Family - Adventure

Why glamping is the best solution for muddy hooves

I used to camp loads when I was younger. I had a little tent that I backpacked round the world with, free camping by glaciers and lakes. Then when the kids were younger we got a family sized tent with a carpet and I shouted “shoes off” every 15 minutes in an attempt to keep the mud out, only to be defeated by a New Forest pony with very muddy hooves that popped in to say hi.
But, as I’ve got older, I find it harder work, and the tent has been in the attic for a couple of years now.
So when I left it too late to book a hotel or B&B for a big family gathering during Victoria week in Ballater, I googled campsites a little nervously. Then I stumbled across a nearby glamping site that actually had spaces, Howe of Torbeg. Camping with a bit more luxury and less mud. I’ve never glamped. I’m not a camping purist, I just never got round to it.
It’s actually only been open two months, and, as it turns out I was one of the very first people to book. Although the owners have lived here for five years, levelling the steep slope enough to build the huts on was a massive construction project. And they’ve done it beautifully. Four cute as a button domed wooden huts.
glamping in Scotland
Ours even had a proper, very comfortable, bed. And I used to think my tent carpet was luxury.
glamping not camping
DS was on the floor on a midget sized mattress. His feet stuck over the end, but he slept like a log anyway.
Each hut has its own fire-pit and picnic bench with uninterrupted views over the valley. They sell baskets of logs and charcoal, plus you can hire crockery and cutlery sets for a few pounds which definitely beats paper plates.
Having said “we’ll never use all these” as we collect the huge basket of logs, we do. It’s too lovely an evening to retire early. DS collects fallen branches and twigs from the woods.
If you worry about campsite facilities, don’t. The shower block was immaculate, better than many hotels I’ve stayed in. Again, for a few pounds we added a towel pack rather than bring our own.
Even my non-camping sister, staying in a nearby hotel with her four-poster bed, was impressed. Next year I think I could persuade her to join us. Even if just for one night. My tweenage nieces are definitely up for it. At worst I get “best aunty/ sister” points for taking them for a night.
The positives?
  • Fun
  • Beautiful setting
  • Spotlessly clean
  • Far easier than camping
The downsides?
  • Literally none from my perspective.
  • There was virtually no internet so I expected some teenage grumbling. I was wrong. I confess I was surprised by that, but not going to complain.
  • In future, I predict a downside will be getting a space. Book early!
I’m now tempting myself with a treehouse and DS fancies staying in a double decker bus … Why are there never enough weekends in a year?
But does glamping still count as camping? Even allowing for the glamorous bit, our little hut is so close to being a holiday cottage I’m not sure. I’ve decided glamping is where you still need to walk outside to get to a bathroom and may encounter patches of mud. Does that mean our grandparents glamped all year?
outside toilet glamping
Have you glamped? What did you think of it?
Family - Adventure

Sure fire solution to happy hiking with teenagers

It’s only the first week of the school holidays and DS has a full schedule of gaming planned. Tactics for detaching teenage DS from his gadget need to be more cunning. A spot of googling later, and I have an idea.

Me: “Shall we go for a walk?”

DS: “Nah.”

Later.

Me: “Do you fancy trying orienteering?”

DS: “Meh.”

Later.

Me: “Have you seen the App called Geocache?”

Quick text to the grandparents to announce my success. Turns out they know all about geocaching. I’m going to assume I’ve had my head under a rock for the last decade but, just in case anyone else managed to miss it, Geocaching is a global online treasure hunt. No gadget detachment required. And it’s free to join in.

All you need to do is download the App onto your phone and off you go. Perfect.

So off we went.

Then back home we went.

You also need a pen and a stash of small toys/ trinkets.

Second attempt.

DS is thoroughly enjoying himself. His nose is two inches from the screen so he may be missing the scenery, but he has map read, used a compass (albeit a virtual one), and hiked for four hours without even realising it. Virtual trophies mean the gaming addiction of always needing to reach the next “level” has kicked in. Currently Geocache are running a “Hidden Creatures” event where you get a Bigfoot for finding one cache, Unicorn for five caches, a Kraken for seven caches etc. So instead of just doing two or three caches, we’ve done seven, including retracing our steps a few times when we (he) lost the path.

This little chap from a great cache is about to travel 600 miles to be re-hidden in Scotland.

Geocache treasure
Grubby hands, great cache

Some of the caches are literally the size of a fingernail. Needle in a haystack anyone?

Nano geocache
No, the cache isn’t the large orange crystal thingy. It’s the tiny black metal capsule.

By mid afternoon, I’m carrying the dog (he clearly needs to up his fitness) and have realised flip-flops were not the best choice of footwear.

DS wants to go on. Iced coffee wins. Plus the dog is actually quite heavy.

Day Two.

I’m feeling quite experienced here and ready for the hike: I’ve got my pen, sensible shoes, and the dog is staying at home. Then DS raises the bar. Premium membership unlocks more challenges. He starts babbling about multi-caches and earth-caches for only £4.99 a month, or 12 months for £24.99. At just over £2 a month, I’m happy to take out a year’s membership based on the enthusiasm yesterday and the fact we can use it next week when we visit family in Scotland. Now he’s armed with the Premium membership whilst I have the Basic (free) one.

So today he logged eight caches, whilst I’m only able to log four. Cue much gloating that he reached the Sphinx souvenir level and I only got to Mermaid.

Geocache souvenirs
Geocache levels – just like any other online game.

Day Three.

I know we’ve only just broken up, but I want to buy new school shoes before they sell out of every sensible/ acceptable (depending on your perspective) style. So we’re doing an urban trail at the same time. This means we need to not look suspicious to “Muggles”. I now understand why people always seemed to be lurking around particular lamp posts in the town centre.

DS misreads a set of instructions as “Need to rummage in bins” causing me to grab his phone. Luckily, I confirm it actually says “No need to rummage in bins.” The bin men, taking a tea break on a bench, very kindly ask DS if he’s lost something as he crawls beneath the bench. Turns out they like Geocaching too.

By the time I’ve lugged the school shoes half way round town, I need coffee. DS discusses Geocaching with the waitress. Seriously, am I the only person in the country who didn’t know about this? And I’m not sure the shoes fit. I think DS was in a rush to find the next cache.

The good things

  • Outside
  • Suitable for all ages
  • Basic membership is free. My recommendation would be this is more than enough if you have younger children. The Premium challenges can take ages – the one in Chichester Cathedral took us about an hour – but for teenagers, I reckon the more complex puzzles are well worth the investment.
  • Stealthily educational, particularly at the Premium level. We did an earth cache which required the identification of various types of rocks in a church wall – is limestone sedimentary (which I misread as “sedentary” but I think I got away with it) or igneous? Whoever created the cache had provided loads of information and pictures.

The downsides

  • Drains phone batteries faster than I drink espresso. We took a phone on full charge plus a spare battery charger pack and totally drained it too. I was worried that it would be heavy on our data allowance (recalling a scary phone bill after an afternoon Pokemon hunting in the park a while ago), but actually it hardly used any. DH says that’s because it’s using the GPS system or something like that. No idea why that would make a difference but I’m happy enough to just nod.
  • Empty caches. This seems to be more of an issue at the Basic level. Sadly, some people haven’t understood the concept of replacing whatever you take out with something of equal, or higher, value. When we found these, DS decided to put a small toy in the cache so any younger child who comes along after us isn’t disappointed.
  • Rubbish hints. Some of the hints are great, often cryptic (“I’m always looking at you, but you can call me rocky”) or sneaking in more stealth education (“find the sycamore tree”). Others just say “It’s on the signpost, LHS” which isn’t exactly a hint, is it?
  • A simple shopping trip will take five hours.

Overall, a massive hit for all of us, except the dog. You’ve probably been geocaching for years but if, like me, you somehow missed it, this is a superb kids activity. And I really need to say a huge thanks to everyone who takes to time to create and maintain their routes.

Do let me know if you’ve had a go. Do you agree with the Premium version really being for older kids/ grown ups?

Books

The truth about the locations in my books

Sailing gives a wonderful freedom to choosing your location. The first book, Eternal Seas, starts in a lush tropical island, passing through some ports with bustling bazaars, before returning to the rugged islands off the north west coast of Scotland via London.

None of the locations are real, but they are all based on actual places.

 

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