17 nights in the UK in May!

Old Jun 1st, 2017, 03:08 PM
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17 nights in the UK in May!

I am slow in writing my trip report because I still have a traveling hangover. You know, like it was wonderful and now you're back among the miseries of real life? Anyway. This forum has been so helpful to me in planning four European trips in 5 years, and I hope some of my experiences help someone else. Here it was in a nutshell:

5 nights in London at Library in Covent Garden.
Train to Cardiff and hire car there for the rest of the trip.
4 nights in Aberaeron at the Harbourmaster.
1 night in Penrith at the Travellodge.
Ferry ride from Ardrossan to Brodick,Isle of Arran.
3 nights in Brodick at The Glenartney B&B.
Ferry ride from Lochranza to Claonig.
3 nights in Crinan at Crinan Hotel.
1 night in Luss at Inn at Loch Lomond.

There were two nights in New York City, one on either end, because we could not arrange same day travel from our Caribbean home. Those were at the Crown Plaza by JFK.

My biggest interest is ancient sites and on our first trip in 2012, I was unable to get to Kilmartin Glen, so that was a definite stop. We had also stayed in Conwy and fell in love with Wales on that previous trip, so I wanted to see some more. We had previously driven around Scotland like mad people and have since decided you can't see it all, so whatever you do see, see it in some detail and you'll still miss something.

I started my planning with a big calendar and marked off chunks of time, trying to link stops
in a logical way. We started in London and flew out of Glasgow, preventing the "double back" problem of round trip tickets. We used a mileage program, so had business or first class for most of the trip.

We took three credit cards (one AMEX), Visa Debit for ATM, and some emergency US$ in case everything failed. I guess it might have been overkill, but we have had issues on trips before. This time everything was smooth. Interestingly, in 2012, we had trouble getting people to take our AMEX (the card with no foreign transaction fees), and this time we were able to use it almost exclusively. I don't know why that has changed, but it was great.

I'm trying to think of some of the general topics I see on the boards, so may throw some more of those in along the way. Again, thanks everyone, and I will try to finish this within a couple of days. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
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Old Jun 1st, 2017, 04:46 PM
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looking forward to more...marking
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Old Jun 1st, 2017, 11:20 PM
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ttt
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Old Jun 2nd, 2017, 12:05 AM
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Acceptability of Amex cards in UK has improved steadily in recent years, as Amex has tried to sign up more establishments, adjusting commissions charged (this has been the major bugbear). Also Amex-branded cards have become more popular, as more are available with no annual fee with good cashback rates, and extended credit.
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Old Jun 3rd, 2017, 08:05 AM
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LONDON

We arrived at Heathrow around noon. Huge line at passport control/Customs, etc. Patience... Once through, we found an ATM on the way to the tube station. Able to get more than adequate cash (I think £800 was the max) with no fee. Clear signage to the station. Purchased our Oyster cards with no problem and went directly to the track. If you aren't familiar with the system, spend a bit of time on the https://tfl.gov.uk/ website. Maps and fares, etc. are there. I has printed the tube and bus maps to carry with us. The Piccadilly Line took us to Leicester Square, which was about a 3 minute walk to our accommodations..

https://www.lib-rary.com/ I really can't remember how I found this place. I can't call it a hotel, because they clearly explain that they are a private club that allows temporary membership. I have to say that first of all, I can't imagine any place more convenient. Theater, restaurants, bars, tube, bus, train (Charing Cross)are all moments away from the front door...once you actually find the front door! We walked back and forth for 15 minutes looking for it- and I had even Google Earthed it prior to the trip. It's a secret, ha ha. Look for some books at street level, then look up to the next story and you will see the sign. Location is the best thing about the place. The staff were nice enough, but not very organized. They put us in a tiny room on the top floor with no dresser drawers and very small closet. Hmm. Well we left to get an adaptor as the one I had from 5 years ago was a two-pronged one, but this outlet was three-pronged (as were all the outlets in places we stayed.) I'm still baffled by that. When we returned, the front desk said there had been a mistake and we were supposed to be in a different room (Queen Superior.) This one had two closets with drawers, a table and sofa, a kitchenette, and nice sized bathroom. That's better... I will say that the continental breakfast was adequate, nice bar for drinks in the evening. There was supposed to be a restaurant, but no one ever mentioned it or suggested it, and we wandered abound looking for it. Another mystery. Another thing I will mention is that they clearly say there may be events in the bar/breakfast room (which was directly below our window). One night they had a band that we never heard. But the last night the owner had a birthday party with LOUD techno until 2am. As I said, it was clearly noted on the website, but we were not prepared for it anyway. And my third mention is that we had paid a 50% deposit and were required to pay the rest on arrival. The bed was comfy, the shower adequate, and as I said, the location made up for many of these issues.
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Old Jun 3rd, 2017, 09:18 AM
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LONDON ACTIVITIES

This was our second trip to London, and on the first, we "did" the typical- Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, British Museum and Library, National Gallery. This time we decided to do some of the less traveled sites. My planning was for Little Venice area, Greenwich, and The City with an extra day for anything that seemed interesting or that we couldn't fit in to the first three days. On arrival day, we walked around the area-past Trafalgar Square (in our back yard), up Horseguards, by the Thames until we were too cold and hungry and tired. Slept very well.

Day 1- Wednesday. Took the tube to Warwick Ave.for the London Walks (http://www.walks.com/) Little Venice trip. This was a beautiful day. Great guide (Peter) with many interesting facts and factoids. I gather there are London Walks groupies, because several in our group were going on another one that afternoon and planning for more. Lunch. Then we depended on someone's directions to go to Paddington Station and went down the canal the wrong way for quite a bit before my Ulmon app set us straight. Gathered our prepaid train tickets for later in the week. Then we walked back through Hyde Park. No cars allowed and it was quiet and full of people enjoying the sun. Got on the #9 bus in rush hour traffic, LOL, then to the http://www.tkts.co.uk/ stand in Leicester Square where we scored tickets to "Don Juan in Soho" for the next night.

Day 2- Thursday. Walked to the Embankment Pier for the river bus. It picks up there, then goes to Westminster and turns around to Greenwich. Great way to see the Thames and all the buildings near its banks. It is touch on- touch off with your Oyster card, couldn't be easier. We were going to start at the Cutty Sark, but changed our minds and went to the Royal Observatory first. Everyone says what a climb it is, but maybe because we went on the road instead of the path, it wasn't bad. I guess most people spend about 15 minutes in there getting a photo at the meridian, but we were there for a couple of hours. We are boaters and the whole longitude problem is fascinating to us. We walked down the hill to The Maritime Museum where we had lunch before tackling British naval history. Again, because of the Caribbean connection, Admiral Nelson was a draw for us. We went through most of the exhibits there and were too tired to try for the Cutty Sark. At the suggestion of folks here we took the DLR back. Couldn't get the first seat, but we were in the second. ;-) Rest and back out for "Don Juan in Soho"- love David Tennant, we'll leave it at that! I was amazed at the crowd waiting at the (clearly marked) Stage Door, but we took off for a late dinner.

Day 3- Friday. We took the #23 bus to St Paul's for a Roman London walk with https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/thin...s/default.aspx. We had considered the London Walks tour, but I was interested in the Roman roots. Again, a knowledgeable guide and only 2 other visitors along. The tour ends at the Museum of London where we had lunch and another lengthy visit.

Day 4- Saturday. I was unable to "sell" the Victoria and Albert museum to my dear, patient partner. ("What will we see there?" "Um, stuff?") So, with clear objectives for the British Museum, we were off. Five years ago, you just walked up the steps, now you loop around for a bag check. I had three destinations- ancient Britain, the Sutton Hoo treasures (the gallery was under construction on our last visit), and the Elgin Marbles. To give you an idea of how slow I am, these took me 4 hours. A late lunch and then some shopping on Jermyn Street. A walk through in Fortnum and Mason- they only have two men's belts?

Restaurants: Mostly we just ate simply in our neighborhood. We made reservations at Cote Brasserie one night, having had a great dinner at their place in Salisbury on our last trip)and had a lovely late lunch at Savoir Faire.
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Old Jun 4th, 2017, 01:07 AM
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Great report.

This puzzled me: >

I'm in my 50s and the UK has used three-pronged electrical plugs for most of the time I've been alive. Are you sure you weren't using the two-pronged adapter somewhere else in Europe?
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Old Jun 4th, 2017, 02:03 AM
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Gyhston - you got in before me. The only 2 prongs I've ever seen here are on REALLY appliances, and that was many years ago. I'm older than you and I can't ever remember anything other 3 prongs as standard.

Anyway, great report. DS spent last week in London [I'm pretty glad he's home, all things considered] and he was at the British Museum, though I'm pretty sure he didn't spend 4 hours going round the Elgin Marbles. His only disappointment with his [free] museum visiting was that yet again, the Central Hall in the Natural History Museum is closed, presumably because they are putting something together in there.

[turns out that it's a blue whale, that's going to replace Dippy the Dinosaur:

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/news/2...ge-museum.html ]

Apropos the British Museum, I was listening on the radio the other day to an item about Hans Sloane [of Sloane Square and Hans Crescent fame] whose collection formed the basis of the British Museum and who had the idea of putting his treasures on public display which was then somewhat of a novelty:

http://www.britishmuseum.org/about_u...ns_sloane.aspx

There is apparently going to be a new biography of him, which looks very interesting.
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Old Jun 4th, 2017, 05:33 AM
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The only 2 prongs I've ever seen here are on REALLY appliances, and that was many years ago.>>

that should have been really OLD appliances, obviously.
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Old Jun 4th, 2017, 06:27 AM
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Great report so far - looking forward to the rest.

Your final itinerary did change from your initial planning - did you make it out to Mull?

>>Well we left to get an adaptor as the one I had from 5 years ago was a two-pronged one, but this outlet was three-pronged (as were all the outlets in places we stayed.) I'm still baffled by that.mis-rembering' what you used last time. Two prong plugs are used on the Continent. The big three prong-ers have been used in the UK for generations.
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Old Jun 4th, 2017, 07:13 AM
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JJ - I have very occasionally come across old 2 prongs, usually on very old light-fittings, but if you happen across one of them, the building probably needs to be condemned. [That reminds me of the elderly electrician we had rewire our house in Kent, over 30 years ago, which would have been in about 1985 or so. His comments on looking at our wiring was to say that he hadn't seen anything like that since he'd started his apprenticeship, before the war!!! no wonder our central heating had blown up the first time we turned it on, but that's another story].
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Old Jun 4th, 2017, 07:21 AM
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I am sure I must be misremembering the adaptor (memory is a strange thing), but I didn't have one in my electrical bag. Maybe the hotels provided them when we were there before? It was 5 years ago, after all. LOL. I thought I had planned everything, but it just isn't possible. Now I have a 3 pronger, too.

janisj: No, we didn't make it to Mull, but we had a beautiful view of Jura and Mull from our hotel in Crinan.
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Old Jun 4th, 2017, 08:39 AM
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TRANSPORTATION NOTES

We sampled several means of transportation on our journey.

TFL (Transportation for London): I already wrote about travel in London. When we were at Heathrow, we heard multiple visitors ask questions about trains, "subways", etc. IMHO, if you are going to London, spend some research time on this. It really is easy, once you can "see" the idea of long distance (train), medium distance (tube), and shorter distance (bus). At least that's the way I was able to sort it out. The bus is the cheapest, but you have to find out where they stop. The TFL maps are schematics, so you need to find the streets where the buses run on your own.

TRAIN: On our first trip, we took the train from London to Edinburgh (highly recommended!). I used the Man in Seat 61 https://www.seat61.com/ site to get an understanding of the train system, then http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/ for this trip. We bought out tickets on-line, in advance, £49.50 each from Paddington to Cardiff, first class. They did not have a "quiet car", but people were fairly quiet anyway. Free wifi, comfortable seats. They didn't serve any beverages, but there was food and coffee available to purchase. I would reiterate what others have said. If you are going long distances in the UK, the train is the way to go. You get to see the scenery and not a bunch of lorries on the M6. We traveled on a Sunday, which seems to be a little less rushed. EXCEPT! There were engineering works going on near Reading and all the trains in that direction were delayed, ours for over an hour.

CAR: If you want to see smaller towns and have flexibility, renting ("hiring") a car is good. We arranged through Enterprise for the second time, and we were very satisfied. I made sure that the Cardiff Central Enterprise office was open on Sunday, not all are. It was an easy walk from the train station. Very kind staff who showed us to our Nissan Juke which had built-in sat-nav. I had a road atlas and several iphone apps with GPS for back up, but Dora the Explorer, as we named her, saved the day. Oh, except the time she led us down a single track road that crossed a rushing stream. But even then, she recalculated and got us to the right spot. We put 1100 miles on the car.

Two points (for Americans who might not be aware): Every other car we saw was a Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, Volvo, etc. When you pay £1.20 per liter of fuel ($5 something a gallon), there are no "beaters" out there.

We drive on the left at home with left-hand drive, so the switch to right hand drive isn't as difficult as it might be for others. Know how roundabouts work! Easy, elegant solution to crossroads, but they depend on everyone following the rules.

Roads were in great shape for the most part. Some of the single tracks were challenging, but part of the adventure. We had one long day of travel, from Aberaeron to Penrith, but even that wasn't so bad. The motorway services are clearly marked. Petrol/diesel, food (including Krispy Kreme donuts!), coffee, clean bathrooms, and at Lockerbie, a pond area to stretch your legs. Very civilized.

FERRY: When I recalculated the trip to add the Isle of Arran, I had to research https://www.calmac.co.uk/ ferries. It turned out that Arran has two ferries, and you can take the Ardrossan ferry to Brodick, but can leave from Lochranza an end up on the Kintyre peninsula without driving all over. This fit our time schedule and got us close to Kilmartin (prime objective!)easily. It was easy to reserve on line, however, I think we had to call to confirm or to give them our credit card info. Everyone at Cal-Mac was terrific. They e-mail your confirmation and you show it when you arrive at the ferry. The smaller Lochranza ferry doesn't take reservations, but you just show up and pay. I had looked at You Tube for background and there is a video that shows the entire process of boarding and leaving the ferry, which was helpful. All of the schedules and fares are listed on the website for all of the Scottish ferries. Thumbs up!!
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Old Jun 4th, 2017, 11:04 AM
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ABERAERON

On trip number one, we went to Conwy for three nights. I knew we would have to return to Wales and I wanted to see a different part. It is difficult to research Wales, not a great deal available, even here on Fodor's. You might gather from my choices, that we love the water, and you would be correct. Everything I read indicated that the Welsh culture was strong in the west. When we were in Conwy, we never ran into any Welsh speakers, and I wanted to experience this. Some of you all suggested Aberystwyth, and while I am a big "Hinterland" fan, I thought it might be a bit too large. Aberaeron was just right.

We stayed for four nights at the Harbourmaster: http://www.harbour-master.com/. It sits between the Aeron estuary (boats) and the ocean (sunset over the sea)and our third floor room looked over both. There is no lift, if that's a problem. They seem to have loyal staff and a hands-on presence by the owners. There is an excellent bar with Welsh cask ales and Welsh gin, as well as all the regular drinks. They have two restaurants. One has prix fixe, two or three course meals. The other is in the bar area and has more pub items like fish and chips with mushy peas! Both are excellent, and we ended up there for dinner every night. I did not want to leave.

We arrived at 5 pm Sunday, an hour+ delayed because of the railroad delay out of London. Immediately bundled up and walked around the town, looking at the boats, the beaches(low tide)and getting a sense of the area. Aberaeron is small,and yes it was a planned town, but we loved it. After dinner,it is apparent from the glow across the estuary that the sunset will be fabulous. We are encouraged (along with everyone else in town) to take our drinks and go outside. It was a fiery ball over the Irish Sea. Great start to this stay in Wales.

Monday- We walked about town looking at the sights until about noon. When it was clear that the weather wasn't going to improve, we got in the car and drove to Aberystwyth to go the to Welsh Library. We never found it, but we did wander the waterfront and the ruins of the castle, had a late lunch at Harbourmaster's sister restaurant, Baravin. As we drive back, we see the source of the lamb and cheese and steak, but I never figured out where all the bacon comes from! Never saw pigs at all. The hills are so green and picturesque... At the bar, the bartenders and other customers help teach me a few more Welsh words and help with my pronunciation.I'm fairly proud that I can say "ll".

Tuesday- Again with rain and wind, we decide to light out to look for Pentre Ifan, a neolithic burial site southwest of Cardigan. It took Dora a while to find it, and we were the only people there for our visit. The information boards on all the ancient sites were helpful. I find the settings of most of these sites to be incredibly evocative. I can imagine why the ancient people picked them for burials and monuments. We then looked for Castell Henllys, an iron age village reconstruction nearby. I guess these places are just a bit remote for Dora, but she did find it after a few starts. They have rebuilt the hill fort on foundations that have been uncovered and have reconstructed gardens, pig and sheep enclosures, etc. The docents dress in period costume. It is set up for children, but we enjoyed it. They have a good book selection and a great little cafe. I believe it was about and hour and a quarter drive to this area of Pembrokeshire. Back to Aberaeron, and we make the rounds of the pubs before dinner. Met some locals tonight and had a heck of a time!

Wednesday- Hightailed it back to Aberystwyth for the Vale of Rheidol Railway to Devil's Bridge. This is one of the activities that is highly advertised for this area of Wales. It seemed that most of the people were there just for the train (I was thinking Sheldon from Big Bang would love it)but I was interested in the bridges and waterfall walk. Unfortunately, the longer walk cannot really be done in the time you are given (an hour), unless you stay for the last train. We did the short walk to see the Three Bridges and the Devils' Punchbowl. I'll have to go back and rewatch the Hinterland episode that was filmed at the Falls... The train ride is an hour each way with an hour at Devil's Bridge,so we were back at 1:30 and decided to try to find the Forest of Borth. However, once we stop for a bite to eat, we discover that it is only exposed during certain conditions. One of those is low tide, and it's not. Back to the hotel and a wander around with a scoop of the Hive's honey ice cream. Again, we meet more locals who recommend that we walk up the river, so we do. Ducks and ducklings, fishermen, falls, a communal garden area. One more delicious dinner at the Harbourmaster and tomorrow it's time to say goodbye.
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Old Jun 4th, 2017, 01:08 PM
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WALES TO SCOTLAND

Initially, I thought about turning in the car and flying or taking a train to Scotland. It got to be too much of a muchness, so we decided to suck it up and drive the whole way. As it has been said, it is difficult to get out of Wales. Even the A roads are slow going, although they are beautiful. We left Aberaeron at 10 am and arrived at Penrith at 5:30. This included lunch at the Community Center in Llandegla- a great place to support if you are in the region! Also stops for petrol and coffee. The AA route planner says this is a 4 1/2 hour drive. Don't go by those times. You have been warned about that previously! Anyway, we stayed at the Travelodge right off the M6 in Penrith.This is a fine place to rest a night while you are on the road, but obviously nothing fancy. We had a short break, then got back in the car and drove to the Castlerigg Stone Circle. This image has been on my screen saver for several years. The site does take your breath away. We were able to spend a few minutes alone, but these stones are fairly popular and people came in while we were contemplating. I was happy to do this in the evening, the light was sublime. Really cool spot. BTW, sightseeing is so much easier this time of year in the big latitudes. The sun didn't set until way late,and even at 10 there was light in the sky. This is from someone who lives in the tropics with equal days and nights year around. Had dinner at The King's Arms, a pub near the Travelodge. Cask ale and good steak and ale pie.

After a good night's sleep, it's back on the road to Ardrossan. AA says 2 1/2 hours, It was more like 3 1/2 or more.I had thought about stopping at Troon or elsewhere, but we got to town in time only to have some lunch and fill up the car before our 2:30 ferry. It was recommended to fill up before arriving on Arran, as there aren't as many gas stations there. We were glad to have the long drives behind us as we drove into what looks like the mouth of a whale for the 55 minute crossing.
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Old Jun 4th, 2017, 01:57 PM
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glad to see a mention of Hive's honey ice-cream, E. Our son was all too briefly at uni in Lampeter and by chance one day we discovered Aberaeron and the ice-cream. Yum! An what a pretty place - just where I would choose to stay if I were going to spend a few nights there. You had a lucky escape with Aberystwyth - we spent one night there and never again. The only place we could find to eat was the pier which turns out to have a huge snooker club attached to it. Who knew?

You did a massive drive to Penrith, and another the next day - glad it was worth it!
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Old Jun 5th, 2017, 03:23 AM
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annhig: We saw the snooker club! Also a huge pinball parlor in the front of that building. Kinda like Coney island or something. I think we have finally learned our lesson on long drives. When we go back, it will be to a much smaller area. It is very difficult to choose from all the places I want to see.
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Old Jun 5th, 2017, 09:14 AM
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When we go back, it will be to a much smaller area. It is very difficult to choose from all the places I want to see.>>

you're right, E. When our kids were small, we had a holiday home in North Devon where we went 3-4 times a year, and at least one of those stays was always 2 weeks or more. We did this for about 10 years and we never ran out of things to do, whether it was old favourites or something new. Now we live in Cornwall, which is a place that many people visit for THEIR holidays and we joke that they have seen more than we have!

I'm worried that in our upcoming trip to Switzerland we're spreading ourselves too thin but as you say, there is just so much to see!
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Old Jun 5th, 2017, 08:04 PM
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I'm really enjoying your report. Last summer we took the kids to London, York and a bit of Scotland. I realized half way into my planning we were never going to make it to the West Coast of Scotland for that trip--as you say, too long of drives-- so we will have to go back. And I do want to visit Wales someday.
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Old Jun 6th, 2017, 05:56 AM
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bookmarking for later installments.
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