Cycling the Highlands and Islands: Fort William to Vatersay

We arrived on the outskirts of Fort William late the previous evening, the last flickers of daylight fading as we pitched the tent by Loch Linnhe. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that water plus woodland means only one thing: being eaten alive by midges in the summer months. And so it was here: the ferocious little blighters were out in force. We slathered ourselves in Smidge, and retreated into the tent as quickly as possible. Time to catch a few hours’ shut eye ahead of our first day in the saddle.

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Two More Munros: Ben Vorlich and Stùc a’ Chroin

Sunshine? On a bank holiday? Well, it would’ve been rude not to head up to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs for a spot of Munro-bagging. Our targets: Ben Vorlich and Stùc a’ Chroin. (Confusingly, there are two Ben Vorlichs in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. Here, I’m talking about the one located due south of Loch Earn.)

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John Muir Way: Edinburgh to North Berwick

Stretching from Helensburgh to Dunbar, the John Muir Way traverses countryside, cities and coastal towns. It’s 215km/134 miles in all, but with train stations at regular intervals along the route it’s easy to split up into shorter stretches if you only fancy a day in the saddle. We did just that, and cycled a small segment of the route from Edinburgh to North Berwick a couple of weekends ago.

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Pentland Hills Regional Park: Turnhouse Hill and Carnethy Hill

If you’re looking for a shorter hike with views on a par with those from Scald Law and the Kips, but without the crowds, Turnhouse Hill and Carnethy Hill should fit the bill. We made an early start, and for the second weekend on the trot the sun was shining. We followed a single track road beyond the car park for a short distance, and then veered off to the left to join the footpath (signposted Scald Law) which leads to Turnhouse Hill.

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Pentland Hills Regional Park: Scald Law and The Kips

Edinburgh is brimming with green spaces and hills, and the Pentland Hills Regional Park to the south of the city has quickly become one of my favourite places for a walk. Whether you fancy a short stroll or a longer hike that strings a few peaks together, you’ll find it here. With sunshine on the forecast for (some of) the Easter weekend, we opted for the latter. Scald Law, East Kip and West Kip (together, The Kips) can be done in one fell swoop, by tracing the ridge on the eastern edge of the park.

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What 2020 Taught Me

2020 was full of memorable moments. Most weren’t the sort I usually reminisce over – hikes, trips away and the like – but they were memorable moments nonetheless.

Moments that sparked laughter, or joy.

Moments that, in a normal year, would be long since lost to the murky depths of my memory.

Like the time we saw two ducks waddling round M&S. Or the time we ended up with flakes of non-stick saucepan in the crème pâtissière. Or the day we saw a peacock preening in front of a car on someone’s driveway in Little Eversden. Or the time a cat tried to jump through our bathroom window. Or the first time we saw the Brampton Road Safari Park. (Not a real safari park, I hasten to add, but rather an eclectic front garden filled with artfully arranged toy animals.) Or the day we found a frog in my parents’ garden.

There was more to 2020 than culinary blunders and animal encounters, though. Laurence and I spent countless weekends and days off cycling around East Anglia. (With the roads devoid of traffic for months on end, I went from barely using my bike in 2019 to cycling 2,242km in 2020.) Places like Wicken Fen and Wimpole, which had long sat on our doorstep, finally found their way to the top of our agenda. We cycled to Norwich to spend a few days with Laurence’s parents, and squeezed in a trip to my parents in Chester just before new restrictions came into effect.

Along the way, I discovered that there are wild snakes in Cambridge, that my plants don’t need watering nearly as often as I think they do, and that bagels are surprisingly easy to make. Here are a handful of other things 2020 taught me:

Go outside. Even if it’s cloudy. Even if it’s drizzling. Especially if it’s snowing. Sometimes it’s very tempting to curl up on the sofa with a steaming mug of tea, but I always feel better for a short walk. A brisk walk around the block is enough to blow the cobwebs away; a stroll around Coldham’s Common better still.

Find a creative outlet. Back in the early days of the first lockdown, my Brownie unit did ‘catch-a-story’ comics over Zoom. We started with the classic opener ‘Once upon a time…’ and, one by one, each girl added a few words to build a story. (Our protagonist was a flamingo-turned-slug-turned-dragonfly… quite the transformation!) A few rounds of the virtual circle later, we told the girls to draw their own endings to the story in comic strip form. I enjoyed it so much that my one-line-a-day scrapbook became a comic strip project, each day a colourful snapshot of virtual quizzes, walks, bike rides, bakes and more.

Put your work laptop away at the end of the day. Or close the door on it, if you’re lucky enough to have a spare room to work in. Out of sight, out of mind.

Chocolate bananas complete a BBQ. Slice a banana in half, put a few chunks of chocolate in the middle, wrap it in foil and leave it on the embers. Once you’ve polished off your burger or hot dog, you’ll have a warm banana with melted chocolate waiting for you. Yum. (Credit to Laurence’s friend George for this idea; it was something we turned to on many occasions last summer.)

Save little and often. Over time, the pennies add up. Life throws curveballs (2020, I’m looking at you), and a rainy day fund can help you weather the storm. (Side note: I’m very fortunate to have worked from home and consequently saved considerably more than I would usually be able to over the past ten months.)

Move more. It’s so easy – too easy – to spend the entire working day hunched over your kitchen table and glued to the screen, and I for one don’t fancy ending up like Emma, dubbed the work colleague of the future. (Google it – it paints a pretty grim picture of office life.) Build a fake commute into your day, even if it’s just a fifteen minute walk, or stack a few shoeboxes on an ironing board for a half-decent standing desk.

Spend time with those you love. 2020 made me realise I don’t travel home nearly as often as I should (in an average year, I’d go home for a long weekend over the summer and a week or so at Christmas). Sure, trains can be hideously expensive and annual leave is finite, but time with family is priceless.

Don’t be afraid to spend money on yourself. I enjoy choosing presents for others, but I can rarely justify treating myself to anything – beyond a bag of Haribo or a slice of cake from my favourite café, that is. After deliberating for five (yes, five) months, I took the plunge and bought myself a pair of Lucy and Yak dungarees. They’re super comfy, and my only regret is not buying them sooner.

Advent Windows

It’s December. On the quiet residential streets off Cambridge’s Mill Road, fairy lights twinkle in the windows.

So far, so ordinary.

Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see that these fairy lights frame festive scenes: nine ladies – their skirts delicate paper snowflakes – dancing; children ice-skating, snow swirling around them; a scene from The Nutcracker with the Mouse King holding his sword aloft; reindeer flying above King’s College Chapel.

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Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel Florentines | Florentines Chocolat Noir-Caramel Salé

[veuillez défiler vers le bas pour la version française] Forget ‘I’m in the Mood for Dancing’. Lockdown 2.0 is here, and I’m in the mood for baking. (As is the rest of Cambridge, judging by the depleted shelves of flour in Tesco.) You can whip up a batch of Florentines in an hour and if you’re not keen on raisins or mixed peel, you can swap them for your preferred dried fruits. Easy-peasy. What’s not to love about these delicious, sticky, fruity and chocolate-y morsels?

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Cambridge Chronicles #6 | September 2020

I was struggling to find words to describe the past few months, to piece together how life as we know it became life as we knew it.

And then, on an episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? of all places, along came this quote:

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

I could, so easily, write off this year. I’ve seen only a handful of friends in person this year; I’ve not seen my parents or sister since Christmas. I’m still living in Cambridge (which is picturesque and rather nice sans touristes, but not somewhere I’ve ever felt especially at home). I’ve not gone on a single hike.

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