NC500 – Day Four: I’ll take a Diet Coke, thanks. 

Our days had passed quickly and before we knew it we were on the homestretch. 

It was our final morning yet for the first time on our trip, we woke up in a structurally sound bedroom. Our lodgings that night had been somewhat unconventional but more than comfortable. The boys affectionately referred to it as the trailer park, but honestly, I think it was more special than that. I would recommend Sleeperzzz to anyone looking for an affordable nights sleep with a truly unique twist. 

Our first adventure of the day was a trip to Rogie Falls, not far from Inverness. It wasn’t the first waterfall of our trip, but it was the first that we actually experienced in the sunshine which made it all the more scenic. It also meant the short walk from the car to the falls was more enjoyable, as the sun’s rays pushed through the leafy trees above us and shone a glittering light on our path.

The beauty of nature needs no caption.


Once back in the car we drove towards Clootie Well. While I had done a little research, I still wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, and when we arrived I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it… Said to be an old pilgrim tradition, strips of cloth were tied to trees surrounding springs and wells as part of a healing ritual. 

However, the modern day manifestation of this practice, I’d imagine, is somewhat different to what it was originally. As we walked through the woodland we saw old clothes, flags, tea towels and even shoes tied to the trees. I appreciate most of these tributes were made with some attempt at keeping the old tradition alive, but it really just seemed like glorified littering to me. Maybe I’m just a snob though. 

Eerie, hippie vibes.


We continued our drive east towards Rosemarkie and the very picturesque Fairy Glen where we took a short walk through the woods. I think it would be easy to dismiss these woods as a dark, slightly damp, almost swampy environment. However, if you really took a minute to really appreciate your surroundings, there was something quite magical about it and it was easy to see why it was called the Fairy Glen. 

After our walk it was time for lunch so we made our way to the Plough Inn, the quaint little pub we had passed on our way in to town. Here, I ordered my first Diet Coke of many that day, while the boys ordered their first beer. In a form of Karma their beers were on the warm side which wasn’t great for a hot day like this. 

Workplace of my dreams.


While in the Black Isle area, it would be rude not to stop in at the Black Isle Brewery, as they make one of my favourite beers – Black Isle Blonde. The brewery fulfilled all of my hippie expectations. At the end of a little pothole infested road we found a quirky metal building surrounded by a fairly rustic garden. It was the type of place that I just wanted to hover around long enough for them to offer me a job.

Inside, we were informed that Black Isle had actually opened a tap room in the centre of Inverness, just down the street from a gelataria. This was enough persuasion for us to put any of our other plans for the day on hold. While I couldn’t have a beer, my ice cream options were unrestricted so it seemed like a winning option all round. I was kindly allowed to eat an ice cream in the beer garden while posing with a beer for effect. 

Beer for effect.


Although we had planned for multiple other stops, time dictated that we would have to just choose one. We decided Duffus castle would be our grande finale. Much like the other castles we had visited, there wasn’t much left of it. Often with ruins, it is this that makes them so interesting as you can wander round and imagine what was once there. The planning and engineering that once went it to building such structures is quite formidable really and the fact that so many of them are in part still standing really is a testament to this. 

Forever falling into these natural poses…


We drove to Buckie, where we said farewell to Dave before beginning our drive back to Aberdeen. While we didn’t do anything particularly outstanding on our last day, it is still the day with some of my fondest memories. I guess sometimes it’s the little laughs with your closest friends that make the best memories.

The North Coast 500 was an enchanting but at times, challenging experience. However, it is one that I would happily repeat. With nicer weather and a little more time, I imagine we could greatly improve on our first experience. 

While the weather in Scotland is difficult to predict, our time is a factor we have greater control over. Making more to time to do what we love is something we can all benefit from, as it’s the memories we make in this time that will become our most valuable possessions. 

NC500 – Day Three: Did our tent just blow down? 

So while our campsite was incredibly picturesque, we learnt throughout the night that it wasn’t the most practical. Its coastal location combined with the lack of shelter left us fairly exposed to the elements. At multiple points during the night the wind was strong enough to blow our tent flat for a few seconds at a time. This, paired with the rain, meant we were essentially water boarded by our own tent on several occasions as we tried to sleep. Although we questioned it at many points, our tent weathered the storm and survived the night. We were actually quite lucky, as, if this had happened on day one we’d have ended up sleeping in the car. 

Our third day meant our third morning of starting our route in the hope that breakfast would jump out at us. We thought Durness would be a good shout as it was a bigger town, but… it was a Sunday. Luckily, breakfast wasn’t the only reason we had chosen Durness. 

You’ve been hit by, you’ve been struck by, a Smoo criminal.


High on my Pinterest hit list was the very picturesque, Smoo Cave. Pinterest can at times over sell attractions. The heavily edited photographs with eye catching captions can leave a bit to be desired when you see them in the real world. Smoo Cave was maybe the opposite of this. While the pictures I’d seen had actually been quite accurate, the waterfall inside the cave was an unreported surprise. As soon as you entered the wooden tunnel taking you to the heart of the cave, the sheer force of the water became apparent. While this wasn’t a particularly beautiful waterfall, nor a particularly large one, it’s power made it stand out. The sound of the splashing water echoed through the cave. The sheer volume of water meant it was difficult to get close to it without being splashed by water ricocheting from the plunge pool. Smoo Cave was a hidden gem with its own little secret.

Having skipped breakfast, we grew increasingly hungry. Our original plan had been to wait until we reached John o’Groats before having lunch, but our hunger was rapidly becoming ‘hanger’. The coastal views lessened the suffering but all we could really concentrate on was food. 

The fish cake of my dreams.


As we passed through Thurso the temptation grew too much. Worryingly, as we walked through the town, we learnt that Durness wasn’t the only quiet place on a Sunday. It didn’t look like we were going to have much luck here either until some good fortune meant that we stumbled across Y Not Bar and Grill. For a small town pub, the place had a fairly trendy, city like atmosphere. Brian went for his usual club sandwich while I opted for the seafood option yet again. In this part of Scotland it takes some will power to turn down seafood as it literally goes from sea to plate.

With full bellies we continued our drive east. While the scenery was very different to what we had experienced over the past two days, it was no less beautiful. The dramatic cliffs at Dunnet head were worth the wind we had to endure to see them. 

Tropical beach or Scotland.


The weather had been quite mild throughout the day, mostly dry and even pleasant at times. Naturally as soon as we got out of the car at John o’Groats, things changed. In the usual Scottish fashion, the weather took a damp turn. We had long enough to take a picture before we had to seek shelter from the elements in the first cafe we could find. So that was all we saw of the famous town… it’s sign – but maybe that’s all there really is to see? 

From John o’Groats, our coastal adventure continued. The highlight for me was Duncansby head. This is where, two almost identical rock formations, shaped like shark teeth, bite through the water just off the shore. 

That sign and the deceptively blue sky.


Now it was time to start heading south to Rogart where we were staying that night, with plenty stops along the way to keep us going. At this point, little did we know that we would spend a lot of our afternoon driving up and down the same 20mile stretch of road looking for these attractions.

Our first stop was meant to be Bucholie Castle. If anyone can actually find this then please give them a medal. As the Sat Nav began to lead us down a dirt track, we decided that maybe today wasn’t the day for that castle. With the amount of rain we had, venturing further was just asking for us to get stuck. Spending so much time trying to find this castle and all to no avail was actually pretty disappointing. After a short sulk I picked myself up and moved on as we still had plenty to do. In my head I wanted everything to be perfect so the idea of missing something upset me. However in reality, it wasn’t going to make or break our trip but my reaction could. 

Luckily Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, just outside of Wick, was much easier to find – there was even a couple of signs. As with most of the castles we had stopped at, there was not many people there. Much of the castle had eroded away over the years. As we peered off the castle walls down to the vicious sea, it was easy to sea why. What remained of the castle was still incredibly beautiful, so it’s sad to think that, soon, without more restoration and protection it may not be there either.

A castle, battered by the elements.


The Whaligoe Steps were next on our route, but before seeing them, we passed a sign for our following stop, the Camster Cairns. This should have been an indication that we maybe missed a turn for the steps. Oblivious, we headed towards the Cairns. As we drove down the road we were caught in the kind of traffic jam I thought only existed in movies. As the farmer moved his flock of sheep and lambs we pulled over to one side as we were surrounded. As a city slicker, this was surreal to me, but I think it made Brian feel at home. 

Upon reaching the Cairns, we were met with huge rock piles each with a small tunnel that lead to a hollow interior. I crawled into one, and that dark, claustrophobic experience was enough for me. 

It was at this point that we suspected we may have missed the Whaligoe Steps. We decided that they were worth a drive back, but sadly we never found out. Much like Bucholie Castle, the Steps were invisible to us. Although this was another disappointment, we both agreed that it gave us twice the reason to drive in this road again. Although having driven it about 5 times that day, maybe not anytime too soon.  

The trailer park.


The race was now on to get to our unconventional lodgings, Sleeperzzz, in Rogart, and meet our friend Dave who would join us for the last part of our trip. We had time for a drive by photograph of Dunrobin castle, before we reached our final destination for the day, Rogart, which was possibly our most rural stopover yet. 

Time to put our feet up and drink up. 

NC500 – Day Two: Scotland in July, when the rain gets warmer.

We woke up to the sound of fairly strong wind and the suspicion that our tent was probably in worse shape than when we put it up the night before, if that was even possible. This provided us with some urgency to get showered and hit the road again before our tent became more like a kite.

After cleaning up as much as you can in a public shower, our next priority was to find somewhere that opened early enough for us to get breakfast. Our plan was to start our journey north in the hope that we’d find something on the way. For a second time we journeyed over the Bealach na Ba, and for a second time we were consumed by the clouds and unable to admire any of the views which supposedly exist on this road. Having driven the road in worse weather and worse spirits the previous day, we were able to enjoy our second attempt slightly more but there was still a sigh of relief once we were through the hills.

img_3568

Views like this made the hunger manageable.

We drove for about an hour before we came across the dainty, Whistle Stop Cafe in Kinlochewe. After resisting the urge to order chocolate cake for breakfast (its a constant struggle) – I settled on the more substantial Scottish breakfast. White coffee and black pudding isn’t a bad way to start the day. As we left the cafe, the rain that had been threatening us since we woke up was in full force and it didn’t look like it was going away any time soon.

After breakfast, our plan had been to visit Inverewe Gardens. The pictures we had seen of the gardens were stunning but they had clearly been taken in much better weather than what we were given. Rather than the tropical garden experience we had planned for, we were more likely to endure a typical Scottish outing of rain and grey skies with the unusual addition of palm trees on the side. Weighing up our expectation vs reality we made the decision to save the gardens for another day (more of that ‘adapting’ stuff we’ve been practising). Onto the next stop – Corrieshalloch Gorge.

img_3366

Anthrax Island – something out of a dystopian fantasy.

On the way to the gorge, we decided to make a photo stop at Gruinard Bay which, on a good day, is said to be beautiful. While enjoying the beach on a sunny day may have been nice, the main reason we stopped was not for of the bay but instead for the island opposite and the interesting story attached to it. In the background of the above picture you can see Gruinard Island, and while its appearance is rather unspectacular, its history is of much more interest. Some pre road trip research revealed that, during WWII, Gruinard Island had been a government testing ground for biological warfare. Opposite a beautiful bay to rival any in Scotland sits an island that was contaminated with Anthrax for decades. How strange and rather eerie…

A sign on the island used to read: “This island is government property under experiment. This ground is contaminated with Anthrax and dangerous. Landing is prohibited.” However the experiment was declassified in 1997 and the island has now been declared safe, although the last confirmed case of Anthrax on the island test flock of sheep was just a decade ago. I don’t think I’ll be taking my chances any time soon.

img_3385

Bridges shouldn’t be built to sway.

By the time we reached Corrieshalloch Gorge the rain still hadn’t let up, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The rain meant that a lot of the attractions we had planned to visit were much quieter than normal.

The gorge was just a short walk down the hillside. While we had seen pictures of the sight, it difficult to know exactly what to expect. The pictures really didn’t do it justice. As I found out when trying to take my own pictures, it was almost impossible to showcase the sheer size and depth of the gorge while capturing the detail of the rock that was carved and shaped by the water.

The bridge over the gorge warned that only 6 people at a time should venture across it – a warning that many people chose to ignore. However, considering the looming drop to the gorge below, I patiently waited at the edge until the bride was slightly less congested. Standing on the bridge, it was easy to feel insignificant with those surroundings.

img_3193

Cave exploring *giggle* – I just fell like this.

From the gorge we were just 15mins from Ullapool which seemed like it would be the best lunch stop for a while. We had a quick bite to eat at The Seaforth and while I stuck with my obligatory driver’s soft drink, Brian sampled some of the local beer. We didn’t spend long in Ullapool but it seems like a small hub in the North West and somewhere that we would definitely visit and possibly base out of for future trips.

We did have some slightly longer hikes planned for the afternoon but the idea of getting soaked while walking for hours, then sitting in a car while damp for hours, then sleeping in a tent all night was less and less inviting.

We decided to opt for a shorter hike to the Bone Caves instead (we were getting really good at adapting). For some reason, instead of changing into my waterproof boots I thought I’d just wear my not so waterproof trail running shoes. This was not the best decision I’ve made. Although the hike was only a couple hours long, the rain was constant and parts of the path were flooded. By the time we reached the caves, both o us were soaked – our idea of staying dry on a shorter walk wasn’t really going to plan.

When we actually reached the caves, exploring in them gave us a small respite from the rain. It was a nice experience to be able to explore such an untouched environment. A combination of the weather and the remoteness of the caves had meant that for the entire hike we had only seen a couple of other people, it was like having a private valley exclusively to ourselves.

img_3381

Kylesku Bridge – beautiful to drive over, beautiful to look at.

Unlike the previous day, we now only had a half hour drive to our campsite and it was well before dinner time. Without the pressure of time, we were able to take a much more leisurely pace. While I still tried to drive at 60mph, we made more stops for pictures along the way.

Just down the road from the Bone Caves was Ardvreck Castle. We hopped out the car to have a look at the castle, but didn’t venture too close – still soaked from our earlier walk, we weren’t keen to add more rain to the equation. You know the rain is bad when Brian, a history major, chooses not to stand and read the information of the castle.

Luckily, as we got further north, the rain seemed to be fading. So much so, that by the time we got to Kylesku bridge we were able to actually leave the car without waterproofs.

img_3152

That campsite is tough to beat.

We arrived at our campsite in Scourie and pitched our tent all before 6pm, which was incredible considering our efforts from the previous day. We were now professionals at tent assembly and actually got our home for the night looking presentable enough for a photo, this time. By this point, the rain had completely subsided, matching our good mood and high spirits.

We ended our day with some food and beers at the Anchorage Bar. Both of us had incredibly fresh seafood for dinner, and the beers weren’t bad either. After a long day of driving and missing out, my pint of Tennents tasted surprisingly good.

Overall, day two had been much more relaxed. While we didn’t have the best weather, we still had fun. By giving ourselves less to do, we weren’t so constrained by time and actually had a greater opportunity to enjoy what we did do. I suppose we had learnt from the mistakes we made the previous day.

As cliched as it sounds, for us it didn’t matter what we were doing, as long as we were together – although it took me a little longer to realise this.

NC500 – Day One: If at first you don’t succeed, try and try… to find phone signal. 

“Scotland’s answer to Route 66”

I found out about the North Coast 500 over a year ago and have wanted to drive it ever since. With my boyfriend visiting, it seemed like the perfect time to make some new memories while travelling around the most beautiful parts of Scotland for the first time.

Anyone who has heard of the NC500 probably knows that Aberdeen, where I live, is not actually on the route. So adding in those extra miles, our four day roadtrip was really an NC750. The added distance meant even more photo stops, so if we were to make it from Aberdeen to our campsite at Applecross, we would have to be fairly efficient, even with our 7am departure.

img_3363

Auchindoun castle feat happy boyfriend and excited pup. (Disclaimer: dog is not mine, but the man is).

Instead of following the A96 (the main Aberdeen to Inverness road), we decided to drive a series of quieter roads passing the picturesque ruins of Kildrummy, Auchindoun and Balvenie castles. What these castles had in common was that they were slightly off the beaten track, meaning we had them exclusively to ourselves during our visits. There’s something incredibly special about experiencing historic buildings like these when no one else is there.

img_3368

Balvenie Castle – saving the best till last for castles on Day 1.

Before reaching Inverness we had one more stop – Old Pack Horse Bridge in Carrbridge. It wasn’t really en route but we thought the detour would be worth it. You wouldn’t know it from the picture, but this old age bridge is actually in the town centre, beside all the shops and restaurants and parallel to the modern road bridge that we had just used to cross the river. The contrasting environments make it even easier to  appreciate the beauty of the historic structure and the ingenuity that must have gone into building it.

img_3364

Old Pack Horse Bridge

While we were heading in the right general direction, I’m pretty sure that the route we were following from Inverness wasn’t strictly the NC500 the hole way. However, a couple waterfalls seemed to be a worthwhile deviation and it didn’t look like making these adjustments to the route was going to add on too much time or at least that’s what we thought…

All started fine and well, we drove along Loch Ness on the road which followed the south side of the loch, soaking in the views. The weather seemed to have taken a brighter turn for the day, at points it even seemed sunny. We made our way to the village of Foyers where we hoped to see the burnt remains of Bolskine House, a manor previously owned by Aleister Crowley and Jimmy Page. Unfortunately it was gated off and you couldn’t actually see it from the road, but luckily it wasn’t the only reason we had come to Foyers.

After a bite to eat we were able to explore the dramatic Falls of Foyers. A short walk down a hill from the cafe takes you to a striking rock gorge. It is here where you find Scotland’s fourth highest waterfall. The best thing about this particular waterfall is how close you’re able to view it from. Being that close to the falls meant that their sound was almost as impressive as their appearance.

Up until this point, everything had gone to plan. We were on schedule and hadn’t got lost yet. YET.

Foyers on the left, Plodda on the right.

Our next stop was Plodda falls, and with that our smooth running day was about to change. We left Foyers around 14:45 but didn’t reach Plodda falls until 17:50… This was a journey that should have only taken just over an hour. A combination of what could only be described as a malfunctioning, drunkenly disorientated GPS and the vast signal dead zones meant that finding the pothole infested dirt track leading to Plodda falls was much harder than expected.

My only hope was that when we finally arrived, the waterfall would be somewhat worth the unbelievably long and stressful journey. At first I thought that my nightmare was about to become a reality as we were greeted by a rather underwhelming waterfall, a mere trickle compared to Foyers. However, that familiar sound of flowing  water hinted that there might actually be more to discover, so we followed the water. It wasn’t long before we found the viewing platform which hovered over a vast 150ft gorge, which was the setting to the magnificent Plodda falls. The platform was directly over the waterfall which gave an interesting perspective (especially for an Acrophobiac like myself) but its positioning also made it difficult to appreciate the waterfall which is quite ironic for a viewing platform.

Had we explored a little further I’m sure a better view was available but in all honesty, we couldn’t really be bothered – we were tired and hungry and had lost most motivation for the day but were still over two hours away from our campsite. The waterfall was beautiful but I feel our reaction to it may have been warmer had we seen it a few hours earlier as planned.

img_3365

None of the traffic, all of the scenery.

I am a planner, and getting lost certainly was not part of the plan. I think a weakness of mine is my lack of adaptability. When my plans fall through I often struggle to form that Plan B. Often instead of focusing my attention on what can be done to rectify the situation, I just become frustrated with myself to the extent that it really hinders my ability to think rationally. Luckily on this occasion, my boyfriend, Brian, was able to provide me with a voice of reason, but I won’t always have this luxury. Adapting on my own is something which I’ll need to get better with, especially with my upcoming travels. I’m sure my European tour will act as a sink or swim experience for me.

img_3056

Driving the Bealach na Ba put some hairs on my chest.

As we began our journey from the Plodda falls to our campsite, the weather grew increasingly bad, almost reflecting the mood in the car. Despite the rain, it was a surprisingly nice drive but we could only enjoy it as much as the average hungry person can enjoy anything that isn’t food. When we had signal we eagerly Googled for restaurants that were on our route. Eventually we came to the Lochcarron Hotel that provided a busy bar and restaurant, that was wall to wall with a mixture of locals and fellow tourists.

Refuelled by our pub grub, we hit the road again – we were on the final stretch. However, little did we know that, between us and our campsite was the daunting Bealach na Ba. This road is one of the most challenging I’ve ever driven – a single track through the mountains and into the clouds with sheer cliff drops, steep hair pin bends and poor visibility. It was a great experience but as we came to the midpoint of the road, a stranded car with a blown out tire reminded us of  how desperately we just wanted to be off this remote road and at the campsite.

The relief of reaching the campsite lasted only seconds as we then realised that we now had to assemble a tent that we had never seen before without any instructions. I’d have taken a picture of our home for the night but our effort was pretty poor, our tent looked a little sad and had the potential to fall over in a stiff breeze – but it would do for the night.

Time for a Brewdog beer and a good nights sleep, before doing it all again the next day.

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan and that’s okay.

When Amy met Ben. 

I think one of the most important things in life is to challenge yourself – set a goal and work to achieve it.

Climbing Ben Nevis was something my boyfriend and I had always wanted to do last year – but we had sadly just run out of time before we left. So during his visit this year we had to do it. Surely.

After a rather merry Saturday night, our first challenge was to drive to Fort William. The after effects of the previous night’s festivities had meant a slight delay to our journey, but we eventually set off (albeit 90mins behind schedule). The combination of navigating unfamiliar country roads and an ever encroaching headache wasn’t the way I’d planned to start the day but the amazing Scottish scenery meant I could make the best of an increasingly bad situation.

img_2791-2

Lagan Dam – where industry meets scenery.

After taking multiple rest stops while driving through what should be described as “postcard Scotland” we eventually arrived in Fort William. While we got there later than planned, there was still time for food and beers in our schedule. The added time on our journey meant my stomach was actually almost ready for an alcoholic beverage. Homemade shepherds pie and an after dinner pub field trip was a good end to a long day, but the struggle up the stairs on the way home from the pub left me dubious of my ability to climb the UK’s highest mountain the following day. 

img_2808-2

Find me a more scenic country.

That 7am alarm went off and it was finally time to make things happen. The forecast hadn’t been great but it looked like we’d at least have a dry morning, but in Scotland the weather changes quickly so I thought I’d take both a cap and a raincoat – a decision that would later pay off.

Although I was probably the fittest I’d been in years, I really wasn’t sure how I would fair on the Ben. Like with anything that you don’t have complete control over, it can be easy to psych yourself out. It’s just like those moments before your first match at BJJ competition where you can’t decide if you’re nervous or excited but once you step on the mats, you forget about everything else and just become focused on the goal.

img_2899-1

A place beyond the clouds.

The hike was surprisingly gentle to start with but I assumed it would continue to get harder as the path went on. Also, while the sun was out when we started, we all knew it wouldn’t stay. I suppose in my head, I was ready for the day to get progressively tougher but to my surprise it never really did.

I’m not saying the climb was easy, but sometimes we can make things much more daunting than they actually are. The climb was a constant challenge but in my head I had expected it to be much more difficult than it was. Maybe the moral of the story is that the physical challenges we face are much easier to overcome when we acknowledge and tackle the corresponding mental challenges first.

img_2898-1

Are we there yet?

While Snapchat has many useless filters, its altitude feature was particularly useful for monitoring our progress and creating a timeline of the changing weather conditions we faced. We were spoilt with sunshine and views of Fort William for most of our climb but we spent the last 150m literally walking through clouds. Similar to the green tunnel syndrome that comes with walking through forests, the 360° view of white sky at the top of the Ben was a little disorientating. The last part of the hike was more of a trudge than a sprint but we did it.

After about three and a half hours, we made it to the top.

We were at the top of the world (okay, so it was just the top of the UK), and that feeling of accomplishment was one of the best there is. But, arguably, overcoming the challenges of the day and sharing that achievement with someone you love makes it all the more meaningful.

img_2882-2

Proof – If there isn’t a picture did it really even happen?

As a reward, the Scottish weather decided to hold off until after we ate our sandwiches before the heavens finally opened. As soon as we started our descent, the rain followed us which presented the new challenge of slippery paths. The whole way down I calmed my fear of falling and consoled myself with the phrase “at least we made it to the top”.

Getting back to the car was a good cue to relax – or at least it was for a second – until I remembered that it meant it was time for a nice four hour drive back to Aberdeen. Ouch.

I guess it was time for that phrase again – “at least we made it to the top”.

Almost, but not quite – progress in disguise. 

Forever chasing gold, forever coming up short.

It’s been almost two weeks of thinking and reflecting since my last competition, and while my results were not hugely different to some previous competitions, I left the Edinburgh Open proud of what I had accomplished.

The morning of the competition, I caught a train leaving Aberdeen at 5:46am. 12 hours later, I left Meadowbank with three medals and a beaming grin. After a long day, with a lot of mat time and even more waiting around, I was the proud owner of a silver in u64 Gi, a silver in u61.5 NoGi and a bronze in absolute NoGi.

img_2419-2

Nothing worth having comes easy. (Scott Hills Photography)

So, I didn’t get the gold that I had trained so hard for.

In material, I hadn’t made any real progress, but in substance my results were actually a great improvement on my previous competitions. Out of the ten matches I had, I lost three by submission and one on points… But, I won my other six matches by submission.

It was rewarding to see that the techniques which I had been drilling for months and working hard to land in rolling actually worked in practice.  In my opening match I landed my favourite bow and arrow choke and in my subsequent matches I was able to land a few arm bars (my other go to  submission).  As your training partners learn your game, it can be difficult to nail your favourite submissions in rolling, so landing them in competition is certainly reassuring.

img_2421

Attempting to set up a short choke, shown to me in a brutal two and a half hour session with Dustin ‘Clean’ Denes back in March. (Scott Hills Photography)

After a competition its nice to look back at what you’ve achieved, but its more important to look back at your mistakes.

With that in mind I can confirm, there are definite holes in my game, although from being tapped numerous times each session, I was pretty aware of this already. However, competitions provide a much more focussed look into your weaknesses. In the u64 Gi final, a momentary posture mistake meant I lost the final to an arm bar. I didn’t defend my neck in the earlier rounds of both Gi and NoGi absolute and lost out to an Ezekiel in both. In the final of u61.5 NoGi, I lost on points. Despite the unfavourable result, that final was probably my favourite match of the day as it was so competitive, but it also revealed areas where my game could be stronger. I know that with some conscientious work, these mistakes are all fixable.  

All I can do is to continue turning up, working hard and putting in the mat time – slowly but surely, this regime has been working so far. 

img_2345-1

A medal I’m proud of, but hopefully my last silver for a while.

I’ve acquired a number of medals over the last 10 months, and not all of them represent wins to me. However, those medals and the memories I associate with them are still important. When I look at them, I remember the disappointment that crowded my mind, how defeated I felt and how close to quitting I was. Sometimes it’s hard to revisit those memories, but I’ve found that doing so has improved my motivation greatly and has helped me to evaluate my progress through the sport.

Its nice to have three new medals that I can associate with better memories of stronger performances. Hopefully I can keep adding to this collection, but for now, the journey continues.

You are not alone. 

It’s no secret that as females, in BJJ gyms, we will generally be largely outnumbered (I’ve been the only girl in classes with over 20 guys). However, that’s not a bad thing. Rolling with bigger or stronger guys can really push you to use a combination of your best technique and strength, it can make you think differently about what you’re doing and you can actually take a lot from it. I have predominantly trained with men since I started BJJ, and certainly wouldn’t be where I am now without the guidance and support of all my training partners.

That being said, it is easy to feel isolated at times, but, women’s open mats like yesterday’s act as a great reminder that you are, in fact, not alone.

Disclaimer: This picture definitely was NOT taken before training to avoid looking sweaty on camera.

Yesterday was a great opportunity to learn and train with other women from across the country. Despite being from different affiliations and of different levels, we all shared a unifying interest in BJJ. It was nice to speak to like minded ladies, and to find out more about their individual journeys through the sport.

In BJJ you constantly go through mental and physical challenges, you’ll experience frustration and pain and you’ll have your confidence tested in many ways. There will be days where your game will flow brilliantly (and you’ll pretend you’re Gezary Matuda in your head – or maybe that’s just me..?) and there will be those other days where you’ll move as awkwardly as you did in your first ever session. There might even be moments when you’ll consider quitting, even if its only for a split second. So, while everyone’s BJJ journey is different, it can be a comfort to know that there are other women out there choosing to follow a similar path.

I took a huge amount from yesterday’s open mat, from the simple enjoyment of meeting and training with new people, to the fundamental tips and pointers that I picked up. 

It was good to be able to test out some sweeps and subs with different training partners, as well as, work on some escapes and defences when I got into tough positions. Rolling with people you aren’t familiar with always presents new challenges which can really help in developing your game. 

The gym was full of talent, but none was more impressive than that of the squad of young girls that were training with us. I’m not ashamed to admit I was roughhoused by a couple very promising young talents, reassuring me that the future of women in this sport is in very capable, albeit very small, hands. 

At the end of the 2 hours, it was a pleasure to leave the gym without smelling like multiple different sweaty men, but instead multiple different sweaty women (just kidding – we all know there’s no such thing as a sweaty girl, right?). I also left with the important confirmation that BJJ related baldness is not a condition that I suffer with alone, but, hair and what to do with it is a struggle we all face.  

Women’s open mats like this can be so valuable to your training as well as lots of giggles, so I’m thoroughly looking forward to the next one. A huge thanks must be said to Rising Phoenix BJJ/Fife Martial Arts and Fitness Academy for welcoming us all into your gym for the day! 

See you on the mats again. 

Don’t call me a regular, but…

Twice in two weeks. 

Foodstory, Aberdeen, is rapidly becoming my favourite eatery in the city. Everything here is so pretty and so tasty. It’s also nice to be able to go out and enjoy a guilt free meal in a laid back environment. 

Beautiful Latte made with Dear Green Coffee


Vegetable nori wraps with rocket and superfood salad


Raw, vegan, gluten free berry cheesecake without refined sugar

Some people may dismiss Foodstory as a hipster hub, but I’d argue it is a hub for all. The miss matched furniture and rustic feel to the cafe catch your eye and invite you in as you walk by. For a casual lunch, or a special occasion, I’m not sure you can beat the atmosphere of this place. 

I’m a convert. 

While I’m still partial to the occasional beer and burger outing, I am now more than content to kickback and have a couple vegan courses. 

I, Amy, eater of meat, openly eat and enjoy vegan food. Although I am still required to make occasional jokes about it in front of my more hardcore carnivorous friends. 

Bute-iful escape. 

Training. Study. Work. Training. Study. Exams. Training. Work. Training. Training.

The last few months have been pretty non-stop, to say the least. So, it was definitely nice to runaway to the West Coast with some friends for a few days. On Monday morning, we set off for Wemyss bay with the hope of catching the ferry to Bute at either 2pm or 3pm, although as the journey went on, 4pm seemed to be the more realistic target. When reaching the ferry port at around 2:50pm, we discovered that the operators actually catered for disorganised, tardy students like ourselves. We were told that if we bought our tickets quickly we could actually catch the 3pm ferry that we’d earlier written off. Nailed it.

In typical West Coast fashion, on our arrival to the Isle of Bute, we were met with that notorious rain. Not wanting to linger outside for any length of time, we headed to the collect some supplies, from the standard Co-op that seems to feature in all rural locations, before making our way to our home for the next few days.

St Blane’s House, Kilchattan Bay

Fourteen of us did a good job at filling the 10 bedrooms of St Blane’s House, a former hotel turned holiday home with outstanding coastal views. Living up to my reputation of ‘social butterfly’, I swiftly moved into my en suite room for one. While it wasn’t the nicest room in property, it had everything I needed and meant I could slip away on my own if the diluting juice got to be too much and I couldn’t keep up with the pace of the night.

img_2126

View of Arran from the Kilchattan Bay circular

Before leaving Aberdeen, I’d negotiated with myself that I’d take a wee break from dieting and not worry about exercise too much during my time on the island with the exception of one task – trying to run the Kilchattan Bay circular. In reality, when my alarm went off on Tuesday morning, the idea of running 8k wasn’t overly inviting. After about 45mins of procrastination, I finally decided that I’d regret it if I didn’t run – and I was definitely right. While the path was uneven, marshy and steep at times, my run was probably the sunniest and most scenic part of my time on Bute. The scenic views provided many excuses to stop for a photo (and to catch my breath) during my increasingly sweaty run.

Scalpsie Bay with the backdrop of Arran

After a quick post run freshen up, I headed out again – this time in a car and with a couple friends (possibly the only other people in the house not sleeping off the previous night’s festivities). We drove around the island, taking in the sights and stopping anywhere that seemed like a good photo opportunity. While the island is far from huge, it certainly offers plenty to see – stunning views and beautiful beaches featured at every other turn.

Clear sea waters of Scalpsie Bay

When stopped at Scalpsie Bay, I did what I always do. Every time I see beautiful clear waters I have an immediate urge to dip my toes in and take a picture of my submerged feet. And, every time I forget that I’m in Scotland and no matter how clear the water is, it’s still freezing. Cue hypothermia – but at least I got that picture of my feet, because everyone loves feet.

img_2172

Selection of Bute Brew Co. beer: Straad Ass, Cock up your Beaver & Scalpsie Blonde

One of my favourite travel past times, (craft beer definitely counts as a hobby), is visiting different microbreweries. On our way back to the house from the north of the island we decided to make a pit stop. Bute Brewing Co had a nice, rough and ready feel to it. For the brewery itself, the term ‘micro’ certainly seemed fitting but the enclosed beer garden was a nice wee gem. As much as I love a fresh tapped beer, it’s a beverage that’s reserved for after the competition. So I’ll have to wait a couple weeks to provide a taste review, but based on the names alone, the beer seems pretty on point – ‘Cock Up Your Beaver’ – need I say more?

img_2203

Mount Stuart House, Rothesay

By early afternoon, our team of fourteen was back to full strength – or atleast ‘sightseeing strength’. With that we took a group outing to Mount Stuart House. When we arrived, the visitor sign read: HOUSE CLOSED. So, we couldn’t actually go in to the house as it was being hired out by people significantly richer than all of us, but we were still able to walk round the gardens. If I’m honest, that was perfectly fine for me as I superficially only really wanted a picture of the outside of the house. Despite the damp nature of the afternoon, we decided to extend our garden walk down to the nearby beach where we were joined by some lounging seals who seemed to be enjoying the weather slightly more than us.

Rothesay Castle, Rothesay

The morning that we left the island we had time to squeeze in Rothesay castle as a final stop on our tour. Parts of the castle were closed for the maintenance, but the areas we did see were certainly interesting. An unconventional point of interest was the many seagull nests that surrounded the high stoney walls of the historic building. Each nest housed an angry seagull that fiercely guarded… Golf balls!? My guess is that the maintenance staff of the castle, either as a form of pest control or possibly as a comical prank (or maybe even both – killing two birds with one stone, get it?), had replaced the seagull eggs. Whatever the reason, it was a peculiar thing that I had never seen before.

After our final bit of exploring it was time to make our way to the ferry again, this time with plenty minutes to spare. The Isle of Bute was a nice escape from reality and responsibility before knuckling down for that last push towards the Edinburgh open.

Back to Aberdeen. Back on the mats. Back to the grind.

Undercover carnivore. 

As a loyal meat eater, devoted cheese addict and occasional chocolate fan I’ve always had some scepticism when it comes to vegan food. Although after a number of ‘encounters’ with said vegan food, I can confirm that it is in fact delicious.

Who knew that you didn’t need meat or dairy or any other animal produce to have a good meal? Well – I guess a lot of people knew but I’m new to the party, so I’ll naively post about my revelation regardless.

img_2081-1

Edamame, carrot, courgette and rocket salad with hummus and chilli jam and popadum shards on the side

Last night myself and some friends hit up Foodstory Cafe. Having come straight from training, I devoured this edamame, carrot and courgette salad pretty quickly. It came with some crunch in the form of popadum shards and, what is, arguably the best hummus in town, topped with some chilli jam for a little heat.

img_2082-1

Vegan avocado and lime, raw, gluten free cheesecake with no refined sugar

I definitely could have stopped eating after my main, but I’m a sucker for a cheesecake and I had already eyed this bad boy up when I came in. This avocado and lime cheesecake was raw, vegan and gluten free – food trends which I mock constantly. However, this cheesecake was also sweet, smooth and creamy – I could definitely go another piece right now.

I’ll probably continue to speak of vegan food in jest, but I’ll also probably eat more of it too (and not all in secret).

Peace.