Mandy Charlton - Photographer, Writer, Blogger

Photographer of Families, Small People and Delightful Places. Travel and Lifestyle Writer and Blogger. Lives in Newcastle, Loves the North, Often Accompanied By A Beagle Named Holly Bobbins

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The 12 Gins of Christmas, the ultimate gin recommendation guide

The 12 gins of Christmas, the ultimate gin recommendation guide, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger
My gin dresser, back in October, it's since grown with even more bottles, I collect a lot more than I drink!

(AD, gifted items and affiliate links). Trying to choose 12 gins for "The 12 Gins of Christmas" has been an epic and quite magical task and first of all, I want to say thank you to the companies who've sent gins to me, some but not all of these gins were kindly gifted, others I've personally selected and bought with Christmas in mind.

Firstly let me tell you about my own personal gin journey.  Many years ago I loved a Hendricks with cucumber and then for 9 years I couldn't drink alcohol at all without horrible side effects.  I came off some medication in February and suddenly I could drink.  In the meantime, the world had gone through a craft gin revolution and so I've sincerely enjoyed sampling many gins on route to having my own personal collection.  I must state that I collect more than I drink, I love the bottles so much and I occasionally have a glass of gin in the evening which I savour and love so much. So come with me on my first ever gin guide journey as I recommend the 12 gins you should be looking to have in your own personal gin collection.

Off Piste Gin is a triple filtered gin made by a family run business, it's made from pure sugar cane and infused with alpine botanics, so basically, you taste this and you're transported to the alps, can you smell that mountain air, have you spotted that deer in the distance, will you be skiing today?  It's a really delicious and smooth tasting gin.

Rock Rose winter edition gin is infused with the flavours of spruce which were collected in December last year, drinking it will remind you of bracing walks, roaring fires and dark nights.  It comes from Dunnet Bay right up at the top of Scotland, Caithness was somewhere I had the pleasure of spending time in the late summer and so drinking this reminds me of that rugged coastline and the beautiful area it's from.

Sacred Christmas Pudding Gin is actually made from Christmas puddings, now if that sounds at all weird, I can assure you that what this actually tastes like is Christmas, it's like festive infused fruits and not at all like drinking an actual Christmas pudding! It's a wonderfully festive gin and I absolutely recommend it for Christmas 2020.

Highclere Castle Gin is a London Dry Gin and if you're looking at the picture or thinking it sounds familiar then you will know that Highclere is also known as Downton Abbey, and as the website tells us, it's born from a castle,  renowned for it's parties, acclaimed for it's taste.  It's a really lovely and easy to drink gin, serve with a light tonic and a slice of lemon and I can't fault it for an evening aperatif.

Spode celebrated it's 250th Birthday by releasing Spode Gin, a London dry gin which has flavours of Earl Grey with orange and undertones of Jasmine and Chamomile, it's an easy drinking gin perfect for parties or simply an evening by the fire.

If cold, dark December's are not your favourite thing, a glass of Old Curiosity Secret Garden pink elderflower and Jasmine gin  from Prezzybox is just the ticket for it will transport you to sunnier and warmer moments, it has my vote as a lovely gift for a summer flavour lover.

I'm going to let you into a secret, I love sparkly things!  M&S have released 2 special snow globe gin liqueurs this year, one with the flavours of clementine and the other is rhubarb, this stuff is harder to get than gold dust in some branches but I managed to acquire a bottle of each with my persistence, I bought the clementine in branch and the rhubarb, I managed to get in one of their hampers.  I've not tried either yet but they look sparkly on my gin dresser when they're all lit up!

I managed to acquire a bottle of Roku gin in a recent Amazon deal and it's just delicious, it's raised in Japan and it makes a lovely G&T with a slice of lime or lemon because sometimes you just want a classic, I always make my G&T's in balloon glasses with the tonic right to the top, I love the flavours of craft gins and believe they should be savoured and definitely not glugged!

Think of Christmas and one of the first flavours that comes to mind is plum and this is encapsulated in a release from the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, I picked my bottle up in an Amazon sale and I have to admit, it's one I'm saving for the festive period, a plum and vanilla gin liqueur sounds like the perfect Christmas Eve drink to me.

another popular Christmas flavour is of course orange but orange is one of my all year round flavours and would you believe that this orange marmalade from

Zymurgorium is a tasty treat, the company behind it are actually Duerrs who make jams and marmalade and honestly, it's delicious, I picked up my bottle for a steal at John Lewis but it's available in a lot of places.

Mermaid Pink Gin is my absolute favourite all time gin, if you look closely you'll see there's not very much of this one at all and that's because it's the one I drink the most, it's summer in a gin and I like to put in frozen soft fruit like strawberries, raspberries or cherries, I then accompany it with a light or Mediterranean tonic and it's honestly splendid, so many days during summer this was my go to gin so it's perfect to gift for Christmas and drink at a later date, I love every release from the Isle of Wight distillery but this one is really special.

My last gin recommendation is this amazing Malfy Rosa Pink Grapefruit Gin which tastes of pink grapefruit, I found it in Morrisons where it's readily available but you can grab it on Amazon too, serve it with tonic or a pink grapefruit mixer and then add a slice of pink grapefruit and it's a taste sensation which will remind you of Italy in the sunshine.


Sunday, November 15, 2020

The 24 movies of Christmas 2020 guide

Love Actually, The 24 Movies of Christmas Guide, mandy charlton, photographer, writer blogger

The 24 Movies of Christmas

Christmas is coming and without a doubt, we all need as many ideas as possible to have the best Christmas possible and that's why I've come up with my favourite 24 Christmas movie suggestions so you can watch one every day from the beginning of December right through until Christmas Eve, I'm such a huge fan of Christmas movies that I could probably do a deeper cuts list as well but hey, let's go with the popular selection first and see how we get on...

  1. Elf
  2. Nativity 
  3. Nativity 2, Danger in the Manger
  4. Arthur Christmas
  5. The Santa Clause
  6. The Santa Clause 2
  7. The Santa Clause 3, The Escape Clause
  8. Home Alone
  9. Home Alone 2, Lost in New York
  10. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  11. A Christmas Carol
  12. Muppet Christmas Carol
  13. Jingle All The Way
  14. The Holiday
  15. Miracle on 34th Street
  16. Love Actually
  17. Surviving Christmas
  18. A Christmas Prince (Netflix)
  19. A Christmas Prince, The Royal Engagement (Netflix)
  20. A Christmas Prince, The Royal Baby (Netflix)
  21. Deck The Halls
  22. The Christmas Chronicles (Netflix)
  23. Scrooged
  24. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

The omissions from the list

Now I should say that there are omissions from my list like The Polar Express (which totally freaks me out), Christmas with the Kranks and Die Hard, none of which I rate and also, Die Hard, not a Christmas movie in my humble opinion though many (usually men) have argued with me about this one. We've also skipped Nativity 3 and 4, 3 is okay, 4 is dreadful, absolutely awful and the same goes with Home Alone, there are 2 more movies in the series but uy! Not good at all.

This is my list of favourites though so feel free to mix and match with your own selections, most movies can be found on iTunes, sky or terrestrial tv but a couple are Netflix originals and really, the "A Christmas Prince" trilogy is almost iconic, it's ultimate escapism.

My absolute favourites are Elf, The Holiday and Love Actually and I'm not ashamed to say that I often watch them as early as October.  Hopefully, you'll fund moves you love here too and maybe some that you've not seen before, you could even start now and then rewatch some of them but my intention is that this is your own personal Christmas advent calendar and if you love them do let me know.

If you have enjoyed this article or found it useful and would like to support my writing I'd love a virtual coffee
I also have a lovely Facebook group I'd love you to come and join 
You could also come and follow me on Instagram to keep up with my adventures, I really am grateful for all
of your love and support.
Oh and of course, you could just treat yourself to something lovely from Philomena's Boutique, my gift boutique
which is diverse, sustainable and totally lush!


Friday, November 13, 2020

The Ultimate 2020 Christmas Gift Guide

It's November, we're in lockdown but we're still edging ever further forward towards Christmas and if you're at my house, well Christmas is already here and my home is a festive wonderland, today I'm unveiling my ultimate 2020 Christmas gift guide which I started compiling in early September and scouring the internet for the best ideas for your loved ones in Christmas 2020.  Many thanks to all of the companies who have gifted me with their items, some of which will be donated to local charities.

Gifts for foodies

Rubies in the Rubble Christmas Relish Giftset - Christmas isn't Christmas without a panoply of cheese, cold cuts, chutneys and relishes, I'm fairly sure Nigella would approve if you opened these with your boxing day leftovers or your Christmas party tea.

Mermaid Salt Vodka, you may already know of the Isle of Wight distillery which excels at making both the blue and (my personal favourite) pink gins, well this year they've released Mermaid Salt Vodka which is infused with island sea and is described of having a flavour like the subtle kiss of a mermaid and there's no time like Christmas for a kiss under the mistletoe, I'll toast a sip to that.

Christmas is of course also a time for indulging in what I like to call "the good wine" and the lovely people at Independent Wines have premium wine by the bottle full and this year they're keen to tell me that they also have their own gift wrapping service so whether it's a red/white/rose or you'd like to indulge in something deliciously sparkling, that's where I'd go to purchase something lovely.

If ales are your thing then head on over to the independent Park Brewery, a microbrewery, who make stand out ales to be savoured.  They sell pale ales, IPA and my favourite, Isabella (the name of my granny) an American brown ale.  They've also been working with the Friends of Richmond Park to produce Tread Lightly, a pale ale which encourages us to enjoy our local parks but to leave nothing and take nothing.

Blog favourite Willies Cacao who happen to make my all-time favourite hot chocolate have once again excelled themselves to bring a range of the chocolatiest hampers, amazing chocolate gifts as well as a brand new chocolate subscription service, I've actually been working on another article with them which I'll be publishing soon but for now, go check them out and gift your friends (or yourself).

For people that favour a cider over wine, have you checked out Cider is wine, I think we all have one view of what cider is but really, this cider is intended to be savoured just like a good glass of wine they have quite the selection of cases of premium cider

I fell in love with Iberico Jamón on my first visit to Barcelona when you could buy it in a cone as a snack, honestly, pass me a Jamón cone over a cone of chips every single week.  I'm fairly sure that this Bellota Jamón from Cinco Jotas is the best you will ever taste, with an incredibly intense flavour you will remember forever.

Vegan friends popping over at Christmas, Oggs have the loveliest vegan products and as my serious journalistic job is to taste test these goodies, I can tell you from this non-vegan, I absolutely loved the vegan mince pies and a couple of friends also agreed that these are simply just tasty bakes whether vegan or not.

If you love your Nespresso but you're also concerned about the environment I recommend Lost Sheep coffee who's Nespresso compatible pods are all compostable and their coffee is so good, my personal favourite is the funky camper variety and I also love the decaf for those times when I want coffee but I also don't want caffeine.

I absolutely adore this fantastic Highland Cow chopping/serving board from Just Slate, a Scottish made family run company, I've long been a fan of the hairy coo's and saw a few on my recent trip to the Highlands.  Suffice to say this is going to be treasured and one would look great in your favourite foodie's kitchen.

For the gin lover in your life, and who doesn't like gin? Bobby's Schiedam Dry Gin is named after Jacobus Alfons, also known as Bob to friends and family and it contains 8 different botanicals which are all separately distilled, Bobby, you had me at gin!

Gifts for Pets

Forthglade has, as ever made a selection of festive meals for dogs this Christmas and it's only right that our furry four-pawed friends get their own Christmas feast, Holly Bobbins loves Forthglade food although she's currently on a special vet diet so this large pack has gone straight to our local dog shelter so that our local homeless dogs can eat well this Christmas.

Of course, Holly and the cats still deserve a few treats this Christmas and if you're looking for gifts for your pets you'll find something for all of them amongst the brands of Mikki Pet, Nylabone and Pet Love, I already know that she's going to love the flat squeaky badger and I won't end up with any stuffing all over my floor!  Oh and wait until you see Iris with catnip, I actually grow it in the garden for her and she sits on it and won't let anyone else near it!!

If you have a pampered pet like mine you might want to buy them some  top dog grooming products from Sniffle and Likkit, they have everything from Whippet wipes for muddy paws to dry shampoo, you know how stinky beagles can get so these are definitely going to come in handy.

Gifts for those who love their homes

Gus, isn't just a gorilla, he sits on top of a beautiful half bottle of wine made into a candle by Marokka, you only need to buy one lid and then you can get refills of the candle, this one smells of an evergreen forest so it's perfect for Christmas and in buying it you know it's sustainable and good for the planet.

Gifts for music/tech lovers

If you need some power in your life, of the tech variety then you need Juice power, they have everything from chargers to wireless speakers so you can blast those festive tunes and really, don't tell me you're not listening to "Step into Christmas" right now, shame on you if you're not ;)

If you're looking for someone who loves music of a more personal variety then you can't go past something like a pair of Edifier Bluetooth earbuds, I speak with some authority and say if your young adult is at Uni they will really appreciate a pair of these and confirm that they're great for sound too

Gifts for Beauty Lovers

For the beauty lovers in your life, why not get them some luscious lip balms as the ultimate stocking filler from Dr Paw Paw, perfect for the Christmas party season even if it is more of an intimate gathering for one this year!

If you'd love something of the anti-ageing variety I can really recommend the products from Slow Ageing, I don't think anyone would say no to a firmer body whatever age they are and it's a bath that also feels like a treat and smells good too

2020 has been rough and January promises to be a hard month so having something like this Alphagreen rejuvenate bundle in your armoury might just be the best present to yourself or someone you really care about.  I've been using CBD products now for a couple of years and find that they really help me personally, I find they just calm me a little and with the hectic life I lead running 2 busy businesses, a gift like this really is just the ticket.

Gifts for art lovers

For the art lover in your life, please check out Ink and Drop for quirky art prints and canvases they have so many varieties that I just love, this one was going to be for Looby and it's now hanging in my livingroom where she tells me that it definitely looks best!

For Christmas lovers

For lovers of Christmas and quirky gifts you really can't go past Philomena's Boutique, I hear the owner is the queen of Christmas and she's put so much thought into making her online gift boutique a real aladdins cave if beautiful quirky gifts you just won't find anywhere else.

Gifts for Travel Lovers

Okay so 2020 was not the best year for travel but with a coronavirus vaccine on the horizon I don't know about your but I'm already planning next year's travel adventures and a gift like a Red Letter Day's voucher is a great way to start the excitement of planning your next trip!

Educational Gifts for Kids

If you'd like to treat your kids to a fun educational subscription box which comes under the disguise of fun why not get them a year-long subscription to Our Little Globe, this one pictured above teaches kids about Christmas around the world and there are lots of fun activities and crafts which the small people in our lives love to do, just don't be surprised when they give you a Christmas card written in Japanese.

Fun stocking fillers for adults

If the special person in your life likes peanut butter then this must surely be the ultimate gift, Jackpot peanut butter is strictly for the over 18's in your life but there is a non-sweary version,  I just preferred this one as it reminded me of Bruce Willis in Die Hard and no, Die Hard isn't a Christmas movie! 

It's Christmas, why not have yourself a cocktail, you don't even have to purchase ingredients as. they come in their own little pouches, Disco cocktails come from the good people at Ladies and Gents cocktail bar and they're big on taste and low on the effort you have to make them.  Glass, Ice, maybe a flourish and you're good to go!

Gifts that give back

Finally, the good people at Treedom gifted me my own tree,  she's a cacao tree and she's called Mildred, she's in Cameroon and she's helping to offset my carbon footprint and well as being splendid, wonderful and producing cacao, when you gift someone a tree, you're literally helping the planet.


Tuesday, October 06, 2020

How to embrace the cosy life and escape the winter blues

How to embrace the cosy life and escape the winter blues, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

This is a collaborative post

Without a doubt 2020 has been a challenge so far and with the longer nights encroaching I'm here to tell you how to embrace the cosy life and escape the winter blues.  I've had the seasonal affective disorder for many years and built up all kinds of coping strategies so I know what I'm talking about and the past couple of years I've mostly managed to knock it on the head by living the cosy life so here are my top tips.

The basics

There are some basic proven things that can work and I wanted to start with them.  Taking a vitamin D3 supplement really can help, I'm under the care of an endocrinologist who told me that the biggest vitamin we lack in the UK is vitamin D3 because we just don't get enough oily fish or indeed sunlight so taking this as a supplement during the dark winter months really can help.

Buying a lightbox and sitting in front of it for 20 minutes a day can also help if you can't get outdoors into the winter sunshine, there are all kinds of lightboxes available which range in price, you just have to find one you like, you can even switch your light bulbs to daylight bulbs which can help brighten up the living space although that in itself might not be enough so just bear that in mind.

How to embrace the cosy life and escape the winter blues, mandy charlton, writer, blogger

Live the cosy life

The most powerful tool I've learnt is to live the cosy life, dedicate the darker months to fairy lights, furry throws, comfortable furnishings and cosy pyjamas, candles which remind you of happy times or the rich scents of baked apple, cinnamon, pumpkin spice, all of these things give you a life which is more hygge and less horrible.

Connection with the earth

One of the best mindfulness tools is to reconnect with the planet, it's also called grounding, basically, we have moved away from our connection with the earth and so being barefoot on real wood flooring is one way of reconnecting ourselves, I know it might sound a little woo but honestly, the carpets many of us have in our houses do not help us to ground and it's one of the reasons I have real wood flooring all through my home and why I like to be barefoot as often as I possibly can.  If you can get outdoors and it's not too cold, try walking barefoot on fresh grass, or the ground or sand and breathe deep, honestly, I promise this stuff helps.

Celebrate the seasons

How to embrace the cosy life and escape the winter blues

Christmas is coming and it's going to be different this year so I don't think building up to "One special day" is going to work and in fact, it might prove to be completely counterintuitive so instead, I would encourage you to celebrate the seasons, embrace them for all they are worth and see the Christmas period as a wholly wonderful thing on its own.

The end of 2020 might well be a challenge and especially if like me, you live on your own so be good to yourself, treat yourself kindly and surround yourself with the people or animals who you do have near you, I know that Holly Bobbins and the cats are a great source of entertainment so they'll be good company and when it does come to festive decoration, well you can be sure this year I'm going big, even if it is only for myself because twinkly lights and a glowing Christmas tree are most certainly a tonic which can make everything better.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Staying happy in an unhappy world

Iris rainbow, staying happy in an unhappy world, mandy charlton photography blog, photographer, blogger, newcastle upon tyne

It's hard staying happy in an unhappy world and the world we're in right now really isn't all that happy.  There are 94 days left of this year and I spoke about this on my Instagram over the weekend, it could be the saddest and most challenging 3 months of our lives, Coronavirus, climate change, Donald Trump, Boris and his conservative cronies, Brexit, my daughter being at Uni, only in Durham but not allowed to see me because she's in a new household, not seeing friends or even Looby nearly enough...

I could go on, it's just not a happy time but I don't think being unhappy is good for my psyche, it's bad enough that SAD is coming and this year due to hyperparathyroidism I can't take any vitamin D3, nor can I escape to a sunshiny place and let's not even start on the uncertainty of my photography business due to the restrictions.

Truly 2020 sucks and I cannot wait for 2021 but I have to stay happy, it's too easy a decline into bad mental health.

What is the answer?

What is the answer?  I'm not entirely sure but I know that in the last 3 months of the year good things do happen.  Let's start with the biggest thing to get excited about, Christmas!  Anyone who knows me or has followed me on social media anywhere in the last 15 years will know just how much I love Christmas, I am the Queen of Christmas and this year, I think we're going to have to go extra big on Christmas to deflect all of the collective sighs of the world.  

How to spend Christmas Day alone

At this point, it looks like I'm going to be totally alone on Christmas Day and I can't even have an open house, my support bubble all have their own families and the girls will be together with their paternal relatives, it feels like a tragedy but I'm thinking that TV will be wonderful, I can eat and drink what I want and to prepare for that I'm going to build myself a hamper of treats (like this one I just found at M&S) just for me with everything I love, maybe books, pamper stuff, chocolates, Gin (that's obvious), Champagne, maybe a new lovely throw to wrap myself in.  It's the best way I can think of to cope with the day and hopefully I will be able to see both of my daughters on Boxing Day when we'll pretend it's Christmas Day again.  Maybe we'll have the rule of 6 back by then and I'll be able to have friends over, I can hope...

Embrace Autumn

It's autumn in just a couple of weeks the full splendour of autumn will be present in all of our parks and woodlands, natures last show before it goes into it's long winter slumber and this year we need to embrace the outdoors as much as possible as it's when Coronavirus is at it's least powerful so think woodland walks, flasks of hot chocolate, toasting marshmallows, making smores, leaf kicking, wearing wooly jumpers in bright colours and more importantly just enjoying the family or friends we can actually be with, I had Sunday lunch with my support bubble yesterday and it was bliss, I'd been in semi-lockdown before shooting 3 weddings to make sure I was as healthy and risk free as possible so I hadn't seen them for 2 weeks, it felt like an age and it was just lush to be there, I think if we can appreciate the small things, we're giving our mental health the best chance to come out of this relatively unscathed.

The cosy season

The cosy season is the best season in my humble opinion, I live for twinkly lights and candles, surrounded by cosy throws and tartan blankets, even though I redecorated my home this year it's still all revolves around making your home a cosy nest to protect you from the world and now is the time to feel like you're enveloped in a safe nest.  You could (like me) try some new craft Gins or open a bottle of the good wine (never the cheap wine, wine should be savoured and drank slowly), grab some artisan nuts (stop, it, cheeky) and maybe some strong crumbly cheese or maybe a charcuterie board and pop on your favourite movie (Moulin Rouge until I die) or explore the latest box sets.  Read books, play board games, make conversation with those you're with (if you don't live alone like me, I just talk to the pets).  See this season as though you're in a bubble (many of us are) and embrace pumpkin spice everything.

I'm sure I'll have more thoughts and oodles of Christmassy content over the next few months so do look out for my Christmas Gift Guide, my Foodies Gift Guide and my "12 Gins of Christmas" article.  Though I don't have all of the answers for staving off the loneliness or just getting through this awful time, hopefully having some ideas and putting our heads together, we can at least attempt to get through this supporting each other, checking in on each other and dare I say it (I hate it) Zoom Christmas parties are back on the schedule.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

What the hell is 2020?

Autumn strikes in inverness, What the hell is 2020? mandy charlton photography blog, photographer, writer, blogger

As surely as day becomes night, summer must also turn into autumn and I find myself asking "what the hell is 2020?"

Now I must firstly say that I'm currently sitting at my desk catching up on 9 days off whilst also throwing my arms in the air singing along to "Proud" and other wonderful music from my "Happy music for musical moments" Spotify playlist.  I'm happy when I'm at my desk in a way I don't think I ever was previously, there's a simple kind of joy in sending out parcels which bring delight to the recipients of what I like to call gifty goodness.  Who can even believe I'm sitting here in my home office where I have an online gift boutique?  Madness, that's what it is, that's what this whole year has been.

I've been genuinely distressed at several points of this year, I remember just after lockdown thinking I'd lost both of the businesses I had when we went into 2020 as well as being separated from my daughters for way longer than I wanted to be and that was even before I broke my arm!

Where are we now?

So, where are we now?  Well, my gift boutique certainly seems to be thriving, even in August, the 4am of retail it did pretty well by anyone's standards and I have high hopes for Q4.  I'm still not fully ready to talk about the future of my wedding and portrait photography business, it's currently just in a coma sleeping, paid work is still incredibly hard to come by and after losing between £20-30K this year, well let's just say I try not to think about it for fear I'll throw up.  I don't think there are any answers as yet, we're in a massive bloody recession, people still don't feel safe and there are so many restrictions around what I can actually do that I do question often if it's even worth it.  Dammit though, I do still love photography and I love my clients, I love telling stories through images (and words) and I still cry at most of the weddings I shoot because love is beautiful.

What Happens Next?

What happens next is anyone's guess really, I do know that the one thing I have fallen in love with again is writing about my life and more specifically about travel so when Abigail asked me if I wanted to go to Gdansk next Monday for a minibreak, first I questioned how I was old enough to have a daughter who wanted to take her mum on a minibreak, then I accepted with much gratitude, I've had a Polish guidebook on my bookshelf for at least 2 years, I literally can't wait to go to Poland, to soak up the culture and to spend time with my daughter before she goes off to Uni in a few weeks.  I will, of course, take many photos and write a few words to go with each on both here and on Instagram and you can bet that my soul will be full and happy and nourished because travel fills my cup until it runs over and soaks everyone else it touches with love and enthusiasm.

The best adventures are yet to come...

Ways to support my writing

If you have enjoyed this article or found it useful and would like to support my writing I'd love a virtual coffee
I also have a lovely Facebook group I'd love you to come and join 
You could also come and follow me on Instagram to keep up with my adventures, I really am grateful for all
of your love and support.
Oh and of course, you could just treat yourself to something lovely from Philomena's Boutique, my gift boutique
which is diverse, sustainable and totally lush!


Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Scotland By Rail Part 5 - The Best of the Highlands

Packhorse bridge, Carr Bridge, Highlands of Scotland, Scotland by Rail part 5, the best of the highlands

As the sun rises 9 days after I departed from home, I'm sitting on the train at Inverness having seen the best of the highlands and waiting to be spirited back to Newcastle.  Last night as I watched the sun setting over Inverness, I cried, happiness that it has been such an amazing trip and sadness that it was over.  Coming to the north of Scotland for 9 days is the longest trip I've taken since a trip to Gran Canaria for 2 weeks in 2013.

Long trips are always worth it!

Long trips are always worth it!  When you get to a destination it takes you time to acclimatise, time to feel settled but by the end, you almost feel like a local, you have sussed the best trips to take, you know where the best restaurants are and you know your way around, the little shortcuts, the best photo spots that maybe someone who's only there for a couple of days hasn't figured out yet.

It's not always possible for me to take such a long time away from my desk but you can be sure I want to do it as often as I can in the future.  There are so many places I want to visit and I'm finally getting to the point of having a life which is flexible enough to do that.  It's weird, I guess that it's taken a pandemic and change of career to enable that to happen.

Loch An Eilein, Rothiemurchus Estate, Highlands, scotland by rail part 5, the best of the highlands, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Highlights of the Highlands

I'm not sure where to start with my highlights of the highlands, I could write endlessly about some of the things that I've done, but, dear reader, I know your time is precious so I'll try to be succinct and just round up a few of my favourite highlights - 

They're just a few of the things I really loved about this trip to Scotland by rail.  I never did make it to Wick, the public transport situation just made it too awkward by the time I'd been to Thurso, John o Groats and the stacks at Duncansby and Ullapool, I've wanted to visit Ullapool for years and still never made it so at least I know I have things to come back for and really, I'd love to do the whole of the Northcoast 500, either with a friend in a campervan or on an organised trip or tour.

There's also the west coast of Scotland which I've not done a lot of, I've extensively toured the Southwest coast of Dumfries and Galloway and I've done Ayr, I've even been to Ben Nevis and Fort William although it was so many years ago (Looby was about 6 months old) that I really can't remember a lot of it.

I wonder if there's such a thing as the ultimate tour of Scotland where you see the best of the whole of Scotland, I'd love to do that as well but finding a friend who can take long enough off work and planning an epic long trip around the whole of Scotland is going to take some doing, for a start they'd have to deal with me for however long it takes, nominate yourself if you fancy it.

native scottish woodland, highlands, scotland by rail part 5, the best of the highlands, mandy charlton photographer, writer, blogger

What is the best tour of Scotland?

"What is the best tour of Scotland?" I hear you ask, well, for me I'd have to say that my favourite trip I took was the ultimate tour of the Isle of Skye with Wow Scotland but I did also love the trip to Glen Affric and the visit to the Cairngorms with Rabbies, they were all completely different in their makeup, The Ultimate Isle of Sky tour is a full-on 12 hour day but it's also the most photographically perfect day ending as the light softens so you get that perfect view of Eilean Donan Castle from the Kyle of Lochalsh.  Yesterday's tour of the Cairngorms with Willie from Rabbies was like going out with your dad in the 80's when on a Sunday afternoon he'd ask "Do you fancy a run in the car?"  Willie seemed to set his own schedule so be warned, it's quite possibly never the same trip twice.  

How much do tours of Scotland cost?

Tours of Scotland vary in cost depending on how long they are and where they depart, I found them to be really reasonable and you should expect to pay around £30-£40 for a one day tour of the areas surrounding Inverness or between £70-£90 for a one day tour to the Isle of Skye which is a much longer day and also much further away as you have to cross the Highlands from east to west.

Should I visit the Highlands

So, as I make my long journey home and if you're asking yourself "Should I visit the Highlands?" it would be a resounding yes from me,  it's actually around the 4th time I've been to the highlands although my first time making it to Thurso.  I would not hesitate in coming back, doing more trips and tours and just taking time to really soak in the atmosphere of this wonderful region.  Inverness may have a population of less than 100,000 (the exact number varied depending on which tour guide told me, from 50,000 to 100,000) but it definitely packs a punch.  Scotland will fill your heart with joy and no matter how long you stay there for, it will never seem like long enough.

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