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advice for 2nd week of trip - Scotland/N England

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My family is planning a trip to UK fall of 2013 for 14 days. I have 2 sons who will be 14 and 16. They're interested in seeing castles, museums, outdoor/hiking things, and all things boy-ish (also 1 is interested in music and the other is a huge European soccer fan). They have never been overseas, but my husband and I have been to UK. As of now, we're looking at having 2 separate home bases, switching at the one week mark. I've looked into National Trust cottages since they run Sat-Sat which fits in with our schedule, as well as they seem really cool and different from a hotel or B&B. We will be renting a car for our entire stay.

We'll be flying in and out of Manchester, and our first week will be on the edge of Wales. (Right now I'm leaning towards Chirk Home Farm Cottage outside of Wrexham.) I've picked this area because my aunt lived in Buckley, so everytime I've visited, this was where we stayed. I'm mostly familiar with the area and can easily plan day trips from here. This part of the trip I feel fairly confident about.

The 2nd week, everyone wants to head north. So we're looking into another rental place in Scotland. I've never been to Scotland, so the daytrips from our home base worry me a bit more. Again, we'd need the cottage from Sat-Sat, so that leads towards National Trust again. Landmark Trust go Fri-Fri. Or should I skip this plan completely and look at private rental cottages?

First - what area would you look at as a home base? We're fine with visiting strictly in Scotland as well as heading back into England some.

From that area, can you give me some examples of day trips? (I should add that my husband is interested in a whisky tour of some sort as well)

Anything that is a "must see" in Scotland? Anywhere you wouldn't head with a car? Anything at all that you can add would be appreciated.

I look online and read guidebooks but everything seems overwhelming with trying to combine a couple of things into one daytrip. We also do like to keep busy. My kids aren't much for people watching or sitting and waiting. So full days are ok with us. Thanks so much in advance! (and sorry it's so long!)

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    Spent several days near Bamburgh which is in the north of England right near the Scottish border. I was with two nephews 11 and 14.

    Bamburgh Castle and nearby beach were great. I love photography so spent time on the shore looking for good view of castle while the boys played Viking (some game they made up on the spot, can't remember the details). It was July and too cold for real swimming but they did get quite wet in the waves. Castle had quite an armor collection if I recall.

    One day drove down to Hadrian's wall. Visited the musem and some ruins and hiked along part of the wall. The younger nephew was interviewed by a BBC crew who were doing a special rogram about the wall. Too bad we never got to see it.

    Alnwick castle was interesting.

    Went out to Lindisfarne on Holy Island, where there are castle and abbey ruins. It becomes an island at high tide, but there is a causeway where one can drive out at other times. Hiked around a bit and had a good lunch. Came back over the causeway and watched the tide cover it up. The tide does come in quite quickly and we watched someone try to beat the tide and fail. They were ok (but probably quite cold) but they had to leave their car behind. Twits! The tide times are posted at both ends of the causeway.

    Took a trip to the Farne Islands and saw lots of birds. The boat went from Seahouses (right near Bamburgh).

    Checked out some of the border abbeys (Jedburgh, Dryburgh, Kelso, Melrose). Visited Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott's home.

    Drove over to Peebles and poked around the town a bit, but then walked along the River Tweed to Niedpath Castle for a visit.

    Same trip, same kids spent five days at Fort Augustus on Loch Ness. Drove to Skye and visited Clan center and watched falconry exercise and on the way back visited Eileen Donan Castle (the one you see on so many calendars with water all around it and mountains in background)).

    Spent a day at the Fort Augustus Highland Games. Informative and fun. There were events for kids where the boys could join in.

    Took a cruise on Loch Ness. No signs of Nessie, but interesting.

    Drove up along one side of Loch Ness to visit the Nessie exhibits at Drumnadrochit and visited Urquart Castle, in ruins but an interesting clamber around. Had a picnic beside Loch Ness and got chased back to the car by swans who then attacked the car. nephews tell the story (15 years hence) and have me get bitten by the swans, but I don't remember that part.

    Another day went up the other side of the loch to the Highland Wildlife park. A ranger led us on a walkabout and was humorous and informative. We got to see the wolves being fed from an overhead platform. The animals are in large enclosed areas to keep them in as natural habitat as possible.

    Went to visit Culloden where the highlanders took their last stand for Bonnie Prince Charlie and the clans were decimated. It was a foggy day and added to the eeriness of the place. Visitor center and you can walk about. Same day Cawdor Castle and Castle Stuart.

    We were at Fort Augustus over a weekend and went to mass at the abbey there (Benedictine, I think) and heard some glorious music. (And I am not much into music and the nephews who were not much into mass agreed that the music was great.)

    We also spent several days on the Isle of Mull. Hiked. Visited Iona, a five minute ferry ride over the water and visited the abbey where Scotland's early kings were buried. Took a boat trip out to Staffa Island (uninhabited) and watched puffins. Sat on the grass ten feet from one of their burrows and watched them fly in. Visited Duarte Castle.

    On our way north (we took ferry to and from Oban) we visited Dunstaffinig (sp?) castle.

    These are not all the things to see and do, but just a sample of what I covered with two boys.

    At Barnes and Noble I recently saw a spiral bound road atlas of Britain so you might pick up one of those to check on distances and ideas for visits as sights as well as towns are located on the maps. Also scenic routes are marked in green. I bought one for that trip 15 years ago and it is probably out of date as to roads but would buy a new one were I to go today.

    Have a wonderful trip! Hope my trip gives you some ideas.

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