The morning was Wednesday and I got up quite early, looking forward to my Mom joining me on the next half of my UK travels!
I guess I could have taken the subway then airport bus to the Glasgow airport but instead I called a taxi for a quicker ride. (A taxi company my lovely rental flat hosts so helpfully provided!)
I arrived and waited at the gate and shortly my Mom emerged. Yay!
She was joining me for two nights in Scotland then six nights in London and Ashford before we headed back home via Dublin.
She was happy to see me after her long overnight flights and we hired a taxi back to my rented flat. The owners let me know that there was no rush leaving so we planned for a couple hours of down time (nap!) before leaving Glasgow.
Once rested, we collected our gear and jumped into another taxi to the train station. (A young driver who sped through intersections and even right in front of an ambulance who flashed his lights and sirens at him!! Not a very good first impression of the UK for my mom!)
We arrived in one piece, bought tickets for the train to Edinburgh and headed off.
The railway certainly is an excellent way to travel! Comfy seats, fast transport and countryside sights along the way.
Now, the week previous I had enjoyed excellent warm weather both in Ireland and Scotland so I had told my mom to pack less warmer clothes. Whoops!! Well, the weather had turned and my poor mom was freezing! As it was, I had only packed one light jacket/hoodie so you may see some…repetition with our outerwear over the next few posts. 🙂
Back to our trip! Brr!
We enjoyed our train ride, about an hour, and arrived to a windy, cool Edinburgh. Although my map showed our hotel was not too far away, the city was a maze of busy, hilly, cobble stoned streets. We grabbed a friendly taxi and marveled at how central our “ibis” hotel was! It’s a slim renovated hotel jammed between older buildings on a curved cobbled brick street. The main pedestrian shopping area, directly around one corner!
The lobby was quite funky, with a modern Scandinavian feel, and the desk clerks very helpful. We loved our room! Though small, it had two comfy twin beds, flat screen TV and overlooked the charming old rooftops of the downtown district.
We quickly freshened up and made the most of the longer daylight hours and headed out to grab a bite to eat and hopefully catch a city tour bus.
We shared wings and fish and chips at the pub right next door, recommended by the hotel front desk staff. Good eats!
Then walked a few blocks down a curved old street and found the tour bus station not too far away. We paid for the hour city tour and soon realized it was not as great as we were hoping for. It wasn’t a live guide commentating for the tour, we had to use some ear buds and plug into the wall to hear recorded history of each place we passed.
That wouldn’t have been so bad except that the tour was more like a city bus, stopping every few blocks to let people on and off so that the commentary never actually matched what we were seeing! It was also a double-decker but the top was all open and it was a cold breezy evening so we stayed below and didn’t get great views either.
However, we made the most of it and took in the amazing history of Edinburgh. It’s like an old medieval city, with twists and turns and fortifications and defensive walls and bridges and tunnels. Very cool!
If we were staying longer I would have loved to tour the main castle, built way up on an extinct volcano caldera overlooking the city.
We headed back after the tour and got to bed early since the next morning we were booked on a full day tour to a castle over the England border.
We woke up refreshed and had breakfast in the hotel. It was a lovely self serve hot or cold breakfast with loads of choices! (I looove the cooked mushrooms offered with these hot breakfasts!)
We called a taxi to get to Rabbie’s tour company meeting place since we were pressed for time and the streets were busy and steep.
We checked in and were herded into a small cafe to await the boarding of our bus. There were about 20 different tours headed out that day!
Soon our bus number lit up on the airport-style call board and we had to walk down two more blocks to our small but comfy tour bus.
Our driver and guide for the day, Neil, an Englishman living in Scotland with his Scottish wife, greeted us. So far it was us and only two other people, a married couple from China on board as we waited for the final two to arrive. The final couple didn’t show up so the four of us had a whole bus and the whole tour to ourselves!
We headed south and made our first stop in a small town called Kelso for a 30 minute “comfort” break. Mom and I quickly walked to find some facilities (or more simply put by all in the UK – “toilets”) and passed by a crumbling old Abbey. We grabbed some drinks for the road and headed onward.
As we crossed the board between Scotland and England over the River Tweed our guide stopped and let us walk over the bridge. My first steps into England!
The countryside was lovely and green with rolling hills, swans and fishermen on the river and picturesque little towns all along the way.
Our main destination was Alnwick Castle, actually pronounced “Annick”, don’t ask me why when the river of Aln runs beside it!
It was featured as much of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies and more recently in Downton Abbey as the rented castle of the Jewish family in the Season 5 Christmas Special.
The castle is still family owned and inhabited (in fact we were informed that the family was currently in residence) but open during the day for touring. Evidence was the huge flat screen TV and comfy modern chairs set to the side in the magnificent library full of antiques and over 14,000 books, most were ancient artifacts!
I had seen and toured a few castles already in Scotland and Ireland, but this castle took my breath away!!
We only had three hours, not enough time to visit both the castle and the magnificent gardens so we chose the castle. Next time I would definitely come back and tour the gardens as well, from the peek we had through the gates, it looked magical!!
The main castle took about 8 minutes to get to from the coach park, and we passed the gardens and front gift shop. But it’s walls sprawled out wide with one looming archway entrance, waiting to swallow us inside.
Once beyond the walls the grounds were green and neatly trimmed lawns with archery on one side and Hogwarts-themed Quidditch training for the youngsters on the other. (There were several rambunctious school groups taking part.)
We first found the quaint little gift shop inside an inner courtyard to browse through and a cafe to rest our feet. (It had been a long walk to get inside!) We shared some yummy tomato soup and a scone with cream and jam. Perfect for a coolish day.
The state rooms open for touring were gorgeous! We were not allowed to take any photos inside (sad!) but I purchased a lovely guidebook to take home. There were huge displays of weapons, from medieval swords and armpit to muskets and pistols all lining the walls in intricate patterns like wallpaper. China dishes and tapestries and artwork. The furniture was antique and beautiful and every detail so intricate right down to the small gothic cathedral chapel off the main rooms. So peaceful and intentionally glorifying to God.
Because of the Downton Abbey connection, many of the rooms displayed set photos from the popular TV show along with costumes worn, mostly from Miss Rose.
I also instantly recognized the outer courtyard as featured in the final scenes where Mary Crawley says goodbye to the handsome new fellow and his fast car.
We had a bit more time left so we exited the castle from the top street level to check out the little surrounding town. We didn’t get very far on the twisting cobblestones before we headed back to make the long but pretty walk back through the castle courtyards to the coach.
I would highly recommend this castle to anyone I they have the time and are in the area!! I’d go back in a heartbeat to see more!
Oh and as we were leaving, there was a garden party and concert fundraiser getting underway in the gardens. We caught a glimpse of many splendidly dressed guests heading for the party and heard the beginnings of a live band starting up. Oh how I would have loved to have been on that guest list!
The drive back was longish but lovely. Neil even stopped at another few castle homes for us to snap some photos from a distance. He mixed giving us some wonderful history of the region and of Mary Queen of Scots with some excellent Scottish music.
We bid farewell to Neil and our Asian counterparts as Neil kindly dropped us off near our hotel.
Along the walk back was a pretty little bakery called Patissere Valerie (which we later found all over England as well) so we stopped in and had a late, late Afternoon Tea! The tea, scones, sandwiches and sweets held up to our high standards of a high tea and hit the spot for an evening meal.
Surprisingly, we still had energy (or at least I did and dragged Mom along) so we walked up our street and poked into a few touristy gift shops. We found a coupe of neat mementos to remember our Scotland adventures.
Stay tuned in as I fill ya in on our next adventures a little further south to LONDON, baby!!
Catch up on ALL my posts of my awesome #kbintheuk trip: