“Fifty is a big milestone. What do you want to do for your birthday?” my wife asked me.
“I don’t know. Go to Scotland?” I responded, not being serious, as usual.
“Ok, book it!” She said. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.
Lots of pictures ahead. We hope you enjoy them.
When you have a job, kids, pets and so on, it can be difficult, no, impossible, to travel on the spur of the moment. This year we did the closest we’ve come to that. A three-month ahead of the spur of the moment trip.
We’ve been planning to visit the UK in sections. A few years ago we toured London, Devon, Somerset, Cornwall and Wales. Fantastic trip! I’ll post about it another time. Next year we’re planning on visiting the Midlands and that general area. I thought we would work our way north, getting to Scotland a few years later. But when the wife says “OK, let’s go”, well, my bags were packed before she could check airfare prices.
We didn’t have a lot of time to stay, just a week and you lose at least a day to travel, so we decided to keep it to a small region. Glasgow and Edinburgh. It just so happens that both locations feature in my novels, so this would be a great opportunity to do more research and get eyes on the landscape.
We arrived in Glasgow after flying all night. I can’t sleep on a plane, but I was determined. Melatonin, Ambien and this ridiculous get up barely helped.
First task was getting to our AirBnB room for the night. On our last visit to the UK, we rented a car. It was an experience. This time, with only the two cities to visit, we decided to just walk and use public transportation. To someone from my side of the Atlantic, the bus system in Scotland is bewildering. It appears that there are about 20 different bus companies, each with their own buses, fares, routes, etc. That may not be the case, but somehow we ended up paying for a week long bus pass that did us no good except to get us from the airport to the main train station in Glasgow. Next time I’m researching how that works.
We wandered around, lost, bewildered and awed. We finally gave up and caught a taxi to our abode for the night to drop off our luggage. The place was on the west end, a beautiful group of semi-circular buildings from the Victorian era, re-purposed into offices and flats.
Refreshed, we headed out, straight to Pollok Country Park. It was rainy, but we expected that. We didn’t expect to become lost in the park, but we did find what we were looking for, which I will discuss in my next Behind the Scenes blog post.
Along the way we saw some beautiful scenery, and my favorite cows, ever.
The next day we rode a train out to Dumbarton to see The Rock of the Clyde, Dumbarton Castle, the location of the Dark Ages fort of Alt Clut described in The Retreat to Avalon. It was an absolutely beautiful day!
And the one day that the place was unexpectedly closed for renovations. I won’t show the picture of my face on learning that.
But I did get to see a car I’ve only ever seen on Mr. Bean, and we had a great lunch at a very cool place called Waxy O’Connor’s.
Then it was on to Edinburgh (pronounced “Edinburrah” for my non-local friends). The ride is less than an hour on the express train, which was very clean and quiet. And crowded. It turns out that we booked our trip during the annual Edinburgh International Festival. It runs for the last 3 weeks of August every year and brings in a lot of tourists and buskers and probably drives out most of the locals.
One of our favorite bits of local lore is Greyfriars Bobby. See his heart-warming story here. His nose is shiny because people rub it for luck. Yes, we did, too.
So there we were, walking by the Pleasance Dome, and who do I see walking straight towards me? Ian McKellen! With my mouth hanging open, he must have thought I was a moron, but the girl at the door was on the ball when she told him, “You shall not pass!”
When you visit Scotland, you have to try some local stuff. Beer, of course and it was excellent. I tried Haggis. Tasty as long as you don’t ask what it’s made of. Lots of coffee in Scotland, which is good. And of course we passed a LOT of Scotch shops. Now, I love the smell of Scotch. Can’t stand the taste. But I’m game, so we went into a nice shop that offered samples and I challenged the fellow behind the counter to change my mind.
He did. If I want to pay about $100 a bottle. Which I don’t.
I’m also not willing to spend the buck or so on Scotland’s official soft drink, “Iron Brew”. We have a cough-syrup flavored drink in Maine called “Moxie”, a holdover from the late 1800’s that should have disappeared long ago, but hangs on here in Maine. Iron Brew tastes like bubblegum flavored Moxie. I won a bottle by answering a trivia question. Yay.
The castle in Edinburgh is fantastic. I highly recommend you go as soon as it opens, and be in line well before it does. Then head straight for the Crown Jewels to avoid the crowds. You can’t take pictures of them, but it was cool to see the Stone of Scone (pronounced “Skoon”), the coronation stone of the Scottish kings.
We did two hikes to the top of Arthur’s Seat, and loved it. One was during the day, the other was for the sunrise. Arthur’s Seat doesn’t really have anything to do with Arthur. We were told that it is an English corruption of the Gaelic name for the peak. But the view is amazing.
One of the days we decided to take a day trip down to the border.
Alnwick Castle (pronounced “Ahnick”) is a beautiful, immense castle that has been lived in by the same family for over 700 years.
Some might recognize it from the “Harry Potter” movies as the site of Hogwarts and the Quidditch field.
Here some kids and adults try their hand at learning how to fly a broom.
But none seemed to pick it up as easily as my lovely bride.
In the early 1800’s, the Duke of Alnwick created a museum in the Postern Tower containing some of the finest examples of Celtic artifacts that I have seen, and opened it to the public.
Adjacent the castle is a huge, beautiful garden.
We also visited the Holy Island, Lindisfarne, which is also the site of the first attack by the Vikings on Saxon Britain in 793.
It was a wonderful trip. I prefer small towns and villages, but if I were to live in any city, it would have to be Edinburgh. I look forward to returning.