Morschach-Stoos: A hike of ups and downs

It was the hike of my dreams: one that involves taking a cable car to the top of an Alpine ridge, walking along above a panorama of jagged mountains, and gliding easily down on a lift at the other end. We were in Morschach-Stoos, and undertaking the panoramic route from Fronalpstock to Klingenstock. The gondola from Stoos took us upwards, at the heart of the Swiss-est part of Switzerland in Canton Schwyz, to 1,922 metres above sea level at the Fronalpstock. Clean mountain air caressed our faces as we enjoyed the journey listening to jangling cow bells far below. From the top, we could see Lake Lucerne glistening turquoise in a basin of jagged crags. It was almost so picture-perfect as to be a Swiss cliché.

As you'd expect from such a route - it takes around two hours and covers 400 metres of ascent within five picturesque kilometres of narrow path - it was really busy. We spent a lot of time giving way to walkers coming the other direction, and felt we were getting sore throats from uttering "Grüezi" to everyone who passed. It did give plenty of opportunity for admiring the scenery, however. We looked over to the Grosser Mythen, a rocky lump of a mountain that we scaled two years ago, and beyond, the rolling scenery of Canton Zug.

In almost every direction there were turquoise lakes, while the surrounding landscape was vivid green. We spotted an interesting yellow butterfly, as well as clusters of pretty wildflowers in purple and pink hues. Although short, the walk was quite tiring, with lots of uphill and downhill, and rocky terrain underfoot - so much so that I fell asleep on the train journey home.

Seaside escapism: A week on the Colvend coast

From the front door we could hear waves rustling. One side of the building overlooked a stepped garden exploding with colour; another, grassy fields populated by playful rabbits; and the conservatory, the Solway Firth. In short, Sanderling Cottage was heaven. This beautifully renovated 17th-century property with timeless seaside-inspired decor lies at the bottom of a bumpy single track road outside Colvend in Dumfries and Galloway - and it was our home for a week of much-needed escapism.

The area is known as the Scottish Rivera - and, even if this might seem dubious given the often chilly temperatures, I could see why. Craggy cliffs dappled with coastal blooms play out against a dramatic seascape. Much of the landscape is estuarial, with mudflats meeting wet sandy beaches and grassy banks. Inland, rolling agricultural land is mowed by large herds of dairy cattle including Galloway, which are unusual with their broad white belts.

Meanwhile, the area is one of the least populated in Britain, so the sense of escapism is complete. A rocky cove (you find them all along this coastline) was a short stroll from the cottage. We went there each evening, to watch the waves roll in, marvel at the jellyfish strewn across the beach by the tide, peel our eyes to spot sea creatures in rock pools, and play with Merry, a cute collie-corgis cross (we think) who was allowed to roam the beach freely by his owner. The area is full of attractions, from castles to chocolate factories and exotic gardens, but our agenda was to relax.

Being by the sea was the order of the day. One of the loveliest walks in the area is the coastal stretch from Sandyhills to Kippford. From Sandyhills' vast beach of sand and mud flats laced with stake nets, the path leads along rambling cliff tops that give way to razor-sharp rocks. We passed a colony of cormorants and a Celtic hill fort. Rockcliffe is a charming clutch of white cottages arranged around a half-moon shaped beach overlooking Rough Island, a nature sanctuary accessible by a causeway. We called for refreshments at The Garden Room, which has an excellent selection of home baking, and enjoyed the sea breeze and utter peace and quiet. Kippford has an altogether different feel, with a stretch of houses facing a lively marina.

Other days involved a hair-raising walk at Balcary Bay along what was advertised as "danger cliffs", in such wind and rain that we felt we might be blown from the tops, and climbing the Merrick, at 843 metres the highest peak in the area. It's an attractive route from Loch Trool that opens onto views encompassing the Isle of Man and Arran. One day dawned gloriously sunny, and we went sea kayaking (me) and stand-up paddle boarding (Tim) on the west coast off Maidens. In the clear depths we could see jellyfish gliding around and sea kelp tying knots over the sea bed. Afterwards, we walked along the beach to Culzean Castle's grounds.

Here, from the shaded clifftop woodland above an azure sea, it felt as if we were in the groves surrounding St. Tropez. For Tim I think the highlight came on his birthday, with the delivery of a cake baked by local Annette's Baking in a Box. Oh so delicious, it was richly layered chocolate ganache topped with fresh berries. This is an area I could happily return to time and again. It was a treat to move slowly, watch seas birds, laugh at rabbits playing, potter around and eat lots of cake.

Another thing - the locals were so friendly. I must mention the newsagent in Castle Douglas (dubbed the area's "food town"), who laughed at Tim's sunburn contrasted with my being so pale, and said, "well, white is the new tan!", and the lady in the town's craft supplies shop, who had named her artist mannequin Mike and spoke to it like it was a child. Oh the scenery, the slow pace of life, the fact that the only timetable is that set by the tide ... As we munched fish and chips outside The Mariner in Kippford on our last day, a stiff breeze lifting our food from our forks, we looked out at the scenery and wondered to ourselves if this was perhaps heaven on earth.
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