London, York, Edinburgh, and the Scottish Highlands
12.07.2011 - 19.07.2011 60 °F
Since it's 10:12 PM and I haven't had a lot of sleep, the update will be short, but I'm frankly quite glad I'm even updating! Attempting to find WiFi that actually works on this trip has been its own journey. Hotels either don't offer it or are stingy and want you to spend millions for a few minutes. That's why I love the Best Western Castle Green here in Kendal. Great hospitality and free WiFi!
So, where to begin (as the photos are slowly uploading...will have to erase the memory card to make room)...
London was delightful as always, and fortunately it wasn't as hot as it was last year. Once we settled into our hotel (quaint and a little old, but comfortable and clean), we took a stroll down through Hyde Park and saw Buckingham Palace. We started to get a little hungry, so a trip to Henry's Cafe and Bar on Picadilly just across from the park hit the spot--An excellent place to start the trip. The next morning we departed for our morning tour (which left much to be desired--I'm glad that wasn't our only introduction to the city) and left when we reached Westminster Abbey to catch the water taxi up the river to the Tower of London. I was so grateful to have ordered our tickets early and to have more time to spend in the Tower. We were able to really look at the tower, see all the different areas, and enjoy the weather. We headed back up the river to the Westminster drop off and walked back to the hotel by way of Trafalgar Square and Regent Street. Though it was quite busy, the weather held up and managed to be nice.
The next day we were off for our actual start to the tour, and our first stop (besides the rest areas along the way) was Stratford-Upon-Avon and Shakespeare's birthplace. We stopped to see Anne Hathaway's house and drove into town to visit the birthplace. We learned quite a bit about the mannerisms of the people during that time, most notably that they slept sitting up to keep the evil spirits away (sleeping flat was too similar to a corpse). They also would wear red and dress the boys in dresses for the same reason. The house and the gardens were fascinating, especially to know that the stone floor on the main living room was the original. Weird and neat to think Shakespeare walked there!
We continued on to York and visited the town with the Shambles (the old butcher area--"shambles" was what was left after the animals had been slaughtered) and the York Minster--a grand cathedral reminiscent of Westminster Abbey. We took in the Friday evensong--long but pretty--and had just enough time to make it back to the hotel in time for our welcome drink and dinner. Here's where we started to meet the other people on the trip. Quite a few Aussies and one Kiwi couple, a few people from California and Pennsylvania, and a few from Canada. They are quite a good group--no noisy kids, no whiners, all just a lot of fun.
We departed York the next morning (sans hot shower--long story, may tell it later) for Durham, Hadrian's Wall, and finally Edinburgh. Durham was a neat town. We visited the college and the church, spent a bit of time in the town market area, and bought a delicious coffee from a young college kid who set up his own coffee cart for his income. Despite the rain, the town was beautiful. We then headed off to Hadrian's Wall, just a small patch of wall that is left over from the Romans many years ago. We continued on into the moors and across to Scotland for sweeping views of the countryside. Scotland is truly beautiful country. We ended up in Edinburgh, one of the coolest cities I've seen thus far. We were able to spend all day in Edinburgh the next day, and though we were rained on during our visit to the castle (noticing a theme?), the sky opened up and gave us a glorious day to walk down the Royal Mile, take a few shots of Holyrood Palace, and scale the hill up on Calton to catch some amazing views of the city and the Firth of Forth. We then took in a traditional Scottish show with haggis (not bad, actually) and free wine...needless to say, the ride home was hilarious with everyone singing their national anthems.
We set off the next morning ready to get to the highlands, and we stopped at Blair Castle and St. Andrews before we stopped at the Laggan Country Hotel in Laggan for the night. St. Andrews was glorious and quaint despite the rain. The college of William and Kate was so simple yet regal, and the ruins of the old church were haunting. Blair Castle, the home of the Dukes of Atholl, were also neat to see. Much like Hearst Castle in its purpose, seeing the old relics of this highland estate was exciting. We then continued up to the Laggan Country Hotel, a wonderful B and B style place in the middle of the most beautiful scenery we'd seen. Since it didn't get dark until about 10:45, we walked to the old churchyard and saw all the MacPherson graves before walking back next to the "Hielan' Coo" (cows) for a final pint of Tennant's before going to bed. I think we all begrudgingly left this morning, but the trip into the highlands and to Glencoe were amazing. Driving through the terrain that was so rough and wet was breathtaking. The stark tall mountains coming down to the glens were further dramatized by the stormy clouds followed by the hints of blue and sun. This was truly Scotland, and it makes me want to come back year after year. In fact, I'd love to do the 96-mile through-hike from Glasgow to Fort William and camp or stay in hostels along the way--the country was amazing.
The drive nearly ended with a cruise on Loch Lomond and our final descent back into the English countryside on the western side. We stopped at Gretna Green for a quick snack and continued the hour-drive into Kendal, which is where I update from now. I must say the views in Kendal are also breathtaking--a true English countryside hamlet that had the most beautiful mist-defined sunset I've seen. We took a quick walk around the woods and the glens, and we really soaked in the feeling of living in the countryside with the rain and the sun and the beauty. Tomorrow we continue into the Lake District for a cruise on Lake Windermere followed by a train ride (I think), and then it's on to Ireland...definitely something I'm looking forward to. I'll try to post some pictures on facebook...so far I have quite a few (500+), so I'll only pick a few of the best.
Goodnight for now. Hopefully I can update sooner rather than later.