Did anyone else watch the programme on BBC2 called Travelling Blind? It was quite possibly one of THE best travel programmes I have seen for some time. Sharing the the story of Amar Latif who lost his vision at the age of eighteen but still enjoys travelling and appreciates the world as a more sensory experience. With his sighted guide, comedian, Sarah Pascoe they set off to explore Turkey. I won’t give the whole thing away but I found it to be a roller coaster of emotions and it got me thinking about slow travel for the senses.
I like to think that I would make quite a good sighted guide for someone with a visual impairment. Bare with me on this: as a photographer when I take photos I also try to savour that moment by also building the picture or back story, if you will, that goes with that image. So the time I stood in Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakech taking a photo I also remember the sweet smell of mint tea and pastilla cooking on the nearby market stalls. I remember the call to prayer coming from Koutoubia mosque and the music played by snake charmers. My point being that I notice the small details that add to the sensory overload of being in that square.
Slow travel for the senses
On my blog I have already talked about how people want to cram so much into a holiday or a weekend away that they bounce from one place to another, taking selfies and ticking boxes in a bid to get the best experience. But does that actually work?
One example of this was when the Dude and I were at the Funicular Railway in the Cairngorms National Park. A family group entered the same compartment as us at the base station and immediately started to talk about how they had about fifteen minutes to get out, take photos, use the bathroom and come back down on the next carriage to descend to the base station. This makes me very sad.
I understand that when visitors travel to Scotland they want to see it all, and why not it is a spectacular place. They want to visit a city, do a distillery tour, see castles, drive in the highlands and see the islands. The “Funicular family” I mentioned above will have their photos but they won’t have the memory of spotting snow buntings on the walls or seeing the UK’s only free roaming herd of reindeer making their way down the mountain. Their fingers and noses won’t have turned a shade of blue in the cold wind and they won’t have treated themselves to a great mug of hot chocolate to warm up. That’s my memory from that same trip.
What do I mean by slow travel for the senses?
Travel should be sensual experience and allowing ourselves the time to engage all of our senses is important. In Scotland there are so many ways to enjoy a more immersive holiday here are a few suggestions:
Visit a farmer’s market. Most weekends you will be able to find a local farmer’s market somewhere. A great opportunity to “try before you buy” and chat with the owner of the business, learn a bit more about the product and give in to temptation by buying something. By doing this I found my new favourite (plastic free) soap and amazing scotch eggs.
Get out on the water. Scotland has over 31,000 lochs, many of which are large enough to sail or canoe on and for the more hardy among us, take a swim. There are plenty of options to decide between a guided boat trip or hiring a canoe/kayak/SUP and blazing your own trail. There is something calming about being out on the water, taking in the different perspective of the landscape. Encounters with wildlife are more likely because you are now in their territory too (obviously not if you are making lots of noise though).
Learn a new skill. Book a craft workshop or an activity taster session and have something more than a fridge magnet from the Royal Mile to take home with you. In the last few years I have had a go at making my own (small) stained glass window in Fife, tried tin casting near Loch Tay and learnt new bushcraft skills in Aberfeldy. All these things meant that I got to meet local people with similar interests and came away with a new skill and something tangible to take away with me. But most of all, I had fun.
Enjoy traditional live music. There are ceilidh’s held all across Scotland, you can find details online but the best thing to do is to check local notice boards or ask at the village shop if there is room for two more. There most likely will be. If you don’t fancy shaking your tail feather in front of strangers then try to find out if the local pub has a music night, something that you can enjoy and tap your toes to whilst chatting to the locals and supping a pint of local ale.
Many of us take our gift of sight for granted whilst we travel in Scotland and around the world when really travelling blind is actually what we should be doing. I don’t mean we all close our eyes or wear blindfolds but we should tune in to our other senses.
At the start of the Travelling Blind programme, Amar and Sarah landed in Turkey and were making their way to the hotel with their suitcases through a bazaar. All the sighted guide wanted to do was get to the hotel a quickly as possible but Amar wanted to know what the noises and smells were around him. After arriving in a new country, unaware of his surroundings he wanted to paint a picture in his mind’s eye.
The pair also visited a beekeeper. Sarah, immediately tried to put him off climbing the 20ft high rickety structure because she said it didn’t look safe but Amar decided to ignore her advice. His pure delight at being able to hear the bees working away was magical, with his head just inches away from the open hive. Imagine if Sarah’s fear had stopped him from doing this, an experience that helped him connect with locals and the wildlife.
We sub-consciously do this all the time because we think there is a danger or we are not allowed to touch and it over powers everything else that we do. Certainly, here in Scotland, we’re a friendly bunch and will talk to anyone – on the bus, post office queue or at the bar. Talking to locals will enhance your stay, ten-fold, I promise.
So, whilst you are booking your next holiday to Scotland do a bit of research on how you can enhance that trip by stopping and trying something exciting. Embrace slow travel for the senses, it could be the best trip you’ve ever had.