A Weekend Itinerary for Scotland

I often get asked how people can fit more adventure into their life around a full-time job, particularly if they live in the city. I usually answer with a question – if you have weekends off, how much can you fit in between a Friday night and a Monday morning? And if you hadn’t guessed what I’m hinting at… the answer is a lot!

This post is sponsored by Wild Scotland, and the trip was gifted to me. All views are my own.

There are 60 hours between 21:00 on a Friday, and 09:00 on a Monday. Last month, Wild Scotland invited me to travel up to Aviemore, to spend my 60 hours paddle boarding, canoeing, and winter mountaineering in the Cairngorms. So here’s the full breakdown…

Sarah at London Euston Station, standing on the platform in front of the Caledonian Sleeper train
London Euston Station

Friday 21:15

If you’ve never heard of the Caledonian Sleeper train, then think – moving hotel. It’s an overnight rail service that runs between London and Scotland. You leave London in the evening and wake up the next morning in the Highlands. The train’s made up of both seated carriages, and sleeper carriages. The sleeper carriages have double bed and bunk bed rooms, with en suite facilities. There’s a Club Car where you can have an evening meal, a drink, and some breakfast the next day.

I’ve wanted to try the sleeper train ever since I saw Challenge Sophie travel on it a number of years back. It’s a fancy way to travel, arriving in the Highlands feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day. It’s one of those things I feel like you need to do at least once in your lifetime if you can, and I was so lucky to have the opportunity to try it for this trip.

Double room on the Caledonian Sleeper

I arrived early (there’s a first time for everything), and I’d like to say this was so that I could immerse myself in the sleeper train experience (because that sounds good), but in reality, it was just so I didn’t mess up and miss it! Let’s just say, I struggle a little with the whole time-keeping thing. Luckily, you can board the sleeper train around 30-40 minutes before it’s due to leave London. So after a train selfie (balancing the camera on a bin – because I’m posh like that), and some filming for YouTube, I trotted along the platform to coach J. A nice man with a clipboard explained a number of things that I instantly forgot, and I hopped on. Room 4 was mine for the night; a double bed and an en suite met me as I opened the cabin door, and laid out on the bed were some lovely toiletries, a door hanging thingy that I vaguely remembered the nice man mentioning (something to do with my breakfast order), and a little sleeper kit. I did what every normal person would do at this moment… a little excited dance!

Heading into the Club Car for dinner it suddenly dawned on me that people might dress up for this kind of thing… luckily they didn’t! But it felt like the kind of thing my mum would have told me to put my best shoes on for. Salmon to start, the fanciest haggis, neaps, and tatties (a Scottish classic) I’ve ever seen for main, and a chocolate torte for dessert. I chatted to a sleeper train ‘regular’ for far too long, and then returned to my room. Donning the eye mask and earplugs provided in the sleep kit, I knocked the light off and slept my way across the border.


Waking up to the sunrise and highland views was one of the highlights of the whole trip! A tasty Scottish breakfast featuring tatty scone (potato scone), and a coffee with a view. The train goes to Inverness, but I departed at Aviemore. Stepping off at around 07:30 (it was a tad earlier than scheduled), I could just see the tops of some of the Cairngorm mountains.

I was picked up at the train station by Mandy from In Your Element – an outdoor activity company, and member of Wild Scotland. We headed on a short drive to Loch an Eilien, where I embarrassed myself singing ‘Come on Eileen’ after learning that that’s not how it’s pronounced. Loch an Eileen means Loch of the Island. It’s a beautiful loch at the foot of the Cairngorm mountains, surrounded by ancient pine trees, and has been voted Britain’s best picnic spot.

Mandy and I headed out onto the quiet loch on paddleboards, under moody skies. As much as I’m a huge lover of paddling on the sea, it was so nice to paddle peacefully on the loch with no tides or boats to worry about. There was a bit of a South Westerly wind, but the trees provided plenty of sheltered bays to chill in. If you’ve never tried paddle boarding – I feel like this would be a great place to learn!

Loch an Eilien

We grabbed a coffee from the little shop near the loch, which sells lovely locally made items, and headed back to the In Your Element base, where I met Mike who’d be taking me on my next activity. We took a scenic drive over towards Loch Ness, stopping off for an early lunch at The Cameron’s Tearoom, near the famous Falls of Foyers. Next stop was Fort Augustus, where the Caledonian Canal meets the South West end of Loch Ness.

This was my first time in a canoe! And Loch Ness wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing the sea too much, so it turned on the wind waves. After a calm morning on the paddleboards, I was ready for some turbulence. Strangely (maybe), I’m really glad it was rough. It was hilarious! And the pièce de resistance… Mike had a sail for the return journey!

Loch Ness, Fort Augustus

That night, I stayed in a lovely double room at the front of the Cairngorm Guest House, in Aviemore.


After another hearty Scottish breakfast, made with local produce, I met Gary who’d be my mountain guide for the day, also known as the Winter Wizzard who was going to fund us some winter conditions. After a short taxi ride up to the Cairngorm mountain car park and ski centre, we set off into Coire an Lochain to find snow.

As well as being a mountain guide, Gary has a keen interest in wildlife photography, so he had plenty to tell me about the wildlife in the area. My personal highlight was his story about his best encounter with a feisty capercaillie, or ‘big turkey’ as he described its’ looks to me. If you watch my YouTube video from the trip, you can hear it as he told it!

It’s been a while since I put my crampons on, so it was awesome to refresh my winter skills and learn some new ones with a guide. Scottish mountains in winter are a different beast. It was like a whole different World up there – ice bergs floating in the lochan, and proper snow in the Coire! After cutting our way up the Coire and onto the top, we had some lunch with zero views at Cairn Lochan.

Coire an Lochain (photo credit – Gary Hodgson, Tarmachan Mountaineering)

The final part of the day was my biggest highlight of the trip – we walked through white-out conditions to find what Gary called ‘Snow Hole City’. This was another Coire, but one that’s popular with people digging snow holes to sleep in! Emerging from the white snow on white sky, was a row of ready-made snow holes. I’m now more desperate than ever to try sleeping in one after crawling around inside them! For some reason, they gave me ‘Wind in the Willows’ type vibes – Mole or Badgers’ house maybe, but the snow version. The one we explored had 2 levels, and the creator of this fine hole had even made cubby holes to put your stuff in.

‘Snow Hole City’ (Words and photo credit to Gary Hodgson)

I ended the day with a coffee in the Aviemore hotel, listening to a live singer, and reflecting on how awesome the weekend had been! I caught the sleeper train that evening, and fully appreciated not having to drive the return journey.

Monday 09:05

Eggs benedict and coffee greeted me in the Club Car as we entered the London borough. The sleeper train is scheduled to arrive at 09:05 on Monday mornings, but we were early, so I think it was around 08:40. I did the classic Brit thing and took my time getting off because I knew it wasn’t going anywhere for a while and I wanted to savor the experience!

I’d highly recommend looking at the Wild Scotland website for your next trip, and considering the Caledonian Sleeper train as a more sustainable option than flying or driving -not to mention more relaxing! Wild Scotland is the Scottish wildlife and adventure tourism association, which is committed to responsible and sustainable tourism in Scotland. On their website, you can find a host of adventure activity companies offering all-season fun, accommodation, tour providers, and more, all of whom are committed to operating responsibly towards the environment, wildlife, and the local community.

Personally, I think using the Wild Scotland website to plan adventures is a no-brainer – it’s an easy way to ensure you’re making responsible and sustainable choices for your travel experiences.

I’d like to thank Wild Scotland and the Caledonian Sleeper train for this incredible experience.

Check out the trip video

Links –

Facebook: @wildscotland
Instagram: @wildscotland_
Website: https://www.wild-scotland.co.uk

Facebook: @caledoniansleeper
Instagram: @caledoniansleeper
Website: https://www.sleeper.scot 

Facebook: @iye.scot
Instagram: @iye_scot
Website: https://iye.scot

Facebook: @MckenzieMountaineering
Instagram: @mckenziemountaineering
Website: https://www.mckenziemountaineering.com

Salmon Leaps walk

Salmon Leaps is a nature spot near Michaelston-le-Pit. I discovered it a couple of weeks back during a 54km hiking loop, which took in some of the Wales coast path from Cardiff Bay to Sully, Dinas Powis woods and castle, Salmon Leaps, Tinkinswood Burial Chamber, and St Fagans. You can watch the video which I created about that day at the bottom of this post.

I've since been back to Salmons Leap via a shorter route - so I thought I'd share that with you here (unless you want the 54km version??)

I'd describe Salmon Leaps as a magical little wooded valley, with a chalky blue stream and pools that look full of wildlife. The pools link together via cascading steps. It's only accessible on foot, and at this time of year (winter) is very (very, very, very) muddy. So boots or wellies are advisable!


The route is just short of 15km when starting from Cardiff Castle. It takes you up through Leckwith Woods, which is very muddy and steep (so get your grippy shoes on), but good fun. If you don't live in Cardiff Castle then you'll obviously need to adjust your start point accordingly. Here's a downloadable GPX file for the route:

Alternatively, you can use the link below to view the route on the OS maps site. I use my OS maps app to plot all of my routes. If you have a subscription you can save it – if not then you will still see the route for free, but in order to save/download it and follow it via the app, as well as change to an OS map (instead of standard map) view, you’ll need to have the OS app. This is an affiliate link so if you choose to subscribe I’ll get a wee tip. It’s honestly the most affordable way to get OS maps of the entire UK at your finger tips – and has been a life saver for me in lockdown.

Link to OS map: https://tidd.ly/36Ubkam

Adventures in Lockdown: Cardiff 3 Peaks

Garth Hill

Cardiff 3 peaks? What the hell is that?

It has similarities to the National 3 Peaks challenge, in that, there are 3 lumps which stick up from sea level and you walk over them. But, that's about it. It's roughly a 34km loop, starting and finishing in the centre of Cardiff (other start and end points are available if you don't live in Cardiff Castle - obvs).

Um, why?

At this point in time we're in lockdown 3.0. This time around I've decided to accept it. Rather than having a constant narrative about how unfair it is streaming through my head, I've chosen to live by one of my favourite sayings - 'it is what it is'. And do you know what... it feels great. It's freed me to enjoy the things that I CAN do within the restrictions, and to be creative with my time. I took a hike a couple of weeks back, and named it the Cardiff 3 Peaks. Then I thought "hmmmm, other 'Cardiffians' might want to know about this". And here we are.


Definitely the sunrise on Garth Hill - if you can get yourself there when the weather's right, it's so worth the early start. I could see the sun reflecting on the Bristol Channel. It was beautiful.

Other highlights include; the woodland on the way up to Garth Hill, my epic snacks (can't guarantee that for you), a splatter of snow on Craig Yr Allt (again, not guaranteed), and getting stuck in a sea of brambles by Caerphilly common and making it out alive!

Where's the route at then?

Download the GPX file to use my route via some fancy GPS device:


Alternatively, you can view the route via OS maps: Cardiff 3 Peaks

The above link allows you to view the route for free on a standard map view. If you have a subscription, you can change to an OS leisure map, and save the route to access fully from your phone.

If you don't have an OS maps subscription, this is the part where I convince you it's amazing, because it is, I love it, and also because I'll get a wee bonus if you love it too (what can I say, these blogs don't pay for themselves).

I highly recommend it - it's an incredibly cheap way to have access to OS maps of the entire UK on your phone and laptop all year round. You can plan and edit routes on several different map views, as well as watch 3D fly through's of your routes - so you get an idea of the landscape before you go! I've been using it for about 4 years, and used it to plan and visualise (with the fly through) every section of the entire 477km route for my Ultimate Wales challenge. It's honestly one of my most used apps!

*The link is an affiliate link, so if you decide to subscribe to OS maps (like I do), then I will receive a wee referral bonus. 

Route variations

Obviously there are a million different ways to skin a cat (hate that saying - no one should be skinning cats), but a couple of my suggestions for route variations would be -

From Caerphilly Common, head back to Cardiff via the Wenallt instead of Graig Llanishen.

And, if you're not racing up Garth Hill for sunrise, there's a lovely little nature reserve between Garth Woods and Garth Hill that's worth a wonder through - you'll spot it on the OS map!

Coed Rhiw'r Ceiliog
Garth Hill
Sun rising from behind Garth Wood and the quarry
View from Garth Hill - great spot for a coffee and sunrise stop!
Snow dancing on Craig Yr Allt (there were tiny specks) - you can just see Garth Hill behind my noggin
See those snow specks?? - Looking back along Craig Yr Allt towards Garth Hill in the distance
Caerphilly Common (the third hill) - looking back towards Craig Yr Allt and Garth Hill in the distance

Have you ever had a crisis of confidence?

I have.  In fact, it happened to me last month.  As I trudged up the 4th peak of the Welsh 3000s challenge, I questioned my ability to finish what I’d started, in more ways than one.  I panicked that maybe I wasn’t good enough to complete the Welsh 3000s – a fast paced and gruelling journey in which you summit all 15 peaks in Snowdonia above 3000ft, in under 24 hours.  But, that was just the tip of the crisis iceberg.  The Welsh 3000s challenge for me was a training exercise, preparing me for an even bigger and more personal challenge lying ahead…

Some of you may already know that I’m training to complete a unique challenge in August.  The challenge involves stand up paddle boarding, cycling and hiking across Wales, from Cardiff to Holyhead.  I’m fundraising for the Search and Rescue Dogs in Wales, Keep Wales Tidy, and Mind for mental health.

I love Wales!

Training has been a hard battle to gain not only the physical ability to do this, but also the knowledge required to safely complete my journey.  Particularly with the paddle boarding element, where it’s been a steep learning curve to gain the knowledge needed to journey along the Bristol channel – the second most tidal region in the World!

A couple of months back, I completed a 48km day on my paddle board; paddling from Porthcawl to Penarth.  A massive tick in the confidence box.  But after the high of realising I can paddle long distance wore off, the confidence crushing demons crept in.  Could I cycle far enough to complete my challenge?  Had I neglected the cycling and hiking elements and focussed too heavily on the paddle boarding element?

Jellyfish encounters

So, 4 days later I headed out on my bike, and cycled 107.5km.  From Cardiff to the Rhigos mountain, to Merthyr, and back to Cardiff.  Again, a massive tick in the confidence box, and enough to pacify the demons for another few days.  I guess you probably know what’s coming next…

A few days down the line, the demons had forced their way back in, and were running rings around me.  Would I be able to hike 15 peaks after paddle boarding and cycling???  Compared to the other 2 elements of my challenge, hiking is where my experience lies.  I completed some pretty hard trails and challenges whilst part of the Officer Training Corps, and the mountains have always been where I’ve felt at home.  But, the demons weren’t having it.

Next thing I know, I’m sat in Pen-Y-Pass car park at 04:30am on a Saturday morning, with a group of people that I’d never met, but who I’d get to know over the proceeding 20 hours.

Pen-Y-Pass car park – The start of the Welsh 3000s challenge

We completed peaks 1-3 on the Snowdon range, and descended into Nantperis to our first checkpoint, and then onto the Glyderau range.  Peak 4, Elidar Fawr, is a non-technical climb.  No scrambling or technical ability required in comparison to some of the other peaks, just a long hard slog of ascent.  It was at this point that I began to question my ability to complete the challenge.  Not because peak 4 was going to defeat me, I knew I could push through that, but because my chimp brain was running ahead of me.

Our human brains have a nasty habit of catastrophising in stressful situations.  This wasn’t about peak 4 at all, this was my mind creating beliefs that if I was struggling at this point, I would never make it to the end of the Welsh 3000s.  And if I couldn’t do that, what chance do I have for my challenge in August?

Sunset view from peak 13

I gave myself so many talking’s to on the ascent of peak 4.  I got into the root of why I was there and what this was all about.  My Ultimate Wales challenge has been about more than just training for the final adventure.  I dreamt it up with the intention of giving my adventures a purpose.  It’s been a fundraising project with an ethos behind it – to inspire and encourage more people to get outdoors, move, adventure, and explore this beautiful country.  It’s been about encouraging people to take control of their own health, both mental and physical.  And it’s been about my own self progression.

15 peaks in 19.5 hours, a 50km continuous journey, 4000m (13,000ft) of ascent, scrambling, sweating, laughing, blisters, burning knees… and the Welsh 3000s was complete!  I crawled into my tent with another big fat tick in the confidence box, and the confidence crushing demons left out in the cold.

The Welsh 3000s dream team

Next time you’re facing your peak 4, ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing.  That’s the way to get through a crisis of confidence.  You’ll touch on your core values, and remind yourself why the thing you are doing is important to you.  And if you’re ever facing the actual peak 4, turn around now, it’s flipping horrible! (But the view is well worth it!)

If you’ve enjoyed this post, I’d be eternally grateful if you could donate to my fundraising target.  Just £1 would make a huge difference in helping me to blow my target out of the water 🙂



Or, if you’d like to learn to paddle board, we still have spaces available on the next Intro to SUP fundraiser.  Get tickets here;


Winter SUP training in Cardiff

Cardiff Bay is the area of water created by the Cardiff Barrage, in the South of the city.  Supplied by two rivers, the Taff and the Ely, and blocked off from coastal tides by the barrage.  It’s a great area to explore by stand up paddle board (SUP), and a perfect place to start paddling for beginners.  It can also provide more sheltered areas than coastal locations – ideal for some winter SUP board training!

In early January, ready to kickstart 2018 with some Winter training, I packed my kit for a paddle boarding adventure in the bay.  Usually when I go on adventures I’m heading toward the coast, mountains, or lakes.  But within 15 minutes of leaving my house in Cardiff, I was sat outside Channel View leisure centre, eating a pot of porridge and waiting eagerly for the doors to open so I could pay my launch fee.  It costs £5 to launch from Channel View, and they give you a little pass to show anyone who might ask; I guess in case you get stopped by the harbour authority.


The water looked pretty calm, and there were several groups arriving with RIBs, or Rigid Inflatable Boats as it stands for (I can’t pretend I knew that – I’ve just googled “inflatable speed boats”)  They all knew each other, and I gathered that a day out on the water with boating friends was a regular thing for them.  Chatting to a few of these boat enthusiasts, I tried to sound like I knew exactly what I was doing.  But when I was assured by a skipper that there’d be plenty of helping hands on the water to rescue a damsel in distress if the weather turned, I realised that my cover may have been blown.

With no intention of ever needing to be rescued, but slightly reassured that should it go ‘tits up’ I wasn’t out there alone, I headed confidently down to the jetty.  Avoiding the swan poo, and the swans themselves for that matter, I paddled my way from the mouth of the river Taff, out toward the wider bay.

If I’m honest, I hadn’t decided how far I was going.  But, with one eye on the weather, and the other monitoring my energy levels, I headed across the water toward the barrage.  I’d always advise beginners to stay toward the edge, I’d also advise them to paddle at least in pairs.  But I’m not quite a beginner, and I also never take my own advice – so I went slap bang across the middle of the bay on my own – and it was awesome!

I turned just before getting to the barrage itself, and headed along the edge of the bay, back toward the mouth of the Taff.  The wind had picked up a little, and there was a bit more chop in the water.  I still managed to stop and get a few selfies with the GoPro, even though that meant floating back about 7 miles (slight exaggeration) whilst faffing with the camera.

I headed under the Cardiff Bay link road back toward Channel View, but I wasn’t done yet.  Leaving Channel View in the opposite direction takes you up the River Taff, and toward the Principality Stadium.  So, with plenty of energy still in the tank, that’s where I headed next.

I passed water taxis full of tourists travelling from Cardiff centre to the bay.  Paddling through two dark tunnels, I wondered how many rats could be swimming nearby!

I reached the Principality stadium before turning back down river.  The paddle back was leisurely, in fact there wasn’t that much paddling involved as I coasted down river.

I headed back to Channel View after what was a successful paddle session by all accounts, and only then did I realise how hungry I was!

If you want to see a snapshot of the action, check out my YouTube video…

If you’d like to try out paddle boarding, keep an eye on my website events page, Facebook, and Instagram for Introduction to SUP sessions which I’ll be hosting this spring, in association with South Wales SUP club.  If you are interested – pop me a message now via social media to register your interest.

If you have some SUP boarding experience, and would like to go out in Cardiff Bay, you can hire kit from Puravida Board Riders in Penarth – and please give me a shout if you’re looking for some company!

The first ULTIMATE Wales event: a beach clean at Rest Bay

On Sunday 19th November, 34 people (and a few dogs) came to Rest Bay in Porthcawl, South Wales, to help me undertake a beach clean.

The idea behind the beach clean was to raise awareness of marine pollution, to support the work of the charity Keep Wales Tidy, and of course to collect waste from the coastline.

The beach clean was the first event organised as part of my ULTIMATE Wales project; in which I aim to encourage people to get outside and adventure safely and confidently in Wales, to promote the physical and mental health benefits of being outdoors, and to raise the awareness of environmental issues.  The project will culminate with an expedition in summer 2018; which will see me paddle boarding, cycling and hiking across Wales, to raise money for 3 fantastic charities who echo the aims of the project.  To find out more about ULTIMATE Wales click here.

Note: This picture wasn’t staged – I actually stand like that, use stupid hand gestures when I talk, and Louie the dog was definitely that engrossed in what I was saying!


On Sunday morning with the Welsh weather on our side, myself and Brian (the area project officer for Keep Wales Tidy), set up our meeting point in the car park at Rest Bay.  At 10am everyone started to arrive; maps were handed out showing the designated waste bag drop points, and the health and safety bit was done.  Brian kitted everyone out with bags, bag holders, gloves, and litter pickers.  Even the kids had kid sized litter pickers – bionic grabber arms for everyone!

Paul Forsyth, a local photographer, kindly volunteered to come along and capture shots of the action.  We had people posing with custom made props (made by my own fair hand), which were rated as top quality by all volunteers (or I could have made that bit up!)

Rest Bay itself is one of Wales’ blue flag beaches, and with a #2minuteBeachClean station placed next to the lifeguard station, people do a good job of clearing waste.  However, further along the coastal path toward Pink Bay and Sker Beach, it’s a different story.  So, that’s exactly where our army of waste warriors headed.

Over the course of the morning, the volunteers collected 34 bags of waste, a fridge, a wheel, ropes, nets, barrels, and almost a few Portuguese Man O War!  Some weird and wonderful items were recovered from between the rocks; including a bottle of vaping fluid which had made its’ way over from Ireland, more flip flops than you could shake a toe at, small plastic toys, and way too many plastic tampon applicators.

We couldn’t have asked for a more enthusiastic bunch of volunteers.  It was great to see children getting involved, local councillors, dogs, couples, and individuals.  Even those with a hangover from the night before managed to attend after a breakfast stop on the way!  We all got some fresh air, moved, socialised, met new people, connected with the outdoors, made a difference, thought about the issues associated with marine waste… I could go on.

It was clear to us all on Sunday that plastic is a real issue – and coincidentally this was highlighted by David Attenborough on Sunday evening’s episode of Blue Planet.  It is astonishing how many plastic bottles, straws, lids, and packets we collected.  But this isn’t surprising when you consider that 8 million tons end up in our oceans every year!

To keep up to date with what events are taking place as part of my ULTIMATE Wales project, you can subscribe to receive email updates by clicking here.

To donate, please click here.

Latest supporters of ULTIMATE Wales: Puravida Board Riders and O’Shea

I’m very pleased and extremely excited to announce that ULTIMATE Wales will be supported by Puravida Boardriders and O’Shea!

Puravida is South Wales biggest surf, SUP, and Windsurf store.  The shop, owned by Jim Brooks-Dowsett, is based in Penarth – just outside Cardiff.  Jim makes custom windsurf, surf, and kite boards; with years of experience in the industry and in the sports themselves.

At Puravida Boardriders you can find everything to fulfil your board riding needs, as well as SUP equipment hire, and clothing.  What sets the shop apart from others in my opinion, is the help and advice that Jim and his team give – particularly with regards to the local coastline.  Jim has an extensive knowledge of the South Wales coast, and offers all kinds of help and advice; from the best spots to paddle, to large scale expedition planning.


Puravida are a supplier of O’Shea paddle boards – which are manufactured here in Wales!  O’Shea is a truly rider owned and operated company; designing and making boards for an array of board sports.

Founded by Farrel O’Shea, a legend in the windsurfing world, O’Shea have become known for producing quality kit.  Personally, I have hired O’Shea inflatable SUP boards from Puravida on numerous occasions, and particularly recommend the GT boards!


I’m so excited to have the knowledge and experience of both Jim and Farrel supporting ULTIMATE Wales, and can’t wait to get out on the water with kit supplied by Puravida and O’Shea!


Visit the O’Shea website

Visit the Puravida Board Riders website