The Highlands

By Ian Palmer

'So what is it we’re actually doing?’ I asked. Our week to the Highlands was getting close and thoughts were turning to packing and organising. Although we live just 50 miles from the Scottish border, it’s still a long drive (10 hours) up to the North coast and with only 7 days off work, we needed a plan. There was no particular challenge we were taking on, or route to follow; more just a collection of activities we fancied doing and places we wanted to visit/revisit. So we started by writing an ideal holiday ‘to-do list’ - climb some hills, swim in a loch, ride a trail or two on bikes, wild camp in the tent. Oh and have a bit of down time to recover from an intense few weeks at work.

Once we had our activity list, the kit packing could begin in earnest. Bike gear, walking gear, rucksacks, tent camping stuff, running kit, new wetsuit and boots, fleeces and jumpers for the cold, full waterproofs and wellies for the wet, an array of trainers, shorts and t-shirts in case any holiday miracles are happening…It always amazes me that we pack as much for this half term week as we do for the big summer trips of 5+ weeks. Still, it’s better to be prepared for every eventuality and besides, as proud new owners of a bigger campervan, we had the space.

Dressing for the weather was a constant gamble (spells of heat, wind, rain, hail, the lot). The first 2 days were cold and I lived in my Keeshond fleece and Filoment jacket. Neither are bulky but kept the chills at bay when the thermometer saw highs of just 6 degrees. My Griffon fleece was awesome when the temperature climbed but the wind kept things brisk and the trusty Gravitas waterproof took care of the on-off rain squalls without getting too hot and sweaty.

But the piece of kit that’s made me smile the most this week has to be my new Terrapin wetsuit. I’ve swum in lakes and rivers before but only ever in hot temperatures. I’ve been intrigued by the much- reported benefits of taking a dip in colder water (2 years into a struggle with chronic tendinopathy, I wondered if it might help manage the pain a little) but just hadn’t quite plucked up the courage to (literally) dip my toe in.

The first swim was in a little loch a few miles North of Ullapool. The road sign may have pointed to the ‘Summer Isles’ but it felt more like late November as I padded across the boggy ground in wetsuit, wellies, Filoment puffa coat and hat. Getting in nearly took my breath away and the icy water on my bare hands was shockingly uncomfortable. But…5 minutes in and it really wasn’t that bad. Another 5 and it felt pretty amazing. The wetsuit itself was super flexible and comfortable to swim in. I only managed about 8 minutes for dip number 1 but as the week progressed, I did it again and again, stayed in longer and even ventured into the sea near Torridon (rinsing off the salt water in a nearby stream afterwards).

So what of the mythical feel-good after-effects of submerging myself in cool water (I’m not calling it cold - that term has to be reserved for the truly hardcore ice-breaking brigade)? Well, I was definitely in high spirits afterwards but whether that was because I’d done something new or because of the water temperature I really couldn’t say. What I will (tentatively) report back is that my injury pains seemed very mild that week and for that reason alone, the Terrapin suit will definitely be getting some use post-holiday.

The first 5 days rolled by and we’d ticked everything off the list except the tent camping. Normally we wouldn’t lack motivation to do this as there’s nothing like the feeling of hiking away from civilisation, pitching your tent somewhere remote and beautiful before hunkering down for a cosy night under the stars. Well, this time that experience had some serious competition in the shape of a new, super-comfortable camper van. Still very much in the honeymoon/novelty phase of ownership, it was hard to drag ourselves away from the relative luxuries of the new holiday bus but we needn’t have worried. The Ordos 2 made the whole experience fun and easy. Pitching was simple and it felt a little more spacious than our previous 2-man tent due to a wider ‘narrow end’ which gave us enough room for our feet and the dog! No sooner was it up than the heavens opened which although annoying for filming purposes, gave our little red home for the night a good testing of wind and water resistance. I can confirm that all three of us remained dry and cosy until the morning.

Before we knew it, it was time to head South and back to the relative hustle and bustle of Cumbria. The ‘to-do list’ approach to planning worked well and despite the enduring popularity of ‘staycationing’, it wasn’t that hard to find places where you felt like you had that spot completely to yourself and could properly switch off from everyday life. Thanks Scotland, we’ll be back again soon.

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