Book festivals are a great place to escape to; immersing yourself in a favourite, or completely new, subject can be just the recharge your batteries need from time to time.
So I was completely hooked when the Wigtown Book Festival decided to mix words, which as a writer I am fascinated by, with that greatest of pursuits, walking.
At this year’s extravaganza of literature – running from September 22 to October 1 – a series of “Walking & Talking” events are taking place. These include James Canton recreating ancient Wigtownshire by taking festival goers on a walk from Torhouse Stone Circle.
Authors Robert Twigger and Jessica Fox will walk through the forest inspired by Casual Games for Casual Hikers by poet Harry Giles – a book and map of things to do on a gentle walk from telling stories to rules for kicking pebbles, ways to name mountains to maps to draw when you get home.
Meanwhile, Sara Maitland, who has used her life as a hermit in Galloway as the inspiration for much of her writing, will take folk on a silent walk – getting people to contemplate their surroundings.
Another outdoor experience comes from author and farmer Rosamund Young who will bring to life her cult book The Secret Life of Cows on a local dairy farm.
What all these events have in common is something walkers will appreciate but maybe take a while to realise. Certainly with myself the achievement of getting to the top of a summit, along a glen or around a loch was all I was thinking about when I first went walking.
But there is more to it than that. You nearly always feel better after a walk, even when you get soaked to the skin you can feel enlivened at the end of the day. There is also the side effects which come from being with others – one university in Scotland introduced a scheme where all meetings involving two people had to be conducted while walking around the campus, the reason being it made folk more productive.
So, there really are many reasons to get out walking other than the view. And one of them is to take in a book festival. Find out more about the Wigtown Book Festival at: www.wigtownbookfestival.com
For me the Highlands have always been there for hillwalking, it was all about the mountains and the rest was really a backdrop to enjoy in the evening.
But having young children has been something of an eye opener, revealing the many activities I knew about because of roadside signs but had never tried out.
So, on a family camping trip to the Cairngorms this summer more time was spent on water than the paths and ridges of the superb mountains.
Both our ten and seven-year-old love the idea of reaching a summit but when they gaze down from Cairn Gorm their eyes are drawn not to Coire an-t Sneachda but Loch Morlich in Glenmore Forest.
The area has long been established for it winter sports but nowadays the summer season is just as important and no more so than on the loch.
Its beautiful beach, at 1,000ft, is dominated by the Northern Corries and on a sunny day can look a little Mediterranean – there is even a barbecue on the go. All of this is helped by watersports on the loch.
The youngest is desperate to follow his big sister on to a paddle board (he just needs his arms stretching to be able to hold the paddle). No matter, all four of us were able to explore the water, if a little inexpertly on one windy day, exploring a little river and generally enjoying a side to the great outdoors I have ignored since my youth when Duke of Edinburgh Awards were part of my life.
Other than that, the wetsuits never had time to properly dry out as wild swimming became “a thing” in the family and those who were bravest made it into water deeper than they could stand up in.
One of my favourite walks in Scotland, or anywhere for that matter, starts at the west end of the loch and goes up to the magnificent Braeriach and its corrie which looks like something out of Lord of the Rings.
But when the rest of the family were spending a day with some friends who live locally what did I do? Hire a kayak and spend a few of the happiest hours you can imagine paddling around and across the loch, admiring the views of the mountains from below.
Some may say it is a type of midlife crisis to go back to things I enjoyed in my youth but it is one I intend to embrace with no regret.
A pint in a cosy pub after a day on the hill, up the glen or along the coast is one of life’s great pleasures.
On a cold day a blazing fire is as welcome as the chance to ease off your boots while at this time of year a beer garden can be a peaceful retreat after a day of exertions.
The Campaign for Real Ale know a thing or two about good pubs and have compiled a list of some of the best walks and hostelries to enjoy across Britain.
Written by Daniel Neilson, CAMRA’s Wild Pub Walks includes classics such as Ben Nevis with the inn of the same name at the bottom, as well as pubs in nearby Fort William.
If I had to pick a couple of favourites they would be the Moulin Inn below Ben Vrackie, one of the first mountains I went up after moving to Scotland nearly 20 years ago. Going back 40 years, I broke in my first pair of walking boots on the Langdale Pikes and proudly wore a button badge declaring I’d climbed them. That was the start of a love of hill walking although it was a few years before I started to appreciate the Old Dungeon Ghyll but it soon became a favourite of me and my mates.
One thing that does strike me about hillwalking and pubs is that, rightly, the pub is always enjoyed at the end of the day, when the strenuous exercise is over. But when it comes to ski-ing, especially in the Alps, the bar or restaurant is a lunchtime destination where a meal with a couple of glasses of wine is the norm. Without wishing to sound like a killjoy it does seem strange to have a drink of alcohol before setting off down a steep mountainside – I often ask myself what reaction you would get if you opened up a bottle of red by the summit cairn of a British mountain in the middle of June?
As someone who makes his living by writing I was intrigued to find an old pencil high up on Ben Nevis earlier this month. It had obviously been sharpened with a penknife and appeared to be well used.
It may sound a little naff to obsess about something so every day and mundane but I have become intrigued about who owned it and what they used it for. Was it a sketcher or maybe a fellow writer who jots down notes with a pencil?
Whatever its origins, it was lying by the path at the top of the zig-zags on the Mountain Track – about 1,200m (just short of 4,000ft) up.
I would be more than happy to send it back to its owner, and even more delighted to find out what its use was on the highest mountain in Britain.
We have a six-year-old and a nine-year-old, both of whom have become obsessed by birds.
This is great, not only for the way it allows them to learn about the environment, habitat etc but it also gets them to enjoy my number one passion – walking in the outdoors.
The recent sunny weather took me and the nine-year-old to the RSPB’s Loch Leven reserve near Kinross where for me the lapwings with their swooping dance and strange call are the highlight. But as we made our way along the hides it became apparent the number of species was important for my daughter. It seems her enthusiasm was fuelled by a desire to beat the tally of her younger brother who had been a few weeks earlier.
But as we took break for a snack and sat looking up at Vane Hill I explained how a peregrine falcon might hunt around that part of the reserve. All thoughts of tallies ended and off we went, up the path to the top. The view was excellent but the peregrine was absent. No matter, we enjoyed the birch woods and maybe a little sub-conscious lesson had been learned – ticking off species is good but trying to find a particular one is just as much fun, even if you don’t see it.
Fidden Farm on the Ross of Mull is old fashioned camping at its best. This is no spartan experience to be endured rather than enjoyed, it is a glorious pitch by a white sandy beach above turquoise waters studded with granite rocks.
There are no electric hook ups, no games room or swimming pool (why would you need them with the coastal playground all around?). My children loved it, only being dragged into the tent when it got dark – the iPad was used for no more than 20 minutes on a four day stay.
The grown-ups liked it too, although I probably spent too long trying to take a picture of the moonlit beach.
The weather was good and we could have stayed much longer with so many rock pools to explore, little bays to swim in and parts of the beach which had not been used to create mini villages, castles and bridges.
Once back home, some friends in the Central Belt thought the lack of “facilities” made it sound more like wild camping. But with a good shower block there is no need for extras, they are provided by nature.