Nala's World is about a bike ride around the world with a unique twist. The cyclist, Dean, does his bike ride with a cat. Dean is from Dunbar in Scotland and his choice of travel companion is by accident. He rescues the cat from the side of the road in the Bosnian mountains. He names her Nala and they embark on an incredible adventure together. This book is about the bond between Dean and Nala during their bike ride and all of the things that they experience together.
The first 3 chapters of the book cram in a whole lot of adventure. Dean recounts when he first meets Nala and the tension of smuggling the kitten across the border into Montenegro. There's the back story about why he decided to cycle around the world and how he hurt himself diving off the Mostar Bridge. You are immediately drawn into the story by this action packed tale. When you reach the part where the kitten falls asleep in the nape of Dean's neck it will melt your heart.
The focus of this book is about the relationship between Dean and Nala, more so than the bike ride. Dean has to quickly adjust to life on the road with a cat with plenty of trips to the vet, a pet passport and border crossings.
Dean soon realises that Nala is giving him a much more intimate experience of the world. He finds that people approach him and strike up conversations because of the cat. In particular, at a refuge camp in Greece he shares conversations with people there. He relects that this would probably not have happened if it was not for the cat.
People approached him, sometimes in the middle of nowhere, because they recognised him from social media. The book is an interesting example of the impact of social media on our lives.
A large section of the book is about Dean's time as a kayak guide in Santorini, to earn more money. His descriptions of this place really make it sound idyllic. This is when the social media craze for Nala errupted. People started to turn up from all over the place to see Nala. At first Dean doesn't know what to do with this new found fame. He soon decides he could use his influence to do some good in the world and highlights the work of animal charities and the widespread issue of dogs being abandoned in many parts of the world.
He raises an incredible amount of money and is able to help many animal charities. A calendar with photos of Nala raised £90,000.
It's not all about Nala and there is plenty of cycling and world travel action to enjoy. On the road to Turkey Dean had to cycle in a dry heat that could reach 100 Fahrenheit, whilst hauling 50kgs of belongings, including Nala's pet carrier. At one point he lost his passport and belongings. In Azerbaijan Dean partakes in the tea drinking ritual with strangers. Dean also experiences the world at the start of the Covid pandemic.
This book might not be the classic tale of a solo round the world cycle trip, but travel with a cat brings an interesting dimension to the genre. It is an engrossing book for the combination of adventure and highlighting an issue that doesn't get as much attention as it should. This is the problem of how cruel people can be to animals and that there are charities struggling for funds to help these animals. The book also teaches us that the power of social media can be used to make a positive difference in the world.
Brodie Castle is in Moray, around 4 miles from Forres. It has:
Getting there from Forres
The castle is on National Cycle Route 1. This means you can get to the castle avoiding busy roads. The highlight of the route is crossing the bridge over the River Findhorn.
This location feels like somewhere else to me. I think of a massive country like America or Russia where rivers are enormous and sometimes dry up. There is an epic quality to the bridge, like one of those railway bridges across the Mississippi or the Volga. But you don't need to travel that far to experience such adventure. You can find it right here, in Scotland.
The route then heads into farming country. The roads are quiet and the fields are lush.
A castle or a home?
Brodie is a mixture of architectural styles from the sixteenth, seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Like many castles in Scotland it began as a fortress, a place to keep the occupants safe from attack. As time went on and Scotland became less dangerous the later additions to the building were about comfort. Brodie became more of a home and less of a castle.
I think Brodie has a lived-in feel. There's a bit of wear and tear on show and this makes it feel quite homely. It is not as ostentatious as some of Scotland's other castles.
As you walk through the rooms of Brodie you will notice this mixture of castle and home. There is a spiral staircase that has steps of different sizes and depths. It was deliberately designed this way, to trip up any invaders who managed to make it inside.
And then you have the many elegant rooms hung with Dutch paintings. The 22nd Laird of Brodie did the grand tour of Europe and came back with an impressive art collection. One of the paintings is called 'The Dentist'. It features a dentist holding a recently pulled tooth with tweezers. In the background there is a man holding the side of his face in pain.
A visit inside the castle is by guided tour. The friendly and enthusiastic guides will tell you everything there is to know about the Brodie family. They will point out many of the fascinating objects in this home.
The plaster ceiling in the dining room is incredible. It features thistles, flowers, a unicorn and more.
The library is my favourite room. There are over 6000 volumes in here, stored in beautiful bookcases. I spotted a chair that coverts into a step ladder so that readers can get to the books on the high shelves. Gardening books feature quite heavily in the collection and that brings us to the subject of daffodils.
The 24th laird was a bit of a daffodil obsessive. In 1899 he grew 49 varieties in the gardens and by 1943 he had produced more than 400 varieties. This is why Brodie is now home to the National Daffodil Collection. When I visited it was not the right time of year to see the yellow blooms, but the gardens are full of labels with the names of the varieties. Some of these names are just wonderful, like 'Drumnabreeze', 'Moonspell' and 'Swansdown'.
Even if the daffodils are not out there is still plenty to enjoy in the gardens. Come for the woodland walks to spot red squirrels. There's also the pond. That's what the Brodie's called it, but I think it is more of a loch. It is quite big and surrounded by woodland.
If you come here with children they will love the Playful Garden. It's got lots of fun stuff to interact with, including Scotland's biggest bunny sculpture- Brodie the Bunny!
The elephant stone
Another large animal that can be seen at Brodie is an elephant. It is carved on a Pictish standing stone, located near the entrance gates to the estate. Perhaps it is not the most accurate depiction of an elephant, but I love it. I like the trunk, the tail and the knot shapes in the body.
All good castles feature a tea room and Brodie is no exception. I recommend the shortbread. It is satisfyingly thick and crunchy.
It is easy to reach Brodie using train and bicycle. It's around 30 minutes by train from Inverness to Forres. The castle is on National Cycle Route One and about 4 miles from Forres. The route from Forres, described at the start of this blog, features a spectacular bridge.
See Brodie Castle and Cawdor Castle in one day
These 2 castles are about 12 miles apart. You can use National Cycle Route One to travel between them.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.