So… I’m a little behind on blogging. I’m sure my handful of readers (Hi Grandma) have been eagerly refreshing their browsers awaiting my rambles, which I call blogs. Good news, I’m on a mission to catch up. You can expect a small burst of posts so I can get back on track – sorry, or you’re welcome, whichever you prefer.
Way way back (ok 11 weeks, but it feels like a lifetime), Jared and I took a road trip to Scotland over the New Year’s holiday. Along the way we stopped at England’s largest lake, drove through a flood & barely escaped, climbed a tower, almost blew off of said tower, climbed a dormant volcano and partied out the Hogmanay into the New Year the Scottish way.
The end… JK. For more detail keep reading.
It takes about 7 hours to drive to Edinburgh from Reading (our home). So to break up the trip we made a pit stop for the night in the Lake District. Before I continue, since this was our first “road trip” in England we learned a lot about how the UK drive. Here are a few conclusions:
1. They have roundabouts for days. Instead of four way stops, they put roundabouts at just about every intersection. It’s like a never-ending merry-go-round you want off of, but the engineer won’t stop the ride.
2. If you get even slightly car sick (like I do), invest heavily in some some dramamine bracelets before tackling a long distance drive in England. Those darn roundabouts.
3. Two lanes is more of a suggestion then a fact here. Most roads are what I would consider one way roads with ditches so two cars can pretend to fit.
4. The national speed limit is 70mph. So envision small roads, fast cars and tight squeezes. Que anxiety.
5. Tailgating and cutting people off is just the nice, normal UK way. Don’t take it personally. Oh, and using a signal to change lanes on a carriageway, that’s just a waste of time.
6. Forget State Highway Patrol, England has outdone themselves by placing speed cameras EVERYWHERE. So not only is CCTV watching you, but they are watching your car. They make speeding tickets rain here. Not great for my lead foot. Glad to report, no tickets…yet (sorry in advance, Jared).
Stay tuned for more driving tips… or lack thereof.
So back to the trip. We stopped halfway at Lake Windermere in the Lake District. It’s claim to fame besides being beautiful, it’s the largest lake in England. We did not get to do much since it was a quick stop, so we’re looking forward to returning in the summer when everything is a tad greener and a little less wet to explore more.
The next morning we started off quite early to finish our trek up to Edinburgh. And good thing too… Our morning was quite the adventure. The Northern part of England had been experiencing some horrible flooding, we knew this, but never really checked exactly where… well we found it. As we started our scenic drive that morning through the beautiful hills surrounding Lake Windermere, a steady drizzle started, and we quickly discovered large bodies of water, where no water should be.
The next two hours were filled with too many “phew” moments, no cell service and no way out of the National Park via a main road. We had to push on through a marathon of small towns sporting sand bags along their doors. We crossed bridges overtaken by the lake, puddles the size of a small pond and detours around water logged roads. Jared was white knuckling with every turn and puddle jump. Luckily, our car is little but mighty. And not to end on a dramatic note, but the LAST turn to get out of the danger zone, was the worst. We came to a point where we had about .3 miles of a road we needed to cross to get away from the lake and out of the National Park. All we saw was a 90 degree turn with no idea what was beyond it. There were waves crashing on the road and a line of cars on the other side surveying the same scene, trying to decide whether to give it a go before the road was completely overtaken by the lake. At that point, we knew we couldn’t turn around because it was only getting worse behind us. So Jared gassed it and we went… I think my heart was in my eye balls. As soon as we rounded the turn we were relieved to see part of the road still there, so we proceeded on with the eb-and-flow of the crashing waves, hugging the stone wall, which was the farthest point from the edge of the lake. As soon as we reached the other side, Jared’s first words were, “Why didn’t you record that?” Sorry babe, I was trying to avoid having a heart attack and prepping to bail ship if need be. We got some head nods and “you crazy” looks from the cars still debating whether to proceed on the other side. We bid them farewell and got the heck out of the Lake District. Our adrenaline was at a 10 for the next two hours.
Luckily that was the last of the flooding until we hit a part of the M6 Highway that was transformed into a small lake with two floating cars. Beyond that it was smooth sailing – pun intended.
We made one more pit-stop on the way to Edinburgh at The National William Wallace Monument in Stirling. The monument is situated on a hill overlooking where the Battle of Stirling Bridge took place in 1297. For those of you who thought Braveheart was just a movie, it’s not. However, the movie is not a factual depiction of the real Sir William Wallace, patriot, martyr and Guardian of Scotland. You can read his real story HERE. Warning, his death was not a pretty one. We climbed a tiny spiral stair case to reach the top of the monument, where we almost blew away. The stair case really tested my hatred for tiny spaces, but it was worth it.
That tiny spiral on the left is the staircase we climbed.
Had to get a picture with the sword dude.
Halfway up… at this point my claustrophobia was setting in.
We made it.
And then Jared almost blew away.
After our history lesson and windy climb, we hit the road to our final destination, Edinburgh.
Jared and I visited Edinburgh 8 years ago on our study abroad trip, so I already knew I loved the city. And I can now confirm, we still love it. We stayed at an Air Bnb, which was the perfect little flat. Air Bnb has been awesome for traveling in Europe. It’s like staying at a friends house; cozy, inviting & cheap.
So what is Edinburgh known for? Some things that come to mind are The Royal Mile, the Queen’s Summer home (she is married to the Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh), whisky & gin, kilts, bagpipes, Harry Potter’s muse and Hogmanay. Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year. Each year Edinburgh throws the world famous Hogmanay Festival, hence our pilgrimage to Scotland. We got to Edinburgh two days before the festival so we could do some proper exploring.
We got to Edinburgh in the early evening, so we went out to grab dinner and walk around a bit. The Edinburgh Christmas Market was still on, so we got to have our last fill of Gluhwein and twinkling lights.
They also had a torchlight procession to kick-off the 3 day Hogmanay festivities – you can see the Instagram video I posted of it HERE.
The next day we started with a little Harry Potter fan girling. If you did not know, J.K. Rowling spent a lot of her time writing the early Harry Potter novels in a coffee shop in Edinburgh. For that reason you can find a lot of Edinburgh inspirations throughout the series.
This is the Elephant Coffee House the well known cafe J.K sat and dreamt up the wizarding world, while overlooking Edinburgh Castle. Not a bad spot to get creative.
AND here is the grave of Tom Riddle OR he who must not be named. The grave can be found in the Greyfriars Churchyard just around the corner from the Elephant Coffee House. It’s really the grave of a 19th century gentleman named Thomas Riddell, who died in 1806 at age 72. Little did he know he would become a household villain two centuries later.
This is Victoria Street, which is said to be the street that inspired Diagon Alley.
Edinburgh makes my inner Potter nerd quite happy.
Greyfriars is also well known for another famous grave besides Lord V. A cuter one I may add too. The tale goes… For fourteen years Greyfriar Bobby, a faithful Scottish Terrior, kept constant watch, through rain or snow, over his beloved owners grave until his own death in 1872. They resurrected a statue of Greyfriar Bobby to pay tribute to the loyal dog. People can now rub the pups nose for good luck. The fountain sculpture reads:
“A TRIBUTE TO THE AFFECTIONATE FIDELITY OF GREYFRIAR’S BOBBY. IN 1858, THIS FAITHFUL DOG FOLLOWED THE REMAINS OF HIS MASTER TO GREYFRIAR’S CHURCHYARD AND LINGERED NEAR THE SPOT UNTIL HIS DEATH IN 1872 WITH PERMISSION, ERECTED BY THE BARONESS BURDETT- COUTTS”
After all of my fan girling, we started the historic walk along the Royal Mile. It’s the famous succession of roads that connect Edinburgh Castle and The Palace of Holyroodhouse. You can easily spend a day exploring all the little nooks and crannies of the Royal Mile.
Here’s the starting point (or end point depending on where you start) Edinburgh Castle:
Along the Royal Mile you can find a brick shaped heart called, the Heart of Midlothian. Fun fact, it is the only legal place you can spit on the Royal Mile. The heart marks an old tolbooth (prison) doorway which was used as a point of public execution. They say people spit on the Heart for good luck now, but it was originally done as a sign of disdain from debtors towards the prison after release. I did a little spat.
Once you reach the end of the mile, you cannot miss the The Palace of Holyroodhouse or the dormant volcano next to it called, Arthur’s Seat. Before we toured the palace we decided it would be a good idea to climb the mountain. It was a trek, let me tell you. And since it had rained the day before, a bit like a slip and slide. People were falling right and left. Jared only fell once, luckily. The views at the top were well worth the hike though – I wish the pictures did it more justice.
8 years ago we did a similar trek up the opposite side of Arthur’s Seat – here’s a little throwback for you:
After our slow decent, we knocked the mud off our boots before touring The Palace of Holyroodhouse. You’re not allowed to take pictures of the inside, so here are some pictures of the exterior so you can use your imagination…
These are the remains of the Holyrood Abbey Church founded in 1128 by King David I.
Then we headed back to our Air BnB to clean-up for dinner before we headed to Edinburgh’s World Famous Hogmanay Street Party! Edinburgh’s Hogmanay draws in around 150,000 people each year. There are parties all over Edinburgh you can attend: old-town ceilidh party, a huge concert at the base of the castle, the street party & more.
Here are some little-known facts about the Scottish tradition:
- Hogmanay is the Scots word for December 31 in the Gregorian calendar, and is synonymous with New Year’s Eve celebrations in Scotland.
- Many Hogmanay customs are believed to have been brought over from Scandinavia by the invading Vikings in the 8th and 9th centuries.
- “First-footing” is among the most famous customs. It refers to the first person to enter friends’ or relatives’ homes in the early hours of New Year’s Day, bearing gifts of black bun, whisky, and shortbread.
- New Year is still referred to as Yules on Shetland, where Viking influences remain strongest.
- A centuries long ban on Christmas in Scotland lent greater importance to Hogmanay, as people worked through Christmas and took time off at New Year.
Jared and I had a great time walking around, drinking, listening to Scottish bands & people watching of course. And we even snagged a great spot to watch the fireworks. It was COLD, but totally worth ringing in the New Year the Scottish way.
One of many stages at the Hogmanay festival.
The castle aglow.
They shot off fireworks every hour as a countdown.
Waiting for fireworks to begin.
Edinburgh Castle looks good in purple.
Since we drove to Edinburgh, we decided to take a day trip up to St. Andrews; the college and meeting place of Will and Kate and the home of golf. Since it was New Year’s Day there was not much happening in the little town so we just took in the sites and spent a casual day exploring. Jared was so excited to stand on the Swilcan Bridge. We were shocked that you could just walk around (literally on) the course and even get a tee time if you wanted. Too bad we didn’t bring clubs. They don’t really qualify as carry-on luggage.
The club house.
The famous Swilcan Bridge.
Before we headed home to England (still feels like a dream saying that), we had to get some his and her’s spirits. I didn’t realize Scotland was also known for their gins as much as they are for their whiskey. I highly recommend the Edinburgh Gin. You’ll have to ask Jared about the whiskey – that’s not my thing.
Check out our Flickr to see ALL of our pictures from our Scotland road trip.
The next blog will be about some of the fun stuff we have been up to while exploring the Queen’s country!
I would like to dedicate this blog post to Tom. L. Thanks for reading and for giving me the nudge I needed to catch up.