Teens in Scotland Trip Report

Old Aug 3rd, 2022, 05:22 PM
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Teens in Scotland Trip Report

We spent 2 weeks in Scotland at the beginning of June-mom/dad and 2 teens. We are history geeks and love museums, churches, Bronze Age sites, etc.

General observations/Passes etc.

· The weather app/website is just a suggestion. We were very lucky and only had 3-4 days of hard rain out of 2 weeks. We always had rain jackets and umbrellas with us.

· We got the 7-day pass from Historic Scotland. That covered our entries to Edinburgh and Stirling Castles, as well as Fort George. They only have 7 day passes on sale at this point. They used to have a 3 day and two-week option. I ordered them ahead of time and we were able to straight through to the pre-booked ticket lines. We didn’t have to book a time slot ahead. There weren’t any lines when we were there—I don’t know if the Pass allows you to jump the line.

· If the attraction had the option to book time slots on line, I did it and paid for advance tickets. I don’t like doing that but I was concerned that we might get shut out of something we wanted to do. That was only a problem on our first day. I would say that if you are traveling in high season, it would be a good idea to do this because so many places had limited the amounts of people they were letting in at any one time block.

· I should have looked more closely at getting a membership to the National Trust for Scotland. I think I didn’t because one of our teens is 19 and thus an adult so we didn’t qualify for a “family” membership. I would recommend really pricing this out because we ended up at several National Trust sites and you may find that a membership saves you money.

· We do almost all of our shopping in museum gift shops—we all really do not like shopping, so we are fine with finding things that resonate with our visit as we exit various places.

· I think the trip was about 3 days too long. I asked my family what they would have cut, and nobody could pinpoint a full day because they liked most of the activities on each day. I am not entirely sure what I would have done differently.

· We drove from Edinburgh to Inverness, down to Oban and back to Edinburgh. I did rely on google maps for driving directions. But I am really glad I purchased a road atlas!!! It helped to know what was coming up and where we were in relation to other towns. At one point an exit was closed and Google maps refused to recognize this. Thankfully, I had the road atlas and the reference from a guidebook author who points people to B&Bs along a certain road. I was able to get us to that road using the atlas and then google stopped trying to take us the blocked exit way and we got home.

· Speaking of driving, we rented through Sixt and picked up the car at Waverly Station which was a 5-10 minute walk from our flat. The pick-up place is about a 10 minute walk from the train station in a parking garage. It was much easier than travelling out to the airport to pick up the car.

· Everywhere we went, you needed reservations for dinner. The restaurants were small and they give each table 2 hours for dinner. They would open at 5:30 and wouldn’t let you eat even if you promised you could be done by 6:30 so they could seat a table by 7:00. That was frustrating and was just one more level of planning I didn’t want to have to do.

The report continues in the comments..

Last edited by StantonHyde; Aug 3rd, 2022 at 05:24 PM. Reason: editorial
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Old Aug 3rd, 2022, 05:27 PM
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Edinburgh

We stayed at a wonderful Airbnb near the corner of Leith Walk and London Road. It had 2 bedrooms—one with twin beds for the kids, 2 full baths, a great kitchen, washer/dryer, and a nice sized living room. The neighborhood was very quiet. We did get a car at the end of our stay and we were able to find street parking. We only had to pay for an hour or so because you only have to pay between 8am-5 or 6 pm. It took us 10 minutes to walk to Holyrood Palace from there and 25 minutes to walk to Edinburgh Castle. There were plenty of restaurants and coffee places nearby as well as a Tesco Express and a Sainsbury Local. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1410844...RV3jKefGNFY28q

Day 1/Thursday: Unfortunately, our plane was delayed by 3 hours leaving Boston, so we got to the flat close to 1:00. Sadly, I had pre-booked Mary King’s Close tours for 1:30 that day—thinking that we would have plenty of time. We missed that and they won’t let you reschedule your tour unless you call them ahead of time (which is fair). So, we were out 88 pounds on that! We left our luggage at the flat and walked up Calton Hill—lovely views everywhere. We stopped in at the Old Calton Cemetery and saw the US Civil War memorial and Hume’s tomb. There were some interesting information signs in the cemetery about the various people buried there. Then we walked along the Royal Mile to St. Giles Cathedral and toured it, which was very nice. We got groceries and returned to the flat for a simple dinner and bed.

Day 2/Friday: We grabbed coffee and some breakfast treats at Café Elmrow—they had good coffee and very nice service. We walked along the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. I had assumed we would spend 3-4 hours in the Castle—we were very interested in the Military museum in addition to the rest of the Castle. We ended up spending only 2.5 hours there because while there are rooms and history there, they don’t have many “displays” or exhibits. We had lunch at the Devil’s Advocate. It’s good and fun to find down a close but it is a small restaurant. Eat early if you want to get a table. Next, we went to the Writers Museum. This took us maybe an hour and was really fun. It’s in a cool building with lots of good exhibits. I knew about Stevenson but less about the others, so I enjoyed learning about them. Then we noticed that Gladstone’s Land was open. They had closed for a while due to Covid, so I had taken them off the list, but they are back open which is wonderful! The tour guide was quite the historian and had plenty of colorful anecdotes, but she could also answer more complex questions and painted a very good picture of life through the ages in that house. We had dinner at the Vittoria restaurant which was a 5 minute walk from our flat. They had a broad selection of food and even had a decent range of whiskies to try.

Day 3/Saturday: We had breakfast at Happy Bean coffee. They had ok coffee and one of us ordered the breakfast crepe—it was huge--could have been eaten by 2-3 people! Then we walked to Holyrood House. What a gem-we loved it!! I had budgeted an hour or so for this site because it seemed smaller. It took us a good 2.5 or more hours. We also looked at the art in the Queens Gallery and really enjoyed it. I loved Holyrood because it has the historic rooms recreated as they would have been with lots of info/plus the audio guide. And the parts of the Palace that are still used today are not so overly grand that you couldn’t see sitting down with a good book if you were part of the family. For lunch, we went to the City Restaurant on Nicholson street. Very good selection of dishes and good service.

Next up was the National Gallery of Scotland. This took us at least 3 hours, if not more. We all split up. The kids focused on the Natural History/Science wing while my husband and I focused on the Scotland history wing. The main area is beautiful—super high ceilings and so much light. But the history wing wasn’t organized the very best—it tries to include all subjects in one time period. (e.g., mining in 1840) vs. one exhibit on mining through the ages. So it ends up feeling choppy. Lots and lots of info though and we did stop to see Dolly the Sheep. I was afraid it would be mobbed because the museum is free and it was Jubilee weekend. But the place is so huge that people really spread out. We walked out and viewed Grey Friar Bobby’s statue across the street. It was 5:00 and were done for the day so we just walked back to the flat and had dinner from our groceries.

Day 4/Sunday: This was art day! We started with the Scottish National Gallery—some really nice art and some incredible masters. It’s a small museum which is nice because it doesn’t feel overwhelming and you can get really close to the paintings. We had lunch at the Portrait Gallery Café. They had a very nice selection and some salads—yay for green stuff. The National Portrait Gallery was ok. I will say that if you skip it, do make sure that at some point you walk into the entry or Great Hall. It is really beautiful. We ate dinner at Olive Branch—good food, ok wine list.
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Old Aug 3rd, 2022, 05:31 PM
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Hadrian's Wall, Stirling, Blair Castle

Day 5/Monday; Visit to Hadrian’s Wall. I looked for a small bus tour that would have taken us to the sites/museums but didn’t see one—only ones that had you walk along the wall. If you find one, I suggest doing it. It is a long drive (2.5 hours each way) on small bumpy roads so when you consider getting there and back and seeing the sites and just being tired by the time you get back to Edinburgh—it’s long We stopped in Jedberg each time as it is the halfway point. We left at 8:30 am and didn’t get back till 8:30 pm. In the end, I would skip the Roman Army Museum. You can see plenty of artifacts at the Vindolanda Museum. If you really want to know how the Roman Army was organized and get details on recruitment, then the Army museum is good. Halsteads is amazing because it is such a large fort and you can see/walk along the wall at that point. We walked along the wall for a couple of minutes to a place where you could look out to see the wall going a long way in the distance. It is a nice walk up to the site with lots of sheep and lambs. We did get the booklet but didn’t use it to guide ourselves along. We will probably use it for reference later. I would say skip the booklet/guide unless you want to read more later. The Vindolanda site was amazing—huge!!! And the exhibits were better than the Roman Army Museum. If you want to know about life in the fort and the towns, then the Vindolanda Museum has so much! I was blown away by the shoes exhibit, the various artifacts of jewelry, worship, and writing tablets. There is even a recreated section of the fort, which I saw several kids playing in/around. It was really interesting We had lunch at the Twice Brewed Inn. Good burgers but unbelievably slow service. We skipped dinner in Jedberg and just got Subway sandwiches to go.

Day 6/Tuesday/Stirling: We grabbed coffee at Café Elmrow again and left Edinburgh. We stayed that night at the Stirling Highland Hotel. Somehow, I managed to book 2 family rooms instead of just 2 double bedrooms. The family rooms have a queen sized bed in one room and a very small bunk bed in another small room. My kids slept curled up because they barely fit into the bunk bed. It would be fine for younger kids but not good for tall teens. The hotel has onsite parking—a big plus! It has a lovely reception area, bar, and outdoor seating. Our room was nice, but the bathroom tiles were replaced oddly, and the veneer on the bathroom door was coming off. The location was fantastic!!!!! 5 min walk to the Castle or to restaurants. Stirling was my favorite castle. Several key parts are restored and we really liked the Regiment Museum. The free guided tour gave some really good info and took an hour. The Tapestry Museum is a must see. My husband liked the “heads” exhibit. We didn’t go into the Castle History exhibit—we got that in the tour. And somehow, we missed the kitchens! Ate lunch at the café onsite—it was ok.

Then we walked back to the hotel and drove to the Bannockburn Visitors Center—it took about 10 minutes to get there. Bannockburn was good--not entirely Disneyfied like I expected. The presentation included good facts, info on fighting, background on the various “players”, etc. Kids would love it but it’s great for adults as well. The guide was very good—he was an archeologist. We ate dinner at 2 Baker Street (Brae was full). Food was ok. Beer was awesome. Guinness Draft.


Drive to Inverness/Blair Castle

Day 7/Wednesday: We got take away breakfast at Ground House Coffee in Stirling which had wonderful coffee and great service. To break up the drive, we stopped at Blair Castle. It is truly worth the stop. My kids loved the Diana Garden and there were nesting swans in the Hercules Garden. The castle gave a good look at the life of country nobles. It had some very interesting information on the forces that opposed Bonnie Prince Charlie. There was a whole room devoted to one of the Duchesses—Kitty. She was an amazing woman and I really enjoyed learning about her life. I also enjoyed learning about another Duchess’s strong friendship with Queen Victoria. We had lunch at the café there which decent and passable.
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Old Aug 3rd, 2022, 05:34 PM
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Inverness
We got groceries at a Tesco Plus on our way into town. We got take away dinner from Georges—we needed something other than pub food! It was really good!!!!!

We stayed at this amazing house: https://www.vrbo.com/1987796ha?adult...unitId=3702161 It is just up the hill from the Inverness Castle so it has super easy access to all of the restaurants and sights in town. It comes with a reserved parking spot which is a must. It is very roomy and had more than what you need in terms of kitchen appliances and a full dining room. The owner was so helpful—I had misplaced the instructions on how to get into the house and messaged him in a panic. He called me right back and was so kind.

Day 8/Thursday: Drove to Fort George. Wow! It is HUGE!!! I didn’t appreciate the extent to which it is an active military base. There were soldiers walking around and it was nice to see them in their “every day” dress vs. the full on kilted dress uniform but they still have that red feather in their hats. The military museum was ok—by then we had seen several museums on the various Highland regiments. But the mud stained kilt and other personal effects really showed the true side of war. The Fort exhibits are decent—it is more getting the feel of the place and looking out from the fortifications. The chapel is lovely and one of the stained glass windows features an angel playing bagpipes instead of a harp!

Our original plan was to tour Cawdor Castle. So we had lunch at the Cawdor Tavern, which has a very good menu, and the food was quite good. The kids declared they were castled out so we went back to Inverness. We walked around town, over the bridges, and saw the St. Andrew cathedral which is really quite beautiful. Dinner was carry out Thai food which was very good.

Day 9/Friday: We were able to get a last minute tour booking for the Benromach Distillery at 11:30. Somehow, I missed that there were only so many tours a day and you needed to book in advance. You can go and just taste whisky but we did want a tour, especially at a small distillery. Sadly, the Dallas Dhiu Historic Distillery was closed. First, we visited the Clava Cairns—truly recommend this site. There are informational signs and you can walk right into the cairns. We really enjoyed this. Then drove to the Distillery. We were almost 30 minutes early and fortunately the other party on the tour was also early, so they just started us early. Nice guide with good information on how they distill by hand vs. computer. It’s a very small distillery, which we liked. We tasted 2 whiskies—the 10 and the 15 year old. Really liked the 15 year old and bought a bottle of that one.

We went to Forres for lunch and tried to go to the Mossit Tavern but they had some sort of a ladies luncheon going on and were fully booked. There was another café on the high street but it was very busy. We ended up at an Archers Bakery and had some yummy meat pies and baked goods for dessert. It was really quite decent.

Then we drove to Culloden Moor. The visitors center has done a fantastic job explaining the battle in a larger geopolitical context as well as painting a more nuanced picture of the sides. It was interesting to see why people would and would not support the Bonnie Prince. Walking around the grave sites is very sobering. We ate up our leftovers for dinner that night.
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Old Aug 3rd, 2022, 05:37 PM
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Driving to Oban via Loch Ness and Glencoe

Day 10/Saturday: This was a day of high winds and pouring rain so it was good to be mostly in the car. We did stop off at the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibit and were actually quite impressed. It gives a full picture of the various sightings, confirmed hoaxes, and the underwater investigations. It provides really good information on the ecology of the Loch. And then, after that scientific journey, you get dumped out into the huge gift shop with all of the wonderful tacky Nessie souvenirs which gave us a good laugh.

We drove on to Glen Coe and had lunch at the Glencoe Gathering, which was a hopping spot with all of the hikers aiming to get out of the weather. It was good hot food and nice service. I was a wee bit disappointed at the Glencoe visitors center. I was expecting more information on the McDonald clan—there was brief mention of it. The center really focuses on mountain climbing and ice climbing and the rescue services. And it was interesting to learn about the Monroes. It was crowded but I think that was because people were trying to do something besides be outside in the wind/rain—there were warnings to staff off ridge lines and peaks that day due to the winds. There was a lovely recreated creel house at the site and I did appreciate getting to see it.

We stopped off at the Tesco in Oban to get sandwiches for the next day. We stayed at this wonderful house: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/3717723...UWP9%2F1BLxFfK It is high up on a hill and very quiet. There were deer in the yard in the morning. The house is smaller but it has everything you need and the host was wonderful with information. There is free parking right in the driveway-yay! It’s a 6-7 minute walk down the hill into town. You can take a cab back up the hill after dinner if you want. We walked it and were fine.

Isles of Mull, Staffa, and Iona

Day 11/Sunday: We did the West Coast Tours “Three Island Tour”. This is a great tour and one where you really want to just hand over your money and have somebody arrange it for you. I will say that if you can pick up your tickets from the tour office the day before you go, do it! We picked ours up in the morning (we had to be at the ferry at 9:30 to board) and there was a long line.

You take the ferry from Oban to Mull, which is about 45 minutes. It’s a very large ferry and had a decent café for breakfast. Then you get onto a double decker bus to go across the Isle of Mull. Go up to the top deck! The driver was fun and had good info, things to point out, etc. But the drive—oh my goodness it is beautiful! I heard someone say, “I thought this was just the drive you had to do to get to the good stuff. I didn’t realize this IS the good stuff.” You have a chance of spotting golden eagles who nest in a high craig. We did see plenty of red deer.

When you get off the bus, you get on a small boat to go to Staffa. Fortunately, it was not raining the day we went, but the high winds/storm system from the day before created very large swells. We were sitting outside but the swells kept coming up the side of the boat and spraying us with water. We moved inside—which is very small. The day before they had not even launched the boat and on this day, they told us we might not be able to land at Staffa but they would go out to try. We saw seals and dolphins on the way to Staffa. When we got there the swells were way too high to land or even allow someone to walk out to Fingal’s Cave. But we went past the cave several times and the captain gave us great info on it. We did see puffins!!!! They were all in the water. They don’t like to go on shore without people because the people scare away the birds that eat the puffins. (I had no idea!) The captain said that during Covid he had come out to Staffa in his own small dinghy and he saw all of these puffin corpses because there were no people to provide a buffer.

Then the boat takes you to Iona. You have 2 hours on Iona. We had more because we didn’t spend an hour on Staffa. It was cold and we were wet, so we had hot drinks at the café that is right at the ferry. Then we walked to the nunnery which had good information signs. As we walked to Iona Abbey—somebody had a “hairy coo” in a small field next to their house. Everybody took pictures of that cow!! He was right at the gate!! Iona Abbey is truly amazing. Just wonderful. The visitors center at the back has some nice exhibits as well.

Then we went back to the ferry, which was smaller than the one from Oban to Mull, and went back to Mull where we caught the bus and did the whole trip in reverse. It’s a long day—9:30am-8:00pm or so. We tried a couple of places for dinner but they were all too full. And many of them closed at 9:00. So we just got take away from a Turkish kabob place and were happy.
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Old Aug 3rd, 2022, 05:42 PM
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I apologize-I cannot fix this silly font below!!!

Kilmartin Glen/Rosslyn Chapel

Day 12/Monday: For coffee, we stopped at the Tesco café on the way out of town so we didn’t have to worry about parking. The drive from Oban to Kilmartin Glen, then Inveraray, and on to Glasgow is truly amazing!!! Really gorgeous. The Kilmartin Glen Museum was closed so we just stopped at 2 sites along the way. First were the Nether Largie Standing Stones. There is a small car park and some good signage. It is nice to be able to walk right up to them. We also went over to the Temple Wood Stone Rings. Then we went to the Dunchraigaig Cairn and walked to another stone with rock art. By that time, we needed to get going to Rosslyn Chapel so we just drove by Dunadd Fort.

Rosslyn Chapel is simply not to be missed!!!! The guidebooks make it seem like some small place to skip over. It’s only 20 minutes from Edinburgh and it is truly amazing. We pre-booked because you had to have a time slot. I am glad we did. The outside is gorgeous and then you go inside and just gasp. Somebody does a 15 minute introduction to the Chapel—not sure if they do this at the beginning of each time slot or at certain times of the day. But it is truly worth 15 minutes to listen to the talk. I would have listened to that amazing docent for much longer. She did stick around for an hour to answer people’s questions. They won’t let you take pictures inside. They do have a good information leaflet that shows you the highlights and information signs point out things like carvings of the 7 deadly sins etc. It really is a magical place.

Then we drove to the Double Tree Inn at the airport for our last night. They had a room with 2 queen beds. We had dinner at the hotel which was good food-but expensive. And we returned the car—the car return place for Sixt is right across the street from the hotel. The hotel has a free shuttle to the airport which was great. It was all easy peasy for flying out the next day.






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Old Aug 3rd, 2022, 07:25 PM
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Great report and I'm still reading but one thing "Halsteads is amazing because it is such a large fort and you can see/walk along the wall at that point. We walked along the wall for a couple of minutes to a place where you could look out to see the wall going a long way in the distance." . . . I'm pretty sure you mean Housesteads.
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Old Aug 4th, 2022, 06:37 AM
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Thank you, StantonHyde, for sharing your trip. Great report.
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Old Aug 4th, 2022, 09:32 AM
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Read your TR with interest, SH and then checked your other TRs, going back a decade or more.
You’ve taken some pretty young kids to some wonderful places!!
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Old Aug 4th, 2022, 01:58 PM
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nyse--we are lucky to live in a state with 5 national parks and have several others in surrounding states. I am a "get up and go mom" and love to plan. My kids would sometimes complain about getting dragged to look at another park in Utah--then one day we were at a Bryce Canyon Overlook and they realized that we were the only people there speaking English. There were people speaking languages from all over the world. Finally, my kids got it that the places they went to were really special. When they were much younger, I had to find things they could relate to--we spent a good 30 minutes discussing pack rate urine when we were looking at a pack rat nest right next to some amazing petroglyphs at Dinosaur National Park. I am sure the adults around me were not amused!!!!
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