For the last day of our trip, Jeff set out in the car for the GlenkinchieDistillery whilst the girls and I walked up to the Edinburgh Castle. What we did not realize at the time, was that HRH Queen Elizabeth II was arriving in town today and the gunners for the 19th Regiment Royal Artillery would be welcoming her with a 21-gun salute from the castle.
The local paper says, “The Royal Salute provides a great occasion for the Scottish Gunners to display their professionalism and prose in conducting such an honor in the nation’s capital city.”
After touring around the castle’s sights while completing the kid’s scavenger hunt questionnaire, we happened upon the “one o’clock gun,” a 25 pound howitzer, that is fired daily (except Sundays). It was originally used to “help sailors reset their chronometers in the days before accurate time pieces were available.”
Read more about it here.
While trying to see the one o’clock gun (btw- you don’t need to see it because you can certainly hear it) a helpful tourist tipped us off that there would be a pipes band and a 21-gun salute to the queen in just over an hour. We had a nice lunch in the castle cafeteria and then scoped out a spot to take in the action. It turned out to be well over an hour of pomp and ceremony involving a brass band, a pipes band, a regiment of gunners and several miscellaneous soldiers and dignitaries. It was all pretty fascinating (to me).
Aside from the activities, my favorite part of the castle was the great hall, which was very reminiscent of the great hall at Hogwarts, but with lots of weaponry and armor (and no magical ceiling). I enjoyed it all very much. We got the chance to see the Scottish Crown Jewels, (aka the Honours of Scotland). The crown, secptre and sword date to the middle ages. They have been housed at Edinburgh castle since 1707, although forgotten for a nearly 100 years. During WWII the “Scottish Regalia” were hidden for fear of being stolen by the Germans. In 1953, they were returned to the Crown Room for public display.
There were also several museums to see within the castle, but the girls threatened to die of boredom, so we set out to explore a little more of “the royal mile” area (between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace) on foot. I had hoped to see the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century, but since the queen was in town it was closed to visitors (much to the delight of the girls). Instead, we wandered into the Museum of Childhood for the several floors of displays of historical toys, games, clothing and books. The girls enjoyed a game of “snakes and ladders” and before wandering through the shops on the way back to the hotel.
After resting our feet for a bit, we met back up with Jeff for our last official meal of the trip. Since we were in a Scotland, I thought we should find a “chippie” (fish and chips restaurant). Bene’s didn’t disappoint. The kids enjoyed their deep fried pizza and Jeff and I tried out the local fish and chips. It was delicious, as expected, but we had so much food that we were too full to try the local favorite: a deep fried Mars bar.
Edinburgh had much more to offer. We could have spent a few more days exploring the sights, but sadly we had run out of time. As I was packing up, Kai told me that she was feeling “bittersweet.” I know exactly what she meant. We’ve had some great adventures these last few weeks. The UK has been a wonderful adventure much more fantastic than I ever could have dreamed, but we are all ready to head home. We’ll have to return someday to try out the Mars bars. 🙂
Today we had to cover the most distance of any of our driving days – 185 miles/300 km (4 hours driving time). We set out for what Jeff thought was a “driving day.” Once we were on the way, I mentioned “a quick stop on the way” (Housesteads Roman Fort at Hadrian’s Wall). According to Wikipedia, Housesteads “was an auxiliary fort on Hadrian’s Wall in the Roman province of Britannia.” Hadrian’s wall was a “defensive fortification in Roman Britain.” Built beginning in AD 122 during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and abandoned in the 4th century, its purpose is believed to have been to mark the northern reaches of the Roman Empire and prevent the “barbarians from the north” from invading. Our quick stop took close to two hours, but it was well worth it. Although the fort was in ruins, there was an short informative movie that helped us all visualize what it would have looked like.
Along the northern edge, we were able to stand up on the wall and gaze at the peacefully grazing sheep on the rolling hills toward Scotland. I didn’t see any barbarians, but what do I know?
Read about Housesteads here.
Read about Hadrian’s Wall here.
We were all parched (or is it peckish?) so we attempted to find a place to eat. Hahaha. There was nothing for miles and miles and miles except tiny roads with randomly placed traffic circles that kept us constantly wondering which direction we were traveling. Tommi (the Sat-Nav) directed us right to a closed road on the main artery to our destination. We followed the “diversion” signs to discover that the road was closed because of a cycling race. As we we happening along, we thought we had come upon a major accident because there were several police cars and motorcycles blocking the road. As we waited, we saw motorcycles clearing the roadway. Next, the pace cars buzz by followed by a massive clump of cyclists and then a dozen support vehicles each loaded with a roof full of bikes. The whole procession passed in about three minutes. Then, the police re-opened the road and we were on our way. It was pretty neat to be tooling along out in the middle of nowhere (we were actually in the middle of Northumberland National Park) and to have a little show appear and then disappear just like nothing ever happened.
We travelled several more miles and finally crossed the border into Scotland. The landscape changed quite dramatically. In England, there were mostly rocky rolling hills covered with sheep. As we passed onto Scotland, the landscape became more mountainous with forests and low lying brush filled valleys (also with sheep). The roads did not improve either. As it was Sunday, there was a lot of traffic, particularly motorcycles, horse trailers and “caravans” (motorhomes). We had a few brushes with terrifying oncoming traffic, but we survived.
Not long after crossing into Scotland, we finally found a place (a gardening store of all places) to stop and have a quick bite before continuing on to Edinburgh.
Upon arriving in Edinburgh, we discovered that the hotel had “no car access.” Not what I had hoped for at the end of a long day, but we found a parking garage several blocks away and we schlepped ALL of our treasures to the hotel (it took two trips) to check-in. After settling in, we set out on foot to find a proper dinner. We found a place called “The Filling Station” that was supposed to be “American” food. Tiring of Steak and Ale Pie and the sorts, we happily settled in for cheeseburgers before calling it a night.
I had a hard time sleeping. Edinburgh is at 55 degrees N latitude making the days especially long this time of year. The sun did not set until just past 10 and then rose again around 4:30 in the morning. The sky never did go completely dark. It was magical in its own way.
After breakfast, we started out the day with a drive up to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm. Beatrix bought the house and its 36 acre farm after the success of her first few books. She went on to buy several more houses and farms in the area, leaving them to the National Trust when she died. She did a great deal to preserve the natural beauty of the surrounding area. She was also a sheep farmer. Read about it here. (Who knew?)
I enjoyed the house and gardens very much. The girls and I were able to look around her house and the surrounding homes and gardens to see several of the scenes that she used in the illustrations of her stories. Although the house had no written information, as she requested it be left just as she had left it (right down to a fire in the fireplace and fresh flowers throughout the house), the docents were talkative and and enjoyed sharing bits and pieces of Beatrix’s world with us. We found Tom Kitten’s gate, Mr. McGregor’s garden and even an egg laid by Jemima Puddle-duck in the rhubarb patch.
From Hilltop, we walked a few hundred yards down the narrow road so the girls could play on a nearby playground. Then, we made our way through the Skinner maze back toward our home base.
The roads today were even crazier than yesterday because, being Saturday, there was a lot more traffic that was going a lot faster down an even narrower road bordered by illusive rock walls disguised by greenery. I watched the car ahead of us as its driver side mirror whizzed by the opposing traffic with centimeters to spare. At one point, we had an abrupt meeting with a tour bus (see day 15 photos) that could have ended badly, but was mostly just entertaining at this point (we’re seasoned now).
Along the way, we happened by a random neighborhood pub in the middle of nowhere so we stopped in for a pint and some lunch. When we got back to town, Jeff took the girls “crazy” golfing (mini golf) and I explored the little town. We met up for a dip in the hotel pool and happened upon some pleasant conversation with a local woman and her young daughter in the hot tub. It was interesting to compare info (for example, the kids don’t let out for summer until July 27th here). After the pool, we cleaned up and set out for a nice long walk to Lake Windermere, the nearest lake. On the way back from the lake, we happened upon another local pub and had a nice dinner while listening to some live local music. It was another great day.
Tomorrow we’re off to Scotland!
Jeff set out for a dentist first thing in the morning to get his broken tooth fixed. His journey was successful and he made it back to the hotel just as the kids and I were heading down for breakfast.
After filling our bellies, we loaded up the car and set out for “The Lake District” of CumbriaCounty and its picture perfect rolling hills and lakes that were once home to Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth. As the weather was absolutely dreadful (again) and hiking was out of the question, we decided to take the advice of Rick Steves and set out on a “car hiking” route. Rick says, “this hour-long drive which includes Newlands Valley, Buttermere, Honister Pass and Borrowdale gives you the best scenery you’ll find in the North Lake District.” I’m not sure what kind of formula-one race car he was driving, but this loop took us several hours to complete. He was right about the scenery, though. The best way I can describe it is the road to Hana (the whole loop) with two-way traffic (on one lane, of course), in what appears to be several driveways all linked together in a contiguous chain though an enormous free-range sheep farm/hedge maze. It was like a life sized Skinner rat maze with sheep obstacles and a beautiful view.
Jeff says this entire trip has been like a “two week defensive driving test.” (I’m not sure if he is going to pass.) Although he says, “I’m an excellent driver” (just like Rain Man). At the midway point on our driving tour, we stopped into the Honister Slate Mine which produces its “famous” and “best” Westmorland green slate. We all enjoyed trekking deep into the hillside to see inside this working mine and to hear about the process of slate mining.
At the next “town” over, we stopped into the cafe/ice cream shop for some mid-afternoon tea before we continued on our “hike.” A few miles down the road, we reached Newlands Pass. From the road we could see a waterfall, so we pulled off and walked a few hundred yards to get a closer look. The wind and rain almost blew is off the mountainside, but it was nice to get out for some fresh air and to commune with the sheep. “Mind the poo” became the phase of the day.
To cap off our scenic drive, we diverged a bit and went off the beaten track that even “Tommie” our Sat-Nav couldn’t find… the Castlerigg Stone Circles. Catlerigg is one of the earliest stone circles in Europe. It was constructed by Bronze Age people possibly for use in solstice celebrations. To the casual observer, (read: the Wilson family) it looks like a large sheep pasture with a bunch of big rocks thrown in the middle. Jeff and I walked around the stones and waited for a mystical feeling (that never came) and the kids tried to catch (and pet) the sheep (while “minding the poo”). We finished up the day with a fabulous Italian dinner in Keswick.
After breakfast at the hotel, we wandered over to the nearby Museum of Liverpool. The museum contained various exhibits showcasing the various facets of Liverpool and its history. Liverpool has a rich and interesting history as a shipping port and hub of the slave trade, as well as a hot bed for popular music (think Beatles, Echo & the Bunnymen, OMD, Elvis Costello, Dead or Alive). Jeff watched the movie about the rival football clubs Liverpool and Everton. We all watched the Beatles story movie. The kids enjoyed the many hands-on displays, and at free the price was right.
The weather was dreadful with the downpours dampening my spirit (and my shorts-clad body). We had all run out of clean clothes, so laundry took priority over other more entertaining afternoon activities. If ever I were to have a vacation nervous breakdown, it was beginning to look like this may be the day. (It almost happened in Germany after Jeff kept driving around the “road closed” signs only to discover that there was no longer a road.) The budget chain that we’ve been staying at has no laundry facilities, so we set out in the car to find the “laundrette.” Somehow, we thought we would find a place to eat on the way. After driving around for over an hour through shady neighborhoods full of locked up businesses with no food in sight, I was about to have a major freak out. We finally found a McDonalds (barf) and then made our way to a nearby laundrette. When all was said and done, we had spent two hours and several quid, but we had clean clothes, moderately satisfied bellies and an interesting “cultural” experience under our belts. Breakdown averted. We decided to get out of scary-town and head back for the hotel to unload the laundry and find a more appetizing dinner spot. After ditching the car, we journeyed back into the pedestrian area downtown (several square blocks have been developed into a car-free pedestrian zone) and we happened upon a Jamie Oliver restaurant “Jamie’s Italian” for dinner. I enjoyed it very much.
I guess we’re wearing out because even I slept until 9:45 this morning.
After packing ten suitcases full of things back into our four suitcases, we loaded up the car and set out 80 miles (2 & a half hours) for Liverpool. The weather was beautiful for our arrival at AlbertDock on the MerseyRiver. Liverpool is of particular interest to me because it was from this waterfront that my great-grandmother Selina Gascoigne set out for America in 1894 (at age 8). We checked into the hotel and set out on foot to explore a bit.
Heather and Kai found the downtown shopping district (several hours worth). Jeff and Kiki headed back to the hotel for a little R & R. We all met up for dinner and then back to the room for some coloring (the girls) and wacky comedic British talk/game shows (for the adults).
We had another lie-in today and then walked over to Morrison’s grocery store for some picnic supplies. We walked to the far side of town to the city park and had a picnic lunch and let the girls play on the playground. After lunch, we drove up to Llanberis to take the Snowdon Mountain Railway to the summit of Mt. Snowdon (3,xxx? feet) in Snowdonia National Park. The train took us 5 miles to the summit through rocky fields full of fluffy grazing sheep. The tracks criss-crossed over the hiking trail that was swamped with hikers of all ages out for the day. We were lucky to have a warm-ish sunny day. The views were breath-taking and took in sights as far away as parts of England, Ireland and Scotland. Along the journey, we saw some Blackhawk helicopters from RAF Valley (where Prince William is stationed) running training maneuvers through the rolling hills. After the return train trip, we ventured back to town, had dinner at the hotel and called it a day.
Today I learned that the big blue lines on our road map are not rivers, but “motorways” the biggest of the roads that we’ll be traveling. Discovering that has been extremely helpful for navigational purposes.
The weather was dreadful, but we spent 5 hours touring the Cadbury Factory on the outskirts of Birmingham, so it’s all good. The Cadbury brothers figured out how to make yummy chocolate (not bitter) by mixing it with milk and their best selling product the “dairy milk” bar was born. “Cadbury World” had several Disney-style exhibits walking visitors through the history of chocolate. There was also…the history of the factory “Bournville” (that opened in 1904), a wonky kiddy ride reminiscent of the Winnie the Pooh ride at Disneyland and a factory tour. The factory wasn’t functional today because it’s Sunday, but we did get to walk through and see the machinery and read a bit about how it all works. There were also informative videos showing how their most popular products are made. Cadbury is the #1 chocolate maker in all of Britain and there are more varieties of chocolate bars than you could ever imagine. I went a little crazy in the gift shop. Surrounding the factory is the “town” that was created for the workers that came to work at the factory, including a school, housing and recreation, such as a swimming pool and cricket pitch. These things were all built to improve working conditions for workers during the Industrial Revolution. After the inside tours, Jeff and I were exhausted so we let the kids play on the playground for a bit, saw a magic/clown show and hit the road.
We decided to change plans slightly and drive 165 miles northwest to Caenarfon, Wales (pronounced: kar-narv-on). I was starving because we hadn’t eaten a meal yet, but Jeff made us drive three hours to the hotel before we could eat. He said it was “hunger strike” payback for the “death marches” of previous days. The drive to Caenarfon was beautiful. Jeff said that the roads were as narrow as the roads to Hana that threaten to void your rental contract, but “fun to drive.” (For the record – we went the whole way around the Hana loop and the car rental company was none the wiser.) As soon as we crossed into Wales and out of the hustle and bustle of Birmingham, we were surrounded by idyllic sheep dotted rolling hills. We had to pass through the “mountains” (highest peak 3,560 ft) and slope down to the sea. We were all excited to see the water again. After checking in to the hotel, we had a lovely dinner and packed it in for the night.
We got up and got moving today. After a short walk into Stratford-upon-Avon for some pastries and tea, we took a “short” drive (12 miles) to Warwick Castle. I’ve finally figured out that English traffic math is roughly Port Orchard traffic time TIMES TWO. In other words, every journey takes about twice as long as you think it should. Now I understand why BillBryson said in his “Notes from a Small Island” something like ~ If you want to go anywhere in Britain, you should’ve left last week.
Warwick castle is a “medieval castle developed from an original built by William the Conqueror in 1068.” It later became an 18th and 19th century residence. It is now run by the largest theme park operator in Britain (they also own the London Eye, Madame Tussaud’s and the London Aquarium), making it a genuine castle with theme park twist. It was perfect for the kids. There was a princess tower with stories and dress-up, interactive exhibits on the Victorian era at the castle (Queen Victoria’s son Edward partied here with his mistresses) and preparing for medieval battle, a trebuchet demonstration (cool!), a birds of prey show, and a medieval warrior weapons show demonstrating the various weapons of 12th century knights (with hunky knights- always a plus). There was also a peacock garden with at least a dozen peacocks just chillin’ in a baby hedge maze in front of a giant glass conservatory building. We were also able to climb 530 or so more steps up the castle towers and around the embattlements. I am so glad we found more stairs! Jeff said after the stairs at St. Paul’s that these were “baby easy.” We outlasted most of the cars in the parking lot again and made our way back to Stratford-upon-Avon to find some dinner. After an authentically British dinner (and gin!) in a 17th century inn, we walked back to the hotel and we were all in bed by 9. Tomorrow, we’re off to Cadbury World!