East Lothian represents for me, some of the most beautiful coastline in the country. Long sandy beaches, rolling dunes, and views over the Firth of Forth make it a haven for recreation and relaxation. I wanted to explore more of it by bicycle and recently took a trip to Aberlady Bay.
I have been very fortunate to have been supplied with a Surly gravel bike and this has opened up so many opportunities for me. Having the right bike opens up so many more opportunities because it enables me to access parts that would until now have been out of reach. The dunes and open sandy beach of Aberlady Bay is a fairly long walk from the nearest car park. I had been there once or twice but found it a rather tiring walk.
I cycled out to the beach on my new Surly gravel bike and what wonderful ride it was. It struck me what a great place to be for disabled cyclists. This would be ideal for families to cycle or anyone who is not confident enough in the traffic. But for me, it was just a lovely place to cycle and has great rewards of some wonderful views of the Firth of Forth. Below is a short film I made of it so hope you enjoy.
I have just returned from another fantastic week in the Outer Hebrides. It has to be one of my favourite places. The scenery is breathtaking with fantastic wildlife to observe and white sandy beaches that seem to go on forever.
In September 2016 I undertook the epic cycle ride from Barra in the south, right up to the Butt of Lewis in the far northerly tip. The 186 mile ride took me 5 days and I felt a real sense of achievement at the end of it. Since my cycle ride I have wanted to return and experience a more leisurely look at the islands. I wanted to see more of the historical gems as well as the feast of natural history it has to offer.
The village of Callanish is of course famous for the stones and provided our base for the next six days. During the time we were able to explore the cultural sites including The Blackhouse, Stornoway castle and the Callanish Stones themselves. Staying in a small farmhouse right next to the stones, we were able to see them in all sorts of light conditions at all times of the day and night. This was truly a great experience. From there is was only a short drive to the Arnol Blackhouse and museum, a fascinating insight into our not so distant past. Stornoway castle provided some wonderful vistas as you walk through the grounds. We also explored a part of the island called Uig and what a treat that was.
I thought I’d put together a little list of reasons you should visit Lewis. So below are a few of my favourite things to do and see and do.
I have been lucky enough so far to have visited a few ski resorts in the Alps, some in France and now a couple in Austria. I enjoy skiing very much and it is a pleasure to visit different places. My recent trip to ‘St Anton’, supported by Inghams Ski was particularly good and I wanted to write about my experience there.
Arriving in ‘St Anton’ had a great atmosphere and it was evident from the start that St Anton was a traditional Austrian town which felt also vibrant and modern. Some resorts you visit feel like ski resorts and not much else. ‘St Anton’ felt very different. My hotel, ‘Hotel Post‘, was situated on the main street facing onto what looked like the town hall or civic centre.
I was made very welcome in the hotel and I was shown to my room without any delays. ‘Hotel Post‘ was very comfortable indeed and everything was delivered to the highest standard. The hotel had a swimming pool and a thermal suite. The food was of a high standard with a buffet breakfast and a five course evening meal. I would highly recommend ‘Hotel Post‘ as a place to stay in ‘St Anton’. It is a very comfortable, welcoming hotel, the food is excellent and it is in a great location, being very close to the ski lift.
Skiing in ‘St Anton’ is fantastic. ‘St Anton’ is part of the ‘Arlberg’ Ski Region, one of the biggest interlinked ski areas in the world. Five villages make up the ‘Arlberg’ region and there are ski lifts and regular bus services that connect them all. The ski pass entitles you to use any bus as well as the lifts. When the new cable car systems opened in December 2016 – all ski resorts on the ‘Arlberg’ turned into Austria’s largest inter-linked ski area with a total of 305 kilometres of marked runs and 88 lift and cable car systems The ‘Arlberg-Arena’ extends from St. Anton in the Tyrol to Lech and Zürs, as well as Warth and Schröcken in Vorarlberg.
One of the highlights of the week was the weekly Ski Show in ‘St Anton’. Every Wednesday during the winter season they hold a ski show. This is a display of all types of skiing showing historical beginnings to the present day. We were treated to a wonderful display of skiing, lights and fireworks. It was a wonderful event and something I’ve never seen in other resorts.
My trip to ‘St Anton’ felt too short as there is so much more to see. As well as skiing there is a fantastic Apres-Ski scene. I had the pleasure of visiting some great bars and restaurants where a lot of fun and a great atmosphere can be found. I really hope to return to ‘St Anton’ soon to explore further and soak up more of its wonderful environment.
To finish, here are my 5 reasons you should visit St Anton.
I still love the moment when I click my boots into my skis. It doesn’t seem to matter how long I’ve been skiing, I get the same feelings of freedom and joy. Although, just accessing the snow can be difficult, ski resorts can be challenging environments for anyone. My recent trip to St Anton, supported by ‘Inghams Holidays’, gave me an opportunity to observe how I could cope. I wanted to know if a disabled person like myself, supported by a holiday operator like ‘Inghams’, could manage in a ski resort. What a fabulous week I had .
I could see the Alps from both sides of the plane as we descended into Innsbruck. It was quite spectacular. After being met in arrivals by an ‘Inghams’ Rep, I was shown to my coach for the short transfer. In just over an hour we were arriving in St Anton and I was checking into my accommodation for the week, ‘Hotel Post’. Situated right on the main street I was in a great location for shops, restaurants, bars and most importantly it was only a short walk to the Gondola. The main street seemed quite charming with many traditional looking buildings. It had the wonderful feeling of a small Austrian town and not just a ski resort.
After settling into my hotel room, the first task was to obtain my lift pass and organise my ski hire. Accompanied by an ‘Inghams’ Rep, I made the short five minute walk round to ‘ Alber’ ski hire, which was situated right next to the Gondola. I collected my skis and left them there with my boots as I was able to store them for the rest of the week. This was really a tremendous help. Sometimes just moving around a ski resort can be difficult. This can be compounded even further if there is snow and ice on the ground and having to wear ski boots or carry heavy skis. I and I have no doubt many other disabled people can be exhausted before they even start skiing. Having help to transport equipment like this and make arrangements to store it was a tremendous help and made me feel much more independent.
‘Inghams’, along with the Tourist Board of St Anton, had arranged for me to ski with a guide for the first two days. This gave me a chance to find my bearings and learn my way around. I had a super time with my guide ‘Naggy’. He showed me a number of suitable pistes in and close to St Anton. This was really important as it helped build up my confidence which helped me tremendously later on during the week.
Confidence is really important for anybody, and I’ve found this so both on the slopes and off the slopes. Like most people, I imagine I grow more confident the more activities I do and the more opportunities I have. When I started skiing, I wouldn’t have dreamed of skiing alone. Now I am fully independent on the slopes, I feel fantastic and I love the freedom it allows me. Building and maintaining my confidence has been key to helping my skiing.
Over the next few days of my stay with ‘Inghams’, I had some wonderful experiences both on my own and with a group. One morning I had choice to stay on what was now familiar slopes or explore another area. I chose to go somewhere different and I was so glad I did. I skied an area called ‘Randl’ which I enjoyed very much. The sun was out, I achieved a few red runs that day and I had a fantastic time.
Later in the week, I joined an excursion with ‘Inghams’ to a neighbouring resort of ‘Sonnenkopf’. A coach took us on a half hour drive through the mountains on what was a beautiful morning. Just the journey to get there was amazing and I could have sat on the bus all day admiring the view. ‘Sonnenkopf ‘was a beautiful ski area with many red and blue runs, wide pistes and some lined with trees. We had a fabulous day. I skied with a group in the morning but had time to myself in the afternoon. I had a similarly fantastic day on Friday skiing with a lovely group of people I met in the hotel. After a super morning on the slopes I packed up and joined them again later in the day. I couldn’t believe that was the end of my trip. How quickly it had gone by but how much I enjoyed it.
‘Inghams’ went to a lot of trouble to make my stay as smooth and comfortable as possible. I am very grateful to them for that. Just moving around takes up so much of my energy that practical assistance is immensly helpful. Having someone to help transport my equipment and organise the experience was a huge help. I really hope to travel with ‘Inghams’ again as I will know that they can provide the support I need to make a it fabulous holiday. I hope that other travel operators will look closely at what support they can provide for disabled skiers.
David was a guest of Inghams.
Inghams offers a seven-night holiday on a half board basis at the four-star superior Hotel Post in St. Anton, Austria, from £1,338 per person based on two sharing in January 2019. Price includes return flights from Edinburgh to Innsbruck and airport transfers. Lift passes, equipment hire and tuition can be pre-booked through Inghams. To book, visit www.inghams.co.uk/ski-holidays or call 01483 791 114.
My motivation and inspiration doesn’t get much higher than on a ski trip to the Alps. On behalf of Crystal Ski Holidays, I visited Niederau in Austria to take part in a Disability Snowsport UK (DSUK) holiday. Thanks to both Crystal and DSUK, I had a fantastic time and my enthusiasm for skiing went through the roof again.
Skiing had been a passion of mine for the last 15 years. I learned to ski as an adult on Hillend dry ski slope, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. It took me a very long time to find my balance on skis, much longer than the average person I suspect. I fell over many times in the early days and, on the dry slope matting, I really hurt myself. However, it wasn’t enough to stop me. I was absolutely determined to be able to ski and be able to move myself around the mountains. After many lessons, and spending hours on Hillend with a close friend, I began to find my balance. Since that time I am fortunate enough to have made several trips to the French Alps.
This trip however was to be my first time back on snow for a long time. It was also my first holiday on a trip organised by DSUK. I had a brilliant experience and, most of all, I had lots of fun. DSUK are an exemplary organisation when it comes to inclusion and they should be very proud of what they do. There is no disability that prevents anyone from taking part in Snow Sport. Whether a skier has full paralysis, or a learning disability, DSUK bring out the best skier in them. They have their own highly trained instructors as well as a large team of helpers on hand. All their ski instructors have to undertake additional training in Adaptive Skiing.
Using a range of equipment DSUK can support anyone skiing either sitting down or standing up. There are several disciplines that come under the name of Adaptive Skiing. A skier with poor mobility might use a bi-ski or at mono-ski where they can sit down to ski. Others, for example amputees, might use what’s called a three track, a single ski but with out riggers on their poles. A visually impaired person might use tethers on their skis. Learning disability is another category all together and DSUK and very skilled at bringing out the best in anyone.
The groups that take part are totally inclusive. There is no distinction between disabled skier, instructor and helper. They are just a group of people going skiing and having fun together irrespective of anybodies ability or not. Personally, it was an absolute joy for me to be in that sort of community for seven days. It had been a very long time since I had been in a group situation where I felt so accepted and welcome.
In everyday life there can be, for disabled people, pressure to present as able or as mainstream as possible. It felt special to be in such an inclusive group for a week. Most of, I just met some lovely people, had lots of fun and I am really thankful for that. One of the great benefits of Adaptive Skiing is that it breaks down barriers of disabilities. When I get on my skis I suddenly feel equal to everyone else because I can ski as well as the next person, able-bodied or not. I am aware that other disabled people feel the same way when they ski which can, for many, be a real liberating experience.
Taking part in a DSUK holiday has really given me the bug to ski again. I have to be honest and say I might not return to Niederau because I prefer a slightly larger skiing area. I would love to go on another DSUK holiday. I am very grateful to Crystal Holidays for the opportunity and I hope to travel with them again. I have plans to Ski in Scotland in February but I would love to make another trip back to the Alps before the end of the season.
Motivation and inspiration doesn’t get much higher than on a snowy Scottish mountain below a clear blue sky. On a picture postcard day myself and a friend set out to climb two mountains in Glenshee and what a day it turned out to be. The two Munros, Cairn an Turic and Cairn of Claise can easily be reached for from the Glenshee road. A convenient car park, just north of the ski station was the start of the walk.
The path passed over a footbridge and gently undulated along the floor of the valley. After a kilometre or so, the path started to rise. Walking through the heather and grasses was relatively easy as we gradually gained hight.
The walk between the two tops self fantastic. Walking was fairly easy as the snow wasn’t deep and the wide open spaces provided amazing views. We were soon at the top of Cairn of Claise.
We had quite a long walk back down from there and I was beginning to feel pain in my joints. I popped a couple of pain killers which helped a little. The walk back was magical though, a long wide shoulder and the sun beginning to fade provided some wonderful views.
We got back to the car just before dark and the afternoon sun was just catching the tops of the hills. I was in a fair amount of pain by this time but it wasn’t enough to dampen the spirits on a truly fantastic mountain day.
We had a comfortable enough sleep in the Dunard hostel that night although I was so shattered after the journey to get there I would have slept anywhere. The beds were a bit rickety and the mattress really soft so not recommended for a prolonged stay. The décor in the front room was a kind of terracotta and blue in the style of a pseudo Mediterranean theme. The hostel itself was inexpensive, functional and did the trick. My only regret was that the staff were not very cheerful and I did not manage to get a smile or a welcome word out of them!
When it comes to accessibility, it is not suitable for disabled people. The hostel reminded me of an old fisherman’s house with a steep set of well worn concrete steps leading up to the front. There was no hand rail and I could not even carry my own bag up the steps!
The first task of the day was to cycle down to the island of Vatersay where The Obelisk marks the start of the Hebridean Cycle Way. It was a little further away than I thought and involved two hills round a couple of bays. As soon as I left Castlebay there was really quite a steep climb which gave me a bit of a fright! I’m not sure what I was expecting but I had in my mind gentle rolling hills for the first few days and I wasn’t even out of Castlebay. This gave my lungs a sharp wake up. For a minute or two I wondered if I was really up for this adventure as it was a really steep hill!
My first brief stop to admire the first of two war memorials I would see on my short run done to Vatersay. Perched on the top of the hill looking over castle bay was a three sided monument at a beautiful sculpted angels on the top of each corner, the sides bearing the names of the people who fell in the war. Four flag poles stood behind and a few wind battered wreaths lay strewn at the bottom. I loved the contemporary feel of which shows that the memories of the world wars and thankfully not fading, and that remembrance is still part of out psyche today. Further round towards Vatersay, was another memorial beside the wing of a war plane that have come down. Unfortunately I didn’t stop at this one but would be well worth it I imagine.
When I got to the start of the Hebridean Way, I had in my mind a great big monument towering into the sky and partially blocking out the sunlight. To my surprise there stood a gate behind which was a footpath leading to the starting post. A post it was, certainly no bigger that and from the road I had to strain my eyes to see it. I didn’t want to walk up the hill to it and leave the bike by the road, nor did I want to risk cycling over to it and risk a puncture twenty minutes into my adventure, so I stood with my back it and had my photograph taken. Now people can see the photograph and play spot the Obelisk in the background as it really is quite a challenge.
As soon as I left Vatersay, I really felt good because I had finally arrived at the start of my Amazing Adventure and I was beginning my tough special long distance cycle journey of 185 miles from Barra to Butt at last. After all the planning and thinking and packing I had finally arrived and I felt great. So I did what I thought every Adventurer does at the start of their expeditions, brimming with confidence, I stopped and had a banana. The sun was shining brightly and the sky was opaline blue. Barra was looking stunning and I sat and took it all in for a little while. It felt such an exquisite special moment which I had been waiting for a while to come- just Me, the Bike, the Hebrides.
Barra is really small and it didn’t take me long to cycle up the West Coast and across the island to Ardhmor to catch the ferry to Eriskay. In the North west of Barra we spotted a sign for the airport and, with time to kill before the ferry, I decided to check out the facilities there. I cycled the mile long road into the Airport that ran along the side of the most beautiful white sandy beach which actually turned out to be the runway. Barra airport is one of few in the world where planes land on the beach so arrivals and departures were subjected to tidal times!We went into the cafe at the airport for something to eat. I use the word cafe here because it was, but at the same time it doubled up as, check-in hall, departure lounge, arrivals hall and observation room! Yes, Barra airport consists of about one room with a desk in one corner and a fridge in the other. I didn’t see any sign of security! Perhaps it did happen out of sight but when the plane was about to depart to other shores, a man came into the cafe and shouted, ‘ Anymore for Glasgow?’ and that was it. It really made me laugh inside thinking about all the issues we have at International airports with check-in and security. How civilised I thought, being able just to turn up, chuck your bag in the trolley and get onto the plane, I’m sure they’d let you take chips on with you if you hadn’t finished them before you had to go. You certainly wouldn’t get a bottle of spring water confiscated as you do boarding the Shuttle from Edinburgh to London. I can’t move on here without saying something about the chips at Barra Airport- they were awesome! Hand cut, deep fried, wonderful. If you do make it to Barra sometime, do go to the airport for a plate of chips!
It was a fabulous, beautiful sailing across the Sound of Barra to the small island of Eriskay where my journey took me along the west shore, over a causeway and onto South Uist. We met some lovely people on the ferry who happened to live very close to me here in Edinburgh. As it turned out we kept bumping into each other all the way up the islands as often is the case on a touring holiday such as this.
It was another steep climb over Eriskay but before I knew it I was at the causeway taking me onto South Uist where I had about 10 miles left to do to take me to our pre-booked accommodation in the village of Daliburgh. I say village using the word loosely. Houses and properties don’t seem to be arranged in any particular order up here. Thank goodness it was still light when we arrived or we might never have found the place. This was a phenomenon that I would discover is right throughout the Hebrides that there are no streets, no apparent order to anything. How the post man works out where things have to go I have no idea!
We spent the night in Mrs Mcphee’s B&B. We went out to find something to eat but neither of us were that hungry so we ended up sitting in the car, in the dark, by a foggy, misty Lochan having a picnic. We dined on breakfast cereal and snacks. When got back and were asked if we had a nice meal, we just said yes thanks, very nice. For some reason we just felt sheepish that we sat in the dark and had cereal! I hoped it was enough of a meal because I knew I had a slightly more demanding cycling ahead of me in the morning. However, I also knew that, staying in a B&B, I’d have a lovely cooked breakfast with the essential Stornaway Black Pudding that I looked forward to very much.