The great Scottish escape

Let’s face it. Sometimes life can get pretty hectic.

If you’re lucky, you manage to find a seat on the early morning bus or train into work after scrambling desperately for a seat. It’s regularly crammed with empty crisp packets and sleepy commuters, who have their heads burried deep into an IPhone, carrying a strong, still, scoulding expression, reminiscent of their first cup of coffee that’s not fully kicked in yet.

At work, you reply to emails, answer calls, attend meetings, become ever so aware of that looming daily deadline and if you are anything like me, often contemplate running off to Ibiza, where you’ll set up a beach bar and consume daiquiris the size of your head on an oversized flamingo. Sounds super dreamy, right?

The travel home from work often feels like a zombie apocalypse, like the world is ending and everyone is trying to escape on the M8 or 22 bus. After impatiently waiting for your ride home that’s running ten minutes late, you are greeted by last nights dirty dishes and then spend an hour gazing at the fridge and wonder what you can whip up with your key ingredients – spinach and marshmallow fluff.

You wish Joe Wicks ‘Lean in 15’ would stop staring at you from the cupboard shelf with that beautiful hair and  washboard stomach while getting out a spoon for said marshmallow fluff.

Hanger 1 – You – 0.

And your social life? Ha, well – that’s another story. Dinner dates, work drinks, family catch ups, meeting friends you’ve not seen in 20 years but can’t cancel AGAIN as you’ve used all excuses while also struggling to stay on top of your group WhatsApp and striving to maintain a healthy relationship with your significant other. And BREATHE. #firstworldproblems

Not that I’m complaining, infact – quite the opposite! I love my job. I’m blessed to have an amazing group of friends and family. And my bus journey doesn’t have zombies, no. Well… not at every stop! And as IF I want to live in Ibiza and drink cocktails anyway.

Although I can’t help feeling, that every so often, when it’s been raining and the day has totally kicked my ass up and down, all I want to do is curl up on the couch with Kevin Spacey and a tub of my favourite Ben and Jerry’s. (Choc fudge brownie – obvs!)

I guess that’s just… life.

Sometimes you just want to get away from it all, right? Relax, kick back and have zero plans with zero people. Escape and go see the world. Be a hermit and stay in your pj’s for days. Not wash your hair for a week because you can. See if you can burp the alphabet after one too many ciders. No? Just… me?

With no proper time off work since February, I felt it was time to book in a chill holiday and escape the Monday to Friday 9-5. But with a pending visit to see my brothers in Australia – it would have to be somewhere that wouldn’t break the bank.

So, where could I feel at peace, have some serious down time… be surrounded by  postcard views and feel fresh air crowd my lungs?

Where could I be eaten by midges, feel the rain dribble off my just applied mascara and witness constant moody over cast skies? Scotland. Yeah, you guessed it. No where else in the world quite like it. 

While searching for the perfect staycation, I had a small mental checklist of what would be just perfect. I happened to stumble across a little gem called ‘The birds nest’ on Airbnb that happened to tick all the boxes, or ‘on paper’ was totally our type! Nestled in the farm lands of Aviemore – I pressed BOOK NOW and already had started counting down the days for our get away.

The day soon arrived! YAY.

After packing an excessive amount of all weather clothing, emptying Tesco shelves of beer, cider and essentials like strawberry laces, we set off on our adventure to our converted workshop for 3 full nights… we were SUPER excited! Maybe too excited as we ended up driving east coast towards to Aberdeen instead of North before realising we had missed a turn off. Holy crisps! It only put another hour or so onto the journey. Great. It was also approximately 20 odd degrees. That’s what you get when you think you are more savvy than the trusty satnav.

The road to get to our humble abode was a long, winding, super dusty track passing a beautiful array of quirky homes and a small pond, with nothing but a few ducks and boats floating over the gorgeous blue reflective water. Stunning!

As we drove past, I was almost hanging out the window trying to take 100 pictures – there was so much GREEN! After driving  over a small bridge with a passing steam train and what can only be described as a 180 degree bend – we had finally MADE it!

We checked in with Emily, the lovely owner of the nest who lovingly built the cabin with her husband as a project on their farm. It was perfect. I ran up and down with excitement, I mean, I knew it was going to be amazing but WOW. Just what I was looking for, secluded Scottish countryside.

The birds nest overlooks farmland and has a stunning view of the Cairngorms in the backdrop. It’s like someone has blown up a postcard and popped it on your window ledge. The weather was (I know we all say this being typically Scottish) but actually TOO HOT!

The cows were grazing, the sheep singing, deer dancing and hens clucking. I was suddenly an extra in the sound of music! Julie Andrews eat your heart out!

The interior was decorated in a very minimalist, super cool Scandinavian style that looked so effortless. You know, when cool people just throw cool things together but if you tried it might look like someone’s broke in and stole all your furniture. Yip, hear you.

With a compact kitchen space, couple of rocking chairs and a view from the kitchen overlooking the vast fields next to a small wood burning stove that would be perfect for winter nights… think hot chocolate, toasting marshmallows with a good book. *Cameron Diaz – the holiday* type scanario.

The steep, wooden staircase lead up to the mezzanine level – which holds a gorgeous lounge area and massive bed, all carefully designed and immaculately positioned. I couldn’t believe it was all HAND MADE in someone’s spare time. I mean, I don’t have enough time to get my nails done never mind build a cool converted cabin! Mental note: Must make better use of time!

The only thing that took me by surprise was the compost toilet. Basically, no standard flush but sawdust in its place. Totally in with the ecological and environmental friendly vibe the cabin has going on! It’s definitely enough to push the boundaries of a closer than close relationship, let’s just keep it at that peeps. Also – for a hoverer, it wasn’t easy.

The sun gods answered my prayers and it was a schorcher…. 25 degrees and climbing. So, we jumped in the car and headed down towards the beach to catch some rays. A MUST do is visit Loch Morlich. I could have been in Ibiza – although in Ibiza I would have had on a bikini like most normal people, not my heavy mom jeans, heels and a yellow top that would result in bad tan lines. I was feeling SO chilled already and seeing the breathtaking scenery was making me feel happy inside.

The water was clear, the sand was warm, the smell of the burgers over a BBQ was enough to make me drool (quite literally all over Chris’ t-shirt, whoops!) Now where is that daiquiri when you need it most? 🍸

After a few hours and some seriously bad tanlines, we decided to pop up the Cairngorms to catch some views with our lunch. It was a 90 degree hill and since we were packing some extra layers, the car wasn’t just stifling – it was struggling to even get past 20 miles an hour to the top. Some lads on cycles were passing us by, I’m sure I caught one of them sniggering and asking if we needed a push. Erm, yes please!?

We got there eventually and the views were epic. Still beautiful and the sun was shining all over the mountains, glistening across the water and manovering in and out the clouds above. I had NO signal. Nothing on my iPhone. I didn’t even miss it. The scenery was so amazing I felt like all my worries were drifting off into the clouds above.

After returning back to our retreat, having a few ciders and playing a cards for a few hours, we decided to hit the road. Emily explained we can walk into town easily through a forest that should only take an hour or so. Perfect. We had our maps looked out and felt confident we knew what we were doing.

The walk was beautiful and green… I felt like I was in Canada or America, out in the wilderness with wild dear hoping around, midges eating me alive. I repeatedly asked Chris if he knew where we were going and assuming he knew the way. Emm, negative. One hour in and no sight of human life, we realised we missed a path along the way. SO US!

I must admit, there is something nice about feeling lost. Feeling a million miles away from everyone and everything. We stumbled across an old steam railway just before sunset. Looking down the tracks, I wondered where the train was going. I wondered what was at the end of the road, the final destination.

It was so quiet, it was amazing to be switched off from the world for a while.

Then… I started thinking about WHAT THE HELL was going on in Love Island… Get me to the pub. Ahh! Where’s the wifi at peeps?

The rest of our time away was filled with eating, drinking, Cairngorm brewery tours, reading and writing. I can’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed and chilled. I can’t recommend it enough my friends, and even if you just need a long weekend, this is PERFECT for you.

Here are my top 5 tips for your escape in Aviemore – your must see and do’s.

1. Visit the Cairngorm brewery for a tour and LOTS of beer tasting afterwards. Malkie (who calls himself Malkie the Alkie) is absolutely brilliant and is also a stand up comedian. Best £5 you’ll spend… do NOT take the car!

2. Eat breakfast at The Mountian Cafe, grab a full breakfast and a slice of homemade cake, the selection is UNREAL. You are SO welcome.

3. Visit Loch Morlich and go kayaking, we totally would have if a certian someone didn’t get sea sick. The beach is beautiful. You can always pack a picnic and a few beers.

4. Stay at ‘The Birds Nest‘ in Aviemore, I think the pictures say it all. Make sure you have a car and walk into town is around an hour. Fresh eggs provided and THE comfiest bed.

5. Walk up the Cairngorms and see Scotland in all its beautiful-ness! If you pack rubbish shoes like me… you can always pop on the train up to the top to the cafe for a quick drink before heading back down.

Hope you enjoy the recommendations and if anyone could bring me home a big slice of red velvet – I would love you forever.

It’s pretty nice to sometimes just take some time out of everyday LIFE. Switch off, recharge those batteries, take a step back and realise that life is actually pretty…  extraordinary.

Ash ❤️

Dubai Diaries

Before it all went pete tong.

Before it all went pete tong.

It was no secret that I was going to Dubai from the very second Emirates accepted my credit card payment – well, post initial panic that I had booked the wrong dates that is. I casually screeched the news at my parents, text my ever-so-interested friends, dropped it into conversation at my local newsagent. I didn’t hold back in letting any of my clients at work know either  ‘What was that Mildred? You’re watering your plants? Cool. Well, err, I’m actually going to Dubai in a few weeks… don’t know if I’ve already mentioned it? BEAT THAT SISTER!’

Some might say I was pretty casual about the whole holiday scenario, not hyper at all, nope, not me. It was a new adventure, a new beautiful destination, a huge change of scenery and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love getting a bit of sunshine at this time of year when it’s this miserable at home?

Our best friend Steph, moved out to Dubai around a year and a half ago for work which:

1) Left the team a vital man down and us in tears (I only wear waterproof mascara when she is around now)

2) Now means we get THE best presents from Victoria’s Secrets AND cheap booze home at the holidays

3) Provided us with the perfect excuse to go over and visit any time we wanted and see her face

So, with the latter in mind, the girls and I booked a flight in hope that we got to see this new, amazing, glamorous, surreal lifestyle our friend was now living, additionally in hope that we would not be arrested or detained for being our drunk and disorderly good selves. Amen.

Before I knew it, Jill and myself were throwing back our last-minute ciders and pizza at Glasgow airport while making a run for the departure gate (In our heads, we had champagne and oysters at the emirates lounge – we shouldn’t have pinned our hopes on an upgrade) Once on the plane and a ‘good few’ complimentary vodkas in, we were high as a kite… or an Emirates flight for that matter.

I found myself sandwiched in the middle seat on the 8 hour flight. To my right aisle, an elderly woman named Cynthia, who managed to tell me her intriguing life story in between very regular toilet breaks and requesting vast amounts of gin and tonic. To my left window, my partner in crime Jill, who found it rather hilarious to press my assistance buttons to order alcohol continuously throughout the flight – which left me looking like an extravagant economy class diva. We found ourselves in a pretty great position to hear a frantic woman a few rows behind us in a very entertaining screaming and shouting match. Apparently, her brand new white converse had been subject to spillage and that someone (I felt sorry for whoever the someone was) owed her £56 pounds due to accidental red wine damage. It went on for a few minutes until the now burgundy converse owner threw her napkin directly at the flight attendant demanding cash from someone! What a hustler! People around us whispered and rolled their eyes ‘She better shut it – she’s going to get arrested!’

After the drama had dissolved and the 8 hours worth of vodka and hilarity was starting to wear off, came in an announcement from the captain. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts and prepare for… the feeling of the warm sun against your skin, the taste of ice-cold daiquiris and mojitos and an ache in your feet from dancing the night away! Cabin crew, will you please take your seats.’ And buckle up we did, because it was going to be one hell of a journey.

Now, I don’t know exactly what I had in my mind for Dubai, but what I saw when I arrived exceeded every image I ever had and any expectation I ever had. We checked into a hotel in the city centre on our first day (rooftop pool, oh, HI!) then we headed down to the dream that is JBR beach. After making it in one piece through crazy Dubai traffic, we arrived to a beautiful, picture perfect beach on a 30 degree day with barely a cloud in sight.

As we lay down on the sand, sunglasses on, I remember thinking that I wish my life was made of small moments like that, just simple, but perfect. Best friends, laughing over nothing, swimming in the water, eating frozen yoghurt with our toes in the sand while singing along to some classic ‘Return of the Mac’ channelling our inner Mark Morrison’s. It all felt pretty surreal. Camels and banana boats to the left of me, Jill’s nose stuck in 50 shades of Grey to the right, towering sky scrapers behind me with a crystal clear sea rolled out in front and as far as the eye could see.

camel 4

I felt like someone had picked me up and dropped me on the front cover of a First Choice holiday brochure it was so beautiful.. minus the fact I was blinding passers-by I was so pale and that I was also sweating rather profusely. To overt attention away from the fact I was both sweaty and white (super attractive, right?) I talked Gail into coming to do some hand stands down near the water with me and being the absolute sweetheart she is, agreed to even get involved. Now folks, I must admit that I’m usually a pro at the old hand stands and cartwheels. I mean, I used to do them around my room up until, I don’t know, like a few months ago… sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch me whip out a cheeky handstand on a night out.

So, there I was, trying to look all Beyonce ‘Drunk in Love’ on the beach incorporating a bit of a Jay-Z swagger walking down to the water. Gail signalled that she was ready to take the pictures even though there was about 10 people with kids who stopped to watch me. First handstand, nope, didn’t get it right. Damn it! The pressure was now on, people were peering over there sun glasses in anticipation of this girl, on the beach, with crazy concentration levels while making random acrobatic movements. Jeez, how does Louis Smith do it with all these people watching?

Second attempt, YES, I was up, perfect picture. Oh, no…noo… to far over! I suddenly managed to flip into some sort of weird crab position, landing on the solid, wet, wet sand, THUD. The population of JBR beach must have thought an off the Richter scale earthquake had hit or perhaps that some large mammal had found itself beached on the shore. I had winded myself pretty badly. I let out a loud squeal, a squeal so high-pitched that I’m sure the dolphins were tuning in on my frequency. OUCH. I crawled back to my towel as onlookers scurried on.

Now, I was more like Beyonce ‘Sober in Pain’ with a bit of Jay-Z who’s just been kicked in the nads swag. Oh, not to mention that I had sand indented into my back for about a day.

And that kids, is how it’s done.

After an amazing dinner at Steph’s favourite place at JBR ‘The Cheesecake factory’ (any type of cheesecake imaginable with portions of food the size of your HEAD) we headed backs to the hotel to get our glam on for our first night out in Dubai at ‘The Address.’ It was ladies night. For those of you who, like me, love cosmopolitans, good music, great surroundings and more importantly FREE booze – it’s your dream. When we arrived, the view was breath-taking. Dubai’s skyline mesmerized me so much, I almost forgot that we could get free cocktails for 4 hours. The four of us gathered around a small candle lit table with an abundance of cosmos, chat, laughs and some seriously questionable dance moves.

We were on a roll, the minute one had finished, we were back up a the bar, nudging our way in for our delicious freebies. As I was standing, quietly minding my business while trying to gauge the attention of the bar staff, a rather odd-looking man held out his hand to some fast paced salsa song and tried to dance with me. Now, when I say dance, I mean drag me around the floor, spinning me around in hope that maybe I knew a few ‘moves’ which clearly, I didn’t. After a polite smile and a few thumbs up while pointing over to the girls with my drinks from the bar, I managed to make my speedy get away. He then proceeded to walk up to the table, tried to plant a kiss on my cheek during which he managed to spray half his whisky drink all over me! Smooth. I mean, was it not bad enough when prince charming almost pulled my arm out my socket trying to salsa me into a frenzy, he felt the need to share his drink with me too? Before I understood what happened, he was gone, leaving nothing but Gail and I howling with laughter at the bizarre, unnecessary yet hysterical scene we had just witnessed. Shortly after, the free bar closed and we made our way to the next destination… maybe not quite as sober as we had arrived.

This time, we headed for Baristi beach to catch some last drinks before home time. Inside there was a sea of unrecognizable faces, a cloud of sheisha filled the air, the beach waves just a minute wonder from the bar… it just oozed beach-bum brilliance. We only stayed for a few drinks as we had a long day ahead of us on the Friday for our Brunch and we had been warned not to get too carried away by our resident tour guide Steph, so we all grabbed a taxi and headed back to the hotel.

Now, most people, would have went to bed, it was already after 2 am. After Steph left us to go home, Gail, Jill and myself decided we weren’t so tired after all and were still up for carrying on the party. We headed down with our free drinks token to Nelson’s bar within the hotel where we were greeted by a bouncer and a couple of I.D checks (brownie points already, Nelson’s!)

Inside, there was a nautical theme. I felt like I was on a boat and no, it wasn’t because of the shots we had just downed at the bar. After claiming our free drinks, we were told that we only had about 45 minutes left. So, we grabbed our vodkas, presented our best dance moves in the middle of the floor to the likes of Aerosmith and Katy Perry – I think at one point we were cuddling each other in the middle of the floor screeching in true karaoke style ‘And I don’t wanna miss a thingggg.’ Thankfully, the bouncer separated us and told us to ‘make fast tracks.’

While on route back to the hotel room, we suddenly thought, what better night-cap than another Jager bomb? I mean, that will definitely put us right to sleep.

As we made a pit stop at the overcrowded bar, we bumped into Rob. Rob, bless him, was a retired architect who had been working between Abu Dhabi and Dubai most his life. He was late 60’s early 70’s and from Glasgow, so, when he heard our accents he was overjoyed and keen to chat to us. Funny that, isn’t it? I guess it’s much like finding a can of Irn Bru on holiday, you know it’s going to be there somewhere, it’s just SO exciting when you find it, a piece of home, some familiarity.

Rob had on a worn baseball cap, his white free-flowing hair peering out from underneath, sitting just to the shoulder of his vivacious Hawaiian oversized shirt. He was slim, a chain smoker and enjoyed talking about politics. The deep lines around his long face told a story and boy, did he have a few for us. We bought Rob a few Jagers in exchange for tales about his time in Dubai. After asking if any of us were single and verging on creepy man territory, the girls and I sobered up ever so slightly and made the eyes at each other. You know, when you need removed from a situation immediately? Yup, those one’s. After being moved on by the bouncers anyway, we said our goodbyes to our new-found friends at Nelson’s and eventually made our way up to bed…

Our big brunch day out was now only a few hours off and I had a feeling we might not be as fresh as we originally promised. My mind was racing and I couldn’t sleep with excitement… or was that the vast consumption of red bull? Our first day in Dubai had been absolutely amazing, I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the holiday. I didn’t want to close my eyes as I didn’t want the day to be over. After a few minutes, I eventually managed to drift off into a deep sleep with nothing but the cities bright lights left on… Oh, yeah, and my data roaming.