Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Heading North to Scotland

The morning of the 29th I headed out of the hostel and began my hour-long trek to Heathrow airport; it was made wonderfully simple (although still quite long) by the fact that the tube makes stops at each of the terminals.

I met Michael at around 9:40, and together we took a shuttle out to the car rental lot where Mom was waiting. After that, we were pretty much immediately on the move, and I was definitely impressed by how quickly Mom got used to driving on the wrong side of the road, as well as the incredible number of roundabouts. I mean, we survived, so all in all, she was amazing.

Our first stop was Bletchley Park, home to top-secret code-breaking endeavors during World War II. The military aspect wasn't all that interesting to me, but learning about the day-to-day lives of the people who worked there certainly was. Especially cool was the way the bunkers were laid out as if the workers had just stepped out for a break. In every room there were knick-knacks strewn about: a lipstick and compact on top of a filing cabinet, a jacket hung on the back of a chair, a chess set mid-game.

Our trek continued up through the Peak District, which is beautiful, until we came upon Chatsworth House. It was breathtaking; you come up around a bend and suddenly the house just there across the river. I was pretty excited; not only are the house and grounds gorgeous, but they play Pemberley in several adaptations of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice (including my favorite, the 2005 edition starring Matthew Macfayden and Keira Knightley). It was a little rainy when we arrived, but that hardly detracted from the beauty. After that stop we continued our drive up to our hotel up near Leeds.

The next day we drove around Leeds for a bit, before making a stop at the Royal Armouries Museum. The best part of the museum was the case of swords from the Lord of the Rings movies, although the Japanese archery gear was pretty cool too.

The next stop was more my speed, another of those glamorous English manors, Harewood House. The first sight of it is not quite so impressive as Chatsworth, but the grounds more than made up for it. Most enjoyable were the Himalayan gardens, with a waterfall and river whose stepping-stone path you could cross (if confident enough in your sense of balance) and a variety of unfamilar flowers. They also had a bird garden, which featured snowy owls, a kookaburra, flamingos, and even penguins. On a side note, this house too played Pemberley.

We continued on to Durham, where we met up with Emily (whose family had also been stationed in Monterey, California when I was born). We saw the Cathedral and Castle, plus a bit of the university. Although Emily is attending university in England for the entirety of her degree, it was still interesting to get another person's perspective as an American studying in the UK.

 We spent the night up across the border of Scotland, in Hawick. To get there, we had to drive through the Northumberland National Park (the southern half of which is moorland and the northern half of which is a range of rolling hills known as the Cheviots) during twilight. The natural light lingered incredibly late, by which I mean it was still somewhat light out even at 11 pm.

That Saturday morning we spent some time in the nearby town of Jedburgh, where we enjoyed a full Scottish breakfast - no haggis, though - and saw the abbey with its absent roof and empty window frames.

After that we headed back through Northumberland and down to Hadrian's Wall. Our first stop was at the Chesters Roman Fort, which once housed cavalry. The ruins were interesting, particularly some of the fragmentary inscriptions housed in the indoor museum, as well as the remains of a Roman bath.

Next we headed over to Housesteads Fort, which afforded a much better view of the wall itself, although this did require a bit of a walk uphill to reach the fort itself, as the fort was strategically placed on high ground. We then headed back across the border, enjoying the Northumberland National Park for a third time, to spend another night in Hawick.

Check it out! I have a cupcake store!
 The next day we continued our drive north. Our only stop for the day was in Edinburgh, so we spent a significant amount of time walking around. However our first stop was at a Vodafone, so that Mom and Michael could get UK plans, mostly to take advantage of the data.

 In town we focused on the Royal Mile. We actually started somewhere in the middle, so we headed down to one end at Holyrood Palace, which is the official residence of the Queen in Scotland. By the palace is the Queen's Gallery, which is currently home to a painting by Sir Peter Lely of Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond and also the model for the idealized allegory of Britannia.
St. Giles Cathedral

He's pointing because we're awesome
We continued along the Royal Mile, making a quick stop at St. Giles Cathedral, which has a particularly distinctive crown steeple, before continuing onwards. At the other end of the mile is Edinburgh Castle, which was an impressive prospect at the top of the hill and which we had seen from several different angles as we walked around town.

After leaving Edinburgh, we continued our journey north to our flat just outside Blairgowrie. This flat was even nicer than the last, although still sadly lacking in a good Wifi connection. (But really, what can you expect when you're out in the middle of nowhere?) We ate dinner at the nearby Dalmore Inn, which had the most amazing lamb shank I had ever tasted.

Monday was our last full day in Scotland, and our last day heading north. We made our first stop up at Blair Castle. The best part was definitely the exterior of the castle itself, and the walled-in Hercules Garden. However the interior was certainly interesting as well, despite a design tendency towards covering the walls in deer skulls and antlers (creepy, right?). There were some great paintings (even a couple of Mary, of William & Mary fame) and lots of artifacts related to Queen Victoria, because shewas close friends with one of the duchesses who lived there.

We continued up to Inverness so that we could drive alongside Loch Ness. It was incredibly gorgeous, and we pulled off the road to take a couple of pictures. We even got to walk down to the edge of the loch. Our next stop, Urquhart Castle, was located on the banks of Loch Ness and was once one of the largest castles in Scotland, although it is now in ruins.

On our way back down towards Blairgowrie, we made a stop in Dunkeld to take a quick look at the cathedral there, part of which is in ruins, and part of which is still in use as the parish church.

That was our last evening in Scotland, and our last in Britain for a while. The next morning we would be driving down to Cairnryan to take the ferry into Northern Ireland.

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