Scotland

Treating yourself when travelling… and other things to do in Loch Lomond, Scotland

#nomakeupselfie

#nomakeupselfie

As I begin writing this, I can hear the familiar gentle lapping of waves hitting the shore and pulling back, repeatedly. It's one of my favourite sounds. Except this time, it's not coming from the Rain Rain app, so I can drift to sleep, or a video that I took at the beach on my travels; it's the sound of Loch Lomond right outside my window. 

You know how Colin Firth goes to a lake to write while sat in a cute cabin in Love Actually? Yeah, that's me right now. But whether or not you're a writer, illustrator or working in finance, it's important to treat yourself on your solo travels. It is perpetuated far too much that to be a proper 'traveller' - solo or otherwise - you have to don a backpack, sturdy shoes, and go on relentlessly about sticking your budget. While I'm donning the first two and usually guilty of the latter, I broke the mould with this trip to the village of Luss on the west bank of Loch Lomond in Scotland - without breaking the bank too much.

Book early

The early bird always gets the worm, hence all the so-called early bird offers. I had my heart set on a particular hotel, the Lodge on Loch Lomond, from the very start of planning this trip. From its close proximity to the Loch to the brilliant reviews from previous guests, all the cheaper hotels, B&Bs and even the gorgeous waterside hostel didn't compare (though the latter was a close second, but had no availability - see, gotta get in quick!) I booked around eight weeks in advance and got discounted rates, as well as breakfast included, and I was able to specify that I wanted a loch-facing room. Don't get me wrong, it was still the most expensive room I’d stayed in for a night, but I got a good rate and, boyyyy, was it worth it - more on that later.

Train tickets are another thing that are hella cheaper when booking advance. Yes, flights might have been quicker than the five-hour ride (plus the rather scenic hour's bus ride from Glasgow to Luss), but at just over £30 each way, I couldn't go wrong. Virgin Trains are pretty good when you're lucky enough to catch the deals. If you have an unreserved ticket, get there half an hour before, so as soon as the gate is open you can bag a good seat. There are one or two reserved cabins, depending on the size of the train. I hopped on the U cabin and managed to bag a full four table to myself in a forward facing seat, next to the window. However, if I was a little smarter with it, I'd have gone with the C cabin for all this, plus all the snacks...

Choose one thing you're happy to properly splash all out on

That view… this photo doesn’t do it justice.

That view… this photo doesn’t do it justice.

For me, it was the hotel. The boujis-ass hotel with the award-winning, two AA Rosette restaurant, Molton Brown bath amenities and a location right on the water's edge. Hey, if you're going to splash out on something, it might as well be the place you'll retreat to at the end of the day (or in my case, all evening because I couldn't tear myself away from the window). With its panelled wood interiors from floor to ceiling, gorgeous water and mountain views from the large windows and the soothing soundtrack of the waves, I felt like I was on a luxury boat. 

Room service was all part of this indulgence: a two-course dinner, with prosecco - garnished with a raspberry - plus Scottish shortbread biscuits, which I'm not ashamed to say I ate in between my meal, not after, then finished off in the bath just because. Doing it for the 'gram (except I didn't cos I was #livingmybestlife in REAL life). I have never felt so happily stuffed, apart from on Christmas Day. While the deep bath was something, the bed was something more. I'm a petite gal as it is, but I've genuinely never slept in that huge a bed. I have no regrets.

Remember that some experiences are priceless...

I have never awoken to a more beautiful sight as I did in the morning (hotel windows and male suitors inclusive). I naturally woke up at around 7.15am, my body probably anticipating a day of work, and watched the sunrise over Loch Lomond from my bed. 

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Even as a writer, I don't think I can adequately put into words how content I felt for that hour or so. I did a Ross Gellar and stayed until the very last minute of my check-out, wanting to soak in every minute of this view that I could.

Other wonderfully free and freeing moments on this trip included seeing a pretty rainbow over the rolling countryside green on my train journey up, and strolling through Luss, sheep to the left of me, chocolate-box houses and mountains to the right, feeling like I was in the village off Postman Pat (the original, not the new computer-animated version, urgh).

... And get the most out of the ones that aren't

I told a lie earlier as I actually do have one regret from this trip: the hotel had some great spa facilities included in the room price that I didn't make the most of. However, breakfast I most definitely did, piling my plate high with hot Scottish breakfast goodies, including tattie scones and black pudding. I'll also only mention it one more time - promise - but I defo made the most of the view from my bedroom...

However, it's worth saying, that you shouldn't do yourself a disservice by forcing yourself to do something you don't want to do just to get your money’s worth. After all, the whole joy of solo travel is that you don't have to stick to a plan you previously committed to with someone else; you can do as you damn well please. 

Loch Lomond and Luss are also a nerve centre for a whole host of activities from water sports and cruises to hikes and wildlife excursions. While I had plans to take advantage of the activities here, in the end, I didn’t - and that’s okay! I will on my return.

Don't let anyone make you feel bad

Personally, I never drop big sums of money on the likes of clothes, shoes or bags (or anything less archetypal of a girl either - whoops, sorry PC police). Instead, trips abroad are my vice and, even then, I always make sure I have a good deal for what it is. Still, in flip mode to how people used to flash the cash, I genuinely feel there is a kind of millennial competition at times for who's the worst off in some circles. Don't fall into that. You work hard and save hard day in, day out - you can afford yourself a treat, so go ahead and do it! 

How to staycation properly... and other things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland

For New Year's last year, I headed up the country to Edinburgh and, despite clearly being a different city, it still very much had the UK vibes (hi cold weather, hi).

Going on 'holiday' in your home country has its perks. Cost, for example, is likely to be lower than international travel, the language is the same (or, if not, then pretty similar), and there'll be no worry of the currency exchange rate doing you over #BloodyBrexiters.

However, holidaying at home may sometimes take away the feeling of, you know, actually being on holiday. But, by making these seemingly small decisions, I could have easily been somewhere else in Europe (with equally as shite weather as the UK).

New Year's Eve crew

New Year's Eve crew

Getting there
Driving for seven hours (well, being a passenger; it's a hard life) definitely generated the road trip feeling. There's just something about service stations, isn't there? Once we got in to the city, we dropped our bags off at the AirBnb and headed to a pub on the recommendation of our host.

On our way back, flying was our mode of transport. Just being at an airport oozes holiday vibes, even if it is the end of the hols. For someone who hates flying, I absolutely love being at the airport and, in this case, flights from Edinburgh to London were actually hella cheaper than train tickets #winning.

Surround yourself with locals and their traditions
You're bound to soak up the culture and traditions of the town you're visiting, even if it's only a couple hundred miles way from home, by surrounding yourself with locals. The Scottish festival of Hogmanay was in full swing throughout our stay, which we found entailed a hell of a lot more than the fireworks at the turn of the year. We got up close and personal with ye olde Scotsmen (unfortunately not in kilts) on countless occasions during our trip.

We took part in the Torchlight Festival on New Year's Eve eve (or the 30th December, as some people call it), and it was incredible. We each had a 'torch' between a group of three: basically a long stick lit at one end with an entirely open flame. Very trusting are the Scots. We toured the streets in our thousands, taking in all the sights by night as we went. It was beautiful to see the streets lit up by some many individual little fires constantly moving forward.

Torchlight Festival - Scots Monument

Torchlight Festival - Scots Monument

The next evening, we DEFINITELY surrounded ourselves with the locals, tourists, and every man, woman and child Edinburgh had to offer. As you can imagine, the fireworks were a very close affair. At one point, we joined forces with two other groups of people to guard our standing point and create a human wall to stop people squashing us even more than we were. The fireworks themselves were beautiful though, and were a great way to welcome in the new year. As were the post-fireworks visit to the pub to wait out the taxi until 3am. We had a great laugh playing Heads Up and drinking until we could get home. Alas, we were too hanging to take part in the run into the sea the next day...

See the sights
Of course, aside from Hogmanay, there are the sights in Edinburgh that are there the whole year round. I don't know how I always end up trekking huge heights whenever I'm on holiday, but we headed up to Arthur's Seat prior to the Torchlight Parade to get a good view of Edinburgh below. A year on and I'm still in awe of my friend who did it all in heeled boots (which many tourists passing us seemed compelled to remind her). The view was great and really drove home that I wasn't in London anymore.

Half of us also explored Edinburgh Castle, myself wrapped in a tartan scarf, obvs. Apart from another great view of the city below, the castle is like a mini museum with old jail cells, historical armour and painted artwork. I enjoyed discovering Edinburgh's history and it was good to take time learning new things.

Savour the free time
Although you're still at home (kind of), treasure the fact that you're on holiday. You'd otherwise be working, doing chores, or getting pissed in the same pub week in, week out. Instead, we chose to down whisky at 10am in a distillery, following a ride on a whisky barrel... We learnt a lot and even came away with a couple free gifts!

The distillery

The distillery

Another difference to our frequent Thursday night pub visits was the fact that we played games throughout. There were many a tense game of Jenga and Heads Up throughout our stay and it even earned us a round of shots from a friendly stranger, admiring our impeccable sportsmanship from the bar. Let's not even get onto our own version of Cards Against Humanity... we probably would have earned more than free shots for that.

FINALLY...
The best thing about staycations? You can return pretty soon. Not too far from home, and as I said earlier, likely cheaper than heading abroad. Anything you do miss while you're there can easily be done a few weeks, or months, later. Result!