Guest blog by Kaitlin McKenzie.
I love flying. I love the adrenaline rush of takeoff, the always-blue skies, the excitement of going somewhere new.
Or, rather, in this case, somewhere that feels like home.
As the crew prepare for landing, I sit snugly in my Easyjet economy seat and peek down through the clouds at glimpses of the land below.
Memories of descents toward destinations like lush, green Bali or burnt-red central Australia flit through my mind. But the land below me now is nothing like those.
Dark green hills roll like waves beneath us, sand-coloured lines squiggle across the terrain, forged by busy landrovers or wandering rivers.
The hills are covered by a patchwork quilt of green, dry grey, and heather brilliantly purple even from our altitude.
These are the hills of Scotland.
I spent the cloudier part of the plane journey leafing through the in-flight magazine. One article told of surprising snorkelling destinations on the Scottish coast, but despite the way the light is catching the waters of the Moray Firth it isn’t the coast I am interested in this trip. I am headed away from the shores and up into the hills of the Cairngorm National Park.
To a land of whisky and heather, of mince and tatties, of fir tree forests and bubbling streams.
My ancestors once lived and worked on the hills here and my granny still stays in the house her grandparents built, in a village called Nethy Bridge.
Nethy may be small, two shops and a hotel being the full sum of its bustling industry, but from it you can access the full wonderland that is the national park.
Here you can climb mountains. Cairngorm itself even has steps, or a funicular Mountain Railway for the less mobile or willing. In the right season the mountain becomes a snowsport mecca and attracts skiers from around the world.
You can whitewater raft or kayak across perfectly still lochs (a loch is like a lake, but absolutely not a lake) or swim in rivers so clear and clean you can drink from them.
Stop anywhere for a cuppa and you’ll be sure to receive some warm and nosy highland hospitality – and probably some cake too. If you’d prefer something stronger stop at any one of many whisky or gin distilleries in the region for a tour and a world-class dram.
The pace is so different here, life happens outdoors and the shift from bracing clean air to the warmth of a hot fire and a full belly is wonderful and fills you with vitality – trust me – you’ll never sleep so well. Life trickles on with the same priorities as it would’ve had 100 years ago, only nowadays, there’s wifi and central heating, making it practically perfect.
It really is the perfect place to slow down and read a book or five. Or, get off the grid completely and wander along countless trails through the pristine valleys of the central mountain range, where you can lose yourself for as long as you can carry supplies for.
As you explore, you’ll soon discover that every town and nook is full of surprises; Nethy’s hall holds everything from yoga to 80’s nights.
Oh and Ceildhs, don’t even get me started on those, if you get the chance to attend one of these traditional highland dances, grab it. The best nights of my life have involved being tipsy on whisky, laughing my head off whilst flinging myself and others around for dances i’ve no idea of the steps to with people I’ve never met before. It sounds bonkers, and it is, but there is nothing quite like it.
But truthfully, the best part of this tranquil corner of the world, is that here you can step out of any front door and wander your way somewhere beautiful. Whether it be along traditional granite high streets or through endless forests just teeming with wildlife.
Scotland also has a ‘right to roam’ meaning that everyone has a right of access to the land and inland waters, so as long as you behave responsibly, Scotland really is your oyster…
I’ve been to some truly wonderful places on this gorgeous planet – and am not done yet – but no matter where these two feet take me, I know I will always come back to to the highlands.