Girly road trip: Scotland’s tropics, epic pics

Last summer I stopped by the set of Indiana Jones and went to the southernmost point of Scotland. And, yes, changed my dress along the way for the sake of variety.

Glasgow city centre had been remade as New York in 1969(?), so I plumped for my short, retro minidress. It was about 7am on a Sunday morning, and I managed to sweet-talk the bemused and baffled security people into letting me slip past the gates for a couple of minutes to get some shots in – I didn’t chance my luck by walking onto the main set, but I think I did well enough.

This is the face of someone who got up way too early.

I think the guards took it well – I mean, they’re paid a pittance, and they’re not expecting a crossdresser turning up first thing on a Sunday to prance about in heels around their workplace. As for the film, I’m kinda shrugface about seeing it; I’m pretty much done with seeing my childhood heroes return to TV or cinemas looking and acting all old, sad, and tired.

Ailsa Craig: Imagine the screeching of car tyres, me hopping out, a quick photo being taken, then leaping back into the car and driving off with squealing tyres and a roaring engine.

We stopped off for an impromptu shot of the island of Ailsa Craig just off the Ayshire coast before arriving at Logan Botanical Garden on the Mull of Galloway. I gather it’s in some sort of microclimate, and on a good summer’s day resembles the Isles of Scilly rather than Scotland…

This is the front gate…
Hello there!
Wonderwall?

My dress was rather short. I’d try to pull the hem down a bit, but there’s not actually any more hem to pull down. So I have to walk and pose carefully, lest I flash my knickers at unsuspecting passers-by. Reader, I flashed my knickers at unsuspecting passers-by. And because this was a botanic garden in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday, the others were all pensioners: goggle-eyed old men and their disapproving wives ushering them away from the brazen hussy in the slutty dress (“This way, Gerald! It’s more civilised over here!”)

Left: this is what I look like when I’m chasing Jeff Goldblum in a jeep. Right: FILTH, sheer filth, and I’d do it again.

The gardens featured a few novelties, like a tyrannosaurus made out of growing tree branches, and large phallic-shaped flowers that were begging for suggestive photos. I have to say, photos aside, that it was the perfect day to visit and I’d go there again – it’s got all the tropical appeal of a foreign holiday, yet it’s all within a morning’s drive from Edinburgh…

Got wood?
Sploosh
I see London, I see France…

Just a little bit further south (and one change of dress later) is the Mull of Galloway lighthouse, the southernmost tip of the Scottish mainland. It’s characterised by steep cliffs and a touristy cafe which might have steep prices, but I can’t honestly tell you (for these trips we bring picnic lunches…).

I’ve got this thing about great heights and steep drops: it’s not vertigo, it’s more a sense that I love the view but a fucked-up little voice in my head keeps saying “jump… just jump.. do it… wheee! end it…. splat.. go on… jump…” and I find myself staying well away from the edge.

My other worry was gusts of wind threatening to make my dress lift up and make me Marilyn Monroe in front of everyone else.

Just the tip: the Mull of Galloway

Otherwise, it’s not a place you’re likely to spend a huge amount of time. We headed back up to Castle Kennedy, a ruin with fabulous gardens. Fabulous gardens you say? Time to strike some fabulous poses and ignore the families on their day out from Glasgow…

Wrecked

There’s a lot to explore in the estate: colourful walled gardens, a lake, art features, bridges and walking paths all over the place. We could stroll about at a gentle pace. It wasn’t hugely busy, and it made for a relaxing end to the day out. (The journey home was enlivened by a prick in a sports car being chased by the police along the M74 and pulled over – seeing that kind of quick karma was the cherry on the cake of a great day out!)

Adding a bit of colour
Fucking roasting
Wish you were here?

Girly road trip: what’s in for you at Inverewe

I like to get around a bit. Travelling, I mean. So one challenge I occasionally give myself is to see how far I can travel in a day in girly mode before a combination of tiredness and beard growth ruins the effect.

I fucking love an exciting road trip.

Last year I figured we could get to Inverewe garden, which is way up in the remote north-west of Scotland, and stop off at any scenic points of interest along the way. To get this done in a single day, we had to leave at sparrowfart, aka “silly o’clock”, aka “what the hell time do you call this?” We had a picnic breakfast halfway up the A9 between Edinburgh and Inverness. You don’t do a trip like this for the glamour…

Gorge-ous.

Our first scenic stop was Corrieshalloch Gorge, where I found out two things:

  • it was impossible to get a photo that showed both me and the sheer depth of the gorge in the same shot; and
  • other people were dressed in sturdy hiking boots and waterproof gear – I was the only one who’s chosen to wear a cardigan and fabulous dress (which nicely hid my struggle with lockdown flab).
An Teallach is a mountain whose name makes English-speakers sound like they’re talking with their mouth full.

The only other scenic stop was an impromptu pause at the roadside to get a view of proper highland wilderness. I figured this trip was likely to be a one-and-only-chance to get photos at these places, so I became more vigilant for epic views.

Yes, I always check the weather before risking a long road trip…

Inverewe garden takes advantage of a microclimate just off the Gulf Stream, so it has a whole load of tropical plants growing there. We’d been there a few years earlier when the ‘North Coast 500‘ had just been established, and we could now see hints that over the pandemic some parts of the garden’s upkeep must’ve been less of a priority (we explored the whole lot). That’s not to say it was overgrown or ruined – far from it! – simply that a few bits simply weren’t as pristine as they used to be.

Yes, this is the north-west coast of Scotland. No, I can’t believe it either.

Naturally, I can’t do photos without acting like a daft arse, so here you go:

Aw man that’s some good shit right there, BRING THE POLLEN! BRING THE HAYFEVER!!!
I’m all about boobs and plants, yo.
Apparently it is easy being green after all

It took hours to get there, so with the knowledge that it’d take hours to get back home we had to head back after lunchtime and take advantage of whatever scenic views we could get on the way. We’d also been incredibly fortunate with the weather. Not bad for the first girly road trip since before Covid-19!

Gairloch: I’m sure there are gayer lochs, but I don’t know where they are.
Loch Bad an Sgalaig is another challenge for people who don’t speak Gaelic… (Google Translate says it means “patch the scalp” which leaves me none the wiser)
Loch Maree: I don’t think I was supposed to be here.

Our last stop was at Loch Maree where I’d spotted a pier at a scenic viewpoint on the online maps. When we got there we found the short driveway down to the lochside was barred by a locked gate. Yet another car was parked there and a family swimming in the loch.

We went down to take photos, and the family group all got out of the water, flustered, and in a hurry to leave. I suspect they – like us – were chancing it, and we were all tresspassing.

What the hell. I got the photo I was after. But in a moment of stupidity I left my sunglasses on the pier. They’re probably still there for all I know.

So much for “take only photos, leave only memories”!

Girly road trip: Dumbarton rocks?

A couple of years back I went on a day trip with one of my friends to Dumbarton, on the grounds that I hadn’t been there before and I also wanted to get some photos from around the west of Scotland for a change.

I have mastered the single entendre.

I wear my history nerdishness lightly, but I’ve long been interested in Dumbarton Rock, which was the last northern stronghold of the ancient Britons to fall to the Vikings in the eighth century (welcome to my blog; come for the crossdressing, stay for the history!).

It was a good day for it, and we could see for miles all around from Glasgow to Holy Loch and Benmore. It’s easy to see why there’s always been one castle or another here over the centuries (the name comes from Gaelic ‘Dùn Breatann‘, or ‘Fort of the Britons’). It had a garrison of soldiers until World War 2, but now most of it’s a mishmash of fortifications, old storage buildings, and ruins.

Inspired by the Greek myth of Andromeda. And bondage.

Aside from cannons serving purely decorative purposes, there are still mysterious remnants, like large metal rings embedded in the rockface. were they used for ropes to haul ammo and food around? Or flags? Or to anchor things in place? (I found my own uses.)

Flagging a bit in the high winds…

The top of the rock was exposed to high winds blowing off the Atlantic, so I’m glad I had a hair band clasping my wig to my head. Fortunately my friend was a photographer and worked out how to get the best shots…

The only spot on Dumbarton Rock without wind…

We had a short picnic in the sun on one of the battlements and pottered about the surviving buildings. The place works well for a short blast of fresh air and exercise!

Getting carried away?

At this pandemic-y moment in 2022 (in Scotland at least), most of my friends are still wary about travelling and mingling too much, but when things improve, you’d better believe I’ll be posting more travels around the country!
(Edited to add: HOLY SHIT THIS IS MY BLOG’S TENTH ANNIVERSARY POST!)

Dumbarton rocks!

Girly road trip: strange new worlds

Cosplaying as a character you created yourself sounds like it should be easy, but there’s always going to be some major detail that buggers everything up.

A couple of years back I spent an inordinate amount of time doing sketches of a 60’s-style space adventure with cigar-shaped rocket ships and, yes, a space babe and her crew, all in shiny silver space suits. It got to the point where I got heartily sick of drawing buttocks, but damn it, I thought they looked kinda cool (the characters I mean; although the botties weren’t half bad either). Fuck it, I thought, I want to do a photoshoot like this!

I spent a lot of time doodling and sketching retro-futuristic science fiction scenes…

Fortunately, most of the outfit can be bought dirt cheap from Ebay or Amazon with relatively few adjustments. As long as you expect a shiny silver catsuit from China to be completely the wrong size, most of it’s pretty easy to acquire (sometimes from the weirdest places – like a pub in England with a surplus of novelty ketchup bottles…).

The only part which eluded me was the goldfish-bowl space helmet. Actual goldfish bowls were either too small or too heavy, and in either case I didn’t fancy balancing one on my head. Other options were too expensive, and making a custom-fit, lightweight version myself was beyond my skills. So I decided to Photoshop it in, instead (and hope I didn’t take photos on windy days…)

This ray gun is actually a novelty ketchup/mustard bottle I got from Ebay and painted up…

The next issue was finding locations to take all these damn photos. I had ideas – oh, you’d better believe I had ideas! – and ended up with more locations than I could possibly talk about in this blog entry alone (more in future months, I promise). Having already travelled the length of Scotland from the border to John O’Groats, anything was possible. I figured out road routes that would give me as many locations in as few journeys as possible. I scoured Google Earth for places that mixed the familiar with the obscure, and sketched out rough ideas for different shots.

Not all my sketches are that detailed; just enough to give an idea of the kind of shots I’m after… and satellite photos help pick the best locations!

I had a route planned that would start at silly o’clock in the morning, and get me to Aberdeen at sunrise. All I needed to do was keep an eye on the weather and hope the skies wouldn’t sabotage the journey. Weather forecasts are only reliable up to a point, and then you just have to rely on luck, and accept whatever shots you can get.

We went to bed not long after dinner, and woke not long after midnight. Batshit crazy? It meant I could slap on my makeup and the spray-on silver catsuit, and drive to Dundee by 3am. Yes; utterly batshit crazy.

Dundee in the early hours of the morning when nobody is about. Why visit at any other time?

My main interest in Dundee was the recently-opened V&A art gallery on the edge of the river Tay. Happily, being there at 3am meant there was nobody around to ask drunken questions, or dive into the shots, or just spoil things. At that time, the only interest was from the night guard (I swear, I must’ve given a handful of night guards some weird shit to contend with on their CCTV screens over the years…). We wandered around the funky modern architecture as long as our schedule allowed before moving on again…

Why yes, I can tramp over country paths and sand dunes in high-heeled go-go boots.

The next stop was Balmedie beach. I’d been here a few times when I was a kid, so I knew it had vast expanses of sand that could double as a desert planet, grassy dunes, freshwater streams choked with greenery making their way to the beach, and best of all, an epic windfarm which annoys the shit out of Donald Trump.

As we approached Aberdeen I saw a massive bank of cloud hanging over the northern skies, and I had a nasty feeling they’d block out the sunrise. To my immense relief, we got about ten minutes’ sunshine as the sun broke the horizon, and made as much use of it as we could. Sunrise was the only limitation on the schedule; after that we could take our time at the remainder of the locations.

Daviot stone circle is in the middle of nowhere…

The next stop was a stone circle at Daviot, in the middle of… well, nowhere. Grampian region is pretty sparse, and the country roads are choked with roadkill rabbits, like a Beatrix Potter version of Schindler’s List. God, it’s grim.

For the purposes of the photoshoot, I figured the stone circle, surrounded by trees, might give a Stargate-y vibe (in that series, they gave themselves an excuse for why every planet they visited resembled a Canadian forest…). I had a bash at recreating one of my sketches which was easier said than done. First I had to scamper over sharp, loose rocks in high-heeled go go boots, and then try holding that ridiculous pose for ages (taking breaks to see how they looked on the camera, and then going back to readjust).

So yeah, seemingly minor locations can take a while to complete…

Tarlair is an abandoned lido on the edge of nowhere…

The final stop was an abandoned 1930s lido at Tarlair on Grampian’s northern coast. It’s still intact, but clearly it’s been decades since its hey-day. It’s set among cliffs and rock arches that make for an otherworldly appearance.

When we arrived there was a single guy running laps around the area, and doing chin-ups and exercises (I guess there isn’t much else to do first thing on a Sunday morning here). We found it easy to keep him out of the shots, but he was clearly interested in what we were doing and dying to speak to us… but keeping a respectful distance.

There were tons of different shots we could take there (it’s been difficult whittling it down to only the best of the best; the location looks good at any angle), but eventually we realised that it was time to head back south. I changed back into a more ordinary dress and shoes, and when we were about to head off the exercise guy walked by.

“Don’t get many space girls landing in Banff!” he said. He’d been dying to say that for ages, poor sod. I gave him a cheesy grin and pretended to laugh silently because I knew if I said anything my voice would just wreck his whole morning.

We stopped off to tank up the car, and a bunch of retired and well-fed old men were gathered in the petrol station shop to buy their morning papers and catch up on everything that wasn’t happening in the area. Obviously, me walking in with my makeup and retro hair was a sight they don’t get that often, so they all clammed up and stared silently as I paid and left in less than sixty seconds. Was it creepy? Or did they realise I was a guy in a dress? Honestly, I didn’t give a shit what they thought – which is pretty much the only superpower you need to crossdress.

And with that, I had a batch of photos I could photoshop with my space helmet… and maybe add a few details to, like planets and frickin’ laser beams.

You’d better believe there’s more to come! 🙂

Dundee’s newest, and second, attraction…
Purple and green make a weird mix in pre-dawn light…
This wind farm is the future! And it annoys Donald Trump! What’s not to like?
Managed to catch the only 10 minutes of sunshine!
The key to doing this shit is maintaining an “intrepid expression” that mixes a hint of the warning look you give a rambunctious puppy, with the look you have when something you want has just sold out. Or something. There’s a lot you can read into that dead, blank stare.
I don’t like sand. It’s coarse, and rough, and irritating, and it gets everywhere…
Stone circle or stargate? You decide!
Let’s see you try holding this pose…
Sea. This. Rocks.
If you want to pretend to be epic, find an epic location.
Tarlair Lido has seen better days…
Pretending to be epic…
This is how I exercise at the weekend. How about you?

Girly road trip: Scotland, I am in you

For the past few years I’ve infrequently made calendars for friends. In 2019 I wanted to go a bit further afield than usual, and made an epic journey to the almost-most-Northern part of the country to take in as many sights as possible on the way back the following day, all in Twist mode.

It helped that a couple of friends own The Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage at Noss Head – I could crash there for a night, wake up before the seagulls fart, slap on makeup for the day, and make my way back to Edinburgh stopping off wherever I found a good view (much of this was planned out beforehand).

Sunrise is a time to reflect…

This was my biggest gamble I’d ever taken with weather forecasts. It was supposed to be piddling it down mightily the day before and the day after, but with a 24-hour reprieve during which I could do my en-femme cannonball run through Scotland.

Sure enough, the drive north was through apocalyptic rain with the wipers going full pelt. It was at this point, a family of spiders chose to abseil down from the sun visor right in front of my goddamn face. I had to ignore the dance of 24 legs to focus on steering through water. I may not have ovaries of steel, but fucking hell I’ve earnt them…

Lighthouses warn off ships. I do my best to attract them. The ships ended up going in circles.

My host kindly offered to help with taking photos at sunrise (muahahahaa! the fool!!!); after all, it was my first visit and I didn’t know where the best angles would be. There was the lighthouse, a nearby pond, and a statue of Henry St Clair I could pose with…

I told him I don’t give Noss on a first date. He gave me a stony look. (There was no second date.)

After failing to suppress my inner monologue from singing the earworm theme tune to classic 1990s Australian kids’ TV show Round The Twist, I let my photographer caffeinate himself while I made a quick change of clothes and set off. It felt a bit ridiculous to head off so soon after a single night, but I had a long day ahead of me and the weather wouldn’t last…

I went batshit crazy making this soothing pre-dawn light even more purple…

The first stop was just a bit further up the road: John O’Groats. Despite the early hour, it was mobbed with tourists, and I had to wait for them all to bugger off before setting up the camera tripod and timer for a few selfies. The signpost had been pretty much obliterated by a coating of novelty stickers plastered onto it over the years. At least I could see I had 273 miles to go…

I’m a long way from home here…

I stopped off at Wick’s petrol station to tank up and grab a sandwich for breakfast before heading south again. I was on the lookout for scenic viewpoints that would allow very fast, impromptu stops for photos. Maybe I was overthinking things, because there were some gorgeous vistas in the morning sun which I drove past. One of the few I picked was a perfect reflection at Loch Fleet.

On any road trip, stretch your legs once in a while…

I had lunch at Inverness and refuelled the car (it was a small car with a petrol tank the size of a budgie’s bladder). My next stop was a detour to the Loch Ness visitor centre where, floating in a pond, was a decades-old model plesiosaur.

Sure, there were other models at other tourist spots, but I was determined to get a photo with this one specifically, because it was in the goddamn water. I had to clamber over a fence and squelch towards it to set up the camera for the shot I wanted. A tourist from the far east followed me and had to wait patiently for me to get the hell out of the way before taking his own photos.

Nessie tells me her flat Earth theory; I am sceptical…

Graffiti in these parts consisted of ‘flat Earth theory!’ and ‘question evolution!’ Surely, I thought, there are easier things to rebel against than science, reason, critical thinking, and -you know- reality

My next stop, carefully calculated for the view, was Clansman Harbour. The parking was overflowing, so I had to drive back past Loch Ness Lodge and trudge to my preferred viewing point.

Seconds later, I Marilyn Monroe’d the rest of the loch…

I could see all the way from one end of the loch to the other from here, but it was also incredibly exposed. The effort I’d made in combing my wig that morning was undone in an instant. I spent half the timed selfie shot with one hand stopping my skirt blowing up, and the other hand keeping hair out of my eyes.

Sometimes, smiling your way through a multitude of inconveniences is good for the soul. Or at least, it’s good practice for pretending to maintain your composure when the shit hits the fan. I squinted at the previews of the photos in the camera display and decided I’d got enough. The long drive and the early start were beginning to catch up with me: time to head home.

HELLO? YEAH, I’M AT LOCH NESS. IT’S VERY WINDY. NO, I SAID WINDY. AT LOCH NESS. HELLO? HELLO? FUCK IT, HERE’S SOME CLEAVAGE. I’M GOING NOW.

I made one last stop just off the A9: Dalwhinnie Distillery. Partly because I was quite taken with the scenery (and the dramatic clouds), and partly because I’d passed it so often without visiting that this felt like the opportune moment. I went into the visitor centre, asked the woman behind the till if she knew of any good spots for taking photos, and bought a bottle as a souvenir of the road trip (avoiding all the Game Of Thrones themed whiskies because I’m a snob that way).

After waiting for the farmer to close up and drive off, I parked at the gate to a farm track where I could get the distillery and the hills in the shot. By this point, my wig was ready to take to the skies. With perfect timing, the clouds darkened and rain began spattering on the windscreen.

I got all the shots I wanted, and could drive the rest of the way home with a quite glow of success. (And, once I got back inside, a quiet glow of whisky…)

I bought myself a reward for the end of my road trip…