6 Months in the Highlands – Thanks, COVID-19!

In one of my previous posts (here’s the link), I talk about moving to the Highlands. It was just a small ‘travel’ post really, with a few pictures, intended to be a precursor to future travel posts.

But it didn’t quite work out the way I planned.

And… I *might* be moving again!

Pre-Covid-19

On Feburary 24th, I had my first day at my new job – but it was in London. I travelled down to London from the southern part of Scotland where I had been temporarily living. I got to the hotel, realised it was the wrong one, so ordered a taxi to the correct one, and the next day was my induction training.

My induction training lasted two days; Monday and Tuesday, although I didn’t see much of London in that time, so no cool photos to show you guys (sorry!). By Tuesday evening, I was on a flight to Inverness.

Wednesday morning, I started my first day in the office.

I took with me, one medium/large suitcase, my laptop bag and a work laptop bag (which I collected from the induction day).

I have been living out of that suitcase for 6 months!

For the first few weeks, I had planned to get settled at work and get a feel for the area. Once I knew the best area to live, public transport routes (currently car/bike-less, don’t judge!) and how much I could possible afford, I was going to find a nice place to rent.

A few weeks in, I started looking at places, I viewed two flats, and contacted a lot more for other potentials…

Then Covid-19 hit.

Post-Covid-19

For the first few weeks before the UK was put into official lockdown, I was given the option to work from home, the last week before lockdown, I did. I found it cool and novel – I’ve always wanted a remotely working job!

Then lockdown officially started 23rd March. Shops started to shut (except for essential shops). People weren’t allowed out except for 1 hour exercise (this wasn’t set in stone, apparently, but it was ‘advised’ to limit to an hour). We had to have letters to say we were keyworkers if we got stopped by police.

I was classed as a keyworker, but was lucky that I had a company laptop so I could work from ‘home’. And, I was equally lucky that the host of the Airbnb I had booked was more than happy for me to stay with her until lockdown lifted. I pay her a small fee a month, instead of booking continuously through Airbnb – and it works out a lot cheaper.

The novelty of working from home wore off quickly. Especially since I couldn’t go anywhere! I was inside for work. I was inside on days off. Summer came, and I was inside for that too. The only time I could go out was for walks/exercise or shopping. That was the only time I could see bits of Inverness; the area I was really looking forward to exploring! When lockdown restrictions eased a little, I started to go a little further afield. Which is the next section…

University of the Highlands and Islands

This is something that is pretty close to where I have been living for the past six months. When I first moved, pre-Covid-19, I would walk through the grounds to get to the office. Post-Covid-19, I would either walk through to get to Tesco to do my shopping, or just go for a walk to get my hourly exercise.

Although it’s not exactly a destination to pack your bags to go see (unless you’re starting a course there!), it certainly is a lovely place to walk around when the sun is shining!

Culloden Woods and Battlefield

I went to Culloden Woods/Forest a few times, it was suggested to me by a colleague from work. I had no idea what to expect, I couldn’t find any information on it. But, to do something different to my usual walk around the University grounds, I went here on a day off instead.

First time I went, I was happily exploring; following the path, taking in the sights, smells and sounds, and I came across a sign that said ‘Culloden Battlefield Trail’. It didn’t tell me how far it was to the Culloden Battlefield, but I at least figured the walk might be intersting, even if I didn’t walk all the way there. But, I did end up walking all the way to the battlefield!

And, I was glad I went, as although I was only there for a little bit, it was a really interesting site. It’s the site where the Jacobite Rising came to and end in 1745. There is a visitor centre (which was closed due to the lockdown) which holds a cafe, museum and shop, there is an old cottage (Leanach Cottage), clan gravestones and memorial cairn (be careful not to walk on the grass on this bit, there are real remains there – I found that out afterwards and felt really guilty!) and then there is the battlefield itself with the different flags to represent the two sides of the battle, and there are markers dotted around with more information.

Second time I went, I visited more of the woods and forest, this time around it was really foggy and I got some really interesting shots in the fog.

Long walk to North Kessock

I add emphasis on the ‘long walk’ here, because I was out for six hours! I walked all the way from Cradlehall/Westhill, through Inverness City Centre, over the Kessock Bridge and into North Kessock and Craigton… then back again. I was sore for a few days afterwards.

Again, I got some really interesting shots. North Kessock is a lovely little place, right on the edge of Beauly Firth, I found a lovely little swing seat on the edge by some woods, there was a fog coming in which hid part of the Kessock Bridge. I saw a few sights walking through Inverness too.

Inverness Castle and the Islands

When lockdown started to ease, and the shops started to open, I decided to go back into Inverness to do some shopping. But the main part of my walk into Inverness was to see Inverness Castle! No trip to Inverness is complete without at least seeing the Castle!

Unfortunately, the Castle was closed, but not because of Covid, but because it’s undergoing some renovations, so I wasn’t able to go inside. When I get back to the UK after my contract abroad, and if I get my old job back in Inverness, I am looking forward to seeing it again, hopefully go inside this time!

As well as Inverness Castle, I also had a wander along the River Ness. A little further down is what’s called ‘The Islands’ or ‘Ness Islands’, which, as the name suggests, is a colletion of islands on the River Ness. There are a few bridges across them so you can walk along them, and they have a few trees and lights up along them (which I can only imagine look nice in the evening).

Motorbike Ride to Nairnshire

One day, I had the pleasure of catching up with an old friend from college. He was coming up for a tour of Scotland on his motorbike and decided to pop in to see me. He brought his spare motorbike helmet and we took a trip out to see Nairn, an area I had hoped to see when I first moved up, pre-Covid-19. And yes, I am aware there is still a Covid risk, but luckily he had already had Covid and had the anti-bodies. There was no risk of spreading.

We went to Fort George to begin with, it was closed, but we were still able to walk on the pebble beach and around the old Fort. We then got back on the bike and headed to Nairn Beach, where we wandered about, sat and caught up, had lunch and then headed back. We stopped at Sueno’s Stone – a 9th Century Picto-Scottish standing stone, Clava cairns and the viaduct close by.

My next adventure

I can’t talk too much about my next adventure. I have mentioned it a few times, so it’s not exactly a secret. But I don’t want to dedicate a whole blog post to it just yet, as it hasn’t been officially confirmed.

However, I will say; I was recently given the opportunity to go to anther country, with the company I work for!

At the moment there are a few issues with Covid-19; the borders being closed and, I have a few issues with my visa. But when things have been sorted, if I am still able to go, I will give you more updates!

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Touring America for Charity!

A few friends will remember that I had planned a trip around America and Canada for a charity. I was going to go to Canada first, find some work, save up, and then travel around, maybe even visiting other countries. All doing this to raise awareness and funds for a charity.

I was deadly serious about it too, I had bought my Working Holiday Visa to Canada, got police certificates for it, set up a page, I even got a few people invested, including a few celebrities – at least they shared my posts.

But, due to personal reasons, I had to cancel it all. And I felt defeated that I failed and let people down.

I was also met with a lot of negative criticism from friends and family. “Why don’t you do something smaller?” “Do you even have a plan?” I had lots of people think that I was just after money from them when I asked for support, but in reality I just wanted them to help share the word, to show that they were rooting for me and wanted me to succeed.

I lost friends over it. And I felt like I had proved them right; I failed.

I never stopped thinking about it, what I missed out on, the friends I lost, it still eats away at me. But I also never stopped believing that one day, I would do it! I’ve always been one with big ideas, and yes, a lot of times they don’t work out, but I also believe that people can do big and amazing things if they work and persist. And I want to be one of those that didn’t give up, and made a different!

So, I am planning it all again!

This time I plan to go to America on a food, bike and car tour, raising awareness and funds for charities that support world hunger, mental health and/or child abuse.

Most people know I love my cars, having tinkered with most of the cars I have owned, from basic maintenence such as services or timing belt changes, to going mad and stripping it for track. I also love my bikes, having wanted to get my bike licence for years but keep putting it off due to the costs. I love the naked, deep sounding Harley-Davidsons and Triumphs (the Triumph Bobber Black is on my Christmas list!)…and of course, who doesn’t like food?

As for the charities, mental health is extremely important to me, as I have had, and to some small extent, still suffer with mental health issues myself. I had selective mutism when I was a child (to read more about this, I wrote a post about it here), which caused no end of probelms growing up, even to this day it causes a few issues. I then developed depression and anxiety because of it.

And of course, stopping world hunger and child abuse are both important to me too.

For this trip, I plan to set up a YouTube channel to document it, setting little challenges for myself along the way, so that people can watch my progress. I plan to visit sites of interest, places like the Harley-Davidson Museum, the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah, watch a Monster Truck show, try out an electric motorbike, eat at the best food joints, whether that’s street food, restaurants, maybe even try wild hunting, I plan to find the best roads to travel down – yes, Route 66 may very well be on the list, maybe even meet a few interesting people – I have a few in mind, if I can pull it off.

It’s going to be big, requiring a lot of planning and it’s going to cost a lot, I know that. It might not work out the way I plan, but either way, I plan on going one way or another. I have to.

I also may not be going alone. As I have been discussing the idea with a friend of mine who is also very interested in going. He’s a massive foodie and car nut himself, and loves America!

Planning might take a while, as there is a lot to sort, and I have just signed a 12 month contract with work (that’s a story for another day!), so I have plenty of time to plan, make contacts and save. I also have yet to get my bike licence! I also plan on getting a few sponsors, such as travel companies, bike/car companies, even clothing companies, if I can.

Either way, I am extremely excited to start off this new adventure, to visit more of America, experience new things, meet new people, and most importantly… make a difference!

Best places to visit in South Lanarkshire

I’ve had the lovely experience living in South Lanarkshire for a while, also recently having to move back to the area, and I figured I’d write about what the best places are in the area.

New Lanark

New Lanark is definately one of my favourites. A UNESCO World Heritage Site because of it’s 18th-century village built up around an old cotton mill and next to the River Clyde. Definitely a lovely place to go if you’re a keen photographer.

If you’re a history buff too, or just generally like a day out, it’s not a bad site, not only can you walk around the area and soak up the buildings and the working old mill, but there is also a number of attractions to see, from the roof garden, Robert Owen’s School for children, Millworker’s House and Robert Owen’s House to name a few.

There is also a cafe and shop on site, the New Lanark Mill Shop. Although the cafe isn’t exactly the most comfortable, as it looks more functional than anything, it still does some half-decent hot foods, cold foods and drinks. During the summer months, they also have New Lanark Ice Cream in the usual flavours, but some not to usual, such as Irn Bru (I’d recommend!)

The shop is also large and has a variety of items being sold, of course there is a huge section dedicated to Wool and Textiles, but they also sell clothes, books, jewelry, home wear and foods!

New Lanark also has it’s own Hotel, the New Lanark Mill Hotel, if you’d like to stay in the area, which also has it’s own bar and restaurant. I’ve had the pleasure of both eating and drinking there, it has a beautiful bar area, although it can get busy during the summer months as it doesn’t have a lot of seating. And I can’t comment on the dining, as I went there for Christmas dinner one year, and unfortunately wasn’t that impressed, hopefully a typical evening meal would be more enjoyable.

But aside from the odd negatives, I still enjoy going back frequently.

(c) Photographs by Penny Hooper. No sharing/copying without permission.

Falls of Clyde

If you visit New Lanark, I’d also recommend the walk along the river to see the Falls of Clyde. Autumn is my favourite time of year to go, as the leaves on the trees are turning all types of beautiful colours and if you go just after a decent rain fall, the falls will be spectacular! Remember to charge up your camera!

It’s a bit of a walk, so it’s not ideal for those who aren’t very able-bodied, and there are a few steps. It can also get a little muddy in places, so I’d take some shoes you don’t mind getting a little dirty and take a decent coat with you just in case the weather turns. It is roughly about an hour and a half to Corra Linn and back.

There are four Linns in total. Corra Linn (Linn is Scottish Gaelic for Waterfall) is the tallest, and I’d recommend seeing this one at least. But you also have Bonnington Linn, Dundaff Linn (closest to New Lanark) and Stonebyres Linn (lower falls).

If you’re adventurous enough, like I am, I’d recommend walking all the way to the bridge/Weir (Bonnington Weir) and walk across the other side and along to the right, following the river. Here you can see Bonnington Linn. You can even walk as far as Corra Castle, although it’s not a huge castle, it is hidden away in the undergrowth (apparently home to some rare bats!)

If you’re even more adventurous than I am, the walk along the river can take you all the way into Glasgow! Have a look at the South Lanarkshire Council website for the maps: https://www.southlanarkshire.gov.uk/downloads/download/258/clyde_walkway

Alongside the Falls, if you’re an animal and/or nature fan, the Falls of Clyde have a Wildlife Reserve. They have regular evening badger watches, wildlife themed events and even interactive toys and games for children. For more information check out the Scottish Wildlife Trust website: https://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/reserve/falls-of-clyde/ They claim to have a Peregrine watch site a third of the way up, but I have a feeling there are no Peregrine Falcons nesting in the area anymore.

(c) Photographs by Penny Hooper. No sharing/copying without permission.

Biggar

Going the other way, towards the Scottish Borders, is a little town called Biggar (ironically). It’s a medival town built in 1451 and has a wealth of attractions for such a small town. The only downside I can personally comment, is unlike it’s cousins towns and villages in the Scottish Borders, it doesn’t have the beautiful backdrop of hills and mountains around it.

However, there are lots of things to do. From the world famous Victorian puppet theatre, Biggar & Upper Clydesdale Museum and Biggar Gasworks Museum (the only preserved gas works in Scotland).

Biggar is also home to a number of festivals and events, with the famous Biggar Little Festival which is held in October each year, which celebrates arts, dance, crafts, drama and literature. If you stay around until New Year, you may also catch the Hogmanay bonfire and torch-lit procession through the town. It also hosts argricultural shows and vintage car rallies.

Chatelherault Country Park

Going away from The Scottish Borders and past Lanark and New Lanark, closer to Glasgow is a town called Hamilton and just on the outskirts is Chaterherault Country Park.

A 18th century hunting lodge with 500 acres of countryside and woodland. In the summer it’s a great place to go with children, with picnic facilities and a large adventure play ground. Also a great place to go for dog walkers and adventurers alike.

The house and grounds are all free admission, which makes a great cheap day out, with a few of the rooms being open to the public to see, and a small museum inside of what life used to be like there. There is a Cafe inside and a Gift Shop and it is even a great place to hold a Wedding or Private Event.

The grounds offer many trails, the main reason why I go there, as the trails take you through a varity of walks, through woods, across/under bridges (i.e. The Duke’s Bridge) and along a river (River Avon). There is even a small castle ruins called Cadzow Castle (although the last time I saw it, the small castle was trapped within a maze of scaffolding!) and keep your eyes out for the Cadzow Cattle or White Park Cattle a rare breed of ancient horned cattle that live in a field right next to the lodge.

(c) Photographs by Penny Hooper. No sharing/copying without permission.

Bothwell Castle

On the other side of Hamilton, if Cadzow Castle wasn’t enough castle for you, there is 13th Century Bothwell Castle. Another cheap day out, at £3.00 each for an adult, £2.40 concession, £1.80 child (free for Children until 5) or if you’re a Young Scot Card Holder, it’s only £1.00!

There is a fair amount of Bothwell Castle still standing, but what is striking about the Castle is it’s reddish colour and the large tower (or donjon).

The land originally was owned by Walter of Moray who began the construction of the castle in the mid 1200s. But by the late 1200s, was the start of the Wars of Scottish Independence, and Bothwell was unfortunately in the line of fire.

There is a lot of history around Bothwell, more than a simple Blog post can explain, and which I will leave you guys to find out. But one last thing I will note is that Bothwell passed to the Black Douglases, which pops up again later in this blog post, so keep your eye out!

(c) Photographs by Penny Hooper. No sharing/copying without permission.

Douglas

Heading away from Glasgow and Hamilton, back past New Lanark, but the other side of the motorway from Biggar, is a little village called Douglas.

This is a little village hidden away, not many people know of, mainly because there aren’t many attractions here, yet it is steeped in history!

Douglas is where the Douglas family took their name, originally where the stronghold; Douglas Castle was built, as early as the 13th century. The original castle was destroyed and replaced a number of times, until the last building to stand on the site was a large 18th century mansion. Unfortunately this too was demolished in 1938 due to mining in the area, but a single 17th century corner tower still remains.

Douglas and Douglas Castle was also in the line of fire from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the early 1300s, having been captured by Lord Clifford, but Sir James Douglas, Robert the Bruce’s friend, recaptured his family seat. It was because of this, and the loyalty of the Douglases, Robert the Bruce rewarded the Douglases by creating the title Earl of Douglas.

For any literacy fans, like myself, the Castle itself was also where Walter Scott got his inspiration for his novel “Castle Dangerous”.

Although the remaining Castle tower is 17th century, this isn’t the oldest building in the village. St. Bride’s Church is 14th century and became the mausoleum of the Douglases. The church yard and a part of the old church is free to wander, to gain access inside you need prior arrangement.

There is a long story about Robert the Bruce, his heart and James Douglas, one that will require a seperate blog post, but a long story short, Robert the Bruce wished to go on a crusade, but Robert was unfortunately dying. He entrusted James Douglas to take his heart on a crusade. Douglas died in battle, his bones taken back to St. Bride’s Church and Bruce’s heart was eventually buried at Melrose Abbey (his body was buried in Dunfermline Abbey close to his wife’s).

There is a small museum (The Douglas Heritage Museum) which originally was St Sophia’s Chapel, located next to the church yard, but only opens at the weekends between 14:00 and 17:00 (although I am sure it’s usually during the summer months) or by special arrangement.

Douglas has a small claim to fame in recent years too, having been a site for filming of Agatha Christie’s Ordeal By Innocence. If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie, or have seen the series, you might recognise “The Cross Keys”, located on the High Street.

There are also lots of hidden places to walk around Douglas, up in the wooded hills around the area.

(c) Photographs by Penny Hooper. No sharing/copying without permission.

To read more about Douglas, places of interest, and the history, I’ve recently created a new blog: Douglas, South Lanarkshire – A Hidden Gem

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Please check out my other blog posts:

Ender’s Love – Chapter 1

The HALO Trust: Safe Steps – Challenge Complete!

New Full Book Trailer! For Rose Garden Sanatorium

I won! I came first in the Earnesty Writer’s Awards 2018 Paranormal Genre!

Rose Garden Sanatorium – Prologue

I’m abseiling 165ft for Barnardos!