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Trip Report Trip to Scotland and northern England June 2014

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With the help of many people on Fodors, we planned a long-awaited trip to Scotland and northern England. We got back just last week, and I've been organizing my notes and photos. I'll post the report in chunks, starting off with this overview.

One of the most important stops was Glasgow, where my father lived from the age of 5 (when his family emigrated there from Ireland) to the age of 20 (when he emigrated to the US). He told us many stories about his time in Glasgow, where he lived in a tenement, on a high floor, in a fairly poor neighborhood. I had never been to Scotland, and wanted to see where my father grew up.

A childhood friend of my husband, who was a missionary monk in Africa for many years, has been in Glasgow for the past several years, so we also wanted to visit him.

I also wanted to see a bit of the highlands and the western islands of Scotland, and a bit of Edinburgh. I've read both Samuel Johnson's "Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland" and James Boswell's "Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides", and I downloaded both to my Kindle so I could read them again on the trip.

Finally, I wanted to visit Durham mainly because of connections with the great Anglo-Saxon scholar, the Venerable Bede, whom I've admired ever since I took a university course in Anglo-Saxon language and literature.

Our itinerary was:

Flight from Ancona to Standsted on Ryanair, train to York, changing in Peterborough. First night in York.

Train to Glasgow, with three nights there.

Travel by rental car to Oban, where we spent two nights, mostly visiting Iona on our full day there.

Drive to Edinburgh, where we dropped the rental car, and stayed two nights.

Train to Durham (in England), where we spent three nights, and visited Jarrow and Hadrian's Wall.

Train to Stansted, again changing in Peterborough, spending the last night at the airport hotel.

Flight back to Ancona.

The weather was unbelievably fine for our trip, and even rather warm. We never opened an umbrella in twelve days, and I even got a sunburn the day we were in Iona. I packed long-sleeved tops, cotton slacks, a few cotton pullovers or cardigans, and one wool pullover or cardigan apiece. We each brought a lightweight water-resistant jacket, which we wore only a few times, on chilly evenings. I had looked at the forecasts just before leaving home, and had adjusted our wardrobes slightly in the warm-weather direction, but I could have gone further. A few short-sleeved tops would have been welcome, and I regretted not bringing sandals. However, one never knows exactly what will be needed for a two-week period, and I'm a committed light packer. Because of the slight miscalculation, I did a load of laundry near the end of the trip, which is something I almost never do.

Favorite Restaurants

We ate very well on this trip, and at reasonable prices. Years ago, it was hard to find a decent meal in the UK, and now I would say that if you check menus and don't go into the first place you find, it's hard to go wrong. We certainly ate better than we did on a recent trip to France, although I wouldn't want to generalize from that. We don't research restaurants in advance, because we don't like tying ourselves to reservations made in advance. We also don't care about fine dining when traveling; you could say we're definitely not foodies, although we appreciate good food.

I can't really rank the restaurants, because we had different types of meals in each one. Often in the evening, we just wanted something very light. That said, for British-style restaurants, I can highly recommend Coast in Oban, Villager (a cocktail bar/restaurant in Edinburgh, which was also one of the least expensive) and Finbarr's in Durham. The Libertine pub in Glasgow was also enjoyable, although they made mistakes with both of our orders. As far as chain restaurants, Biblos, Harvester, and Wetherspoon were good. We had mixed experiences with Café Rouge. We ate in two Indian restaurants which were both good: the Café India in Glasgow (where service was a bit slow) and Alishaan in Durham (where service was top-notch). Alishaan was not strictly an Indian restaurant; it had some other south Asian, and also Malaysian, choices.

Favorite hotels

Hotels were mostly clean and comfortable. One peeve of mine is the universal replacement of sheets and blankets with heavy duvets. On most nights it was too hot for the duvet, but not so hot that we wanted no cover at all; even a sheet would have been sufficient, but, except in two hotels, it was all or nothing. You start off under the duvet, and wake up in an hour because you're too hot. Fling it off, and in an hour you wake again, shivering. And so on, all night. Only two of the hotels had a sheet along with the duvet.

Our favorite hotel was probably the King's Lodge in Durham, although the Fraser Suites in Glasgow would be a close second. The Alltavona Guest House in Oban would be third, followed by the Richmond Place Apartments in Edinburgh, and finally, our least favorite, the Galtes Lodge in York. I can't really rank the Radisson Blu at Stansted airport, because we really only slept there.

June is a wonderful time to travel in this part of the world. In Scotland, it's the least rainy month, and the daylight lasts from about 5 AM to about 10 PM. Maybe it gets light even earlier, but I wasn't up to verify that.

Approximate cost of the trip

I added up the total cost of the trip in euros, because that's what we were spending. For 11 days, we spent about €3200 (roughly £2500, or USD4400) for two people. Of that, about €1000 was for transportation (airfare €168, trains about €500, car rental €241, ferries €40, bus to Hadrians wall €26, and taxis about €50.) Hotels were booked on booking.com and came to about €1400. Meals came to around €650, and entrances to about €150. Obviously, we saved a great deal on the airfare.

The Britrail pass might have saved us a small amount of money. We used trains on six days, so the only pass that would have made sense would have been a four-day-in-one-month pass (€229 per person), paying for point-to-point tickets on the days with the least train travel. I had bought all the longer-distance tickets in advance, with seat reservations, except for the train from Stansted to York on arrival, because I didn't know which train we would be able to take. I also didn't buy the tickets for our day trips in advance, because our plans depended on the weather. I probably didn't buy the advance-purchase tickets at the optimal times. Anyway, we would have saved no more than about £20 with the Britrail pass, so it's about even.

I'll post day-by-day accounts later in this topic.

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