I hope no one is reading this… But if you are, keep these special travel recommendations from Scotland to yourself 😉 If these lessons from the road inspire you, please tell everyone you know. I’m here to talk about the incredible benefits of travel as well as its uglier side, that we all must be aware of. Ultimately I believe travel (of the right kind) is what opens our minds and hearts and makes us better versions of ourselves. Thanks for reading!
Location: Aboyne, Cairngorms
Duration: 12 weeks
It feels like home…
Feeling like we were ‘home’ despite never visiting this place before was both an unusual and pleasant feeling.
Although we had visited many beautiful and historical parts of Scotland including Loch Ness and Edinburgh, it was only when we settled in the Cairngorms National Park that we felt totally at peace.
With no rhyme or reason we both sensed with our feet firmly on the Scottish soil that we belonged. A sense of peace if you like.
A feeling that was stronger than when we were on our ‘home turf’, which for me was the New Forest, UK and for Lionel France.
More from the series…
So, what was the first thing that attracted us to this part of the world? Well, the Cairngorms is the UK’s largest National Park. Do I need to go on?
As big nature advocates and enthusiasts for the great outdoors, it sounded like paradise before we even reached our destination, with more mountains, forest paths, rivers, lochs, wildlife hotspots and friendly villages than you can possibly imagine. In fact, five of the UK’s six highest mountains are located here.
The first significant difference to most other parts of the UK included: Less cars on the road, smaller local community shops, a better approach to food, a greater sense of community; as well as lots of open wide spaces, cleaner air, and a slower pace of life.
We stayed with local hosts Anna and Wayne, living and working remotely. Anna is an outdoor mountain bike enthusiast and has been instrumental in building an awesome community bike park in the heart of the Bell Woods. A wonderful opportunity to witness the change of the seasons in one of the most beautiful parts of the United Kingdom.
This part of the journey couldn’t have been more different from our digital nomad lives on the island of Madeira, where we were surrounded by a community of nomads, weekly activities, and social gatherings.
But we didn’t miss it. Scotland was the perfect place to refuel and reflect.
3 lessons from being on the road this autumn
1 – Rewilding Our Planet Is The Answer
“We must rewild the world. It is easier than you think. A century from now our planet could be a wild place again.” – David Attenborough
Vast areas of Scotland are to be rewilded and during my time here I became immersed and obsessed with its ability to allow wildlife to flourish and communities to thrive.
A recent report from Rewilding Britain found that rewilding 5% of England could create nearly 20,000 rural jobs, increasing employment by 50 percent compared to intensive farming. Rewilding is great for communities, fighting climate change, and supporting wildlife.
During my time in Scotland, I had the opportunity to interview Alan at Trees for Life, a charity that is rewilding the Highlands.
I also visited 2 exciting rewilding projects, the first being Mar Lodge and the second Alladale Nature Reserve who have long campaigned for the return of wolves to the Scottish Highlands.
Moreover, my work on the Climate Hero project with Mossy Earth, experts in rewilding, reached new heights.
Here are 5 reasons why rewilding is a key solution and why nature is our best ally in the fight against climate change.
- Rewilding our land and sea pulls carbon out of the air and stores it
- Rewilding prevents natural disasters and supports biodiversity
- It can and has been proven to enhance local communities
- Rewilding can play a huge role in reversing climate change
- It can help reverse a 6th Mass Extinction
To win, Nature needs to be in the driving seat.
2 – A Digital Detox Is Better Than Any 5-star Spa
When we think of relaxation, unwinding, and reconnecting with ourselves an indulgent (and often costly) spa may be one of the first things that come to mind.
Whilst living as a digital nomad in Scotland, a digital detox, which I hadn’t bargained for, was forced upon me. At that moment I realised how effective it was and I like to think it had a very profound effect on me.
It all happened the moment the lights went out.
For many of us, being connected and immersed in the digital world (where your smartphone can sometimes feel like an extra limb) is just a part of everyday life and the ping of a notification feels all too familiar.
So, when a storm which uprooted thousands of trees resulted in no electricity for over 60 hours across Scotland, including the village of Aboyne where we were staying, my digital detox had begun without warning.
As usual my phone had 2% battery left so once the lights went out my phone quickly followed suit. My laptop’s battery is knackered so that was a no-go. The TV was obviously out of action, so this connection to the digital world was instantly out – which seemed even more poignant at the time than the lights.
Just as an arcade game unplugged at the wall, I felt like I had been ‘unplugged’. That evening I had a long list of ‘to do’s’ already written down but when the lights went off they faded away without another thought.
With the unnatural lights that ensure we are no longer in tune with the setting of the sun now gone and with no candles around, the orange flame which burned faintly in the log burner supported the feeling of slowing down, a feeling of peace and all the benefits that a digital detox brings.
“Though it can be easy to forget in our technologically advanced age, at our root, we’re wild beings that, over time, have become domesticated. But while we’re no longer living in caves, our inner wild human is still there – and it has needs. And it’s only when those needs are met that we can experience true health and happiness.” – Tony Riddle
It’s worth saying, I’m no virgin to a digital detox.
When staying at the amazing Eco Retreats in Wales, one of the most memorable long weekends ever, I couldn’t believe the difference. So, this wasn’t anything new.
But expecting a detox is a very different experience from being caught completely off-guard.
The vast majority of us have lost control over how we let tech into our lives. Even Mark Zuckerberg has publicly acknowledged the powers of tech and how it can damage mental well-being.
A study in Sweden found that heavy technology use among young adults was linked to sleeping problems, depressive symptoms, and increased stress levels. That’s not to mention how distracting they are from the ‘real moments’ you can often miss and the negative effects on genuine productivity.
Since the experience I thought long and hard about introducing a more regular digital detox, rather than waiting for an unusual situation which results in electricity lines going down, which could happen once a decade if I’m lucky.
Whether it be once a week, or a weekend every month. A regular digital detox is the new kid on the block.
3 – Random Acts Of Kindness
The news has not been easy to digest recently whether it’s the pandemic, the predictions of global warming or the number of refugees fleeing for their lives. When you take a look at what’s been going on in the world, it’s easy to feel down.
That is why I make a conscious effort to remember the ordinary people who are doing good in the world every single day.
The local people we were lucky enough to meet in Scotland were ambassadors for kindness and compassion.
Whether it was Carolyn, a local running lady welcoming me with open arms to her group and training me in her spare time to have the confidence to run 10k; or Anna, our wonderful host who helped me to find a bike so I could enjoy the local trails; or when the entire village lost electricity and heating for 60 hours and villagers instantly looked at how they could take care of each other… I could continue to list the small acts of kindness we witnessed every week.
In this fast-paced, highly digitalised world, where the most popular words are “busy” or “hectic”, a reminder of the random acts of ‘kindness’ is always worth shining a light upon.
Did you know? Researchers have found that being kind to ourselves or to anyone else or actively observing kindness boosts our happiness levels.
In these challenging times, we could all benefit from a little boost. Compassion and kindness are also proven to reduce stress and boost our immune systems, it can even slow ageing!
5 top recommendations for the Cairngorms
1. Burn O’ Vat
The Burn O’ Vat and Culblean Circular Walk is a forest trail that invites you to enjoy the beauty of the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve in Aboyne, Scotland.
Pinewoods hug the trail that leads up to the mysterious and impressive Burn O’ Vat, a deep geological bowl that can be explored up-close. It feels like something from an Indiana Jones film.
Top tip: When the water levels allow, climb inside the bowl. Then on the left-hand side climb the rocks up to the top of the waterfall. Follow the stream along to find paradise and tranquillity amongst the trees.
2. Loch Kinord
One of the most special places to visit at dusk or dawn. This small, freshwater loch was a place to disconnect and reconnect with nature. It lies just north of the River Dee and east of Ballater.
Top tip: Visiting this lock at dusk or dawn is by far the best time. Less people, less dogs and you’ll likely enjoy more nature sightings. We even walked back in the dark after Nick Baker’s recommendation to do so in his book Rewild.
3. Alladale Wilderness Reserve
After working closely with Mossy Earth for the past year, we were invited to visit the impressive Alladale Wilderness Reserve to spend the day with Hannah, a conservation biologist and her trusty dog. Recognised as one of ‘National Geographic‘s Best of the World’: six places to rediscover nature for 2021 and beyond, it was a real treat.
The moment we arrived we were confronted by 6 magnificent, mature stags wandering across the garden. They were shadowing one of the rangers as he was filling the bird-feeders with hearty peanuts for the cold winter ahead.
Although striking in its beauty, the Highlands are not what they once were. Bleak and barren, this reserve was once home to lush pine forests and large predators including Wolves.
“Few people know that just one percent of what the Romans called the Great Forest of Caledon remains today.” – Alladale website.
The team at Alladale alongside Mossy Earth are doing a sterling job to rewild this broken land. Planting 1 million trees, restoring damaged peatlands, bringing back the red squirrel, they are also an active participant in the recovery of the threatened Scottish Wildcat.
Top tip: I’m not sure if you can visit without staying at one of the beautiful (but pricey) lodges here. We were able to as part of the rewilding projects we support but it was unclear if the everyday walker would be able to just stroll in.
4. Mar Lodge
Mar Lodge Estate is a 29,340-hectare estate within the heart of the Cairngorms and a must-visit. Four of the five highest peaks in Scotland can be found here.
Over 5,000 species have been recorded at Mar Lodge, many of which are rare or endangered. Reducing grazing levels has been key to kickstarting the rewilding process and replanting native trees is an ongoing effort.
Click below to watch a short video of my time there.
5. The Seven Bridges – Ballater
The Seven Bridges walk starts in the quaint town of Ballater with its rushing water, mountains and majestic woods. What more could you ask for?
And there really are 7 bridges to cross. Each one is unique in its own way and there’s a real sense of adventure every new bridge you cross.
Do you have an eco-hotel or sustainable retreat in Scotland? Then we’d love to hear from you. Click here to make an enquiry and we’ll be in touch very soon.
If you enjoyed these recommendations and lessons learned, why not explore Madeira here, a popular place for digital nomads, hikers, nature-lovers and adventure holidays.
If you feel inspired to find out more about rewilding and sustainable, responsible and slow travel visit my channel here.