Where to begin? I said to the hubs, since you are doing a course in Wales, why don’t we do the UK for vacation. He thought it was a smashing idea. The caveat was that he must plan this trip. My only obligation was to get to London on a specific day. Since I had never been to the UK, I had a laundry list of things that would be nice to see but I knew that in reality it would only be a couple of those things. Good old hubs actually tried to get most of those things in and as a result we spent a lot of time traveling from place to place. It almost felt like a Griswold vacation (European Vacation for those of you not initiated to Chevy Chase humour).
The day we arrived, we climbed on another flight and flew to Belfast and began our Irish adventure from there. It was a lovely starting point. Since much of my family is from Ireland, I decided to see exactly where they were from. I checked my Ancestry records and found a name and place: Castlecomer, County Kilkenny in the Republic of Ireland. I hit a little bit of pay dirt when I talked to the parish secretary and she showed me that the family had indeed been there but that the physical records had been moved to Kilkenny. Well, it wasn’t on the agenda but what the heck! So glad we went there. Beautiful medieval city. Unfortunately the person I needed to see was out for the day so I couldn’t talk with her but I did get her email. I absolutely loved that town. I will go back. We headed to Galway that evening and had a wonderful dinner. Galway is on a bay and quite cold and windy so it necessitated a stop at a woolen shop to get a shawl to keep me warm.I had just left behind very hot temperatures and didn’t think to pack anything warm. The shawl is so beautiful. I had many, many compliments on it. I can’t wait until the weather turns cool again so I can wear it some more. Next day was the cliffs of Moher. SPECTACULAR!! There is a song that I especially love that was all that went through my head while I was there. Take four minutes and listen to Song for Ireland. Oh, my gosh. I have never seen anything so beautiful in my life.
If you have seen pictures of it, they can’t begin to do it justice. However, it was cold there AND windy. Now I needed a hat to hold my hair in place in addition to my shawl. Fortunately there was a place close at hand that took care of that. The countryside was amazing. Now it was time to move on to Derry where supposedly much of the Foyle family came from. Sure enough, I saw Foyle on all kinds of things there. It was a lovely town and was a town encircled by a very large wall on which you could walk around the city. This was the site of many of the battles between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. From there we headed back to Belfast and got my glimpse of Loch Foyle. Hop on a plane and back to London via Heathrow.
We had been invited to stay with the children of a church friend which made getting around and parking easy. However, we didn’t go to their house until we ticked off a few spots: Stratford upon Avon and Stonehenge.We would use Doug and Terry’s home as our base for exploring London. There house was five minutes from the train station which was quite convenient. But first Stonehenge. Oh, my gosh, it comes upon you so suddenly. There it is just sitting in the middle of Salisbury Plain. We purposely planned to miss it on the solstice. I am not fond of huge crowds. Sometimes I think I’m agoraphobic. I can’t handle people breathing down my neck and pushing me along. When we got to Stonehenge we had lots of wide open space and I enjoyed it immensely.
That was also the day of the Brexit vote.
So the plan for the next day was to go into London. My first real site is the London Eye and then Big Ben and Parliament. As you can imagine since the results of the poll had been announced, people were talking about nothing but Brexit: It was bad; it was good. I’ve read a lot about it since then and I actually think they will revote and decide to stay. Saw a statement today that said England had finally surrendered Europe to the Germans. Thought that was kind of funny. But on this particular day, there were lots of people–tourists and protestors. Places and streets were packed. It took us almost two hours to get to London Bridge and the Tower of London from Parliament. It was ridiculous. I had a very hard time with the crowds. As a result, I didn’t enjoy London as much as I might have if I had gone in the middle of winter and without the benefit of a political crisis. Westminster Abbey was absolutely the worst. I had to escape and had guides yelling at me that I was going the wrong way. Nope–not listening (always the rebel)! I have to get out of here NOW! St. Paul’s church by Christopher Wren, the site of Charlie and Di’s wedding is beautiful and didn’t have nearly the number of people that Westminster had. Changing of the guard was a nothing event. You can’t really get close enough to watch it. Saw lots of red coats on horses, playing instruments and marching around but no actual changing of the guard. But there was also a Pride Celebration festival going on while we were there and that made getting at the many of the places and museums very hard. We got to Trafalgar Square but it was packed with people attired in unusual outfits waving the rainbow flag. And they wore those outfits proudly as you can see and were more than happy to let people take pictures. Covent Garden was wonderful. We sat there for a while, drank wine and watched some very entertaining musicians while a cloudburst passed overhead.
Now Scotland. I’ve heard people say that they have felt like they found their spirit home when they went to a place they have never been before. I felt that in Scotland. First we were in Edinburgh and you can see the castle up on the hill and it is magnificent. If you have read very much about Mary, Queen of Scots, you will recognize it from its placement on the escarpment above the city. And of course, the mother church of the Presbyterians, St. Giles, is in Edinburgh also. Perhaps the most beautiful church I have ever seen. Steven thought the inside would be boring, but it was as beautiful on the inside as it was outside. Absolutely amazing. And bagpipe players everywhere. IMG_1747 (Click for a 15 second clip of a piper)
And now for the crown jewel in my vacation: Stirling Castle! Those of you who know me well, know that I love the movie Braveheart. I workout to it, –usually every other month. You also might remember that my son Josh channeled Robert the Bruce for his sophomore (?) year English Class in a Meeting of the Minds production. So for me this was the ultimate historic site to visit. They have spent millions of pounds restoring it. It had been turned over to the military for many years but in 1964 they moved out and and the crown ordered a restoration of this magnificent edifice perched atop an extinct volcano. It is mostly done. You can see Bannockburn and Falkirk and Stirling Bridge from the castle. I could almost hear the echoes of the battles fought there. It was pretty amazing to me–I even bought the guide book which I almost never do. I could have stayed longer but we were on our way to Inverness. But before we headed out, I wanted to know, what that thing was on the hill off in the distance. Oh, that! It is the National Wallace Monument. Wow!
So northward we go in search of Nessie. Didn’t find him/her but oh, the drive through the highlands was like coming home again for the first time. I don’t know when I have felt so at peace. It was beautiful, serene, wild. It must be experienced to be believed. You see my maternal great grandfather was a Ross but he was Scotch Irish which means the family emigrated from the Highlands probably in the 1500’s or 1600’s and headed to Ireland and then America sometime before the American Revolution. But my soul was truly at peace there.
The next day was the day from Hades. Drive from Inverness to London in the driving rain with construction and someone who is not a super expert at driving on the other side of the road. “Steven, you are over the line. Over the line. Over the line.” In fairness, the lanes were extra narrow but I was just a bit nervous. A couple of times I could have reached out my window and touched the vehicles in the next lane. My anxiety was relieved when we hit London. My flight was early the next morning–I wanted to be back in time for the annual 4th celebration hosted by the ambassador for all Americans and the end of Ramazan celebrations. While it was a wonderful trip, there was way too much on the agenda. If I go there again, I will skip London and environs and focus on the more rural parts of the UK. I would love to spend a couple of weeks researching my family in Ireland and then just veg out in the Highlands.