Friday, 13 July 2018

Scotland | 5 Beautiful Places to Camp on the NC500

Driving the North Coast 500 has been on our bucket list for the last year or two - ever since some clever marketing genius made the northern Scottish highlands route a "thing" I guess. With it's ever growing popularity you can imagine business owners are taking full advantage in the increased tourism and prices are bound to go up as hotels and B&B's try to meet demand. If, like us, you'd like to spend the week exploring our beautiful home country on a budget, camping is an excellent option! 

Juniper mug at Clachtoll campsite

We spent 5 nights camping along the NC500 route and each spot we picked was beautiful, with it's own unique appeal. The heatwave was a welcome surprise too and it's safe to say that the sun had a big part to play in our positive camping experience. If you're planning your own trip, I hope I can help by sharing the 5 beautiful places we chose to camp...

View from Applecross
Deer at Applecross
cooking and cocktails at Applecross campsite
View from Applecross

Applecross Campsite

We made our way from Aberdeenshire to Inverness, then headed west to Applecross for our first night. A medium sized campsite, with a small reception area which closes at night time, and ample toilets and shower facilities. It's nothing fancy but has all the basics covered.

A short walk from the camp site is the Applecross Inn which has an excellent selection of local beer and Scottish spirits and incredible views across to Skye! Deer are known to roam freely in the area and we met some right outside the campsite, as well as along the shore. A perfect start to our highland adventure.

Cost = £22* 
(*1 night camping for 2 people in a medium size tent)

Gairloch Sands campsite
NC500 camping
Gairloch Sands campsite

Sands Caravan & Camping Park, Gairloch

This one came highly recommend and didn't disappoint. A short drive from the main village of Gairloch, Sands is huge with camping space stretched across the length of the beach. There's a large shop with a good selection of food, drinks (including gin!) and all your camping essentials, a café and outside catering van, plus a TV and games room, play area and two large toilet and shower blocks - with straighteners! 

The Barn Café looks lovely and we enjoyed a cold pint of Thistly Cross cider but it is quite expensive for food. Anyway, the campsite literally has everything you could possibly need and the view of the beach is unreal!

Cost = £20*

Clachtoll beach
Clachtoll beach campsite
Clachtoll beach

Clachtoll Beach Campsite

My favourite of the campsites, Clachtoll was smaller and more secluded feeling - despite being only a couple of feet from our neighbour. We didn't book ahead (as we weren't staying the minimum 2 nights) but they were happy to accommodate us just turning up and even gave us a guided tour of the site. The toilet and shower block was super clean, with hairdryers and straighteners provided, and we made use of the freezer for our ice blocks. Extra facilities include media charging lockers and a hot drinks/soup vending machine.

A short walk up the road is a tiny wee shop selling lots of goodies ideal for campsite cooking, and Gordon picked up a few beers there too. However, the star attraction is by far the secluded beach with white sand and crystal blue waters!

Cost = £22*

Wild camping at Loch Hope
Wild camping at Ben Hope
Wild camping at Loch Hope

Wild Camping at Loch Hope

On our 4th night we decided to go a little off the NC500 route and wild camp along the shores of Loch Hope, so we were nice and close for hiking Ben Hope in the morning. Our location was picturesque overlooking the loch with the mountain looming behind us, but the reality wasn't so ideal. We were swarmed by horse flies and bitten to death! Once we'd got a wee campfire going though it kept the worst of the beasties away and we were able to cook our sausages on the camp stove and enjoy a cheeky dram. 

This was the only place we had any problems with clegs so don't worry about it too much - we were maybe just unlucky! If you do decide to wild camp anywhere I'd recommend you have a wee walk around the area before you pitch your tent. As for campfires - keep it small and avoid anywhere near dry grass, heather, peaty ground etc especially at this time of year!

Cost = Free!

Wild camping at Ben Hope

Wild camping is legal in Scotland but there are a few rules - read the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Basically don't do it in large groups and make sure you leave absolutely no trace - i.e. pick up your rubbish and don't damage the area.

John O'Groats sign NC500
Duncansby stacks near John O'Groats
Flavours ice-cream at John O'Groats 
John O'Groats Caravan & Camping Site

I have to admit this was my least favourite of our overnight stops. John O'Groats campsite was fairly basic, with a rubbish hairdryer in the shower blocks and nowhere to plug my own in, but it was clean and my expectations were fairly high from the West coast sites!

It's within walking distance of the John O'Groats sign, Stacks Coffee House & Bistro, and Flavours ice cream shop which I highly recommend. Plus the view from our pitch overlooking the cliffs was pretty unbeatable!

Cost = £18*

Achmelvich beach NC500

There are a couple of other sites we didn't stay at but would like to try in future including Shore Caravan site at Achmelvich beach (head here if you can't get a spot at Clachtoll!), Sango Sands Camp Site at Durness (we would have stayed here if we didn't wild camp at Loch Hope) and Dunnet Bay Caravan site. 

I hope you've found this helpful in planning your own NC500 camping trip. 
If you have any other recommendations please do leave them in the comments below!

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Sunday, 1 July 2018

Union Square Aberdeen | 6 Delicious Discounts You Need to Try!

While the temperatures soar in Scotland, Union Square have been getting ready to cool us down with their epic Summer of Delicious Discounts event kicking off on Tuesday! From 3rd-5th July you can check out live entertainment and foodie presentations, and try some tasty free samples in the Aberdeen shopping centre. Did I mention the discounts? You can choose from over 25 offers at various Union Square eateries until 23rd July, for Union Square PLUS app users!

*This post is in collaboration with Union Square Aberdeen*

Union Square Shopping Centre Aberdeen

There's something for everyone from 10% off at Hotel Chocolat to £5 pizzas before 5pm at Mozza! I thought I'd take the chance to round up my personal picks for you guys, so in no particular order here are my top 6 choices from Union Square's Summer of Delicious Discounts...

Mozza pizza at Union Square Aberdeen

Coast to Coast
It's always good to try something new and with 33% off from Sun - Thurs (20% off Fri & Sat) now seems like the best time to finally check out this classic American restaurant. I've already got my eye on the halloumi fries!

Yo! Sushi
Easily a Union Square favourite, Yo! Sushi will have 25% off Tues-Fri & Sunday, as well as their Blue Monday & Sunday Munch deals! Is it bad that I want to try their Blossom Rolls, purely because they're purple and look pretty?!

Las Iguanas
It's been a while since we visited the Latin American restaurant, but I seem to remember they make a mean margarita! You can't go wrong with 30% off the main menu - check out the chicken quesadilla!

Duck bao buns at Giraffe, Union Square Aberdeen

Zizzi
Offering buy 1 get 1 free on their seasonal specials, Zizzi is a good shout for trying something a bit different. You'll be hard pushed to find truffle honey goat's cheese or crab cannelloni al forno anywhere else in Aberdeen!

Chiquito
Mexican fans will appreciate 30% off food from the main menu at Chiquito. I'd have the jalapeno poppers and a chilli chimichanga - and I can never say no to churros!

Giraffe
One of my favourite Union Square eateries, Giraffe dishes up a global feast. I hear their veggie burgers are epic, as are the duck bao buns but I suggest you transport yourself to Morocco with a taste of the lamb tagine. Even better when there's 30% off food and kids eat free!

Union Square Shopping Centre Aberdeen

Make sure you download the Union Square PLUS app to RSVP and check out the full list of awesome deals on throughout July. 
Let me know where you end up eating - you know I love a good dinner story!

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Monday, 25 June 2018

Dean Village | How to enjoy Edinburgh's hidden gem in a day!

Being the Scottish capital, Edinburgh is a tourist hot spot for both longhaul visitors and us Scots. It's my favourite Scottish city, after Aberdeen of course! I fall in love a little more each time we visit. But what do you do when you've already been to the castle, you've done Camera Obscura, you've climbed Arthur's Seat and Calton Hill, you're bored of the zoo and you've even eaten your weight in chocolate at the Chocolate Lounge in Harvey Nics (twice)? 

Dean Village Edinburgh

You think like a local and discover the city's hidden gems of course! On our most recent trip we headed to picturesque Dean Village for the first time. It's such a beautiful little spot, just a short walk from Prince's Street and yet neither of us even knew it existed until recently! It was a really lovely relaxing Sunday in Edinburgh - the kind of day where you don't really do anything yet you feel like you've done so much...


Dishoom Edinburgh
Dishoom Edinburgh

It started with breakfast at Dishoom. Overlooking St Andrews Square, this beautiful Indian restaurant is famed for it's breakfast naan rolls. Of course Gordon went the whole hog and treated himself to the Big Bombay, complete with streaky bacon, peppery pork sausages, a mountain of akari (spiced scrambled eggs), grilled tomato and mushrooms, two home made buns and masala beans - which I might have pinched!

Breakfast at Dishoom Edinburgh
Breakfast at Dishoom Edinburgh

I have to confess I was a little disappointed with the sausage and egg naan roll - it was tasty enough with the addition of cream cheese and a chilli tomato jam, but just a little underwhelming. Perhaps it was food envy from Gordon's monster plate, or maybe I would have enjoyed the bacon naan more. Either way, Dishoom is a beautiful setting, and I would absolutely return to try their other dishes.

Breakfast at Dishoom Edinburgh

Our bellies full, we strolled along George Street and past Queen Street gardens, making our way to Stockbridge market. Every Sunday the market pops up on Saunders Street, by the Waters of Leith, with a whole host of local traders. It's a great place for a street food lunch or to pick up some more unusual souvenirs.  

Stockbridge Edinburgh
Bearded Barista at Stockbridge Market
Flowers at STockbridge market Edinburgh
Waters of Leith Edinburgh

From Stockbridge we grabbed a coffee at the Bearded Barista and followed the river along, admiring the views until we reached Dean Village. Back in the day the village was known for grain milling, thanks to it's location by the water, and you'll still spot lots of remnants from these days along the way.

Dean Village Edinburgh
Dean Village Edinburgh

A World Heritage site, Dean Village is picture perfect, like a postcard from another life. Buildings are surrounded by greenery and the residents clearly take pride in this little gem of a neighbourhood, with perfectly manicured urban gardens lining the streets.

Dean Village Edinburgh
Well Court Dean Village Edinburgh

Well Court was originally built as housing for the working class back in the 1880s but has recently been restored by Edinburgh World Heritage. Using traditional materials, they've managed to bring the red sandstone building back to life with minimal change to it's original look, making it one of the most iconic buildings in the village. Step into the courtyard for a closer look at the clock tower and Well Court's impressive turretts!

Dean Village Edinburgh
Dean Village Edinburgh
Dean Village Edinburgh

Once you've explored the village a little, you can either continue along the waters of Leith, following signs to Dean Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art. Otherwise head back the way you came like we did, and you'll soon find yourself back in the hustle and bustle of Prince's Street and Edinburgh's New Town.

Copper Blossom Edinburgh
Cocktails at Copper Blossom Edinburgh

I recommend finishing the afternoon with a couple of cocktails at another Edinburgh gem - Copper Blossom. From one green oasis to another, enjoy a Flowering Lychee with Edinburgh's least hidden gem (the castle) as your backdrop!

Copper Blossom Edinburgh

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Sunday, 17 June 2018

Thailand | How to support Lanta Animal Welfare

Visiting Ko Lanta, staying at Oasis Yoga Bungalows and supporting Lanta Animal Welfare was one of the best experiences of our time in Thailand. LAW is a non profit charity set up in 2005 by Junie Kovacs. They're dedicated to rescuing injured, abandoned and mistreated cats and dogs, with the ultimate goal of rehoming them, educating the locals about animal welfare and reducing the issue of strays in Thailand through sterilisation.

This post contains affiliate links, meaning that I will earn a small commission from any booking/sale made through the link, at no extra cost to you.

Deng Mia at Lanta Animal Welfare


In Thailand dogs aren't always respected like the family pets we know and love. As strays they can overpopulate and be misunderstood and mistreated, mostly due to a lack of education which Lanta Animal Welfare are trying to combat by going out to local schools. One local told us if you see a dog on the island these days, it probably belongs to someone - all down to the work that LAW does!

Dog Walking at Lanta Animal Welfare

We heard some incredibly sad stories at the centre; Deng Mia was hit by a car and had her leg amputated as a result. Mooky had boiling oil poured over his head! Libby was found with a serious skin infection and injuries which led to having one eye removed.  LAW have a vet clinic run by volunteers on Ko Lanta where they treat the sick and wounded animals, and often provide mobile clinics in other parts of southern Thailand too.

Kitty City, Lanta Animal Welfare

Recently LAW launched their brand new Kitty City, providing a safe space for rescued cats to roam, as well as an awesome place to welcome visitors and encourage cat cuddles! Vegan food is served in the Kitty Café - everything from wraps and brownies to iced teas - with the proceeds going towards the centre too.

Kitty City Lanta Animal Welfare

Volunteer

You can really get stuck in and volunteer at Lanta Animal Welfare. You don't have to be a qualified vet/vet nurse (although they do need them too!), you can be a host volunteer meeting and greeting visitors, giving tours and running the café or a general volunteer. This role involves cleaning, gardening, maintenance and generally caring for the animals too. It's a "working holiday" essentially - find more info on LAW's website here.

Meeting Deng Mia, three legged dog at Lanta Animal Welfare

Walk the dogs!

If you want to help out on a more casual basis while you're at Lanta, this is the option for you. Pop in to the shelter in the morning, before 11am or after 3pm (avoiding the hottest time of the day) and you'll get to meet a pack of pups and take them out for their daily walk.

Howard the dog, Lanta Animal Welfare

We popped in after breakfast on our first morning and, along with a German couple, met Libby, Deng Mia, Howard and little Ron. He was a pretty nervous dog but by the end of our walk in the woods he relaxed and became more playful. They were so cute and it's impossible not to fall in love - even when they try to pick up dead snakes from the side of the road!

Walking puppy Ron at Lanta Animal Welfare

I highly recommend this, especially if you're only on the island for a short space of time. As a dog lover it was the highlight of my day, and was a good chance to meet other like minded travellers too!

Ron and Libby at Lanta Animal Welfare

Eat at Time for Lime

Another highlight from Ko Lanta was dinner at Time for Lime. The restaurant on Khlong Dao beach shares it's owner (and profits!) with the shelter, making it the main contributor to Lanta Animal Welfare. By eating and drinking at Time for Lime, taking part in their Thai cooking school and cocktail classes, or staying in one of their nine bungalows, you are supporting LAW!

cocktails at Time for lime, ko lanta

Had we been more organised, I absolutely would have booked the cooking class. There was one going on when we were there and it looked super fun. We got chatting to a Scottish guy here - the only Scot we met during 2 weeks in Thailand - turns out he was from Banchory of all places! It really is a small world.

at Time for Lime, Ko Lanta

Watch the sunset from the beach bar with a cold Singha or a lemongrass margarita in hand, then tuck in to some tasty Thai tapas from Time for Lime's daily changing menu. Each night's selection starts off with mien kham - Thailand in one bite!

Thailand in one Bite, Time for Lime Koh Lanta

A platter of ingredients appeared in front of us at the bar; chilli, lime, ginger, peanuts, dried shrimp, red onion, coconut flakes and honey. The idea is to pop a bit of each onto the pepper leaves, wrap it up and literally enjoy the taste of Thailand in one bite. I have to admit we were sceptical but it's spot on! A real flavour sensation, capturing everything that makes my mouth water when I think about Thai food!

Thai tapas at Time for Lime, Ko Lanta

Visiting on a Monday, the tapas platter consisted of shrimp in wild pepper leaves with a sweet chilli dip, an incredible vegan massaman curry and delicious caramelised king fish with a Thai herb salad, served with a side of traditional sticky rice. Everything is super fresh, and made with local ingredients. Honestly, Time for Lime get the flavours bang on. Made with sweet potato and tofu, it was our first ever taste of a massman dish and we have been hooked ever since! 

Time for Lime Ko Lanta tapas

Dessert was a vegan brownie with crunchy peanut brittle and a perfectly sweet, palette cleansing lemon sorbet - perfect for the two of us to share! Time for Lime was one of the stand out meals of our entire Thailand trip. 

time for lime dessert brownie

At 380THB (approx. £9) for the "Taste of Thailand" and tapas plate, and an extra 120THB (nearly £3) for dessert, it was excellent value for money. We spent roughly £20 on food, which could be considered expensive in Thailand, but you can leave feeling satisfied that some of that money will go towards the care of the cute dogs you walked that morning!

time for lime brownie

I'd love to return to Ko Lanta and volunteer at LAW for a month or two. If I had the time to dedicate to it, I would absolutely adopt one of their rescue dogs. Unfortunately it'll be a while before I'm able to do either of those things but if you happen to be visiting Lanta you can help by doing any of the above, or you can donate here!


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