England & Scotland - 2002
Welcome to our trip description of England and Scotland. We love going to the U.K. so this time we went back to England and included Scotland on our trip. British Airways decided to change their non-stop service landing in London, from Gatwick, to Heathrow airport. We decided to take a taxi from the airport to the Bonnington Hotel in Bloomsbury rather than taking the Heathrow Express since it didn't cost any more than the tickets would have cost us to take the Heathrow Express plus a taxi ride from Paddington to the hotel. We also took a taxi to Heathrow on our departing trip to the States as a result of cutting a deal with the concierge at the Bonnington Hotel. This was even cheaper than a black cab and we will probably do this from now on. Now if I can just remember the business card the limo driver gave me I can call him to pick us up when we arrive next year for the same reduced rate.
After a night of rest in London we picked up the Hertz rental car in Bloomsbury and were off to our first stop - York, England. Stayed with our friends at the Feversham Lodge for a couple of days while walking around the old city of York. The last time we were in York it was about 98 degrees F and all we wanted to do was find an air-conditioned place to hang around. This time it was a lot better weather and we ended up walking around town and window shopping. We knew we would be returning on the way back from Scotland, so we decided to split up our activities between the two stays. We rode around the city again in an open top bus and noticed a few things we had missed before around the old Minster. While in York we went by the Hole In The Wall pub looking for our friend Terry Moran but he wasn't there. I guess he had moved on and we lost touch with him (update - I ran in to Terry in the Hole In The Wall pub in November of 2003 while visiting with my cousin Mikey, good to see him again).
After a few days in York, we headed for Haltwhistle, England for a view of the Roman ruins along Hadrian's Wall. The weather was nice and cool and the little town of Haltwhistle was a very nice and relaxing place to visit, especially one of the local pubs that was within walking distance of our nice B&B (one of the nicest we've stayed in - Ashcroft House). While in one of the pubs we found a group of ladies that were drinking, singing, and playing darts. Kind of entertaining since you really don't see something like that here in the States. They were kind of hammered, but they sure did know how to have fun. I was threatening to play a game of Cricket with them but saw one of the women almost hit another woman with a dart and decided against it.
About 2000 years ago in 122 AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian decided to build a wall on the northernmost boundary of Roman Britain to keep out the "barbarians" that lived to the north. The local tribes were kept out by the wall for about 350+ years. Note that when the wall was first constructed, it wasn't to keep out the Scots and Pics since they didn't really show up until later. The wall starts in the east at Wallsend and extends to Bowness-on-Solway in the west with remnants of the wall continuing south on the west coast to Ravenglass. There were many people that supported the Romans while they were encamped at this far north region of the Roman empire, so you find many interesting sights that extend 10 miles north and south of the wall where these people lived. There are still many ruins that you can see as well as some nice museums of what life was like, including some artifacts that were preserved in the local mud which kept them from deteriorating. There is a Roman 80 mile stretch (about 73 modern miles) from Wallsend to Bowness that has forts, temples, turrets, and mile castles. From 140 to 163 AD another wall was built further north called the Antonine Wall. This didn't last too long though and the northern frontier moved back to Hadrian's Wall. About 400 years after the wall was built, Rome began neglecting the northern frontier and folks just went on their way since they weren't getting paid to be there. Hadrian's Wall itself is somewhat intact with stones missing in places where the locals used them over the centuries to build an assortment of buildings and walls around their property. A very interesting site is the Vindalonda Roman Fort museum where they have gathered many artifacts from along the wall.
We left Haltwhistle and drove towards Carlisle where we visited the Tullie House museum that contains the Human History Collection where a variety of antiquities from Hadrian's Wall and the two Roman forts that were established in the ancient city of Carlisle. We also visited the Carlisle castle that was completed by King David I of Scotland in the mid-1100s. The original timber castle was built by England's William II in 1092. One thing they had that was kind of strange are "licking stones" that Jacobite prisoners would lick to get whatever moisture they could to stay alive. Of course they ended up getting executed on Gallows Hill, but that's another story (at least maybe they weren't thirsty).
We drove on to Oban, Scotland for our next part of the journey in to Scotland (described here), and on the return trip from Scotland we came down the East coast of England and saw a few sites along the way. We left Edinburgh heading towards York and decided to stay at Durham along the way. We stayed at the Hillrise Guest House that has a very nice Indian restaurant within walking distance and had nice rooms, however, it was a little too close to a rather busy traffic road for my taste. If traffic doesn't bother you, it was a good B&B with an excellent breakfast. We only spent one night while in Durham, but we did get to spend a few hours at the Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle. The actual name of the Cathedral is "Durham's Cathedral Church of Christ and Blessed Mary the Virgin." It is the last resting place of Saint Cuthbert, St Bede who many believed to be the finest scholar of his age, and the actual head of St Oswald who was a warrior and martyr. Don't know what happened to the rest of his body. The building is viewed as one of the best examples of Romanesque architectures still in existence and is quite impressive to see. We also decided to see Durham Castle which was built by William the Conqueror who ordered its construction in 1072, shortly after the Norman Conquest in 1066. During medieval times it was used as a defense against Scotland. Today it's best known as University College, University of Durham. Note that the castle has a World Heritage status which puts it on par with other great sites found throughout the world.
After leaving Durham, we stopped north of Newcastle upon Tyne in the area known as Alnwick, which is a historic county town of Northumberland and the seat of the Duke of Northumberland. Alnwyck Castle (or Alnwick Castle, I'm not sure of the spelling since it seems to change depending on who you talk to) still remains as the family home of the Duke of Northumberland where it has been the family home of the Percy family for nearly 700 years. The more recent claim to fame is the filming of scenes from the Harry Potter movies on the castle grounds. They have quite a large garden area and this part of England is quite picturesque.
Leaving Alnwyck Castle we headed to York for the second stay of our trip. Of course, we stayed with our friends at Feversham Lodge for our B&B. This time, I decided to climb the stairs of the York Minster to the very top. This is such a steep climb with no resting points other than standing in the narrow stairway with one foot at a time on a step, I felt like my knees were not going to make it before making it to the top. We were lucky in the sense that the weather was beautiful and could see the entire city of York stretched out below us. Beautiful sight from the top, but I must admit that my legs were sore for a couple of days afterwards (mostly from the descent). I paid them a couple pounds to send me a diploma stating that I had climbed the stairs and sure enough, about a month later it showed up in a mailing tube. Now I can add that to my collection of strange things I've done. We also took another tour to the Yorkshire Moors on a tour bus and repeated the steam train trip we had done a few years ago which is always relaxing.
Visited the Merchant's Adventurer's Hall in York which was quite interesting. The Hall is one of the finest remaining examples of a medieval guildhall still in existence in England. The building's construction started in 1357 and was completed around four years later. It consists of a great hall for meetings and business, a chapel, and a charity hospital. Lucky for us, the hall remains pretty much as it was except for the 1700s when additions of the sash-style windows and a 1500s fireplace was added. You will also find a chapel that was rebuilt in the 1400s of brick and stone. The Great Hall is where the poor and down-and-outers of York were cared for until about 1900. This is an exceptional example of a guildhall that you should include on your sightseeing adventures while in York - one of the most intact medieval cities in all of Europe. We absolutely love York and plan to visit this old city as many times as possible. Check future visits to see our return trips to this beautiful city since I am sure we will return again and again. Update: I returned to York in November of 2003 with cousin Mikey for our whirlwind tour of England so he too could see this wonderful city.
Finished up in York and had an uneventful drive back to London where we turned in the car and had a couple more days for sightseeing. Once again, we stayed at the Bonnington Hotel since it's only a block or two from the Hertz car rental drop-off. We chose to take a "Magical Tour" I booked on the Internet and went to Avebury and Stonehenge. Got some good pictures of Stonehenge while we were there since the weather was cooperative. Avebury is interesting in the sense that you can actually walk among the stones and touch them (unlike Stonehenge which is roped off). The stone circle is a lot larger and the site is quite large with stones sticking out of the ground in strategic places (that only the folks that planted them understand). The only mistake we made was going to see Avebury the day after the Summer Solstice. There was dog crap everywhere and still some lingering rather "strange" people that seemed to think they are Druids. Many of them were just plain drunk from partying the day before and having a party at the stones. Kind of leftover hippies from the 60s. We went back to London, had a good Indian meal and left the next day for the U.S. As usual, the plane ride home seemed to take forever but it sure was good to get back home, sit in the recliner, and watch some TV (while sipping Fat Tire beer).
This was a good trip and I would highly recommend seeing all the places I mentioned above. Here is where we stayed (I'll try and stay on top of the links to the B&Bs):
From Haltwhistle we headed for Oban, Scotland and stayed along the bay area. Spent a couple of nights there and found time to visit the Isle of Mull as well as other local sites. It was raining most of the time we were there and it was quite cool (downright cold at times with humidity), but it wasn't that bad. The many lochs (lakes) in Scotland are quite interesting as well as the strange terrain that looks like something from the end of the Ice Age. The drive there was quite twisty-turny and when we would stop, we had to watch out for "midges" - a kind of bug that bites you. Our B&B was a bit of a walk from downtown Oban, but it was situated right along the shoreline and had a beautiful view. The Isle of Mull proved interesting as we viewed a couple of old castles, but the rain was constant. We took a small train ride to view one of the castles and all I remember is standing outside in one of the worst downpours I've experienced. It was quite cold and my glasses were constantly fogging up. We also discovered that Steffie's raincoat was not waterproof since she was getting wet.
It was actually snowing on the ferry trip back from the Isle of Mull which seemed strange for being in June. From Oban we drove towards Rob Roy's grave and as we headed East, the weather warmed up and the rain stopped. Not too many people can say they've traveled that far just to see a grave but the drive is so nice throughout Scotland that we really enjoyed ourselves and got to visit historic places along the way. We headed towards our stop for a few nights in Edinburgh and stopped in Sterling along the way to take a tour of Sterling Castle where a local tour guide had a rather strong Scottish accent.Edinburgh
We stayed outside of Edinburgh in a fine B&B where I got to try Haggis (don't like the smell) and took a bus ride in to town to visit the Edinburgh Castle. Not only is the castle a historic presence built on an extinct volcano, but it is also a former royal residence. Within the castle itself, there is a lot to see. It was the seat of Scottish Kings, and the historical apartments include the Great Hall which now houses an interesting collection of weapons and armor. The royal apartments include a small room where Mary the Queen of Scots gave birth to a boy that was to become King James VI of Scotland and James I of England with the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603. There is also a Scottish National War Memorial that you can tour where you can see weapons, uniforms, and miscellaneous war artifacts. Another item of interest is the "One O-Clock Gun." This gun is fired every day except Sunday at exactly 1PM so if you hear a loud boom at 1PM, don't worry, everything is OK. I'm not very big on drinking non-beer alcoholic drinks, but they had a Scotch tasting room set up in the tourist shop where they would let tourists try out various aged Scotch whiskey. It was a small amount in each cup (thank goodness) and the purpose was to show the difference between how Scotch tastes as it is aged. I have to admit that the 20 year old Scotch was very smooth and didn't take my breath away when I drank it straight.
There is also the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (parades) that occurs in August for about three weeks. We missed it since we were there in June, but it appears to be quite a big show (based on the promotions) which I wish we could see. Perhaps we will find ourselves in Scotland in August and can catch this remarkable show. While at Edinburgh Castle you can also see the "Stone of Destiny" also known as the "Stone of Scone" that was taken to Westminster Abbey in 1296 and returned 700 years later. It was taken by Edward I in the late 1200s because every king of Scotland was crowned on the stone as the leader of their race (those that were not minority aged) and Edward thought that if he took it, his problems with Scotland would be over. Of course the royal blood line of England has descended from Scots, so he sort of lost out on that count. For years it sat under the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey. Technically, it's on loan to Scotland by England to be returned when a King or Queen is crowned. You will also find St. Margaret's Chapel and the story of the Crown jewels of Scotland in Edinburgh Castle.
We left Edinburgh for Durham on our trip back to London (see above in the England description of our trip) and really enjoyed our stay in Scotland. I plan to return again since there are many things left to see. Especially up north near Loch Ness.
Remember to check out my page on European trip advice to align expectations that you may have about traveling to Europe as well as ways to make your travel experience a little simpler.