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Trip Report Castling the UK

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I know that the verb to castle, as in chess, does not have the meaning I am assigning to it, but it should.

We arrived in London in the afternoon of May 14 to a glorious 60F and cloudless skies. Our original flight option gave an hour and thirty minutes before departing for Edinburgh; and, for once, I wisely thought No and changed to a connecting flight giving us three hours. Sometimes, the gods must favor those who don't believe in them because our inbound flight was over an hour late, and it must have been a peak landing time because the line for Passport Control took well over an hour. We followed all the “Connecting Flight” signs until we arrived in the lower level arrivals hall and they all mysteriously vanished. I found somebody who told us to take the street exit, turn left and immediately reenter and take the elevator to departures; a sign would have really been in order here.

One of my neighbors has done nothing but talk about how much she loves terminal 5. It's pretty and it's new and really resembles a shopping center with airplane gates attached. Security was a snap, much better than the transfer from international to domestic that I've ever experienced in the US.

We were the first to arrive at the gate for our departure to Edinburgh and hoped that the plane would not be packed. How wrong could we be? We were jammed onto buses and driven over what seemed to be half the airport before finally arriving at our plane and a completely uneventful flight to Edinburgh.

Arrival in Edinburgh had truly a sense of deja vu. I had been there once in 1982 in October to permanently overcast skies and constant drizzle. The smell of coal burnt for heating explained why they then called Edinburgh “Auld Reekie”. Our private hire driver was waiting for us. [We used this company (Gordon's Private Hire http://gordonsprivatehire.co.uk )for our three days in Edinburgh because I was tired of doing all the driving and missing all the sights. I cannot speak highly enough for the drivers we had; they were prompt, professional and their rates for the six times we used them were less than the cost of renting a car, and much less than metered taxis] He escorted us out into overcast skies and drizzle, but, thankfully, no coal fumes. Welcome home (explanation to follow)!

After about an hour we arrived at our home for three days - Dalhousie Castle. http://www.celticcastles.com/castles/dalhousie/?source=searchimg
Neither of us had ever stayed at a castle and were both looking forward to it. It was everything we had hoped for.

Since we were arriving late in the day, we quickly went up to our room – the Mary Queen of Scots suite on the second floor. If you are averse to stairs this is not the place for you; but if you can handle them, you'll be hard pressed to find a better place to stay. The suite has a nice sized bedroom with a beautiful carved four poster bed, a nice size sitting room and a small dining area in the turret room. The bathroom was the only thing that spoke of modern and it was very well done with tub and separate shower.

After refreshing our travel weary bodies we did a quick look around the outside and then retired to the Library for pre-dinner drinks and ordering dinner. Oh, to have a library like this at home! Dinner in the Dungeon restaurant was quite good; I'm not certain it was worth the price, but it was quite good.

The room has no curtains over the windows. The next morning the glorious rays of the rising sun awoke us to the beginning of a perfect day. No more clouds, no more drizzle. Just three days of perfect weather. We breakfasted in the Orangerie restaurant with a nice view over the surrounding lands. Wonderful smoked salmon and eggs. Full Scottish breakfast the next day; an opportunity to try haggis which really tasted quite good, but knowing that of which it was made made me try only a little.

Since we were only allocating one day to Edinburgh we did only the typical tourist trip starting at the castle and working our way down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace. Stopped briefly at the Scotch Whisky Experience to be reminded of how lucky we are to live in the United States where good Scotch is still relatively affordable as opposed to living in Scotland where it is truly a luxury item. We wandered through St Giles church, detoured to rub Greyfriar Bobby's nose and worked our way to the bottom of the street.

Never good at finding places the first time, I went toward what I thought to be the entrance at Holyrood Palace, only to find that ticket office is across the street in the gift shop. When I asked the lovely young lady who was selling the tickets for two concession tickets and offered our passports so she could verify our ages, she let me know that that was not necessary. I hadn't, before then, realized that my feelings could still be so easily hurt.

I've often wondered at the spelling of Stuart. I asked a young lady inside the Palace and she, looking somewhat surprised, let me know that she had never noticed there were two spellings. I next asked an older gentleman, aka somebody my age; and, after an initial look of 'how can you possibly be so stupid that you don't know the answer to this?' reminded me that Mary Stuart's mother was French and that Mary grew up in France where the alphabet has no 'w'. Thus Stewart became Stuart. It shames me to admit that I have a degree in French literature and this obvious answer never occurred to me. All in all, the tour through the Palace was okay. Am I happy I did it? Yes. Would I do it again? No.

Started working our way up the Royal Mile which is not nearly as easy as going down. Stopped briefly for slice of fudge at the fudge shop and ended up with a box – just in case we couldn't last until dinner. Phoned the friendly folks at Gordons, who picked us up promptly at the Scotsman Hotel and whisked us back to the castle in time for dinner.

Our last day in Edinburgh, we took the train to Stirling to see the castle. I have never been especially interested in genealogy, but I have some relatives who are and who have spent a great deal of time and resources in tracing our family's history. Since I find some of the results quite flattering (there are eight lords with my name who have preceded me, not all with illustrious careers), I choose to believe that what they have found is spot on. I have, therefore, a very distant relative who fought with Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn, so I was really looking forward to this visit. The castle has been recently 'renovated'. I hope that most of the money was spent in structural repairs because the interiors are a huge disappointment with several cartoonish murals or whitewashed walls. Nevertheless, I'm happy we went. We picked up a lovely reproduction of one of the Unicorn tapestries inside the castle. The walk back down from the castle through the town to the train station was actually a lot more interesting than the castle itself.

Friday, off to the airport to London. It is beyond my limited ability to understand why it is cheaper for two people to fly from Edinburgh to London than it is for one person to take the train (special fares excluded from consideration). Nevertheless, it is. So we flew.

Our driver for our last taxi ride was the owner of the company, who is a truly delightful man, sharing abundant knowledge of Scotland and the castles that we find so appealing. He started off a question with 'you know the scene in Braveheart, just before the big battle?' without ever asking if we had seen Braveheart. He just assumed, of course, that we had. Thankfully, he didn't press that matter to discover that, Scot of not, I had never seen the movie. (That oversight has now been rectified.)

If you find yourself in the Edinburgh area, I believe you will be fully satisfied with the services of both Gordon's Private Hire and Dalhousie Castle.

Two hours later we landed at Heathrow and took the tube into London. London being what it is (not accounting for the fact that in the fifteen years since my last visit, prices have soared) many more talented writers than I have described it recently so I will desist.

Photos of our visit may be found http://oldenglishstudios.home.comcast.net/~oldenglishstudios/uk.htm.
Dalhousie Castle is at Bonnyrigg, and deserves a visit. The rest of the castling is at Kenilworth and Hampton Court.

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