Sunny days in Scotland: Loch Lomond and Balloch Castle

The view of Loch Lomnd from Balloch Castle

The view of Loch Lomond from Balloch Castle

Just 40 minutes from my house by train and car is the stunning area of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, with Balloch Castle sitting overlooking the loch. It costs just £5 return and if you take a picnic is a very enjoyable and cheap day out. Whenever I have people to stay who haven’t been to Glasgow much, and if the weather is nice, I always suggest a trip to the loch. It generally takes them by surprise that somewhere so beautiful and perceivably remote is so close by. Trains run regularly from glasgow central, even on Sundays.

You can take a short 10 minute walk from Balloch station, go up the road and turn to walk up by the side of the loch to find a nice picnic spot. Kids can paddle in certain areas and there’s even

Feeding the gulls.

Feeding the gulls.

some sandy patches. Alternatively you can get a boat around the loch or do some water-sports, or take a more adventurous walk and bike ride around this picturesque area. Ben Lomond is nearby if you fancy climbing a mull. I just took the 1st option as it was so hot and I had my little monkey with me. After the picnic and some excitement of feeding the birds (monkey has never seen gulls so close before), we climbed a small embankment to arrive at the stunning green space that surrounds Balloch Castle. The Castle itself is generally closed as they seem to be refurbishing it but the grounds are so beautiful you probably won’t mind (the castle is pretty small too to be fair).

I love this place, it really holds a special place in my heart. If I had lots of money I would buy a holiday home or even a permanent home here in a second. It just encompasses it all for me – 40 minutes from a large bustling city but right in the middle of gorgeous countryside, by a body of water. Some spots are really isolated too, if you head up

The stunning grounds of Balloch Castle

The stunning grounds of Balloch Castle

towards Rowardennan hostel and camping area it starts where the road finishes. The hostel incidentally, is a really lovely place to stay in and the camping area looks great too. There’s some fabulous walks to do around that area including an old archaeology walk. You’ll walk past amazing family houses up that way with tree houses and outdoor spaces any young child would adore….

The Castle and the loch itself is good enough though if you fancy an easy trip close to public transport links and civilised society. I always find the spot overlooking the loch incredibly peaceful and whenever I go I kick myself for not going more. So my pledge this time is that I will go on a weekend more and I will go at least once in the week alone when my monkey is at nursery to just sit and meditate for an afternoon when the weather is nice.

If you fancy a more luxurious trip there’s some very nice restaurants and pubs and also some

A tree of yin and yang

A tree of yin and yang

cabins that sit on the west side of the loch that you can rent as part of a hotel. You can find these at but there are also many more that you will find with a simple google search.

There’s a fabulous tree here that has been struck by lightening and half of the tree died whilst the other half lived on apparently undamaged; despite the fact the entirety of the roots and the inner trunk appear to be completely destroyed. I love looking at this tree, for me it sums up the fighting spirit all living things are capable of showing – surviving against all odds and remaining a thing of beauty even in its gnarled and war torn state.

So Loch Lomond and The Trossachs and Balloch Castle is my next suggestion of what to do when it’s sunny in Glasgow! For adventure, relaxation, meditation and yoga or just a nice picnic, paddle and feeding the birds – Loch Lomond can see to your every whim in my opinion 🙂

A photo that sums up the pure enjoyment a little girl will get from just running in fields in the sunshine

A photo that sums up the pure enjoyment a little girl will get from just running in fields in the sunshine

A place to revisit… Athens, Greece


A few years ago I was given the opportunity to go to Athens for a few days to meet a friend who was working out there on the George Michael tour. I got to stay in a posh hotel with a roof top pool, drink far too many cocktails (my 1st experience of a long island ice tea ended rather messily) and I was able to do a bit of exploring too albeit on my own. The only downside was it was just days before all the fires started up around Athens so the temperature was easily over 40 degrees everyday I was there – it was also shocking to be so close to something that ended up being devastating to a whole country. When you have my whiter than white complexion that burns within 10 minutes of seeing the sun this kind of weather is slightly problematic.

Due to this being a flying visit I’ve always wanted to go back at a more reasonable time of year and explore the history, culture and also the Islands. Several Greek people insisted that ‘Greece’ was not Athens but the Islands. I still enjoyed visiting The Acropolis, and my friend still likes to remind me that I insisted on climbing the rock face opposite it in a long Wolford skin tight dress and heels much to the amazement of onlookers – I did actually remove the heels but I guess his version sounds more exciting. We were also going out for a very posh meal in a popular restaurant (sorry, I have no idea of the name but I was there with several big foodies and wine aficionados who insisted we go to this particular restaurant halfway up a mountain), so I insisted on wearing my posh dress and heels – naturally…..




Greece was one of my rare trips where it was a last minute offer, so I did next to no research on what to see and do. This means that I now know of about 50 things I could go back and fully appreciate. I did manage to visit the old Olympic area but it was so hot that even with a parasol I was forced to go back and take cover by the pool. I was only there for a few days so once I’d seen the Acropolis, the old theatre areas and the olympic grounds I’d basically run out of time unfortunately. This is why I would love to go back!


I did manage eat an awful lot of food and drink way (perfect holiday to many, I know!), and this break also marked the beginning of a long standing friendship with the guy who invited me to meet him, so I have lots of great memories. I just know there’s so much more to Greece than what I saw though…..


This photo always makes me realise I should possibly start using fake tan – I’m so pale I think the sunlight just bounces off me – great for the people lying next to me as I suspect I act like a sheet of foil but not a good look in bright sunlight when photographed. I’ve always resisted the urge. instead feeling like I should embrace who I am and what i look like but a tan does look so much better in photos 🙂


Another highlight of this holiday was getting to see George Michael perform in his home country – I again had to go alone as my friend was working but I was impressed by how good George actually was. I have no issue doing solo travel and have always managed to enjoy my own company. Being a geeky socially awkward kid (and adult) generally gets you used to being alone. However, I feel gigs (especially in a foreign country) should probably be enjoyed with company.


I’m not sure how the economic situation has affected Greece or its tourist industry but at some point in the future I will do a year long backpack/motor home trip around Europe and it’s top of my list along with Rome, of places to revisit. Incidentally Rome is definitely joint top – I went for a 4 day trip with an ex boyfriend who managed to annoy me for the entire 4 days (hence the ex part of our relationship). But I adored Rome and never took a photo so although I have the memories I don’t have anything to look back at and I love looking at my past travel photos as they always invoke such positive feelings for me and remind me how much I love travelling.


A place I could live… Amsterdam!


Continuing my theme of writing about past places I have visited, I thought I’d talk about Amsterdam. I’ve now been 3 times and it’s one of the places I would happily move to tomorrow if given the opportunity. I think it’s a mixture of the memories I have of going (I went for my 21st birthday and had an amazing time with 2 fantastic friends) which create a nostalgic feel, the fact that everyone speaks English which as a woman (or anyone in fact) makes me feel quite safe and secure. Add to that the beauty and friendliness of the city itself and you have a surefire winner with me. Of course if you love those special cigarettes it might well be high on your list (and possibly not the only thing that’s high either) but… I’m assuming everyone knows about that great tourist trap so this post is about those slightly more unknown treats in Amsterdam that are a wee bit further off the beaten track 🙂

As always my photos from a few years ago aren’t great due to being taken on a camera phone, but hopefully you get the idea anyway. Having been 3 times I’ve had the opportunity to explore Amsterdam off the beaten track a little. I’ve done all the usual things on my 1st visit (spending far too long in all the cafes, visiting the sex museum etc), so the next 2 times I went I tried to do something different.


Being a hippie at heart and always having had a n affinity with buddhism although I’d never describe myself as practising; it was great to find a fully functioning Chinese Buddhist Temple ‘Fo Guang Shan’, right in the centre of Amsterdam. Not many people I’ve met know about it and it offered a really peaceful break from the bustle and ‘greenery’ of the city.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALocated in Amsterdam’s Chinatown at, Zeedijk 106-118, 1012 BB AMSTERDAM. I really recommend going if you can. It is a centre for meditation but also offers tours. According to tourist information, “the animals on the roof represent the Chinese Zodiac. The dragon is thought to protect the entire temple grounds. The buildings flanking the temple house the Buddhist nuns and a library. The characteristic architecture of these buildings makes for an unusual juxtaposition with the typical Dutch buildings surrounding the temple.”


Wandering further afield on my 3rd visit took me to the real life fairy tale castle that is Muiderslot. It was a bit of an adventure to get there – it took 2 trains, a bus and a bit of a walk but it was well worth the visit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more perfect representation of a fairytale castle up to date. It’s included in the UNESCO world heritage sites and dates back to the 13th Century. It was built by Count Floris V but 300 years later was inhabited by ‘the Dutch Shakespeare’ Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft. The castle is huge, with it’s own moat which comes with picturesque lilly pads. It’s a real family day out with plenty to do and see – there’s a fanatic armoury, and an interactive quest for children and adults alike. I happened to go on a gorgeous hot day and the actual town of Muiden is also very beautiful too. According to tourist information you get there by the following instructions:

Your Connexxion 1 day or 3 days ticket for the Amsterdam Region is also valid on bus 320, 322, 327 and 328 from Amsterdam Amstel Station to Muiden/Muiderslot. Take the train to Weesp and a bus to Muiden or cycle along the river Vecht in 15 minutes to Muiden.

From March 30st 2013 you van take the ferry from Amsterdam IJburg, tram 26 from the Central Station, to the castle. A great trip away from the city. For information and bookings:


As you can see the Castle also boasts some lovely gardens where they hold battles and a falconry. It’s all set in the midst of some peaceful countryside too by the river so it made for a nice walk back to the station.

One of the reasons I love Amsterdam is it’s architecture. It manages to merge the quaint with the modern, culture and history with liberal laws on marijuana consumption and it also appears to do it with comparatively few social problems. Now I know the sex district and the drug culture worries some but it’s not something you even notice unless you purposefully venture to those areas – or at least that’s what I found anyway.

My favourite cafe in Amsterdam is called the dolphins – it has trippy underwater murals downstairs and sells some of the best greenery in the city (in my opinion) – if you like that kind of thing then I fully recommend a trip there (if it’s still open of course)!


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou’ll find the cafe here: Kerkstraat 39, 1017 GB Amsterdam,

Even writing this post has just made me want to go back – Amsterdam most definitely stole my heart!


I loved this little house near to Muiden … although I think it would be the city in one of the higgledy piggledy town houses that I’d ultimately choose to live, overlooking the canal right in the middle of the city hubbub.




So there you have it … my 1st love but hopefully the 1st of many to come. One day I really hope I get the opportunity to live in this city even if only for a few months. Barge life does also appeal in many ways although maybe not in the winter months!



The one that started it all…..


I thought I’d do some posts about my past travels – Egypt wasn’t the 1st place I visited but it was definitely the one that gave me some massively itchy feet. I think it was possibly a mixture of who I went with, the place I was in psychologically and just the fact Egypt is such a mystical place. It has to be in an awful lot of people’s ‘top 10 places to see before I die’ lists.

I travelled with a friend, on a whim, on an all inclusive cheap last minute deal. We went for a week and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. We flew out to Sharm-el-sheikh and stayed in a little 3 star hotel. The flights were delayed on the way out so we missed the chance to book a trip to the Valley of the Kings but that didn’t really matter at the time.

It sounds strange but the staff at the hotel (in particular Atia the manager) and our package holiday guide Mina probably made the holiday. We were surrounded by rude Brit’s abroad who insulted the Egyptian culture and generally made me feel ashamed to be British – possibly because we weren’t like that, we had an amazing relationship with all the staff and especially Mina – who remains one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. He spoke numerous languages and there was no question he couldn’t answer. At least not one that I could think of, including questions about the geology of the Sinai mountain range (he gave me both the historical religious story and the actual geological make-up of the range). I think our hotel was called The Falcon but i’ve looked for it online and can’t find it. I assume in a place like Sharm el Sheikh things probably change often but if it is there I would really recommend it.

Nothing (so far) has taken my breath away as much as seeing the enormity of the Sphinx, or going inside a pyramid and just standing before these incredible, massive structures. Now, I went on this holiday with very little money, I wasn’t a seasoned traveller and had a crappy disposable camera and my photos no doubt reflect that. I really can’t wait to go back and really take some magnificent pictures!

Historically significant places have always held me in a thrall – none more so than Egypt and the pyramids (although so far the Colosseum, Rome comes a close second). I find myself under a spell imagining the historical events that must have happened in the presence of the pyramids. NO photo that I have seen as ever conveyed the sheer size of it all either – the Sphinx always looks tiny for some reason. I think it’s because it’s always in the perspective of being in front of the pyramids – however in real life it is absolutely huge. That probably took me by surprise the most….


 This is what I mean – it looks so tiny in photos and I could have stood gazing at it for hours in reality because it was so breathtakingly huge and beautiful!

I think Egypt, and this trip in particular, will always hold a special place in my heart. It was a quick, week long package holiday that was nothing special. We did all the usual typical tourist things. We rode camels and went and ate with the bedouin people and climbed the sinai mountains to watch the sun set. We went to Cairo and saw the pyramids and were taken to the Museum and the markets and to a papyrus shop. We laid by the pool for all of 5 minutes (boring by comparison), and went on a slightly disastrous boat trip in one of those half-submarines that are meant to show you the sea life (we missed the 1st trip and got shoved on a fully booked one so hardly actually saw anything but we got the gist of what we were meant to see). We went to see a Russian-esque horse show and belly dancers (clearly just a tourist show in Sharm el Sheikh) – this show was actually the place we had to stand and listen to some family insult Egyptian culture to our lovely tour guide and try to convey to him silently that we were horrified and also nothing like that. He got the picture and it seemed to cement our friendship with him for the week.

I’m struggling to find the words to say that a holiday or a trip of a lifetime is what you make of it – somehow a week felt like a lifetime and we laughed and laughed our way through a glorious week that changed my life. It changed it in subtle ways, but it definitely changed me and also when I came back I knew that nothing will ever make me as happy as travelling and experiencing all the amazing places the world has to offer. It was at this moment when I knew that if I didn’t see the world and all it has to offer; and learn about and experience cultures 1st hand, then I would have an unforgivable regret at the end of my life.

I’ve only just started to set off on that path to achieving my dream and I probably won’t be able to get going for a couple of years (saving money and finishing my degree), but I have this trip to Egypt in all it’s budget package holiday glory, to thank for making me realise that this is what I want.

Below are my crappy, blurry photos taken with my trusty disposable camera, as rubbish as they may be they still make me smile whenever I look at them. I get pangs of longing to go back too. I think in a way you have to do Egypt once in order to learn how to do Egypt properly. Once the political situation has calmed down, I’ll be back in a second but I think I’d start at the top in Cairo and work my way down the Nil;e and next time I have to experience the Valley of the Kings!


 It was so hard to get a complete shot of the pyramid because they’re just so damn huge – this one kinda captures it though. The one below is tiny me in front of one – I think the perspective of how small the people are really gets across the enormity of the challenge the Egyptians faced when building these structures.



Below is myself and our lovely tour guide Mina – we felt such an affinity with him. I wish we were still in touch. I’m unfortunately looking pale and sweaty (I’m always pale – but this is not a flattering photo after 12 hours in  the desert!) I also discovered on this holiday that I look much better with hair 🙂



Our very grumpy uncomfortable camels – although that seems to be the norm with camels!

Image010_9A Image015_15A

I wasn’t overly impressed with the Nile in Cairo – I suppose I had an image of what I thought it would be whereas it seemed a bit grubby.


The view of Cairo from the pyramids, which are just behind me as I took the photo.


 I’ll finish here – I think Egypt will be one of those places that will mean different things to different people and no experience will be the same. Mine was endlessly positive and in many ways life changing. But I have spoken to people who hated it; I’m sure there are legitimate reasons but most of the people I’ve met have just been so wrapped up in people begging or so apparently offended by it without taking a moment to understand the economics or sociology of the country. There are lots of people begging, I suppose I just knew in a country where 80% live in poverty that would always be the case and it didn’t bother me.

Howrever I can’t recommend enough that you visit this amazing, complex and mysterious country – preferably at least twice in your lifetime!

TEFL-ing through the week

tefl scotlandI found that the 30 hour grammar section on the TEFL course took me a long time to complete. Not 30 hours, I think in total hours it probably took less than that but I ended up doing it over the course of a few weeks and in reality I should have had it finished in 2, maximum!

The TEFL 50 hour methodology section is the exact opposite. I’ve only been doing it for a couple of days and I’m already nearly halfway through. The assignments are small and there’s the same quizzes there was on the grammar bit. I’m hopeful I’ll actually have this done by the end of next week or the week after at the latest.

I think the way I’ve decided to approach learning how to teach english as a foreign language is probably going to end up being the right way for me. The online TEFL course has exposed me to the complicated grammar. After doing a series of online tests I’m in no way an expert (not even close), but I have at least been exposed to the language of grammar. Previous to this I wouldn’t have had a clue if someone asked me for examples of sentences in the present perfect continuous. I would still have to look it up, but I would know they weren’t just making up phrases now! The TEFL course is also giving me a lot of resources and lesson plans and getting me to think about how I should teach and approach the subject. Because I’m not getting any actual teaching practice though, I still think it will be best to do the CELTA course next year which will give me a lot more applied practice. It also won’t be quite so stressful and intense as I can refresh my memory from all my workbooks from TEFL before I do the course.

I also know what my weak points are so I can make sure to ask someone to explain them better at the CELTA course (transitive and intransitive verbs spring to mind here for sure)!

So basically I’d say if you’re thinking about doing the training and have to wait before starting the CELTA like I have, then definitely do the 120 hour TEFL course if you can afford it. You can even access the videos on youtube if you want. Some of the grammar videos were strange but I am finding the actual teaching videos very helpful – here’s a link to the 1st online TEFL video. They’re meant to be supplementary to the course but probably give some helpful tips anyway on teaching practice, certainly the later ones do.

It is possible to power through this course in far less time than it says too – I think if you didn’t have any other obligations you could even get it done in a week if you did a lot of work (obviously)!

Sunny days in Scotland – The Isle of Bute

IMG_0523So Last Monday it was a beautiful sunny day, on a whim I decided to travel out to the Isle of Bute. I’ve been in Glasgow a while and shamefully have to admit I’ve not done a massive amount of exploring. I’ve been to Ayr, Loch Lomond, Edinburgh, St Andrews, and Stirling, but that’s about it.


The Isle Of Bute takes about 90 minutes in total from Glasgow central (50 mins by train the a 35 minute ferry ride). The trains and ferries are hourly and line up nicely on the timetable. It really is worth the trip. It also seems to be a popular family destination with plenty to do around the isle. I’d read a bit online before going and discovered there are a few sandy beaches. My little monkey hadn’t been to the beach or paddled in the sea so I must admit this was the main aim. I decided on heading to Ettrick Bay, the closest beach to Rothesay. There’s regular buses from Rothesay the main town on Bute where the ferry lands. There was meant to be a tour bus but it didn’t show up so we just jumped on the next normal bus.


Ettrick Bay has a little café called the Ettrick Bay Tearoom where you can eat, grab a drink and of course go to the loo and get changed – essential things when you have a small child. The bay itself is really beautiful with a gorgeous view of both Arran and Kintyre in the distance.


The sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot so we managed to spend an hour or two digging and paddling away before monkey got tired and needed a nap. She’s well accustomed to the baby carrier so slept on my back whilst I headed back to Rothesay for a bit of an explore.


There’s Rothesay Castle to explore which is small but has it’s own moat and an incredibly long history dating right back to the 13th century. I thought it was a tiny bit expensive at £4.50 – there wasn’t much educational stuff set up but it was a quiet break away from the world and I still like the really historical locations as they always hold a bit of a spell over me. Rothesay Castle didn’t have the level of effect the Colosseum had when I was in Rome but it was still a wee bit mystical.


All together I think the day trip cost about £40 per adult for all the travel and all our food and the castle trip so if you can spare that kind of money and find yourself in Glasgow on a sunny day I’d really recommend a trip out to the Isle Of Bute.



How big should a safety net be?

Casting-a-Net-IrrawaddyI’m such a lazy blogger – I know this! I’ve been putting it off and putting it off and really it’s just because things have been ticking along nicely. It’s not much to write home about I’m afraid.

I’ve finally finished the grammar section on the TEFL course so I’ve just started off on the methodology section. I’m hoping to get this done a bit quicker if I’m honest. I really need to discipline myself to at least an hour a day and more if I can. I’m about to start doing the research for my dissertation, as it’s a frightening 2 ½ months until I go back to uni. I’ve also been getting on well with driving – apparently I can do perfect manoeuvres, including a perfect 1st attempt at parallel parking. However I’m rubbish at clutch control – as always it’s the small things I struggle with so nothing new there. I’ve been known to get the most complex of stuff straight away and be flummoxed by the beginner stage of whatever it is that I’m learning. So this is the mission for next weeks lesson: get to grips with the stupid clutch!

The only thing I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is a bit of an inner dilemma I’m having about how big a back up plan a person needs. To explain that a bit better – Now I’ve decided that I want to travel I’m so focused on that, that I’m reluctant to apply for the usual graduate jobs in case I get sucked into the trap of feeling obligated to take them as it’s secure money etc etc. But it also feels quite scary to not apply for anything throughout the whole of my final year just in case the worst happens and for any reason at all I can’t go travelling and then find myself jobless, with another year to wait before I can apply for all the schemes.

How big should my safety net be? This question has been bothering me for a while.

My plan up until now has been to move back to Manchester and take an opportunity I have to live with a friend without the massive expense of rent and bills in order to save up for roughly a year or maybe 18 months so I fund a RTW trip and have some money behind me to then settle wherever life takes me without having to immediately worry if I’m not making a full time wage straight away. I guess it just feels kind of scary to let all the deadlines go by for the jobs and the graduate schemes without applying for a single one even though that if I follow my dream I’d turn them all down anyway. So what I’ve decided is that whilst in Manchester for a year or more I may as well apply for the Masters at the University – there’s an interesting one called an Ethics and Political Philosophy MA. I don’t think I’d go for the Mres as it’s so geared up towards getting you to write a PhD proposal and I feel it’d be super stressful whereas the ethics and political one is my main area of interest and actually sounds kind of fun. There is a bit of funding available at Manchester too, whereas in Glasgow there’s none for a Masters. So my back up plan if the travelling never happened would be that I could always go for the doctorate if I did well. Pretty nice sounding back up plan in a way hey?!

The bonus as well is that I know having a degree and an MA can be hugely beneficial in getting a visa to some countries especially if they operate a points based system. So I know Hong Kong gives you lots more points for every degree and MA you have, and the University teaches in English. Glasgow philosophy department is actually linked to Hong Kong University so I know I could apply there to study in the future if I decided it was a route I wanted to travel down. Also the MA would be good as a bridge between philosophy and sociology. I adore philosophy but I think deep down it’s sociology and in particular visual sociology I’m very interested in – I’d love to do a big photographic project whilst travelling with a sociological theme to it for example and then possibly take something like that further academically….

I guess what I’m saying is that I need to just take this leap, don’t apply for the jobs that will take me too far from the path I truly want to follow, but I’ve realised that if there’s something I can do whilst directly working towards my goal that can act as a back up plan – well I’d probably be daft not to do it – I should be grabbing all the opportunities I can and accepting all the help offered to me.

So that’s how big my safety net should be – big enough to make me feel secure but small enough it doesn’t ruin the view I have of mine and my daughters future.