Rosie

girlinawe.com is where I share rambles about my life, travels, and adventures into becoming more sustainable and eco-friendly.

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How to safely & responsible watch wildlife in Canada

Safe and responsible bear watching in Canada

Having lived in the UK all my life, seeing a bear was top of my list of things to see in Canada - as it is for thousands of visitors. If you're heading to Canada, or any country for that matter, and are planning to do a spot of wildlife watching, there are a few things you need to bear in mind. 

Since I don't get enough of fangirling about Canada on here or Instagram, I've written a blog post for Canadian Affair all about how to safely and responsibly watch wildlife in Canada - which you can read here

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Ben A’an – our first Scottish peak

View over Loch Katrine from the top of Ben A'an

"What on earth did I pick this walk for?" I thought to myself, as the sun beat down on us and we dragged ourselves up the steep path to the summit of Ben A'an.

We decided to celebrate our anniversary by tackling our first Scottish peak. The weather looked good (slightly cloudy, around 16C - ideal for hillwalking) and we picked Ben A'an (pronounced 'ann', I'm told) because I'd seen it described as a 'mountain in miniature' somewhere on the Visit Scotland website, and had seen beautiful views over Loch Katrine on Instagram. We packed our lunch, took a very quick glance at the Walk Highlands guide and enjoyed the hour and a half drive to the starting point. 

The path up Ben A'an

The path to the peak of Ben A'an, as it heads into the trees

The trail up Ben A'an on a hot, sunny day

The trail begins at the Ben A'an car park; it's owned by the Forestry Commision and costs £3 per day to park (coins only, no card reader). It's not a huge car park, so if you're planning to tackle Ben A'an on a weekend, I would get there early. We went on a weekday and arrived about 1 pm and it was almost full then. 

Though the trail isn't signposted (we saw a small sign a couple of hundred metres into the trail), it's easy to follow; you would struggle to get lost to be honest. Put it this way, if I have no problem following the trail, you'll be absolutely fine. 

Within a few hundred metres, you're rewarded with stunning views over Loch Achray and the surrounding area. The trail starts off quite steep and remains pretty steep for the majority of the hike. There are a couple of flat-ish bits, but for the most part, you're giving your calves and knees a good workout on the way up. 

After about 20 - 30 minutes, you'll come across a bit of a crossroads but keep going straight ahead. It's pretty obvious that you don't need to turn off, because if you look left you'll see the path has quite a big gate. Not 100% sure what it is, but it kinda looks like forestry access. 

As you get closer to the top, it looks like the summit is a huge lump of rock and you might wonder how you're supposed to get to the peak. Fear not. The rocky path leads you around the back and to some absolutely stunning views over Loch Katrine, Loch Achray and the Trossachs. 

We sat down on a rock, overlooking Loch Katrine, feeling a slight breeze on our faces and questioned whether or not the view was even real. Obviously, we knew it was; it seemed so vast and on such a beautiful day it was hard to believe it was real. It definitely made the steep slog worth it. 

To be honest, had we researched the walk a bit more and realised how steep Ben A'an is, we probably wouldn't have done it. I'm not going to lie to you, we aren't super fit. We get out quite a bit, but the majority of our hikes are pretty easy. I guess this is a lesson in forcing yourself to do things you think you can't do and pushing yourself. 

The summit of Ben A'an

View over Loch Katrine from Ben A'an

There are a few different spots to sit, perch, enjoy lunch, rehydrate, and take in the view at the top of Ben A'an. Our favourite was not quite the summit, but provided a front seat view over Loch Katrine, which you can see in the photo above.

How long did it take to climb Ben A'an & how hard was it?

It took us about 3 - 3.5 hours to get there and back, but we took it pretty easy (even though it didn't feel easy) and stopped often. You could definitely do it faster if you were fitter.

Once we got to the top, it didn't feel like it had been that hard at all - or, rather, it felt like it was 100% worth it. It is steep and your legs might feel it for a couple of days after; but what's that for the memory of doing it?

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View over Loch Achray from the Ben A'an trail

Tips for hiking Ben A'an

  • Take your time; it's steep so pace yourself, especially if (like us) you're not a regular hillwalker
  • Wear layers & sunscreen; there isn't much shade on the trail at all, so if it's hot you'll probably want to be wearing something thin, but it might be chilly when you reach the top. Also, long sleeves are great at protecting yourself from the sun, too. 
  • Take plenty of water; like I said, it's steep and you'll be wanting that water 
  • Snacks, always take snacks; for the top to refuel yourself for the way back down
  • If you have time, I highly recommend visiting Loch Katrine, too - that car park is pretty expensive, so take more change.

With an ascent of 340 metres, Ben A'an is a good hike if you're looking to explore the Trossachs and are a novice looking for a challenging hike. If you want more information, I highly recommend the Walk Highlands website because it contains all the info you need and you can read reports from people who've done the high. Use your common sense though, and walk to your ability and know when to stop and turn back if you need to. 

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Been to Banff National Park? Can you help with my research?

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Have any of you lovely lot been to Banff National Park? If so, do you fancy helping me out with my research for my masters dissertation?

I'm looking at how visitors to Banff National Park are educated about responsible behaviour around wildlife, it's effectiveness, and if there might be better ways to reach people. All of this is to help reduce negative impacts (direct or indirect) on wildlife which can lead to human-wildlife conflict incidents. 

Surprisingly, my project budget of £500 will not get you to Canada for a couple of weeks to survey people while taking in the scenery. Which means, I'm spending the next two months sending my surveys out online and annoying people into taking it. 

The survey will take 10 minutes, is completely anonymous, and none of the questions are mandatory. It will ask you about planning your trip to Banff, what you saw while you were there, how you received information about wildlife, and a bit more. 

If you want to take it, the survey is embedded below or you can follow this link and do it on the SurveyMonkey website. Please consider sharing the link with any friends or family who have been on their own trips to Banff National Park as well, and let's help save some wildlife! Thank you so much if you do take my survey, I truly appreciate it and it's going to (hopefully) result in some awesome research. 

 

Create your own user feedback survey

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Palm oil; why is it bad & how to live palm oil free

Palm Oil; why is it bad and how to live palm oil free

Living palm oil free is a huge and fantastic step towards living more ethically and sustainably. Grab a cuppa and get comfy because we're going to explore the problems with palm oil, look at where it's found, and how we can start living palm oil free and help save the planet in the process. Sound good?

What is palm oil?

This seems like a good place to start, doesn’t it? Palm oil is a vegetable oil which comes from the fruit of oil palm trees and is used in thousands of food and personal hygiene products. Palm kernel is the seed of the fruit of the palm oil, which can be found in livestock feed.

What’s the problem with palm oil? Why is it so bad?

Palm oil is grown across the world (we saw plantations in Morocco) but primarily in Malaysia and Indonesia. The map above is from Global Forest Watch and shows palm oil plantations throughout Malaysia and Indonesia - seriously recommend looking at the Global Forest Watch website if you have time.

So why is palm oil a problem?

Loss of habitat and species & animal abuse

Borneo, Sumatra, Malaysia, and Indonesia are home to majestic species such as tigers, elephants, orangutans, sun bears, rhinos, leopards and more. When their homes are cleared, they have nowhere to go, may end up being killed in order to clear the forest or during the clearing, or may end up in human-wildlife conflict situations. It’s estimated that a third of mammal species in Indonesia are critically endangered as a result of palm production.

Another big issue is that animals will be smuggled out of the forests to be sold as pets or for their body parts.

All of these are so far from ideal and it breaks my heart that humanity is still destroying habitats to make money.

Burning forests and environmental issues

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to clear-cut a forest is to burn it. Not only could that kill anything living in it, but it releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. I don’t want to get into a full-on science lesson here (though I happily will - drop me a message), but trees store CO2. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which contributes to global warming, so trees are pretty awesome for storing it for us. When we burn those trees, that CO2 gets released straight back into the atmosphere and is allowed to do naughty things.

We’re already kicking out enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere without making things even worse. Burning forests = bad.

Human rights issues

As if this all wasn’t bad enough, palm oil is linked with human rights violations. Typically, the development of a palm oil plantation will be made out to be a good thing for the local people. “YAY! More jobs.” Until it turns out that sometimes they’re not actually jobs, it’s slavery and child labour.

Once you know that, you just really, really don't want to be supporting it. 

Alternative names for palm oil you might find on labels

What is palm oil labelled as?

Of course, the obvious thing you’re looking out for on labels is ‘palm oil’. The problem is that palm oil and its derivatives can be labelled as 200 different things! While it’s fairly easy to identify 'palm oil' and ‘palm kernel oil’, you probably wouldn’t recognise palm oil as any of these ingredients, for example:

  • Vegetable oil or vegetable fat (not always palm oil, but it might be if the label doesn’t say ‘palm oil free’.
  • Stearic acid
  • Sodium laureth sulphate/sulfate
  • Sodium lauryl sulphate/sulfate
  • Octyl palmitate
  • Palmitic acid
  • Palmityl alcohol
  • Palmolein
  • Sodium kernelate
  • Elaeis guineensis

WWF have a guide which lists the most common names for palm oil and its derivatives.

Quite frankly, it’d be a pain in the ass to try and remember all of those and would make shopping a lot harder and more time consuming. I would recommend screenshotting the part of the WWF guide and saving it in your phone, or looking for labels which explicitly say ‘no palm oil’ or ‘palm oil free’.

Where is palm oil found?

Palm oil and its derivatives are found in thousands of food, skincare and personal hygiene products. The WWF state that palm oil is present in approximately half of all packaged products sold in supermarkets. That sucks big time and makes avoiding it hard - it’s ok, though, we’re gonna get there and remember you don’t have to do it overnight. Baby steps are fine.

And it gets worse. Palm kernel can be used to feed to livestock. According to Compassion in World Farming, the EU imports half of the world’s supply of palm kernel meal. The UK is one of the biggest users of this, along with the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, South Korea, and China. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a legal requirement for manufacturers to state whether or not meat has been fed on palm oil or not. If you eat meat and dairy, you can avoid this by buying meat and dairy that says ‘free range’, ‘pasture fed’ or ‘grass fed’ on the packaging.

This isn’t just an environmental issue because the use of palm kernel supports factory farming. Think about it, if livestock are kept outdoors they will eat what’s around them. Livestock kept indoors, on the other hand, need food to be taken to them.

 

Why do companies use palm oil?

Now you understand why palm oil is so bad for the environment, you’re probably wondering why companies still use it. Hmmm. I think you’re probably not going to be too surprised to hear that it’s because it’s cheap. Hands up if that surprised you. It’s also more productive than other oil producing plants as well - which is a double whammy for manufacturers.

 

What about ‘sustainable’ palm oil?

That’s a great question. Sustainable sounds good, right? If you look at the websites of companies using sustainable palm oil, it sounds amazing. It sounds like the solution we need to stop the deforestation of diverse rainforests. It sounds like the palm oil equivalent of rainbows and kittens. And maybe it is. But maybe it isn’t.

There are sustainable palm oil schemes, such as the RSPO - and you can see all the companies certified to their standards on their website. However, there are doubts about how effective and honest it is.

It’s entirely up to you whether or not you want to support sustainable palm oil - I, personally, am airing on the side of caution.

Ok, so you’re convinced; palm oil and its derivatives suck and you don’t want them to darken your kitchen or bathroom again. How do you do it? How do you start to live palm oil free?

 
Don’t worry, we’ve got this. Don’t try to do it all in one go because that might feel immensely overwhelming. Baby steps are cool. To help, you'll find a printable and pinnable PDF at the bottom which you can use as a handy reminder. Maybe stick it in your kitchen - and definitely make a sustainable living Pinterest board and stick it on there too. Ok, I'll quit with the shameless promotion.
 

Read labels

Before you can quit buying products with palm oil in, you need to know what it’s in. As we read earlier, it is possibly in a lot of the things you’re buying each time you go to the supermarket.

I recommend making a list of products, and perhaps even the brands, you’ve bought which contain palm oil. Don’t forget that if you eat dairy or milk, take a look at whether or not you’re buying grass-fed or pasture fed as standard.

Research palm oil free alternatives

Now you know where palm oil is sneaking into your house, you can begin to look for alternatives. There are alternatives out there, but it will take you time either researching it online or staring at labels in shops.

Start making changes as you use things up

I think going cold turkey while trying to stop buying palm oil would be hard if it is in a lot of things you buy. I recommend replacing things with palm oil free products as and when you use things up. Let’s face it - you’ve already purchased the product and paid for it, so there’s little point you throwing it out and wasting it.

Make your own

Since palm oil is found in processed food, you could try your hand at making your own. Instead of buying biscuits, cakes, or bread with palm oil in it - crack out a recipe book or head to Pinterest to find some recipes and give it a go! 

 

Some palm oil free companies

Here are a handful of companies I use that do not use ANY palm oil in any of their range. If you know of any other companies and want me to add them to the list - drop me a comment.

  • Meridian: nut butters, cooking sauces, jams & snacks
  • Pic’s peanut butter: yet more nut butters because I eat a lot of peanut butter
  • Sweet freedom: they make some pretty tasty chocolate sauce
  • Oatly: oat ‘milk’; you could argue this is a slightly grey one because they were using palm oil but are phasing it out. It’s certainly not in their standard oat milks - their website is very transparent, so I recommend looking.
  • Bloomtown: the UK’s first certified palm oil free company, selling skincare products
  • Rocky Mountain Soap Co: excellent sunscreen, soaps, skincare

Heh, that’s a pretty darn short list. Once I started thinking about the products I regularly used, I realised palm oil is still in some products I use, and while it might not be in some other products I use, the brand uses palm oil in other products. Ugh. What a minefield. This is why I don’t recommend trying to swap everything overnight.

If you want an easy place to see palm oil free companies in the UK, Palm Oil Free is a really useful website. I don’t think every company that is palm oil free is actually on there, though.

 

Further reading

If you want to find out more about palm oil, the damage it causes the environment and the beasties which live in it, and how to avoid it, I found these resources super useful:

 

Where do you stand on using palm oil?

If you're going palm oil free, I want to hear one product you love that contains palm oil that you're switching up. For me, it's Oreos. I love them but I think I need to learn to make my own.

 
Checklist for living palm oil free

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Does Instagram impact people’s travel expectations?

The Imlil valley, looking towards Toubkal

I recently read a fantastic book called Manufacturing National Park Nature by Keri Cronin, which looks at how photography influences our expectations of national parks. It’s a seriously interesting read, with lots of pretty photos and postcards of Jasper from decades ago. The book was released in 2010, and at the time I imagine social media wasn’t having a huge impact on people’s travel expectations.

In 2010, I was a red haired Hayley Williams wannabee (uhm, it’s 2018 and things haven’t changed that much - my hair is orange instead) who was begrudgingly switching from the abandoned ship that was Myspace and moving over to Facebook. Which I hated. I think my first status update was something typically passive aggressive and emo like “I don’t even want this but no one’s on MySpace anymore.” Instagram was launched at the end of 2010.

Flashforward to 2018, and social media is pretty much all about the ‘gram. As a photographer, I love Instagram because it’s so inspiring and helps me improve. As someone who loves travelling, I have a love-hate relationship with the wanderlust it gives me (I love it, the ol’ bank account does not) - but I can’t help but wonder how it changes people’s expectations of a place.

In Manufacturing National Park Nature, Keri talks about the way that marketing photographs and postcards are shot so that there are very little people in the photo. We see those photos and expect we’re going to somewhere pristine, untouched, and quiet. And I think that’s something a lot of us are guilty of promoting on social media as well, whether we’re doing it consciously or not.

Bahia Palace, in Marrakech - definitely not as quiet as it looks

I’ve definitely waiting for an opportune moment when everyone magically clears from the shot and I’ve definitely removed people from my photos. I don’t do it because I want to portray the idea that I’ve been to somewhere beautiful that no one else knows about - I do it because that dude was stood in an annoying place on the edge of that lake and it looks better without him. But do you know that? Or do people see photos and expect to see somewhere quiet, only to get there and be like “HOLY CRAP, I thought no one knew about this place but there’s six coaches here.”

Let's take this photo of Bahia Palace in Marrakech. You can see a couple of people in it, but maybe you would see this and expect the place is quiet. And judging from the photos of it I saw online before I went, I thought it would be quieter. What you don't know is that behind me are loads of people and I somehow got lucky and everyone moved out of the way as I was about to take this photo. Believe me; Bahia Palace = not quiet.

I think this is a really interesting discussion point. I definitely don't visit places now expecting it to be exactly as it was portrayed on Instagram or on blogs, because I know there have probably been people photoshopped out. Or they used a tripod to get rid of everyone from the scene. Or they waited and waited until the stars aligned and everyone got out of the photo. I don't hold that against any photographers. I like my landscapes to look pretty empty in photographs, but I don't expect them to be like that when I visit anymore. I'm not sure how obvious that is to people who aren't photographers, though.

What does bug me is when I see people promoting something unsustainable. When I see a photo someone has taken where someone is posed in a place they shouldn’t be, it annoys me. I am one of those people who will not walk on the grass if there’s a footpath - ask Daz, he is forever asking if we can walk on “this piece of grass” to annoy me because I am so weird about it.

I don't dispute that sometimes, from a photographic point of view, the ideal place to pose someone or take a photo from might be off the trail; if there are signs asking people to stay on the trail, you’re contributing to the destruction of that place. To simplify, if someone sees a big Instagrammer post a photo taken off the trail, other people are bound to do the same to get that amazing shot because they think it must be ok. Plus, they want an incredible photo. And that makes me sad.

We visit places to explore and learn more. We don't visit with the intention of damaging it, and I think it's easy to forget how fragile some of this environments are. If more and more people visit, something as seemingly innocent as straying from the marked trail can easily destroy vegetation and habitats. We can all do better.

I could waffle about this for hours and I'm beginning to wish I could do a second dissertation because I would love to carry out a study on how social media impacts people's expectations and behaviour while travelling. If anyone wants to fund me to do that, I'm waiting. I take payment in cash, peanut butter noodles, and coffee (but, peanut butter noodles don't pay rent or for Netflix, so...).

What do you think? Has Instagram ever influenced your travel expectations? Did it let you down?

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Calton Hill – the best place to watch the sunset in Edinburgh

Why Calton Hill is the place to be to watch the sunset over Edinburgh

Watching the sunset over Edinburgh from Calton Hill

I'm ashamed to say it took us nine months before we actually got up Calton Hill at all, let alone to see the sunset

When we first moved to Edinburgh we came up with my Mum and one of Daz's best friends, who had lived in Edinburgh for years. Daz and I were talking about all of the things we were excited to see and do, and mentioned wanting to watch the sunset from Arthur's Seat. His friend told us that while it's pretty good, the party is at Calton Hill because it's closer to the city. (He didn't say "the party is at" because no one says that, apart from me...on the internet.)

And he was right. And it seems everyone else in Edinburgh, nay, the world, knows about Calton Hill and how incredible the views are at sunset because the place was packed. The nice thing was that it seemed to be full of both locals and tourists. While it might be a tourist attraction, it seems the locals love it too. 

For me, the best thing about seeing the sunset from Calton Hill is that you can walk the whole way around it. So you get a 360 view of the sun setting over the city. If you've ever been to Edinburgh, you'll know that the skyline is so diverse. You look one way and you can see the beautiful, old city, the castle, and the Balmoral Hotel dominating your view. And then you can turn around and see hills and mountains lurking on the edge of Edinburgh. If you turn around some more, you can see the Firth of Forth and the North Sea. 

I go on about Canada and Vancouver a lot but it's recently occurred to me that Edinburgh and Vancouver have a fair bit in common when it comes to the city and their surroundings. 

I'm going to leave you in the capable hands of Google Maps, Lothian Buses, and some more of my photos to convince you that you need to come to Edinburgh and watch the sunset from Calton Hill. And maybe you should come this summer and take a picnic. I feel like a picnic on Calton Hill, with the sky painted like fire would be incredible. 

How to get to Calton Hill

*Announcer voice* On your right you will see a walking route to Calton Hill from Waverley Station. The train station is pretty central to Edinburgh, and after Avengers Infinity War, I feel like everyone's gonna be checking out the train station anyway so...y'know. It's a short walk, though I would give yourself double the time because you'll probably want to keep stopping on the way to take photos. It definitely takes me double the time to get most places in Edinburgh because I'm constantly whipping my camera out and saying to Daz "LOOK AT THE CHERRY BLOSSOM" "LOOK AT THAT DOOR" "IT LOOKS LIKE HOGSMEDE!" 

The bus service in Edinburgh is astonishingly good and cheap. If you don't fancy the walk, head over to the Lothian Buses website where they have a nifty tool that can tell you what bus to get and where. OR you could get the Lothian Buses app for your phone, which is probably easier to use - especially when you're out and about. Buses cost £1.70 for a single journey or £4.00 for a day ticket - that will get you on as many Lothian Buses as you want all day. 

If you have a car and are visiting Edinburgh, I recommend leaving it wherever you've managed to park it. We (that's the royal we because I did not drive) have driven in Edinburgh a handful of times and it isn't worth the hassle or the extortionate parking fees. Either walk in, park and ride if you're staying out of the city, or just hop on the bus. 

Purple, pink and orange sunset from Calton Hill over Edinburgh Castle and The Balmoral

Silhouettes of cranes against the sunset in Edinburgh

Sunset over the Firth of Forth from Calton Hill

Sunset over Edinburgh and the Blackford Hills

Sunset sky behind The Balmoral, Edinburgh, taken from Calton Hill

Watching the sunset over Edinburgh from Calton Hill

Have you been up Calton Hill? Are you going to? Should we have a blogging picnic on Calton Hill? LET'S MAKE IT HAPPEN.

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15 photos to inspire you to visit Morocco

15 photos to inspire you to visit Morocco - watching the sunrise in the Sahara Desert, Zagora.

Riding camels in the Sahara desert at sunrise

Sunrise in the Sahara Desert, Zagora, Morocco.

Ait Benhaddou, Morocco

A tourist shop in Ait Ben Haddou

A village in the Imlil valley, Morocco

View across the Imlil valley towards Toubkal from Asni.

Moroccan decor at Dar Imlil

Red door in Marrakech

Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech

Bahia Palace, Marrakech

Le Jardin Secret Marrakech

Le Jardin Secret, Marrakech

View over Essaouira from the rampartsA street in the Essaouira market

My trip to Morocco is a perfect example of why it's good to be pushed out of your comfort zone. It isn't a place Daz or I would have considered visiting (primarily because it's not Canada, duh), and I'm so glad we had the chance to go there. 

Whenever anyone asks us how our trip to Morocco was, the first thing we say is "different" or "an experience" because it was. Never before have I had to try not to get run over by scooters, tuk-tuks, horse and carriages, donkeys with carts, or hundreds of people all at the same time - but it's a new skill we acquired in Morocco, and I think I'm going to put that on my LinkedIn profile. It was exciting to explore a completely different culture and the architecture was stunning. There is a good reason you keep seeing pretty doors from Morocco popping up on Pinterest and Instagram.  

I spent two weeks in Morocco in total. The first was part of a field trip with my university, where we spent our time in the beautiful mountains and valleys of Imlil, which is about an hour and a half outside Marrakech. (And well worth visiting if you have the time.) We got to play in rivers, play with soil, wander around, do some science, and spot mountain goats. After that, I spent a couple of days with my friends, where we endured the sweatiest ride to the desert ever. They then went on to explore Fez and Chefchouan, while Daz and I chilled in Marrakech, and took a day trip to Essaouira/Game of Thrones. And, to our surprise, we did not get lost inside Marrakech's medina - which is impressive given I can get lost five minutes from home. 

Morocco is a huge country and I think you could easily spend a month exploring the country, and you still might not get to see everything in that time. I would have loved to have seen Chefchouan (it's that beautiful blue city you keep seeing on Instagram) but given the short amount of time I didn't fancy a such a long bus ride there for such a short visit. It is doable to visit Chefchouan from Marrakech in three days if you really want to - I just needed time to unwind a little and not be rushed. 

It is really cheap to stay and eat in Marrakech, and the flights from the UK are quite decently priced as well. We couldn't fly from Edinburgh and had to go out of Manchester - you can get flights from Edinburgh but it looks like they are all indirect. 

Have you ever been to Morocco before? Is it on your list?

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