Travel writer Emma Higgins spent a year traveling solo around Ireland and the UK... and didn't shy away from taking some walks on the wild side.
Travel writer Emma Higgins went on a journey through the UK and Ireland for the whole of 2015. Emma travelled around her native land from the Hebrides in Scotland to the far corners of Cornwall, the west coast of Ireland and eastern England. Her book, A Year in the UK & Ireland, which is out now, is a collection of twenty long-form stories about her voyage, with beautiful accompanying photography aimed to inspire you to see the British Isles from a new perspective.
We sat down with Emma to talk about her incredible adventure!
Why did you decide to travel around the UK & Ireland?
Having travelled for so many years prior to this particular trip, I decided it was about time I treated home the same way as I do anywhere else in the world – with a curious eye. So in that sense I did it for myself, but there was also the fact that I felt (and still feel) that the UK and Ireland are deeply underrated.
Lots of travellers visit London and Dublin, but far fewer make a great effort to go to lots of other places around the country and get to know them more. I think their size can be misleading – people perhaps think there’s only so much to the UK and Ireland, but (as I discovered time and time again), there’s a baffling amount to love.
What were some of the adventure’s main highlights?
There was barely a dull moment during the course of the entire trip. I always say that taking a sea kayaking course in western Scotland was among my favourite moments, mainly because I’d never done anything like that before. I also really enjoyed exploring more of my country’s great cities – York, Manchester, and Glasgow were my favourites.
This was also the first time I’d been to Ireland, despite it being right next door for most of my life! And I fell in love quickly. The people were just wonderful, the scenery mind-blowing, and – because I have red hair – for the first time while abroad I wasn’t immediately taken for a tourist. That was deeply, deeply satisfying.
Were you alone for the journey?
Yes, I was alone for almost the whole thing. The lovely part about travelling around my own country was that I got to catch up with friends all over the place that I otherwise wouldn’t have the chance the visit, but in terms of actually moving about it was just me and my banged-up Fiat for the duration.
I’ve travelled alone for many years so I can’t say that part particularly phased me. As with anywhere else, it pushed me to talk to people more which helped me find the stories to put in A Year in the UK & Ireland. There’s nothing quite like the threat of not talking to anyone for days on end to nudge you into conversation with strangers.
You visited twelve national parks over the course of the year. Do you have a favourite?
I’d like to be one of those people that can’t pick favourites, but sorry to the other eleven, Cairngorms in Scotland takes the prize. That’s probably because I was there at a particularly beautiful time of year, in September and October when the leaves were turning all shades of gold and crimson, but the temperature was still relatively warm.
Glen Clova, the location featured on the front cover of A Year in the UK & Ireland, is in Cairngorms. I actually drove past that little hut one day but couldn’t stop to take a photo. However, that perfect image of golden leaves and a secluded cabin wouldn’t budge from my mind, so a week later when I was leaving the area to go further north I drove an hour out of my way to take that picture. That’s when I knew it had to go on the front cover. I would go back to Cairngorms every October for the rest of my life if I could, just to witness those beautiful shades again and again.
Where was the most underrated place you visited during your time away?
I’d say the Scottish Borders. When people visit Scotland, it’s quite common that they head straight for Edinburgh or Glasgow then venture north from there, even if they’re driving. However, just over the border from England and before you reach these two cities is a beautiful part of the British Isles, and wildly untouched.
My piece about the Borders in the journal was one of the most enlightening for me as it taught me a lot about the conflict between Scotland and England in the Middle Ages. This region is steeped in a truly fascinating history, and on top of that there’s hardly anyone there – just miles and miles of rolling hills. Pure bliss.
If you had to recommend three off-the-path places in the UK or Ireland to visit, what would they be?
I’d firstly say Inishowen, which is the very northern tip of Ireland. A few people venture up this way but not that many, despite it being one of the most breathtaking parts of Ireland. Here the Atlantic savagely meets the land to create miles of immense cliff scenery. Inishowen is also nicknamed ‘Ireland in miniature’ because there’s so much to see in this tiny corner of the country.
A Suffolk feature didn’t make the book but this is one of the most surprising parts of the UK, and I loved it. Tucked away in the east under Norfolk, there’s lots to see and do here but not many visitors head this way. Great beaches (along with some of Britain’s best fish and chips), lovely wildlife reserves, and wonderfully friendly folk.
I’d also say if you venture to Wales don’t limit yourself to just its coastline. We stopped by Carmarthenshire and Brechfa Forest as research for the journal and loved the slow pace of life here – it was nice and quiet!
Where can we hear more about your adventure?
A Year in the UK & Ireland is out now and on sale here. We’re currently based in Portugal putting together issue two, which will be aptly named A Year in Portugal. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with our escapades.