Monday, 10 August 2015

That homecoming ache.

I drove to my parents' home recently. On the way there was a blockage on the dual carriageway and the traffic was crawling along. To avoid the queue I flicked my indicator on and took the the slip road down towards Longforgan and travelled home via the country roads which take me through Knapp then on to Liff. These roads are surrounded by green trees and stubble fields. They are so narrow that meeting another car requires that you pull into the verge to create enough room for it to pass.

The thing with living somewhere other than where you grew up is that the place which was once your entire story becomes an ever smaller chapter in your current narrative. Driving along those roads my mind is filled with a moving video of the past. A girl cycling down the winding hill, crouched low over her handlebars, urging her bike faster and enjoying the cold breeze of the wind on her face. A small, brown pony thundering through the stubble fields, the girl grasping her fingers through his mane for stability and revelling in the speed and rush of adrenaline. Easy Sunday hacks with friends, the sun on their faces and the rhythmic ringing of the horses' metal shoes against the tarmac. Snatches of the conversations make their way to the front of my mind.

A quick Google search reveals the etymology of the word nostalgia to be a combination of the Greek words Nostos meaning 'homecoming' and Algos meaning 'pain, ache', which makes it sound a little like homesickness. The difference in the two is that homesickness can be quelled by a trip to a physical place or words spoken with those you miss.

Nostalgia is a different beast entirely, it is not possible to return to memories, at least not as fully as we might wish. I can see all of these scenes playing out in front of me but when my hand reaches out to grasp onto them it smacks against the cold, unbreakable window pane of time. My heart sinks a little and that hungry ache in my stomach grows a little stronger for those moments that I will never be able to reach.

Go Ape Aberfoyle.

You might remember my trip to Go Ape Peebles last year. Well, I was kindly invited to try out the site at Aberfoyle so this Sunday, Ryan and I made our way from Edinburgh to the site which is about 45 minutes past Stirling.

I did recognise that village name and as I was driving there was a distinct feeling that I'd been round these parts before. Then, when I saw a familiar village shop it became clear that I was driving the same way I'd gone when I incorrectly navigated to Ben Lomond. It brought back some quite traumatic memories but thankfully this time I successfully managed to get to my goal destination on time. The fact that I had a helper sitting beside me in the car may or may not have been relevant to this achievement.

The first thing I'll say about the site at Aberfoyle is that it's set amongst a pretty spectacular landscape which you can see in the photograph above. This was also the first time that I've had the opportunity to make the most of my shiny new Go Pro camera which Ryan bought me for my birthday. I'm still having bother with resizing photos for the blog and some of them are stills from a rather shaky video (given that I took them in the process of navigating my way around a tree top assault course). I'll try to share some of the shorter videos on my Instagram so if you're interested you can check those out there.

Before you set out on the Go Ape activities you get set up in your harness, given a thorough explanation of the safety rules from an instructor and have some time to practice using the carabiners. Clearly, I've been before because I know all the lingo now. 

I'm also well aware of the golden rule of Go Ape which is 'Always Stay Attached'. Despite being well aware of this, in practice I made the schoolboy error of double unclipping. I'd barely removed the second carabiner when the instructor came over to inform me of my mistake. The system is fairly straightforward once you've had a little practice and out on the course it's much easier to remember not to double unclip. Something about the risk of falling from the tree tops really motivates you to adhere to the safety system. There are also plenty of signs to remind you about the golden rule should you have a carefree attitude to heights and a lackadaisical approach to your own safety.

The Aberfoyle site begins with a large zip wire into the forest. For anyone who hasn't been before then this is a baptism of fire but it is good for giving you a bit of confidence to tackle the remaining obstacles because nothing seems quite as daunting after that.

There are five sections, of increasing height, to complete. Each has a ladder to begin, a range of tree top obstacles and a zip line to finish. Some of the stand out obstacles for me were the stirrup crossing and the Tarzan swing. Both were exactly as their names suggest. The stirrup crossing consisted of a number of ropes with stirrups on the end and we swung across, placing a foot in each one. It's a particularly good workout for your legs and upper body as the achy feeling I'm experiencing today demonstrates.

 The Tarzan swing was basically a free-fall off a ledge followed by a swing into a big net once the harness kicked in. This was the one that struck the most fear into me because there is something so unnatural about just letting yourself fall, even though it is only a very, very short free fall. It was the most scary obstacle, but also the most fun.

Shortly after the Tarzan swing, it was time to make our way back to the start, via the main zip line. Having managed the zip line at Go Ape Peebles and also the one on the way in, it felt quite easy to leap off and zip across the forest on this occasion. It was good to be relaxed about it as I got to take in the spectacular views and attempted to take some snaps using my Go Pro but given the speed I was moving at, they don't really do the view justice. You should probably just go see it yourself. There's the plug.

If you'd like to take part in a Go Ape adventure it will cost £31-£33 (depending on location) for those aged 16+ and £25 for those aged 10-15. An outing will take around two to three hours, although if it's really busy it might take a little longer. We were there for four hours on Sunday but that was a peak day, during the school holidays.

At the moment, Go Ape are running a great campaign called #Shareadventure. All you have to do is share one of the adventures on social media and you could be in with the chance of winning a variety of prizes, including a discount code for Go Ape. I'm really fond of this campaign as I love reading about everybody's adventures.

Disclaimer: I was invited to take part in the activities at Go Ape Aberfoyle free of charge in return for writing about the experience. As ever, all words and thoughts are my own.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Wemyss Caves

I have two weeks off and nowhere to go, nothing specific to do with it. I don't tend to cope well in these situations. The last time I had two weeks off and nowhere exciting to go, I ended up booking a year's worth of adventures. This time, I thought I'd try to limit myself to two week's worth. I'm trying to reign myself in a little.

With all this free time stretching out in front of me I set to scouring the internet for things to do close to home. Over the course of the next week and a half I'll be bringing you stories about some of the things I've chosen to get up to.

First off, the internet informed me that if I took a trip to East Wemyss in Fife I could find some caves with Pictish writing in them. This sounded like the sort of thing that would be quite interesting to see so on Thursday I made my way there. Alone.

My first advice if you fancy visiting the caves is not to go alone. It was a little bit creepy to say the least and even though I tend to be quite robust I did feel a little bit nervous kicking about this eerie  place on my own. Also, there were a couple of caves that I wasn't brave enough to enter without someone to help if I got stuck. It is advised that you don't enter the caves outside of the organised tours so if you are keen to see them I'd recommend going along to one of those. Some of the caves were tricky to find on my own and also it would have been helpful to have someone pointing out the pictish writing and giving some meaning to it. You can go along to free tours on Saturdays or the open days which run on Sundays.

This was the only cave I  actually went right into. It's called the Doo cave because in the middle ages it would have held pigeons kept for meat by the Lairds. The indentations in the wall are remnants of the pigeon boxes.

The Court Cave is the first one you come to as you leave the car park, although I walked along the beach so missed it initially and only noticed it as I was walking back. There are signs everywhere to say that it is dangerous so it isn't a good idea to go inside. This is because there has already been a collapse of part of the cave. I took these photos just at the entrance and didn't venture in. See, I can be sensible sometimes.

I'm having a bit of difficulty with photographs on the blog just now because I'm not on my usual computer so I upload them through my phone. This means that I can't make them all nice and aligned with the edges of the page without making them look a little unfocused so I've sacrificed my desire for blog neatness for nice, crisp photos. It is killing me so if you know how to resolve this please help! I have plenty more photos which you can scope out on my Instagram if you're so inclined.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Book Review: Number 1

As I mentioned in the last post, I've been trying to read a lot more recently. I used to be a voracious reader but over the past few years, my ability to get lost in a book has waned a little.

Over the past month I've read about six books which is probably more than I read in the entire twelve months previous to that. I thought that I'd play about with doing some reviews because I find these types of blog posts pretty helpful for getting ideas about which books to read. One part of the problem is that there's so much choice out there and I tend to get overwhelmed and either not read anything or stick to an author that I know well (like re-reading Harry Potter for the millionth time).

So, I'm doing a little review post for you. Please let me know what you think and I may do some more or I might scrap the idea entirely depending on how useful/useless it is. Also, after reading some other book blogger's posts I feel a little bit useless on the photography front but all of the books, apart from Krakauer's, were read on my iPad so I can't take nice arty photos of the books. I'm a pretty bad blogger. It's all about the words anyway. That's what I'm telling myself.

Into the Wild: John Krakauer.

After reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, I guess that I sort of expected another 'inspirational' book about casting off the bowlines and going after adventure but that definitely wasn't what I took from the book at all.

Instead a year after twenty two year old Chris McCandless' body is discovered in an abandoned bus in Alaska, Krakauer retraces his steps. In doing so he talks to the people McCandless met along the way and sheds light on his family's grief.

The book explores the driving force that propels people to seek out such dangerous adventures regardless of the consequences. Krakauer weaves into the narrative his own experience of chasing such adventure as well as similar stories from other young men who have vanished into the wilderness.  It certainly wasn't a light hearted book and the focal character is a complex one who is often difficult to relate to. That said, I did really enjoy it and I'd recommend it if you like the general themes it deals with.

As an aside, I later watched the film by Sean Penn and enjoyed that too. The character comes across a bit better in the film than in Krakauer's writing although that might be because of the visual aspect of film and also because the film presents a slightly more romanticised version of the story.


One Day: David Nicholls.

This was a pretty easy read. In fact I read both this book and  'Us' by the same author in only about twenty four hours. Easy reading but not entirely thrilling really. The characters were relatable and endearing at times although the 'will they, won't they' aspect dragged on a little too long for me. I felt that the highlight of that saga was the trip to Greece and after that the chemistry between them just sort of fizzles away and I lost interest in what happened.

It is overall quite a sweet and enjoyable story though.


Looking for Alaska: John Green.

John Green does great Young Adult books. I loved The Fault in Our Stars and so I had pretty high expectations of this book. I definitely wasn't as emotionally invested in this book but then, The Fault in Our Stars deals with some pretty emotional issues. Whilst this book does too it isn't quite as prominent throughout the entire book in the way that it is the central focus in TFIOS.

What remains then is a very sweet exploration of teenage infatuation tinged with sadness and wrestling with some big issues such as friendship, loss and mental health. I'm a big fan of Young Adult novels - possibly because I'm still desperately clinging on to my youth?!? - and in particular am a fan of Green's work.


Lemon Grove: Helen Walsh

I was convinced to read this book by the artwork on the cover which seemed sort of mysterious and by this part of the blurb;

''As she is increasingly seduced by Nathan's youth and the promise of passion, the line between desire and obsession begins to blur. What follows is a highly-charged liaison that puts lives and relationships in jeopardy. For Jenn, after this summer, nothing can ever be the same.''

I was a little disappointed to discover that the book was more of a fifty shades erotica as opposed to the psychological exploration of desire and obsession that I'd been expecting. I really thought that those themes could have been fleshed out much more and I expected much more of a thriller rather than a kind of romance novel. That said, the erm, sexy scenes were written much more convincingly than the fluffy Fifty Shades of Grey stuff. It was alright if you're after that kind of thing but otherwise, I'd give it a miss.


The Versions of Us: Laura Barnett

This book is a sweet and clever book focusing on two main characters and as it suggests in the title, the versions of their lives. There are three simultaneous storylines, each featuring the main characters and a few other key characters. The basic premise is an exploration of the paths not taken and what might have been. This is a theme I'm obsessed with so this book was right up my street.

The characters are interesting and flawed and I really felt invested in their stories.

The one difficulty is that, given that there are three separate storyline, it can get a little hard to follow what's going on and separate each storyline from the other. Each chapter is titled with which version it is but still I found it confusing sometimes and often had to pause to remind myself which storyline I was in. Although, I did find it easier once I'd been reading the book consistently for a while, it was mostly difficult when I stopped and came back to it.

That said, I'd still highly recommend this lovely book.