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A decision that changed my life: Why I am never leaving the Scottish Highlands

The Scottish Highlands. There is a magic in these words. Years ago, I bought a train ticket to visit these Highlands for the first time. I could never have imagined where it would lead me…

Growing up, I had many different homes as we moved regularly. Before the age of 9, we dotted around different towns in the south of England. This changed rather dramatically when my parents decided to move their four children to the Isle of Arran in Scotland, a previously beloved holiday destination. This was a revelation. Coming from a background where we weren’t even allowed to step out of the front door alone, the freedom of being able to hop on our bikes and scamper to the local playpark on a whim was wonderous. I spent many of my formative years here, but by the age of 18 I was restless and ready for the ‘big city’ life that university would give me.

I threw myself into to city living and settled in England for the next few years. The thought of living in the ‘middle of nowhere’ had lost its appeal. I felt I’d done that. Nevertheless, in a twist of fate, the first voluntary position I was offered in the wildlife conservation sector (which was my chosen profession) happened to be at RSPB Forsinard Flows, located right at the top of Scotland. On a whim, I accepted and began my long journey there for my 2-week placement.

And it was long. I remember arriving at Inverness, a city that seemed to be as far north as you could go, and still having another 3- hour train ride ahead of me. The landscape got wider and the train platforms got smaller. Finally, my destination was in sight and I was plonked onto a platform that was the epitome of ‘the middle of nowhere’. As I pulled my rucksack straps tighter, I prepared to face down 2 weeks of entire uncertainty.

Forsinard Flows - Photo credit Paul Turner

My mother likes to call me a chameleon. I tend to adapt quickly to my surroundings. It was the case at Forsinard. It didn’t take long for me to catch on that a midge hood and wellies were my most essential items. However, it took longer to adapt to the sheer sense of space that was the expansive blanket bog of this reserve. Apart from a few scattered houses, there was nothing else in sight. I surprised myself by how much I embraced this. I didn’t long for city high streets once.

My Forsinard experience set a trend as I returned to the Scottish Highlands again and again for my work placements. From closely observing ospreys at Loch Garten, to pulling up armfuls of ragwort at Insh Marshes and, most fondly, spying hen harriers and golden eagles on the Isle of Eigg, the Highlands was slowly sinking into my heart.

The beautiful Isle of Eigg

Then came the pivotal moment. At the age of 24, as a typical university graduate, I was filling out endless job applications. I was elated to get an interview for an ‘Assistant Conservation Officer’ with the Wildlife Trusts in southern England. As I was preparing for this, another response slipped into my inbox. I had been invited for an interview for an internship at RSPB Abernethy reserve.

Although this internship was unpaid, it would mean living and working within Abernethy Forest. An ancient pine forest nestled within the heart of the Scottish Highlands. On being offered this internship, I had to make a choice. Turn it down, allow another applicant to get this place, and hedge me bets on the more ‘sensible’ decision of a paid role. Or take a leap. With the Highlands set firmly in mind, I leapt. Within a year of finishing this placement, I had risen to the position of ‘Capercaillie Assistant’ and then further still to the position of ‘Capercaillie Officer’. This left me firmly set up in the Highlands with no intention of ever leaving.

My office

So, what is it about the Highlands that captures me? For me, it really comes down to three things….

1. Space to breathe

I adore the idea that I can go on walk in nature and not see another human soul for hours. I’m regularly tucked away deep within forests, where I feel miles from any sort of civilisation. My eyes have the freedom to soak up the wonders of nature, without being marred by human infringement. This is something I am yet to take for granted and hope I never do.

What my weekends look like - featuring 'Wild Isles Projects' t-shirt

2. The wildlife

I’ve been in the privileged position of encountering some of Scotland’s most iconic wildlife up close. I’ve had white-tailed and golden eagles soar right over my head. I watched capercaillie lekking for hours. I’ve shared the ocean with dolphins and glimpsed pine martens scurrying along forest tracks. I greet deer stags as old friends. Although I find all wildlife fascinating and am quite happy to watch my local pair of dunnocks in delight, I am also aware that the experience of having a crested tit eat from your hand is one only the Scottish Highlands can provide.

3. The community

This one crept up on me. I’m not big on communities typically. Quite frankly, people tend to annoy me. However, here, I feel more connected with my fellow humans than ever before. I’ve watched how they treat their natural home with respect. I hear the passion in their voices when they describe their latest wildlife encounter. They are part of this place.

This wild setting inspires the most wonderful creativity. You cannot live in this landscape and not want to capture it somehow. For me, this has been through writing as I throw my creativity into this blog. I am passionate about supporting and working with fellow like-minded creators, which is why I am so thrilled to be collaborating on this blog with ‘Wildwatcher Collections’. Eve is a fellow Highlander and a talented graphic designer, with Highland nature being her ultimate inspiration. To learn more about her work, visit the links below…

My Highland life is unique. This is the only setting that I could work with capercaillie and have ancient pine forests as my office. Nowhere else in the UK would building a tiny home be so straightforward, as we have the luxury of space to choose from. I am adamant this blog would not exist without the Highlands as my ultimate inspiration. I am so grateful to have finally found my soul’s rightful home.

My faithful writing companion - featuring 'Wild Isles Projects' notebook

Wildwatcher Collections

Wildwatcher Collections in an independent business located in the Highlands, that is inspired by the wonderful wildlife and nature that it surrounds. This gives the inspiration for the designs being a selection of illustrated t-shirts, notebooks and greetings cards to choose from.

All products are sustainably produced by using organic cotton, eco-friendly non-harmful inks and recyclable packaging.

Instagram @wildwatcher.collections


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