Blog Scotland

Scotland, Stout and Steak with Highland Heather Lodges

After limiting myself to a mere £100 for a weekend in London, I had a bit more cash to spare for my following weekend.

Having rode the Megabus last weekend (for a rather gruelling 13 hours), I was eager to take my travels into my own hands once more for my trip up to Scotland.

Whereas my last trip to London had been full of fanciful visits to art galleries, hip restaurants and bars – I knew that a weekend in Scotland would be a little more down to earth. Whether you’re staying in rural Scotland, as I was, or making a trip out to one of it’s metropolitan centres; you’re almost guaranteed a refreshing change of pace whenever you visit. From the sleepy pubs, that progressively slide into drunken raucousness as the hours wear on, to the charming restaurants and cafes that litter the high streets of it’s towns and villages; Scotland’s tourism has been built off of it’s reputation for welcoming hospitality and homespun charm.

Although a vast network of rail lines and bus routes link together much of rural and urban Scotland, the country is arguably at it’s best when you’re driving yourself. Similar to tackling some of the great wide roads of America, you can only get a sense of scale of the country when you’re driving through it. Only when you’re cruising from one tiny to settlement to the next, on smooth roads winding through the dramatic landscape of the Highlands, do you get a sense of just how huge the country really is and how many people live in relative isolation from the rest of the world.

For around £100 per night you can get a glimpse into what this might be like, whilst living rather luxuriously at Highland Heather Lodge; my home for the weekend.

Before your mind drifts off to a Wham-style scene of log cabins and snow, remember that I stayed here by myself and in the middle of Summer. So, although there were no adorably awful 80s mullets or cringe-worthy snowball fights, there was glorious summer sun and idyllic peace and quiet.

There are times when the luxury of a bar and room service is outweighed by the hectic nature of modern hotels. Sometimes it’s simply better to go without these things and trade in the metropolitan standards for something a bit more homespun and infinitely more relaxing.

Set in the quiet village of Crieff, the small selection of cottages that Highland Heather Lodges have on offer are modern, practical and comfortable. Offering wonderful views out into the local area; each lodge comes complete with it’s own kitchen, bathroom, and hot tub. You might have to source and prepare all your food and drink yourself, but the sheer space and freedom that you’re given, for the price that you’re paying, simply cannot be argued with. Once you’ve made the drive up to Crieff, a meandering journey that took me around 6-hours on a Friday morning, what you get up to is very much up to you.

You could go hiking, in some of the most picturesque countryside that Great Britain has to offer, you could tee of at one of Scotland’s many gorgeous golf courses, or you could simply do what I did – kick back, eat some good, locally sourced food and find a quiet pub to read a book in.

The choice is really up to you, either way you’re unlikely to put a foot wrong. 

Blog England Wales

A Liverpool Birthday with the Trainline

There are a few things in life that are really worth paying for…

When you get to my age you come to realise that there are certain things that you should never skimp on.

Whilst my parents have always advocated frugality above all else, I’ve taken a somewhat different approach to the way that I spend my money over the years. When I was younger, still fresh out of University, with the weight of my student-debt hanging over my neck like the proverbial albatross, I often obsessed over the cost of my weekly shop and would regularly decline invitations to parties or events – often months in advance.

Back then, I felt that every penny that I frivolously spent was another I would have to diligently save to pay back to the loans company. As a result of these penny-pinching tactics I found that my life became an increasingly predictable string of events that would revolve around my 9-5 job and plain pasta-based meals at home whilst watching the telly – not exactly the most exciting way to live out your twenties…

I eventually learnt my lesson though and, after a helpful pay rise at work, soon discovered that I had quite the flair for flashing my cash should the necessity to do so arise. Such a need cropped up recently when my Mother (who’s never treated herself a day in her life) turned 80. We decided to celebrate in style and catch a first-class train up to Liverpool to have a meal out and (more importantly) get some shopping done!

Liverpool has undergone quite the transformation in the last 40 years, dropping the shackles of poverty stricken ex-industrial power house and picking up the shiny, new crown of blossoming metropolitan city of culture (it claimed the European accolade back in 2008, whilst it was still ascending).

As a result of this meteoric rise in status, exciting startups, restaurants, bars and retailers have made their humble beginnings in the city, bringing thousands of visitors eager to snap up everything from Swedish meatballs to social media marketing in Liverpool.

For my Mum, though, the allure of Liverpool is still wrapped up in the warm, fuzzy glow of Beatlemania. She was obsessed with the band when she was a teenager and spent all the money she had on their merchandise and records – she amassed so much Beatles memorabilia, in fact, that my bedroom was turned into a shrine of sorts for the Fab Four after I left home. Although the city has undoubtedly changed since my Mum’s heyday, the spirit of the swinging sixties is certainly still alive and kicking there.

After being thoroughly pampered on our first-class train ride up from Conwy, we alighted in Liverpool Lime Street a little light-headed from the complimentary champagne and feeling dangerously careless with our spending money. The Liverpool One shopping centre, one of the more recent additions to the city has brought dozens of high-end brands and designers into centre of the city, bringing shoppers from all around. There’s a real sense of occasion here and it’s probably due to that sense of occasion that my Mum and I fritter away a lot of money in a matter of just a few hours.

Thankfully, we were able to save money for our wonderful dinner that we enjoyed at Jamie’s Italian. By the time we rolled ourselves back onto the last train home, we were both exhausted – it’s just a good thing that we didn’t miss our stop!

Blog England

Embracing Winter with Millets

Can you feel that? There’s a chill in the air and it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.

That’s right, Winter’s here and by gum can you feel it!

Although this time of year usually heralds a choir of moans and groans from the older generation, I always look forward to the arrival of the colder months. During this magically frosty time, sunrises sneak up on you unawares and there’s no guilt in heading to bed early, especially when you know that there’s going to be a stunning sunrise gracing the landscape as early as 7am. Of course if you’re not well kitted out before Winter begins, you’re probably going to find it all decidedly less enjoyable.

Before I set out on my first excursion of Winter I’m always sure to have a thorough check through all my wet-weather gear – making sure that there are no critical tears in anything and (most importantly) that the waterproofing is still working well. There’s nothing worse than driving long distance through rather dismal clouds to discover that your waterproof coat has given up the ghost whilst in storage and that you’re going to have to spend the rest of the day in a state of constant dampness.

During my ritualistic Autumnal run down of my waterproofs I was rather disappointed to find that my boots were nowhere near as waterproof as they needed to be.

As sad as I was to throw this tatty pair of shoes into the bin, there was a small part of that me that was excited to jump into Millets and see what kind of deals I could pick up.

I would never describe myself as a ‘kinky’ person, but I think I can get an idea as to the excitement that is borne out of inanimate objects whenever I step into a shop like Millets. This might seem like an odd reaction to walking into something so pedestrian as a high-street retail shop but it’s true nonetheless. As you walk into a Millets outlet the first sensation that you are greeted by is the familiar rubbery smell of new waterproofs, similar to that ‘new shoe’ smell you get in a place like Clarks. Next, you hear the sound of helpful assistants guiding customers through their selection of rucksacks until, finally, you witness the glorious sight of bright tags with the words ‘SALE’ on them.

I probably get a little too much out of my annual trip to Millets and I know that they certainly get too much out of me. It’s the classic case of too many good offers to turn down.

I went in there last weekend with the intention of just picking up a cheap pair of walking boots, but I left with so much more. With many brands bringing out their new ranges this month, there are loads of great discounts to pick up on all of their ranges – this is why, although I only came in for a pair of boots, I ended up leaving with a new day pack, a pair of socks and a new pair of gators that weren’t even in the sale.

Before you go anywhere this Winter, make sure you’re geared up – it never hurt to be too prepared!

Blog Wales

An Outdoor Adventure with Visit North Wales

There’s always part of me that’s jealous of the backpackers of today.

When I was travelling the world, brokering Financial Acquisitions on the week day and partying it up on the weekends, the countries I was visiting hadn’t quite developed a backpacker friendly infrastructure yet.

When I visited New Zealand the country had yet to catch onto the extreme sports trend that many people associate it with today. This was well before Peter Jackson put the stunning landscapes of the Kiwis on the map with his Lord of the Rings movies.

Although I missed out on diving off a bridge with a bungee clipped to my waist, my own Wales has recently made some huge steps forward in the world of Adventure Tourism.

I teamed up with Visit North Wales this week to get a much needed dose of adrenaline in my life and go on a little tour of Wales in the process.

Bounce Below

Smack bang in the middle of Snowdonia lies one of Wales’ most unique tourist attractions. Hidden away off the A470 near Talwaenydd, Bounce Below is the brainchild of Sean Taylor, an  ambitious business man who has made it his mission to put Wales firmly on the International tourism map. Set deep within a huge network of caverns and caves (that were once home to Victorian mines) these underground surroundings have been lit up with garish lights and rigged with industrial netting creating a massive trampoline that truly has to be seen to be believed.

As long as you don’t mind rubbing shoulders with dozens of kids, this recently refurbished attraction can provide a good few hours of unadulterated fun, just make sure you don’t eat before hand!

Zip World

Owned by the same entrepreneur, there are three Zip World locations spread out across Snowdonia. Their flagship zip line, a real feat of modern engineering, is the fastest in the world as well as the longest in Europe. You start the experience off by donning some pretty serious safety equipment and then it’s off and up to the Little Zipper – the smallest of the three zip lines that you can ride in the day.

By the time you make it up to the Big Zipper, you’ll be fast friends with the other members of your group and more than ready to race down the Big Zipper – zooming over the quarry lake at over 100mph.

Gorge Walking

When I arrived at my final adventure, more than a little windswept, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect from Gorge Walking. I’d neglected to research this last part of the day, imagining some kind of rope bridge river experience. I was greeted by a rather worrying sight when I pulled up in a remote car park: a group of grinning lads in wetsuits and bright red helmets. What had I got myself into? Soon I was zipped up in my own neoprene number and I was ready to walk some gorges.

The copious number of river systems that criss-cross Wales make for ‘perfect gorge walking’ – at least that’s what my instructor tells me as he virtually shoves me off a rock and into a 10-ft deep plunge pool.

Definitely not for the faint-hearted, Gorge Walking offers cheap thrills, just don’t expect to stay dry!