Monday, August 17, 2015

Cloudy with a Chance of Haggis - My Green Life & Real Estate Goes to Scotland!

Part I

We did it again…packed up the kids and headed overseas.  This was the trip that almost didn't happen though.  Normally I would have made all of my reservations by January for a Summer trip, but I fell really ill just before Winter, and there were a few months when I could barely walk due to the debilitating side effects of taking Levaquin, an antibiotic I'd been prescribed.  (The most severe side effects lasted for months and even now, 9 months later, I still have residual effects and pain. Hopefully I've been spared of the other scary side effects, but I really don't know yet.)

I was starting to feel down about my chances of a full recovery, but the optimist in me went ahead and booked the trip in the Spring, and bought travel insurance just in case I couldn't travel. Things went from bad to worse, but not in the way I had imagined.

We left for Scotland 3 days after my father's funeral.

I was emotionally & physically spent, my heart heavy, but grateful for the distraction.  It turned into a journey of healing, and sometimes, of quiet reflection.  My dad, an adventurer at heart, had always said to travel while you can, because you never know when you won't be able to.  He had told me before our last trip not to put things off, and if I REALLY wanted something, to make it happen…and so we did…passports in hand.

The Highlights (Part 1 of 2, because this post runs a bit long!) 

6 Days in Edinburgh
Past experience has taught me that my children need about 3 days to fully adjust to being abroad, with some downtime mixed in while their internal clocks reset, so our first few days are only lightly scheduled.  As we usually travel for a few weeks or more at a time (this 3 week trip was our shortest family trip to Europe so far) we had the time to start slowly.  We settled into our rented house in Craigleith, a short bus ride from downtown.  We met our neighbors, watched the fox (and once the badger!) visit our garden every day, and discovered our new favorite British TV program, Come Dine with Me (and Couples Come Dine with Me!)

Walking to our local market for groceries. In an effort to reduce waste, plastic bags are 5pence, so everyone carries their own reusable shopping bags.  Our house came with a composting bin plus recycling bin!

We walked to the market, filled our fridge with local food, and learned how to use Scottish plumbing (if you've traveled abroad, you have your own stories about foreign plumbing, I'm sure!)  Of course we visited Edinburgh Castle (in the rain) the Royal Mile, hiked Arthur's Seat (loved it!) and took a day trip out to Roslyn Chapel (which was fascinating!) where we also walked one of the marked footpaths, something I've always wanted to do, despite not knowing where it would lead.  We also visited the Real Mary King's Close, Edinburgh Dungeon, the Writer's Museum, the National Museum, National Gallery, and took the free Harry Potter Walking Tour, which ended up being my favorite activity during our Edinburgh stay!

Meeting point for the Harry Potter Walking Tour - so much fun!

We also visited Musselburgh one day for a pub lunch, followed by finding the ice cream shop the locals recommended, then walked the River Walk to the beach, which was completely empty and full of treasures. 
The adorable candy counter at the ice cream shop. I'll take a chocolate hedgehog please!
Falkirk, Sterling & Doune

To be honest, the Falkirk Wheel was not all that interesting to me, but the kids really enjoyed their "water walking" experience there.

Doune, however, was excellent!  As a lifelong Monty Python fan, I especially enjoyed the recorded tour by Terry Jones, with the extra bits about the filming of the Holy Grail, and we had recently watched the DVD extra feature of Michael Palin going back to Doune years later to talk about what it was like filming Holy Grail.  I'm also an Outlander fan, so the fact that I was at Castle Leoch was pretty cool as well.  The kids just wanted to run around with coconut shells (which they actually sell in the gift shop - these people have a sense of humor and of commerce!) while Scott and I recited silly insults atop the wall...
Sterling Castle was probably brilliant, but the kids were tired and not particularly interested.  We came to the realization on this trip, that it was easier to travel with the kids when they were younger, and didn't necessarily have or voice their own opinions so much.  Now, with them 11 & 9 on this trip, they felt they should have a say in our activities, and while I thought I had planned things they would really enjoy, it was not always the case.  Our 11 year old let us know on several occasions that he would have preferred more challenging hikes and less historic places including castles, churches, and museums!

3 Days in Beautiful Kilconquhar 

It wasn't easy to find - it wasn't on any of our maps or an option in our GPS, but we managed to find the tiny hamlet hidden away in the countryside near St. Andrews on the East coast. Of the 8 places we called home on our trip, this was the unanimous favorite lodging of our summer - the Castle Gate House at Kilconquhar Castle Estate:

We had horses out our kitchen window, and bunnies all over the estate.  The kids enjoyed a riding lesson in the stables, swimming, go-karting, and exploring the grounds, and we hit a few golf balls...

We took day trips to St. Andrews, where they were setting up for the Open.  We flew/crashed kites on the beach there, explored the ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral, and walked around town, which is a really charming place.

Journey to the Highlands
I'm skipping over our day in Arbroath & Aberdeen, only because while they were pleasant, I wouldn't call them highlights.  I took some really pretty photos, and had some very funny stories, but you had to be there. We visited the ruins of Arbroath Cathedral, and tailgated at the beach, ending our day with a really nice meal at our  swanky hotel in Aberdeen, but by this point, we were really just looking forward to the change of scenery that would be the Highlands.

July 4 we (and by we I mean Scott, who is an excellent driver in the UK!) drove from Aberdeen up to Nairn, to Culloden Moor, then through Inverness.  What a fitting start to the Highlands! Culloden was INCREDIBLY moving, and well-presented.  I've visited other battlefields before, but this one was really special.  The sky here is so vast - I don't think I've ever seen anything like it.  (Also, the museum café served Drambuie ice cream, which I enjoyed overlooking the moor, and the kids met their first Highland Coos there!)
Afterwards we drove through Inverness to Fort Augustus, via the route that hugs the western shore of Loch Ness.  Fort Augustus would be our home for the next week.  We rented a flat in this former fort turned abbey turned boarding school turned holiday apartments, which sits on the shore of Loch Ness.

While the accommodation was lovely, I hadn't realized there wasn't much to do in the town.  It made a good home base, but if I were doing it again, I would choose Aviemore closer to the Cairngorm National Park as our location.  There were more shops and restaurant choices there, though I must say I very much enjoyed our pub meal at the Loch Inn in Fort Augustus!

My son would say his highlight was climbing Ben Nevis (in the company of Connor from Atlas Mountaineering.)  It was a full day hike out of Fort William, and they had a beautiful day, snow at the summit, and my son really enjoyed learning about mountaineering with Connor!

My daughter would say her highlight was meeting the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd. It was a short hike up the mountain and we learned a lot about the reindeer - such a different experience and a gorgeous view!

She tried to take a selfie with her favorite reindeer.

The path to the herd.
 After the reindeer business, we visited the Highland Museum, which is a small village with different sections relating to different times in Highland history.  My favorite part was the small village where they filmed Outlander.  The young men working as historical characters that day shared with Scott what it was like working with the film crew, and how they had to be sure that they didn't do any damage to the village.  It was especially fun when Scott donned a kilt and we did a little Jamie & Claire scene!

Other favorites during our week in the Highlands included our sunset cruise on Loch Ness, right outside the door to the Highland Club (the old abbey where we were staying.)  It's funny to call it a sunset cruise when the sun doesn't really set until after 10pm, closer to 11pm really.  We did not spot Nessie, but we had a lovely rainbow! 

Relaxing back at our flat in their Scottish slippers.
We also loved riding the Jacobite, the West Coast railways line that was used in the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Express, over the Glenfinnan Viaaduct to the coast and back.  We had beautiful views of the islands and saw a lot of wildlife along the way.

As this post is breaking my own records in length, I'll save my absolute favorite part of our adventure, the Road to Skye and the Islands, for Part II.

Thanks for reading!


Carl Guild said...

Lovely to see your vacation! Where those real reindeer? That kinda blows my mind!

My GREEN Life and Real Estate said...

Yes, and they come right up to you! It's a beautiful spot up in the mountains.