Travelling chimps

A different kind of wedding

50 people up a mountain wearing bobble hats and thermals… sounds like a perfect wedding. And it was.

Love and tax

When we decided to get married we had racked up 10 years together already. We’d travelled around the world, bought houses and cars, had kids… we weren’t just starting our lives together, we were well and truly down the road.

My anniversary card for Guy

It kind of felt like we’d missed the marriage boat and that it didn’t really matter. In fact we often ended up discussing it as an option for reducing paperwork and saving money – did you know that  you have fewer rights if you’re living together than if you’re married? A common-law spouse has no legal recognition, which is mainly only important if one of you pops your clogs or decides to run off and abandon the family. You can get round most of the trickiness by filling in forms but marriage is a simpler option. Oh the romance!

The good news is that it wasn’t just about tax implications and house ownership – we are very happy together and at every wedding we went to, usually ended up drunkenly chatting about how we would (or wouldn’t!) do ours. The whole big dress and sit-down dinner never appealed, but neither did a registry office followed by a humanist ‘pretend wedding’, so when we heard about two friends who had legally got married up a mountain in Scotland as the rules were different, we knew we had found a way to do it our way.

A hike with a legal interlude

Incredible views from Stac Pollaidh

We booked the same humanist celebrant – Penelope – that our friends had used and chose the same mountain (well, did we really need to do all the research when it was tried and tested already?!). A quick recce in January confirmed it was indeed beautiful, do-able and close enough to Ullapool for people to find accommodation, so we told all our pals that they were welcome to join us in the Highlands for a walk, marriage and post-walk pint and then sat back confident that only a handful of people would come.

We got that wrong; it turns out people like a unique wedding!

50 guests…. uh oh!

With more guests than we had imagined there were a few more logistics. You can’t just rock up with 25 cars in the Stac Pollaidh car park and then take 50 people into a bar and hope to be able to all order food. We decided that it would be less stressful to take over somewhere, but when we started enquiring you could almost hear the shift into ‘wedding mode’ – it was all big rooms with minimum numbers, flowers and set menus.

In the end we had a chat with the Frigate  in Ullapool and they offered us a buffet that would cater for oyster lovers (him), cheese lovers (me), pudding lovers (the kids) and vegan salad lovers (well we are from Brighton after all!). They did an amazing job – even decorating the venue for us, which we were not expecting.

Anyway, I seem to be skipping the actual wedding bit so….

The actual wedding bit.

Our guests in their best wedding outfits

We wanted a low-key wedding on a mountain that was a celebration of us and the kids. When we spoke to Penelope we felt as if she understood this completely. Unlike the legal stuff you have to say in England or Wales, we could pretty much say what we wanted in Scotland so Penelope helped us craft a ceremony that was entirely personalised – a mix of our words and Scottish traditions that she felt we might enjoy.

We had told our guests it would take an hour to get to the spot we wanted to get married and to dress up warm – the ‘men’ would go first and hide little painted stones for the kids to find on their way up, as well as leave a red ribbon at the forked path so people would know which way to go. He would find a spot and when you reached him, you could picnic and wait for the rest of the party.

The best laid plans of mice and men…

The kids went before the boys arrived and so there were no stones or sweets to find. The red ribbon wasn’t very clear and so a few people went the wrong way, including our pregnant friend who had to then go off-piste across the mountain to get back on track (passing an adder!). The path was much steeper and longer than we had remembered, which meant for a slower and more challenging climb (perhaps we shouldn’t have based our timings on the speed of Soren. He may be 4 but he is a mountain goat in boy form!) and those thermals that we were all wearing – aaaggghhhh it was boiling hot!  The good news was that the sunny weather meant the views were amazing…. until we reached my husband-to-be’s chosen spot – in thick mist??!!!

Twas meant to be

Dehydrated and sweaty, we all arrived in the clouds and Penelope kicked off proceedings as everyone got off their face on a combo of Bryony’s sugary tablet and the copious amount of whisky being passed around. It was amazing though – we talked about why we love Scotland, why we chose to get married (I didn’t mention tax implications!) and our plans for the future with the boys. We were both focused on the two kids beaming down at us as Penelope spoke  – particularly as Kit had been a bit anxious about it all. It was more special and meaningful than I had ever imagined it would be. The clouds even cleared and we had that gorgeous backdrop we had hoped for.

We drank from the quaitch – a two handed cup filled with even more whisky – to toast our past, present and future together, swapped rings (carefully brought to us by the kids), did a bit of ‘accepting each other’ in front of witnesses and sealed the deal with a kiss. Yay! We then passed around more whisky and apple cake (a nod by Lou to my dad, a fond cake-lover!) and disbanded – those that wanted to hike to the top went one way, those that didn’t went back down. A perfect, no-frills wedding in my bobble hat and thermal leggings!

Let’s get the party started!

A dedicated version of ‘If not for you’ by the amazing Julie and Wilz

There was space in the Frigate for music – thanks Ben with his ipod and Jon with  his guitar – and speeches as well. In the true spirit of stealing other people’s wedding ideas, we took the concept of a ‘Master of Ceremonies’ from our Swedish friend. Rather than the usual list, anyone who wanted to raise a toast or perform something could just book themselves in with my sister, Lou. Both of us took a turn – mine was the ‘produced on a night of no sleep so even if I could properly focus the content was pretty much ineligible’ version. His was the ‘had a quick think, scrawled something down and then delivered it off the cuff with no notes’ version. Damn him!

Ros was much better prepared and had all the classic baby stories, Colin mentions, embarrassing son-in-law jokes and proud mum moments. Cheeky produced something hilarious – a speech he hoped his brain would prepare as he was saying it. Katy, Lou and Jo also got up to share some words and they were of course all lovely. Who knew they were so loved – not me! Who also knew that Jo kept all the a’level photos she took of me modelling for her and had shared pictures of me as a 17 year old bride tasked to look as if she was ‘contemplating running away’ around the room. Awful! Thank goodness for Wilz and Julie who got up and sang an amazing, personalised version of ‘If not for you’ by Bob Dylan. Gorgeous.

Everyone loves a singalong…. don’t they?

Jon took the singalong out onto the streets of Ullapool

Credit where credit is due – Ullapool was very patient and accepting with us. Not one person threw a shoe at us when we took our singalong out of the Frigate onto the streets of the small harbour town, even when it reached 2am! I’m sure we all thought we were doing harmonies (and to be fair, Wilz and Julie on the ukulele, Jon on his guitar and Cheeky can all definitely hold a tune) but it probably just sounded like what it really was – a group of drunk tourists shouting soundy-likey lyrics! It was a perfectly crazy end to a perfectly crazy day though.

Thank you Scotland, thank you friends and family and thank you to my chimps – that was a pretty awesome adventure to add to our list!




Ullapool, the Coigach Peninsula and hooray for grandparents!

When preparing for a wedding, the first thing you want to do is get rid of your kids! Bring on the Grandparents!

Whoop, whoop Noni, Lou and John are spending a week with us in Scotland so we hired a cottage on Rhue peninsula, just a few miles outside of Ullapool, for them all to share. We stayed a couple of minutes away in a B&B, allowing us to be close by for the first few days then head to Ullapool to party child-free when our guests arrived. It was a winning solution!

Get your ‘nockers’ out

View from the cottage

The cottage – Seascape – was an amazing find that ticked every box; just 3 miles to shops and restaurants but a million miles in terms of atmosphere. It felt remote and cosy, with a big window looking out over nothing but the sea, mountains and Rhue lighthouse. It had easy access to the beach (although not quite the amazing beaches of Kinlochbervie and Cape Wrath), rock pools and fishing spots – it was a paradise for nature-lovers and ideal for the Grandparents and kids for a week. We had our ‘nockers’ or ‘bins’ (or, as most people call them, binoculars) at the ready and spotted buzzards, seals, all sorts of smaller birds. The kids did not ask to watch television all week.

Where we walked: Rhue

Rhue walk

This was a super easy ‘potter about’ kind of walk for everyone from kids to grandparents. From Ullapool, follow signs to Rhue – just a few miles outside of town.

Drive to the end of the track and park up in the car parking area (watch out for stray sheep!)

Pick your way down to the beach and skim stones or boulder jump across the headland (you can walk higher if you are scared of slipping) to the lighthouse.

You can walk further around the headland but it was a bit boggy when we were there. Very pretty though.

There is nowhere for food and drink on Rhue so take it with you!

Cheeseboard for breakfast

If you find you are in that part of the world, Suilven Vegetarian B&B is a fantastic place to stay. In part this is for all the reasons Seascape was a great find – Rhue is a fab spot – but Barry and Irene have designed and built their house themselves and it was beautifully cosy whilst architecturally making the best use of space and location. There are big windows on the mezzanine that look out to Loch Broom (from where they have spotted whales) and they have kept the whole upstairs open plan so that you can look out at views in every direction: mountains, sheep, water – it’s all there for you.

Barry served the most incredible breakfast of homemade yoghurt and jams, fruit, freshly baked soda bread and a veggie cheeseboard with locally made oatcakes. I love a cheeseboard but had never had one for breakfast… turns out it works. Watch out waistline as I’m swapping weetabix for slabs of Cornish yarg and Scottish blue!

When Irene heard it was our wedding, out came the champagne and our family was invited in to share a glass (my mum) and play with the cats (the boys!). We almost always self cater and what I loved about the b&b was the chance to chat to locals. Barry and Irene are bird lovers, mountain and nature enthusiasts and both owners of flocks of sheep, so it was fascinating to talk to them about the area – we jumped from tractor rallying in Skye to the perils of prawn boat fishing.

Taking the Grandparents for a spin around the Coigach

This was our second trip to this part of Scotland – we came up in January for a recce, staying in Lochinver. While we there we drove to the Coigach Penisula and were blown away by how beautiful and desolate it was. We decided to take the team for a visit as from Ullapool it also meant we could drive past Stac Polly – Saturday’s spot for the wedding – and check out timings and parking.

The Achnahaird Beach was a good kids walk – a narrow, long strip of sand with plenty of stones and shells to collect (and subsequently empty from Soren’s pockets – he is our hoarder and is regularly stopped by airport scanners or is the cause of a clogged up the washing machine. This time I found a whole crab claw in his coat!)

Where we walked

Beach walk.JPG

To reach the beach, drive to the Coigach Peninsula and take the right turn towards ‘the beach’ and Am Fuaran Bar.

Drive past the beach and you’ll spot a turning to the parking area.

It’s an easy walk to the beach with some mini dunes.

Watch out for muddy / sinking sand – sometimes this area can be more of a knee-high wade.


Remote bars are brilliant

When you leave the beach, take the route to the right and drive round the headland to the Am Fuaran bar. It’s a gorgeous spot and as you round the tip the view of the Summer Isles is car-swervingly good. It’s lucky it’s such a quiet road or this would be a crash hotspot as people drift around mesmerised by what’s in front of them.

The Am Fuaran is nothing exciting on the outside but it is the epitome of an old pub inside – dark wood panels, fireplaces and various ancient tools on the wall. A surprisingly good butternut squash soup was on the menu for lunch – maybe it was just me but this place felt so remote and old-fashioned, I was transported back to the days when lasagne sounded exotic and all pub food was beige and accompanied by chips! Of course, chips were on the menu, which is good because, let’s face it, we all secretly want them!

Happy kids, happy grandparents, happy us.


Cape Wrath – dune surfing and hot chocolate

We plugged the kids into their MP3 players for some peace as we drove the stunning 45 minute journey to Durness for some family adventures at Cape Wrath. Of course that just meant we were accompanied by two slightly out of time and two definitely out of tune versions of the SING soundtrack coming from the backseat, but it did mean we could enjoy the view without too many questions about when we would be going to get hot chocolate (just wait and you’ll find out!)

Top of the country


There is something cool about getting to the furthest edge of a country. Cape Wrath lighthouse is the most north-westerly point and we thought this, plus the Avengers style name might appeal to the boys. It’s a faff to get to the lighthouse though – a boat and a minibus – and so we just walked along Balnakiel Beach – following the Path across a short section of cliff top to a second gorgeous beach – and looked out at Cape Wrath and the wild seas. Balnakiel is a great beach for family adventures. It has massive sand dunes to climb up and hurl yourself down. We all had sand in our shoes (and pants) by the time the snow set in and we had to make a dash to the car.

The best hot chocolate ever

Balnakiel Craft Village, is just up the road from the beach and I’d seen a Guardian article suggesting there was a hot chocolate shop there with the best cup of ho’cho’ in the country. Cape Wrath may have been a faff but nothing was going to stop us finding the chocolate shop. I’m pleased to report it was amazing. I had a regular size and it had drippy melted chocolate all over the cup so every time you sipped there was real chocolate to kickstart your mouthful. Warning to parents though – the kids version is espresso cup sized and whilst it may have marshmallows on it, the size difference between theirs and mine was a bone of contention!

We had a look around a couple of the galleries and one in particular was great. A guy finds old pieces of washed up junk on the beach and turns them into pieces of art using their shape or the colours, each enhanced with charcoal or some kind of stain. There were old saucepans with faces marked into the rust and pieces of metal turned into shimmering fish. The boys were really interested in the fact all the materials were recycled and the owner was great with them, explaining his materials – apparently instant coffee makes a great paint!

The secret of Smoo Cave

That has got to be a title out of a Famous Five or Secret Seven book surely? Smoo Cave is really close to Durness and although there are deeper, more exploratory trips into the dark recesses on boat, you can just pop into the first part for free. I’m not a cave fan (claustrophobia alert!) but this was very open – the first section has a blowhole at the top and the second section, along the walk way, is pretty cavernous.

Soren, a massive animal lover, found it hilarious when we spotted two dead rabbits in the blowhole cave. They must have been hopping along the top and fallen straight down the hole. He re-enacted it for us as he chuckled away. Odd child!

Seven seals a’ swimming

On the way home to our ice box, I mean caravan, we spotted something in a loch. We were quite far inland but this was a sea loch, so fed by the ocean. We stopped and saw a seal, then another and then five more. They were all playing around the edge of the water and so we hopped out the car to watch them. They were popping up and down all over the place – an amazing way for the boys to get up close to nature. A big tick off of our family adventures list.

Kit got a bit grumpy that they would disappear as soon as one of us cracked a twig or dared to breathe – I think he thought they would get closer to him. I suppose when you are young it is hard to know the difference between tame creatures that are just a bit shy and wild creatures. I suspect he’ll realise later on how amazing it was to see seven so close.

All too soon we had to pack up and return to our odd little caravan.

Where we walked on our family adventures: Balnakiel Beach

Our walk (in blue)

Follow signs to Durness (and then spend a while wondering why there is a John Lennon memorial garden!) and then head towards Balnakiel Craft Village.

Drive past the village even if the chocolate shop calling is strong.

Park at the end of the road by the beach.

Walk the first beach and then cross over the cliff area to the second, even more deserted beach.

Climb up and hurl yourself down the sand dunes or get lost in the ‘sand dune maze’ (seriously – watch where your kids head because it is very disorientating!!).

Walk as far as you want along the coast and then head back to the car for the trip to the chocolate shop and the arty bits and bobs.

There is a cafe in the craft village but it was closed. The kids were delighted they got to have chocolate for lunch but perhaps it is sensible to feed them up first.

Travelling chimps

Family holiday in Scotland… lovely and COLD

In a few days we are getting married… at the top of a mountain in the Scottish Highlands. After our January trip to Stac Pollaidh (brrrr) we thought we should get ourselves acclimatised with a family holiday.

Watch out for weather

Of course you can’t guarantee the weather wherever you choose, least of all in Scotland, but we’d hoped for something springlike for our family holiday. ‘Wa ha ha ha’ laughs the weather god, for it seems we are more likely to see snow than sunshine. It’s -1 outside and as I sit and type this inside the b&b, I can see my breath in steamy puffs.

Of course that might be because I picked a slightly random place to stay – a mobile home in the garden of a b&b. Why not in the b&b I hear you ask? Where the air is warm and the windows don’t rattle? Where the en-suite has a real shower and not a caravan cubby shower? Where the bedrooms are not a weird crossbreed of tiny Japanese sleeping pod and generic nan’s house; excessive cupboards over the bed and ceramic decorations stuck to the walls?

Our lovely caravan

All I can say is there was method to my madness – I don’t want to go to bed at the same time as a 5 year old because we’re all squished into a family room; I like to enjoy my holiday evenings when the kids have gone to bed. Staying in a mobile home meant separate bedrooms, a living room and somewhere to cook. It’s so flipping cold though we have to huddle like penguins to keep warm. Never have I wanted to spend so much time with the children on top of me!

Supersize me

Scots like to do food big. In Inverness we ordered 2 giant pizzas between 4 (our 7 year old eats adult portions and the 5 year old is not far off) and could actually see the pizza chefs laughing at us. They had to pull an extra table over to accommodate the 2 wheels they had baked for us. Just to prove them wrong we ate it all. Now who’s laughing – the chefs or the fatties drowning in cheese grease?


Margaret, out b&b lady, made us enormous breakfasts too – croissants, scotch pancakes, full English, cereals, yoghurt, fruit,toast. She had a look of fear about her – like she though we might kill her if she didn’t serve us what we wanted. We felt so full afterwards that I couldn’t physically have raised a chubster arm to do the deed…perhaps that was her plan.

But it’s a lovely part of the world for a family holiday…

Everywhere you turn in Scotland the view is phenomenal; rough, wild, windswept and empty. What the houses lack in architectural interest, the scenery makes up for a million times over. Just a couple of miles from our funny little caravan was the most stunning beach. White sands and blue seas – almost deserted apart from a couple of dog walkers.

Yeah so my feet stick out a little…

It’s a great place for kids. We spent hours pootling around at Oldshoremore, collecting stones to paint for the wedding trail up the mountain, scrambling over rocks and climbing out to the headland to spot seals and dolphins (of which there were none!). The sun started to set and if you’d turned the heating dial up a few notches you could easily have been somewhere far-flung and exotic. You can’t though – this is Scotland and you just have to accept the weather. In fact it wasn’t long after it started to snow!

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