Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Outdoors.

lot of my childhood memories involve being outside. My parents, but particularly my dad, was really into hillwalking and while I'd go to school on a Monday morning and hear tales of how my classmates had spent their weekends going swimming or play video games or reading, I had spent mine in the coutryside. To this day, those memories of being in the middle of nowhere and running around in fields and climbing trees and exploring little makeshift paths and country roads are the very encapsulation of my childhood. We have never been a particularly close family so maybe that's why I hold those memories so close to my heart. It was our time together. 

My family, my parents' best friends and their sons used to always go hillwalking on the 2nd of January. It was our little tradition to bring in the year ahead with beautiful scenery, crisp Winter air and if I remember accurately, often a little more than a light sprinkling of snow. I have the most vivid memory of it starting to get dark (or maybe it was just one of those Winter days where it had never fully gotten light at all) and being near a water dam. It was very still and we had found loads of bullets on the grass. Remembering this now, I can only assume they were from hunting but at the time, my sister and I were in such awe at them and filled the pockets of our waterproof jackets with them to take home as a souvenir.



Like most teenagers though, laziness, vanity and the crippling fear of being seen as uncool by openly admitting you enjoyed anything overtook and I decided spending my weekend hanging around parks and train stations and city centre lanes was much more fun. For the best part of a decade, I didn't see the countryside unless it was absolutely necessary and even then I didn't get any joy out of it despite there being some of the most amazing scenery in the world (in my humble and patriotic opinion!) within a half hour drive from my front door. 

The only positive memories of being outside at all during my teenage years was in my final year of school when I took part in a 5 day residential stay at an outdoor centre just outside of Fort William. I remember not really feeling part of the group I was in, it was only myself and three other girls from my school, none of which I was that close to, and I don't know what came over me, probably just being outwith my comfort zone , but for the first time in my teenage years, I though 'Do you know what? I'm going to give this everything I've got and not assume I can't do it, or give up before I've even tried.' And I did. And I loved it. I built (and sunk) a raft in freezing cold Loch Eil, I absailed down a cliff edge, I even climbed Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain. I mean, I took an allergic reaction to a peanut M&M a couple of hundred metres from the peak and had to get taken to A&E by mountain rescue, but I still did it. Retrospectively, I now realise those 5 days shaped me a lot.



As I've gotten older, my tastes in most things have became less concerned with what's cool and more driven by what I enjoy and what genuinely makes me feel happy and as shocked as I'm sure teenage me would be, I have regained a lot of my love of the outdoors. When I was 20, my best friend was working up in an island off the west coast of Scotland called Uist and her mum and I decided to take the 9 hour trip to surprise her for her 21st birthday. I've known her mum all my life so she picked me up at midnight and in our pyjamas, we set off for Skye to the ferry port. After a few hours of chatting, I folded my seat back, pulled my travel blanket up and over my head and off to sleep I went. I remember telling my friend's mum to waken me when it got light so I could see some of the views and not miss the scenery entirely. 

Just after 5am and I'm woken up. But now how I expected. A deer had ran into the quiet country road we were driving along just as the sun was rising, causing her to swerve to avoid it and ending up coming right off the road. Thankfully we were both fine, a little shaken but not hurt, but neither of us knew where we were. We called the AA and were towed to the nearest garage, 6 miles away, the beautiful, picturesque loch side village of Port Agusutus. From there, we took 3 buses. It was a scorcher of a June day, and while I wouldn't ever want to say I'm glad that happened, I got to see so much beautiful scenery that I wouldn't otherwise ever have seen and all this was before I'd even reached Uist, which having visit twice now, I stand by is one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited. 

When I was 22, I volunteered to help open a branch of the company I work for in Inverness, Scotland's most northernly city, a little over 3 hours by train from Glasgow. I'd been to Inerness once before for Rockness music festival but was too completely intoxicated for 3 days straight to fully appreciate any of my surroundings so when this opportunity arose, I took it 'to gain valuable experience opening new stores' although secretly to get an free trip to Inverness and lap up all that contryside beauty on the train. 

These days, my idea of of a great weekend day wouldn't be going shopping or for lunch or to the cinema like a lot of people my ages would be. My idea of a great weekend day would be an adventure. A walk, a cycle, a countryside drive. I'm not sporty, I never have been and doubt I ever will be, but as I've slowly but surely started to regain the love for the great outdoors and the amazing country I'm so lucky to live in, just the very idea of spending time outside is becoming evermore appealing to me.



At the weekend just passed, I spent 3 days at Millport, a small island only an hour's drive and 10 minute ferry crossing from Glasgow with my family and friends. My parents have a holiday home there and having spend huge chunks of my childhood there, it's still my happy place, even to this day. On Sunday, my sister, her girlfriend and I set off to cycle round the island. At just short of 11 miles, it's the idea distance and pretty much the main activity for day trippers. Leaving the town, I had just a tshirt and jeans on, feeling the sun on my arms and the wind in my face and feeling so grateful for the beautiful day. Less than an hour later, at the top of the island, the most exposed part, the heavens burst and the most horrendous rain came on. 

From sun on my arms to raindrops rolling down my neck under my waterproof jacket in just an hour, I couldn't help but laugh and smile. So maybe it wasn't the ideal cycle weather, but I just felt free and happy and energised and that's a truly irreplacable feeling. Doing something outdoors makes me feel small and insignificant to the rest of the world, but in the best way possible. It makes me think about how much else is going on outwith my life and it just makes me feel peaceful and gives me perspective. Recently, I've been enjoying using just the act of being outside as somewhat of an escapism and while it seems like a tiny thing, it works wonders for clearing and focusing my mind and I'm so very glad I've started to regain that childlike wonder and eager curiosity for the great outdoors.


Friday, 2 September 2016

My 5th Blog Birthday - Mistakes & Lessons

What would you say if I told you that this Sunday, my little blog will be 5 years old? That's so crazy, right? It doesn't seem anywhere near that long ago that as a bored student, I decided to try my hand at something I knew absolutely nothing at all about and start a blog. That was September 2011 and I didn't for a second believe that it'd stick with til the end of the same year never mind that half a decade later, I'd still be doing it and more importantly, still enjoying it.

I've always enjoyed writing, ever since I was a little girl, and I started a blog to give me a place where I could write on my own terms, write what I wanted to write and make my own rules. Blogging has definitely been a learning curve for me (as I'm sure it is for most bloggers) and it has taught me so much, both personally and professionally. I was completely clueless when I first started and I've developed a lot of skills I didn't even know I had. With an learning curve though, naturally comes regrets and lessons.

One thing that really baffles me in retrospect is that I started my blog as a fashion blog. I was a fashion student at the time and wanted to showcase my style but soon felt restricted and uninspired. Not to meant that taking photos of your own outfits is hard! Don't get me wrong, I still adore fashion and personal style is still something I love reading about and experimenting with but I've also found other topics that I enjoy writing about too, such as feminism, social issues and personal ramblings.

Blogger lesson : You change as a human being as time progresses, especially over a period as long as five years. It's perfectly natural for your blog content to change to reflect that and boxing yourself into a corner doesn't help.

Another big regret would be my original blog name. As I'm sure a lot of you will know, I've only been 'Once Upon A Sophie' since May of this year. Before that, my blog was called 'Filthy Paws & Silky Drawers', a nod to the film Grease. I'll pause while you cringe. I regretted that name within a matter of months. It was too long, it wasn't catchy or an obvious enough reference and as it didn't contain my name, I found that I struggled to establish myself on social media and at blogger events. I'm so happy with my new name though and feel it represents me and what my blog is all about perfectly, I just wish it hadn't taken me so long to change it. 

Blogger lesson : if something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't right & it's your blog so make changes as you see fit.

Something I still struggle with is dedicating enough time to my blog. I so often have ideas that I'd love to blog about but one thing leads to another, life gets in the way (ie. I plan to write then someone suggests a night out and that takes priority!) and the moment passed and before I realise it, it's been 3 weeks since I last posted. I've always been open about the fact that my blog isn't, nor do I want it to be my career, but I still find myself using that excuse to put everything else first then feeling awful about my blog.

Blogger lesson : There's no shame in setting time aside specifically to blog rather than just trying to fit it in round your life and blogging is the very embodiment of 'you get out what you put in'. Don't be annoyed about the results you don't get from the work you didn't do.

As a young clueless little blogger out there alone in the world, I had absolutely no idea the importance of social media. None whatsoever. I didn't even get a Twitter account until March of 2013, a year and a half after I started my blog and I didn't have a blog email address til the end of 2013. I wasn't even that aware people used social media to promote their blogs or interact with other bloggers and I certainly didn't understand that your social media presence is just as, if not more, important as a blogger than the content of your blog itself. Nowadays, I break out in a cold sweet if I've not tweeted in a few hours and the very idea of trying to promote my blog without social media is quite frankly hilarious.

Blogger lesson : Investing time in your social media is so important to the success of your blog and getting your blog out there for people to see matters, because trust me, they won't just happen to stumble upon it.

Finally, I regret having no little to no consistency for the first few years. I'd post similar blog posts three days in a row, at all kinds of weird times of the day or night when nobodies online, then it'd be weeks before I posted anything again. I didn't pay any attention to creating a 'brand' for myself. Heck, I didn't even know that was a thing bloggers did. I thought any old photo of a product would do, I didn't spend any time of ensuring it was actually a good photo. I didn't plan and I didn't organise my blog at all for a very long time. I've never been someone would benefits from a strict schedule but I've gotten a lot better and try really hard to be consistent and to utilise my resources well.

Blogger lesson : Readers, followers and companies enjoy when bloggers have a consistent brand and individual posts don't matter as much as an overall impression does. 

Even 5 years later, my little slice of the Internet isn't perfect and it probably never will be, but for as long as I continue to enjoy creating my blog, it'll always be a learning experience and that's kind of empowering. I can't thank everyone who reads my blog or follows me on social media enough for their support over the past half a decade but hope you enjoy what I put out and hope you're looking forward to the next 5 years as much as I am - CHEERS!