Monday, 30 October 2017

Hidden Scotland - The Slate Islands



The beautiful and barren Isle of Luing seen from Seil


When I was told I was staying on a 100 year old lifeboat on the Isle of Seil for my birthday I was a bit confused. First of all, I'd never heard of Seil, and second of all - I was picturing a mouldy old ruin of a boat beached on its side in some seaweed-y shallows. Still trying to act grateful beyond these visions, I was very pleasantly surprised when I learned the true destination of my birthday treat.

Nestled in its own private beach in Cuan Ferry at the most Northern tip of the Isle of Seil, lies the 104 year old Alexandria Lifeboat, which has been restored back to life by its owners. You can stay on board the beached boat for just £50 a night through Air BnB, and it sleeps up to 6 people. It's one of the quirkiest little places I've ever stayed and it's got its own little kitchen and barbecue out on the deck.




The Alexandra Lifeboat 

Nestled in its own private bay - above and below


The neighbouring area is steeped in history and so interesting to explore too, and I couldn't believe how little I'd previously known about this rugged, wild and beautiful part of Scotland. The Atlantic or Slate Islands as they're more aptly called, are a group of islets made entirely of slate which sit just next to the Argyll Coast, 20 minutes south of Oban. They kiss the coastline, and at low tide you'd be easily mistaken thinking they weren't islands at all.



Easdale Island from Seil, with Mull towering in the distance 



The gardens next to the Alexandra Lifeboat


Connecting Seil to the mainland is the famous Bridge Over the Atlantic - a tiny, precarious stone bridge, that was built in 1792. Before this, the Jacobites used to get a boat across and use the Tigh na Truich Inn just on the other side of the water to change back in to their forbidden kilts, safe on their island home from the English.
The Clachan Bridge or more commonly named Bridge Over the Atlantic

My favourite island of the three inhabited slate islands (Seil, Luing and Easdale) was the latter, and the smallest of the trio. Easdale is found to the west of Seil and accessed by a tiny passenger/fishing boat which costs £2.05 return. The best way to describe it is probably like a real life Tellytubby Land. As soon as you disembark from the ferry on to the jetty, you're greeted by a fleet of multicoloured wheelbarrows. There are no cars allowed on the island, so if you're feeling a tad lazy the wheelbarrows and a kind pusher are all you've got.

'Main Square', Easdale Island
The main mode of transport on the island



Incase you get lost

Slate as far as the eye can see






Children playing in the main harbour on Easdale

The inhabitants of the island are very friendly. Not just the 60 humans who live there - we were treated to the aquaintance of 7 rare curly haired Hungarian Mangalica pigs who have their own secluded pen with spectacular views over to Mull. As well as pigs there are 3 cats, 10 dogs, a tortoise, a couple of rabbits, and a parrot living on Easdale throughout the year.

Your ex's new gf is this way 

Rare Hungarian pigs are some of the island's main inhabitants

Come September however, the population of the island rockets as the World Skimming Championships grace the main quarry of Easdale's many flooded slate pits. They've escalated to world renowned fame in the last few years and B&Bs are booked up years in advance. We just missed the championships unfortunately but we had a go anyway on the still and turquoise quarries. The quarries ceased to exist after an enourmous flood in the late 19th century that cut the slate excavation for good. These islands roofed the world at one point, and although now not used for much except farming, they're wee gems (as well as slate) that should definitely be visited. 

A wee couple having a picnic enjoying the calm quarry waters and view across to Mull



Best seats in the house for watching the championships

New world champion



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Tuesday, 12 September 2017

IOS - DISCOVERING NEVERLAND


Ios is an island steeped in stories and legends. The tomb of Homer resides in the north and its historical theatres crumble by the roadsides on the hills meandering into the Hora. While it may be shunned as a place for school leavers looking for cheap drinks and a sunny place to get bronzed and drunk, the island's history and ancient buildings are as prevalent as its current reputation as one of the most vibrant party islands of the Cyclades.  We didn't let the hypnotic lure of five drinks for a euro, or the constant boom of dance music at our hostel stop us from exploring this often underrated island properly.

We'd heard talk of the Neverland Boys, a content creating collective who had been based in Ios and who had christened one of the secret coves 'Never Bay.' It's easy to see how Ios could be associated with the land where people never grow up: a place of ancient immortal Gods, a place constantly rumbling with the throng of the young, a place of cliff jumping and swimming in secret lagoons, a place of adventures into the dark and vast mountains, a place where time is never planned.

Much cheaper than Santorini, we stayed at the infamous Far Out Beach Club, and were picked up by a shuttle bus from our boat and ferried to the resort on Mylopotas Beach on the west of the island. We'd opted to stay in the little glamping huts the beach club has to offer as they were only £10 each for two nights, based on 3 of us sharing. They were pretty basic, but if a simple bed's all you're looking for, they do the job. If you want a little bit more comfort, there are plenty of other options to choose from. Likewise, if you want to stay a little more centrally, try Francesco's in the main village of Ios. It's more of an actual hostel, and provides a bit more of a relaxed vibe that Far Out, where most people are dancing on tables by 5pm.

Read on to find out more about the amazing spots and secret places Ios has to offer. It's not just a place for partying until 5am every night, though this certainly adds to its charm and aura of a place where anything can happen. 


FIND NEVER BAY/ THE BLUE LAGOONS

  Frolicking like mermaids on the Never Bay rocks
 When you wish you were a fish so you could look at this all day, every day 

Approaching the lagoon. Note how blue the water becomes further in to the rocks.



Finding Never Bay almost lives up to its namesake. While sitting on a beach in the south of Ios, watching the sun edge closer and closer to the sea, we dishearteningly wondered whether never ever finding Never Bay was a possibility. It's certainly not easy - we spent hours driving about on quads, looking at hand drawn maps and swimming to land from a little boat whose driver had absolutely no idea what we were talking about. However, he took us around a number of lagoons and dive spots until we spotted some people frolicking on rocks in the distance.

The journey is worth it. The sea is clear straight to the bottom even right out in open water. The further closer to the coves the little boat got, the more the waters changed to deep shimmering turquoise, rocks glimmering like huge opals and diamonds beneath the waves. 

This was my favourite day on our Greek Island trip, and the adventure to get there makes it even more of an experience. Likewise, it's fun to get off the beaten track, to go somewhere breathtaking that isn't yet over saturated by Instagram or plagued by crowds. Talk to some people who live on the island and they might give you some pointers on amazing, secret, turquoise lagoons and dive spots. We managed to chat to and get tips from an Australian diver who'd been exploring the caves and coves of Ios for the past 40 years and still wasn't finished. 

EXPLORE THE MOUNTAINS 

One of Ios's many tiny churches, with overgrown, ancient olive gardens in the background
Another beautiful roadside church at the top of the hills in the heart of Ios

Driving to Manganari Beach from Hora is around a half hour journey. The road cuts right through the heart of Ios, taking you through the mountains that tower in the distance from the port and Mylopotas Beach. The further you get in to the hills, the smaller and smaller you start to feel. We passed no other quads, bikes or cars for a long time, and the only sign of life in this wilderness are the multiple, tiny churches that decorate the hills like little milestones.

Sweeping, winding roads traverse up and down the landscape, and the views down to the bright blue shallow waters of the beaches far below juxtapose the darkness of the arid brown soil of the mountains. Driving back to the Hora on the cusp of sunset through the hills was a spectacular sight, with light beams streaming through the gaps in the peaks, and the horizon line a hazy, deep blue you could get lost in if you weren't being a responsible driver...

IOS MAIN TOWN

Sunset from these old windmills (hidden behind a wall) provide epic, dappled views of the main town

Blue domed churches, nodding towards Ios's neighbouring Santorini, flank the entrance to the bottom of the Hora


Thanks to the aforementioned fact that a lot of Ios's visitors were up to 5am the night before, the roads, farther flung beaches and Hora are extremely peaceful throughout the day. Spend time exploring the bountiful amount of cafes, boutique shops and classic Greek streets. Shops of interest include a clothes boutique where you can paint your own designs on tshirts, and a shop selling awesome customised vintage clothes and hand crafted tshirts, singlets and bags.

If you have more time to explore, you must go to see Homer's tomb in the north of the island. More empty beaches and mountain ranges open up into views of the island of Iraklia to the east and those salty, hypnotic horizons.


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Saturday, 26 August 2017

Santorini on a budget - How to spend less than 30 Euros a day, including accommodation


So, you'd like to go to Santorini... You've seen the pictures, the insta-famous winding, sprawling toy towns of Thira and Oia. You've read about the windmills, the blue domes, the bougainvillea and the stunning volcanic views across the Aegean sea. You want to see it for yourself, but you don't want to pay the ridiculous, celebrity exclusive prices Santorini surely entails.

Take it from me, I'm the biggest bargain hunter on the planet. I'm practically David Dickinson. However, I also have expensive, far-flung taste when it comes to destinations. I want to see the best, while spending the least. Like you, I wanted to visit the world-renowned Santorini, but avoid debtors prison in the process.

Throughout travelling, I've always stayed in hostels, campsites, and pretty ropey accommodation, as far away from luxury as you can imagine. But let me ask, are you flying across the world to spend time looking at the four walls of your bedroom? Or are you going to spend as much time as possible outside seeing the places you're travelling to? I always make myself think this when I'm about to book a space in a 14 bed dorm room. Sure, I might not want to spend much time lounging about on my single bunk, but that's not what I've travelled for. From my own experience, if outside your window lies a place you've always dreamed about, and you have a dry and safe place to lay your head at night with a working toilet, that's all you really need...

Read on to discover the best places to stay in Santorini if you're on a tight budget, the cheapest eateries, and the best free activities to keep you occupied on this jewel of the Cyclades.

I read somewhere that on Santorini there are more churches than houses

Getting There:

We decided to fly to Crete as prices from the UK direct are extremely reasonable. Then from Crete we hopped on a boat to Santorini which takes a few hours. We found flights to Heraklion Airport for only £47 direct from Glasgow Airport - they tend to do a couple of really cheap flights a week via THOMAS COOK and JET2. The airport at Heraklion is 5 minutes drive from the port so you could go straight to the islands, or stay a few days in Crete before heading to Santorini like we did. Be warned though, if you're not getting a SeaJet catamaran, ferries can be up to 4 hours late. We learned this the hard way when we had 5 minutes to get from the port to catch our flight home... Thankfully, the awesome staff of JET2 made sure we were whizzed through the airport, they couldn't have been more helpful.




Making friends with the locals 
The quirky Caveland Hostel in Karterados

Accommodation:

HOSTEL ANNA in Perissa in the South of Santorini has dorm room beds for as little as £6.45... SIX POUNDS, FORTY FIVE PENCE. It's basic but they have free wifi, a pool, and are a 5 minute walk from the famous black sands of Perissa Beach. They also offer private rooms for around £20 each based on two sharing. The beach itself is stunning, and the cafes and tiki bars that fringe the sands are much cheaper than the restaurants you'll find further north in Thira or Oia.

CAVELAND HOSTEL too, in Karterados, (a 5 minute scooter ride from Thira, or a 20 minute walk) is probably the best hostel I have ever stayed in throughout my travels. It's a five star hostel with the wonderful HOSTEL GEEKS, who also have an awesome database of five star hostels for other destinations. An old winery, Caveland is built into actual caves and each room is carefully and colourfully decorated, as are its exteriors and pool area. They've got two cute doggies and provide free breakfast, yoga and massages. We only paid around 20 euros a night, and with most breakfast plates coming in over 10 euros in Santorini, free breakfast is something it's good to take note of when booking hostels or accommodation.

Likewise, if you can go during low-season, you can get quirky Air BnBs for around 20 euros per night and even cheaper hostel rates.

View from the pool at our hostel in Perissa Beach
Not sure why you'd want to go anywhere else if you're staying here but here's some directions just in case
The domed cave ceilings of Caveland Hostel 
Our dorm room interior at Caveland 

Do not disturb me woman

Catching the last of the poolside rays at Caveland. Zaful onepiece available HERE, Topshop earrings HERE, vintage hat. 



Entrance to the cave dorms at Caveland

Food:

Prepare yourself. Food isn't cheap. If you're staying in Perissa, (which I would wholeheartedly recommend for its more reasonable rates and to get respite from the madness of Oia and Thira) try TRANQUILLO for wonderful, imaginative breakfasts for around 7 euros. Or if you're in Thira, try venturing a little out of the main town where you'll find breakfasts for under a tenner. There's also a lot of places outside the main towns and on Perissa Beach that do deals for two including wine and a main meal for approx. 20 euros.

GYROS were pretty much our staple lunch and sometimes dinner/supper/after night out snack. They're so filling, not too unhealthy and only around 3 euros. Likewise, just stock up on food from the mini marts or supermarkets and make your own dinners or picnics. Most hostels will provide cooking areas. Otherwise, most restaurants in the main towns will be around 15-20 euros for a burger or pasta dish. We tried to stick to one big meal out a day to avoid bankruptcy.

A cheap little street food snack on Perissa Beach
Tranquillo Tiki Bar for the best breakfasts
Poor Octopuses hung out to dry in Amoudi Bay 

Activities:


Blue dabadee dabadaa

You should definitely hire QUAD BIKES for at least one of your days here. It gives you real freedom to explore the island and stop whenever you feel to take photographs of pretty much everything in sight - it is Santorini after all. They're 25 euros per day so if you're in a pair it's pretty reasonable. The busses are also fairly regular, but once sunset hits they're extremely busy so prepare to be herded about and shouted at like a donkey.

Thelma and Louise 

Speaking of donkeys, the Oia mules trot up and down to AMOUDI BAY, 300 steps exactly from the main laneway to the bottom of the cliffs where deliciously expensive seafood restaurants sit nestled amongst lapping turquoise waters. Of course, we had no money for 100 euro lobster linguini, but we brought a picnic, and walked around to where the fun of Amoudi really hits. There's cliff jumping and amazing views towards Thira and the caldera and volcanic islands of Santorini, and you can while away an afternoon snorkelling and swimming in the dazzling, crystal clear water. Just prepare yourself for the climb back up - the poor old donkeys are on hand if you feel a heart attack approaching.

I'd like the caviar dipped in Champagne with a side of gold please
Amoudi Bay, at the base of Oia. There are some more affordable places down here for lunch or dinner as much as I joke.
Red Santorini Cliffs









                                                 A moody person was not to be found in Amoudi Bay 

You should also visit the BLACK SANDS of PERISSA and RED BEACH, where the volcanic compounds found in Santorini soil are mirrored in its sand. You can also find proper, real McCoy lumps of pumice lying about in the sand as advised by one of our taxi drivers - that's a fiver saved on exfoliation gloves.

Perissa Beach 

Y'alright Hun?

EXPLORE THE STREETS OF OIA AND THIRA and see the world renowned architecture. The now famous book shop in Oia is also definitely worth a visit. It has nice cats to play with and its rooftop balcony has amazing views over the caldera.

If you're feeling like you could spare a few quid, Santorini is also famed for its WINERIES. There's also day trips to the volcano in the middle of the caldera where you can swim in the natural HOT SPRINGS found in the middle of the sea. The whole excursion costs around 30 euros.





Wandering the streets like an urchin in Primark bodysuit, Topshop earrings (same as above) and Le Specs sunnies HERE. Similar trousers can be found HERE at Brand Attic

Zara dress, vintage hat






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