Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Britain: Glasgow & the Lake District

In Glasgow we were the first AirBnB tenants for a lovely couple. Loz and Rob have a great apartment in a great neighborhood and we were even able to use their facility pool and gym. It was so nice to sleep on a real bed and workout in a gym! Our first night there, we went to a restaurant at their recommendation and the food was delicious, plus we were also treated to a little bit of live music. We accidentally slept until close to 9 the next morning and had to get our butts in gear to eat breakfast and get out the door so we could explore the city. We visited two different museums, the Kelvingrove and the Mackintosh House, both free (as most museums  in Britain are), then went to Brewdog, an internationally famous brew pub, and a scotch bar (I abstained from the scotch, not my thing). We then went back to the apartment and enjoyed some conversation while cooking dinner. The next morning, it was a quick exercise and then we headed toward the Lake District, but on our way we made a stop at Birdoswald Fort and Museum, a ruined fortification along Hadrian's Wall, the famed (and also ruined) wall built by the Roman Emperor to keep those rowdy Scots out of Roman Britain.

The Kelvingrove was originally built for an international exhibition in Glasgow.

Dali's Christ of St. John of the Cross

Leaning on Hadrian's wall

The wall

The Lake District is a popular tourist destination for Brits as well and it was obvious to see why. It's a gorgeous area with large, rolling hills spotted with pretty blue lakes. Luckily, the weather cleared up for us and we had a beautiful night camping there. We woke up early the next day and got in a good 4 hour hike before going to see a football match (soccer game). Jared had wanted to see two soccer games while we were there, one from the League Two (like their minor league) and one from the Premiership (the top league). We went to a League Two match at Accrington Stanley. The stadium was surprisingly cozy but the crowd was active and the weather was nice, so it was a fun experience.

We hiked and found this bridge in the morning

Easy to have good seats when there are only 7 rows!

After the soccer game we headed to Liverpool!

Britain: The Highlands

I titled this post the Highlands because, even though we technically were in the Highlands while in Aviemore, we didn’t do much exploring outside of the music festival. Our two days in the Highlands we visited several different sites but not really any specific city. We started by visiting Ft. George, an impressive fortification built in response to the Jacobite uprising in the mid 1700’s. It is still in use today and also has different museums and exhibits. The fort is symmetrical and unique in that it was designed by a fashionable architect family in conjunction with the King's Military Engineer.

Ft. George

At the chapel in Ft. George, the upper right is an angel playing the bagpipes.
After Ft. George, we made it to Culloden just in time to go through the exhibit and visit the battlefield. This battle marked the end of the Jacobite uprising and was a disastrous defeat for the Highlanders. It was after this battle that the English forces effectively ended clan culture in the Highlands. Those in power thought it too risky for the clans to continue in their current state, so there was a campaign which resulted in the death or migration of the many Highland Scots.
The stone commemorating those from Clan Cameron who lost their lives at the battle

Before finding our dorm room for the night, we stopped by Clava Cairns. These are ancient stone circle graves. Part of what I find so intriguing about places like this is that for centuries no one bothered the structures. Gratefully, at some point a landowner even planted trees around the perimeter to further protect the graves.

Clava Cairns

That evening we drove along Loch Ness to a hostel just off the road and stayed in a dorm for the evening. Dormitories are never ideal but this place also had an awesomely huge kitchen in which we cooked some delicious dinner and breakfast. In the morning we had to back track some to visit Urquhart Castle. This was a place that had been recommended to us by several different people and was high on our priority list. Unfortunately, it was a little disappointing when we arrived. The castle is largely in ruins, and although on a very scenic spot it was not a very important defensive spot and so does not have a strong history behind it. We did some monster watching though and didn’t see a trace of neither head nor hide of the beast.

Urquhart Castle

To finish up our time in the Highlands, we had two more stops: the Cameron museum and the Glenfinnan viaduct. My maiden name is Cameron and, although the name was originally spelled Camron on my grandfather’s birth certificate, the little bit of research I have done convinces me that the two names and families are certainly linked (if not the same), and in fact it is probable that there was a misspelling on the original birth certificate. Either way, I was in the Highlands so why wouldn’t I go take a look?! The museum was very small but on the original Clan lands. There were also genealogy papers, though not well organized, and since I had no idea where to even start and limited time I couldn’t sift through all of the information. After seeing the land of my Scottish people, we went to take a peek at the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This is the railway that is used for the Hogwart’s Express shots in Harry Potter. We were trying to make it when the train was going over but I think we missed it by no more than a half hour. The viaduct itself was still pretty neat to see and we were satisfied with our Highland adventure.

Clan Motto

On Cameron land

From our campsite in Glencoe

We stayed over that night in Glencoe, and left the next morning for our next stop, Glasgow!

Britain: Aviemore and More

Before we made it to Aviemore for the Gentlemen of the Road Festival, we made a pit stop at Stirling Castle, considered the only real rival to Edinburgh Castle for the title of most important castle in Scotland.
Only two directions to go in Scotland: England or THE NORTH.

King & Queen in the Great Hall at Stirling

From Stirling Castle (also on a hill), in the background is Stirling Bridge, where Mel Gibson won the Scots their independence.
The entrance is pretty grand

Reinactors are just a little off-putting

Aviemore. Aviemore. The best word I can think of to describe our three days in the Cairngorms National Park is….mud. We were in a field camping with more than 5,000 other people, and that crowd plus the "worst summer Scotland has had in 30 years" equals a whole lotta mud. Luckily, the first full day there, before it got too muddy, I was able to buy some Wellies (rain boots) or I would have ruined my only pair of shoes. Jared did end up ruining a pair of his shoes but he was in need of a new pair anyway, so it wasn’t a huge loss. There was so much mud, I am typing this several weeks later and I still laugh at how crazy the mud was. Unfortunately, I don’t think we got a very good picture of all the mud. But, I’m sure you can use your imagination. However, despite all of this mud, we still managed to have a pretty good time. We did lots of cuddling in the tent and lots of laughing and the music was pretty good as well. Most of the time when we go to concerts I get annoyed at Jared for looking up the playlists in advance and making a Spotify station based off of those lists. This time, I was thankful for the list since neither of us were really familiar with any of the artists besides Mumford & Sons. Our car had an adaptor so we were able to listen to the music while driving and it allowed us to better appreciate the acts during the festival.

This is Day 1. Some things just don't last, like sunny weather and a not-too-crowded field.

The crowd still gathered in the rain

The lights at night

We got pretty close!
This was actually one of the roads less traveled around the campsite.

We also managed, that first day, to sneak away for a little bit and visit the Highland Folk Museum and go for a quick hike.

Doesn't that beard just SCREAM lumberjack?

In the woods

The scenery was gorgeous
After we left our mud pit, we started towards the heart of The Highlands. Based on what a store owner told us, this was one of the busiest weekends of the year in the area. There were several different Highland Games competitions going on and all of the schools were on vacation so there was a high volume of visitors. This was very obvious when we were trying to find accommodation. EVERYTHING I searched for that was even near our price range was booked. That included most of the campsites as well. Finally, I found a room at a bed and breakfast in a coastal town called Lossiemouth, just east of Inverness. On our way to Lossimouth, we stopped at Ballindalloch Castle, a castle still inhabited by the founding baronet family. It was a beautiful estate and a thankfully beautiful day. We also mad a stop at the Glenlivet distillery where we learned about the famous Scottish whisky. Then, we beelined for our hotel and enjoyed a nice, hot shower that we didn’t have to wear sandals in, a toilet that wasn’t portable and muddy, and a soft, comfortable, warm bed. Oh, and internet! 
A beautiful still functional castle

In the garden
So green!
The next day we had to do laundry and then wandered towards Inverness and Loch Ness!

Britain: Durham, the Borders, & Edinburgh

We had every intention of visiting Durham Castle and Cathedral, and then finding a campsite in the area of Scotland bordering England, conveniently called the Borders. On our way to Durham we used our English Heritage pass to see the ruins of Barnard Castle.

Remains of the wall

The first structure built at the Barnard Castle site was from the 9th century

Durham Cathedral is one of the buildings that inspired Hogwart’s School in Harry Potter! Some of the scenes were even filmed in the cloisters. This place consisted of layers and layers of history. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in neither the Castle nor the Cathedral. The Castle is no longer in use as a castle, but is still being used as student lodgings for Durham University. There are two small, still-utilized chapels within the castle, and one of the largest flying staircases for its time connects the main building to the Great Hall.

Beautiful cathedral

The courtyard

Just walking in Hogwarts's

After we left Durham, it was raining heavily, and since we were just looking for a place for the night, we decided to try and find a bed and breakfast instead of camping. We checked several places before we found Dorothy and I’m so glad we did. A nice, comfortable bed was a welcome change after three nights in a tent, and grandmotherly Dorothy made a mean breakfast. Dorothy lives in a little town called Jedburgh and we visited a free museum dedicated to Mary Queen of Scots before we left. It was a wonderfully delightful diversion and I have longed for Dorothy’s breakfast and Jedburgh several times since we left.

At the border. Do the Scots do jigs?
But leave we did, and before we went to Edinburgh we stopped by Dryburgh Abbey, one of the handful of ruined abbeys in the Borders region, and then made it to Edinburgh with the exact amount of time needed to visit Edinburgh Castle. The city was preparing for the Military Tattoo, a huge Scottish cultural festival with that we barely missed. We wouldn’t have been able to get tickets even if we were going to be there for it, but it would have been fun to experience the city atmosphere during that time. Anyway, we toured the castle and saw the Scottish crown jewels, the remains of the older (12th century) parts of the castle, and some prison cells where captives from the Revolutionary War (and many others) were kept. As our tour guide explained, scratched into one of the doors in the prison is one of the earliest depictions of the American flag in Europe.

So excited to be in Scotland!

Perched upon a hill, you can see Edinburgh Castle from almost anywhere in Edinburgh
That evening we cooked tacos at our hostel! It was delicious and we met a fellow North American (Canadian) and he invited us to come along to a jazz club with him that evening. Edinburgh is known for its live music and we had a night out planned anyway so we made it a jazz night. It was a great evening with conversations about funny Canadian and American things and some great music as well. The following day we joined a free walking tour of the city offered by our hostel and learned quite a bit about the city while seeing places we otherwise may not have visited.

The Scots love jazz apparently.
The Walter Scott Monument. Scott is interred at the aforementioned Dryburgh Abbey
 From Calton Hill during our walking tour

It was early to bed that night since we were planning to get up early enough to visit Stirling Castle before going on to Aviemore!

Britain: Manchester & York

We landed in the land of our people at the early hour of 7 am. We were quite tired but very excited to be in the UK. The itinerary was extensive so we decided to avoid some of the limitations of public transportation by renting a car. We picked up our little Ford and Jared hopped in the wrong side of the car and started driving on the wrong side of the road. I mean, it is the right side there, well the left side, but the right side to be driving on but it is the wrong side for us. This was only the second time in over 6 months that we were in a car and responsible for the driving of the car. It was nice, however, to have the freedom it offered and to essentially have a whole extra car sized suitcase for the next month.

Eating Reese's on the wrong side

This is the best photo we have of the Ford.
We had to buy some more supplies for camping, so we headed to the store and found a place for breakfast along the way. A Full British Breakfast consists of a fried egg, a sausage, a piece ("rasher") of bacon, toast, a grilled tomato, sometimes mushrooms, aaaand beans! Beans for breakfast, well... ok? This is actually something we discussed with two British guys we met in Thailand and when we told them that we wouldn’t dream of putting beans on a breakfast plate they asked us when we ate them. They couldn’t imagine eating beans at a BBQ, so I suppose we are as equally puzzling to them as they are to us in the bean consumption department.

De. Lish. Us.

The rest of the day we made ourselves stay awake by wandering around Manchester. We walked through the large city hall, spotted some art nouveau buildings, and visited the collection at the John Rylands Library, all in the light rain. Then we drove on over to Stamford Bridge near York and set up our tent and home for the next three nights.

An old fire station in Manchester

The library sitting rooms were so cozy

The view from our tent!

The following day utilized the Park'n'Ride into York city center. This little city is just magical and full of history, and was a great place for us to start our adventure through the Motherland. We took a wonderful two hour free tour through the city with a guide who has his Masters degree in English history, and then managed to get tickets to a little comedy show that was part of a festival in town. Most of the jokes were about  British pop culture so we were a wee bit lost but it was entertaining enough for the money. Dinner was at the campsite that night, but don’t feel sorry for us. I call Jared my fancy camper because he refuses to eat traditional, cheap camp food. No warming up cans of soup for us. Gourmet all the way.

Dancing with...handkerchiefs?
From the top of York city walls
The next morning we rode the bus back into York and our first stop was at Clifford’s Tower. This is all that remains of a previous castle, and it was here we joined the English Heritage organization! For a substantial fee, we joined the organization which provided free entry (and frequently free parking) to a number of places in England, and a reduced entrance for several places in Scotland as well. It was well worth the investment and saved us at least $50 each by the time we left the UK. After that, we toured the magnificent York Minster, one of the biggest cathedrals in Northern Europe and the seat of the archbishop of York, the second highest position in the Anglican Church. It was raining (a state we would become quite used to by the time we left the UK) and so we had intended to eat dinner at the pub near where we were camping. However, as we discovered the hard way that the pub stopped serving food at 5 pm on Sunday. We “settled” for Indian food instead.

Clifford's Tower

The York Minster

The West window inside the minster, known as the Heart of York. 

The next day we left our campsite and headed north towards Scotland!