In July, we traveled to the north to beat the heat and visit friends in the UK. Arriving in London was very exciting for these two island bums – so much to see in such a different culture than where we are now living. We spent a very full day just barely scratching the surface of “The City”. We hopped on the red double decker tour bus only to be stuck most of the time in huge traffic jams. Once off the bus we put miles on our walking shoes and took in many interesting sights such as Piccadilly Square, Victoria Station, Covent Gardens, and St. Paul’s Cathedral…
and the Tower of London. “The tower” is not a single tower like I expected but rather a huge complex that includes a historic castle, a palace and a prison that once served as an execution site for rebels. Today it houses the crown jewels and a witty group of Beefeaters that give very entertaining tours of the complex.
We also visited the Houses of Parliament occupied by the House of Commons and the House of Lords. We observed a debate in the impressive dark paneled sanctuary of the House of Commons. Looking down into the gallery from the balcony, it was easy to be transported back a century or so and imagine the wig-bedecked politicians of the time debating the current issues of English society.
At one point, we took a boat cruise on the Thames River and as we rested our poor feet, we enjoyed sights from the water including Shakespeare’s Globe theater, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
One of the pleasurable perks of traveling in central Europe is the train travel.
This city truly never sleeps. Things just started hopping after dark and being part of the vibe is very fun! We bought half-price theater tickets earlier in Leicester Square and went to the show “Chicago” at the Cambridge Theater in the West End theater district (London’s Broadway).
Staying with friends Candy and Dave (expats from Colorado living in Reading) made our visit so much more personal. We enjoyed the comfort of their hospitality in their charming Reading home. We recall the good memories of imbibing in some good English beer while chatting the evening away on their balcony overlooking the Thames River. And the next night, drinking even more good beer and laughing until our faces hurt with new friends visiting from Australia, Mike and Dennis.
The day after our frantic city tour, Candy drove us to the Cotswolds area – true pristine English countryside at its best – like a snapshot back in time reminiscent of literary greats such as Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Beatrix Potter and Winston Churchill. We began our outing with a pub lunch at the 8 Bells Pub in Chipping Campden.
We hiked approximately 10 kilometers through some of the most scenic and pastoral country we’ve ever seen. It was everything we imagined the English countryside to be complete with thatched roofed cottages…
neat little flower bedecked stone villages…
and rolling green pastures of serene beauty.
A short two days in London/Reading area was not nearly enough time to see it all. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from our travels it’s the wisdom of yet another English literary genius, G.K. Chesterton. He wrote, “A traveler sees what he sees; a tourist sees what he has come to see.” Thank you Candy and Dave for helping us enjoy seeing beyond the “sights”.
From Paddington Station, we boarded a fast train for Edinburgh, Scotland. The scene from the train as it whisked up the east coast was one of expansive green landscapes and gray sea.
Edinburgh is a fascinating old city – the historic and cultural capital of Scotland and hometown to Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and my favorite, Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote, “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” But to travel hopefully and arrive safely is the best of all.
The grand and beautiful Edinburgh Castle sits high up on a rock hill and shadows the old city. It was an 11th century hilltop fort and royal residence for centuries and now houses the crown jewels of Scotland, the Royal Palace (where Mary Queen of Scots once lived), the Scottish War Memorial, St. Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest building in Edinburgh) and the inspiring National War Museum of Scotland.
Looking down the barrel of a castle cannon gives a grand view of the city of Edinburgh and the distant sea.
The Old Town of Edinburgh is divided by a pedestrian promenade called the Royal Mile. Historic buildings pack the Royal Mile between the grand castle on the top side down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse on the lower end. We spent most of our time browsing around the Royal Mile people watching, shopping and exploring Medieval tiny alleys (“closes”), narrow winding lanes (“wynds”) and old streets (“gates”).
A day in Scotland wouldn’t be complete without joining the throngs of people spilling out from every pub for that cold glass of ale!
After a few days in Edinburgh, we ventured further north via train again into the legendary Highlands of Scotland. Destination: Inverness. These picturesque little train stations were all along the way.
Where Edinburgh is the bustling major city of Scotland, Inverness is its quieter city cousin. Situated on the River Ness at the base of a prominant but historically unimpressive castle, it is in the heart of the Highlands and a great homebase from which to branch out and see other sights.
The path along the River Ness winds in and out of beautiful wooded areas accented with whimsical benches, artful bridges and giant trees.
One full day was devoted to exploring the countryside by joining the “Jacobite Tour” group. One of the stops was at the site of an prehistoric cairn – a Neolithic burial chamber dating from 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. To the casual observer they look merely like a pile of rocks but closer observation will reveal a central “ring cairn” with an open space in the center but no access to it. This is flanked by two “passage cairns” which were once covered. The entrance shaft in each passage cairn lines up with the setting sun at winter solstice. Little is known about the origin or purpose of these cairns and the standing stones that encircle the entire site only add to its mystery.
Our tour continued with a cruise down the Caledonian Canal through Loch Ness (no monster sightings today) and ended at the ruins of Urquhart Castle. In the years of the Jacobites resistance, thousands of clan Highlanders fought to the death to preserve their freedom from English rule. Scottish heroes such as Bonnie Prince Charlie, Robert the Bruce and William “Braveheart” Wallace all made their mark in history on the surrounding hills. Urquhart Castle was home to various Scottish and English nobles and was eventually destroyed when its last owner blew it up to keep the Jacobites from taking it. It is beautifully situated on the banks of Loch Ness.
The boat cruise headed back to Inverness through many locks that service the Caledonian Canal.
Inverness is a wonderful town to explore. This old church was around the corner from our B & B.
One of the pleasures of traveling is just taking in the local flavor. Spending an evening in the local pub reading a newspaper over a pint of ale and a bowl of “chips” is just about as good as it gets!
And to top it all off, every night we had a glorious “sky show” beginning with a rainbow and ending with a beautiful sunset over the river.
Looking back on these photos and recalling the memories of our trip to the UK only increases our appetite for more. We will return!