Venturing North, Aim Highlands, and a free fatsia

Dreams of Venturing North this Autumn and Winter

As I write this, light rain is falling on Inverness, but it’s still warm enough for me to be sticking with my summer working-from-home uniform of shorts and a t-shirt, and to be optimistic about another mini heatwave before summer ends.

I’m a sucker for Highland summers. Seemingly endless hours of daylight encourage me outside more, whether for walking, swimming, or cycling, or just to drink my coffee on the back step. But the first few brambles are beginning to ripen. A reminder that our seasons never stand still.

Venture North

A new autumn and winter advertising campaign for Venture North launches this week to help extend the tourist season in Caithness and Sutherland. I was lucky to have been involved in the campaign, working with Dingwall based DP Digital Media and Venture North’s own marketing team, to try and capture everything that these astonishingly diverse counties have to offer on film.

It was impossible to condense the rich culture and heritage, the wilderness and warm welcomes, and the myriad of opportunities for both extreme relaxation and extreme adventure, into just a few short films. But the message of the films is clear; Caithness and Sutherland are open for business throughout the year. So come, stay, and come back again soon. And if you’re already here, take advantage of what’s on your doorstep.

Itching for cold, crisp days…

Croick Church. Oozing with history.

Watching the films again leaves me almost itching for winter. For those days when the air is so crisp you can see for miles. For those days when you can’t see the sea for squinting in the sunlight, but you need two hats to stay warm. For those evenings when the warmth of the fire and the dram in your hand keep the stories coming, well into the wee small hours. At which point, you might catch a glimpse of the aurora.

These new films highlight the Highlands’ troubled past. At Croick Church in Strathcarron, I heard the story of the 80 crofting families who sought refuge in the church yard after being cleared from their land in 1845. We don’t know the fate of the families, but their messages remain, scratched into the church’s windowpanes.

The films also demonstrate our capacity for indulgence. Massage? A whisky tasting? Dinner? Oh, go on then.

You don’t have to strip off your wetsuit when the water temp’s just 4C, but it felt rude not to…

Venture North to find adventure

And the opportunities for adventure are endless here too. It’s not compulsory to peel off your wetsuit and dive into the Pentland Firth after a paddle-boarding lesson, especially when the water’s only just above freezing, but few things make me feel more alive. There were no passing Orca that day, but there might be when you go.

It was a privilege to be asked to share my passion for the north, and to be the face and voice of this ‘come out-of-season’ campaign.

From yoga at Oldshoremore, to gin at Dunnet Bay, and from mountaineering in the Northwest Highlands to traditional music in Golspie, local people are running small businesses and providing services, employment and opportunities beyond the summer rush.

I’m already checking my diary for Sutherland weekends and stretching Caithness work-trips into excuses to stay longer. See you there?

*Note: A link to the videos is here.

Aim High, Aim Highland

Last week was an Edinburgh weekend of museums and galleries, street-theatre and outdoor beers, an improvised musical (Showstoppers – steal a ticket), and a terrible review show. (Avoid student productions at all costs. I’d hoped for Cambridge Footlights; this Oxford version was DIRE).

But in the midst of it all, I stopped dead, distracted by an advert on a bus. NHS Highland have brilliantly launched a recruitment campaign that highlights the beauty of the Highlands, with the strapline ‘Aim High, Aim Highland – this could be your weekend’. In the middle of a busy Princes Street or on the London Underground, the images speak volumes. (Of course, I had neither the wit or time to take a photo…)

Anecdotally, the reality for many Highland medical professionals is that with so many current vacancies, they’re struggling to get much time off at all. But I love this move. Let’s hope it works, attracts a glut of genuine talent from the cities, and helps improve the situation for everyone.

Free fatsia. It’s DWARFING the shed…

Fancy a free fatsia?

With our house we inherited 100 years of history (to which we’ve added our own quarter century) and an impressive looking tropical plant. It had, our neighbours told us, been a houseplant belonging to the previous owner, Mrs Shields, but when it grew too big for its pot, she’d put it outside.

25 years on, we now have a castor-oil plant (fatsia japonica) which is 4m high with a 4m canopy. I’ve rarely seen anything so healthy, but it’s taking over. Before I hire a skip, does anyone want it? Free to a good home… must collect!

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