Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Scottish Easter

Here in the UK, you get both Good Friday and “Easter Monday” off work, making the Easter holiday a four-day weekend. We decided to make use of the extra days off by making a trip up to Scotland, as it was another of the places we hadn’t been to yet. It’s about a 6 hour drive from Peterborough to Edinburgh, so we got up when Madeline woke up on Friday, got ready, and hit the road.

We planned to stop at Alnwick Castle along the way. It’s the second largest inhabited castle in England, along with being a site often used in movies (it was one of the locations used for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies, for example). We got there at 4:19. I know that specifically, because we discovered when we got there that although the castle was open until 6, the last admission was at 4:15. They wouldn’t make an exception for us. Sometimes the British can be a little too British. One of the staff did take enough pity on us to allow me to take Madeline through to the bathroom, at least, although Bill had to wait for us outside. It looked like it would have been a neat castle, if they had let us in…

So we went the rest of the way up to Edinburgh, and Bill took Madeline swimming at the hotel after we had some supper. We try to get hotels that have swimming pools whenever possible when we travel, since keeping Madeline entertained in a hotel in the evenings can be challenging otherwise.

The next morning we got up and took the bus into Edinburgh’s city center. We were dropped off halfway along the Royal Mile, so we walked up to Edinburgh Castle, enjoying the sights along the way. We got to the castle about 11:30, only to find that the line just to buy tickets was 1 ½ hours long. Luckily, I’d done a little looking into things, and we knew there was a pass you could buy that would give you admission into several sites throughout Scotland. Since we planned to go to a few of the others, we asked about the pass. Turns out we were able to skip the whole line to buy the pass as opposed to a ticket for admission to the castle alone. It would have been worth the extra money just for that!

We enjoyed walking around the castle, especially as the weather wasn’t doing what we’d been told it was going to. Instead of raining on us, it was actually a bit sunny!

We got some lunch at about 1:30, and then walked back down the Royal Mile. Trivia fact: the Royal Mile (measured as the distance between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace) is actually a little over a standard mile, but was the official distance of a Scottish mile for quite some time. The Royal Mile has lots of touristy shops along it, as well as lots of neat architecture. We really liked the overall look of Edinburgh, and found it more attractive in a lot of ways than London.

At the other end of the Royal Mile is the Palace of Holyrood, which is the Queen’s official residence when she is in Scotland. We’ve actually seen fancier stately houses, but it was still neat to tour. They even had special “family” audio guides, and laminated copies of some of the artwork in the palace for Madeline to find. Those were nice touches. We couldn’t take pictures inside, but we took some outside, including of the ruined abbey on the grounds.

By the time we finished at Holyrood, Madeline fell asleep in her stroller, and stayed asleep the whole ride back on the bus. The promised rain showed up by the time we got off the bus, but it was only a few minutes’ walk to the hotel, so it wasn’t really a problem.

As usual, after supper, Madeline got her daddy to take her swimming again.
Sunday our plan was to drive the whole way through the Scottish highlands up to Loch Ness, then all the way back down again to sleep in our hotel in Edinburgh that night. We’d done some research and found that there are several tour companies that do the trip as a 12-hour day tour, so we essentially copied their route. We got started a little later than planned in the morning—it was 9:30 or so by the time we left.

Again, though, we had unexpectedly good weather for the day.

We stopped at Stirling Castle along the way. The castle itself is closed for renovations, but the rest of the buildings and grounds are open, including the area where they are making new copies of the tapestries depicting the hunt of the unicorn. The finished tapestries were really impressive—really big, with so much detail, and such vibrant colors. It was cool to be able to see what tapestries would have looked like “back in the day”, instead of all worn and faded like you always see them now.

From Stirling castle we drove straight through to Fort William, where we just stopped for a quick lunch. Ben Nevis, the highest point in the United Kingdom, is near here.

The scenery all along the drive was just breathtaking. And Bill enjoyed the driving, as well, though I think he’d have preferred to be driving something other than a Vauxhall Vectra—like maybe the Maserati we saw driving by at one point. I did the best I could at taking pictures out the window.

The drive did take rather longer than we had anticipated, though. By the time we got to the point on Loch Ness where the boat ride we wanted to take left from, it was 3:45, and the last boat left at 4. So theoretically we would have been in time, but it was sold out. We spent some time looking around, since we had been promising Madeline that we were going to look for Nessie all day long. She especially liked the purple one, since that’s her favorite color—we even ended up buying her a little stuffed purple Nessie. It was probably the first time we’ve actually bought her a souvenir any of the places we’ve taken her!

Bill really wanted the boat ride, though, so he managed to find a place about 5 miles back down the road that had a trip leaving at 5. This one was less touristy—it was actually part of an environmental survey that just also took tourists out. But we got to go out on the Loch, at least. We also got some good views of Urquhart Castle, which is along the shore of Loch Ness. It was destroyed by the occupants when they were invaded so their enemies couldn’t use it.

It was pretty late by the time we finished up with the boat ride, so we drove the remaining few miles up to Inverness and just got a quick supper there before hitting the road back down to Edinburgh. Luckily, the route we took back was faster than the one we’d taken up, so we were back at our hotel by about 10:30. We didn’t see anything much on the drive back, as it was dark by that point.

Monday morning we just kind of took it easy, and Bill took Madeline swimming after breakfast while I packed us back up. We had talked about going to the Edinburgh Zoo, but it was rainy and windy, and we decided it would just be better to get going on the drive back home.

We did run into some traffic on the way back—at one point we were at a dead stop for nearly a half hour. People started getting out of their cars, even. When it finally cleared up, we could find no reason for the holdup. We’ve found British traffic planning to be a little odd sometimes.

We didn’t stop anywhere (on purpose) on the way back, but we did attempt to get a few pictures of the “Angel of the North” from the car. It’s a big statue just outside Newcastle that’s evidently supposed to look like an angel. I think it looks more like an airplane on its end!

We liked Scotland quite a bit, and I could see us going back again someday, if we ever make it back to the British Isles.

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