2015: Looking Back Over My Shoulder

Happy New Year! I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who took the time to read, follow, like and comment on my blog in 2015 – it’s greatly appreciated! I wish you all a very happy and healthy 2016 and I hope you’ll continue to join me on my adventures in Scotland’s great outdoors this year. I don’t know about you, but the years seem to be rushing by faster than ever.

What are your thoughts on New Year’s Resolutions? On the one hand, I find them a bit artificial. After all, 1st January is just another day and the dead of winter isn’t the best time to try to change your lifestyle. On the other hand, I like to establish some plans at the beginning of the year, so that there are goals to aim for and things to look forward to. I also like to have a to-do list on the go. Well, three to-do lists actually (!): 1) The Bucket List with exciting life goals such as get a book published, own a campervan, go on an Arctic cruise and sail every CalMac crossing; 2) New Year Resolutions (I’ll return to this in a moment!); and 3) my rather neglected Boring To-Do List featuring mind-numbing tasks such as understanding my pension plan.

You’ll probably know by now that I tend not to do things in half measures. With that in mind, I scribbled down a list of no less than 60 New Year’s Resolutions on 1st January 2015! I’ve ticked 27 items off the list - not a great success rate on the face of it, however I’ve had a pretty interesting 12 months and I also got a few Bucket List ticks along the way! Here are some of my highlights from 2015 – an eventful year and one which I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Puffins, Lady's Bed, Isle of May
Puffins, Lady’s Bed, Isle of May

1. Bagging a new Scottish island. This is a recurring New Year’s Resolution! I’ve landed on around 50 Scottish islands but there are still a number of notable gaps in my collection, including the Shetlands, the Uists, Benbecula, Barra, Coll and Tiree, as well as numerous other smaller islands. This will keep me occupied for a good number of years to come!


In 2015 I had the pleasure of visiting the Isle of May for the first time. As an aficionado of islands, boats, seabirds and lighthouses, I was pretty much guaranteed to enjoy my day trip to this little gem off the Fife coast. I was rewarded with close range views of Puffins and Arctic Terns, among several other species, and it felt like there was lighthouse paraphernalia around every corner! I look forward to returning in 2016 earlier in the breeding bird season in order to see the island at its best and to give me some added inspiration ahead of writing an article on ‘the May’ for my favourite magazine in 2017 (I’m very excited about this!). In the meantime, you can check out my blog, Seabirds and Lighthouses Galore on the Isle of May.

2. Seeing the northern lights. This was the top item on my Bucket List. In fact, a 2013 study found that this is the number one item on most people’s lists of things to do before they die. The aurora borealis has captured my imagination since early childhood when I first heard the traditional Scottish song ‘The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen’ whilst on a family holiday in the Granite City in 1990, and had the phenomenon explained to me by my parents. I caught a faint display in Edinburgh in 2012 which I initially mistook for light pollution from the Holiday Inn – not quite worthy of a Bucket List tick! The big moment finally arrived on 9th September 2015 when I witnessed a display from the back door of my house. The expansive green arc and the brief shimmering curtain of light took my breath away and momentarily rendered me speechless. Ironically after waiting 25 years to catch my first decent glimpse of the aurora, I have now seen this beautiful spectacle countless times in the last few months from my home on the Black Isle, including during the wee small hours on 1st January 2016 –  a very special start to the New Year. I’m still waiting to capture an aurora photograph and this is one of my missions for 2016. I need a promising forecast and a break from my busy schedule in order to drive off somewhere free from the light pollution that plagues views to the north from the Black Isle. Watch this space!

The summit of Goatfell, July 1989
The summit of Goatfell, July 1989

3. Climbing Goatfell again. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know about my epic 30th birthday celebrations on the Isle of Arran! One of my earliest childhood memories is having my photograph taken on the summit of Goatfell in 1989, a couple of months before my fourth birthday. I finally returned to the exact same spot on my 30th birthday on 2nd September 2015. After a summer of dismal weather, I was delighted to get a bright sunny day to climb this cracker of a Corbett and tick an item off my Bucket List. Check out my Big Birthday Blog: Turning Time Around on the Isle of Arran.

The summit of Goatfell, September 2015
The summit of Goatfell, September 2015

4. Cycling around the Isle of Arran. The weather in 2015 got off to a promising start and I can recall bright sunny days in April and May. It didn’t last and it wasn’t long before a truly miserable, cold, wet summer unfolded. I hardly had the heating off and I wore a winter jacket when out on a short wet walk on the summer solstice. My bike spent most of the summer months propped up inside the shed. I got out for a few local cycle runs when opportunities arose but was frustrated not to achieve anything particularly memorable. Thankfully I had a stroke of luck in September when my 30th birthday holiday on the Isle of Arran coincided with a spell of high pressure in southern Scotland. One of the best days of the year was an energetic cycle ride around Arran’s ~55 miles of coastline. This was a tough challenge with two particularly steep climbs out of Lochranza and Brodick (in addition to numerous other lumps and bumps on the south side of the island), but was hugely rewarding and will undoubtedly inspire some more cycling adventures in 2016!

5. Learning to kayak. For a few years now, I’ve watched sea kayakers with envious eyes. I love the water and the idea of the sense of freedom that comes from exploring quiet stretches of coastline and rarely visited small islands on Scotland’s freshwater and sea lochs. Between March and May 2015, I completed a fun, informative introductory course on paddlesports with Inverness Canoe Club, for a knockdown price. There’s more skill involved than meets the eye, but I can now paddle from A to B safely and efficiently in a river kayak, sea kayak or canoe, and have enjoyed some great adventures on the River Conon, River Ness, Loch Ness and Loch Dochfour. I’m on the lookout for a second-hand sea kayak and am hoping for some more water-based fun in 2016! I should really invest in a cheap waterproof compact camera before getting back on the water, as I don’t possess a single photograph of me in a kayak or a canoe (so you will have to make do with my a mobile phone picture of my better half in the meantime)!

Sea Kayaking on Loch Dochfour
Sea Kayaking on Loch Dochfour
A geographer in the making - pouring over an OS map at the age of four
A geographer in the making – pouring over an Ordnance Survey map in Forfar at the age of four!

6. Learning Gaelic. All of my life, I’ve felt an affinity with the Highlands and Islands and their culture and traditions. I love folk music and was thrilled to see Capercaillie perform live at the Inverness Hogmanay celebrations a few nights ago, even although I only understood a fraction of Karen Matheson’s Gaelic lyrics. As a geographer, I love cartography and have been studying Ordnance Survey maps since before I learned to read and write, but many place names and the meanings behind them have always eluded me. Ordnance Survey’s excellent booklet ‘Place Names on Maps of Scotland and Wales’ has helped to address this problem but I want to be able to read Gaelic without constantly having to consult a reference book.

Ruin, Ardmair
Ruin, Ardmair, Coigach

Since learning about the Highland Clearances in primary school, I’ve felt the injustice of this under-studied period of Scottish history, and a sadness descends on me every time I pass a derelict croft when out and about in the north of Scotland. In short, I feel locked out of part of my heritage. I took some Gaelic night classes in Edinburgh before moving north and, since then, it’s taken a few years to find another Gaelic course running at a suitable time in a convenient location. Thankfully I struck gold when I joined a Cli Gàidhlig course in Tain a few months ago. After only eleven lessons, I already feel closer to unlocking this language. Next time I see Capercaillie perform live, I hope to understand every word of every song.

7. Attending a classical concert at the Royal Albert Hall. This one is a bit of an anomaly, taking place neither in Scotland nor in the outdoors – put please read on! My taste in music is pretty eclectic. For many years, I have loved the likes of Neil Young, The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, ELO and Crosby, Still and Nash. More recently I’ve been exploring folk music, getting into Flook, Nic Jones and John Doyle; building on years of listening to Dougie MacLean’s wonderful music. Therefore it might surprise you to learn that I also have a deep love of classical music which I have been nurturing over the past decade since acquiring my first digital radio and tuning into Classic FM in 2005.

There seems to be a perception that classical music is highbrow and exclusive. I urge you to think again! It’s far more accessible than you might think. You can turn up at a concert in a pair of jeans and this genre will provide you with countless hours of pleasure once you establish which composers and styles suit your tastes. I love lyrics but what is so great about classical music is its ability to transcend linguistic barriers and convey deep emotion in the absence of words. I travelled to London in September for a very enjoyable mini-break, the main purpose of which was attending Classic FM Live at the magnificent Royal Albert Hall. I wasn’t disappointed.

Royal Albert Hall
The view from my seat at the Royal Albert Hall, London

8. Getting obsessed with photography again. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll have read in my recent post, Making Order From Chaos in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, that it’s taken me a few years to recover from one of the low points in my life – suffering from stress in 2012 and 2013. Stress and creativity definitely don’t go hand-in-hand and it’s been a slow process finding the motivation to pick up my camera again. I may never become as obsessive about photography as I was five or six years ago, but the landscapes close to my Highland home have inspired me to get out and explore, and to record my vision of the Black Isle.

A few months ago, I upgraded to a professional full frame sensor camera and decided to revamp my website, karenthorburn.com. Around the same time, I was contacted by Vogue and invited to contribute an image to their photography feature, Capture The Moment, in the January 2016 edition of the magazine. I duly obliged and seeing my image of Islay’s Saligo Bay printed in this world-famous glossy magazine was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the year. I have various ideas up my sleeve for 2016 and you’ll be the first to know about them here on my blog!

Saligo Bay, Islay
Saligo Bay, Islay

9. Leading a healthier lifestyle. Again, this 2015 New Year’s Resolution is a bit of a departure from my usual musings, but is undoubtedly connected to Scotland’s great outdoors on some level. I’ve definitely never been a couch potato and I certainly wasn’t one at the time I scribbled down this goal on my 2015 to-do list, having recently completed the 117 mile long Fife Coastal Path. I’ve learned the hard way that physical and mental health are inseparable. Being stressed out and generally a bit miserable when I lived in Edinburgh took its toll on my physical health as well as my emotional well-being. I struggled (and failed) to stay fit and healthy whilst unhappy and chained to a desk for up to 65 hours a week and surrounded by 24 hour supermarkets and pizza takeaways.

Highland healing power! Happy and healthy at Ardmair in July 2015
Highland healing power! Happy and healthy at Ardmair in July 2015

In 2015 I finally undid years of self-inflicted damage by eating more healthily and ditching convenience meals in favour of home cooking and an organic veg box delivery; and getting more exercise by walking, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, cycling and running. At the time of writing, I have one week left of the NHS Couch to 5k running programme and can’t recommend it highly enough! I dropped from a UK size 12-14 to a size 6-8 in the space of a few months, never caught a cold in the whole of 2015 and can now comfortably run for 30 minutes without a break.

If I can do this, so can you! I feel like a hypocrite after having over-indulged throughout Christmas and New Year but I’ll be back on track as soon as the last of the mince pies and cheesey balls have been polished off, and I’m looking forward to starting a free online course on Nutrition and Wellbeing later this month. Why don’t you join me?

10. Increasing traffic to my blog. You’re reading this, aren’t you?!

Well, that’s a whole year of my life summarised in the space of an afternoon and in 2,000 words. All that’s left to do now is wish you a Happy New Year in Gaelic - Bliadhna Mhath Ùr! – and let you know what 2016 has in store for me. Here are a few items from this year’s to-do list: bag a new Scottish island (déjà vu!); climb Ben Wyvis; have a solo youth hostelling weekend; visit the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses; and complete another of Scotland’s Great Trails. Plenty of material for another year of blogging!

Scroll down and drop me a line to let me know your 2015 highlights and your goals for the year ahead!

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17 thoughts

  1. You certainly have had an eventful 12 months Karen, and very well done for getting a photo in Vogue, that’s something of a coup! 🙂
    But I guess more importantly, you are getting outdoors so much more now, and living a very healthy lifestyle (excluding Christmas! Lol!) 🙂 And it’s good to hear someone of your age being enthusiastic about classical music, my wife calls me a snob because I sometimes listen to the genre, but as you say, it’s anything but snobbish and high browed nowadays!
    Can’t wait to see your 2016 posts, it looks like you are planning another eventful year 🙂

    1. Hi Andy. Thanks for dropping by and commenting! I hadn’t realised that 2015 was such a productive year until I sat down yesterday and started writing this post. Thank you – the Vogue feature is certainly a feather in my cap and will hopefully lead on to other opportunities this year. I’ve just read that December 2015 was the wettest calendar month on record. Getting outdoors has been something of a challenge these past few weeks but my second-hand treadmill in my shed is keeping me active for the time being! It’s always good to hear from another classical music fan. My favourite thing about living in Edinburgh was the RSNO’s concerts at the Usher Hall. You’re well placed to nip down there now and again! Yes, hopefully 2016 will be another memorable year and I hope it’s the same for you too! Best wishes, Karen 🙂

      1. I see that somewhere in Ross & Cromarty got nearly 770 mm of rain in December, that’s nearly the same amount as we had here in Fife for the whole year!! We’ve had a relatively dry December compared to most people in the UK, Lochgelly to the west of us had 140mm of rain, and they are normally wetter than us in Glenrothes! But even with much less rain, I know how you feel about getting out to take some photos, this dreich weather doesn’t inspire photography! At least you’re managing to keep fit with your treadmill 🙂
        I’ve not been to any of the RSNO concerts, I’ll have to give them a try next time I’m in Edinburgh 🙂

        1. That’s a shocking amount of rain to have in such a short space of time! I was very sad to see the pictures today of the flooding in Perth – my home town. I caught the weather forecast at lunchtime and it looks as though some colder, drier weather is on the way – great news for the poor folks that have been flooded and good news for us photographers too! I’m needing to capture some winter scenes for next year’s calendar, so will get my camera charged up in the hope that the rain goes off! I haven’t been beyond the end of my driveway for three days now but thankfully the treadmill is allowing me to get my 10,000 steps each day and work off the Christmas goodies!

          Check out the Usher Hall website to see what’s coming up. I’ve been to numerous great concerts there over the years and the seats in ‘the Gods’ are very reasonably priced but still offer good views and great acoustics. The RSNO recently started a series of Sunday afternoon concerts, meaning that you can get home afterwards at a reasonable hour! It’s a fantastic venue – the Albert Hall blew me away but I think the Usher Hall is every bit as special. 🙂

          1. It is very sad to see Perth getting hit by the floods, but I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often. The Tay has the largest rain catchment area in Scotland, and of course a lot of the city is at river level as you obviously know. Hopefully with this cooler and drier weather, the clean up operation can help out all those poor families affected by the floods within the next 24 hours or so!
            I will definitely check out the Usher Hall website, the Sunday afternoon concerts sound like a great idea, thanks for that 🙂

          2. Yes, the River Tay is a beast and it’s fortunate that Perth doesn’t see more flooding. Thankfully the flood defences seem to be holding up pretty well. Fascinating fact: the River Tay is 117 miles long – the same length as the Fife Coastal Path!

            Enjoy the Usher Hall! 🙂

          3. What a brilliant trivial fact Karen – and there’s another challenge for you – to walk the whole length of the Tay!! 🙂 I’m guessing it really would be a challenge, I expect an awful lot of it doesn’t have a footpath running along the side of it 🙁
            Thank you, I certainly will enjoy Usher Hall when I manage to pay it a visit 🙂

          4. Of course!! With your new kayaking skills! 🙂
            But seriously, I think it would be a very advisable to do as you say, and pass on that particular challenge Karen 🙂

  2. I also saw the Northern Lights for the first time when we were at Mull Of Kintyre for New Year, although hubby has seen them before when he was in Canada. Such a spectacular sight! Not sure if I have 2015 highlights as I spent a lot of 2015 ill and was diagnosed with a chronic condition. For 2016, I have already made the decision to hand in my notice at work and get a job with less hours and closer to home to help manage my health better. I had been doing a commute of between 2-3 hours daily! Also i want to complete my Masters and graduate in Dec/Jan. My dissertation is due in Oct. Get out and about and enjoy life more, something which my health has alos impacted on. I have even started taking riding lessons again, so I want to become competent rider again. I have just started blogging so like yourself I would like to increase traffic to my blog. Hopeful I will also keep my enthusiasm for cooking and baking and continue to learn new skills in this area.
    Love your photography and looking forward to seeing what you blog about in 2016!

    1. Thank you Kelly! Good luck with your blog. I’m looking forward to trying out some of your recipes. I hope 2016 is kinder to you than last year and that your health is improving. I hope your Masters is going well too and I’m sure you will have a great sense of achievement when you hand in your dissertation! It sounds like you have a healthy outlook on life – taking care of yourself and enjoying getting out and about is so important. A 2-3 hour daily commute must have been painful and I’m glad you’re not suffering that anymore! Seeing the northern lights from Kintyre sounds like a very special start to the New Year. Let’s hope we get some more aurora action in 2016!

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