• Blog,  Home,  In the Kitchen,  The Cottage

    Our Yorkshire Cottage Kitchen – Low Cost Decor

    This post contains affiliate links, marked *.

    Welcome to our Yorkshire cottage kitchen – the place where cake and tea and coffee and biscuits lurk! Hoorah. You’ll need some slippers as the tiled floor is freezing, the walls are insulated with actual rubble and one single old duvet stuffed under a windowsill, and the sun only shines through the window for approximately 2 months of the year… but it’s homely, welcoming, and today I’m going to chat through how we did it – including how much it cost!

    It’s important to us to use as much secondhand stuff as we can. Having previously worked in charity

    retail for a good few years it really opened my eyes to the sheer amount of amazing, perfectly good stuff that is thrown away every single day. Most of our furniture is from charity shops, freecycle and eBay (and most of my clothes, too) and we try and repair things as best we can. With this in mind, and on a very tight budget, we decided to make over the kitchen a little to fit more with our style.

    So firstly, we enter through this small door! Mr. GF has to duck everytime. It was originally dark brown woodstain like pretty much everything when we moved in, so we painted it blue and put the window in too to let some light in as the kitchen is very dark. I painted the frame white too (of course it was brown!). I love this door but have no idea why it is so small!

    The conservatory tiles are the original ones from when we moved in, we haven’t had either the budget or the motivation to do anything about them yet. They’re fine, not quite to our taste but not entirely offensive, so they’re staying for now.

    Back to the kitchen!

    We bought the table with the house and I love it. We wood-burned our names and the date we moved in onto it so it feels special! It’s a good size for the room although we have no idea how the previous owners managed to get it through the door…maybe they built it in situ?!

    One wooden chair is from my childhood home and the rest are from Oxfam (£5 each!). On that note, the Le Creusset kettle is also from Oxfam, as is the enamel breadbin.

    When we moved in, there was a gorgeous Rayburn tucked in the chimney breast that also heated the hot water. However, it proved so expensive to run that we decided to change the oven. Luckily we were able to give it away to a good home, and even more luckily, found this beautiful blue Rangemaster on Freecycle! We were able to snap it up and bring it home, and after a VERY good clean we had it professionally installed (this is a must due to legalities!) across on the other side of the kitchen.

    We had to buy a new cover for the back as it was missing and not legal, but this was cheaper than I expected (I think about £25?) direct from Rangemaster. We also bought an extractor which was on sale. Whilst the gas fitters were here we had the old gas pipes sealed off in the chimney area. After one too many times bumping our heads we decided to turn the chimney space into a pantry/larder instead.

    We reduced the amount of cupboards when we re-did everything, so having this space to keep dry goods, baking supplies and tins in is so helpful. The curtains (terribly sewn by myself) also hide the microwave. We just have wire racking inside and a few baskets. The spice cupboard to the left was here when we moved in, of course, again it was stained dark brown! Many coats of paint later it’s now cream-ish and full of lovely smelling spices.

    The clothes airer is so useful – one of the iron hangers was snapped when we moved in. Luckily a friend had some spare so we did a barter exchange. I can’t believe it but yes, again, the original wood slats were stained dark brown (!!) resulting in every bit of washing absorbing a nice dark brown line across it… so we replaced the wood as well. We are going to strip the beams too, one day, but after doing the same in the living room we still haven’t quite recovered from the ordeal. So it may be a few more years!

    Fairy lights, Wharfdale speakers and blue glass net float all from charity shops!

    We re-did all the cupboards as the old ones were really small, old, and starting to fall to bits. We got the actual cupboards from a place on eBay that sells B&Q returns and damaged stock and luckily just the boxes were damaged so we got a bargain! The oak doors were very kindly given to us by my lovely cousin who was redoing their kitchen. I’ve contemplated painting them but really like the bare wood so am sticking with it. I’ve seen lots of kitchen units and doors on freecycle over the years so it’s worth keeping an eye out. There are also companies that do new fronts for IKEA cupboard units so that might be a cheaper option to refresh, rather than buying new units.

    The splashback behind the oven and around the worktops is made from reclaimed roofing slates which were pretty cheap and look great. We varnished them once in place, so they’re easy to scrub clean. The total cost for all the slates came in at £20, plus another £15 for grout and adhesive – I can’t quite remember the exact adhesive we used but it was similar to this
    Evo-Stik adhesive and grout*.
    The wooden cupboard on the wall houses the electrics and is made out of old pallet wood by DIY maestro Mr. GF. Talking of pallet wood, all the windowsills are also made from old pallets! It’s doing the windowsills in this house that you realise why it’s so cold.

    These kitchen ones have just a huge gaping space underneath, with some convenient holes in the wall that go straight outside. No insulation at all (the rest of the house has none either, just rubble in between the thick stone walls!). We had an old duvet so stuffed that in to try and stop the wind whistling through, and jammed the worst holes up with expanding foam.

    I had always dreamed of having a Belfast sink, and we managed to get ours from ‘Bargain Corner’ at IKEA for less than half the price of a new one. This cost us £40 as we also had a £20 voucher! I think it is an IKEA Domsjo, which has apparently been discontinued now, which is sad. (I had a look on Amazon and this looks like quite a similar Belfast Sink* that seems to have good reviews). Mr. GF made some legs for it from metal poles, and again I used my awful sewing skills to make a curtain to hide underneath (washing powder and spiders!).

    I love the old tiled floor even though it is freezing and shatters anything you drop on it. I get tempted by all the beautiful shiny kitchens you see on social media but I just really like that we’ve managed to make a quality, homely space that’s unique. Using lots of old bits of wood and pallets to turn into shelves, cupboards and windowsills gives it quite an organic feel – again I like colour but I think really I prefer the natural wood with all its knots and grain.

    Lastly, here’s our coffee station – not much second hand here except the Krups grinder from eBay (you can find a similar Krups Coffee Grinder on Amazon* but definitely look for a second hand one, you can get some good bargains!) and the shelving made from old planks. Fun fact – the top one is straight when you put a spirit level on, but looks wonky…optical illusion! Or too much coffee, maybe. 😉 Again, the tiles are roofing slates.

    We painted this whole wall in shiny copper paint in a fit of excitement and I love it. It really warms this cold, dark room up. I’m not sure metallics are so ‘cool’ any more but I don’t care. It makes all the wood look nice and really goes quite well with the white and grey of the other walls. We used Crown Metallic Paint in Copper*. The walls themselves are very wonky and the metallic shows up all the lumps and bumps which actually I quite like, it gives areas of shadow and light where you’re least expecting!

    Total costs.
    In total, the kitchen cost £845 for absolutely everything. That includes £200 for tradesmen, all the petrol to drive to collect bits and bobs, all the fixtures, paint, and fittings (including to change the hot water heater over). It even includes paint brushes! The most expensive thing was the Saljan worktop which we got new from IKEA and cost £150, followed by the cupboards which cost £140 in total, for 8 units (1 corner one) and a wine rack!

    Well that’s really everything for the kitchen, I think. I’m sure I’ll think of other things as soon as I put this post live but hey ho. Have you refreshed a room on a budget? What’s the best thing you’ve found on freecycle or second hand? I’d love to hear!


    *As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This does not cost you any extra, but means that if you make a purchase after following the link, I earn a small commission that helps to keep the blog going! You can find out more about my use of affiliate links here.

  • Blog,  Day to Day

    My mind is full

    My mind is full, and it’s ok. I learnt recently from a lecturer that they weren’t able to read any fiction books during their doctorate, because their mind was full of information for their studies. It made me think about how I’ve struggled to get back into reading for pleasure, struggled to get into doing anything, really, for the last year or so. After beating myself up for this repeated failure to get anything done, I’ve realised that’s probably happening to me, too. The reason isn’t because I’m useless, as my brain keeps helpfully suggesting. It’s because my mind is full.

    A bare tree in London with neon rope lights wound through the branches

    When I say full, I don’t mean full of knowledge, although I wish that was the case. My memory keeps hold of any given fact for approximately 3 seconds before chucking it over its shoulder and moving on to something more shiny. Instead, my mind is grinding away in the background, forging connections and figuring things out when I’m not paying attention. I feel like I’m not doing a lot, and it’s true, I’m not – but my mind is there, munching through information for me, until suddenly I wake up and am able to add some more words to my word count, analyse some more numbers, put something across in a way that finally makes sense.

    Figuring out how to work with my brain, not against it, is a whole new ball game. I’m trying to comprehend this newly discovered neurodiversity, understand how I process information (or not) and divert the tempting feeling of regret into something more powerful. I’m nearly 40 and it’s the first time I feel like I might be tentatively trying to make friends with my mind. It’s there, always full of a million things, seeing infinite connections and possibilities every hour of every day. It’s exhausting – but also exhilarating. How do I work alongside it?

    I’m finally working out why I can’t remember anything that happened in the last few hours, days or weeks. Why I’ve spent three years learning a subject and can’t remember even the most basic facts about it, but I know every boyband lyric from two decades ago. Why my mind is empty yet crammed full at the same time.

    The constant bit of a song or two on loop, the half-formed images that constantly replace each other, the quote from a tv show that plays round and round, the chattering, the lightening-quick overview of any problem and a million and one solutions, the big thinking and infinite ideas, but no clue how to actually start anything. Constantly losing things, but picking up on almost imperceptible information about a situation. White-hot anger and the deepest joys. It’s all still settling with me – yet I feel a kind of peace, too.

    I know now that I can feed it some complex problem, forget about it, and a few weeks later, my brain will have figured it out by itself. I’ll wake up one day and suddenly, I’ll be able to do The Thing that just recently was absolutely impossible. I trust that I will be able to produce work absolute last-minute that will be, if not perfect, to a decent standard, without having to draft and re-draft and re-draft. I try not to feel bad that I have to follow the whims of my brain – if it’s not into something, then it’s absolutely impossible to force it. Funny old thing.

    But brains aren’t infinite as much they feel it. It’s just recently I’ve realised just how much I’m asking mine to do. No wonder I come home and zone out watching youtube, scrolling, or floating away to the deep wub of drum and bass. That little lump of grey matter is munching through universes in the background. Studying for a PhD has upped the game, and I almost physically feel the limits. No wonder I find it hard to get anything started for this blog, much as I want to. My brain’s already pre-occupied and working full pelt.

    So, I’m going to try and cut my brain-friend some slack. I’ve spent 40 years at war with it, really, when it didn’t deserve it at all – it was just a little different from the norm. Of course it was.

    In those 40 years, my mind has never been empty. I never realised that you could think of nothing, or even just one thing at a time. It’s been like a 40-year rave inside my head and I’ve been like the spoilsports that call the cops and try and shut it down.

    I think it’s time to learn to dance alongside it, finally, although I think I’ll also need to make sure there’s a chill-out room, too…!




  • Blog

    Giving yourself permission to be

    Giving yourself permission to be

    I start most sentences with ‘now I’m 40…’ recently. It seems as though I’ve somehow shifted into a new phase of life, in this fourth decade. Although, it may just be a serendipitous coming together of a lot of things from the last few years, but the timing seems right, in a way. Has anyone else felt something similar as they get older? Like a settling into yourself, almost? Now I’m 40, I feel that… haha!

    I wanted to do a sort of ‘this is what I’ve learned’ thing, but I’m not that great at condensing things and I’m really not good at advice. So instead, here is a collection of thoughts and maybe one or two of them will resonate with someone. Or not! If you’re looking for an actual, helpful list of things, you can find that here, or watch Ethan Hawke’s TED talk on creativity here, which is pretty good. I like to read people’s thoughts and experiences and so I’m just going to ramble out some of that, instead.


    Letting go…


    In true Sal fashion, I’ve got loads of things I want to write down, but not really any idea how to start. I want to try and describe this shift into being able to choose what to hold on to, and what to let go. Although I think it’s not really a conscious process so much as a “I can’t be arsed with this any more” vibe instead! (Also, can I just interject here that the washing machine has just finished, and the glorious sunshine has immediately disappeared and now it’s raining. Humph). Anyway, I wanted to type out those things that are on their way out, in a sort of great final ‘sodding off’ list. So here they are:


    • Caring about being overweight: there’s a whole lot of history here which I won’t bore you with, but I imagine some people may have some similar thoughts. Safe to say, I’ve somehow become so annoyed with the whole thing that I refuse to care any more. Instead of trying to lose weight, I’m thinking about health, longevity, mental health, and sorting my duff knee out. Realising that bodies exist and change over time, and I currently exist in this one, at this time.


    • Thinking the only riches are monetary: I remember in my twenties absolutely wishing for just one day off a week, where I didn’t have to think about work. That wish seemed to work rather well although I seemingly forgot to ask the universe not to f* me over in the process – now I have a lot of time, but also a chronic illness and an inability to actually sustain a full time job. Hooray. Safe to say, if time was money, I’d be the next Elon (but less of the actual, y’know, Elon-ness). But if money was money (hear me out), currently I have not much at all, personally. What I’m trying to say is that there are loads of other things that are also good. (I hate that 9-5 ‘work’ is normal and love a good wallow around in the possibility of a rose-tinted utopia. But this is not the time or place! Also, big awareness that money is a thing we need in our current society, and all of the issues that come along with that, and the lack thereof).


    • Not doing things for myself: this is a work-in-progress, an ongoing theme in therapy, and something I regret looking back years and years. But, better late than never – I’m getting there and this is something I want to talk more about on the blog, the whole process of rediscovery – or discovery, as I’m not sure I ever knew myself properly. It’s like I’m an onion and each layer peeled back is a surprise – “Oh! I can actually do that? I’m allowed?”. Safe to say, I’ve got my first tattoo booked in, I’m learning that I can ‘be creative’, and the brighter clothes (and huger earrings) the better. I’m taking the first tentative steps, but looking forward to peeling more of those layers (without the obligatory onion crying of course). I just figure it’s so much effort to fit in and I’m just so tired, so see ya later to all of that.


    • Pretending I haven’t got a chronic illness or neurodiversity: I am over it. Yes, I get tired. I can’t organise myself out of a paper bag. Some days I need to just become one with a blanket. I can’t remember what I did last week, or this morning, or an hour ago, or annoyingly literally five minutes ago. But I can remember every single word to PJ and Duncan’s debut album (is that a brag? I’m thinking yes). I know that there is a paperclip in an old business card holder in the second drawer down on the third shelf in the office. My mind thinks in universes, but doesn’t know how to start a single thing. Things that are boring are impossible. I have to stop myself doing stuff when I feel fine, because if I don’t then there will be at least a 3 day waiting period before I can do anything else. Some days I’m buzzing, some days I’m buzzed out. I don’t feel bad about it any more. It kind of links into the previous point, I think. It just is, and I just am, and that is all.


    It’s weird that even typing that all out is a mixture of anxiety and worry about it being ‘out there’, and a relief at the same. It’s taken 40 years to kind of realise that “I can’t be arsed with it” is actually a legitimate life rule and one that I am finding copious joy in applying. I’d love to hear what you can no longer be arsed with, also.

    But, although I am loving the gradual process of letting stuff go, there are actually things I want to lean into, as well.


    …and holding on


    It’s taken a loooong time and a lot of therapy to get to the point where I am actually starting to put myself together as a person. Lots of reasons and I’m sure no one wants to hear all of that stuff, but the upshot is that I can play and wear things and believe and be good at things and take up space and be a woman and celebrate that and all the bits that come along with being a sentient being on this little planet. So, let’s find things to hold on to. Here are mine:


    • Doing things for physical health and mental health: I used to be very healthy, and have become less so, for a multitude of reasons. Everything is relative – there is no one size fits all. So letting go of comparison (a biggie, still a work in progress) and choosing things for health is something I am doing!  I can’t stick to a routine, so embracing the rise and fall of interest, tentatively making friends with this body, (although body positivity is beyond me – I’m more of a neutral kinda person right now, and that’s a good place for me) and doing things to keep it going for a few more years at least. No diets, no exercise plans, no rules. Just choices in the moment, and moving a little more, as I can, when I can. Owning those days when I need to do less, or do something wild, or just hide from the world, or be in the world. It’s all good.


    • Advocating for myself: This is frustrating, and I’ve got a lot of self-internalised bias, and slowly those walls are coming down which is a good thing. Asking for help, exercising my rights, making sure I don’t just go ‘ahh it’s ok I don’t want to be any trouble’ (as much as I want to). Not apologising for how I am, not trying to make myself small, or agreeable. Doing things I want to, taking opportunities. Owning those parts of me that usually I want to change to fit in. Being confident in my choices. Bring it on!


    • Embracing play: I played a lot as a kid, and that was excellent. Somehow that disappeared totally and I missed it. This new of re/discovery is a good time to re/discover playing for playing’s sake. Doodling. Drawing. Wandering. Playing music, making music, creating, singing, making NOISE! Bouncing around to a song in my head. Getting excited about things and places and ideas. Ideas! Following a train of thought and becoming so enthusiastic (and not bothering that I’ll never figure out how to start). Short-term, intense interest. Re-discovering old interests! Finding things out. CURIOSITY! More of this, much more.


    • Generally existing: I’ve spent my life flitting between personalities according to who I’m talking to (that rejection sensitive dysphoria got me good). Putting a name to that, and finding a reason (turns out I’m not just a crap person) has been wildly illuminating and the resulting freedom is rather enjoyable. It still happens, but I know it happens, and I can now try and figure out who, what, and why I am, at this moment in time. We all change, in time, in location, even day to day. But overarchingly, there are some constants. Existing and being able to say “yes, I believe this”, “yes I think that”, “yes I am this” and not just blindly agree with whatever the other person says to avoid any sort of criticism… it’s crazy to me! What a feeling! To exist, as a whole, as your self?! Wow. It’s blowing my mind. There’s always that tinge of sadness that it’s taken me this long to get here, but that’s ok. Everything needed to take this long.


    So, I’m not sure that made any sense at all, but I feel better for writing it all down, so I suppose that’s a net positive. Everything is still very much a new thing, and there are forwards steps and backwards steps, and not really an end goal, just the turning of a corner and a new kind of light hitting my eyes.  I’m curious if anyone else has felt similar. Letting go of things, moving forward with others, feeling more settled, enjoying the journey of growing older but not necessarily wiser!

    I’m all typed out now. Time for a cuppa!

    (I have just remembered that I was going to hang the washing out, back up at the top of the post! The rain has retreated over the side of the valley. I’m going to chance it. This could be a mistake). 

    (I wish I could write this many words for my university course).

    Sal x


    Blue sky with white fluffy clouds. Text box below reads 'mid-life identity, letting go and holding on: rediscovery'.

    Five people in silhouette, jumping in front of a late sunset. Text below reads 'mid-life identity: giving yourself permission to be'.



  • Blog,  Bookshelf

    Book Review: The Square of Sevens by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

    The Square of Sevens Book Review 5/5

    From the publisher:

    “Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s The Square of Sevens is an epic and sweeping novel set in Georgian high society, a dazzling story offering up mystery, intrigue, heartbreak, and audacious twists.

    My father had spelt it out to me. Choice was a luxury I couldn’t afford. This is your story, Red. You must tell it well . . .

    A girl known only as Red, the daughter of a Cornish fortune-teller, travels with her father making a living predicting fortunes using the ancient method: the Square of Sevens. When her father suddenly dies, Red becomes the ward of a gentleman scholar.

    Now raised as a lady amidst the Georgian splendour of Bath, her fortune-telling is a delight to high society. But she cannot ignore the questions that gnaw at her soul: who was her mother? How did she die? And who are the mysterious enemies her father was always terrified would find him?

    The pursuit of these mysteries takes her from Cornwall and Bath to London and Devon, from the rough ribaldry of the Bartholomew Fair to the grand houses of two of the most powerful families in England. And while Red’s quest brings her the possibility of great reward, it also leads into her grave danger . . .”

    Although The Square of Sevens is a long read, I loved every minute of it. I’m a big fan of Laura Shepherd-Robinson and this novel is another great read. A riotous ride through the 1700’s, we follow narrator Red and her journey through the highs and lows of society, plying her trade as a cartomancer. 

    The Square of Sevens book cover. A wooden box lined with a red cloth, divided into three compartments at the bottom. The compartments contain a fossil, a deck of cards, and a blue speckled egg.Previously travelling with her father, reading cards, Red becomes a ward of the wealthy Mr Antrobus after her father passes away. Red’s skills in cartomancy bring her to the high society of Bath, where she uncovers information about her family that starts her on a quest to uncover the truth. As I read on, I got the feeling that there was something else at play – things are not always as they seem!

    The story moves location often, covering Devon, Cornwall, London and Bath. As the layers of the characters were peeled back, the plot thickens and I found myself grasped by who, or what was going to surprise me next. A particular highlight were the characters and dark secrets of ‘Leighfindell’ – an endless trove of gossip and potentially ruinous family affairs – as events pick up pace, the huge manor house was an excellent backdrop for it all to play out.

    I loved Red as a narrator and was truly invested in the journey – every chapter brings further levels to the story and there are both wonderful and odious characters galore, which I loved! I was gripped – it’s a real page-turner. The ending was an absolute surprise to me – I think I actually gasped out loud. Brilliantly researched and full of colour, vibrancy, twists and turns, I fully recommend this as a chunky holiday read or a book to fully escape into. Loved it!

    The Square of Sevens is published on 22nd June 2023.

    Thank you #Netgalley for the ARC of this novel!

    Previous Book Review: South by Baback Lakghomi


  • Blog,  Bookshelf

    Book Review: Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward

    Looking Glass Sound Book Review 4/5

    From the publisher: “Writers are monsters. We eat everything we see… In a windswept cottage overlooking the sea, Wilder Harlow begins the last book he will ever write. It is the story of his childhood companions and the shadowy figure of the Daggerman, who stalked the New England town where they spent their summers. Of a horror that has followed Wilder through the decades. And of Sky, Wilder’s one-time friend, who stole his unfinished memoir and turned it into a lurid bestselling novel, The Sound and the Dagger. This book will be Wilder’s revenge on Sky, who betrayed his trust and died without ever telling him why. But as he writes, Wilder begins to find notes written in Sky’s signature green ink, and events in his manuscript start to chime eerily with the present. Is Sky haunting him? And who is the dark-haired woman drowning in the cove, whom no one else can see? No longer able to trust his own eyes, Wilder feels his grip on reality slipping. And he begins to fear that this will not only be his last book, but the last thing he ever does. Discover the new dark thriller from the bestselling author of The Last House on Needless Street.”

    A book that you will want to read in one sitting – page-turning, addictive, and thoroughly unsettling.

    Wilder’s parents inherit a cottage in laid back Whistler Bay. Spending a summer there, he meets Harper and Nat, building a close friendship over the following months – set against the unsettling background of local legends, specifically a killer named the Daggerman. What seems to start as an idyllic teenage summer starts to become something more, and events come to a head with a gruesome discovery. Years later, Wilder returns to Whistler Bay to complete his book about the events of that summer, and to make sense of the events that changed his life. However, things were not – are not – what they seemed.

    This truly is a book of two halves. I was drawn further and further into the story, but towards the end I was wondering just what was going on! Safe to say, nothing is as it seemed – I absolutely did not see the end coming, at all. The story flits between timelines and characters, giving an uneasy feel which is apt, but makes for a confusing read. I’m still not too sure what actually happened in the build up to the final revelation, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that – I love a storyline with twists and turns, however this one left me spinning! I’d have liked to spend more time with the events towards the end of the book – maybe a slower reveal, as the final fast pace was a contrast to the slow build up. I wanted more richness, I wanted to explore the events further, I wanted to understand and spend time in those delicious dark details.

    This is my first Catriona Ward book, and from reading other reviews the twists and turns seem to be a hallmark of Ward’s style – I’m so tempted to re-read and get a better purchase on the events that transpired in Whistler Bay. One thing is for sure though – it’s quite dark and very, very twisty, although I wouldn’t call it a horror. I honestly found the last few chapters hard to follow, but I also enjoyed the rollercoaster ride that had me thinking “did that actually just happen?!” at multiple points – I loved the way the story suddenly seemed to drop off a cliff and transform into something altogether more sinister, but it was very close to the line of possibly being too twisty for me – I’m still undecided. Although it’s made me want to seek out more books by Catriona Ward, so that can only be a good thing!

    Looking Glass Sound was published on 20th April 2023.

    Thank you to Netgalley from the ARC of this novel!

    Previous book review: The Square of Sevens by Laura Shepherd-Robinson


  • Blog

    A birthday and a re-beginning: looking back at 40

    Looking back at 40

    A few weeks ago, I was 40. I didn’t think that I would be one for much of a retrospective, but I’ve found myself thinking a lot about my life so far, and in particular the last decade. I know people always say that your thirties is the decade where you begin to discover yourself somehow, and in a way that’s true, but working through depression, burnout and subsequent therapy didn’t really feel like I was discovering anything at the time.

    I remember my 30th birthday. Taking a holiday from the cubicle where I worked and heading off to Spain to visit my dad and keeping my birthday quite low-key. I was 6 months into that cubicle job, depressed and not really knowing why. Looking back I was trying to deal with the burnout that had ended my previous retail management career, but of course in the midst of it, it was impossible to see. I just knew that I was miserable, and every day I dreaded heading to the train station to stand on the packed train full of commuters, to spend all day in an airless office, only to repeat it the next day, and the next. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the beginning of a rough 10 years of discovery. Here I am, at the end of those 10 years, definitely older, possibly a little wiser, but very much more at peace with myself. On my 40th birthday, I woke up in a tent in John O’Groats, a very different person to ten years ago. It’s been a ride, but a much-needed one.

    looking back at 40

    This looking back seems to have brought with it some clarity regarding this blog. Up to now, there have been some tentative beginnings, a lot of big thinking, but as I know now, the actual action is something I find a little more difficult. I didn’t really know what I wanted the blog to encompass, or what I wanted to say. I spoke with my therapist about how I’ve started to feel more solid in myself, a little more whole, but also like I’m at a point in my life where I’m really just beginning. I think I want to explore this, to explore who I am. Who I am now, I mean. I want to be able to look back and learn from the experiences I’ve had, the things that made me. All of it, the good and bad, the enjoyable and heart-wrenching. I want to take what I’ve learnt, those bits of me, and carry them with me as I explore this new decade. It’s a rediscovery of sorts, a journey back to self, an unpeeling.

    So that’s what I’ll write about. Rediscovery. Doing things and going places, learnings from life, the joy that nature brings me, aligning myself with the seasons. I’ve spent a lot of time not doing things, for various reasons, over my whole life, really. I spent a lot of time becoming somebody who I wasn’t, but I never really knew who I actually was, who I actually am. I think the process of discovery (or re-discovery) will be a lot of fun, and I am rather looking forward to it!

    It’s weird, I spent a lot of time looking at Instagram accounts and blogs and regretting closing down my old blog a little. I wondered what other people were writing about, and what people wanted to see. I was full of envy for those blogs and accounts full of beautiful pictures and perfect moments. I started and stopped a hundred times, and I’ll probably start and stop a hundred times more. This feels authentic, though. What can you do, but write about what you know? This blog has to be me, and this time I hope I can strip away all of those things I think I should write about, and just write about the things I want to. Hopefully they are interesting for others, too.

    So, this is me. Some words on a page, some thoughts in my mind. Time, tea and tales. All the learnings and unlearnings, the ups and downs, the ebb and flow. A new knowing, solid base, and a step forward. Here we begin.

  • Blog,  Making Things

    I’m so bad at art

    I never thought I could ‘do’ art, as much as I enjoyed it. It was something out of reach, for other people who I thought were way more creative than me. It was something I was told I had to give up at school and instead choose subjects that would help me get a ‘real job’. Now I’m tentatively giving a bit more space to that little voice that quite enjoys creating things. At forty, it feels like paying attention to a younger version of myself, rediscovering a part of me I chose to leave back in 1997, consciously leaving art behind to study another GCSE that I didn’t want to do at all. The past is the past, though. Now, it’s about the enjoyment of rediscovery. It’s newness, it’s challenge – and mostly, it’s pretty fun.

    I’m so bad at art

    I’ve told myself this my whole life. The bar is quite high in our family, full of wonderful artists, designers and generally creative people. But the act of translating what was in my head to something on paper is something I’ve always found hard, and as a result over the years I just left it behind, as something I was ‘rubbish at’. I’ve found a few things I enjoyed – pyrography, metal clay, making a bit of jewellery – but always had a huge hang up about actual ‘art’, as I defined it to myself. Because I am not instantly Rembrandt or Picasso I think I’m terrible at it. Recently, though, I’ve felt it’s time to rethink how I’ve looked at ‘art’, and looked at myself. I’m challenging myself to get over that feeling of inadequacy, and to begin to enjoy the process of art as a thing in itself, rather than beating myself up about the end result. And if I end up still feeling inadequate, then that’s ok, too. I want to enjoy the process, rather than worry about the things I’m drawing being any good.

    Redefining art

    I love the process of getting so lost in something I lose track of time. I love to have a project in my mind and to sit and work at it until it’s done, just being in that moment, not hearing, not seeing anything outside of it until my eyes are blurry and I can’t remember the last thing I ate. Much of the time, although I like the end result, it’s the process that is the reward for me – I find the same with a lot of things I do. If it’s interesting to me, the act of ‘doing’ highly outweighs the project being ‘done’. With this in mind, I figured that the ‘doing’ is going to be a big thing for me. What do I get? I get a sense of fun, of enjoyment. If I remove all the pressure to ‘draw something’ and just make colours, and textures, and crazy shapes, then that is something I want to engage in. So one evening, I tipped the contents of my long-forgotten art box over the conservatory table, and began making a mess.

    The joy of mess

    I found a load of mica and oxide powders from the time I decided to make my own eyeshadow, and some jagged shards of brass left over from the time I was really into making jewellery. I went with the flow and just poured mica onto some paper, and smudged it around with my fingers. I imagined I was painting on cave walls with earth pigment – I made dots, I dragged long lines down the page with my fingers, I smudged red into yellow into brown and watched as the colours became ingrained into my fingerprints. I made some muddy squish by dipping my fingers into water. I scattered brass pieces onto the page, and moved them around, looking at the shadows. Was this art? Yes, I told myself. This is your art – the process, the curiosity. What had I made? A huge mess, that’s what. But did I feel better afterwards? Absolutely.

    I'm so bad at art mess

    Lines and Mountains

    I took a sketchbook to Scotland recently, as we tackled the North Coast 500. The daunting blank pages, the fine liners, the local galleries brimming with stunning paintings. I wanted to make time to just sit and draw, I wanted to switch off from the hustle and bustle of thoughts in my mind. I wanted to practise, and get used to that immediate fear that grips me whenever I think about drawing a ‘thing’. It took me a few days to get the sketchbook out of my rucksack, to open my roll of pens, to sit in my little camping chair, look at a mountain, and try and translate the sloping sides to something that looked vaguely similar on the paper. It was terrifying – the stress of trying to draw something that actually existed. Letting go of the expectation and the disappointment of not being an instant master illustrator is hard, but once I got into it, again, it was the process that calmed my racing thoughts. I felt myself relax into it, looking at those huge, silent, powerful mountains, taking in sharp lines and shadows, scree and heather. Letting go of perfection, letting my pen skid around on the page, drawing and overdrawing lines, breathing slower and feeling that focus slowly take me over.

    I drew every day after that, until we came home. I made a small zine of our trip, little funny drawings of stuff that happened each day. My sketchbook now has a few mountains and lakes, some terribly out of perspective woodlands and some messed up campsite sketches where the disconnect between my eyes, brain and hands is embarrassingly apparent. The difference now is that I remember drawing those sketches. I remember the process, and I’m quite fond of the end results, weirdly skew-whiff as they are.

    I'm so bad at art

    More and more

    I think I’ll draw more. I’m enrolled on a beginners animation course currently which is challenging me to draw a lot more than I would do otherwise. It’s quite nice to have homework, something that forces me to take time to sit down and play around with art stuff, even it it’s just a felt tip or a pipe cleaner. The biggest freedom for me is that shift in focus from the result to the ‘doing’ part. It’s something that’s come up in other areas of life, but applying it to creativity has been really illuminating and quite freeing. Removing the expectation of having something amazing at the end and being inevitably disappointed has just left behind the enjoyment of creation, instead. And that enjoyment is something I’d quite like to experience more. And more, and more.

    I'm so bad at art

  • Blog,  Wild Garden,  Wildlife



    Borage loves to be in our garden. Blue and white and spikier than you’d expect, with little hairs glowing white in sunlight and bees bumbling around all day. It self-seeds with abandon, covering what was once the veg patch, and is now the borage patch. I sit in a corner and watch things flying in and out for hours, sipping a cup of tea, watching the sun fade away to shadow and butterflies going to bed, making way for the night-flying moths. Frogs underneath, snails sliming their way around the bottom, deterred by the spiny hairs. Bees, of course – a variety of bumbles, then honeybees. Wasps, hoverflies, smaller flies that I don’t know the names of. A small patch, in the grand scheme of things, but layers and layers of life, of beauty, of gentle peace.

    A honey bee gathering nectar from a white borage flower. A patch of borage, with plants with blue and white flowers. There is one taller plant with white flowers rising out of the middle of the patch. Behind is a cotoneaster hedge. A borage plant with blue flowers. a patch of borage with white and blue flowers

  • Adventures,  Blog,  Places,  Places to Stay

    North Coast 500 for Introverts

    Driving the North Coast 500 for introverts : 8 quiet days around Scotland

    View out to the sea from Cairn Liath broch. The picture is taken stood on top of an old circular stone building, with grass in the middle and on the top of the walls. The view is out to a calm sea with blue sky and a white cloud.
    Cairn Liath Broch

    Welcome to my guide to the North Coast 500 for introverts! The North Coast 500 is a route around the North Coast of Scotland. Billed as the ‘ultimate road trip’ the NC500 is a 516-mile circular route around the far north of Scotland, taking in some beautiful sights. We’d been talking about driving it for the past few years. My 40th birthday this year gave us the perfect excuse to finally head on up to Scotland and spend just over a week amongst dramatic mountains, perfect sandy beaches, and the obligatory clouds of midges!

    We’re both quite quiet people, and although we visited a few touristy places, we tended towards quieter places with nature rather than ‘things to do’.  If you want an action-packed itinerary, this post probably won’t be for you – but there are some excellent ones here and here! If you like to amble along at a slower pace, looking at little things and standing at the bottom of mountains in awe, rather than hiking to the top, then this might be more of your bag.

    This is a long post, apologies – I thought it would be better to include everything in one rather than splitting it, so feel free to grab a cuppa and work your way through! 😉

    Jump To:




    Sal’s Camping Shower Guide

    Planning to avoid the crowds


    We completed the NC500 in early June, which was a great time to do so. We got lucky with the weather (it somehow didn’t rain until the last day!) and the long hours of daylight give you extra time to amble along slowly and savour the journey. The roads on the route itself were not busy – there were enough people obviously ‘doing’ the route to give you a nice sense of camaraderie (and some good waving to each other at passing places!), but not so many as to delay the driving time or to snarl up the roads.

    I read that in peak season journey times can pretty much double, and I can see why – a lot of the roads were single track with passing places, and a few large campers or a particularly busy group of cars would easily cause delays. If you’re visiting in the summer months, there should be enough daylight to make an early or later start an option, to avoid peak times on the small roads.

    Depending on where you are travelling from, expect traffic around the cities and popular Lochs (e.g. Loch Lomond and Loch Ness areas) and tourist traps such as Glencoe, which is to be expected on a sunny weekend.

    We completed the route in a little Ford Fiesta, which was the perfect size for the single track roads (but was a little small for the amount of stuff we took with us, although we definitely over-packed!).The driving itself wasn’t too much of a problem for us, as we’re in our own little car, but if you don’t like crowded roads it is something to keep in mind. The route is signposted, and is made of wider roads and tiny single track ones with passing places. There are a lot of passing places, so generally you just wait your turn, but there are some *very* steep areas and tight roads. It’s not hard driving (apart from Applecross which is insane) but you need to keep aware so it can be quite tiring.

    • Takeaways:
      -Visit off-peak if you can (peak summer holiday season in the UK is usually late June/July/Aug).
      -Consider early or late starts if you are there in peak season, make the most of the daylight.
      -Plan to stop outside of the traditional touristy places – there is amazing scenery everywhere so you won’t miss out!
      -Take snacks/supplies with you to avoid having to stop at busy shopping areas to pick up food.

    We planned 7 days on the actual North Coast 500 route, and two recovery nights camping at Loch Lomond. This was absolutely not enough time, I’d recommend a leisurely 10 days at least, and if/when we return we will definitely take longer, stay longer in each place and give ourselves a bit of breathing space. We camped each night, and the putting up/taking down of the tent each day became dreary. It would have been nice to have a day in-between where we didn’t have to pack everything away straight away.

    There are plentiful campsites and campervan parking, and you can theoretically camp/park in most places, although it’s so important not to cause a nuisance to the people who live on and around the route, or to leave a mess. We booked campsites a few months in advance, and they were filling up fast.

    A few months prior, we bought a small North Coast 500 Map that had many points of interest, borrowed a guidebook from a friend which gave us some great ideas, and watched lots of YouTube videos! I looked up our National Trust for Scotland guide (we’re members as it’s cheaper than the England one and gets you into the same places!), and also got really into discovering old burial sites, cairns and barrows that I wanted to visit (although due to time we missed out a lot). Definitely plan everything out before you go, and pre-book places if you can do to avoid waiting to get in. We planned each day out in Notion, and added our Google map (downloaded), campsite details, and packing list so it was all in one place. Of course, planning your trip adds to the excitement, but knowing what you’re doing each day reduces stress levels if you’re on a tight schedule.

    We planned to visit some old brochs, lochs, beaches and generally enjoy the views as we were driving along as this is more up our street. There are loads of fantastic hikes and beaches all around the route, and nature in abundance! There are also loads of distilleries, castles and historical sites – there really is something for everyone. You can see our route in more detail in Part 2.

    • Takeaways:
      -Plan your route in advance.
      -Give yourself enough time to relax into your trip.

      -Enjoy picking out must-do’s, it adds to the excitement and reduces stress  – but feel free to detour!
      -Pre-book camping and campervan spots online – avoid stress and know you have a space when you arrive.
      -Research campsites before booking – some can be quite loud or particularly busy. Read Google reviews, look at pictures, and look for alternatives if you’re not feeling the vibe.

      -Consider avoiding the main tourist attractions – just because you are on the NC500 doesn’t mean you have to visit the same places everyone else does! There are lovely quiet places away from the crowds.


    Obviously, a lot of packing will depend on how you are planning to travel – we camped each night so took a lot more than if we had planned to B&B, for example. Everyone’s camping set-up is different, but we made sure we took some camping chairs, air mattress, pillows, sleeping bags, plus a gas stove, Trangia, and assorted fuel and utensils. I love my cosy 4-season sleeping bag as I get freezing no matter what the season is, or how many layers I have between me and the ground. Mr GF hates small sleeping bags so has a Pod Bag- a larger sized one to move around in!

    This is Scotland, and there will probably be midges – we found Smidge worked really well. If your campsite allows fires, the smoke keeps them away too. It’s always worth taking a midge net (make sure it has really fine mesh as they can get through some of the traditional mosquito nets) to go over your head/face – pretty much everyone we saw was wearing them from dusk onwards so don’t worry about looking daft like I did initially, just embrace it as everyone will look silly along with you! It’s worth it not to be absolutely covered in bites the next day. If you do get bitten, I find Anthisan is excellent, and Mr GF got some roll-on witch hazel/aloe (from Home Bargains I think) and reports that it really helped. The Scottish Midge Forecast can help you to prepare by at least steeling yourself for the inevitable.

    We had one tick bite and extracted the little bugger with a tick card and smothered loads of Germolene (antiseptic cream) on after – definitely worth taking. Keep an eye on tick bites and if you have any irritation, feel under the weather or get a ‘target’ rash, go to the doctor as soon as possible, as they can carry Lyme Disease.

    As an introvert, I don’t like loud/busy campsites, so made sure I took some earplugs ( I have some ‘loop inspired’ ones from eBay that work just fine!) and lots of things to distract myself, like sketchbook and pens, books, Dobble (the best camping game), headphones and downloaded Spotify playlists etc. I also made sure I packed my ultimate ‘camping shower’ kit to get in and out any potential busy showers as quick as possible! See below for my kit recommendations 😉

    There are numerous petrol points and shops along the route. We didn’t feel we needed to pack petrol, however if you’re in a car with a low mpg it might be worth having a can. Some of the pumps are community-owned which is excellent! Download your google maps or take an up-to-date paper map. We didn’t have any problems with mobile reception but worth it just in case.

    • Takeaways:
      -Plan your meals and take enough food so you’re ready to cook when you get camped.
      -Teabags, obviously.
      -You will need midge repellent, plus something to put on after you inevitably get bitten. Midge nets look daft but are a lifesaver. Take a tick card just in case.
      -If, like me, you aren’t a fan of noisy campsites, take some earplugs or earphones, as well as something distracting to do. 
      -You can get in and out of busy shower areas quickly with a bit of prep. See my ultimate camping shower kit at the bottom of the post…

    We are two adults with no kids, so this definitely affects how we travel and what we look for in campsites and stopping places. If you’re travelling with kids there are some fab guides available, Families Can Travel has an excellent one here.

    Our Route

    So, onto the itinerary. We spent 7 days driving the route and an extra night at Loch Lomond afterwards, before driving the long drive home. I’ve given details of where we camped each night, along with an ‘introvert rating’ which is just generally how peaceful I felt when there! This is absolutely no reflection of the quality of the campsites – all of them were really nice, clean and had good facilities.

    Quick Itinerary:
    Day 1: Home to Loch Ness
    Day 2: Loch Ness to John O’Groats
    Day 3: John O’Groats to Durness
    Day 4: Durness to Althandu
    Day 5: Althandu to Carn Dearg
    Day 6: Carn Dearg to Sligachan, Skye
    Day 7: Sligachan to Loch Lomond
    Day 8: Loch Lomond

    Day 1: Home to Loch Ness (via Glencoe)

    Campsite: Inver Coille Campsite
    Introvert Rating: 5/5
    Quiet things to do: Spot Nessie (obviously), Invermoriston falls, Urquhart Castle.

    Inver Coille campsite. A green grass campsite surrounded by pine trees, with a gravel path running through the field. There is a picnic bench and cooking area in the foreground and a few small tents in the distance. The sky is grey and cloudy.
    Inver Coille campsite

    We missioned up to Loch Ness in one day, which was a long trek, taking around 8 hours. Not being one for directions, I was absolutely stunned when we reached Glencoe – it is absolutely beautiful. I was thinking “where IS this place! It’s amazing!” and then realised where we were. It’s not often scenery actually truly takes my breath away but I felt it here. One of those rare places that makes you forget words and just gaze at the mountains in awe. It was busy – it was a Saturday – but just incredible!

    Glencoe. An old mountain, covered in lush green grass, rises in the foreground, with other rocky mountains int he background. The sky is blue with a white and grey cloud, and a shaft of sunlight lighting up the valley in front of the mountain.

    After a loonng drive, it was lovely to arrive at this peaceful campsite which is tents only (plus a few comfy-looking glamping pods). The shower block was great, with separate toilets and two shower rooms with shower cubicle, sink and loo, sanitary products provided, everything you need. The glamping pods get their own facilities too. The only downside was lugging up our camping equipment from the car park (not far, admittedly) after the long drive, but there were wheelbarrows provided which were very much appreciated!

    A really quiet campsite when we visited in early June. There was a small firepit area and picnic bench,  it was ‘pick your own’ pitch and we decided to pitch up at the side next to the woodland. There was also another smaller field also available for tents. After the long drive, we had terrible stove coffee (in a pan as we couldn’t find our cups!), traditional pasta/beans combination, took advantage of the showers and fell asleep.

    Day 2: Loch Ness to John O’ Groats

    Campsite: John O’Groats Campsite
    Introvert Rating: 3/5 (although our pitch, next to the sea fence was a 4/5 I reckon).
    Quiet things to do: Chanonry Point, Hill o’ many Stanes, Cairn Liath Broch, Old Wick Castle, wander along the coastal path, get a coffee in the John O’Groats café and watch everyone taking photos next to the sign, dolphin spotting, boat trips (can be a bit crowded).

    The John O'Groats signpost, a post showing directions and distances to different parts of the world. In front of the sign is a gravel area, and behind is a small harbour with a few boats, and the sea beyond that. In the distance are the Orkney Isles. The sky is grey clouds.
    John O’Groats

    We set off from Loch Ness and stopped quickly in Drumnadrochit to grab a Nessie patch, then readied ourselves for the drive up the East coast to John O’Groats. Officially the NC500 starts in Inverness, so we drove through to feel as though we’d properly begun the trip!

    One thing on our list was seeing the dolphins at Chanonry Point – I’d had a tip to go during the rising tide, as apparently they follow the fish in – but despite arriving in good time, there were no dolphins to be seen. Consoling ourselves with a great coffee from Bak Hoos, we headed off to Dunrobin Castle. Unfortunately, it was rather expensive for us (£14 each entry) so we wandered around the forest and played Ewoks on the little bridge in the carpark instead. Free castle!

    We then drove about five minutes further and stopped to have a look at Cairn Liath Broch. This is over the road from where you park your car but is signposted. It was really nice and quiet – we could have stayed a good while longer watching the sea and the cows below (see photo at the top of the post!).

    John O’Groats itself had a great vibe, we watched some people ride to the sign after cycling from Lands End  and everyone came out to clap! It was quiet and really nice just to wander around, have a pint from the brewery, and sit looking out to sea with some binoculars. I can imagine it gets busy during tourist season though and it’s a small place so this is something to keep in mind.

    I woke up on my 40th birthday in our tent, overlooking the sea, and spotted three dolphins – an excellent birthday present. We also saw our first hooded crows here. The campsite was busy, but our tent pitch was fab, right in the top corner next to the fence on the cliff – luckily it wasn’t windy! Showers were a bit hit and miss – mine was scalding hot no matter what temperature I set it too – so scalding I had to hop in and out every few seconds. Although I love stuff like that when camping, it’s like overcoming a challenge! I liked the vibe of John O’Groats and would love to go back.

    Next time we will definitely spend more time on the East coast on the way up- there are a lot of ruins, burial chambers, stone circles and lovely things to explore.

    Day 3: John O’Groats to Durness

    Campsite: Sango Sands Oasis
    Introvert Rating: 2/5 pretty busy, big campsite
    Quiet things to do: Things Va, Dounreay Viewing Platform, Dun Dornaigil Broch, Melvich Beach, Strathnavar Museum, Ben Hope, Kyle of Tongue, Smoo Cave, Durness beach.

    Durness Beach. Standing on the shore looking out at a rock formation, with a cliff to the right in the background. The sky is blue with no clouds and the waves are gentle. The water is very clear.
    Durness Beach

    After a lovely birthday breakfast and some time spent spotting dolphins with my new birthday binoculars, we packed up camp, which was already becoming rather wearisome. I’d definitely recommend packing light if you are camping for just a single night in each place. With our trademark disorganisation, we ended up just shoving everything in the car which meant an air of chaos started to creep in around this point! But with everything shoved in, we wished good luck to the campervan behind us who were running and cycling JOGLE starting that day, and trundled off along the North-est of the North coast.

    View down a lush green valley, with a mountain range in the background. There is a broch wall on the left, with grey stone covered in lichen. The sky is mostly fluffy cloud and patches of blue.
    Broch Dun Dornaigil

    Today we ended up taking a diversion to an interesting-sounding broch, Broch Dun Dornaigil. This diversion ended up being 10 miles each way along a tiny singletrack road with grass in the middle, which was an excellent adventure! The road ran along a valley floor and past the bottom of Ben Hope, with a small carpark for those hiking up the mountain. There is some absolutely stunning scenery, some surprising encounters meeting a few cars coming the opposite direction on blind bends, and as we reached our destination, the scenery opened out into some sort of mystical land.

    We found the broch (hoorah!) next to the sparkling Strathmore River, with cuckoos calling and bees buzzing all around, and it felt as though we were transported back in time somehow. Wonderful. Two more people turned up whilst we were there so although feeling very isolated, it was obviously not as out-of-the-way as we imagined, but still definitely a great quiet site and fantastic to spend a few hours with a picnic or walking the routes around Ben Hope.

    Day 4: Durness to Althandu

    Campsite: Port a Bhaigh campsite
    Introvert Rating: 3/5
    Quiet things to do: Paddleboarding/kayaking/swimming, UNESCO Geopark, Wee Mad Road, Eilean Donan Castle, Achmelvich Castle.

    Port a Bhaigh campsite. View to the sea with some grassy areas directly in front. The sun is directly in front, high in the blue sky. There is an island in the distance and a hill to the right.
    View from our tent at Port a Bhaigh campsite

    I loved this day. Driving through spectacular scenery, we stopped so many times to take photos and just be blown away by how rugged and beautiful the landscape is here. We also saw a Golden Eagle, which was the highlight of the trip for me – it was HUGE! If you love hiking, this is the area for you. There are numerous places to pull over, park and head into the mountains. I would love to spend a lot longer here – the stillness, wildness and beauty is something else.

    This was the day we tackled the ‘Mad Wee Road’ and yes it is mad! Steep, twisty and great fun, although very tiring to drive as you need a lot of concentration! We stopped halfway around at Drumbeg, as it seemed quite a few other people were doing too. There’s a viewing point and car parking area with a great view back up the coastline. Lots of waving to other cars as we passed by on this road, it seems everyone is slightly manic and running on adrenaline and sharing the camaraderie of “why are we doing this?!” It was fantastic, beautiful and I fully recommend tackling it.

    We camped at Port a Bhaigh campsite which is divided up into a campervan area, tents/motorbikes and a top area near the carpark where it seemed a lot of smaller tents were located, which had a louder atmosphere than where we were. We picked a spot on a ‘shelved’ area with an amazing view out to the sea. The main site building was quite busy, mainly as it was the only place where there was wifi! There’s a small shop and some tables to sit out, too. Showers were nice and big, and there are good facilities. The beach is amazing, with huge round pebbles, and the water is stunningly clear, perfect for a swim or paddleboard. I loved the location, found the site bordering on a bit busy for me, even though it was nice and quiet at night, but it was a lovely place and I’d love to go back off-season.

    Day 5: Althandu to Carn Dearg

    Campsite: Sands Caravan and Camping
    Introvert Rating: 3/5 (although sand dunes 4/5, huge campsite, lots of people but very spaced out)
    Quiet things to do: Kayaking, local walks, visit Ullapool, Corrieshalloch Gorge.

    North Coast 500 for Introverts. View from a road of a mountain range, with grass to the left. There is blue sky and a white fluffy cloud over the top of the mountains.
    Amazing views on the route

    The next day, we wound our way along the road to visit Ullapool. After the wild days in the Highlands, it was a bit of a culture shock to arrive in a bustling tourist town. A cruise ship has just docked, and there were boatloads of tourist being ferried to and from the huge liner – this was quite fun to watch but meant the town was very busy. We wandered around for a while and managed to grab a quick coffee before the crowds arrived, but for me it was a little too much – the shops are very tourist oriented and not really up my street. Having said this, the town itself is very pretty and the surrounding mountains are gorgeous. Eventually we wandered down to the harbour and watched some of the ships, then found a railing to lean on further down the road to look out at the cruise liner. We also spotted a seal popping up around the harbour.
    On the way back to the car, two fighter jets roared down between the mountains which was amazing and very unexpected! If you know me you’ll know I am a bit of a plane spotting geek, so I loved seeing them whoosh past. On the whole though, Ullapool wasn’t the vibe for me – there were lots of people and crowded areas in a small town, and although there were some lovely shops I think the general busyness meant I didn’t really want to stay and wander around.

    Much more up our street was Corrieshalloch Gorge. A quiet trail through woodland takes you on a bridge right over the gorge, and following the footpath you’ll come out at a viewing platform stretching out over the abyss – it was a long way down! We amused ourselves for quite a while creeping out to the end of the platform and trying to let go of the railing with both hands (very brave haha). The walk was nice and easy – although it sloped all the way down, which meant it was uphill all the way back but nothing too taxing. There are very clean loos and a coffee hatch/tables as well.

    We ended the day at Sands Campsite which is HUGE, but has a fantastic minimum distance requirement between tents/vans which I thought was a great idea! The site is fab for kids – there’s a nice café, a well stocked shop, tv room, games room and even a BMX pump track. The facilities were absolutely sparking clean and spacious. The site was busy, but we managed to find a secluded spot right in a sand dune, so it felt like there was only us there! If you want to get a dune spot, get there earlier as they fill up quickly. There were some areas that were noisier or busier than others, however the site really is massive so you can pick a quieter spot with no problems. The beach is just on the other side of the dunes and again, is HUGE, so lots of open space. Word of warning though – apparently midges love sand dunes…

    Day 6: Carn Dearg to Sligachan, Isle of Skye

    Campsite: Sligachan Campsite
    Introvert rating: 1/5 (busy and close-quarters camping)
    Quiet things to do: Say hi to Callum the Stag (on Torridan Road), Applecross, tackling Bealach na Bà road, Lunch at The Bealach cafe to recover, Sligachan bridge, Glamaig horseshoe hike, Sligachan waterfalls, Isle of Skye.

    North coast 500 for introverts. A twisty road leading down between two mountains, with a glimpse of sea at the bottom.

    Today was a long drive and in hindsight we should have split it up or spent longer on Skye. We detoured away from the official NC500 route to hop over to the Isle of Skye. Before this, though, we stopped to say a hello to Torridan road’s resident stag, Callum, who regularly hangs around the car park. We then steeled our nerves to tackle the infamous Bealach na Bà road, a steep, twisting road that seemed to reduce in the amount of actual road the further up the mountain we got. Our poor little Ford Fiesta, crammed with camping gear and two not-the-lightest of humans did most of the climb in 1st and 2nd gear, resulting in having to rest at the top to let the boiling radiator steam calm down a little. Luckily, the views were amazing.

    If the way up was slightly nerve-wracking, the way down was just the same – a winding twisty road that looks amazing fun from the top, but definitely tests the brakes! Additionally, there were lots of people in big fast sports cars roaring up it at breakneck speeds, whom you really don’t want to meet on a blind bend or steep incline in a Ford Fiesta. With the radiator bubbling, the brakes stinking, and giggling with adrenaline, we made it down, took the obligatory photo with the warning sign at the bottom, and collapsed into the nearest café to recover. Excellent experience and 10/10 would do again, but maybe not in a Fiesta. You will definitely not get up the road in a large camper or with a caravan, so cars, bikes and vans only, I think.

    From here it was still a long drive to Skye, and we probably could have stopped at many more places but felt like we had to push on. Eventually we arrived at Sligachan campsite, a windy flat site at the base of Glamaig mountain, and absolutely beautiful, of course. By this time I was a little grumpy about putting the tent up and down every day, and the site was busy, with people pitching up right next door – which is fine, but I’d prefer to be somewhere at the edge by myself! However, it was good for people watching – a particular favourite was a lady trying to swat every single midge with one of those electric tennis bat things, and quickly giving up. The site has an adventurous vibe – the nearest thing I can think is Vik campsite in Iceland, busy, international, friendly, everyone excited about getting into/coming back from the mountains.

    Day 7: Sligachan to Loch Lomond
    Day 8: Loch Lomond

    Campsite: Loch Lomond Sallochy Campsite
    Introvert rating: 2/5 (potentially higher depending on day/location)
    Quiet things to do: Castle Aaaargh (Castle Stalker), Glencoe, James Bond Skyfall Road, kayaking, paddleboarding, West Highland Way, walks, wild swimming

    Woodland camp with a lit fire pit, camp chair, trangia. The sun is shining through the trees on the banks of Loch Lomond.
    Loch Lomond Sallochy Campsite

    Another long drive from Skye right down to Loch Lomond today. We decided to cut the bottom off the NC500 loop and instead head for some lakeside R+R. We headed down through Fort William, a shock to the system after the relative quietness of the past week – it was very busy. We drove back up through Glencoe, stopping this time to take some photos!

    We also popped to see Castle Stalker (Monty Python’s Castle Aaargh) – we ended up parking in the Castle Stalker View café carpark, but there are some better directions to the location from Third Eye Traveller here. From there, the last leg to Loch Lomond was bittersweet – there were a lot more cars on the road and it really felt like the holiday was coming to an end. Stopping at a supermarket to stock up on food, we really were back in civilisation, and I just wanted to turn round and head back up to the North Coast again!

    We’d booked one of the private woodland pitches at Loch Lomond’s Sallochy Campsite for a relaxing two nights after the week spent driving, but we were both expecting it to be a lot quieter and more private than it was. The West Highlands Way runs right past the woodland camp area, which is great to see everyone wandering along (some in fine voice which was excellent!) but soon after we arrived, people started to pitch tents in the private single woodland pitch areas. The main campsite is a further few minutes walk along the path, and has specific pre-booked spots for those travelling the West Highland Way, but there are no signs to direct walkers along the path which leads to some misunderstanding with the pitch bookings. Each woodland pitch has the booker’s name stapled at the entrance but this is hard to see if you’re not looking for it.

    This all got sorted after a while, and we settled down to our nights under the trees. There is a no-alcohol rule on site which was flagrantly disobeyed by a few people, along with loud music from camps drifting through the trees during the day although everything generally quietened down at night. Rangers are only on site for a limited time during the day.

    The site has a limit on bookings but is definitely not as quiet as I was expecting. There were also quite a few ‘party boats’ and jet skis on the Loch itself, but luckily the Loch is massive and they disappeared out of range quite quickly! This was probably due to it being a nice sunny weekend, and I think the site itself would be a lot quieter during the week. However, overall our woodland camp was generally chilled out, and we were lucky with our tent neighbours on the next pitch who were very quiet – some pitches lead into each other (like ours), some are single ones, but you can’t specify, so cross your fingers!

    The first day we did absolutely nothing, I spent the whole day reading a whole pile of magazines and doing some sketches. The Loch was right outside the tent – you really are Lochside, and can swim/paddleboard/kayak to your heart’s content. Being under the trees was lovely. The compost loos were a right trek from our pitch but clean to use. There are no showers, and only two sinks – one for personal hygiene and one for washing up (people were using both for both though). With the amount of campers, an additional sink would have been useful. I’d recommend just jumping in the Loch to clean yourself though!

    We hired a firepit and a bag of logs and just enjoyed chilling next to it, plus the smoke kept the midges away. The next night, it rained for the first time all trip, just in time to attempt to stuff our soggy tent back into the bag and wheel everything back to the car in numerous trips. It was time to head home!

    Overall Thoughts

    I would love to do the NC500 again – I felt there was so much we didn’t see as we only had a certain amount of time to get round the route. It’s the perfect holiday if you are on the introverted side like me – lots of craggy, wild scenery, not many people about, and you can make your sightseeing stops as quiet or busy as you like. I’d like to ‘complete the loop’ next time just to say I’ve done it, but I loved the vibe of Skye and would like to spend some more time there too! Next time I’d recommend at least 10 days, if not a full two weeks even, and spending more time in each location to feel like we’ve really ‘arrived’ and have some down time to recharge.

    Definitely research the campsites and read TripAdvisor and Google reviews to see if it will be your vibe before you get there. Consider wild camping if you can ensure you’ll leave no trace. Detour off the route and make the most of the amazing scenery and wildlife – places like Glencoe are stunning but very busy, and there are countless other areas to explore and marvel at.

    All in all, we had an amazing time – can’t wait to go back!

    Sal’s Ultimate Camping Shower Kit

    -Door hooks
    -Bag for Life/IKEA bag
    -Two towels: one for your body, one sacrificial one for the floor (RIP)
    -Hair towel (I have this one from Decathlon and it’s ace)
    -Spray antibac
    -Bag for toiletries – make sure it has a loop to hang it up
    -All your soap/shampoo/toothpaste/toothbrush etc
    -A small wax wrap or a food bag

    Go into shower, put your hooks over the door and use to hang up your towels, toiletries bag & bag for life. Feel smug. Keep your sliders on for your whole shower or you will 100% get trenchfoot. Quickly spray the whole area down with antibac. Dry clothes go in your bag for life.

    Have your shower, put hair in towel if needed, wrap one towel around yourself to dry. The sacrificial towel is there to sit on/stand on if needed (benches are always covered in water and/or other unidentifiable things).  Extract dry clothes from bag for life, replace with all wet towels etc.

    Mop up if required (some sites have a squeegee/mop) and head to sinks to do your teeth etc. Don’t forget your hooks! At the sink, the wax wrap/food bag is to balance your toothbrush/contacts/soap/makeup/whatever on next to the sink.

    Done? Vacate asap and feel like a pro!

    North Coast 500 for Introverts Pinterest

  • Blog,  Bookshelf

    Book Review: The Maniac by Benjamin Labatut

    The Maniac by Benjamín Labatut Book Review 5/5

    Cover of The Maniac by Benjamin Labatut. The cover is black and white and depicts and mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb.

    From the publisher:

    John von Neumann was a titan of science. A Hungarian wunderkind who revolutionized every field he touched, his mathematical powers were so exceptional that Hans Bethe – a Nobel Prize-winning physicist – thought he might represent the next step in human evolution.

    After seeking the foundations of mathematics during his youth in Germany, von Neumann emigrated to the United States, where he became entangled in the power games of the Cold War; he designed the world’s first programmable computer, invented game theory, pioneered AI and digital life, and helped create the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was the darling of the military industrial complex, but when illness unmoored his mind, his work pushed further into areas beyond human comprehension and control.

    The MANIAC places von Neumann at the center of a literary triptych about the dark foundations of our modern world and the nascent era of AI. It begins with Paul Ehrenfest, an Austrian physicist and close friend of Einstein, who fell into despair when he saw science and technology become tyrannical forces; it ends a hundred years later, in the showdown between the South Korean Go Master, Lee Sedol, and the AI program AlphaGo.

    Braiding fact with fiction, Benjamín Labatut takes us on a journey to the frontiers of rational thought, where invention outpaces human understanding and offers godlike power, but takes us to the brink of Armageddon.

    Review contains spoilers.

    The Maniac…hints at a darkness present at the limits of knowledge…the transmutation of that knowledge into ultimate power…

    Labatut’s first novel, ‘When we Cease to understand the World’, absolutely knocked me sideways. I’d never read anything like it – a heady, manic mash up of truth, fiction, and something almost in between the two. It’s a book that’s stayed in my mind ever since I first read it, and now, with The Maniac, Labatut is back and I’m glad to report it absolutely doesn’t disappoint.

    The Maniac tells the story of mathematical genius Janus (John) von Neumann, from the points of view of those surrounding him, following his journey from precocious childhood, his achievements in physics and mathematics, and his work on the atomic bomb. The Maniac is hard reading in places, with Labatut’s skilful weaving of fact and fiction painting a devastating picture of the interplay between genius and callousness. Particularly hard hitting is von Neumann’s calculations of the exact height from which to drop the bombs for maximum devastation and his abstinence in signing a joint letter to President Eisenhower, in which a group of nuclear physicists hope that the bombs they developed are never used.

    The main section of the book, concerning von Neumann, is told by those who work and live alongside him – school friends, colleagues, spouses. The overall picture is chilling, detailed and ultimately devastating. I found Labatut’s writing to show a sort of ease with which horrific weapons can be developed in the name of scientific advancement, and an apparent casualness in the work of some of the most intelligent minds employed to work on those weapons. The Maniac differs in tone from Labatut’s previous book – although the commentary concerning von Neumann’s seeming lack of morality may touch on similar concepts. At what point does genius become madness? The Maniac, however, hints at a darkness present at the limits of knowledge – not madness, individually, but the transmutation of that knowledge into ultimate power and the consequences that follow.

    The Maniac begins, and ends, with separate sections which seem to be mostly factual, although there is no indication as to which parts may or may not be fictionalised – and as someone unversed in the intricacies of chess tournaments, I would have no idea! The book begins with an account of Paul Ehrenfest, a physicist, becoming increasingly disillusioned by developments in the field and overwhelmed by societal implications for his disabled son. Terribly, Ehrenfest kills his son and commits suicide immediately afterwards. For me, this opening chapter has echoes of When We Cease To Understand The World – the tipping point between genius and madness. After von Neumann’s death, the book ends with a detailed account of the development of artificial intelligence, specifically relating to chess and the game Go, and the ability to defeat human players. As we enter this new world of AI and unknown power, we need to remember the consequences that may follow when pushing the limits of knowledge. A full 5 stars – I loved this.

    Thank you to #Netgalley for the ARC 🙂


    The Maniac by Benjamin Labatut cover, showing a mushroom cloud in sepia colours.

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