I recently moved back home to Scotland, this time to a more rural area in Perthshire. Although this will be my first spring living here full-time, over the years I’ve spent a lot of time visiting my grandparents who live up here. I have lots of memories of spring in Perthshire, when we’d stay at my grandparents’ over the Easter holidays. There are beautiful rivers up here, and in spring, you’ll often see them at full spate after the snow on the hills melts and lots of heavy Scottish showers. It’s also such an amazing time to be around farms and close to wildlife. The birdsong gets increasingly louder, you’ll see cute, clumsy lambs all over the place, butterflies, frogs and all sorts of other lovely creatures. As a former florist and someone who’s a bit obsessed with trees and flowers, I get so excited watching everything come back to life too – blossoms, wildflowers in the woodlands and everyone out pottering in their gardens again.
In spring, I have more fresh flowers around the house and the windows are open a lot more. I have my morning tea outside more and begin to enjoy longer dog walks in the evening after work and if I can, go swimming. That’s probably what I’m looking forward to most this year. After moving up here in the middle of winter, I’m really looking forward to when it’s lighter in the evenings and I can spend more time outside – find a few new swim spots and places to explore with my dog, Rum.
I have a busy day job working as editorial creative director for travel company Culture Trip, and at the moment, my evenings and weekends are spent updating my guidebook Wild Guide Scotland. The first edition took over two years to put together and was published in spring 2017; [the journey began] around seven years ago when my two friends and I first approached the Wild Guide publishers. We were spending a lot of time in the Scottish Highlands; the boys were doing a lot of hillwalking and climbing, and I’d been into wild swimming, lower-level walks and finding interesting places to eat and stay. We all really enjoyed discovering new places, photographing them and sharing our stories with others, so thought, why not make something of it? We’re now working on a second edition, which will include new chapters for central and southern Scotland, due to be published this June.
Most of my other work revolves around a similar passion for travel (near and far), nature, creating and sharing. Not just the digital world, but in books, paintings, floral design, and real-life spaces, too – I love listening to other people’s travel stories or plotting a trip with one of my friends over a pint. I’ve been trying to work out a way to bring all of this together for the last few years and think I’m nearly there. This year, I hope to launch Rural – a multidisciplinary project that explores nature, travel and culture.
I’m lucky to now have a little studio/office space in the place I’m currently renting. It’s upstairs, at the back of the house, overlooking fields, trees and hills. There are sheep in the nearest field and loads of small birds in the shrubs in my garden. I set up my desk in front of the window and love looking out at the clouds and mist on the hills. There are also some beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
I keep most of my books in my living room, but by my desk, I have a smaller bookcase full of old books about Scotland, nature writing and travel magazines like Holiday. I love flicking through the pages of the Scotland books, looking at old photographs which spark memories of trips I’ve been on; or being transported to other places through the stories and images in my magazines.
In 2014, my friend and Wild Guide co-author Richard and I made it to St Kilda – a very isolated and weather-beaten Scottish archipelago in the North Atlantic. It’s very dramatic and beautiful, and going there was a truly sensory experience – not least because I had the flu and was seasick for most of the sailing. You really felt the full effect of the wind, rain and sea, and there were thousands of gannets flying and diving all around, eye-watering cliffs and huge otherworldly sea stacks jutting out of the water that the island’s inhabitants used to scale in their bare feet. I remember feeling a real sense of awe and admiration for the hardy people that once lived there all year round, and thinking just how easy some of us have it today.
I like visiting all kinds of places; in the cities, I like staying at smaller independent hotels or cosy homes in creative neighbourhoods. But as you’d expect, I’m mostly drawn to more rural properties that are surrounded by the countryside. One of the most-memorable stays I’ve had in the last few years was at a riverside onsen in a mountainous area of Japan. It was in the middle of the forest with views of the hills, and old bridges across the river between the baths and the ryokan where you ate and slept. We had a tatami-mat room overlooking the river and traditional mountain cuisine (including fish caught in the river and locally grown vegetables) was served in an old dining room with the other guests. And, of course, the best bit: the beautiful outdoor hot springs were open 24/7, so you could bathe under autumn trees during the day as well as under the night sky.
My first trip to Japan was on my own for a five-week artist residency in spring 2015. I remember feeling like I was in a bit of a creative rut at the time, but that trip really helped me break out of it. I spend a lot of time making things – installations, objects, photos, prints, etc. I met some wonderful locals, went on hiking trips, to hot springs, galleries and solo stays in Tokyo. And all of this was to the backdrop of Japan’s famous cherry blossoms and hanami – a celebration of nature, renewal and a welcome period of reflection on our transient lives. The trip reminded me how important it is to explore new places, meet new people, but also be content on your own. And to set aside time for creating things, even if it doesn’t help pay the bills. Overall, it helped me get back into a creative flow.
I’m usually the planner/organiser when it comes to travel, so after Wild Guide Scotland goes to the printers, I’m hoping to go on a trip with my good friend Smita who is also a serial planner! Maybe Portugal, as I’ve never been and she’s been often and knows people there. She also has impeccable taste, so I know all of her recommendations for places to see, eat and stay will be on point! I’ll likely still do my own research, too, but it will be nice to share that planning stage with someone: she can do the city, I’ll do the country! Then, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time is go on a longer horse-trekking holiday, but I can’t decide where… Maybe in the Andes? Mongolia? Costa Rica? Too hard to choose! Either way, I think it’d be lovely to enjoy the slower pace of travel, access more remote areas and, of course, get even closer to nature.