By Laura Brown
A few months ago, I drafted a version of this article titled Go Beyond the Guidebooks. The essence of it was that we could embrace slower travel in Scotland by designing adventures that have meaning to us, matching our interests, and that go deeper into discovering a handful of places — rather than ‘bagging’ many, quickly, in the one trip.
In the storm that has been the last few weeks, I’d entirely forgotten about the article — until, yesterday, it came back into my mind as we took our daily exercise outside (at the time of writing, we in the United Kingdom are still permitted to leave our homes once a day for physical activity like walking, cycling or running).
As we walked from our doorstep into the small range of hills north of our town, I realised that what we were doing — our one form of exercise — was essentially the slowest form of travel it was possible to conceive. We were exploring on foot, experiencing one place in great detail, and staying local. And in my years of writing about travel, researching my neighbourhood and advocating for more mindful adventures, I realised that it was worth revisiting the piece I’d drafted for this website.
I want to share some tips for embracing the smallest and slowest of adventures in these strange times. Whether you’re allowed a daily wander around your city, are lucky enough to have landscapes on your doorstep, or simply need a bit of escapism from the four walls you find yourself in for now, here are some ideas to kindle your imagination.
Note: Please follow the guidance provided by the authorities in your area. Currently in Scotland we are allowed to go outdoors once a day providing we follow strict physical distancing measures, and only socialise with those in our immediate household. Otherwise we stay at home.
Plan with a paper map
If you’re only allowed outdoors once a day, it’s advisable to make the best of it — so why not discover a new trail or walk in your area that’s not been mapped on Google or Instagram?
A physical Ordnance Survey map — the organisation which has been mapping Great Britain since 1791 — isn’t just a beautiful possession, it can also open up an entire world of ancient monuments, secret footpaths and geographic gems to explore just a stone’s throw from home. Where iconic viewpoints like Arthur’s Seat or Ben Lomond have been wildly geotagged online, few of Scotland’s local footpaths will go viral — which means they’re likely quieter and safer to walk on during these challenging times. Bear in mind, though, that the volume of people out and about has increased — we’re even seeing that here in our small town, since walking is one of the few recreational activities still available. Consider the width of the path you’re walking on, and try to ensure that there’s space for you to enforce the two-metre distancing if you spot someone else on the way.
You can buy an Ordnance Survey map for around £9 or access the digital versions online. I’d recommend purchasing the Explorer maps for your neighbourhood, as they provide more detail on footpaths and rights of way, which will allow you to better plan quiet wanders whilst respecting physical distancing.
Research your area’s hidden histories
You might not think there’s much to unearth in your neighbourhood, but you’d be wrong. Last night, we wandered the rolling hills not far from our home and, tucked within the trees, spotted a scoop of boulders on which there were prehistoric cup and ring marks. Hidden away on a nondescript north-facing slope, it was amazing to see — and even more remarkable that something so ancient was just a short distance from our modern lives.
But how did we find it? We dug deeper into our local area. Scotland boasts a fantastic resource for archaeology and architecture aficionados called Canmore. You can search by keyword, grid reference or classification and you’ll find old photos, descriptive paragraphs and academic papers about a specific site of interest. That’s not only how I discovered the prehistoric marks, but also how we found out that the mysterious brickwork buried on another nearby hill was actually a forgotten mining village.
Another great resource for exploring Scotland’s hidden histories is the old Ordnance Survey maps on the National Library of Scotland’s website. You can view digital copies of maps dating back to the 1800s, which give you an immersive glimpse into what life might have been like, and what the land would have been used for, right on the spot you call home. The slider widget also lets you compare then and now — after you’ve given it a try, you’ll be reminded of how there literally are stories everywhere… it’s just up to us to uncover them.
Breathe and be mindful
Over the past few weeks of isolation or social distancing, we’ve all been forced to pay deeper attention to what’s around us. Whether you’re allowed outside or not, there are still opportunities we can take to notice the small details and be grateful for what we do have, rather than lamenting the limitations of our ‘new normal’.
For example, what can you see from your window? What can you notice about the light, the clouds, the wind, and the seasons slowly unfolding in front of us, despite the lockdown? Are the trees budding, becoming greener? What kind of wildlife is thriving, even in the shadows between tenements or in the skies over your city? You might even want to delve a bit deeper into what nature can tell us — even if you’re not able to fully experience it right now — by reading books like Into The Forest or The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs.
I’m not sure about you, but I find that there’s something calming about noticing nature, whether that’s on the pages of a book or from our windows. It provides perspective: the grass is still growing, the leaves are uncurling, the world continues to spin.
Try to remember that. I will, too.
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY