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Autumn in the Scottish Highlands

By 4 October 2014 Outdoors, Photography, Scotland, Travel, United Kingdom
Autumn in the Scottish Highlands

This time last week I was driving home from South Yorkshire where we spent an overnight to break up the long journey from Scotland. That’s one of the downsides of living right in the south east corner of the UK; everywhere else in the country is a long way away!

We spent an awesome week in the Highlands, that followed a fantastic 6 nights camping in Cumbria. This holiday felt like it had taken an age to come around. Aside from a few days away here and there, we’ve not been on holiday since our honeymoon in May 2013. Having two weeks off work has been bliss and it meant returning feeling refreshed and raring to go.

Neither of us had been to Cumbria or the Highlands before and I think we chose the right time of year. Scotland was stunning and we were in awe of the view at every turn.

Woods at Blair Castle estate
When we left Kent, it was still late summer. Autumn seemed to happen in front of our eyes during our holiday. Now the fall is well and truly here. These woods at Blair Castle are home to red squirrels. We were lucky enough to just about spot one as it scrambled up a tree.

Ferns  at Rothiemurchus
Our rented cottage was about half an hour or so from Aviemore. Just down the road is the Rothiemurchus estate. We parked for FREE (a shock to system after forking out a fortune in parking charges everywhere in the Lake District) in the woodland car park and took a delightful stroll through this Highland estate. The dying ferns were turning brown, the purple heather was full of glistening spiders’ webs and the leaves were literally falling around us.

Woods on Rothiemurchus estate near Aviemore
Rothiemurchus is obviously a popular place on a Sunday and we were by no means the only people out enjoying the unseasonable warm weather. I managed to avoid getting anyone else in my photos though, so we can always pretend we were the only ones there!

Outside the Clachaig Inn Glencoe
Glencoe was simply awe inspiring. Having arrived to the area late, we didn’t really get to explore but we stopped for a beer in the Clachaig Inn, which is right in the heart of the glen with insane views from the car park!

Streetlight on bridge at Boat of Garten, Speyside
On our last day, we went for a drive around Speyside. Having driven through Boat of Garten, we continued over a bridge over the river Spey. Hubby had to pull over on the side of the road so I could get out and take some pictures!

River Spey Boat of Garten
The river was shimmering in the early evening sunshine. This area of Scotland is the home of whiskey production. There are a huge number of distilleries in the area, with some famous names including Glenfiddich, Aberlour and Glenlivet. Since neither of us particularly like the spirit we didn’t stop for a wee dram.

Padlock on gate at the Highland Wildlife Park
Sister to Edinburgh Zoo, the Highland Wildlife Park has to be in one of the most picturesque settings for a zoo. Hubby thought I’d gone mad taking a photo of this locked gate but I knew the colours would match that of the landscape!

Sun through the clouds out car window
I took far too many photos out of the car windows this holiday. Don’t get me wrong, Kent is a beautiful part of the world but it’s mostly rolling hills, flat marsh and farmland. Both the Lake District and Scotland had us driving around open-mouthed for the majority of the time. The most uttered words in the car were ‘wow, look at that view’!

We fell in love with the Scottish Highlands. So much so that we might live there one day! Have you ever been to the Highlands? What did you think?

Rachel x

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A Walk in the Woods and Back in Time

By 25 August 2014 Life, Lifestyle, Outdoors
Purple heather in Joyden's Wood

I’ve not lived in Folkestone all my life. I actually grew up on Joyden’s Wood estate near Bexley. Many days were spent running around, cycling and generally exploring the ancient woodland less than 200 yards from our front door.

My grandparents still live in the area and yesterday we headed up there to enjoy a tasty lunch and spend some quality time together to celebrate my sister’s birthday. Having eaten at Birchwood Park Golf Club (tasty food if haphazard service) we changed into suitable shoes, i.e. not the 3-inch-heeled boots that I was wearing!

Rachel Birchley's walking boots

You can access the woods from the golf club, which is pretty handy, so we left the cars there. Following the footpath took us off the exposed golf course and into the shaded woodland with its dappled light.

I love being in the woods as you get a proper feeling of being ‘outdoors’. Hubby was like a big kid, swinging off trees, climbing up banks and throwing stones into ponds just so he could take slow-mo video on his iPhone! He even found a den!

Wooden teepee den in Joyden's Wood

The woods have changed a bit since I was a kid. The Woodland Trust has installed information boards and created walks. Previously you could wander around for hours and had to rely on your memory to get back out where you started! Now you simply have to follow the waymarkers and look out for the handy boards with maps on them.

Running through the middle of the woods, which is a combination of broadleaved and conifer trees, is the Anglo-Saxon Faesten Dic. This is a defence structure that would have protected the settlement over 1000 years ago. The strong dike is now a scheduled ancient monument and you can learn all about it in Joyden’s Wood by reading the interpretation boards.

Path through fern and heather by Faesten Dic Joyden's Wood

Acorn from one of the ancient oak trees in Joyden's Wood

We passed our old scout hut and popped out of the woods just up the road from our old house so we had a nose. Apart from the silver birch tree out the front now being about 50ft tall (it was once the same size as me!) the house looked almost the same as it did when we moved out over 13 years ago.

It’s really strange to see your old home that is filled with so many memories. But what I have come to learn, having lived in a few houses since then, is that memories are not attached to the brick and mortar, there are in your mind and your heart forever.

I’ve always been a bit of a ‘wherever I lay my hat that’s my home’ kind of person. I don’t tend to get homesick, even when away travelling for 9 months, and will quickly refer to wherever I’m staying as ‘home’.

Having walked through our old estate, past the shop where we used to fill up on penny sweets, past the library where I read all the Point series of books (remember those?) and the doctor’s surgery where my sister and I would go with Mum in the evenings when she was working as a cleaner, we headed back into the woods to walk back to the cars.

Going back into the woods to get back to the car, we left the past behind and walked back to the cars and the present. It was time for tea and birthday cake back at my grandparents’ house! We all sang ‘happy birthday’ as she looked slightly mortified! Happy 27th birthday little sis. God, that makes me feel old!

The next time we’re going to be in the woods, we’ll be in Grizedale Forest in the Lake District. In 3 weeks’ time, hubby and I will be whizzing through the trees on a zip trekking adventure!

What’s your favourite thing about the woods?

Rachel x

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Review: Quechua Easy 2 Seconds 2 Man Tent

By 17 August 2014 Outdoors
Quechua Easy 2 Breton 2 Seconds pitched at Blogstock

First off, I just want to let you know that I bought this tent with my own money. This is not a sponsored post.

When I bought my ticket for Blogstock, I did so thinking I had a tent I could use. However, it turns out this tent was mouldy! Last time I used the tent (in 2009!) we had to put it down in the rain and must not have aired it. Oops!

So a new tent was on the agenda.

Since I was going to Blogstock alone, I decided that I wanted a pop up tent because it would be the easiest to pitch solo. The only problem was that most pop up tents don’t seem to have a very good write up. Most are marketed at festival tents and are single skin. This means that many of the reviews tell you they leak when it rains.

Now if you ask me, a tent that lets the water in isn’t really doing its job. If I’m camping in the rain, which let’s be honest is pretty likely in the UK, I want to stay dry.

I did quite a lot of research on which tent to buy and these Easy tents from Quechua have been recommended on forums and such. Plus, this one came in a funky Breton flag design so I had to have it! My parents live in Brittany, so it seems pretty fitting. And who wants a boring tent anyway? Especially for a festival.

Quechua Easy 2 tent in bag

Quechua Easy 2 Breton bag pattern

The Quechua Easy 2 comes in a round bag with a handy carry handle. One side’s plain and on the other you get an idea of the pattern featured on the tent itself. Some of these tents I’ve seen advertised for sale on eBay had rucksack style straps on. I was a little disappointed that this tent doesn’t but it’s not really a problem.

It really does take no time at all to pitch this tent. You simply undo four clips and give it a bit of a shake. Then hey presto, the tent’s up! The only time consuming bit is pegging in the four corners and the three guy lines, but this takes less than five minutes.

The guy ropes might not be necessary if it’s not windy. But when I pitched up at Blogstock it was a little breezy so opted for them. The pegs and guy lines live in clever little pockets within the fabric of the tent bag. The guy ropes aren’t attached so you do need to tie them on, but this is a one time job really.

Inside the pitched tent with kit inside

Inside, the tent is really only big enough for one person unless you don’t have any stuff. I knew this before buying so was really happy with the size. The inner tent is only about 4 feet wide. There are two handy pockets, one each side, ideal for torches, glasses, etc. and a hook at the back where I hung my lantern.

Quechua Easy 2 dimensions

As you can see, I brought quite a lot of stuff and the tent was pretty cosy. But I liked it. I put a picnic blanket down to act as a carpet, which was a really nice touch. I was warm and cosy even when it was pissing it down with rain outside.

Putting down pop up tents is notoriously difficult. However, the easy system makes putting down the Quechua Easy 2 a piece of cake. There are instructions stitched into the bag so you can’t lose them and they’re simple to follow. Putting the tent down in torrential rain was a little less fun but it was still quite easy.

Overall, I’m really pleased with my purchase. I think that £50 for a decent double-skin tent is pretty good. We’ll probably use the tent for weekends away when we just want to throw our stuff in the car and go on a whim.

There’d be room for both hubby and I to sleep in the tent (probably not with air beds though) but we’d have to keep our stuff in the car. For an overnight stay, this wouldn’t be an issue.

The next time we go camping, we’re going to be staying 6 nights in Cumbria. So the Quechua won’t be coming with us. It’ll be my trusty Easycamp Boston 400. It takes forever to pitch but has two bedrooms and a living area, so it’s much more suitable for a week’s holiday.

What’s your experience of pop up tents?

Rachel x

Tent purchased from Decathlon

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Camping Packing List: What I’m Taking to Blogstock

By 5 August 2014 Life, Lifestyle, Outdoors, Travel, Travel Tips
Camping packing list: what I'm taking to Blogstock

This weekend I’m going to Blogstock! Apparently, it’s the world’s first blogging festival and I, for one, am really looking forward to it!

Blogstock is a cross between a blogger conference and a festival. I’ve never been to either! The interesting part is, I’m camping for the weekend, by myself. Well, in a field with loads of other people but still, I’ve got a tent to myself.

I’ve bought a new tent especially. My tent is a massive 4 man one that takes forever to put up. There’s no way I could put it up by myself even if I wanted to. So, I’ve opted for a funky pop up one from Quechua at Decathlon. I’ve heard good things about these tents and am assured that they are one brand of pop up tent that actually doesn’t leak.

Quechua breton

Luckily, I’m driving to Blogstock. My packing list is pretty long and there’s no way I could carry it all otherwise.



Here are some of the essentials I’m intending to pack:

Essential camping equipment

– Tent – obvs!
– Sleeping bag
– Mallet to hammer those pegs in
– Self inflating mattress
– Folding chair and mini table
– Gas stove
– Kettle – I don’t want to have to shell out every time I want a coffee
– Torch

Food and drink

I know there’s going to be food available but I want to save a little bit of money on the basics.
– Nescafe 3 in 1 sachets – these are coffee, sugar and milk all in one – not the most amazing cup of coffee but not bad.
– Massive bottle of water!
– Pot Noodle – festival staple I think.
– Bread for toasting
– Cup a soups


– Baby wipes! I’m taking regular wash bag stuff too but baby wipes are essential for quick clean ups, removing make up, cleaning dirty feet before getting into your sleeping bag, etc.
– Quick dry travel towel
– Sun cream (fingers crossed I’ll need it!)
– Hand sanitiser gel – ‘cos you never know what the toilets are going to be like


– Flip flops
– Wellies
– Warm socks for the evenings
– Cosy jammies
– Fleece to keep warm after dark
– Waterproof jacket

Optional extras

I’m trying to glamp it up just a little bit. I may be essentially sleeping on the floor but I’d like as much comfort as possible!
– Ikea rug I found for £1.75 – perfect for use as a doormat.
– Picnic blanket – I’m going to use it as a tent carpet. Yup.
– Glow sticks to hang from the front of the tent
– Cute pink pin wheel I found in Sainsbury’s to put outside!

See, told you it would be too much to carry!

Who else is going to Blogstock! Anyone else flying solo? I’m leaving hubby at home for the weekend. Please say ‘hi’ if you see me!

Rachel x

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My Experience of the Yorkshire Three Peaks

By 2 August 2014 Lifestyle, Outdoors

Last weekend was one of the most tiring of my life. I’ve never been so utterly knackered.

I decided to sign up for the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge with work as we’re trying to raise money for Combat Stress. All the other events were running or kayaking and I can’t do either. This seemed like it would be a challenge but one that I could do. Little did I know.

For starters, the Yorkshire Dales is a lot further from Kent than we expected. According to Google Maps, which I’ve learnt to be pretty inaccurate in terms of journey times, it was going to take about 6 hours and 15 minutes. This was supposed to take the traffic into consideration but it look us much longer!

Once we’d stopped for dinner, we ended up pulling into the campsite just after midnight. We left Folkestone around 2pm and had been at work since 9am. It was a long day.

The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge

The Yorkshire Three Peaks are comprised of Pen-y-Ghent (694m), Whernside (736m) and Ingleborough (723m). The “circular” route that snakes through the dales is 24.5 miles long, and the challenge is to complete the hike within 12 hours. Thousands of walkers attempt the challenge every year.

The morning started at 6.30am when my friend’s alarm went off. It wasn’t welcome since we’d only had about 5.5 hours sleep. Once we’d got sorted, it was time to drive to the start point. Having arrived in the dark, we hadn’t seen the scenery at all. The peaks towered above us and it was a bit scary!

We checked in at the Pen-Y-Ghent cafe in Horton-in-Ribbledale at 8.07am. They have an antique clock with a stamping mechanism. The cafe used to stay open until the last walkers returned, but there was a sign on the door to state they no longer provide this service. I imagine too many people forgot to clock back in and it became impractical to continue the service.


The first peak on our route, Pen-y-Ghent is very close to the start. Having walked past the village’s historical church, we were nearly on the footpath to the summit.

Horton church - Yorkshire Three Peaks

Sign to Pen y Ghent summit - Yorkshire Three Peaks

The summit was 1 and three quarter miles up hill. There was no let up at all. We’d barely been going an hour and I was completely knackered! It was also boiling hot, which didn’t help with the sweaty mess situation.

Yorkshire Dales vista from Pen-y-Ghent

Nearly at the top of Pen-y-Ghent

The worse part was having to get to the top. I wouldn’t say I have a fear of heights, but I certainly have a fear of falling! The clamber to the top required climbing up some near vertical “steps” cut into the rock using your hands as support. The closer I got to this section of the path the more the panic grew. I hate walking along paths where there’s a drop on one side. I get this feeling that I’m going to lose my balance and fall.

As I stood, panting from exhaustion, looking up at the ascent I started to cry. I had no idea how I was possibly going to get to the top. The rest of the group had gone on without me. I’d told them I didn’t mind because I felt like I was holding them up but now I didn’t know what to do. I honestly thought I was going to fall off the edge of the mountain.

Then an angel appeared. Well, OK, not quite an angel but a lovely local lady called Tina. Without Tina, I’d never have made it to the summit. She made me take my time and helped me to focus on getting up the mountain and not the possible fall.

I didn’t feel any sense of achievement in reaching the top. All I felt was relief! But I knew how much further we had to walk. This was the first of three peaks. I had no idea how I was going to manage the rest of the challenge.

Walking forever a.k.a. the journey to Ribblehead

On the way down from the summit of Pen-y-Ghent we got to experience the new path. It was opened just last year and meant we could avoid the notorious boggy section. Looking at the map and the timings we knew this was going to be the longest section of the walk but it seemed like forever.

We seemed to zig zag across the countryside seeing fleeting glances of the Ribblehead viaduct that didn’t seem to get any closer. After a few hours I had to stop for a wee, cue me hunting for somewhere out of sight to squat in a field! Classy, huh! Part of me wishes I’d bought that Shewee! A change of socks and some plasters later we carried on. By this time, it was extremely hot and I was extremely tired. I began to stumble over my feet and I kept tripping myself up with my walking poles. I literally had zero energy.

We finally got to Ribblehead, where we stopped to refuel. I chowed down on a couple of peanut butter filled bagels and filled up my hydration bladder and water bottle, both of which were empty. I’d drunk a litre of Powerade and nearly 2 litres of water. Luckily we’d positioned a supply car here with plenty of water in.

Ribblehead Viaduct


Leaving the car was one of the hardest parts of the day. I just wanted to get in and drive back to our accommodation. As we were walking along, again I was miles behind everyone else, I just kept thinking how much I didn’t want to be there and how I didn’t think I could walk much further.

I was so slow, my normal view was the others in my group at least 100 yards in front of me.

The ascent to Whernside summit is long and monotonous. Yes there’s some beautiful scenery but it’s miles and miles of uphill paths. A lady passed me while I was stopping to catch my breath. “At least this is the last one!” she said. “It’s only our second!” I replied. Her retort was “Oh God!”. Yup. That’s pretty much how I felt too.

Every step took all my effort. Reaching the stile I had a welcome sit down, but my group had already been resting several minutes. This is the problem with being slow. They just want to carry on but I needed to take breaks. I had to stop every so often to get my breath. They waited for me at certain points but no sooner had I caught them up and taken a sip of water, they were ready to get moving again! One of my friends gave me a couple of energy gels to take but these didn’t seem to do much.

Decision time

Finally the top was in sight but it was still about an hour away. It was time to make a decision. I was asked if I wanted to go back to the car. However tired I was, turning around and backtracking was not on my agenda. We all knew I wasn’t going to be able to do all three peaks, certainly not before dark. It was decided that my friend, who was suffering with an old injury, and I would complete this second peak and then head back to the car.

This was when the tears started. However much I was struggling, I had wanted to complete the challenge. I think the gels gave me the energy to cry!

Getting to the top of Whernside was a mission. I was having to take breaks every five minutes or so because I just couldn’t summon any energy. I was so glad to get to the top because it meant we could go home!

To the pub!

The descent from Whernside is steep and unforgiving. I had to do most of it on my bum because I thought I might fall! Once we were finally back on the flat(-ish) ground we were able to quicken the pace slightly. Every step was painful because of blisters on my heels, toes and under the balls of my feet. My friend seemed to have got her energy back and was now geeing me on.

The pub was a welcome sight. We decided to go in, get a drink and call a taxi. We didn’t know if the supply car would have been moved and didn’t fancy the long walk in the wrong direction to find out. But just as we were waiting at the bar, the rest of our group passed! They’d been miles in front of us but it turns out they’d had a refreshment stop and then taken a wrong turn so we’d overtaken them. My friend decided that she wanted to continue the challenge so I was left alone to get back to the accommodation.

A pint of orange juice and lemonade and £20 later(yes, taxis in Yorkshire are bloody expensive!), I was finally back in Ingleton. Getting a shower and chilling out on the sofa was very welcome.

The group that carried on finally finished about 11pm. It was dark and raining by the time they got back to the car. Having heard stories of the near-vertical nature of the climb to the summit of Ingleborough, the final peak, I’m glad I didn’t do it!

I completed the Yorkshire Two Peaks!

Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? Even though I walked 20 miles over about 10 hours I can’t help but feel like I failed. People keep telling me I should be proud of what I achieved, and the words ‘good effort’ have been bandied around. Unfortunately, you can’t tell my head what to think. We set out to do the Yorkshire Three Peaks and everyone else in my group did it.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. I have raised £70 for Combat Stress, with another £20 promised by my grandparents. This money won’t go far, but it will help this mental health charity to continue their good work.

Have you tried the Yorkshire Three Peaks? To succeed you need to be pretty fit and have plenty of stamina. The next time I see mountains will be in the Lake District, but I’ll tell you now, I’ve no intention of climbing any of them!

Rachel x

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