KIRKJUVAGR ORKNEY GIN

Clear sea air, beautiful sites, great people and great gin, what more can you ask for?

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Ever since l first visited Orkney a few years ago l have been fascinated with the Orkney Isles.  

I remember arriving at the amazing St Magnus Church before a visit to the amazing Standing Stones of Stenness, The Ring of Brodgar, and the Tomb of The Eagles, which also turned into a magical experience as the seals had all just returned with their pups and could hear their haunting singing as you walked around the cliff edge. All great sites in Orkney, alongside the Italian Chapel and Broch of Gurness. Each time you go to Orkney you find something amazing that stokes your interest in history even further

Visiting any Scottish island is always a refreshing experience, but visiting places that still have so many archaeological and historical features still visible showcasing our roots and local traditions, is something l find special.  Being able to see some of the features under water l also find interesting, all that history underwater waiting to be explored further and give more insight into life in Scotland and the islands. It makes me think of the Atlantis myths.

If you have a chance to visit Orkney on a good day when the water is at its clearest there is always a good chance of seeing the outline of some remains of old settlements only a few feet deep in these clear waters. Even on a bad day it can be pretty dramatic, and l still recommend visiting some of the ancient stone settlements along with the standing stones. No matter the weather, you’ll find this feeling of amazement at the structures still present around you. 

Being a Scotsman l believe its important to stay in touch with who we are, our roots, local produce, community etc. Hence one of the reasons l love Orkney and all of the historical sites kept intact and protected, yet still natural features within the landscape, which you can touch and be part of, no barriers or conveyor belt tourism. You get a taste for the culture that existed, and the current that exists today along with how passionate Orcadians are about taking pride in culture and history (inc their own language, which is separate from Gaelic). I also love the feeling of community you get on the islands, and the local businesses. 

I could ramble on forever about the historical sites and such on Orkney but lets talk about the other thing that may bring you to Orkney... the thing that’s important right now... The Gin.

When l meet people who are drinking gin or whisky l normally ask that classic question, what is your go to gin or whisky of choice?  We all have our favourites. I am a whisky man, but I also enjoy a good gin. And Orkney definitely produces what I can honestly say is my favourite gin. It also comes with great packaging and logo, and created by a great team who locally source and care about the environment, which makes it even better.

When it comes to the distilling process we should thank our ancient alchemists. Our ancestors in Scotland were also among those who held juniper as one of our most sacred plants and knew of its medicinal properties as well as it just tasting great. Orkney Gin is distilled/redistilled with a unique blend of botanical ingredients with the end result being a lovely tasting refreshing Gin. 

What l really find interesting about the flavours  that are added is how they each bring out different depths in taste of juniper which is the main active ingredient in gin. Orkney Gin have a few gins for you to try, and you really should give each a go and see what you notice about the scent and taste of each.

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I have tried my fair share of Gin and in all honesty Kirkjuvagr has got to be my fave. l have become such a huge fan of Orkney Gin, not only because l love Orkney and because of the aroma and taste of the gins that they create, but there’s something infectious about the passion and ambition Orkney Gin have as people for their creations, it is very real, and they care about sustainability, the environment, the sourcing of their ingredients, and their local community whilst creating jobs and providing something authentic and a little bit different for their customers. Including a space in Kirkwall where we can socialise, taste the product, see the distilling process etc all whilst giving that respective nod to our roots. There’s a purity there that makes you get really behind the brand. 

It’s not all about making money (creating revenue from the products are an added bonus, and a well deserved one given what the company are doing and have done), its about creating something from our strong heritage and old myths, and bringing it back to life whilst creating a product that delivers, and hits the mark.

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When l first went to Orkney a few years ago l was blown away exploring all of the amazing ancient sites and really hadnt explored the distilleries or social hot spots etc on the island yet, until my second time only a few months later.  I had been travelling between the Islands for work and then by chance l was in Kirkwall and had the opportunity to meet with Stephen Kemp the managing director of Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin.  Stephen and his wife created the company together, and have enlisted a great team to take it further.

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At the time I first went Orkney Gin was only starting to build momentum creating its first gin whilst building an artisan distillery, visitor centre and shop in the town of Kirkwall.  The building itself was still very much a skeleton, Stephen offered to give me a tour showing me around the building, l could feel the excitement he had and could instantly feel myself getting equally excited about the development of this company. Especially when he also started discussing clean energy, sustainability, local ethical sourcing and everything that brands today should be thinking about. He really had passion about everything from the ingredients and the brand logo and what it represents, to a clean distilling process and giving something back.

I find truth in the saying that the people behind the closed doors that make your food, serve you drinks etc make a huge impact on how the product represents itself and your memory of it.  I remember when l was a child my gran would make me mashed potatoes and no matter how many times l tried to make such a simple recipe even with my gran looking over my shoulder instructing me l could never replicate them.  So l firmly believe that the people distilling the gin at Orkney Gin are creating something that can’t be replicated, and they’re doing it with the additional ingredients of good intent, passion and most important love for what they are doing.  This is something that also creates a living for them, and this is why I hope it continues to do well as they’re great people and doing things the right way.

When Orkney Gin created Kirkjuvar Gin they wanted to make sure that their was an ode to roots both Scots and Norse, and finding your way back home safely, and had hoped that it would become a signpost of their brand and part of their success. They created this lovely tasting gin with locally sourced ingredients one being Angelica which was brought to the islands by our Norse seafarer ancestors centuries ago and they added to the magic with some additional local produce such as Ramanas Rose, Burnet Rose, Borage and the traditional Orkney Bere Barley which is prounounced as Bear Barley.

Everywhere l go now l always look for Orkney Gin Distillery with the vegvísir.  Now you’re probably asking yourself what is the vegvísir. The vegvísir prounced VEGG-vee-seer is an old compass which helped those at sea or during harsh weather to find their way back home... a bit like we might need it after a few gins too many. Its a very distinctive symbol and one that was important for those at sea, which Orkney Gin have incorporated onto their bottle tops, and added to some of their awesome merchandise that can be purchased at the distillery on the waterfront. Wherever you find a bottle I recommend taking IT back home along with you.

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When I returned to the distillery recently it was amazing to see it completed. It is so sleek and stands out in Kirkwall, as soon as you get off the ferry and go along the Main Street the vegvísir definitely stands out and guides you to the distillery. The infamous mythological sign post definitely works. The distillery has a great bar and coffee shop, so if you can spare time, check it out. There is even a visibility window where you can watch the process, a store where you can buy their gins the original Kirkjuvagr, and their two additions Arkh-Angell which is strong enough for the toughest Viking, and the sweeter Harpa which has a really vibrant fruity hint to it. They also have their own artisan chocolates, T-shirt’s and products with the infamous vegvísir sigil symbol and some books etc.  Its a really great environment with a good vibe, and whether you’re a tourist from further a field or a Scottish native, I highly recommend going along and checking it out and grabbing a gin or a tea/coffee and some chocolates. You’ll find the staff some of the friendliest people you’ll meet also. 

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Orkney Gin Distillery in Kirkwall has regular tours from 2pm every day apart from Sunday’s and launching soon is the Kirkjuvgar Gin making experience. I had a little sneak preview of this and you will love it. The experience includes a full day tour, then you get the time to craft your own gin in one of the coolest looking spaces you could get your inner alchemist on in... you’ll get what I mean when you visit, under the guidance of Orkney Gins distiller. Alongside the option of creating your own personalised bottle you can take home with you. Win win.

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After my most recent distillery tour, which included a viewing of the Orkney Gin video (which you need to check out as it’s a great film), I ended up back in Norway, this time Hordaland.  It was funny going to see some traditional music at King Haakons Hall in Bergen, and seeing the link to Orkney displayed, as King Haakon himself spent quite some time in Orkney where he died at the Old Bishops Palace (check it out whilst you’re in Orkney) and was laid to rest at St Magnus Cathedral for some time until he was taken back to Bergen.  I enjoyed exploring whilst repping some really cool Orkney Gin merch featuring the vegvísir along the way, and then indeed finding my way back home to wear it on my adventures around Scotland.

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I’ll rep Orkney Gin whenever I can, home and away, and will always have high praise for them as a product and as a brand... and  as people. They’re a brand you definitely want to keep your eyes on, as I think they’re going to continue to do some interesting things... infact after what I’ve seen on my preview, I’m pretty sure of it. 

MINK CAMPERS

Northcoast 500

I think I have just discovered one of the coolest ways l have gotten to explore my homeland Scotland.  You’re probably asking yourself what exactly is a Mink Camper? and what is it about this camper that differs from other campers?

Well, first let me share with you my adventure of what l got up to whilst roaming around the The North Coast 500 for 4 days.

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If you don’t know what The North Coast 500 is (or the NC500 as some refer to it) let me give you a brief description. The North Coast 500 is literally a road route thats 500 miles long and goes around the North of Scotland starting from Inverness either driving or walking East to West, or West to East to ensuring you catch some of the best coastal spots in the Scottish Highlands. The North Coast 500!  Pretty simple right? 500 miles of the stunning North Coast of Scotland.

Personally l would recommend starting from the East then ending in the West, as much as l would love to give a detailed description of why l prefer this route... l will leave it to your imagination and let you try it out and see which route you prefer, but irregardless of what way you decide to start it, you will not be disappointed.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Scottish native or a tourist, travelling through the Scottish Highlands on the NC500 is one of the most beautiful experiences you will have in your life time.

You will see Scottish castles, gorgeous sandy clear water beaches, mountains, an abundance of animal life, and some beautiful geographical features which make Scotland very unique. Let’s also not forget the whisky distilleries, we couldn’t miss those out.

This adventure has much to offer and being a Scotsman l am forever being surprised and dazzled by the untouched beauty of Scotland. In 2017 the NC500 had a global audience reach of 2,300,000,000, that in itself is a remarkable achievement for a small country that only has around 5-6 million people, and a testimony to the beauty on the route that brings so many people to travel along it.

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 Now everyone knows what the NC500 is, lets get chatting about the Mink Camper. 

The biggest part of doing the NC500 is all about what way of travelling best suits you, time frame, how easy it is to move about and how many pit stops you want to make etc…

I like being able to stop off and enjoy some of the amazing spots I find, so for me the Mink Camper was a real blessing in disguise.

There are some cool camp sites and I’ve recommend one further on, but I also tend to prefer grabbing my tent and going wild camping as I like to keep it rugged and get lost in the highlands giving me the complete experience of why the outdoors and especially the highlands are so special. I should add, whilst ensuring our fragile ecosystems remain intact. Remember to make sure you know the Scottish Outdoors Access Code, enjoy the beautiful outdoors but leave no trace! We want to keep Scotland beautiful and thriving, let’s not ruin it.

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with camp sites and infact I encourage people to use them so they can support all of the locals within the community that run these, especially tourists and families as it’s much easier and more convenient at times, you usually have a little camping community of its own on some of the camp sites too, providing an extra feeling of safety at times for some, some information on where to explore and you sometimes end up getting to meet new people. 

But being a local and doing what I do, l have stayed in many camp sites and the challenge for myself and of course Nacho the Jindo (my dog) is that l prefer to go someplace with him l have not been before, and that is a bit more remote just us, where I can also focus on my photography.  I love nature photography and having a more remote base with solitude for when I’ve spent hours and hours waiting for the right lighting, the sky to change or a beautiful creature getting into focus on its own terms in natural habitat is more better suited for me often. It’s not always practical (or sensible) me driving or trekking to the next nearest community camp site. It makes more sense me sometimes finding a suitable spot to do what I need to, set a base there or nearby and ensure it’s safe to walk back n forth to wherever I choose my base to be.

I’m always respectful of the locations I choose to set up camp, be it my traditional tent or taking something like the Mink Camper.

And be it camp site or more remote wild camping.

When renting the Mink Camper in Iceland you dont need to worry due to the Mink weighing 500kg you will be able to tow using a Fiat 500.  l didnt have a Fiat 500 but my Jeep Sahara 4x4 came in handy, if you dont have a 4x4 you are in luck Mink Camper Scotland will be renting out a Jeep Renegade along with the Mink plus you wont need a tow license due to the Mink weighing 500kg.

When l picked up the Mink Camper in Inverness l was a little worried as l had never towed anything and definitely nothing like the Mink before.  Looking at the Mink Camper it’s not what I expected, it’s not at all bulky and intrusive. As soon as l hooked the Mink onto my Jeep l was ready to adventure, but I had to keep reminding myself l was towing something due to how light and versatile it is.  

 

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The first part of my journey took me towards Duncansby Head, the site of some recent orca whale watching, if trying to get a glimpse of these magical creatures isn’t enough to pull anyone here, there is also the Duncansby Stacks and I’ve always wanted to see them. The walk from the carpark to the sea stacks is not too far and is actually super accessible for people of all ages, including those who are disabled.  The stacks didn’t disappoint, and is a must for anyone interested in geology and rock formations etc. Their presence is definitely overpowering. 

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After leaving Duncansby l headed west towards Tongue finding a suitable lay by near Borgie Forest deciding to post up for the night. 

This was my first night in the Mink, and l was super excited to try it out, and even more excited about making some food, boiling some water for a hot brew and chilling with Nacho.

Just some added info, the Mink is built for two people, a child or two if you don’t mind the cosy squeeze with the little ones. So great for solo campers, couples or a small family. So don’t be misled thinking only one person will fit in here. It’s compact but it’s a bit like a tardis, more to it than meets the eye.

Whilst lm sitting outside admiring the beauty of the Scottish landscape, I’m thinking to myself this is amazing. I could literally travel and live on the go with the Mink Camper anywhere, l have wifi that is built in, solar panel roof, kitchen with a gas cooker, lighting on the inside and outside, a queen size bed, bose sound system inside and outside, because of course we all have the perfect soundtrack for our travels and moments like these, plus a heater... all of this inside the Mink but just as equally important the freedom to be able to do my work on the move using the wifi if needed.  It definitely ticks a lot of boxes for me! You can go completely off the grid with it and be comfortable with all the creature comforts or combine your traveling with catching up on work if need be. I can tell you that Nacho the Jindo was also pretty pleased with the Mink.

 

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I posted up at a really cool spot around 7pm and I wanted to get a few hours sleep so l could get up around 1am, make a hot brew and snap some photographs of the nights sky. It was predicted to be clear skies and one of the best places to be is up North in Scotland. If you come at the right time of the year you are also guaranteed to see the famous Northern Lights ie  the Aurora Borealis, which many travel to stunning places like our cousin nations Iceland and Norway to see, but is also common in the Northern regions and islands of Scotland. 

Unfortunately lm just a little bit early this time but maybe next time you will find me floating about the Scottish Highlands photographing this beautiful phenomenon and it is definitely a amazing sight. The Mink is actually perfect for an Aurora Borealis hunt adventure. 

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It was now 1am and l jumped out of the cosy mink, made a hot brew and then it was time to enjoy the night sky. For me, being able to look up at the stars in Scotland is something l find very magical and yet humbling, l encourage anyone who hasn't taken the time to do it before to do it, and if you’re too busy to just stop from time to time and look up. It definitely puts things into perspective.  Before l knew it it was 4am in the morning and l had lost track of time, back to bed and up at 8am for an early start for some more adventuring. The Mink was definitely a comfortable enough bed to fall into, that’s for sure.

I headed towards Tongue making my way to Lochan Hakel so l could check out some ancient rock art, in particular the Grianan Cup and Ring marked stone, with the Kinloch Cup and Ring stone and some cairns not too far away. I like when I am somewhere I can stumble across our ancient history that our ancestors left.

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As l approached this area l was in awe of Ben Loyal, not a mountain but a beautiful Corbett but worthy of the title of the Queen of Scottish Mountains nonetheless, so l made a quick decision since Nacho hadn't had a good walk yet and l was desperate to hike to the top, yes we were doing this! So we made the walk towards Ben Loyal going up the Sgor Chaonasaid side, it was a beautiful clear day and definitely one of my most memorable hikes l have done up North with Nacho.

After our hike we headed back to the Mink, it was still a very sunny day so Nacho and I chilled out by Lochan Hakel soaking up the rays before making our way towards Durness.  

I should add that there are so many beautiful sandy beaches to stop at along the way, so picturesque and definitely did delay my plans for making it to Kylesku.  

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After about a dozen or more random stops for photographs (yes, really! So many beautiful spots to stop for a snap, some downtime or a picnic) and getting out to play with Nacho we made it to Smoo Cave which for me is always cool to visit because every time l go there it always feels different depending on the weather. Smoo Cave is a remarkable cave with a lot of history and it may be very popular with the tourists but still worth a visit. The cave can be explored by foot or a little boat within, and it has one of the largest entrances to any sea cave in Britain. It also has lighting inside to frame how majestic it is within. If you have kids I’m sure they’d be in awe of Smoo, great cave for exploring. 

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Considering l only had 3 nights/4 days with the camper l did the NC500 very fast making use of every moment l had, one piece of advice l would recommend is take at least a week to explore the NC500 as you won’t regret it and it means you can fit in more time on some of the beautiful spots, great places to eat on the way getting to know some of the locals and even take up some activities in the area. There is a great camp site in Sango Bay which is right next to the beach after Smoo cave and its stunning, on a bright sunny day you will most definitely feel like you are in the Caribbean. 

After leaving Smoo Cave I kept getting detoured and finding little secret roads l wanted to explore. You never really get lost on a roadtrip, you just find somewhere new to explore. 

The West Coast has a special place in my heart, the geographical features on the west coast of Scotland l find absolutely breathtaking and something pulls me back every time.  It was now getting dark and l still had to make dinner and wanted to find some place that was equally as good or better than the previous night.  I finally arrived somewhere that looked promising managing to find a wee hidden spot near Duartmore Forest.  

One thing l must make you aware of is NEVER spend a night on the areas marked passing place, this is purely for oncoming vehicles or if you want to pull over so you can let someone behind you take over or maybe take a brief moment to enjoy the view.  These are located all over the single track roads in Scotland. Remember basic common sense safety (and respect) as well as the outdoors code. 

As l got settled into my hidden spot near Duartmore Forest, it was time to get some food made and another hot brew then early to bed so l could get up and watch the stars again. The Milky Way was meant to be in clear view tonight but unfortunately was over the hill from where l was parked with the Mink Camper (always park the Mink somewhere responsible) as l had hoped l could get a clear shot of the Mink under the Milky Way, but hopefully next time.

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My night was definitely one to remember, as l had made the right decision to wake up and watch the stars again. I had woken up to stars constantly shooting through the sky and even getting the chance to witness a meteorite that entered the earth’s atmosphere breaking up into multiple pieces and disintegrate with such amazing colour. What a magical night it had been and one to remember.

It was time to hit the road again, and l didnt want to leave but l had to return the camper the next day so l made my way towards Achmelvich Bay then started making my way through more of the impressive West Coast. Being a climber/mountaineer l am on the constant search for what l can climb and also being someone that gets a high being in nature l am constantly looking for what loch l can jump into. Far too many to choose from when on the West Coast, which is probably why I love it there!

As l slowly made my way closer inland l couldn’t help but get out, make a hot brew (I know I know, I drink a lot of tea) and sit with Nacho staring at how beautiful Suilven is (Suilven is only 731 metres, not too big but one of Scotland’s best known and easily identified mountains). I am still yet to climb Suilven, but that day l will is fast approaching.

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I was planning to camp out some place that wasn’t too far from Inverness but still close to the mountains and forests, so l made my way and came across Garbat Forest where l spent the night after hiking to the top of Ben Wyvis (935metres) with Nacho, which made a great end for an amazing few days in the Scottish Highlands with Mink Camper exploring.

After dropping off the Mink Camper at its homebase in Inverness l can honestly say that this is one of my best and most luxurious portable travel experiences l have ever had in the Scottish Highlands, helping make it very easy to explore whilst constantly on the go, and it helped with the kind of work I do also.

The thought that has gone into the sustainable and comfortable Mink is great and this is only the beginning.  Mink are already a hit throughout Iceland and plan to launch in Scotland in 2019 with an upgraded version from the one l was using, plus you will see Mink launching in many other places on an international scale.

If you want to check out some beautiful drone footage of me exploring the Northcoast 500 in the Mink Camper with my truck here is the link below

Overall, I think Mink Camper will be a great hit here like it is in Iceland as it really does bring a different dimension to camping, and I look forward to my next Mink adventure. Where to next... 

To book Mink Campers 

https://www.minkcampers.is/ 

BREMONT WATCHES

Flying & Going back in time

 

I was very excited about collaborating with Bremont, as l have been fond of the watches they create ever since l first discovered them growing up.  I was always particularly interested by the connection they have with the military, especially as when growing up my grandad would talk of his time in the war flying the Supermarine Spitfire. 

Even though Bremont have nothing to do with my grandad, the connection with flying is the thing that they do have in common and they bring back memories of my time with my grandad.  I think so many of us have forgotten the stories our grandparents used to tell us, especially where war stories were involved but I was always fascinated and in awe when my grandfather played his clarinet, and listened to his favourite jazz bands in the background whilst telling me his emotional stories from his time during the war.

It always struck a chord with me and maybe my grandad is the reason l have always dreamt of learning to fly, or at least have my own shot at flying a plane.  

 

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On this adventure l had this special opportunity to learn the basics of flying and doing it across my beautiful homeland Scotland, and in particular the Scottish Highlands.  l got the opportunity to take the PA 38-112 Tomahawk up into the sky, not exactly a spitfire but a close enough opportunity to get the feel for what it is like to fly, and what a cool aircraft. The mechanics of a plane are just as fascinating as the mechanics of a watch in some ways. All the parts that make it work and do it’s magical thing. 

Bremont sent me the beautiful ALT1-C/WH-BK (https://www.bremont.com/watch/alt1-c/27320) a watch that is inspired by the British Royal Air Force, in order to mark the 100th year of British Aviation.  I love the simplicity of this watch along with the colour, weight and the feel which is something l find really befitting for me and still truly a treasure of a beautiful timepiece, even when lm adventuring in the Highlands reminding myself l am wearing a watch, and this is one watch that wouldn’t feel out of place no matter what I am doing be it adventuring, or going to an event as it such a classic.

One major change for Bremont will be that the Arabic numerals are gone giving it a much more modern and yet a non-fussy, simplistic traditional feel which is another reason l love this watch, minimalism/simplicity is the way many people are going currently making it more attractive in my opinion. The back of the watch is gorgeous, the skeletonized rotor is visible showing off its beauty, a modified Valjoux 7750 with a 42 hour power reserve with a Calibre 13 1/4” BE-50AE automatic movement, the main reason for the seductive weight this watch holds.

 

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My time spent up in the sky flying was amazing and quite fascinating, as l found it very euphoric and similar to the times I’ve spent climbing high altitude mountains throughout the world.  It reminded me of this moment in particular when l was in the Alps and l had just summited Mont Blanc, l had made it to the peak just before sunrise, l was above the clouds, the sky was clear and if it had been my last day on this planet, a scene like this is exactly where l would want to be. Everything was still, no movement except the sound and feeling of fresh crisp cold cutting air, l was in a place of zen.

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I can definitely say that flying a plane with a beautiful timepiece fits hand in hand, including again going back to the amazing mechanics involved in the creation of both. This is a must for anyone, especially supporting a brand who specializes in cultivating and continuing a relationship with the British Royal Air Force who test these watches in many extreme environments pushing the boundaries giving Bremont the edge over other watchmakers.  

The second part of my adventure took me to the Isle of Orkney, l love visiting Orkney, the feel of being on the islands, the support within the local community, and also the history there of our Scottish heritage. l thought that visiting Orkney in particular would fit in well with Bremont because it played a vital role during both World Wars. 

Scapa Flow an area around Orkney had been used many times during British exercises years before the war, it was officially in use during the beginning of WWI when tens of thousands of sailors and dozens of warships relocated to Orkney from the south coast of England giving Britain a quicker respond time to the German fleet based in the Baltic sea.  At 120 miles Scapa Flow is one of the worlds largest natural harbours, and during WWII Scapa Flow played a unique role due to its great distance from the German Airfields.  There are still remains of sunken warships around the islands of Orkney if you ever get to adventure there you should check that out,  especially if you are fond of diving, as lots to explore. 

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Unfortunately l didn’t get the time to dive in Orkney with Bremont, but as ever l took the chance to revisit some of our special historical sites that date back older than both wars. The Ring of Brodgar a massive stone circle estimated to of been built around 5000 years ago, and the Broch of Gurness, a layout of a village dating back to life in the middle ages, both amazing sites and really gets you thinking about times past and where we are at now. Not to mention thinking about how older civilisations had their own way of telling the time and monitoring changes in the sky, including with some amazing stone structures. 

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I really enjoyed my time flying and stepping back in time with Bremont watches. And I hope that you all enjoyed this read just as much, giving you a little insight about one of Bremont’s beautiful watches, and I hope you will be inspired to check them out for yourself, and maybe even go out and give flying a try.

Good Vibes, 

Tristan