The other day, following my regular procrastination routine, I clicked on a BBC link that led me to the ten most beautiful islands in Europe. As I started scrolling down the list, I expected to see beautiful Mediterranean destinations with white sandy beaches, turquoise water and the promise of a sun-kissed glow. Undeniably, I was surprised when I was met with the Isles of Lewis and Harris in Scotland as joint number one on the list. They do have beautiful beaches with dramatic coast-lines, and both offer the promise of that desperately needed escape – but how was this ideal, brochure-worthy location still on a local map?
The problem is that that the local map is regularly thrown out the window. Skyscanner, EasyJet, the promise of air-miles and duty-free perfume take its place. If you can get to Europe for less than £100, why not just get on a flight tomorrow? But what about the £5 trip to the nearby world heritage site? What about the scenic train journey up to Scotland’s own mountain range or to the home of the famous Loch Ness monster? These might seem like clichés to you, but I refuse to believe that beautiful places are only accessible behind a terminal gate in exchange for a boarding pass.
But there you are, boarding pass in hand, making sure that your stupidly tiny bottles of shampoo that hold just enough to keep an underfed guinea pig clean, are well and truly concealed in their plastic bags. Passing through security, bare foot of course, holding up your trousers, you are in the undiscovered land of minute discounts and oversized packets of cigarettes and, if you’re lucky, an evergreen plant pot.
The alternative adventure is only a train ride away; up in the mountains, near Ben More,in a blizzard at 11.30pm I was presented with my transport: a small rowing boat. My bottles of shampoo were of normal size and I had not been given a boarding pass. Instead I was given an oar by a woman wearing a head torch and a plastic poncho and asked to row. Somehow I don’t think that this level of customer service would ever be found on any aeroplane, not even when handed pretzels.
The weekend continued, leading me to a house built by a man called John. John’s wife asked him where they would live, so he gathered old windows, fallen down trees and abandoned planks and built the place where I would escape for the weekend. This hobbit house in a glen by Loch Voil was one of the maddest places I have ever been in. The best thing about it? The only time I had to take my shoes and belt off was to go to sleep after a long day travelling.
The glens near Ben More were more peaceful, and the trip ended up as as one of the most relaxing holidays I have ever been on. It didn’t even pretend to be an undiscovered land with a singular pot plant – instead, it offered a forest. A forest whose paths were covered with untouched snow, rather that trampled by a horde of tour guides and their groups.
So maybe the option of a staycation, rather than a vacation – which asks you to vacate yourself and sometimes your luggage on the way, isn’t quite so bad after all? With youth hostels perched on the edges of cliffs, hiding between mountains, but still close enough to a beach for a swim in the sea, maybe it’s time to find that old local map you threw out of the window? It offers a peaceful and refreshing change, one that I would encourage everyone to try.