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A cow ambling down a grassy knoll is not, in fact, graceful. Those four legs simply don’t seem to work together as hoof meets angled ground. I realized this as I watched five of those cows attempt the downhill slope to the loch (lake) for a mid-day drink.
It was exactly the bucolic scene I had hoped to enjoy on my DIY writing retreat on Loch Rannoch.
Located centrally in Scotland, Loch Rannoch and its surrounding area are a geographical marvel. The lake views are surpassed by the constantly changing landscape…peaty bog transforms into wooded hillside quickly. Small villages pop up while expansive farms and estates fill the gaps.
I sat on the shore of Loch Rannoch in the town of Kinloch Rannoch, “Kinloch” being from the Gaelic for “end of the lake”. It’s actually not far from one of my favorite places in Scotland: Pitlochry. With a car, you could easily explore both of these areas.
But that wasn’t my goal during this writing retreat!
What is a DIY writing retreat?
I booked myself into a swanky hotel (on a fantastic deal in the off-season) in a remote area with stunning scenery. My goal was simple: to get as much writing done as possible.
It could be just a cliche, but the quiet and simplicity of nature allow for creativity to blossom. So when I decided to do a DIY writing retreat, my top priority was a beautiful location.
Read next: I’ve been an American expat in Scotland for years and I love exploring my adoptive home!
Not wanting to waste this opportunity, I did plenty of research and planned the best possible scenario to ensure productivity. While writing retreats are popular – there are countless available all around the world – I didn’t want to travel far nor have the obligations of a formal retreat.
And, so, I created my own DIY writing retreat that worked for me and for my personal writing schedule.
A do-it-yourself writing retreat is an ideal way to completely focus on your work, without the distractions of daily life. While I have the flexibility to work from anywhere, costs and family obligations often keep me working from home or from the library down the road.
Read next: Lessons I’ve learned in 4 years of full-time freelance writing (so far)
Neither of those spaces are overly inspirational, if I’m honest. Even if I had a lovely home office, I find routine to be monotonous and debilitating. Shaking things up by relocating entirely can inspire the senses and spark those synapses.
Tips for a DIY Writing Retreat
Your own writing retreat should cater to your preferences – that’s the magic of creating your own retreat! Knowing your most productive work times, as well as understanding what makes you feel comfortable and happy, can help to ensure your success.
To plan my DIY writer’s retreat, I sought out all of the following factors:
1. Beautiful Location
I wanted a rural space I’d never visited before where I could enjoy a mid-day walk in nature. I sought beautiful views from my doorstep, if not from my room itself.
Read next: Find out why nearby Pitlochry is one of my favorite places in Scotland
2. Necessary Facilities
A writing retreat won’t be much of a writing retreat without a comfortable space from which to write and the means to do so. I, personally, am not a pen-and-paper kind of writer. I like taking notes on paper (sometimes), but I type infinitely faster than I handwrite.
Other creatives might prefer to disconnect entirely, which I could certainly do while using my Google docs offline!
Alas, for this first DIY effort, I wanted reliable WiFi. I write online, after all, so it felt better for me to get through all of the blogging phases from drafting to editing and then posting images, publishing, and sharing online.
To find a space with the appropriate facilities, I searched B&Bs, Airbnbs, hotels, and every other type of accommodation option out there. I originally cast a very wide net throughout Scotland. But very few offer a comfortable writing space with good WiFi (this is particularly true in rural places!).
My options became more limited, but this also helped me to make the final decision.
3. Food Options
As a DIY retreat, I knew I wouldn’t have staff on hand to ensure I would eat. In lieu of hiring my own staff, I considered the alternatives.
I wavered between wanting a kitchen so I could prepare my own food and save money, versus options to dine out. It was as I washed dishes at home and considered the need to do dishes instead of writing that I determined the kitchen to be a terrible idea.
I sought out a location with good facilities and an on-site dining option. I narrowed that down further to include the need for coffee-making facilities in my room, plus a microwave and refrigerator for snacking options. This allowed me to save money and time by not needing to leave my room every time I needed caffeine or carbs.
4. Accessibility by Train
This is a tricky one, given my desire for a remote, rural destination. But I did not want to rent a car for a week to compound the costs, especially when I knew I intended to be on-site for the duration of my stay to focus on writing.
This meant that a rural location had to be accessible by public transport.
Luckily, Scotland does public transportation exceptionally well! I was able to very easily take the train, with one transfer in Glasgow, to an iconic train station in the highlands.
From there, I paid for a roundtrip transfer by car to my hotel at a very reasonable price. In fact, I’d say it was an absolute steal! My driver is a tour guide and provided me with invaluable insights into the local area. He’s also an expat with a fascinating personal story.
I highly recommend you book with Highland Travel and ask for Jurgen.
I worried over the costs, the location, access by train…and then I told those worries to shush up a minute. Instead, I allowed myself to choose a place that inspired me. The whole goal was to write, which could only be accomplished if I felt comfortable and happy.
So, while perusing the available options based on all of the important factors already mentioned, I opted for the place that struck me as inspirational. The space that drew my attention won my booking.
Back to Those Cows…
Eventually, those stumbling cows did reach their goal and lapped up the fresh, cold water they sought in Loch Rannoch. They then stumbled just as awkwardly back uphill to the open green field where, I assume, they spent the rest of their afternoon enjoying level footing.
I sat on the opposite edge of Loch Rannoch watching these five stark black cows attempt to quench their afternoon thirst. Behind me in yet another level field rested 13 stags, their gnarly horns standing proudly atop their heads like the headdresses of many a human chieftain.
Those horns balanced perfectly yet seemed so precarious as each stag turned its head toward my crackling footsteps over fallen twigs. They did not get up for my arrival. They each stared through me, gauging my goals and determining the threat level to be somewhere near zero, I imagine.
As I watched those ungraceful cows sipping freshwater with the stoic stags behind me resting as their stomachs churned, I breathed. I breathed in the biggest gulps of air I’d taken in far too long.
I listened. I heard the crashing loch waves just feet from my feet and I wondered why they fell so harshly upon the rocks. A lake should be subtle and smooth. This loch was alive and dancing.
The rocky beach upon which I sat looked across at the cows and their grassy knoll and open field, before opening up to the hilly highlands all around us. Before me was a small hill covered in low brush that I assumed would blossom over the weeks and months to come as spring days lengthened into summertime epics.
To my left, Schiehallion stood guard over the lands of Perth and Kinross. This mountainous bastion of height and girth has been called the center of Scotland, and she bears the title well. She wasn’t fully covered in snow but dusted slightly at every nook and cranny. And her stature left me bewildered as the low clouds perpetually obscured her true height.
Beside the field of stags behind me is the hotel where I’d opted to seclude myself for the week.
It ticked all the boxes for the perfect DIY writing retreat. I had an enormous, comfortable room with a beautiful writing desk and cushy chair. I had a kitchenette, while the restaurant downstairs exceeded my needs. And my mid-day walks included stags and cows, mountains and lakes, trails and easy traipsing through less frequented lands.
Those four unfathomably precious days in the middle of nowhere gave me the mental and physical space to create. Blissfully resting, watching cows stumble downhill, and admiring stags staring through my soul in the middle of the day is a luxury not known by many.
I am so grateful to have the opportunity and ability to give myself this gift of a writing retreat. And, I learned, it was actually less of a gift and more of an investment in myself and my business.
It won’t be the last time I make such an investment!
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