Glasgow: 150 years of Charles Rennie Mackintosh




The first stop of my three-week trip in Scotland this summer was Glasgow. Although the city is not as glamourous as Edinburgh, I tend to have a bias towards Glasgow, partly because of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and partly because of its friendly residents.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, hecne, there are numerous exhibitions and events celebrating the legacy of Glasgow’s cultural icon. Sadly, Mackintosh’s masterpiece Glasgow School of Art caught fire for the second time in June leaving just a burnt-out shell. I never did get to see the original school because my first visit to Glasgow was 2015, a year after the first devasting fire. That year, I did a tour of the new building and saw the furniture rescued from the old building (see my blog entry here). This year, however, the entire area was sealed off to the public, and I only managed to get a glimpse of the site from afar. Walking outside of the barricade made my heart sink, and like many others, I had a lot of questions in my head. Though judging from the extensive damage, it seems unlikely that the building could be rebuild again.


glasgow school of art

glasgow school of art


Since I was only in the city for 1 night, my focus was solely on Mackinstosh. I first went to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum to see the Mackinstosh exhibition featuring more than 250 objects from the Glasgow Museums collection and Mitchell Library archives, alongside key loans from The Hunterian, Glasgow School of Art, the V&A and private lenders.

The exhibition showcased stained glass, ceramics, mosaics, metalwork, furniture, textiles, stencilling, needlework and embroidery, posters, books and architectural drawings. Some of the works have never been on display and the majority – like the wall from Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street Tea Rooms – have not been shown for over 30 years. I wished I had more time to linger at the exhibition, but I was also grateful that I got to see this extensive exhibition on the works of a genius. Since no photography was allowed, I bought the exhibition catalogue instead.





kelvingrove  kelvingrove


The following morning, I went to the newly restored Mackintosh at The Willow to have breakfast. Originally named the Willow Tea Rooms, the premise is the only surviving tea room designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The tea room was part of a long working relationship with local tea entrepreneur Miss Kate Cranston. Between 1896 and 1917 he designed and re-styled interiors in all four of her Glasgow tearooms, in collaboration with his wife Margaret Macdonald. Opened in 1903 at 217 Sauchiehall Street, the Art Nouveau tea room gained immense popularity and became famous for its afternoon teas, but it was sold in 1917 after the death of Miss Kate Cranston’s husband.

Over the years and through various changes of ownerships, the building had deteriorated until it was purchased in 2014 by The Willow Tea Rooms Trust in order to prevent the forced sale of the building, closure of the Tea Rooms and loss of its contents to collectors. When I visited the premise in 2015, it was in a rather somber state, so I was eager to see the newly restored building after four years of restoration which costed t £10 million. The project was a collaboration between Willow Tea Rooms Trust, Doig & Smith, Simpson & Brown and Clark Contracts . The Tea Rooms are also operated as a social enterprise with the objectives of creating training, learning, employment and other opportunities and support for young people and communities.


Mackintosh at the Willow   Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow


Even as I walked past the three story building the day before, I was thrilled to see the beautiful facade featuring the restored black leaded glass frames and decorative ornaments. Since Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a key figure in the Scottish Arts and Crafts movement, this building epitomised the essence of the ‘The Glasgow Style’, which was highly influenced by Japanese design.


Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow   Mackintosh at the Willow


To be honest, I wasn’t so concerned about the food, as it wasn’t the purpose of my visit. I was simply happy to be sitting in a Mackintosh-designed tea room that showcases his furniture, sculpted plasterwork wall panels, railings and fixtures. The attention to detail is immaculate and I salute the team behind the project for their efforts in bringing Mackinstosh‘s designs back to its full glory.

During my visit, the tea room was at a phased opening stage, so tours of the building was not yet available and not all areas of the building were opened to the public. Hence I shall have to join a tour of the building when I return to Glasgow next time.


Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow   Mackintosh at the Willow


After breakfast, I walked over to the Glasgow Art Club, a lesser-known building with designs by Mackintosh at the age of 25 when he was employed as a draughtsman by architects Honeyman & Keppie. Mackintosh was responsible for the design of many of the internal features of the Club including the frieze in the Gallery.

Opened in 1893 at Bath Street, The Glasgow Art Club was founded in 1867 by William Dennistoun, a young amateur artist who had been forced by ill health to leave the city. It started as a meeting place for amateur painters to discuss their works, but soon membership grew with more professional artists joining, resulting in two town houses being bought to accommodate all the members.

From the outside, there is nothing special about the building, and even inside, the club does not look different from most Victorian gentlemen’s clubs.


Glasgow Art Club  Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club  Glasgow Art Club


Yet the secret lies at the back of the ground floor. The bright and spacious gallery is vastly different from the rooms at the front, and you can certainly apprecaite the magic touch of Mackintosh here. The gallery showcases Mackintosh’s earliest work: frieze, decorative panels, feature fireplaces abd brass finger plates. Painted in 1893, the frieze’s stenciled artwork was Mackintosh’s first major public work, but due to water damage it was eventually plastered and painted over. Recently, experts in the work of Mackintosh, collaborated with a notable Scottish artist and a firm specialising in restoration work recreated the frieze and thus the public can now view this beautiful work at the club. The gallery walls also display original artwork by members of the Club which are part of an ever changing programme of exhibitions.

Although the club is a private one, it does offer regular tours that are bookable by appointment. Since I couldn’t join the tour, I walked in and asked if I could view the gallery, and the receptionist kindly let me in. This is definitely a hidden gem in the city, and I am sure many Mackintosh enthusiasts would appreciate the restoration works being done here.

Ironically, Mackintosh‘s innovative styles were not greatly appreciated during his lifetime, yet 150 years after his birth, his name is drawing millions of visitors from around the world to Glasgow. All I can say is that: it is better late than never.


Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club



Scottish Highlands: Ullapool



This summer, I spent two weeks staying in Ullapool, a small picturesque port on the shores of Loch Broom with around 1,500 inhabitants up in the Scottish Highlands. Before this trip, I have never travelled anywhere beyond Inverness in the Highlands. Since Ullapool cannot be reached by rail, I had to take a bus from Inverness, which took about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Although it is only a village, it draws many tourists as it serves as the gateway to the Western Isles. Large ferries and cruise ships can be seen at the port, and tourists can be seen embarking and disembarking all through summer. The village is also known as the centre for the arts and music, with several music festivals taking place here throughout the year.







Due to the peak season, I initially struggled to find accommodation for longer stay. After spending one week in a rental house, I went to the Isle of Lewis via ferry for a few days, then returned and stayed at a B & B up on the hill away from the centre. Luckily, the host told me that he has another rental studio by the loch in the centre, and that I could move over there after their guest had moved out. Somehow it all worked out, and I was more than happy to be staying in a studio facing the loch.

Ullapool is convenient as a base to explore the N.W. Highlands. I, too, used it as a base for my paper-making course in Elphin, and Geo Park tour. Hence, although I stayed in the village for 2 weeks, I did not get to visit the Ullapool museum, which was a pity.





ullapool  ullapool


Officially founded in 1788 as a herring port by the British Fisheries Society, Ullapool was designed by Scottish civil engineer and architect Thomas Telford. Although evidence of human settlements can be found along the coast and on the road side dating back over two thousand years. Some of the original 18th century buildings can still be seen facing the harbour.

However, the village is also associated with Scotland’s darker past as the harbour was the emigration point during the Clearances, where many crofting communities were evicted from their land by their landowners to make way for large-scale sheep farming from 1750 to 1860. During this period, many families in the Highlands left for the New World from Ullapool and never returned again.










Since Ullapool is a port, seafood is a ‘must’ when you visit this village, and the best seafood place here is not a restaurant, but a shack. The multiple award-winning Seafood shack (9 W Argyle St) offers fresh local seafood at affordable prices, and the menu changes daily according to what is being delivered on the day. I went there a few times for dinner, and the food was always delicious with a contemporary twist. I also had fish and chips from Deli-Ca-Sea (West Shore Street), a small fish and chips takeaway near the Ferry terminal, where they serve traditional fish and chips.

There is also a pleasant bistro facing the loch called The Frigate (6 Shore Street) that serves a variety of dishes made form locally sourced produce. And on the last night, I had drinks and dinner with a new friend at the friendly and bustling The Ferry Boat Inn (26-27 Shore Street). The Blue Kazoo Seafood Cafe not only serves fresh and tasty seafood, you can also enjoy live music there in the weekends. We had a brilliant last night there and loved the vivacious atmosphere.


seafood shack

seafood shack

seafood shack


The Ferry Boat Inn

The Ferry Boat Inn

The Ferry Boat Inn

The Ferry Boat Inn


The inspiring landscape of the Highlands is alluring to many musicians, artists and artisans. Hence it is no surprise that many of them have moved up to the Highlands to live and work.

At the paper-making workshop, I met Jan, a geologist/botanist/bookbinder who co-runs a beautiful art and craft shop in Ullapool. Ceàrd (21 West Argyle Street) focuses on locally made products by Scottish makers. You can find paintings, prints, jewellery, ceramics, textiles, crochet, carved wood and many wonderful items in their shop.


ceard  ceard





On the opposite side of the street is An Talla Solais Gallery, where they showcase practising artists across the North West coast of Scotland through their regular art exhibitions. I stumbled upon the opening night of local artist Peter White‘s exhibition and was intrigued by his nature-inspired work.

Peter collects stones from the hills he walks in, paints on them and eventually returns them to the summit of the hill they came from in memory of people who have died. Interestingly, I did encounter one of Peter‘s work when I was hiking up the hill one day (see below).








Further away from the centre, there is Highland Stoneware Pottery (North Road) where visitors can visit the pottery workshop and purchase unique pottery handmade by craftspeople in Lochinver and Ullapool. They have a vast collection of tableware, and an online shop where people who live outside of Scotland can order and get the items shipped to them directly.





img_5561  img_5562



What I enjoyed most about Ullapool is that I could easily go for walks or strolls by the river and beach without leaving the village. Nature and wildlife is abundance.







ullapool  ullapool



ullapool  ullapool













If you enjoy hill walking, then a short ascent up the Ullapool hill and the Braes would enable you to enjoy the panoramic view of Loch Broom and Ullapool. The highest point is the outcrop of Meall Mor with views inland of Loch Achall and surrounding countryside.

As I walked up to the highest point, the rain cloud started to move towards the village and it was engrossing to watch from the top. Luckily, I didn’t get too wet when I descended.


ullapool  ullapool









Last but not least, a trip to The Ullapool Smokehouse (6 Morefield Indstrial Estate) is a MUST before you leave the village. Located in an industrail estate, this family run business sells smoke fish, cheese, meat and eggs, using traditional wood-smoking methods. I bought some smoked salmon and smoked cheese and the quality is much higher than what you would find in the supermarkets. You can also order online via their webshop.


ullapool smoke house

ullapool smoke house

ullapool smoke house


Papermaking with plants workshop in The Highlands


The scenery from Ullapool to Assynt


Scotland is one of my favourite places in the world. I love the landscape, wilderness, people and traditions; however, I am not so fond of its weather – a crucial element that has put me off moving up there. I have been traveling up to Scotland annually for the last few years to attend a meditation retreat in June, but I would only stay for about 1 week or less each time. This year, I decided to explore further and spend longer time there during my 6-month sabbatical. I stayed for three weeks in July. It started in Glasgow, then Fort Williams, Ullapool and and the Isle of Lewis.

I stayed in Ullapool to attend a paper-making with plants workshop at a local artist, Jan Kilpatrick‘s home/studio in Assynt, a remote area north of Ullapool. Since I wasn’t driving, Jan arranged her friend and workshop attendee, Jo, to give me lifts during the week as she happens to live in Ullapool. The commutes from Ullapool to Assynt were simply breathtaking, and I was capitivated by the sight of Cul Mor, Suilven and Quinag during these car journeys.






Jan is predominantly a landscape textile artist, but she is also a paper and mosaic artist. However, most of the courses she offers on her website are textiles related, so it was lucky that I managed to sign up to her paper-making course, which seems to be less in demand (as we were told). Since there were only a few of us, we got to know each other quite well during the week.

The reason why I signed up for this course was due to my passion for paper and interest in plants/botany. I have previously attended one/two paper-making sessions that lasted less than an hour, so my knowledge was minimal and I wanted to learn more about the technique and craft. Besides, the thought of spending the week sourrounded by nature up in the Highlands was a huge draw for me.



papermaking with plants workshop


highland flowers  highland flowers





Over the five days, we spent most of the time working outdoors as we were quite lucky with the weather (except for the last day and when the midges attacked). Being able to pick many fibrous plants and grass from Jan‘s wonderful garden and use them as the materials of our paper was fantastic. The process of paper-making involves soaking the plants overnight, followed by boiling the plants with soda ash (or washing soda) and water. Then it is necessary to break down the plant fibres into pulp using a blender, and we mixed the plant fibres with recycled paper pulp to create different textures and varieties.



papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop

paper making

papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop 

papermaking with plants workshop


The next stage requires a mould and deckle (you can make one using picture frame and mesh), a vat filled with water and a bit of pva glue. Then it is time to add the pulp mixture into the water and let it dissolve in the vat. What followes is the most difficult part – using the mould to scoop the pulp from the back and bottom upwards inside the vat. When the mould is lifted you, it is best to shake it from side to side to drain the water and even out the pulp. This process requires patience and steady hands for consistency, and it may take several attempts to get the pulp evenly rested on the mesh. Sometimes the paper may be too thick or too thin, and it differs depending on the plant fibres.



papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop


The final stage is to remove the deckle from the mould and place the pulp on the mesh safely onto a wet paper towel. Then you need to press the pulp down with a sponge, add another piece of paper towel on top and place a heavy wooden board on top to squeeze out any excess water. After some time, you can lift up the board and hang the paper to let it dry on a rack.


papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop


We used a variety of plants like nettles, horsetails, daffodils, montbretia, dock leaves, and grass as our pulp, and we also added some flower petals as decorations. Since the process of paper-making is the quite repetitive, Jan suggested that we try mono-printing with plants, as well as eco-printing by arranging the plants onto the paper followed by steaming it.


papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop


papermaking with plants workshop  img_5770

img_5811  img_5828

papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop


After four days of making and experimenting, we spent the last day compiling everything together into a large portfolio book showcasing all the papers we made, and binded it together with some strings. We also created two mini plant books each featuring some of our handmade paper.


papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop


The five days went exceedingly quickly, and I found the workshop extremely inspring and enriching. It was also lovely to enjoy the vegetarian lunches that Jan prepared for us daily using many ingredients from her vegetable garden.

On Wednesday, we crossed the road and visited the Elphin market where there were vendors selling food and craft produced by local farmers and artisans. I learned that many artists and artisans chose to live and work in the Highlands due to its remoteness and landscape and nature, which I have no dounts would make one more creative being in this environment.

It was sad to leave this place behind, but there was more adventure awaiting, so I left feeling quite joyous and refreshed.


salad  img_5841




elphin market  elphin market

elphin market

elphin market


The Mackintosh trail in Glasgow

mackintosh at RIBA mackintosh at RIBA mackintosh at RIBAMackintosh architecture IMG_5893-compressed

Mackintosh architecture exhibition at RIBA London


Back in May I visited the Mackintosh architecture exhibition at the RIBA, which coincided with my Glasgow trip a month later. I have long wanted to visit Glasgow and buildings designed by the renowned Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (I am gutted that I didn’t visit The Glasgow School of Art before its major fire last year). Hence the exhibition provided me with some background information on the architect, and the evolution of his career and architectural style.

Though the best way to understand and appreciate the architect’s work, one must visit Glasgow to see the bigger picture. And with only two nights in the city, I had to plan my schedule meticulously so that I can visit all the essential Mackintosh sights within a limited time frame ( if business doesn’t work out, perhaps I can switch to planning itineraries for travel agencies one day).


Mackintosh houseLantern and Finial designed by Mackintoshhunterian art gallery

Left: The Mackintosh house at the Hunterian art gallery; Middle: Lantern and Finial designed by Mackintosh; Right: Stairs in the Art Gallery


My first stop was The Mackintosh House at the Hunterian Art Gallery, part of The University of Glasgow. Visitors could only visit the house with a tour guide in groups and no photography is allowed inside. Although the original house was demolished in the early 1960s, all the original fixtures and contents were preserved and reassembled, and the architects have created a replica that closely resemble the original. The house showcases some wonderful and unusual furniture designed by Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald (whose craft work is simply mesmorising), and it is a must stop for all Mackintosh fans.


Margaret Macdonald & mackintosh designs at Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museummackintosh designs mackintosh designsThe May Queen by Margaret MacdonaldMargaret Macdonald designP1130629-compressedMargaret Macdonald design

Works by Charles and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum – First row: A reconstruction of the Ladies Luncheon Room; Third row: The May Queen by Margaret Macdonald; Bottom row: Margaret Macdonald‘s work


My second stop was the magnificent Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum (Argyle St, Glasgow G3 8AG), which showcases 8,000 objects in 22 themed galleries. There is a section of the gallery that is devoted to the Glasgow Style movement and works by the Mackintoshes. There is a reconstructed Ladies Luncheon Room at Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street Tearooms with the gesso panelshanging on top. One of the panels is ‘The Wassail’ designed by Mackintosh, while its companion panel The May Queen was created by his wife Margaret Macdonald in 1900.


glasgow school of art Glasgow school of art Glasgow school of artGlasgow school of artP1130689-compressedGlasgow school of artGlasgow school of artGlasgow school of art

Glasgow School of Art and Mackintosh’s furniture gallery


Although Mackintosh‘s original masterpiece for Glasgow School of Art (164 Renfrew Street, Glasgow, G3 6RF) was severely damaged by the fire last year, there are daily guided tours available to visit the new building opposite. Completed in 2013, the award-winning Reid Building was designed by Steven Holl Architects. The school offers three (four in the summer) one-hour student-led ‘Mackintosh at the GSA tour’ daily, and it focuses on the story and design of the Mackintosh building, as well as an exclusive access to GSA’s new furniture gallery. This new gallery showcases 20 pieces of furniture by Mackintosh and two rarely-seen embroidered panels by Margaret Macdonald that were rescued from the fire. The tour ends in the Window on Mackintosh visitor centre on the ground floor which is open to the public free of charge.

It is a real shame that Mackintosh‘s famous library and most of its contents had been turned into ashes, but restoration works have begun and hopefully we will be able to visit the restored building in a few years’ time.


The willow tearoomsThe willow tearooms The willow tearoomsThe willow tearooms The willow tearoomsThe willow tearoomsThe willow tearooms

The Willow tea rooms


One of the more popular and accessible Mackintosh landmarks in Glasgow is The Willow tea rooms (217 Sauchiehall Street) in the city centre. Designed by Mackintosh in 1903 for Kate Cranston (daughter of a tea merchant), the tea rooms were the most fashionable hang outs at the time. Described as “a fantasy for afternoon tea”, The Room de Luxe on the first floor was an extravagant and decorative room filled with furniture designed by Mackintosh and gesso panels designed by his wife Margaret. The Room de Luxe was restored in the 1980s, now visitors can dine in the upstairs tearoom, and visit the free exhibition area at the back of the ground floor. However, the ‘Argos’ style jewellery and souvenir shop and fittings in the front section are inconsistent with the rest of the place. It is a pity, and I hope that this will be addressed in the future.


The lighthouse GlasgowThe lighthouse GlasgowThe lighthouse GlasgowThe lighthouse spiral staircaseMackintosh chairMackintosh chair

The lighthouse and the Mackintosh Centre


With little time to spare, I managed to visit The lighthouse (11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow, G1 3NU) before it closed for the day. It is housed in the former Glasgow Herald building, the first public commission completed by Mackintosh. The building is now a national centre for design and architecture, with a Mackintosh Tower (which was closed during my visit) and a Mackintosh Interpretation Centre which charts the life & work of the architect/designer. The most impressive feature for me though is the 134 steps spiral staircase that leads you up to the tower. I think I will have to try climbing it on my next visit.


Daily Record Building Glasgow Daily Record Building GlasgowDaily Record Building Glasgow Daily Record Building GlasgowArgyle Street tea rooms Ingram tea rooms

First & second rows: Daily Record Building; Bottom left: Argyle Street tea rooms (interiors destroyed); Ingram tea rooms (interiors can be seen at the Kelvingrove Art gallery)


Aside from the above sights, there are other Mackintosh gems that are also worth visiting:

House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park (10 Dumbreck Rd, Glasgow, Lanarkshire G41 5BW)

Scotland Street School Museum (225 Scotland Street, Glasgow, G5 8QB)

Queen’s Cross Church (870 Garscube Road, Glasgow, G20 7EL)

The Glasgow Necropolis (Wishard Street, Glasgow, G4 0UZ)

The Hill House (Upper Colquhoun Street, Helensburgh, G84 9AJ. 



Scotland by rail

train ride to scotland

Scenery from somewhere north of England


I am one of those people who would get excited sitting in the front row on the top deck of a double decker bus. And often I would end up sitting next to kids under 10 years of age who are equally excited, though I don’t express my enthusiasm as explicitly as they do.

Hence, I can’t verbally express the joy I feel when I am on a train. Perhaps what I enjoy most is staring out of the moving window while scenery, buildings, animals and people disappear from my peripheral vision. Those fleeting moments are not dissimilar to our experiences in life; one minute it is there and next minute it is gone. Unable to grasp the moment, we can only act as spectators and watch the changing scenery pass us by.

Sometimes people are bemused by my keenness to travel by rail, whereas I am equally bewildered by their eagerness to reach the destinations as fast as possible. I often feel that the most thrilling part of traveling is the journey itself rather than the destination. If time permits, I would always pick the longer and more interesting travel route.


train ride to scotland wind turbineUK aqueduct train ride to scotland train ride to scotland


Months ago when I was planning a trip to Scotland from London, I forwent the cheaper flying option and opted for the more costly and time-consuming train option. The booking process also turned out to be more complex and baffling, it is no wonder many travelers prefer the flying option. It took me days to figure out the routes, but one thing certain was that I wanted to include the Caledonian Sleeper, one of the two remaining sleeper trains in Britain (the other is The Night Riviera from London to Penzance).

Finally, I decided to take the Virgin Crusader from London to Glasgow (5 hours), then from Glasgow to Inverness (3.5 hours), and return back to London via the Caledonian sleeper (12 hours). Even though I had planned and booked almost 3 months in advance, I still had to pay £50 for a reclining seat (vs. £130 for a shared berth) on the Sleeper train. I can’t say that it was a bargain compared to a £30 Easyjet flight.


glasgowglasgow train station virgin crusaderglasgow train station

Arriving in Glasgow via Virgin Crusader


Out of the three journeys, the most pleasant and comfortable one was the Virgin Crusader. I paid an extra £10 for first class, and it was definitely worth it. The service was attentive, with complimentary food and drinks available throughout the 5 hour journey. However, the scenery is less spectacular than the journey I took to and from Edinburgh via the East Coast two years ago.


preston station aviemorepitlochrystirling stirling station

 Station after station…


For breathtaking scenery, it necessary to travel further north. The journey from Glasgow to Inverness offers some stunning views of the Highlands. The train passes by two significant summits: Drumochter and Slochd, and two viaducts: Culloden and Tomatin. Although it was the end of June at the time of travel, snow on the summits was still clearly visible.



Scenery of the Highlands


My last leg of the train journey was taking the night train from Inverness back to London via the Caledonian Sleeper. The train was surprisingly busy, but I was lucky to have two opposite seats to myself. In terms of comfort level, I would say the seats are similar to most airline’s Premium class seating. Nonetheless, do not expect to sleep well throughout the night especially if you are a light sleeper. I woke up a few times in the middle of the night and watched sunrise hours before the train arrived into London.


inverness station caledonian sleepersunset sunsetsunset


Since March of this year, Serco has commenced a 15-year contract to operate the Caledonian Sleeper between London and Scotland. More than £100m (part-funded by a £60m grant from the Scottish government) will be invested in building 72 state of the art carriages, which will make up four new trains by the summer of 2018.

It will be interesting to see these new trains, and I wonder if they will lure travelers back to rail travel again (given that they will not be too outrageously expensive)? Although British rail travel has passed its heyday, there are still some notable routes that are worth the time, effort and costs. My only advice is this: book early to avoid being charged an arm and a leg!


Retreat aftermath


Stunning scenery from the train journey between Edinburgh and Newcastle


It has been about 5 days since I returned from Scotland, and I am still feeling slightly disorientated ( which seems to always happen after a week-long retreat).

I remember on the day of departure, some retreat friends and I had some spare time and decided to grab a quick lunch in Edinburgh city centre before taking the train/ plane back home. This turned out to be a discomforting experience because it was the opening day of the Edinburgh festival and the city was completely packed! Not only did we have to fight our way through the crowds with our baggages, I was also highly sensitive to the noise level, people’s facial expressions and even the colours of passerby’s clothing ( I found it hard to adjust to the sharp bright colours after seeing mostly ‘green’ all week)!

The train ride back was not much better either, the air-conditioning unit broke down in many of the coaches ( including mine), so it was like sitting in a sauna… but for 4 1/2 hours! The toilets were blocked and the staff were grumpy, the only consolation was the beautiful scenery outside of the window esp. the from Edinburgh to Newcastle. I felt like I was being ‘tested’ after a mindful retreat… I had to tell myself: Welcome back to reality!




Back at my desk, I am aware of the emails that I need to reply to, the office supplies I need to order, and the large amount of preparation that I need to work on for the upcoming new collection and Christmas season. Despite feeling positive and energised after the retreat, I was feeling slightly overwhelmed as well. Images of the retreat, people, the loch and its surroundings kept popping into my head, and eventually I had to leave my desk to meditate for a while.

From my past experiences, I knew I would be feeling more emotional and sensitive after the retreat, but perhaps it is not so negative in my case. Since I decided to start this business, it has been an extremely ‘lonely’ experience, even with the support from people around me ( and sometimes from strangers), often I am unable to express my frustration and anxieties to others. I love what I do and am grateful that I am able to pursue my dream, but I cannot say that it has been an easy journey. The most difficult part is to find a balance, whether it is between commercial and conceptual options or work and life, there are so many decisions that have to be made and most of time, it’s about taking risks. Even as I am writing this, I find myself feeling ‘exposed’ as I have no idea who will read this and I am not used to being so ‘public’. Often I am wondering how much of ‘me’ should be exposed and how much should be kept private? Where do I draw the line?

I think the retreat has allowed me to reflect, feel vulnerable… and perhaps slow down a little. In life, often we are so focused on the destination that we forget to enjoy the journey, and even if the journey is not always pleasant, it is best to sit through it with awareness rather than trying to run away from it. I know that there is nowhere for me to run to, work still needs to be done and decisions still need to be made, but the best thing that I can do is to take it one step at a time… slowly and mindfully.

Like a miracle, once I became aware of this, I woke up this morning with many positive news relating to work ( and more support from strangers and new friends) all within a day! Is this the result of all the positive energy generated during the retreat? I would like to think so.


Summer retreat in Scotland

dhanakosadhanakosaloch voil

Top left and right: Dhanakosa; Main: Loch voil


What is your ideal summer holiday? Sun and beach? Doing eurorail across Europe? Or adventures in South America? After spending three months traveling and working in Asia earlier in the year, I felt the need to give myself some ‘me’ time and space, and to get away from the city, work and responsibilities.

I realised that it has been almost 1 1/2 year since I have been on a meditation retreat, and I felt that it was time to do one again. I didn’t want to travel out of U.K. and wanted to combine it with some hiking, so this easily limited my options to only a few places…

Finally, I opted for Dhanakosa, a remote Buddhist meditation retreat centre located in an idyllic setting by Loch Voil in Scotland. I was slightly concerned about the indirect travel routes at the beginning, but then I decided to leave a day early to get to the ‘biggest’ nearby town, Stirling to do some sightseeing before the retreat. Actually Stirling is hardly a big town, it was easy to walk around and I ended up spending hours exploring the historical Stirling castle and nearby sites on the day of arrival.


stirlingstirling castlekings knot gardenwallace monument

Top left: The Erskine monument in Stirling; top right: Stirling castle; bottom left: Kings knot garden; bottom right: Wallace monument


Getting to Dhanakosa was slightly easier than I thought ( even though I had to take 2 buses and a taxi ride from Stirling), and I was completely taken by the scenery as I was traveling towards the retreat centre. Upon arrival, I felt so joyful because of the stunning surroundings and location of the retreat. Instinctively, I just knew this retreat would be a special one. And I was right.


loch voilscotlandloch voil


For many people, a media-free week might sound like a daunting idea, but for me, it was exactly what I needed. No tweets, posts, texts, emails, phone calls, TV, radio, newspaper and music… just nature and a group of strangers.

Now back home in front of my computer, words fail to describe my feelings… contentment, joyful, grateful, peaceful, relaxed, reflective, energised… is it possible to feel all of the above at the same time?




In the last few years, I have been to various types of retreats (mostly gardening ones) and I have learned not to compare my experiences because each one was unique, largely due to my state of mind at the time. However, I would say that this was probably the most fun and relaxing retreat that I have ever been to. Even though I noticed my mind constantly being distracted during the meditation sessions, it would immediately calm down when I was out in nature. Observing nature allowed my mind to rest, and standing by the loch alone, I could feel the sun, hear the wind, birds, insects, which all made me feel immensely peaceful.


scotlandscotlandloch voilscotland


On this retreat, we experienced the typical Scottish weather while we were out hiking, showers, sun and heavy rain… we were completely drenched one afternoon, and even my 5000 mm waterproof jacket and leather hiking boots could not save me from being completely soaked from head to toe!




Aside from the beauty of nature, what touched me most was the group of strangers whom I spent the week with. There was so much laughter, joy and harmony, and because we knew it was an experience that could never be repeated, we all cherished the time spent together.

For those of you who were at this retreat ( if you ever get to read this), I want to thank you all ( especially the retreat leaders and team members) for giving me one of the best summer ‘holidays’ that I could ever wish for!