’.  It’s a simple dwelling with two rooms, heated by a peat fire and with a stone floor.  It had a thick thatched roof made of reeds made in the traditional style.

A 19th Century restored traditional cottage


Close-up of the thatched roof made of reeds

The island has a rich history.  In AD562, at about the same time as Columba settled in Iona,  St Moluag travelled from Ireland to establish the Christian community on Lismore.  It seems he based himself on Lismore while establishing the Episcopal Sees of Lismore as well as in Ross and Aberdeen.  Lismore Parish Church is located on the site of the 6th Century cathedral, and ornate carved gravestones from the Middle Ages are displayed on the roadside beside the church.

The small island also boasts the ruins of an Iron Age broch, two 13th Century castles, Bronze Age cairns and deserted townships.  That’s a lot of history in such a small place!  I cycled down towards the southern end of the island to view Achinduin Castle from a distance, leaning my bike up against a handy standing stone.  On the return leg I detoured down a rough track just south of the church which led down towards Castle Coeffin on the western side.  I didn’t have the time on this trip to walk around the ruins but it’s certainly an island full of atmosphere and many, many stories to tell.

The first time I’ve used a standing stone as a bike stand!


13th Century Castle Coeffin

Today, Lismore welcomes visitors for holidays, short breaks and day trips.  While it seemed I pretty much had the place to myself on this short visit I can imagine there’s a bit more coming and going in the summer months.  Judging by the way that the red phone box seems to double as a pop-up cake shop, complete with bunting, it seems like a pretty welcoming place.

I just had time for a warming flask of coffee propped up against the phone box before the ‘Lismore’ chugged over the water from Port Appin once more.  Relaxed, my trip was over. But as the Reverend Barclay stepped off the boat he just had 30 minutes to make his way to the church for his next service.  It seemed that farmers, ferrymen, Ministers and occasional cyclists were the only other people moving on Lismore that day.

Lismore’s pop-up cake shop!

Waiting for the ferry to return


Have you visited Lismore?  What did you do when you were there?




Appin’s sparkling peaks

Draped in a snowy winter coat the Scottish mountains provide an irresistible allure for walkers.  White-topped hills gleam against a deep blue sky, sparkling in the crisp, cold air.  They invite challenge, adventure and the surefire certainty that a day climbing mountains in winter will provide highs and lows not experienced in the summer months.

If last weekend was anything to go by I was not alone in falling for the charms of deep powder snow.  The laybys along the length of the A82 familiar to peak-baggers  were rammed with cars; as busy as any sunny Saturday in July.

Framed by attractive seascapes and rugged mountains, Appin occupies a quiet corner of the West Highlands overlooking Morvern and Oban.  Most visitors  head south to Oban, the gateway to the islands, or further north to Fort William.  It’s no surprise then that the hills of Appin are sometimes overlooked in favour of larger, more imposing mountains elsewhere.

And this suited me just fine.  What I was after was a not-too-taxing winter walk so I could get back down in daylight.  Ideally I wanted a hill with great views and in a location that would allow a cycle ride the following day.  The Corbett Creach Bheinn fitted the bill exactly.


Looking down the track from Coire Buidhe towards Loch Creran

However, initial impressions are perhaps a little underwhelming.  Creach Bheinn translates as ‘bare (or windswept) hill’, and it’s within sight of another similarly-named Corbett across Loch Linnhe in Morvern.  (The more sceptical among you will no doubt be surprised that there are only two hills in Scotland sharing the same non-descript name).  The approach, following a bulldozed track that winds its way up the glen to Coire Buidhe, is also somewhat under-inspiring.  Or at least it would be in summer.  But today, it provided a fast-track to the powdery white stuff and I was only too glad to recover my walking legs before reaching the interesting part.

And it didn’t take long for a so-far mundane walk to be transformed.

Ahead of me were two other parties.  Having left the winding track I swapped the sound of boots scraping on hard-packed gravel for the almost silent ‘swooshing’ of footsteps through soft snow.  I had the easier job, following their single-file path through the snow and critically assessing the line of ascent they’d taken through the rocky outcrops.  The snow smoothed out the hollows, transforming a normally rocky hillside into a carpeted wonderland, and  bringing with it a magical, deadening silence.

Up on the ridge the sun’s rays made a determined effort to escape the clouds, sending sharp tentacles down towards the depths of Loch Etive.  The soft light reflected off the dark water, providing the promise of an improving day.  As the sun topped the clouds its rays washed the snow with a brightening cast, throwing shadows across the frozen hillside.  Then finally, as the bright sun escaped the clouds it illuminated the rime-covered stalks of grass bravely poking through the snow.  The ice sparkled and shone with a brilliance that turned the ‘ordinary’ into a truly wonderful sight.

The sun’s rays began to break though

Icy rime on stalks of grass

Sunshine and shadows

As I gained height the views north to Glen Etive opened up, giving fine perspectives of Beinn Trilleachan, the two Buachailles and the mighty Ben Starav.  Reaching the apex of the ridge Ben Sgulaird also came into view.  In summer many folk combine a walk up this munro with Creach Bheinn but with shorter daylight hours this is much more of a challenge in mid-winter.

While the light winds had so far betrayed the fierce conditions that can so often characterise the mountains in winter the windchill increased markedly up on the ridge.  An arctic north-easterly blew me towards the summit as I donned extra layers.  The wind had also begun to create an icy crust which changed my walking tempo: I much prefer crunching over the surface than wading, ankle-deep through snow.

I passed the two other groups of walkers as I approached the summit.  One couple had three ‘low-rise’ dogs between them.  Don’t ask me to identify the breed; all I can say is that in spite of having to bound energetically through the drifts in their snow-coats they seemed to be in doggy heaven.  Pleasantries exchanged, I soaked up the trig point views before retiring to a sheltered hollow to grab a quick bite.

The view north up Glen Etive

At 810m Creach Bheinn gives an inspiring 360-degree view of mountain and sea.  Not only were the Glen Coe hills laid out in all their snow-topped glory but the sharp summit of Ben Cruachan dominated the view to the south.  Due west my eye was drawn across Lochs Creran and Linnhe, beyond the narrow island of Lismore to the wintery skyline of Mull and Morvern.  Somehow, with expert care, Winter had sprinkled icing sugar over the mountainous peaks to create a particularly eye-catching panorama.

Summit panorama looking west to the peaks of Mull and Morvern (click to expand)

Looking east from the trig point (810m)

Walking back along the ridge directly into the cold, north-easterly blast, I drew my buff up over my nose.  At times like these, function, not fashion, are of prime concern!  It was a straightforward return leg following the now, churned-up path through the snow, spiced up by the need to use an ice axe on the steeper gradients.  Fortunately it was used simply for balance rather than grip on this occasion.

By the time I reached the end of the ridge, shadows were lengthening once more.  The short window of daylight was beginning to close, bringing with it that softer, orange glow that makes routine photographs become utterly magical in winter.  I didn’t stay up high to enjoy the alpenglow but instead enjoyed the clouds turning salmon-pink as I crunched back down the track.

What might have been a boggy and fairly unexciting summer hill walk had certainly provided some inspiring light, sights and sounds in just a few short hours.  In this quiet corner of Appin, the allure of winter walking had lived up to its promise.

Icicles beneath an overhanging rock

A bold boulder




Looking back on 2017 and plans for 2018

A Happy New Year to you!

As I look out of the window this afternoon heavy rain is falling on already waterlogged ground.  The fire’s on and instead of being outside I’m spending some time reviewing last year’s outdoor and blogging activities and looking ahead to what might be in store for 2018.

2017 – The ups

Looking back at some of my most memorable photos from last year it seems I got out and about and achieved quite a lot.  This time last year I wrote a similar post anticipating ten likely adventures – and I’m pleased to say I enjoyed all bar two (I’ve hung up my running shoes since I want to preserve my knee joints and the tentative fishing trip didn’t happen).

  • Skiing
  • Camping – in a tent, wigwam and campervan
  • Climbing mountains
  • Sea kayaking
  • Bungee jumping (at night, in the dark, without any lights)
  • Cycle touring
  • Stargazing
  • Island hopping
  • Running
  • Fishing.

Early in 2017 I spent a lot of time upgrading my blog in more of a ‘magazine’ style.  Hopefully it’s not only easier to navigate but it shows off my photos much better.  In terms of blogging stats 2017 was certainly a good year: I published 35 posts, received 535,000 views and Above the clouds featured on WordPress Discover and subsequently gained almost 500 likes from mainly new readers.

2017 – The downs

But you may have noticed I’ve been pretty quiet lately.  House improvements saw me with a paintbrush in hand for most of October and November and a family holiday, a busy time at work and other family-related activities also took up most of my spare time over the Autumn too.  ‘Life’ took over.

So all in all, I haven’t been active on my blog or social media at all for about three months.  At first, this bothered me.  After all, I regularly posted two or three times a week when I first started blogging, falling to once or twice a fortnight in 2017.  But taking a break from social media in particular has put a new perspective on things and now I’m in quite a different place to where I was a year ago.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the whole social media thing.  While Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest can be invaluable sources of news and inspiration you really have to search hard to find the golden nuggets among the sand.  There’s so much in the way of distractions, misinformation and manipulative content (read my recent post on clickbait, fake sites and the outdoor community) that if you let it, it can take over your life.

I agree with the views of Chamath Palihapitiya, former Facebook vice-president of user growth, who recently said that “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works”, referring to online interactions driven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

Much has been written about the way social media creates internally-reinforcing ‘tribal’ communities that reject opposing voices and instill norms that govern behaviour.  At its worst it’s an echo chamber where likes and clicks drive mutually-reinforcing behaviours.  And unfortunately, time away from my devices and PC shows the outdoor community to be no different.

I’ve just examined my own social media feeds:

  • Crowding out the inspiration and insightful thoughts on Twitter are sponsored posts, corporate promotion, automated content posted by bots, trivial musings and the over-posting of self-publicists, obsessives and people waging personal vendettas
  • If you’re in the right mood I find Instagram full of inspiring photos.  But on a bad day I look at it and wonder how many of these people truly live the airbrushed life they portray?  (But that’s what social media does: promote the good and ignore the bad)
  • Despite Facebook generally being regarded as the best way to promote your blog I’ve always found it to be trivial and superficial.  I closed down my original account and now only use Facebook to communicate with my DofE groups using private groups.

Interestingly, my blog receives more referrals from Facebook than any other social media platform, just ahead of Pinterest and with four times as many referrals as Twitter.  Instagram, Reddit, Pocket and Yammer barely feature.  Yet all of these are completely dwarfed by referrals from search engines.  So for me at least, social media is really only a source of (inward) information and not a route for outward engagement: a one-way street, you might say.

So what does 2018 have in store?

So (following this little rant) … what do I conclude and what am I going to do about it?

In short, 2018 is going to be a year of simplifying my life.  I want to get back to basics, to give my time to the things that really provide me with rewarding experiences.  I live a busy life at work and don’t need any additional stress or pressures to ‘compete’ with others.

Here are four things I’m going to be doing differently from now on:

1.  Ditch social media

… well, I probably won’t ditch it altogether but I certainly won’t be posting regularly and will only look at Twitter or Instagram if I’m looking for ideas and inspiration.  I’ve never really used these platforms as ‘social’ meeting spaces – I don’t have the time – and the data shows that 95% of people discover this blog from Google in any case.

By its very nature, social media is restricted to short soundbites and images designed to provide immediate impact.  Sure, it’s accessible and easy to follow a large number of people but these advantages are also its shortcomings: it tends to be superficial, blunt and open to misinterpretation.  I’ve rediscovered blogs as an ultimately much more powerful format, able to communicate ideas and feelings in a way that social media platforms find very difficult.

2.  Focus on quality over quantity

Having take a three-month break from my blog I now feel much less like I’m ‘on a schedule’ to post every so often.  More importantly, having recently passed my five year blogging milestone I’m now much more selective in finding the things I want to say.

Content is king.  That’s always been true and always will be – in spite of what the social media marketeers will tell you.  So I’m going to continue to focus on ideas that have traction, stories that need telling and my personal experiences that are worth sharing.

I’ve also realised after five years of blogging (sometimes things take a while to seep into your consciousness) that it’s the creative writing process that’s therapeutic and rewarding.  Creative thinking stimulates a part of my brain that often doesn’t get enough use in day to day activities, and this is a world away from bog-standard trip reports that seem to be the standard fodder in many people’s blogs.  So I want to focus on improving the quality of my writing in my blog (and any other magazine articles, reviews or book ideas that come my way).

3.  Focus on my main passions

Over the years I’ve never shied away from trying something new.  Whether it’s doing a night bungee, going land yachting or taking up climbing or sea kayaking I get a kick out of new adventures and challenges.  But if the goal this year is to simplify my life there’s no better way to do that than to consolidate what I already enjoy doing.

That doesn’t mean I’ll stay within my comfort zone of course – don’t be daft, life would be boring if we didn’t expand our horizons – but does mean I want to spend most of my time in the outdoors doing the things I love: walking, camping and cycle touring.  I always have a bucket list of challenges on the go and nearing the top of the list is my ‘compleation’ of the Furths (by climbing the 13 3000-foot mountains in Ireland), backpacking in Scotland, cycling in the Western Isles or the Yorkshire Dales, and skiiing in the French Alps.  On top of this I’m also leading a Silver Duke of Edinburgh group for the first time which is going to be a new challenge but really enjoyable.

4.  Give my time to things that give me something back

Talking of enjoyment, isn’t this what it’s all meant to be about?  Life’s far too short to spend it competing with the Joneses or worrying what other people think of you.  Work/jobs/stress will all still be there the next day … so enjoy today while you can.  My wife tends to be more successful in living this motto than I am but I need to get better at it: slowing down, living one day at a time and being more spontaneous.

A big part of this for me relates to mental wellbeing.  I get stir-crazy when I’m cooped up inside too much and the mountains are calling.  As a classic introvert, getting outdoors and enjoying some friluftsliv gives me the solitude I need to recharge my batteries so I return renewed and happy.

Finally, having just asked my wife to review this post, she’s suggested a fifth goal which will help us lead a simpler life.  So it looks like I’m going to have to bite the bullet and finish clearing out the garage and loft this year too …

Tune in this time next year to see if I’ve managed to be true to my word and live a simpler (and clutter-free) life.

Whatever your aspirations and goals for 2018 I hope you achieve them – and have an enjoyable time in the process!



10 memorable photos of 2017

I thought I’d end the year with a selection of memorable photos over the last twelve months.  It’s great to look back on the year and remind yourself of the events and places that have stood out.  While my blogging year ended very quietly – more about this in a future post – I’m actually surprised at the variety of things I’ve got up to.

January started with WildaboutScotland winning ‘Best Camping Blog’ in the 2016 Trespass Blog Awards.  Further recognition came soon after with one of my posts that described a wonderful walk up through a cloud inversion (a local hill, Dumyat in the Ochils) featuring on WordPress Discover.  That brought my blog to the attention of a global audience, with the post receiving the most likes and comments of any post over the last five years – including great comments from all corners of the world.


heSheep enjoying the bright sunshine above the cloud inversion

In February I took a ski holiday to Avoriaz with my son.  The lift system straddles the French and Swiss border and on this gloriously sunny day we found ourselves skiing in France during the morning, having lunch at this mountain-top restaurant before dropping down into the Swiss side to enjoy some afternoon runs.  My son loves skiing and for me it’s been a great way to do an activity together that we both really enjoy.

A mountain restaurant high on the slopes above Avoriaz in the French Alps

In 2014 I’d been bungee jumping with one of my neices at Killiecrankie.  I think it’s fair to say she’s not that good with heights and while she successfully completed the jump she was extremely brave to go through with it.  I was obviously far too chirpy and boastful after that jump since she decided to get her own back by buying me a voucher for a night bungee for Christmas …  I duly booked my jump – alone! – in March and the picture shows me flying high, jumping 40 metres above the River Garry into the blackness.  Killiecrankie is Europe’s only night bungee destination.  It was a wee bit more nerve-wracking that a daytime jump but I loved it.  I just didn’t love hanging upside down for a few minutes with the blood rushing to my head.

Taking the plunge, 40 metres above the River Garry in Perthshire

In late April I road tested a Jerba campervan and took it from Jerba’s factory near North Berwick across the Borders to Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway – you can read my review here.  Having previously lived in the Borders it was a great chance to revisit some memorable places on my journey across country, including John Muir’s house in Dunbar, unspoiled Cove Harbour and Scott’s View overlooking the Eildons.  As luck would have it, my long weekend away coincided with an aurora – on two nights! – as well as the Lyrids meteor shower.  I managed to capture this gorgeous purple aurora, the first and only time I’ve seen this.

The northern lights … also available in purple

May saw me taking a sea kayak / wild camping trip with Kenny Lacey of Sea Kayak Scotland in the Sound of Luing.  I really enjoyed the weekend and the chance to get excellent one-to-one coaching from Kenny.  The picture showed our boats on the beach at St Mary’s Bay on the island of Luing, where we camped and enjoyed a fire at night.

Paddling in the Sound of Luing


I was occupied leading my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh group in early June but had then booked to go paddling again at Plockton at the end of the month.  Unfortunately the trip was called off owing to high winds so instead I opted to spend the weekend cycling around Loch Rannoch.  It was a blustery weekend with dark, brooding skies and big waves on the loch.  I think this photo captures very well the contrasts; sunshine one minute then the threat of sharp showers the next.

Cycling around Loch Rannoch

The weather gods looked kindly down on me in July when I’d booked to visit Eigg for the first time.  In fact, it was so hot and sunny that I came away with a rare Scottish suntan!  I spent the weekend exploring: discovering the caves at Galmisdale, climbing An Sgurr, sunbathing on the squeaky Singing Sands and walking the circular route around Beinn Buidhe at the north end of the island.  To top it off I enjoyed a cold beer at Laig Bay and watched the most amazing sunset over neighbouring Rum.  It was just such a superb weekend.

The sun setting over Rum, from Laig Bay on Eigg

Early September saw me take another long weekend to go walking and cycling in Assynt in Scotland’s far north west.  I wild camped on top of Quinag, cycled to Lochinver and then climbed Ben More Coigach the next day.  From its summit you get a real sense of this old, ‘elemental’ landscape formed on 3 billion year-old rocks that protrude sharply from around the rocky coastline.  Assynt rightly deserves its place as an outstanding location for geology and wildlife – as well as superb walking and camping.

Stac Pollaidh in Assynt, from Ben More Coigach

In November I witnessed the strongest aurora I’ve ever seen in Scotland.  There was a slow but steady build-up that culminated in a jaw-dropping eight minutes where the northern lights lit up the sky, with pillars and moving curtains providing an amazing show.  It was so strong and bright that this picture below was taken on only a 4 second exposure.  And that is unheard of for Scotland …

November’s incredibly strong aurora from Perthshire


So that was my blogging year, featured in some of my favourite and most memorable images.

I hope you’ve had a great year too, whatever you’ve been up to.  Thanks so much for all your feedback and comments; I’ve certainly had some great times over the last twelve months and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of my adventures too.

Wishing everyone a very happy Christmas.