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Trip Report History, scenery, scones and sheep- our UK adventure!

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As an introduction, this trip report is the result of about 6 months planning, much of it done using the advice I got here on Fodors (thank you to janisj, indy_dad, and sooo many others) and the many trip reports I read (see above). This trip was a joint graduation gift to my 2 DDs. One graduated from high school in 2012 and the other this year and I'll have both in college in the fall. My mother passed away in 2011 and left me a little money and I wanted to use it to have memories we could make together before they don't want to hang out with me anymore! It has just been us 3 girls for 12 years now and we travel well together (luckily). We have never travelled internationally before with the exception of Canada, but that was before we needed passports and my family is from there, so we always had places to stay. We chose our destinations of London and a big chunk of Scotland because, well, its London, right? The proximity to the Harry Potter studio and the Dr Who experience certainly added to the appeal of London as a home base for a week. Scotland has been a dream of mine forever because my paternal grandmother emigrated from Broughty Ferry and I can still hear her brogue. My maternal grandmother was also scottish on both sides, although her connections emigrated much earlier during the clearances. I spent a lot of time on before the trip gathering information and using documents we found in my mother's belongings. The Scotland portion was planned with where my ancestors were from in mind. We had a total of 20 days incl travel days. We had a jam packed schedule, but we may never get this opportunity again so we did and saw as much as we could.
Accomodations: We are ok with "roughing it" a bit and didn't have a big budget for this trip so we stayed in a combination of hostels, BnBs and one apartment. We have hostelled in the US with our Girl Scout troop so we had some experience with that sort of accomodation and were not disappointed in the ones we used in London and Scotland.If you are looking to save money in an expensive place ( hello London!), it's not a bad way to go and certainly not just for young people anymore. I will detail the accomodations in my day by day report. The trip exceeded our expectations and I want to give back a little in the hopes that I, too, may be of some help with someone else's trip planning. :-D

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    Day 1
    We chose an evening flight on Virgin Atlantic. Price was a teeny bit better than the competitors and we thought we might sleep. Looked longingly at the full bar and first class sleep pods to our left as we were ushered to coach where the peons sit. I have no complaints about the flight or airline other than the HARD seats. Seriously, a little padding would not go amiss VA! Sleep, therefore, was fitful at best. We landed at 12:15pm in London and got through immigration in less than an hour. Got our one checked bag, hit an ATM for cash and bought our oyster cards for the tube, discovered the vast array of sandwiches at Marks and Spencer and were off to find the tube station by 1:30. Thankfully, the tube was not crowded at that time since we each had a backpack and roller bag. If we had arrived during rush hour, I would have paid extra to get a car service. We quickly learned that Londoners on the tube don't suffer slow moving tourists well. (:| I wanted us to keep moving as long as possible, so we took the tube (a bit over an hour) to King's Cross to get our 7 day travelcards for the 2 for 1 offers and then took a bus from there to a stop about 3 blocks from our hostel.
    YHA Oxford St
    The hostel is located a block off Oxford St on Noel St. Oxford Circus tube station was 3 blocks away. I researched all the London hotels including the non-YHA ones heavily before deciding on this one. We are members of hostelling international so we got a discount and free wifi. The cost for 7 nights was ₤588. There is a full kitchen and we made breakfast every day and had some dinners there as well. They do have a breakfast you can purchase, but we saved money doing it on our own. There is a teeny lift that goes to reception 3 floors up, but you have to schlep your stuff up from there. We were only one floor up and didn't have heavy bags. We had a 3 bed private room with a sink. The shared showers and toilets were down the hall and there was never a queque. The place was spotlessly clean and surprisingly quiet for its location. We met some awesome people from all over which is what I like about hostels. The staff was very helpful and friendly. I felt the location was really excellent for getting to everything. I would absolutely stay there again.

    Once checked in, we were off to buy payg phones for my girls from carphone warehouse on Oxford St, buy food and explore the neighborhood. We discovered we can't afford anything at Topshop, that Oxford St is a zoo and to be avoided at peak times (or at all, I'm not a shopper), that M&S was our new fave store and that pubs are every other door front it seems. Soho has a cool vibe, we liked it. We spent a lot of time that first day just whipping our heads around trying to take it all in. We were so blown away by our first glimpse of London. Back to the hostel for dinner-3 different microwave meals from M&S which were surprisingly good- showers and hopefully some sleep because Day 2 starts with the Tower of London and so much more!

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    Day 3 Yes, I know it looks like I skipped one, but Days 1 and 2 were kinda all the same day since we had an overnight flight. The list for today: Tower, Tower bridge, Borough market, the Globe, St Pauls and British Museum. I know, sounds crazy, but sanity is overrated ;).

    Hello jetlag, aren't you fun? Eyes popped open at 2am and wide awake. Forced ourselves to stay in bed until 5. It did give the girls time to get beautified (important in case they should run into any of their favorite brit actors or musicians-like any of them will be hanging out playing tourist like us) and we had a big breakfast. British bacon is the bomb! Since we had plenty of time, I decided we should take the #15 bus as suggested on here so many times. We took the tube to Holborn and walked to the Strand to catch the bus. There was some confusion as to the specific directions(and perhaps a little crankyness displayed by all in our temporary frustration), but a handy Starbucks and their wifi helped us out. I'm not fond of their coffee, but their wifi is great- didn't even have to go inside. The city was quiet and drizzly, but not cold and we had the top, front of the bus to ourselves. Lovely watching the city wake up. We still got to the Tower early so popped into the Costa right there for some fantastic lattes and an equally fantastic view of the Tower. Used our 2for1 vouchers and were some of the first people inside. Again, great advice from fodorites about getting to the jewels first thing. We could look at our leisure completely unobstructed. They are extraordinary! About an hour later, we looked down from the wall and the whole place had filled up with tourists and school groups. We did the audio guide and part of a yeoman warders tour. Here's where being flexible with planning comes in. There's no way to know how long you'll spend in any given place if you've never been there so we made a list of what we wanted to do in order of importance. We spent 4 hours at the Tower! We only left because we needed food and a rest. My plan to eat at Borough Market changed to eating closer at a Cafe Rouge in St Katherine's docks. Really good lunch. Then we walked across the Tower bridge to the Queen's Walk and moseyed down to the market. Lovely views across the Thames. The market was a supreme temptation to my wallet. We tasted all sorts of foods (the cheese-oh the cheese!)but limited ourselves to some jams and curds, bread and cheese for later. Should have re-thought the jars. They got heavy later. Kept walking down the path and just peeked in at the Globe. Girls weren't interested in the tour, so we moved on to the Millenium bridge. The views up and down the river are fantastic there and of course across to St Pauls. We got to the cathedral in time for evensong as it happened and we needed a rest, so we stayed. Lovely, just lovely and what a setting. Then we took the tube to Holborn and walked to the British Museum (planned this way because it is open late on Fridays). We knew we would just have time for a glimpse, but we saw the mummies, the Rosetta stone and a few other rooms. That place needs a lifetime to explore, but one of my DDs is not so much into museums so a short visit suited her fine. Back on the tube to Oxford Circus, beat our way through the crowds spilling out of the pubs and drinking in the street for some so-so chinese food and back to the hostel to crash. If we don't sleep better tonight, it's not for the lack of being tired!

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    Good pointers, will strive to make it easier to read! Can't have janis squinting :) I'm writing from my notes which are more like a stream of consciousness. I was clearly not in my right mind when writing some of it.

    It might also be useful to some to actually say what time of year this trip was-duh.

    June 5-24 2013.

    Day 4 to follow once I decifer my notes.......

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    Day 4
    Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament, Horseguards Parade (for the 4pm changing of the guards), Churchill War Rooms, St James and Green Parks, Buckingham, Piccadilly Circus

    Ahhhh, a good night's sleep as last. I knew to check the tube for closures since it was a weekend and sure enough, the tube line we needed was down for repairs so we took a bus. For some reason, despite all our resources (maps, online research etc) we always had some confusion with the busses. My 17yo DD ended up being in charge of transportation in London (and eventually my navigator in Scotland). She just "got" it and we deferred to her. For "country folk" not used to public transportation, I think we did ok. The tube was easier to navigate than we expected and there was that nice lady reminding us to "mind the gap".

    We didn't get to Westminster as early as we wanted, but a bit of a lazy morning was a good trade off. We waited in line about 20 min. enjoying the bright blue skies instead of drizzly overcast. Took the 90 min verger tour- money well spent. Got us in to see some tombs the regular visitors can't see like Edward the Confessor's. What a spectacular gothic edifice and the interior is unbelievable. Had no idea until they found it, that my DDs have a relative buried there on their dad's side, Joseph Addison, who has a huge monument in the poet's corner. They surreptitiously took pictures of it- shhh, don't tell. We had a decent lunch there, but bad service (something we found to be a common thread throughout our visit, but we weren't eating in upscale places either).

    Walked to Big Ben and Parliament. Didn't go on the Eye even though I had a 2 for 1 coupon (not to be confused with the Days Out 2 for 1's, I got the link for this from someone on fodors). We just didn't want to take the time. On the way to Horseguards we ran into the "Naked Bike Ride", an annual event. It looks as uncomfortable as it sounds, but they had a nice, warm day for it!

    On the way to Horseguards, we passed the Churchill War Rooms. This was something I had planned to do alone when my DDs go to Cardiff for the day, but we were early for the changing of the guard and they were interested, so we decided to go together. I had a 2 for 1 voucher so at least we saved some money, but in hindsight, we needed more time (we were there a bit over an hour). The place is HUGE. Can't tell because it's underground. If I was to do it over again, I would have skipped the changing of the guards and just spent more time in the War Rooms. My dad, an RCAF airman in WWII (my family is all Canadian except for me), would have loved the place!

    After watching the horseguards do their thing (and it is cool to be so close to the horses with no crowds), we sauntered over to St Jame's Park. It was 5pm and the park was full off lily white London residents soaking up some much needed vitamin D. The park was jammed on a truly glorious day! Didn't feel like we were in a city of 8.5 million. Buckingham Palace was bigger in person and you can get closer to it than say the White House. The door on "the" balcony was open- might some royal personage make an appearance just to say hi? Sadly, no. Next to it is Green Park and we stumbled on the Canadian War Memorial which was another thing my dad would have liked to see. He visited London before it was erected. It is a unique water feature with bronze maple leaves that the water runs over making it look like leaves floating down a stream. Very nice dedication to the Canadians who fought alongside the British in WWII.

    A short walk through Green Park took us to Fortnum and Mason and Piccadilly Circus. We ogled the gorgeous cakes and sweets in F and M and bought some teas to take back home and, of course, some sweets for later :) We were a bit foot sore or we would have spent some more time in the store although my pocketbook was probably relieved by our short visit.

    Tube back to Oxford Circus, bipped into M&S for breakfast fixings and had dinner at the Coach and Horses pub across the street from the hostel. Very good steak pie and fish and chips. I had a Pimms- it did not disappoint and hit the spot. Back to the hostel for multiple battery charging and journaling. Good thing I brought a small surge protector with multiple outlets! What with all the phones and cameras, we were charging something all the time.

    Tomorrow our first day trip- Oxford!

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    Day 5 Oxford

    Tube to Paddington for a 9:30 train. I bought all our train tickets online as soon as the advance tickets went on sale and travelled off peak, collecting the tickets at the stations. The only snag (and more on this later in Scotland) was one of my credit cards got cancelled a few weeks before our departure because some of the company's (Capital One) accounts were "compromised". My account didn't have any false charges, but they closed it anyway and sent me a new card in time for the trip. The train companies state you must have the card used for the purchase on hand when collecting your tickets and to call if there's a change. I had used 2 different cards for this trip so I had to sort out which one I had used for various things. I thought I only used this card for this one train reservation. That was one of the few overseas calls I made before we left just to be told I had to call back the day before departure. I did, the train people were confused, but they sorted it out and I was able to collect our tickets. Whew!

    We were early to Paddington and got distracted in a cute card shop (can they really say those things on the front of cards?) and almost missed the train! We had to shoo people out of our clearly marked, reserved seats with a table, but they were nice enough about it. Cloudy and cool today, but the countryside was pretty with the green fields and yellow rapeseed everywhere. Green is a color we don't see much of in California. We took the only hop on/off bus of our trip here because it was inexpensive. We did get a nice overview and history of the town and its various colleges so it was worth it. The town is gorgeous with buildings dating back to 1066. I had booked an extended tour of the Bodleian Library which gives you access to so much more than the standard tours, areas most visitors never get to see. I recently read a novel where it and Oxford were featured prominently which sparked my interest. My 17yo is a book hound so she was excited. Did not know that the Divinity School there was used as the infirmary in a few of the Harry Potter movies. The ceilings there were beautiful. My neck was beginning to hurt from all the decorative ceilings everywhere! The Bodleian is amazing. It houses everything ever published in the UK! Books, periodicals, everything. Parts of it date to the 13th century, but was in disrepair when Bodley saved it and donated his huge personal collection of books. He also opened it to the public feeling that books should be enjoyed by everyone, not just nobles and scholars. They let us hold and examine a book from the 16th century. Very cool. It is still used today as a library for all the various colleges in Oxford. It would be amazing to study there! We saw a lot of students studying in the Radcliffe Camera next door. An interesting round building that they had to design special book shelves for since it's, well, round.

    The tour took longer than expected, almost 2 hrs, so we had to hurry to Christ Church College. A must see for my girls with its connection to the Harry Potter franchise. What a gorgeous building and grounds. My word, we ooohhed and ahhhhed all over this town, but this college is spectacular. The students had just had lunch in the dining hall and it was amazing to think that it's probably no big deal to them to eat in such historic surroundings with old, old portraits on the walls. It looks just like the great hall in Hogwarts, as it should since it was the inspiration. Amazing. The cathedral (dates back to the 900's) there had the most beautiful stained glass we saw on this whole trip. Just astounding.

    We wanted to see the Ashmolean museum, but it closed before we got there :( We had a decent dinner in a pub. My 19yo tried a Pimms and didn't like it so I drank it and my Nicholson's. Score! The train back to London was crowded as was the tube for a Sunday night. We certainly have learned to heed the "stay to the right" signs on the escalators in the tube stations. The locals will run you down if you don't. At least Oxford St itself was quieter at this hour (8:45).

    Off to bed with a pain pill for my neck (why did they have to decorate ALL the ceilings?).

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    Truly enjoying your trip, look forward to reading more. We did a family vacation with a bit of inherited money from my mom too; it was the best so I understand your incentive.

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    Enjoying trailing along in your memory-footsteps; I was just in London for a couple days (in middle of 3 week trip) and am working on a TR, too, so encourage you to keep it coming. What memories!

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    >>Green is a color we don't see much of in California. <<

    Well - there is that two weeks in April ;)

    Wonderful report - I've walked through/crossed Green Park countless times and this past May was the first time I've seen the Canadian memorial. Really lovely.

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    {Small footnote for other visitors from Commonwealth countries]

    A number of war memorials for the different Commonwealth countries are grouped along and around Constitution Hill and Hyde Park Corner.

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    "The Bodleian is amazing. It houses everything ever published in the UK!"

    Alas, no.

    In 1550, virtually all the books in the library established in 1488 by Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester, were destroyed as a result of anti-Catholic legislation. The buildings remained book-free till around 1590, and had an idiosyncratic acquisition policy till it was legislated in 1710 that a copy of all books published in England (but not Scotland or more importantly Ireland, which became a significant publishing centre as a result of its exemption from English legislation) had to be deposited at Oxford and Cambridge.

    The Bodleian has never been able to make any significant inroads into its lack of pre-1600 English (never mind Scottish or Irish) books: the British Library has a much bigger collection, especially of pre-Reformation manuscripts. The University Library in Cambridge (where the Reformation was far less bloody) has developed its collection since roughly the introduction of printing into England without any period of mass destruction. It comes closer than anywhere else to being able to claim a near-complete collection of all books printed in England

    Like the university libraries in Dublin and Cambridge, the Bodleian now gets a copy of all books published in the UK and the Irish Republic. But that's only been the case since the 1840s.

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    In my defense, I was just quoting the guide from our tour. To her credit, she did say the British library had more. Interesting your comment in regards to Cambridge. Between the 2 guides we had (the Hoho bus and the Bodleian) there was communicated a distinct rivalry between the 2 universities. Of course, Oxford being older, better etc. etc. Nonetheless, anything older than 200 years to us Americans is hard to process and impressive, so we were bound to be amazed no matter what, even if our education was less than accurate :)

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    we do so enjoy those 2 weeks! My dad and I took my girls when they were little to Washington DC and Virginia and I remember them asking "why is the grass on the side of the road green and not brown?". Sad really, but the alternative is more rain and you know how most Californians would handle that (omg, what is this wet stuff falling from the sky? How can I drive when the road is wet?.......)

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    They call it the 'Golden State' - and that is what I considered it - beautiful golden hills in the coastal and Sierra foothills. . . Until I moved to England and realized the 'gold' is really brown :)

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    Ok, on with the TR

    Day 6 Cardiff, Wales and Hampton Court Palace

    Before you wonder how we did both in the same day, my DDs went to Cardiff for the Dr. Who Experience and I went to Hampton Court by myself (ahhh, alone time).

    We were all sleepy heads this morning and the DDs took some encouragement/mommy-threats to get up. They didn't have a train until 10:15 from Paddington so it's not like they had to get up that early. The 19yo was still nervous about striking out on their own, the 17yo could have cared less. I am not a "whovian" and had no interest in accompanying them so I decided they were old enough to go on their own (and no, it had nothing to do with mom needing alone time- that was a nice side benefit). :)

    I took the tube to Vauxhall and a pleasant 20 min or so train ride to Hampton Court using the oyster card we got at Heathrow. I was able to figure out how much we needed to load for the ride in from Heathrow, my trip to HC and our trip to Watford Junction and the Warner Bros studios and got it just right. There was very little left on any of our cards at the end of the trip :) We used our paper 7 day travelcards for all the transport in London.

    The weather was overcast again, but not cold and NOT raining. We have lucked out so far with the weather. Wow, this place is HUGE. I am glad I didn't have anything else planned for the day so I could take my time here. I got there around 10:30 and there were fewer visitors than I thought there would be. They were setting up for a big 4 day music festival and there was a stage and seating stands set up in the main courtyard which detracted a bit from the ambiance, but what a place to listen to music!

    Henry VIII's story is interesting and tragic at the same time. There were costumed actors portraying him and some of his wives wandering all over the palace acting out scenes. "Henry" came through the dining hall and asked me if I knew where "Anne" went. I had been looking at the ceiling and windows along with my audio guide (again with the damn ceilings) so my reply was along the lines of "huh, what, ummm?". In my defense, the actor was VERY attractive. Later on, in the kitchen garden, I was watching another scene between Anne and her brother with a school group when "Henry" appeared again. This time, they made us "serfs" kneel. I know that actor recognized me as the tourist with the excellent vocabulary from the dining room. Now he got to see me struggle, awkwardly, to get back up from kneeling with a backpack, camera around my neck and headphones dangling. Did I mention he was ATTRACTIVE?

    Thankfully, I did not see him again and I continued on, really enjoying the beautiful rooms. William III and George II, especially, had lovely paintings and decor. There was a special exhibit about the royal bedchambers that was interesting (they were not just for sleeping as it turns out). It was important that royal births be attended by numerous people to prove that the baby was indeed "royal". One poor queen had 70 people watching her and they still decided that the baby was smuggled in in a bed warmer! The various beds and tapestries were impressive.

    I had a lovely shrimp salad for lunch in the cafe with my first scone and clotted cream. Tea and scones are just so civilized. Scones in the UK are soooo much better than the crappy ones we get here. And clotted cream? To die for. We made a habit of eating them throughout the rest of the trip (hence the scone bit in the title of this TR). I am now glad we don't have good ones readily available here, or I would have to go to some sort of 12 step program for sconeaholics. I took my tea to go and sat in the rose garden. They were in full bloom and just a sea of color.

    I roused myself from my post-scone lethargy and wandered the rest of the gardens and took a turn through the maze (along with numerous screaming children, but it was fun). What a lovely setting on the Thames and the different gardens, wild and formal, were specatcular. On my way back to the train station, I found a restaurant with a deck right on the water under the bridge and decided to sit there and have an appetizer and some wine. Both were good and the view was better!

    When I got back to Oxford Circus, I didn't pay attention to where I was going when I got off and got briefly "trapped" underground. Wandered about a bit before realizing if I actually followed the numerous "way out" signs they would lead me to the WAY OUT. The 17yo found this hilarious when I told her. I was back by 7pm and did some laundry in a very creepy basement laundry room at the hostel. You take the lift down and when the doors opened, it was completely black in the hallway. The lights were on motion sensors, but you had to step out of the lift aways for them to work. Then, you have to open a door into an equally dark, tiny room where the washer/dryer were and step in before the lights would come on. I'm certain the laundry would not have gotten done if left to my girls, too much like the movie "Hostel" down there!

    Now to wait for the DDs to return. They won't get back until 10 or so and then I can expect at least an hour for them to "download" their day spent in Dr Who-land.

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    Day 7 Trafalgar and Leicester Squares, St Martin in the Fields, National Gallery, tea and a fantastic musical.

    I'll just tell you that the Dr Who Experience was a resounding success, they bought too many souvenirs, including some really loooong posters (but they were cheap mom!) that I wanted to beat them with by the end of the trip, they got lost then found their way and ran into a crazy, drunk crowd heading to a Rhianna concert at the Millenium. They found Cardiff itself to be a bit of a dump.

    Walked to Leicester square to see if they had any discount tickets for the musical I wanted to see, Once. No luck there (only ₤60 tickets available), but he recommended we try directly at the theater so we walked to the Phoenix on Charing Cross. They had same day discount tickets for ₤37 and better seats too. Made me happy we took the time and the walk! Had to back track to Trafalgar, had a photo op with the lions and had lunch in the crypt at St Martin in the Fields. The food was just ok for the price. Went back across the street to the National Gallery and watched a juggler entertain the masses of school children for awhile. My goal in the museum was to see the impressionists, but of course there is so much more to see. The crowds were pretty thick though, with schoolkids sitting all over the floors sketching the paintings. It was amazing to see these paintings in person, I needed more time there.

    We walked back up to the west side so we would be in the area for the play and the tea I had planned. Since we were in the area, we found the Freud Bar and went in for drinks. I found this place on Time Out London and read really entertaining reviews which piqued my curiosity. It's hard to find (below street level on Shaftsbury) with a rather dangerous metal spiral staicase leading down. I guess when it's full, which doesn't take much because it's small, it's quite the place to literally rub up against people. Mid afternoon it was more "family friendly". My 19yo and I had fruity cocktails, her first with alcohol. Hopefully, I didn't start her down a "path of no return". She certainly liked it better than the Pimms she tried in Oxford.

    We went back out to explore the area We love the fact that the British still like to read actual BOOKS as evidenced by the many book stores in the area. Sadly, book stores are becoming obsolete here in the US. We wandered through quite a few and I bought a driving map of Scotland for later. We also found a street full of music stores which put my oldest in heaven. One had some really vintage guitars which she played. She would have stayed longer, but they were closing and we needed to get to our tea.

    I found the Soho Secret Tea Room online somewhere (time out london again, not sure?). Also not in an obvious location. It is above the Coach and Horses pub on Greek St. You have to ask the bartender to call up to see of there's room (you can make reservations too). There was, and he let us go behind the bar and up a narrow staircase (is there any other kind in these old buildings?) to the tea room. It's a small room decorated like your grandma's house in the 40's. Lace tablecloths and curtains, tatted doilies and mismatched china. There was even an actual gramophone playing old music. So charming. The tea (tons of leaf teas to chose from) and food was fantastic! This was our dinner and it filled us up.

    We headed over to the Phoenix a bit early because they had told us the actors come on stage about 1/2 hr before the play for a ceilidh. This is the most unique musical I have ever seen. All the music is sung and played by the actors while on stage. They all play multiple instruments. There is no orchestra or recorded music. The setting is a bar in Dublin and that is the main set on stage and the audience is allowed to come up before and during intermission to buy drinks! We went up before and I got a beer in a souvenir cup and we got to see all the props and instruments up close. It was so cool to look out at the audience from the stage! They did come out and play and sing traditional songs before the play actually started and you could mingle with the actors. The play itself is sort of a love story, a little tragic, a lot funny and the music... well it won an oscar for the main song Falling Slowly (it was a movie before it went on stage). It also won the Tony for best musical. Can't say enough, we loved it!

    We walked home through the west end theater district with all the lights and trendy bars (just starting to fill up at 10:30 on a Wed- don't these people have jobs to go to in the morning?). Certainly, this part of London never sleeps. Probably why we never felt unsafe, there were always so many people out and about at night. A lot of walking today, so we're a bit tuckered and ready for bed. Tomorrow- HARRY POTTER!

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    Anyone who shares rmmom's enthusiasm for scones might like to know you can get ready-mixes in supermarkets, which work reasonably OK, though not as good as making them yourself from scratch (masses of recipes online, from the BBC, Delia Smith, Mary Berry, etc., etc.):

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    Day 8 Harry Potter and Beating Retreat

    We took the tube to Euston to catch the train to Watford Junction. We had Harry Potter tickets for 1030 (must be bought ahead of time online- no tickets are sold on site) and there is a 20 minute shuttle from the station to the studios, so we took the 8:49 train. We got a bit confused at the station because there are multiple trains that go to Watford Junction, some more direct than others, and we followed the first sign saying WJ only to find out our train left from a more distant platform. We managed ok and had time for some teas before our tour started. What can I say, HP was a big part of my DDs lives growing up and, by default, my own. They and their equally enamored friends were disappointed when they did not get letters to Hogwarts on their 11th birthdays.

    The studio tour is very well done and it was cool to see the props and costumes up close. They had entire sets from the movies and artwork showing how the concept and design for the sets, creatures and such was done. The best is at the very end where you walk into a room with the scale model of Hogwarts used for filming flying scenes through the school. 17yo DD cried when she saw it. She will deny it, but she did.

    17yo and I took a nap when we returned while sister went out on her own to locate the Sherlock Holmes museum and the spot where they actually film his front door on the BBC series (not at 221B Baker St). She's a huge fan of that show and Benedict Cumberbatch.

    The DDs were missing mexican food so we went to the Chipotle a block from the hostel hoping that it would be the same as home. It was not, but ok. We then wandered Carnaby St before we headed over to Horseguards for Beating Retreat. We had to buy umbrellas finally as it started to really rain for the first time.

    I think I found a link to Beating Retreat on Days Out London and was intrigued by the pomp and circumstance. I had the tickets shipped to us in the US before we left. Unfortunately, the seats aren't covered and were really wet when we got there. A lovely older lady whipped out a dish towel from her purse and offered it to us to wipe our seats off. She said she was an old girl guide. When I told her we were Girl Scouts, she promptly replied, "then you should have been prepared dear" in good humor. Everyone around had a laugh on us! We sat in front of a man from San Fransisco, but we were the only non-British sitting nearby at least. We could feel the patriotism from the crowd despite the rain blowing sideways. The bands, the horses, the cannons and the fireworks were great. They even had a mock battle between Wellington's forces and the French to celebrate the anniversary of that battle. I'm glad we did it. It was definately not something that the average tourist knew about. It was a very British thing to end our visit to London with!

    When we got back to the hostel, we had them order a car for us to catch our morning train to Edinburgh from Kings Cross. No way were we getting all our stuff on the tube at rush hour! I think we did our part in supporting London's economy :-d

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    Day 9 Scotland here we come!

    We had a car drive us to Kings Cross for our 9am train. It cost ₤8.50. I rounded up to ₤10 and it was well worth it. Thanks to the suggestion from ever helpful fodorites, we have reserved seats on the ocean side. It's a 5.5hr trip through very pleasant countryside. You start to see the coastline after about 4.5hr and by that time, the sun was shining! The coastline is gorgeous, reminded us of Northern California except we don't have actual castles clinging to the cliffs (Hearst Castle doesn't count). We sat with a lovely Edinburgh resident and her sister from Dundee. They pointed out things along the way and we chatted about my gran from Broughty Ferry (next door to Dundee). Waverly station is a mess from construction, but we managed to find the Europecar counter hidden in the chaos. This is where the only glitch of the whole trip occurred. I had used the credit card that got cancelled before the trip for the rental. I never did see anywhere in my paperwork where I needed to present that card. So, the nice, but new, Spanish employee (whose accent was really thick), said a bunch of stuff I didn't understand and then got help, probably because I kept saying "excuse me, what?". The other 2 employees tried to call their "security" dept. multiple times, but no one ever answered. They wanted to re-book the whole thing, but I had booked through an internet special and my rate was so low, they didn't know how to charge me that little! (I paid $257 for a Vauxhall Astra for 8 days- yes dollars) Eventually, they decided I didn't look "dodgy" (that's exactly what she told me), took my new card's info and sent me on my way with a map detailing how to get out of Edinburgh avoiding the street works.

    I was nervous about driving "on the left" for the first time and was surprised at how little instruction I got on the car. The man in the car lot just went around the car ticking off the exisiting dings, handed me the keys and walked away. All our stuff fit fine and the car was bigger than expected. We sat for a bit while I got used to the controls and my 19yo (who volunteered, for the first and last time, to navigate) looked over the map. We opened up the paper map we bought which expanded to fill the entire front seat, tried to fold it smaller and eventually gave up and used the offline map on the Ipad. Out we went and 2 blocks later, my first roundabout. I didn't hit anyone and no one honked at me, so I took that as a positive sign :). There was a lot of turn here, turn there to get out to an actual motorway. At one point, my DD thought she had gotten us lost and made me pull over. That's when I hit my first curb with the left front tire. It turned out we were in the right place, but that curb started a running "curb count" for the trip. I hit 6 that day! My total for the trip was 13, so I got better. There was a 14, but it was get hit by a bus, or go up on the curb. I chose curb. For the non-UK folks, these curbs aren't like the ones in the US. They are smaller, seemingly the same color as the road and I'm fairly sure, jump out on purpose.

    We drove to Stirling Castle and got there later than we planned due to the fiasco at Europcar. We still had 2 hrs there, but no time to do the Wallace Monument. We bought 3- 7 day explorer passes there for ₤100. It worked out cheaper than paying admission to all the places we had planned to go and we could bypass any lines. It had gotten cold and windy, but the views were still spectacular of the surrounding countryside. You could see why they positioned it where they did. The castle is an imposing sight above the town, but I had expected the interiors to have been more like it was in it's heyday. The castle had been emptied, used as a military barracks and then disused before restoration started in the 1990s. Some rooms are restored and there are period actors here and there.

    We spent about 2 hrs there and then drove to Callander where we would stay the next 2 nights to explore the Trossachs. We stayed right off the main street at the Invernente BnB in a family room. The innkeeper couldn't be there to meet us, but had sent me an email telling me what room we were in and to "just go on up". She had left us the room keys and breakfast menus along with a nice note welcoming us. The room was at the top of the house, but pretty big with a nice ensuite. Right behind the BnB is a foot bridge over the River Teith. It was really idyllic. All the shops had closed for the day, but we found a little pizza place and had great pizza and pasta. We left our breakfast requests downstairs with what time we wanted it (9am so we could sleep in for a change),pulled the light blocking shades down and fell asleep in comfy beds.

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    don't think of it as hitting a curb, but rather cleaning your left side tires/tyres :)

    (that's a lot of curbs - LOL) it does take a little while to get used to the other side and the roads are definitely narrower -- we found a GPS invaluable at first to allow us to concentrate more on the driving (and it's cheaper than marriage counseling!)

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    Day 10 Inchmahome Priory, Loch Lomand, and a very wet hike.

    Oops, darn those light blocking shades! I woke up at 9:10, woke the girls and ran downstairs as quick as I could to apologize for being late for breakfast. I found the innkeeper in the kitchen and scared her to death. Nice way to introduce my self, through tardiness and fright. She was very gracious and I told her it was because we were really comfortable for the first time in a week. Hostels are ok for what they are, bu bunkbeds aren't soft. She had held our breakfast for us, so we tucked in to 3 full scottish breakfasts- such a treat after making breakfast every day. The 19yo actually liked her first taste of haggis. I had had some before and didn't care for it, but this was delicious.

    We were the only guests still about, so the innkeeper spent some time with us suggesting where we should go that day. She gave us directions to get to the east side of Loch Lomand to have lunch in Balmaha and how to get to the trailhead for Bracklinn Falls. It was cloudy, but not raining (yet) and we headed to our first stop at Inchmahome Priory which is not far. We were the only ones there and it did not disappoint. I agree with janisj's cousin, it was one of the highlights of the entire trip for me. The place was so peaceful and evocative! You could understand why there had been a place of worship there for over a 1000 years. There were lovely purple flowers growing on the walls and the grass was so soft, my 17yo took her shoes and socks off and danced around in it. I could have just sat on that island all day, but we had more to look forward to :)

    We drove past pretty farms and fields to Balmaha and had lunch at the Oak Tree Inn as suggested by our innkeeper. I had cullen skink and it was delicious. I thought it was funny that our waitress had never had it because it "sounded gross". We needed to work off lunch, so we took a hike up to the top of Conic hill behind the Inn for great views of Loch Lomand and Inchcailloch Island. Pretty, pretty spot. The road ends not far from there (you can't drive all the way around that side of the loch) so we turned back and took as slightly more leisurely drive than anticipated as we took a wrong turn and ended up seeing Loch Ard. The road here is literally ON the side of the Loch and gets really narrow AND it started to rain. It was a beautiful loch, what little I saw while navigating an increasingly narrow road trying not to end up IN the loch. I finally found a spot to turn around and we got going the right way past Loch Venacher. Rained hard at times, but it stopped long enough for us to stretch our legs at the beach there. We saw some hairy "coos" right by the side of the road so we acted like typical tourists and got out and ogled the babies. Is there anything cuter than a baby hairy coo? I think not. Everywhere you look here is beautiful, seriously.

    We got back to Callander and walked from the BnB to the trailhead. Or, at least where we thought she said it was. That was hours before, I'm old and the girls weren't paying attention. So we had a rather more strenuous walk than planned up and up a hill with no falls in sight, ever. At one point, we had to shelter under a tree in a downpour and the 19yo threatened to go back without us. We finally did turn back around and then found the right trailhead. By this time, it was 7pm and we were starved. We ate an ok meal at the Lade Inn with the plan to stay for the folk music, but we were pooped and went back to the BnB. We have to be up early for the drive to Skye.

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    I was too cheap to rent the GPS ($10 per day) and ours was too old to update with UK maps so we decided to "wing" it. After the first day, my 17yo took over navigating and she only messed up a couple of times (and we got to see Loch Ard anyway!). I really liked the citymaps2go app, it worked everywhere we went (wish we used it when we tried to get to Bracklinn Falls).

    And, the left front tire on that Astra was "spotless" when we turned it in :-d

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    Verrrry good that you managed to drive out of Edinburgh. Gold star! W/ all the construction and diversions it is truly a bi-atch. I usually rent from EDI and avoid the central Edinburgh mess.

    I glad you enjoyed Inchmahome - it really is probably my favorite picnic location in the whole country. Sitting on one of the benches, priory behind, swans in front, the view across to the hotel. On a bad/rainy day its good, on a great/sunny it is amazing.

    Yep - the drive along Loch Ard is a bear. I've stayed several weeks over several visits next to the loch and had to drive that twice a day - every day.

    (BTW - it is Loch Lomond)

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    janisj- Oops, you are so right, and I pride myself on my spelling!

    I tried to change my booking to pick up from the airport, but they wouldn't just simply change the pickup location, they wanted me to rebook entirely- at a much increased rate of course. I was nervous since I had read so many accts (incl you own) of the horrors of driving in Edi, but the route they gave me avoided it, it was not very "direct" however. For anyone reading this in the planning stages, DO rent from the airport if you can- much easier access to the motorway :)

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    Day 11 The drive to Skye via Glencoe and a "deja vu" moment from an indy_dad TR

    We got up early as this would be one of our longer driving days. Had some very yummy porridge and said goodbye to our lovely innkeepers. I wanted to find some sort of cooler we could use to keep food cold while we travelled because the next few days we would be in a hostel again. It was suggested we try at the local hardware store with probably the best name ever- Screw It. There was an annex next door guessed it....Screw It 2. It wasn't open yet, but the owner saw me peering in and invited me in anyway (is everyone in Scotland nice?). He didn't really have what I needed, but I bought an insulated bag that would do.

    Our first stop was Killin to see the Falls of Dochart. As we crossed the bridge my daughter noticed the sign for the Macnab Cemetary. My maternal gran was a Dewar which are part of the Macnab clan, so we wandered to the gate on the bridge. The cemetary is on an island in the river and you have to get a key from the visitor info center to unlock the gate. We decided to buy some knit hats and gloves first because this was our first cold day. Not raining, but drizzly. Tried to point out the cute teenage boy behind the counter, but just got a MOM in reply.

    Two sweet, elderly local ladies gave us the key for the gate (after a bit of a search- apparently it's not a common request) and we went onto the island to see the headstones of many Macnab chiefs including the current chief's father who had his wake there recently. There were some very old headstones there and it was cool to be in the middle of the rushing river, but my DDs thought it was a bit creepy.

    Back on the road via the A82 to Glencoe. We stopped at a large pull out at the top of a pass so I could actually enjoy the views that my DDs kept telling me about. While taking pictures, we heard pipes being warmed up. The girls said, "ohhh, there's a bagpiper" and at that moment, I HAD to see the piper. Sure enough, it was the SAME guy that indy_dad and family saw 2 years ago! Still a terrible piper unfortunately, but I gave him money anyway, just for the "deja vu" moment :)

    Before Glencoe, we pulled over and took a hike on a trail that eventually led to Glen Etive, but we only walked about a mile out and back. It was cloudy, but dry and the mountaintops went in and out of the mists. Beautiful, even if the day was not a sunny one. After a brief stop at the Glencoe Visitor Center where we had lunch, we drove on to Fort William. We stopped at an incredibly busy grocery store for provisions for the next few days, figuring it would be somewhat cheaper and have more choices than what we would find on Skye.

    We drove the Road to the Isles on the way to catch our ferry at 6pm in Mallaig. We stopped at Glenfinnan, but were not lucky in our timing and did not see the famed Jacobite "Hogwarts Express" steam train go over the viaduct. On the trail down to the monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie and the beach on Loch Sheil (such a great view) we met our first midges. Awful wee creatures they are too. Chased us right back to the car park.

    We pulled in to Mallaig early for our ferry. They tried to fit us on the earlier one, but no more room, so we had tea and, yes, scones while we waited. We met a nice couple from Kent who had 2 gorgeous Newfoundland dogs heading to Skye. Huge dogs and so friendly, they weren't lacking for attention from all the people waiting for the last ferry. They made us miss our 2 goldens back home. We loved the fact that the UK is so dog friendly. They seem to be welcome everywhere and Scotland is a haven for water loving breeds like ours.

    We were the first car on the ferry. This was my DDs first car ferry (or any ferry for that matter) and they thoroughly enjoyed it. The weather was calm and the sun had finally come out to light up the islands of Rum and Eigg. There were clouds over the north of Skye, but it was clear in Armadale when we landed. Our hostel is on the Minginish peninsula west of Sligachan in Portnalong. The Cuillins were obscured by clouds, but the views of Loch Harport were stunning. This was where we got the first sense that this island is something special. We got our first taste of single track roads near Carbost that last all the way to Portnalong for the most part. Not a big deal, there are lots of passing places and who needs to be in a hurry when there are views like this? Well, the locals were driving like bats out of you-know-where, but we just stayed out of their way.

    We are staying at the Skyewalker Hostel, a quirky place decorated with Star Wars paraphernalia and an odd ball assortment of stuff collected by the owners. It was charming and clean and had a big kitchen. They also have a cool glass geodesic dome in the back where you could sit and chat or play instruments and be out of the weather along with a giant chess set. The 19yo brought her travel guitar on this trip largely because this hostel is known for its music jams. This is the only hostel we've ever stayed at that has coed rooms. I had reserved beds in a 4 bed dorm and requested that they try and put a girl in with us since I had an under 18 with me, but we ended up bunking with Matt a 20 something hiker from Brighton. I'm sure he was appalled when we 3 girls moved in with all our stuff, but he was very nice and was gone the next day. We had the room to ourselves after that. The hostel is popular with hikers and climbers, most of whom are there to "bag" munros in the Cuillins. Matt was part of a group bagging 10 munros a day that weekend! We made some sandwiches for dinner since it was after 8pm by the time we got settled. I shared some wine (that I brought from a local winery near home for that purpose) with 2 men from near London who were there for a week to add munros to their lifetime total. They were up to over 200 each and don't have too many more to go! They thought it was funny I brought wine ("we have wine here you know"), but this wine is only available here and I find bringing something from home to share helps break the ice. The only real drawback (and only from the DDs perspective) is the lack of wifi. So, they went to bed to read books (shocking!) while I made friends and drank wine. It's after 10pm and light as day still. Weird. Welcome to Skye!!!

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    :D - I actually know Screw It and Screw It 2 - the only ironmonger that I know of in the immediate area.

    >>is everyone in Scotland nice?<< Mostly yes.

    >> it was the SAME guy that indy_dad and family saw 2 years ago! Still a terrible piper unfortunately,<<

    He is a regular feature - I think He's been there for ate least 7 or 8 years. And there was another fellow before him.

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    Mrs Bilbo did a masters at Glasgow (well) organised, but my New Zealand Niece did some arts post graduate stuff there and the place was disorganised so she could not do the course elements she wanted to do. If your DS does decide to go then get the course elements tied down early.

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    >>He is a regular feature - I think He's been there for at least 7 or 8 years. << with all that experience, you'd think he'd be better by now!

    And, boy, could the Screw It guy talk your ears off. He covered an number of subjects and the more excited he got, the less of his brogue I understood. My dad would have loved talking to him- I just needed to GO :)

    >>My boss is Scottish. He is a git.<< Being a git is not limited to people of scottish descent I'm afraid. We have a different (and unprintable) name for it here.

    fourfortravel- glad you are enjoying my TR. I'm sorry it's coming bits at a time, but life gets in the way occasionally!

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    << Being a git is not limited to people of scottish descent I'm afraid. We have a different (and unprintable) name for it here. >>

    Yes I know. I have met gits on four continents.

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    Day 12 Trotternish Peninsula

    Our roomie, Matt, had apologized the night before that he would be setting his alarm for 7am so he and his climbing buddies could get an early start. No problem, I figured we would all rather he get up and out before we did so we didn't frighten him more than necessary (because we look so fabulous upon awakening). His phone alarm did wake me up, but it did NOT faze him. He hit snooze and did just that. I eventually had to get up and I guess the noise of my gathering my shower stuff got him moving because he was gone when I got back.

    I made breakfast and packed us a lunch while the girls got ready. The kitchen was quiet since most of the hostel occupants were off early to go climbing.

    We decided to do the northern part of the island today because we need to buy some local walking maps in Portree. It was cloudy/overcast, but no rain. The DDs found wifi in Portree, but I cracked my mom whip. I want to climb to the Old Man of Storr. The DDs, not so much. I didn't care. It's NOT all about them :) (they are teenagers and have to be reminded of that regularly).

    I had read many descriptions of this walk/climb and they all mention a forest at the start (even the map we bought in Portree, but the walkhighlands website does mention that the "non-native trees will be replanted"). Sadly, it has been completely cut down. It was really disheartening to see the destruction. It's not the lack of trees per se, but the stumps and branches on the trail making it rather treacherous and heavy equipment and trash laying about that are so ugly. This lasts for about 1/2 mile or so until you get higher up into the rocks.

    The trail is 5 miles to the summit of the Storr, less to the Old Man, a distinctive pinnacle rock formation you can see from miles away. There is a 1000ft elevation climb to the Old Man though, making it a steep, uphill climb. Good shoes are a must. One DD only made it half way and waited for her sister and I to finish. I am proud to say, I was the only one to get to the base of the Old Man! My 19yo had issues with vertigo (like I said, it's steep) at one point and didn't want to scramble up the rocks with me. The views of the surrounding rock formations (very different and cool), mountains, islands and the mainland would have been better without the clouds. The cool temperature made the climb easier though and we were thankful it was not raining. Not sure I would tackle this trail when wet. I didn't want to take the time to climb to the summit of the Storr (and not sure my knees would like it either) so we headed back down to meet up with my other DD. The trail down is harder because it's riddled with pebbles and rocks and steep. Slow going.

    We drove from there to Kilt Rock and had lunch there. Took pictures of the sheep just clinging to the edge of the cliffs by the waterfall. It's a long way down if they slip! The basalt columns that make up the cliffs are similar to those at Devil's Postpile here in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The geologic conditions that created them are much the same. The ocean is very clear here and the broken off columns in the sea make it look like Atlantis :)

    Enjoyed the drive on up the coast ( 2 lanes- yay!) to ruins of Duntulm Castle. Can't get too close to it now because it has become unstable, but it's not hard to imagine why there's been a building there since the iron age. No one could approach by sea or land without being seen. Terrible place to be in a storm I would imagine. You walk through a sheep pasture to get to the ruins. There are sheep everywhere on Skye including IN the road. And they don't really care that you are in a car barrelling down that road. A tourist magazine in Portree warns that, although they look cute and cuddly, they are actually ASSASINS out to wreck your hire car. Wise words.

    We're back to single track roads now. We pass through Uig, the ferry terminal for the ferries to Harris and Lewis. Someday I will return to see the Callanish stone circles on Lewis. Just no time this trip. The DDs aren't interested in the Museum of Island Life or seeing Flora McDonald's grave so we keep going to the road that leads to the Fairy Glen just outside of Uig. My 17yo had seen this place on Tumblr (social networking site) before we planned this trip. Honestly, it was the main reason we included Skye in our itinerary. So glad we did! It did not disappoint. What an otherwordly place! There are these weird conical hills, remnants of old crofts/ buildings, caves, gnarly trees and moss and a big rock formation (that looks like a tower) towering over it. Across the glen are 2 waterfalls best seen from the top of the big rock formation (which is actually not hard to climb). The cave is thought to be the fairies' home and a steep, slippery scramble up to it shows that people have been leaving things here for them. Toys, bits of fabric, shells, coins. I didn't come prepared with an "offering", but I had some almonds so I left those. Fairies get hungry right? It looked to have been possibly a fortress of some kind in the past. Part of the rock formation looked artificial with remnants of a wall stretching out from it. Parts of the walls of a rectangular building with a curved corner (perhaps a round tower?) can be found down in the trees. Very magical, evocative place. I found it interesting that these old places are sprinkled all over with open access. Maybe simply because they are all over the place, it's "no big deal" in Scotland, but here in the states, someone would have put a fence around it and been charging admission! Clearly the UK is not as litigious a society as here in the states as these ruins are everywhere, but there are just polite signs saying "watch your step" with the clear meaning that, if you want to risk yourself, go ahead, but they warned you. Just as it should be!

    We drove back to Portree, hunting for a toilet along the way. I would wish that the UK would have more and better marked potties! It was about 4:30pm and we ended up having tea (do I even need to add scones at this point?) in the Macnab Inn in Portree, not because we felt a clan connection, but the presence of both a toilet AND the ever-elusive wifi. We did need to update family and friends back home that we were fine and upload some pictures to facebook.

    The drive back to the hostel was eye opening! The skies had cleared and, oh my, the Cuillins were magnificent! Who knew what was hiding in those clouds? We got back around 6:30 and the girls cooked pasta (yay, break for mom) while I showered. We had spaghetti with meat sauce and garlic bread. After a day of hiking, can anything taste better? One of the hostel workers had made homemade carrot cake- so good! The hostel was quieter tonight (a large group of 17 had checked out) and the 19yo played guitar in the living room while we read and journalled. I had hung up some clothes we washed in the sinks on the line out back since the weather looks ok for now. Hope it stays that way until they dry. What a great day!

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    Sounds like another great day.

    I don't remember the Old Man walk being "5 miles to the summit". Wasn't it about 5 for the entire loop (or round trip)?

    They had started the deforestation when we were there and it was starting to be a blight then. Sounds like they are continuing full force.

    Looking forward to more.

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    Still loving the report... It reminds me of my honeymoon! Marriage might be over but the honeymoon was good!

    It sounds like you are all getting along really well. Must be the scones binding you together...


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    I was trying to find the exact distance on the walkhighlands site and it says 5 miles to the summit of the Storr from the trailhead. I couldn't find how far it was just to the Old Man, but my daughter says it was 2.5 miles round trip. Sounds right? I didn't pay any attention to the where the summit was because #1-I couldn't see it in the clouds and #2- there was no way I was going farther! And, there's not a tree left. So sad. We noticed similar deforestation in the Trossachs. Not sure the reason or purpose, but it's certainly unattractive.

    We got along great which I am so grateful for. There was so much to be happy about (scones!) how could we not?

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    Scones - mmm
    A friend and I once dedicated a trip to the UK to the quest for the best scone ever. We it in Dartmoor at Badger's Holt - you got a giant scone (more than enough for 2 greedy sconeholics) + delicious strawberry preserves and perfect clotted cream. Many years later I still remember it with a tear in my eye - scone nirvana.

    2nd best - the vegetarian restaurant in Montgomery in Wales - veggie fare at its best!

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    I could totally get behind a trip dedicated to the scone! Actually, next time I go, I would like to experience more local food. We were travelling on the cheap and food could not be a big expenditure, therefore it was pretty unremarkable. When we did splurge for good food, it was very tasty despite the general assumption in the US that food in the UK is "bland". There are some awfully nice restaurants in both London and Scotland that I would have loved to try!

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    Ok, back to the TR. Sorry for the delay, life got in the way as it does. I finished it last night and will load the rest here today :)

    Day 13- Minginish Peninsula
    Yes, our prayers were answered! The day had dawned bright and warm and our clothes are dry and smell like Skye. There’s just enough breeze to keep the dratted midges away :)

    The kitchen was more crowded today after the late arrival last night of a large Japanese family. At least 3 generations and they were using almost all the stovetops, but we made do. I tried to ask about what they were cooking because it was all in Japanese packaging and smelled fantastic, but they didn’t speak English. I cooked almost all the food we had left and we had a big, American breakfast of pancakes and bacon. We found these ready-made (not frozen like here in the states) American style pancakes at the store in Fort William along with maple syrup. They were really good and the bacon here still beats ours hands down!

    Fortified, we set out to our first stop, Talisker Distillery. I’m not a whisky drinker, but it was just down the way in Carbost. My DDs stayed in the car and read in a perfect spot overlooking Loch Harport. It was interesting finding out how whisky is made. Amazing how just barley, water, peat, yeast and oak barrels can make such a powerful drink. Not all whiskies are made using peat to smoke the barley as it is here. My friend and I went to a whisky tasting last year and tasted one from Islay that was VERY peaty. We decided it tasted like a charcoal briquette. I'm just not a whisky drinker I guess, but I did taste the 10 yo Talisker (not nearly as peaty, but just not my thing). I bought a shirt in the gift shop because it has the latitude/longitude on it. It’s the highest latitude distillery in the world. We stopped at the very small store in Carbost to get stuff for lunch later. There was an equally small post office behind it. The town is not much more than that!

    On to Talisker Bay. An Aussie couple we met at the Fairy Glen recommended we see it. We drove down a long single track and you just park wherever (common in Scotland it seems -people park on the sidewalks even) at the spot that says, "private road no cars". It is about a mile flat walk past the Talisker estate and through sheep and cow pastures. You literally walk right past them and they don’t care. The lambs are so cute and the cows just stand there and stare at you. At the end is the bay. The sheep graze right up to the sand. There is a big waterfall falling into the sand on one side and a cool rock formation in the water on the other. A small island is off the coast. Lots of rocks before you get to sand and the water is so clear. 17yo and I dipped our toes in the cold water while oldest DD read with this gorgeous backdrop. We watched a big bird dive over and over for fish. A gannet perhaps? There were only a few people there. It was 72 degrees and perfect!

    We walked back past all the critters again and drove on to the fairy pools which are also nearby. Nearby as the crow flies, but takes awhile on these single tracks. I had to back up into a passing lane for the first time today as this road is fairly well travelled. The Cuillins are freaking spectacular today with no clouds. The fairy pools are just under them. We ate lunch at the first waterfall we came to just off the road. The pools are made by a stream that flows down from the Cuillins through rocks making multiple waterfalls and pools. The pools are green because of the serpentine rock underneath making them look, well, like fairies swim there! It was really warm and I just had on a tank top and unzipped the bottom of my pants. This was the only day we wished we had brought shorts or swimsuits. We got our feet in the water here too. Some brave people went swimming (COLD water) and a particularly crazy one jumped in a pool from a cliff. Nutter as they say here. It’s about a 2.5 mile walk out and back, a little hilly but not bad. It is seriously gorgeous as is everything here.

    We drove further down the same road to Glenbrittle. There isn’t much here except the mountaineering center, a hostel and a campground. It is a big beach with more little islands off the coast and it has to be the best located campground ever. I researched camping instead of staying in hostels and BnBs because of this campground. It sits right on the water. We did see a campervan similar to the ones I had looked at renting except this one was painted plaid. Nothing like standing out on the road!

    We wanted to see Dunvegan Castle today, but there wasn’t enough time. I decided to drive there so we could at least see it. Well, you can’t from the road! But the views getting there are worth the drive. We looked across Loch Harport to Carbost and the area where we are staying. We drove past the entrance to the castle trying to get to a coral beach we read about and saw a part of the castle from that angle. It is the longest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland (care of their website). We got to the car park for the coral beach, but there was another long walk to the beach and it was late so we turned around and took a LONG drive back to the Old Inn in Carbost for dinner. Fish and chips for the girls and scallops for me. Both very good. I had a pint of Carlsburg beer topped with a little lemonade for me (recommended by the very nice bartender). Ended with toffee pudding and a brownie for dessert. Yummy! The girls were pleased most by the free wifi. I admit to allowing them to use their devices at the table. You have to pick your battles and know when to let them have “their time” too. Keeping your travelling companions happy is important, especially when they are teenagers!

    Tomorrow we leave for Inverness via the Kylerhea-Glenelg ferry. Finally get to do some family research hopefully.

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    Day 14 Glenelg, Loch Ness and Inverness

    We packed up and sadly said goodbye to Skye. It’s cloudy and drizzly today. The road to Kylerhea is single track and 7 miles of scary. No guardrails and straight down in some places. I wouldn’t want to forget the milk if I lived there!

    The ferry dock consists of a rundown house, a telephone booth and a concrete ramp at the end of the road. You just park and wait. The mainland is only a mile away and you can see the ferry dock at Glenelg. Back in the days before bridges and ferries connected Skye to the mainland, they swam the cattle across here as it is the closest point. Wouldn't want to swim it myself! There is a strong current you can see running through the channel. There are signs posted against a "tidal turbine" being installed in the channel due to the area being home to otters and seals. We did see a few seals but no otters. The area south of Glenelg is where Ring of Bright Water (a movie from the 1960’s based on a true story) was set. This ferry is the last of its kind still in use and is an open air, flat top boat with a rotating deck that spins like a lazy susan. The 2 communities run it together in the summer months mostly. We watched the little ferry leave the other side and literally get pushed up the channel by the tide before landing on our side. We were waiting with 2 other cars and all of us were looking at each other like “we’re really getting on that thing?”. There is only room for 6 cars and we fit 5 on it (2 more cars arrived as the ferry was docking). They spin the top of the ferry around to the ramp and it’s a bit scary to drive onto it. It feels like you are driving right into the water! You have to be really close to the railing and the other cars are so close you can’t open a door. The 19yo unbuckled her seatbelt and opened her window in case we went down! She is not into boats. She says she is “H2O intolerant”.

    It was a quick and, ultimately, uneventful trip over and we were in Glenelg. We stopped in a tiny cafe and asked the waitress where we might look for any history. She asked her mum who got us the phone number of a local minister who acts as the local historian. Such a small town thing to do. And, Glenelg is a SMALL town. My 4 or 5 times great grandfather was born here in 1815 before immigrating to Canada. The minister didn’t have anything for me and added that many of the town’s records were lost, but he was lovely to talk to. We did drive around and I looked at the old cemetery. It’s a pretty little place and there are ancient brochs there that would have been neat to see and further south is the memorial to the writer whose story was told in Ring of Bright Water, but we needed to move on. I would love to return here, it is very peaceful.

    We drove over a pretty pass by Loch Sheil and the 5 Sisters which, if there hadn’t been so much cloud cover, we might have actually seen. We stopped at a roadside inn that a man in the hostel had recommended. Nothing special unfortunately and the server was unfriendly, our first encounter with an unfriendly Scot.

    We drove on up the edge of Loch Ness to Urquart castle. It was on our explorer pass so we got past the line. It does have an interesting history and they show a quite well done movie. After the movie they open big curtains showing you the castle. Nicely done and the crowd oooohed and ahhhhed as expected. As we had been told, Loch Ness isn’t the prettiest loch, but it’s by no means ugly. It IS big. And the castle is definitely worth a visit.

    We continued on to Inverness (there was no interest in seeing any of the Loch Ness monster exhibits in Drumnadrochit). We stopped for some groceries so we could make dinner. The young girl at the checkout told us she dreams of moving to Burbank and working for Ellen Degeneres. It’s funny. Wherever we meet young people, they all want badly to live in the US and my girls think it would be so cool to live in the UK. I guess it’s a case of "the grass is always greener". She also told us not to bother with Culloden. In her words "it’s just a field ya know".

    It took us awhile to get to the hostel since I accidentally got in a turn lane during Inverness’ afternoon rush hour and was forced to go the long way around. The hostel was in a residential neighborhood away from downtown. It looked like a newly built house. A very nice lady checked us in and we had a huge room with three beds and an equally huge bathroom. I asked about laundry facilities and she said she would wash and dry our stuff for 4₤. Not a bad deal since I didn’t have to do it! My DDs retired to our room after dinner to make use of the, yes, you guessed it, free wifi. I stayed in the kitchen and chatted with a lovely couple from Australia and a sister duo from New Zealand. One of the sisters has spent the last 10 years “woofing” which is volunteer work on farms and such in exchange for room and board. She has been to some interesting places and done equally interesting work and she is over 60. Hmmm, might have to research that! I shared my last bottle of wine with them and they suggested we see the field at Culloden which can be done without paying and skip the museum since I’m fairly familiar with the history. We only had one night here, but what lovely company :)

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    Day 15 Culloden, Clava Cairns, Dunnoter Castle

    We have to get up early because we have a ways to go today. No problem getting up as a family with a small child came in late last night and the little boy is screaming and slamming doors. Not sure I’m a fan of family-friendly hostelling, but it is becoming more the norm it seems.

    We are off to Culloden first. I wanted to see this since I am reading the Outlander series which starts right before Culloden and is set in the area. We just wandered the field and saw the headstones for the clans that died there. None of our clans represented there, but my brother in law was (Ferguson). There is a wall with stones sticking out that indicate those who died. There are many more stones for the Scots than the English. There is still a sense of desolation here. It is clear talking to them that many Scots still think of this battle and still want their independence back. As a matter of fact, they vote on it next year.

    The Clava Cairns are close by. Supposedly one of the stones is the inspiration for the stone that the heroine in my book falls through and goes back in time to just before Culloden. It is a very old prehistoric site with burial cairns and standing stones. No one really knows the true meaning of the place, but it is clear that it was designed to follow the sun at certain times of the year. One cairn has quartz rocks that are positioned directly opposite of the entrance so that they shine and sparkle only when the sun is setting at winter solstice. And yes there is a split standing stone like in the book, but not big enough to walk through. It is a very cool place.

    We needed gas and unlike the US there isn’t a station everywhere or even well marked. We finally found one in Elgin. Cost about $100 to fill up with diesel! We spent about $150 in gas for the trip, but we did drive a lot so we got good gas mileage in our Astra. From there, we had a long drive through rolling countryside to Dunnoter Castle. Finally, the road allows for some speed, but as soon as you get up to the speed limit, they throw in a roundabout to slow you back down!

    This castle is a ruin right on the edge of the cliffs. A very dramatic location! Lots of it remains so you can get a good idea of what it looked like when it was lived in and they had a room decorated to show you. It has been there since the 1200s. William Wallace burned the chapel down with English soldiers in it in the 1300s. It was where they kept the Scottish crown jewels and where they were spirited away when the castle finally fell to the English. We have been blessed with another beautiful day on the coast. It is warm and sunny. There is gorgeous coastline here that looks very much like Northern California.

    We drove to Forfar to get dinner. We are staying in this area (Angus) as we have family connections in this area too. When we pulled into town I realized I didn’t have the address for the BnB! We had communicated by email and the actual address was never mentioned. We found wifi at a Tesco and a very nice clerk got us logged in and we got the location. Turned out, we did have the address, but it wasn’t a “normal” address. Mains of Turin. That’s it. No number, no street. We had a terrible time finding someplace to eat and the town’s roads are really narrow and crowded. I got very frustrated, drove in and out of town more than once. We finally grabbed some Chinese to eat at the bnb. There's always a Chinese food place seemingly wherever you go.

    The BnB (Turin Farmhouse) is out of town a bit and not well marked at all. We drove past it the first time. It’s a working cattle and sheep farm up a long driveway. It really felt like we were guests in their home, which we were. We were told not to mess with one of the many dogs as he “wasn’t right in the heid”. It felt a little weird, but the room was big and the lady of the house was nice. Her husband was watching TV, but nodded at us :) It had pretty views as it was on a hill overlooking a loch. Boy, the beds were hard, though! We had a tv in the room (glad we didn’t have to sit with hubby and watch whatever he had on!) and free wifi (that you could only access in the dining room so the girls watched TV instead). We had our own bathroom and never saw the other guests as they were men staying here while working on a local electric project and were up and out early. Family research tomorrow.

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    Day 16

    We used today to visit Brechin, Pictavia, Broughty Ferry and Glamis castle. Brechin is a lovely OLD town and the cathedral there is beautiful and historic with a tall round tower dating from 1100. My research had linked my granny Guthrie with Guthries from this area. We found mention of Guthries in the cathedral and we found their gravestones (More about this in tomorrow’s installment). They were an important family in the area involved in the church and politics.

    Pictavia is a nearby museum of sorts that is oddly located in a garden center. It covers the Pictish history in the area. Angus is considered the birthplace of Scotland because the Pictish nation was centered here. We talked to a very educated guide who really loves what she does and she was very informative. I love the really old histories and relics. We had originally planned on going to Meigle to see the Pictish stones there, but chose not to go because we saw and learned enough here. At her suggestion we also drove a short way to Aberlemno to see the big stones there right on the road. There are standing stones sprinkled all over Scotland. No big deal it seems!

    We then went to Glamis Castle(pronounced glamms). The queen mother was raised here and what a lovely place. It is still lived in today so it is well kept and furnished. Gorgeous interiors! Very disneyesque exterior. The tour was great and you really get to “know” the Queen Mum. We loved it. They have their own herd of highland cattle and we got up close to the moms and babies. There was a bull in with them who walked right up to the fence to scratch his bum. He was oh so hairy and HUGE! The fence didn't look nearly strong enough for his rubbing so we moved back just in case he fell through. We had a very nice afternoon tea in the cafe.

    It is light late at this time of year so we drove to Broughty Ferry and Newport on Tay to see where my grandmother was from. I have conflicting info from my research. Some documents I found indicate they lived in Newport on Tay across the forth from Broughty Ferry on High Street and had a grocery business on Union St., however, both cities have streets by those names. I do know she was born in Broughty Ferry. We drove to Newport on Tay and took pictures at the High St address just in case. In both cases, there is no house anymore. There is a carpet shop in Newport and a Tesco in BF. Oh well.

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    Day 17 more family research and on to Edinburgh

    We saw a sign for the Angus Archives the day before near our BnB so we stopped in to see what they had. Great place to do local family research! We found multiple books that were about the Guthries we had seen at the cathedral. The woman there was so helpful and got me online with the Scotland’s People website. I was hoping to do some research at the Scotland’s People center in Edinburgh, but found out they are only open M-F! And we are going to be there on a weekend darn it. So this was very helpful. Unfortunately, my preliminary research on was wrong and we are not related to the Brechin Guthries. I did get a marriage certificate for my grandmother’s parents who were married in Arbroath, not in the area at all. Also not as famous either which is no surprise! Just regular folk like me :) With this info I can do further research from home because I now know my great grandmother’s parents names so it’s not a total loss.

    There is a Guthrie Castle nearby which we already knew had been sold years ago and is now a wedding venue. The current owners don’t allow the public in even if they are Guthries. I decided we’d just tell them one of my DDs is getting married and can we check out the place as a possible venue? (I know, not nice to lie, but it's a castle with our family name on it!). Well, we waited too late and they no longer have a phone number listed on their website, you have to email them. She did reply and wanted all sorts of “proof” that we were indeed planning a wedding, but we ran out of time. Bummer. The BnB owner said the owners are strange. She has hosted wedding guests for them because it costs too much to stay at the castle, but the phone number she had was disconnected. Just as well, we got more out of the visit to the archives anyway.

    It took longer to get to Edinburgh than I thought so we dropped off the car first instead of going to the apt. we had rented to drop off our stuff. Driving back into town was harder than leaving for some reason. My 17yo did a spectacular job getting me to the car rental place. That meant taking a taxi from the train station because no way were we getting all our crap on a bus or walking with it from there! We were supposed to call the woman meeting us 30 min before we arrived, but her phone wasn’t working. I was having trouble using my phone and the girls’ phones were dead so I used a payphone to call the company. They didn’t know what was going on and had us wait at Waverly. I didn’t hear anything for awhile so called back and told them we were just going over to the apt. We got there and low and behold the woman was waiting for us. She had lost her phone and had been waiting for us. She had emailed her company, but couldn't call them so they didn’t know where she was. A bit of a “glitch”, but it worked out.

    The apt is at the top of a long 3 flights of steep spiral stairs (is there any other kind in the UK?) and has a dodgy-looking entrance but the apt is very nice and modernized. We had seen reviews detailing this so we weren’t surprised. It has 2 bedrooms and a big shower and the best beds of the trip so far. The kitchen is well-equipped (they even had some milk in the fridge and cookies for us) and has a washing machine, but no dryer so we hung the clothes on the towel warmer in the shower room. Had to finish off some pants in the oven!

    We walked to the Royal Mile which is nearby. The weather is mostly sunny today in Edinburgh. Our apt is in Old Town right under the Castle. You can see it from the living room window! We wandered a bit and found a café in one of the Closes (sorry, don’t remember the name).I had my first haggis, neeps and tatties and it was excellent. One DD just had a cheese sandwich and the other had some weird looking nachos. Who orders nachos in Scotland? No one who expects them to taste like nachos in the US that’s for sure! We wandered a bit more and did some shopping for gifts to take home. The DDs were feeling the effects of not seeing a movie on this whole trip (gasp!) so we went to see World War Z at the movies. A just ok movie and way more expensive than at home! Tomorrow we plan to sleep in and enjoy those beds.

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    Day 18 Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and "underneath" Edinburgh

    Today is the Edinburgh castle tour. Also on our Explorer Pass so we get to bypass the lines which are pretty long by the time we get there at 10:00. The Castle is very old and historic and sits on a volcanic outcropping/hill. It commands views all over the city and out onto the Forth of Firth. It is situated very well as a fortress and there are signs that the top of that hill has been occupied for over a thousand years. It houses the Scottish Crown Jewels (the Honours of Scotland) and the Stone of Scone (or the Stone of Destiny). The crown jewels may not be as spectacular and over-the-top as the English ones, but have a great back story and are the oldest “regalia” in the British Isles. And you can clearly tell the Scots are happy to have their Stone back. The Stone has been used for Scottish coronations since the beginning and there are some tales of it having biblical origins. It was taken to England in 1296 and used for the royal coronations (including the current Queen) and not returned to Scotland until 1996! There is an agreement that it be returned for the next coronation, but the Scots won’t let it out of their sight for long. I think the British get it for a couple of days and that’s all!

    We had an entertaining guide who made all the history palatable even for my 19yo who gets easily bored by that sort of thing. We took in the rest of the castle sights (and there is a lot to see-plan on spending some time here) while we waited to see the 1 o’clock gun go off. The Scots used it as a way to tell time for the ships out in the foggy Firth and, rather than shoot it at noon using 12 shots, did it at 1 to save ammunition. So Scottish! And you WILL jump when it goes off no matter how prepared you think you are! We ate a really good lunch in the crowded cafe.

    We then walked down the Royal Mile past soooo many tacky tourist shops (ok, we did pop in a few to pick up the requisite souvenirs) to Holyrood Palace. The queen still uses this as a palace when she is in Scotland so it is well maintained and you get to see actual state rooms. We enjoyed being immersed in more current “history” as opposed to all the more ancient histories we had learned about elsewhere. Boy, does she own a lot of china! It was raining most of the day and coming down too hard for me to go through the gardens although the DDs braved it. It was cold so we had tea in their cafe. I now see why tea is such a big deal over here. It’s the damp and cold weather!

    We walked back up (and I mean UP- this place is hilly and everything seems to be uphill and the cobblestones get slippery) to the apt for a break, had bad Chinese food from a buffet nearby and went back to the Royal Mile for the Mary Kings Close walk at 8pm. More hill walking! It was an entertaining and educational walk in the part of Edinburgh that is now underground. Because there isn’t much room on this rock, back in the day, they just built UP, on top of whatever, including people’s homes and businesses. They try to make it somewhat “scary” (and the show Ghosthunters did an episode here), but it really isn’t. The 19yo didn’t want to do it because of the haunted aspect, but it was harmless and not scary and she ended up being glad I dragged her along.

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    Day 19 more Edinburgh and a disappointing experience

    Our last day! We slept in again. Maybe it was all the hill walking yesterday, or just the end of a long trip. We walked to the National Museum of Scotland through the Grassmarket neighborhood. It’s a huge place and free! I like that many of the museums in the UK are free. When you don’t have the luxury of a lot of time, knowing you don’t have to pay admission for something you may not have more than an hour to see is nice. You could spend days here, literally. Not the 19yo, she hates reading the stuff so just whizzes through and waits for her sister and me who like to read everything. She tolerated us pretty well, though. We went up on the roof to see the city from there and while there were breaks in the clouds and sun peaking out here and there, one of them decided to empty on top of us, chasing us back inside. Our umbrellas didn’t get much use this trip because, if it was raining, it was also almost always windy. We did better with just the hoods on our raincoats.

    We had lunch at the museum and then walked over to Greyfriars Kirk and the statue of Bobby, the dog that stayed at his master’s grave for years after his death. Bobby is buried there too. It rained hard at the cemetery and the 19yo was dancing in it and getting soaked while we watched from the protection of a tree. There were some other visitors there who looked at her like she was nuts. We don’t see much rain here in California!

    The 19yo split off on her own to buy more souvenirs for friends back home while her sister and I took the bus to Loopy Lorna’s tea room. I saw this place on the internet and we were really looking forward to it. My 17yo is a tea drinker here at home and she thought the place sounded charming. We did not know it had moved and the new location is not as cute or charming. The tea, food and service (I never did get a spoon, I had to stir my tea with my knife) was not very good either so overall we were very disappointed. Especially since the place is a long way from the city center. The 19yo had a much better dinner bought at a Waitrose and heated up in the micro at the apt.

    The bus ride back took us close to the apt. which was good since I was getting tired of walking. The hills and cobblestones are hard at the end of the trip. We then spent the rest of the evening getting our packing organized trying to get all the purchases in the carryons. My friend loaned us a collapsible bag with wheels. She actually made us take it, I didn’t think we’d need it, but she was so right! We filled that sucker and still needed more room. Then we discovered it had another zipper and it expanded more! We called it Lynn’s magical bag. We’ll check 2 bags on the return trip. I made arrangements to have a car take us to the airport since we have so many bags now. No way was I even considering trying to get all this on a bus! I checked in for our flights a bit late and couldn’t get seats together for the London-SF leg. I’ll try at the airport tomorrow. We fly from EDI to LHR, have a 70 minute layover (which concerns me, but I have been told it’s enough time) and then LHR to SFO.

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    Day 20 Home!

    I scheduled our pick up for 6:30am. Our flight isn’t until 9:15, but I wasn’t sure how the traffic would be getting to the airport. Our driver was there right on time. It was work getting all our bags back down those steep spiral stairs! The driver was very nice and talkative and clearly a nationalist. The more excited he got, the less we understood him. The Scots accent gets really thick when they are excited about something:) If a football match was on in a pub, forget it- it’s a completely foreign language! He filled us in on the current politics and the upcoming vote in 2014 for Scottish independence. While we were in England there was some discussion on this and the impression we got was the English don’t want it to happen. Here in Scotland, the impression is the opposite. According to our driver, it has to do with the North Sea oil that Scotland controls. And, despite the hundreds of years that have passed, the Scots are still smarting over the loss at Culloden. It will be interesting to see what happens next year.

    We were at the airport before 7 and had to wait to check our bags. We’ve never seen signs telling you which counter to go to and when like here. We are taking a smaller plane to LHR and they have much stricter weight conditions. They made us weigh all our carryons as well as make sure they fit the size limits. We had to check one of the carryons after we took stuff out of the other one so it would meet the weight. We managed to get the backpacks on without fuss and they were able to seat us together for the LHR-SFO flight. I was really worried we would have to pay for extra baggage, but we lucked out. It was an Irish airline that Virgin uses. We had an Irish pilot and couldn’t understand him at all. We could have been ditching in the ocean for all we knew. We had finally figured out the Scottish brogue for the most part, but this accent threw us!

    We had a short layover at LHR, but they had a dedicated bus that took us right from the plane to the international terminal so we didn’t have to go through security again. That was a godsend. We even had time to get food before boarding (trying to use up our british money). Unfortunately, we got seats right behind a 2 yo boy who screamed most of the flight. Despite that, the flight was easier than going over. Customs and immigration didn’t take too long since we could go through the US side.

    We made arrangements with a friend to pick us up at the BART station in Concord so she wouldn’t have to drive into and out of the city during rush hour (we landed at 3:30pm). We took the BART train to Concord right from SFO. It took a little over an hour. It’s 1.5 hrs home from there and as soon as we got close, we stopped for Mexican food. It was about 1 am London time but who cares? Cravings must be satisfied!

    We got home and reunited with our dogs and cat at about 730pm local time. We missed them and our own beds. The 17yo went out with her friends right away. As soon as her phone worked again, the texts began rolling in. They didn’t care that it was not 7:30 pm for us! I thought she was nuts. Her sister and I went to bed at 8. We slept until 4am. The 17yo rolled in around midnight so she slept in later. Jet lag is awful and much worse coming home I discover. Glad to be in my own bed, though! The 19yo left to join her church group at camp until Thursday. Another nutbag. I have a few days off before I go back to work and boy do I need them!

    All in all, a fantastic trip that went off mostly without a hitch thanks to the excellent advice I got from the Fodor’s forums :-d

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    >>It’s the highest latitude distillery in the world.<<

    Actually no, there are several distilleries on the Scottish mainland and in the Orkneys at a higher latitude. Glenmorangie and Highland Park to name but two.

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    Maybe they said the farthest west longitude?? But even that probably isn't right since Islay would be a close thing . . .

    Culloden, Clava Cairns, and Dunnottar all on the same day - you made good time.

    I have family connections to the Broughty Ferry/Montrose area too (as well as from around Lake of Menteith/Drymen)

    Terrific report - Your daughter actually manage to stay out till midnight the day you got back home ? Stouter stuff than I'm made of :)

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    Well, I stand corrected on Talisker. I'm pretty sure that's what they said in the tour and they sell tshirts with the latitude/longitude on them, I assumed for a reason :) And, yes, the ferry is really special.I highly recommend it, but be prepared for the gnarly drive into or out of Kylerhea! Also an idea I got from Fodors and pretty perfect that it turned out we had a connection to Glenelg:)

    Thanks for the suggestion of Dunnottar, janisj. I googled it because of your TR. It truly is spectacular. That's why I felt compelled to post a TR. I got so many great ideas from others and wanted everyone to know that their help is truly appreciated.

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    While Highland park in Orkney is pretty far north it is still low down compared to the distillery above the artic circle near Yllas which we visited on skidoo a few years back ;-)

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    Who orders nachos in Scotland?

    LOL, I did!

    I saw Haggis Nachos as the special at the Tartan Weaving Mill, in the little cafe upstairs past the gift shop area up there. It sounded so extraordinary, I had to try it. Loved it!

    Were yours with fresh fried potato chips, too? It wasn't corn chips as I'd thought (expected? assumed? it's dangerous for a traveler to assume :-)

    I can buy Stahly canned haggis when a local British foods store has it in stock. I like to serve it as haggis nachos and it's a good party platter.

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    haggis nachos?!!!!
    I can't imagine that. These nachos were made with cool ranch doritos of all things. And topped with some sort of tasteless melted cheese substance. And I paid for this travesty!

    Canned haggis huh? I'll have to buy some at the Scottish Games we go to in Sept. here. They have a huge selection of British foods for sale (now we'll recognize some of them!).

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    "While we were in England there was some discussion on this and the impression we got was the English don’t want it to happen."

    I think you probably got that impression as that is the stance of the British government (Camermoron and his chums), I personally don't know anyone who doesn't think it's a great idea.

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    >>There are many more stones for the Scots than the English. There is still a sense of desolation here. It is clear talking to them that many Scots still think of this battle and still want their independence back.<<

    Glad you had such a good time in general.

    But - just to nitpick, one of the reasons for so many more Scottish stones at Culloden is that there were Scots on both sides. It was as much a Scottish civil war, as to whether the country should be run by Protestants or Catholics, with a great deal of suspicion as to the Stuarts' intentions, bearing in mind their history and long period under the protection of Louis XIV, as it was about Scottish independence (about which, IIRC, the Pretender was remarkably vague).

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    Enjoyed your trip report. We kind of like to try one "Mexican" food restaurant on each European trip, so I can relate to that part. We ate at one in Versailles that looked the part, but had no clue on the food, we had a passable one in Edinburgh (they also had a location in Aberdeen, which made me think there was an oil field and possible Texas connection), and then a surprisingly decent one in the Marais in Paris. Wondering what I'll find on my next trip, to Switzerland.

    I would like to see Beating Retreat. We saw the dress rehearsal for Trooping the Colour, which was great.

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    Patrick is quie right - the Jacobite up-risings were much more complex than a simple Scots vs English conflict (which I'll admit was how I had first been told the story as a child). It's a shame you took some ill-informed advice from the people in the youth hostel and skipped the excellent National Trust for Scotland Visitor Centre at Culloden, which does a good job of explaining all this.

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    This is a GREAT trip report. Thanks. I had "Mexican food" in Edinburgh once; Californians do start to crave it after awhile. But it was a bit odd...sort of like an Indian/Spanish/Mexican pastiche.

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    Great trip report, well done. It sounds like you have some amazing memories, a wonderful way to spend time with the girls. I enjoyed it all, as I said before I felt like you were following my own itinerary of nearly 30 years ago!


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    We go to the one in Pleasanton every year. My friend and I and our DDs make a weekend of it and get a hotel. A GTG sounds great- I would love to meet you finally!

    PatrickLondon- nitpick away! I do know the history fairly well as I studied it in college, but I didn't want to make my TR boring by adding too many details. Not that anyone should take a fictional novel and assume any historical accuracy, but I felt that Diana Gabaldon did a pretty good job of researching the subject in the Outlander series. She covered the Catholic/Protestant aspect without really "taking sides", but Bonnie Prince Charlie doesn't come off well! She doesn't romanticize him at all :)

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    These nachos were made with cool ranch doritos of all things. And topped with some sort of tasteless melted cheese substance. And I paid for this travesty!

    Eww, yeah, what I had was much more tasty than what you describe. The chips were yummy freshly made potato chips, the haggis tasty, and the cheese a creamy melted delight.

    I've done some St. Andrew's Day and Burns Night break room treats for my coworkers (I spread the table with Scottish foods) and I don't let them watch while I make the haggis nachos b/c taking the skinless haggis out of the can does look a bit like pet food!

    I spread the haggis on a platter, spread it out a bit and nuke for a couple of minutes. Then mix it with homestyle potato chips and top with a mix of shredded mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. Nuke to melt the cheese.

    I've had the Caledonian Kitchen beef haggis and the Stahly traditional Scottish haggis. I prefer the Stahly's flavor.

    When I can't get it locally and really want some .. check Amazon ;-)

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