UK: Day Seventeen

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

Day 17:

July 1, 2013

For the last day of our trip, Jeff set out in the car for the Glenkinchie Distillery 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).

IMG_0958Aside 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.346px-Crest_of_the_Kingdom_of_Scotland.svg

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.IMG_5515
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.
IMG_5527As 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. 🙂IMG_9219

UK: Day Sixteen

Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian's Wall
Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall

Day 16:

June 29, 2013

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).
IMG_0991According 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.

 

IMG_5560We 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.

IMG_5465We 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.