When it comes to adventures, I’d rather be looking forward than always looking back, but the turn of the decade this year was a nice opportunity to leaf through some old photo collections and pick out some favourite trips from the last ten years. It’s been a pretty adventure-heavy decade for us, our home moving from Edinburgh to British Columbia, to Chamonix and back to the Scottish Borders, and some worldwide adventures on bikes, foot and snowboard along the way. Oh, and the arrival of the wee man, which has ushered in a whole new era of adventuring for us and reopened our eyes to how awesome any new exploration can be. Moving back to Scotland after several years away also reminded me that trips don’t have to be far-flung or long to be special; there are so many beautiful slices of wilderness on our doorstep just beckoning our itchy feet.
Bikepacking has become our main form of adventuring over the last decade. The lure of being able to visit slightly random corners of the world by being relatively self-sufficient, the challenge of pushing ourselves physically in remote and wild places and the potential for immersing ourselves in new landscapes and cultures has kept us going time and again. After some long trips across Europe, and my first foray into Central Asia on the Pamir Highway, we couldn’t resist a trip to Tibet, somewhere that we had always wanted to travel. Eastern Tibet is now formally Sichuan Province in China and is thus still accessible to bikepackers. Although the Chinese bulldozers have been through, the Tibetan culture remains intact in places, and is fascinating and absorbing. I’ll remember it as a tough trip of high altitude and relentless climbs, but one filled with colour and hidden culture when we worked out where to look.
One of our most challenging bikepacking trips, our 940-mile circumnavigation of the Altai in 2017 took us on a grand tour of the mountainous region where Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and Russia all meet. This trip was brutal and beautiful in all its contrasts: warm alpine meadows, bleak burning desert, wild empty mountains, bears, eagles, police checkpoints and endless washboard tracks. Mongolia was a highlight culturally but a lowpoint physically: we met eagle hunters and shared tea in remote gers but suffered through sickness and a lack of any nutritional food. We came back exhilarated but totally exhausted – a combination which is always the mark of a good trip.
Isle of Mull
Our bike tours aren’t always so exotic. We spent an atmospheric (sometimes the most complimentary way to describe the Scottish weather!) long weekend exploring the Isle of Mull on our gravel bikes. A night in a bothy in the centre of the island afforded us a view of golden eagles fighting in mid-air; we had every type of weather in a day on a tour of the northern part of the island; and finally made it over to Iona to see those beautiful beaches. The islands will always hold a special place in my heart for the sense of freedom and wilderness they afford.
Our bikepacking trips have had to change pace recently with the addition of a toddler, and our trip to the Tatras mountains in Poland and Slovakia was our first attempt at a long trip of this type overseas. I was pretty nervous about how it would work out, but with a trailer in tow (and considerable other additional luggage!) it was a surprising success. The autumn colours in the mountains were beautiful; the weather crisp but not too cold; the roads and mountains much emptier for the late season. We embraced the slower pace, the need for more stops meant more time to enjoy the views, and we enjoyed being well-provisioned for a change. Orrin seemed to relish being released into the wild for a little while, toddling around the campsites exploring puddles and logs – toddlers are experts at being in their element wherever they are.
We’ve discovered that campervanning with Orrin is a great way to get away whatever the weather. We certainly (and somewhat inevitably) had all the weather on our December trip to Ireland. A mix of hiking over headlands, exploring windswept beaches and dramatic drives along the coast kept us busy… We were even tempted into the steel-grey sea for a surf at Bundoran. We found some great wild van spots to spend the night, making the most of the quiet time of year, and some lovely cafes to refuel and warm up along the way.
Chile and Argentina
I love winter, despite the weather. The chance to go snowboarding, of course, but also the winter light, the drama of the weather, the views of the mountains in their snowy mantles – and the opportunity to wear a lovely cosy FINDRA beanie. We’ve done six winter seasons over the years, in France, New Zealand, Canada and South America. In South America we spent a happy few months roaming across Chile and Argentina, enjoying variable snow conditions but awe-inspiring scenery – splitboarding up volcanoes is a unique and wonderful experience, and one that will stick with me forever. Along with hitting some great summits and sweet descents, including a line through a monkey puzzle tree forest, we ate interesting food, drank delicious local wine and met up with friends from France and Canada in remote mountain huts. An excellent combination.
Japan had been on our bucket list since we started snowboarding. All those stories of bottomless powder and wild frozen landscapes punctuated by hot springs sent me off into a little daydream every time. The year before we got married we decided to treat ourselves to an early honeymoon and get out there. It was a surreal trip – the long distance, culture shock, entire days (and most of the evenings) of intense snowboarding and freezing conditions crammed into a fortnight – the type of trip where you go back to work wondering if it was just all an amazing dream. But the stories were true, and it was wild. The kind of powder you can’t help whooping as you ride through. The kind of powder where you get face-shots without trying and feel like a pro. The kind of powder where you fall over and wonder if you’re ever going to be able to get upright again. Pure magic in meterological form.
Lyngen Alps, Norway
One of the great things about splitboarding is being able to just go exploring on holiday. Arctic Norway is starting to draw more ski tourers to its promise of beautiful views, endless dramatic peaks and sure snow as well as the chance to see the Northern Lights. It didn’t disappoint. The views are pretty hard to beat: stunningly sharp peaks falling directly into the steel-grey fjords, jutting mountainous islands, snow reaching down to the beaches – and across it all, wild winter storms sweeping their way, banks of cloud suddenly obliterating the view only to dance away across the water in curtains of snow. We hardly slept: early starts and long days on the splitboards to make the most of the weather, and long nights chasing the aurora – we were lucky to see it most nights and I was totally awestruck.
The Lake District
Snowboarding and biking, yes, but it’s not often I go on a trip specifically to go running, as it’s not Ed’s cup of tea. Living in the Borders over the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to meet some like-mindedly adventurous women and I’ve had to up my running game a bit to keep up! Last year we took off on a running weekend in the Lake District together, and I was pretty intimidated by the thought. Our route took us over the hills from Keswick to Buttermere, and then over some more hills back into Borrowdale for a night at the youth hostel, before running back to Keswick the following day. It was a great weekend adventure and good to experience the hills in a different way to my normal hiking and biking excursions; I also definitely felt that I deserved the extraordinary amount of lunch we ate at Little Chamonix cafe in Keswick at the end!
Isle of Rum
Although outdoor adventures can be humbling, it’s also easy to feel a bit selfish spending time in wild places. So it’s really rewarding to be able to combine an adventure with something constructive to help our environment cope. A trip to the Isle of Rum to go camping and hiking several years ago impressed upon us the shocking reality of plastic pollution on the remote west coast. The beautiful Harris Bay is surrounded by mountains, pounded by the Atlantic waves – and full of litter. You can’t take a step without seeing a new bit of plastic rubbish embedded between the stones. Six months later I returned with friends and we spent a long weekend beach cleaning. Although we filled all the bags we had taken and more, we really only scratched the surface: it was rewarding, saddening and addictive all at once – we’ll go back again this year and carry on.