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Explaining Scotland Health and wellbeing

Guest article written by Tammy Reynolds: why would a Millennial choose to live in the Scottish Highlands?

Perhaps some context might help. I am very much a southerner, grew up in the Cotswolds and spent my college years in London, I like bubble tea and social media. Yes, I am a millennial.

And now I live -very nearly- in the middle of nowhere, Highlands of Scotland.

Why do you ask? Well, let me tell you, both the pros and cons of living in this beautiful part of the world.

Pros

  1. Fresher air

I don’t know about you, but I found breathing in the stale, sweat-ridden, thick air of the London underground quite suffocating at times. We get so used to the undesirable smells of the city that we become nose-blind. We tend to ignore much of our surroundings this way, but up here, with the freshest of air all around me, I’m finding myself smelling things again, like the fresh scent of pine trees, the smell of water and fresh bread. Yes, there’s also the undesirable smells of sheep and cow poops, but it only makes you all the more appreciative of the nicer smells.

family walks in the Cairngorms

The peaceful scenery of Loch Mallachie, near Boat of Garten

 

  1. Peace and Quiet

I know that for some, quiet drives them mad. But up here, spending time in the quiet can actually be rather loud. The birds are tweeting, the wind is blowing, rain is pattering on, amazing what you can hear when you shut up for a little bit. There’s almost a symphonic way the sounds up here come to be, it has helped me gather my thoughts in a natural and non-pressured way, just by sitting on a chair in my back garden. Also, with quiet comes confidence, the wildlife that surrounds me up here brings about little footsteps of squirrels and the flapping of birds nearby. What a way to make yourself feel like a Disney princess.

 

  1. Sense of Community

People actually say hello and have a conversation with you, cares for who you are as a person. A casual walk in the forest with your pup becomes a full-on chin-wag with another walker, you get to see all of those you tend to see in your routine but also have the chance to meet someone new who is just as friendly as the rest of them. Being here surrounded by those types of people has changed my sense of self. I never have to put on a facade around here as people tend to be open and accepting.

 

  1. Closer to Nature

I cannot stress enough how important being close to nature is to all of us. We are finding more and more people not just my age, but older and younger, to have bouts of depression and other mental issues that cannot be solved by medicine alone. Doctors are now starting to recognise the importance of nature and are now starting to prescribe wild therapy as a source for healing. And I can vouch, it definitely does help, I cannot stress this enough.

 

Yellow fungus in spring

Nature bursting back into life during spring hiking.

 

  1. Better mindset

We’ve come to realise just how much we need friends in this world. But some people will say they don’t really have close friends apart from their partner, or if they do have friends, it’s not as deep of a friendship as they would like. I can truly say that being here, has led us to have the closest friends we’ve ever had, but that because of the effort we go to in order to create a deeper relationship with them, we invite round for dinner, often have coffees and go to the same places where we know they’d be just so we can see them. The fact that there’s not really as many people up here suggests that when you find a friend, keep them! It is a mindset that’s been ingrained in us more so whilst living here, and it is something that we felt we didn’t have to do when in the city because everyone, including ourselves, was way too busy to have the time for any of that. Here, I found that not only do I have enough time, but I also have a desire to keep in touch. What a difference!

 

  1. Not missing the practicalities at all

We had decided, initially that we were going to move into the city to get all the amenities closer to us, the practicality of it all will obviously just make our lives better. But having lived there, we found that we haven’t really made use of all the practicalities available to us, or when we did, it really wasn’t for the benefit of our health. We were growing lazy and annoyed at the littlest things like the delivery guy being late, or fighting over which place to order from… being up here made us realise how silly all those things were in the larger sense and that not having that luxury (and it is a luxury) makes us think twice about the decisions we make about our health and to use our time more wisely.

 

Cons

  1. Public transport

The busses come not every 3 minutes, not every hour (only on weekends) but every so often, it sometimes misses an hour and comes at the weirdest times when it’s not really convenient. Whilst I was working in different areas and still haven’t passed my driving test, I’ve had to make use of this service and it was one of the most stressful things I’ve had to deal with. The good thing is though, the drivers are very nice. The busses charges you on where you’re getting off, so saying ‘a day pass’ probably won’t work.

 

  1. Narrow roads and crazy drivers

I started learning to drive in Sheffield where it’s hilly, full of bends and one way systems. I thought that it was hard doing it there, but that changed when I first started driving around the Highlands. My husband calls it exciting, but I call it dangerous.

 

  1. Potholes

The extremes of weather that we suffer from here in the highlands truly does not help the conditions of the roads we have to drive on. As a result, we always have road-works. On the one hand, at least they’re fixing it, but on the other, road-works.

 

  1. Allergies

Don’t get me wrong, I love nature. But when I thought I had hay fever allergies playing up in the south of England, the level has been pushed up to an extent that when summer comes and I breathe in the air, I can guarantee that I’d be bug-eyed and sniffling a few minutes later. There are ways to get around this of course, so it’s not too much of a con, but there have been some days when I truly cannot breathe because of the pollen count outside. This is a curse with no cure I’m afraid.

 

  1. Finding where to live

When my husband and I decided it was time to move back, we had to spend at least 5 months constantly searching for a place to live. It was tough going, and the main way to find somewhere is through word of mouth because it isn’t the type of place to post online. Every property online that you may be able to find are always the ones for sale, and as a millennial, there is no way we can afford to buy a house up in this place. Perhaps one day, but now? Perhaps not.

It was one of the most satisfying things, however, when we finally found somewhere to live because we were making friends in the process and we found that we were already welcomed well before we truly moved in.

 

But all in all, it’s just a very beautiful place to be in. For once, after having moved in so many different places, I’ve found a place I can make my home.

Fraoch Lodge

Enjoy the open fire and discussions in the lounge

 

Perhaps you’ve seen the winter edition of this post, and so I give you the summer edition because it’s actually one of the busiest seasons we have up here. Many who travel to the highlands are usually well versed in what it has to offer, but if you’re wanting to visit in the summer and you’ve never been before, here are some summer tips that I hope you can find useful.

 

  1. No heels, ever.

Unless you’re here for a wedding or some other occasion, then yes, wear whatever you like. However, if you were going to go out and have an adventure, wearing heels is not the way forward around here. There’s just nowhere you can warrant wearing it, so just don’t bother. The terrains aren’t particularly forgiving and even though it is summertime, bogs, rain and mud are still a big aspect of the Highland way of life, whatever the season. I learnt this the hard way folks, don’t be like me. Flip flops you can probably get away with, as it probably has less risks of breaking your ankle.

  1. The Highland sun is a deceiver

You start your holiday after a good night’s rest, you pull at your curtains and see the sunshine and blue skies and you cannot wait to get your adventure started. From one look you assume that it’s going to be a warm day but hold your horses. Anyone who’s lived in the UK or in Scotland, in particular, knows that the weather can change in a smidgen of time, one minute it’s warm, then it’s freezing the next. It takes only one puff of wind to get your shivering again and it’s not nice at all when you aren’t prepared.

When up here in the summer, do enjoy the sun if you happen to catch it, but also, don’t be a fool and come prepared. The weather laughs at those who don’t give it the respect it deserves.

The big day on Braeriach during the Cairngorm 4000ers

 

  1. Don’t underestimate the sun

Yes, yes, you managed to catch the sun whilst it blessed us with its presence, but you felt as though it’s not really that warm because of the wind. That’s when it can catch you out I’m afraid. Because the wind is cold and you can’t directly feel the heat of the sun on you doesn’t mean it’s not burning you. I’ve seen people with red arms and necks because they refused to wear sunscreens. It wasn’t that sunny, they said, it wasn’t even that warm, they said.

The thing about Scottish summertime is that it’s not really here that often and when it is, we tend to complain about it being way too warm for our Highland skin. We can never get the balance right and we never will, it is a subject matter that’s started our small talks since the beginning of time and it shall remain so until its end.

But yes, be prepared, wear your sunscreen.

Magical Mull, June 2021

  1. The water is always Baltic

I don’t know if you’ve ever dipped in a Highland Loch before, or into the west coast sea, but if you have, you’ll know that the water despite being under the sun for a while, will never reach that desired temperature that will entice you to swim in it. It looks tempting, we know, but unless you know how to control your breathing in cold water, we suggest you wear a wetsuit.

There are some areas of the north-west coast of Scotland that are awesome for some surfing, but you’ll never see those surfers even in the heat of summer wear anything but their wetsuits, and they still come out with blue lips. Perhaps if you’re brave and don’t mind losing a few toes then go ahead, we can watch with our dogs on the beach.

The famous castle on Loch an Eilean, Glens, Forests and Lochs

 

  1. Midges are agents from hell

If you’ve never encountered a Scottish midge before, we suggest you sit down and listen up. Midges have the power to make the toughest people cry. They are horrible little insects that bite you and suck your blood, sound familiar? Yes, we understand that mosquitoes are probably just as bad, but these little critters somehow make you feel as though you’re completely incapable of doing anything, even to do something as mundane as breathing. Bring loads and loads and LOADS of midgey spray with you, bathe in it if you have to, even then you probably will be bothered by them.

Unlike mosquitoes you see, midges come in swathes, they can create clouds of darkness that can surround you in seconds, as soon as that sun goes down.

They breed on the boggy places, which is basically what the highlands of Scotland is made of. Pray for wind and have some spray, because this creature is something out of the gates of hell.

 

  1. Tic season

Whilst here in the summertime and you’ve had a lovely walk in the woods with your friends and pets, do make time to do a ‘tic check’ when you get back. Because of livestock around and the warm weather, they multiply in droves. And tics can be the source of Lyme’s Disease. Please be aware of your surroundings as this is a very lovely place to be, but there are also risks. It’s better than worrying about snakes I suppose.

 

There you have it, something for you guys to consider when trying to plan some time up in the Highlands of Scotland in the summertime.

by Tezhara Mae Reynolds

These thoughts on how to appreciate nature which surrounds her were recorded by Tammy prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. They should still resonate with many and may even have more relevance now we’ve all been forced to step back from seemingly busy lives and “stay at home to save lives”.

After travelling down south for Christmas last year, I came to the staggering realisation about how much living in the Highlands has changed my life. I say to myself: “Never compare” but it’s something you can’t help. If when you go away, you instantly start missing home, you know you’re living in the right place.

For me, there is magic in the Highlands. Most of you may find this dubious, but in an area where mobile reception can be a luxury and saying hello to people that pass you is almost a necessity, it’s easier to focus on what’s going on around you. You become more aware of how much worldy things don’t really matter so much. Your thoughts can slowly, and peacefully get themselves into some sort of order.

As I said, magic.

best walks in Scotland

On the way to Britains’s second highest peak, Ben Macdui. Perfect photo opportunity.

Turn off and tune in

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that if we let go of our devices, we can discover more than enough time to be creative. Being in the Cairngorms has helped me realise that though I come to be reliant on these gadgets, that I can also find the time to let them go and look up. There is also joy to be had in writing with a pen; painting, knitting, cooking … loads of more productive skills that many of us rediscovered during lockdown. Lockdown has also reinforced the value of nature, and the outdoors. Many more of us have taken the time to explore by bike or on foot under travel restrictions – long may that last.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not denying the fact that technology is the way forward and that ignoring it would only hinder myself. I love the creations we humans have made over the years and how truly incredible they are, but we should also come to open our eyes to what’s already been made around us. We’re so closed in four walls of either an office or our own homes that we forget how we’re actually able to live in the most primal sense of the word.

We breathe air that trees make, we eat food that comes from the soil of the ground, we drink the water that flows from our streams and into our taps. We have a beautiful world and we shouldn’t ignore its beauty.

family walks for all ages.

Perfect spot to rest up after a wee walk. Popular in the middle of the day.

How to appreciate nature

I am so lucky to live in a place where I am constantly reminded of nature’s beauty.  Yes, the weather can be a bit drab, but it is one of the main reasons that I feel changed and challenged by the area.

There are some negatives to exploring the great outdoors. I don’t know when the last time was that you felt truly uncomfortable. Do you remember the wind biting at you with every gust? Was the rain drenching you down to the bone and the pain in your feet is threatening your very happiness? Though it may seem miserable in the moment, strangely enough this is not what you remember and talk about at the end of the day. It is through the discomforts of walking up these hills (where those experiences can easily happen) that I come to realise that we are not made of glass. We are not as fragile as we seem and that we are more than capable of conquering pain and discomfort, and we can use that to fuel what we can do next.

It is when we do something out of our comfort zone, (and believe me, it is well and truly out of my comfort zone,) that we tend to only remember what we’ve learnt and the good times we shared with those who we did the adventure with or to those who ask about it. We tell them how hard it was and how far you’ve had to walk, but there you are, standing next to them. You survived all that hardship and you’re telling your tale… and they admire you for it.

How to be comfortable with yourself

I have found that my confidence grew through the admiration of others. Then being comfortable in my own skin became easier and easier. I pushed myself to know where my limits are. Now I am not jealous or envious of those who do more or do less. I have come to see that there is no such thing as competition when it comes to living and challenging yourself. The only enemy you have is  your own mind.

But then again, this may not be for everyone long term, and I get that, but there is no denying that everyone needs this kind of time for themselves as well.

I’ve come to stop putting people, especially myself, in boxes with labels on them. We’re just people, going about our own lives. We put ourselves in labels in order to truly tell ourselves that we belong somewhere and that we’re not alone. If we were all the same, this world would not be what it is today. Yes, it’s pretty messy sometimes but in the grander scheme of things, we only truly want one thing. The freedom to express ourselves in our own unique ways.

Conclusion

The Cairngorms has taught me all of this. You see, nature doesn’t choose who it teaches. She (nature) will let anyone and everyone know of her wisdom if you only give her the respect she requires. It is scary, but also magnificent. It’s intimidating but also majestic. It’s as if the hills I’ve come to see almost every day whispered to me to just let the reins go on my mind. I might just be crazy, but aren’t we all?

 

If you’d like to start exploring either your local area of the Cairngorms National Park, take a look at our advice on gear

You might also like to look at our advice on gear specific to exploring hillwalking in Scotland.

With the newspapers declaring that the UK is going to be hit by -yet another- coldest winter in a hundred years, it’s probably best for the winter adventurers to get kitted up the right way.

I write this because I was a tourist once, and now I’m a local and thus can now see the foolishness in some tourists’ choice of clothing when it comes to tackling the Scottish weather. And let me tell you, some can be truly foolish indeed.

Now, I’m not saying that you’ll do any of these foolish things, but I only write about it because I’ve actually seen some people do it, so I can only hope and pray that no one else will have to ruin their holiday to this magnificent part of the world because they weren’t dressed right.

So if you’re planning a trip up here in the winter, whatever you may end up doing, I hope these tips will prove useful to you.

  1. Hats

As a relatively young person, I’m one to appreciate good fashion that the aspect of ‘looking good’ sometimes trumps being practical. But trust me when I say that there are both fashionable and practical headwear out there that won’t intrude on your ‘image’ and keep your ears warm at the same time.

I myself had this winter hat, the branded kind that I cannot name here, but it had a fairly big tick on it. It was fairly pricey too and was a nice colour. However, the colour nor the tick did anything to keep my head warm. In fact, the thing was probably using my body warmth to keep itself warm.

The Scottish winds can be truly penetrating you see, and you only find out just how much when you wear a hat you wished would do more than just say you’re very much a city person.

There are plenty of outdoor shops where we are where you can buy hats for a price, yes it’s also labelled with a brand, but at least you know that it’s a brand that works towards practical solutions as well as looking sweet.

I, for one, haven’t looked back.

  1. Scarves

I get given one of these at least once every year, and it’s usually Christmas, from a distant relative who got me for Secret Santa and doesn’t really know me well enough to get me something a little bit more personal.

Don’t get me wrong, I love scarves, but I personally have way too many of them and to be honest, I find wearing them just gets in the way.

Let’s say you come up here and you and your family decide to go for a walk around the forest or even up the Cairngorms if you’re feeling lucky. You have your scarf on and every single second, the wind is blowing it off your neck and onto your face, sticking to your thickly lip-balmed lips. I have seen way too many pictures of people standing on the mountainside with their scarves taking up half the picture.

Think something more practical and use a buff! I can say it has truly changed my life. There’s no more wrapping in special ways, no more having my head buried in breezy fabrics, I’ve actually got something closer to my body keeping it warm with no risk of it being blown away.

  1. Footwear

This one was kind of relates to the whole fashion thing already mentioned about the hats, but this one is a bit of a bigger topic, especially to the younger ones.

My husband is an outdoor instructor and will sometimes, if not most of the time, take a group of young’uns up on the hill for a walk, get their bodies working. Sometimes he encounters a ‘mare of a child where they had worn a very expensive and fashionable pair of shoes up the hill and has it end up in the slightest bit of bog en route to the top.

Let me tell you something about the Scottish marshes and trails, bogs are almost always guaranteed. So please, wear something appropriate!

  1. Waterproofs

If there’s anything Scotland is known for, it’s the weather. We don’t really shut up about it here and for good reason. It’s pretty ‘dreich’ all the time, which brings me to the point of waterproofs.

I’ve had 3 just being here, and the reason I’ve had three is that the Scottish rain managed to whet out the previous two and ruin it forever. They were the better makes too! It just goes to show that there is really no going against the elements up here. And as a tourist, it is better for you to just accept this and be more prepared to tackle it because it’ll be you getting the last laugh.

There was a couple I saw once un Cairngorm skiing, with jeans on. JEANS! Needless to say, I shook my head at them, inwardly, of course, I’m not a monster. But at the bottom, both their bottoms were drenched and their legs were aching not because of the skiing but because they had to roll up their already tight jeans up their legs to put the skiing boots on. Please, don’t be like them.

The drier the better.

  1. Emergency Clothing

Since you’re already going to be bringing a bag with you, why not just add a clean and dry pair of socks in there, maybe an umbrella, a few plastic bags, a buff and anything that could potentially save your day from being miserable.

If, say, you did step into a bog and your feet are now wet and muddy, there’s nothing more comforting than knowing you’ve got a spare and then slip on the plastic bag so as to not re-enter the dirty shoes with your clean socks. It was most definitely one of my saving graces when a small outing turned into an epic.

 

There you have it, most of those things you should already know, of course, this wasn’t meant to make you feel dumb, just as a wee reminder. And please, do enjoy the Highlands, it’s a one of a kind.

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