A Week in Scotland: Loch Lomond & Loch Fyne

If you follow me on my Instagram, you might have seen that last month I went on my first holiday in a long time. We stayed in a lodge at Cameron House on Loch Lomond, Scotland (which made the news at the end of 2017 for a bad fire in the main house, which is still being rebuilt).

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I can’t tell you how ready I was to spend some real time outside, surrounded by beautiful scenery. Having spent 3 years living in a city centre, I was definitely in the mood for some fresh, fresh air. And for that, where better to go than Scotland?

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If you know me, you know that I have a particular love for trees, which made the scenes around Cameron House perfect for warming my heart. There’s just something about trees, and forests in particular, which have such magic imbibed into them. Why else would so much European folklore take place in forests? So, of course, my camera came everywhere.

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Early on in the week, we went on the Loch Lomond ferry tour – an hour long trip around the lake, to admire its beauty from all angles. The weather happened to be really moody when we went, but stayed just clear enough that we had some really spectacular views of the lake and the surrounding hills – and I think I was just about able to capture some of it on camera. If you visit the loch, I’d recommend the ferry trip any day.

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The next place I’d recommend? Loch Fyne. You might have heard of the restaurant chain – well, this is where it originates. We were fortunate enough to have an absolutely gorgeous day when we visited; the entire lake was crystal clear and, well, the photos speak for themselves. Quaint little boats, lots of seaweed as it’s a salt water lake, and absolutely stunning hills to boot.

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In fact, the photos from this particular day have been keeping my Instagram going for a while. Each angle had something different to offer, and it was truly spectacular to have it all right in front of you. Behind us was the town of Inveraray, site of Inveraray Castle and Inverarary Jail. The castle has a history dating back to the 1400s, though the building itself is more recent, and has some beautifully maintained grounds. The jail, which housed adults and children alike, allows visitors to walk into the old cells, while the audio guide explains what barbaric punishments and terrible conditions prisoners had to endure when it was in use – it has been closed since 1889. It may sound bleak, but if you’re a history geek like I am, it’s definitely worth a visit.

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The third and final place I’ll mention in this post is The Hill House. No, not related to the book, the films or the Netflix series about a haunted house. This is simply… a house on a hill. Except, it’s a bit more intriguing than that: the National Trust have taken care of this house because, built in the Victorian Era, it was created with an extremely out-of-the-norm art-deco style. Unfortunately, the man who had the house built didn’t quite take into account the amount of rain the house would have to endure, and so it’s always had a perennial damp problem. The solution? A really, really big box.

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Under the great metal cage lies the house, turrets and pebble-dash and all, and the strange opportunity to walk not only through the house, but over it as well. The outside seemed to me to be rather unassuming, but the inside was unexpectedly light and airy, though unfortunately I didn’t take many photos so I can’t show you here. Take my word for it – it is like one ginormous art piece; from the walls to the doors to the furniture, everything is carefully selected and feels oddly ahead of its time. Me being me, of course, I managed to whack my head on one of the metal wall lights while admiring the piano. Tall and clumsy, anyone? No? Just me? Cool.

So, that pretty much concludes this long-overdue blog post. We weren’t too concerned with rushing here, there and everywhere on this holiday, so we had a couple of quiet days as well. I even got into a swimming pool for the first time in years – though in order for that to happen we did dedicate an entire day to finding me a bikini… But it isn’t the time or place for that story! Either way, I’ll always maintain the relief from finding yourself some quiet time outside, surrounded by nature, is never to be underestimated.

Where was the last place you went on holiday?

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My First Time at a Northwestern Beach!

I’ve been spending over half of my time at Liverpool since autumn 2016 while I complete my studies at university here, and one thing I had never managed to do in that time was visit a beach up here. Well, no more! Last Monday, I and two housemates hopped on a train to Formby Beach.

We actually hopped on two of the same train, in the end – we didn’t realise that you have to go one stop further than Formby, to Freshfield, to get to the beach at first… the nice man at the station told us we were one stop short!

The beach was about a kilometre’s walk from the station, which was pretty much in one straight line down the road, and then we walked in through the National Trust entrance. We hadn’t really looked up what was at the beach before going, having heard by word of mouth that it was good, so it was a nice surprise to find out how much forestry there was around it.

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The photo above was from the side of the car park. It was a beautifully sunny day, which was a bit of a surprise – it was far warmer than the forecast had predicted! On the opposite side of the car park to these trees, however, there was an ice cream van situated by a sign pointing towards the beach. After a quick stop for my friends to grab an ice cream each while I took photos, we dutifully ambled past the sign and into the trees.

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It turned out we took quite the nature walk before arriving at the beach! There weren’t really any signs once you got into the forest, although after about ten minutes, we did find a fallen tree by the side of the path, on which was painted ‘BEACH’ with an arrow pointing to the left. With my friends busying themselves with their ice creams, they basically followed my lead as I assumed that as long as I followed the fence, we’d probably arrive at the beach at some point…

… and then I got Google maps out when they lost faith in my leadership. But we were going the right way! We just needed a little assistance at the end.

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We emerged from the trees into a series of sand dunes, which I won’t lie, got me a bit excited. As a former geography student whose field trips were largely situated on beaches with sand dunes, it had been a while! I got very picture-happy and sort of rushed off ahead, both in search of the actual sea and just because I felt like it. My friends did decide to call me Dora (the Explorer) for the rest of the day, though…

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In the distance, we could see the wind turbines from the Burbo Bank offshore wind farm. I know some people don’t like them, but I really do – both because of the clean energy they produce, and because I think they look quite serene. They could definitely have designed uglier turbines, that’s for sure.

We’re fairly certain the land mass we could see in the distance to the left, some distance behind the wind turbines, was Wales, and according to the GPS on my phone, we were actually directly across from Dublin. (Couldn’t see it, of course, but it was nice to know.)

We put our towels down on the flat sand at first to eat lunch, because we were all really hungry by then, but we were on the north west coast of England, so there was a fair amount of wind chill! So, once we’d eaten with the sea view in front of us, we retreated back into the dunes so we were protected from the wind a little more.

At this point, none of our phones had any signal, which was a bit of an odd sensation considering we weren’t that far from civilisation. But seeing as we’re all arts and humanities students, we’d all packed a book each to take with us, so we spent a good few hours switching between reading and chatting (and, in my case, wandering up and down the dunes).

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Around half four in the afternoon, we decided we probably ought to start heading back from the beach in order to find food. We weren’t exactly sure on which direction we had come from, so we proved just how youth-in-the-21st-century we were and had to rely on the GPS telling us which direction we were facing while I led us to the car park – at which point, we discovered a far easier route to/from the beach than the one we’d taken! But what’s life without a bit of adventure?

All in all, it wasn’t quite what I’d expected from my first time visiting a northwestern beach in England. I had harboured suspicion that there’d be more touristy shops like the ones you’ll find at many south coast beaches, where you can get buckets and spades etc., but I suppose that’s unlikely at a National Trust reserve! And I’d also expected rather worse weather and rougher tides, though I’m sure on a day with worse luck that’s probably what you would find… What actually happened was that I got very sunburned feet.

So that’s that! I leave you with this: it turns out northwestern beaches in England can actually be far more pleasant than you might expect, and never put your sun lotion on while wearing socks unless you’re 100% certain you won’t be taking the socks off.

10 Tips to be Kind to the Earth this Summer

Our environment is screaming for help at the moment, and it’s within our power to help it. I want to help, and so should you.

I’ve seen so much on the news over the last few months about how our actions are destroying the environment we depend upon, and there have been some positive reactions – Iceland is going to stop putting palm oil in its own brand products, Tesco is banning non-recyclable plastic packaging – but none of that will be enough if we as individuals don’t do something to help, too.

With recent reports including stories of seals with plastic in its stomach and a whale with 80 plastic bags in its stomach, it is far past time to make some lifestyle changes.

Here are some of mine.

1) Stainless steel bottle

Okay, so this is a brilliant thing to own, because not only is it environmentally friendly but it keeps your water cold! I’m one of those people who’s never been the greatest water-drinker, but I’ve been making way more of an effort in recent years. However, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that cold water is millions of miles better than warm water. I have a few reusable bottles, to tell the truth: a gym bottle that lives in my gym bag, my stainless steel one for daily use, a litre filter bottle, and two others. You never know if a friend will need one, right? But the point is, I haven’t bought disposable bottles of any drink in months.

2) Stainless steel straw

This is a fairly recent acquirement on my part – I’m fine living a life without straws on the whole. I don’t see them as a necessity. But every now and again, you just… fancy one, y’know? I grew up with plastic reusable ones in my own house, so the idea is old hat by now. But the grand thing with these is they don’t squish when you gnaw on them. (Don’t lie, we all bite straws!) And they’re easy to wash – most come with a little pipe-cleaner brush, to get any remnants of smoothie out. Personally, I think all restaurants should invest in these – it’s surely no different to using stainless steel cutlery.

3) Spork

Who doesn’t love a spork? The fork/knife/spoon combo that looks oh-so-dorky but is oh-so-good. I’ve had a spork for years, I used to take it to school on occasion and it’s just so easy to shove in your bag, maybe in a little pouch so it doesn’t get dirty. But if you suspect you’ll be grabbing some food while out that would usually come with plastic cutlery, just whack that in your bag and you’re all set. Guilt-free munching is the best type of munching, after all.

4) Lunch boxes

We all ought to be familiar with this one. Who didn’t walk to primary/secondary school, lunch bag swinging in the wind? or tucked in your backpack? If you didn’t personally, I’m certain you had friends who did. But lunch boxes are the best way to avoid wrapping sandwiches etc. in foil or cling film, particularly if they’re partitioned. Just pack it tightly enough and nothing will go rolling around!

5) Flannels

The most popular methods of taking makeup off, at least that I’ve encountered, are with cotton pads or wet wipes. Both of these produce tonnes of unnecessary waste for something that can be achieved so easily with flannels. I personally use the Garnier Micellar Gel face wash with a wet flannel to remove my makeup every day – just chuck ’em in a bowl until you get a chance to wash them with your regular towels (the makeup comes out with no extra effort, though add stain remover if you wear liquid lipstick a lot!). But this is both cheaper, because I rarely need to buy cotton pads, and more environmentally friendly. Plus, the flannel gives you a bit of an exfoliation while you’re there.

6) Bags for Life

You’ll have heard about these to no end over the last year or so if you live in the UK, ever since the government introduced the 5p charge for disposable plastic bags. But I’m gonna go into it anyway! I have a variety of these types of bags – from totes, to hessian, to some indescribable fabric and more. And it’s so easy to fold up a tote bag or another bag of thin fabric into your handbag (or pocket, if you’re a dude). Just keep one there. Permanently. If you take it out and use it, put it back as soon as you’ve emptied it. Be like me and my lip balms – have one on hand 24/7! Even if you don’t need it during the day, a friend might. And it’s worth lending it to them if it means one less animal accidentally swallowing a disposable one, right?

7) Sign petitions!

If you sign one, you’ll get emailed about more. That’s the general rule with petitions, as far as I’ve found – I reliably sign Greenpeace ones, which pop into my inbox every now and again, but if I stumble across any on social media I’ll usually pop my name on those too. But recently it stopped Holland and Barrett selling krill, which is whales’ main food source and vital for ocean health, so they do work if enough people pay attention! And you can easily share them around, as me and a friend frequently do to each other.

8) Reusable baking sheets

It’s beyond easy to just wrap something in foil and shove it in the oven, but in many instances, it’s just as easy to use a reusable baking sheet. Just give it a good scrub each side between uses and you’re good to go.

9) Go for glasses and cans

When you’re doing your weekly shopping, or just decide you need some drinks in, try to go for the ones that come in cans or glass bottles, rather than the ones in plastic bottles – they’re easier to recycle and won’t contribute to the plastic-in-the-ocean problem. This works for things like coke, lemonade, tonic and other juicy drinks. It’s not always possible (you rarely find water in glass bottles, but that’s what tip 1 is for), but it is a lot of the time.

10) Watch out for palm oil products

The tips I’ve given so far are pretty quick and simple, I should think, but this one can be trickier. So many products on our supermarket shelves include palm oil, and I try my best to stay away from as many of them as possible. Take peanut butter, for example – this is something that definitely doesn’t need palm oil in it, and there are some brands I can tell you are 100% palm oil free: Sunpat, Tesco’s own (a new range that I am thrilled about!! they now do a variety of nut butters which only contain the nut, nothing else), and Meridian (more expensive). If you’re unaware about the problems with palm oil, click here for an overview.

So there we go! 10 easy ways to start being a little kinder to the earth this summer. Why not switch it up?

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