Wednesday, 17 October 2018

FAMILY REVIEW: Scotland

EDINBURGH

Our first stop in Scotland was Edinburgh and what a good first stop to have. The accents aren't as strong as some can be and the city isn't too big or too small.

Our very first stop though was...

ROSSLYN CHAPEL

If you're a fan of Da Vinci Code, we won't need to explain Rosslyn Chapel to you. If you're not, go watch the movie (or read the book if you're a reader instead).

Rosslyn Chapel is not far from Edinburgh city.


Built in 1446 by Sir William St Clair and to be built in the shape of a cross. Unfortunately, he died before he could finish it and it was never fully completed into the cross shape.

The chapel has had its ups and downs over the years (too much to add here) and when Dan Brown wrote the Da Vinci Code it was on one of its downs. After the release of the book then the movie, it is now on the up and going nowhere but... further up! It now has a visitors centre and cafe built close to it that was dedicated by Prince Charles.

The chapel has also been kept within the same St Clair family to this day. And it is also a still functioning chapel with services every Sunday. 

Opening Hours: 9:30am to 5:00pm. Doors are shut about 30 minutes before closing time - make sure you're there at least an hour or so before then to get ample time to visit. Entry price: £9 per adult. Children free if with a family group. Toilets in the visitors centre. No photos can be taken inside the chapel. No added tours included in any tickets but there are various learning points around the visitors centre and chapel. They also have staff inside the chapel where you can ask them questions about the history of the chapel and there are sessions where the staff will talk to the entire crowd which is pretty good!


You are able to walk around the chapel and learn about the various carvings and what they represent and you can also go down the stairs to where - on the movie - they go and find all those family history scrolls but... it doesn't go as deep as the movie portrays. Just down one set of stairs and to one small room and... that's it!

It was a highlight for us to see learn more about the history of this chapel and the family who built it and the building itself is beautiful, inside and out!

Definitely worth visiting if in Edinburgh. Make sure you go at least an hour or so before closing time 

ROSSLYN CASTLE

About 5 to 10 minute walk from the chapel are the remains of the Rosslyn Castle. Still owned and lived in by the St Clair family and also shown in the movie.

EDINBURGH CITY

A quick trip into Edinburgh city to see what it has to offer. The first thing you need to know about Edinburgh is that... nearly every second shop is a souvenir shop that sells everything Scottish you can think of. If you can't find what you want in one shop, just move down a couple of shops to the next similar one and you might just find it! No matter where you went, kilts were on display. We ran into our second Kiwi on this trip so far who was working in one of these shops. They say Kiwis are everywhere in the UK, but even with our All Blacks jackets, we've still only run into one.

There are also a lot of bagpipe playing Scottsmen. You won't go far before you hear those bagpipe sounds coming from somewhere. For us tourists who are not used to hearing and seeing this on a daily, it was great. Perhaps give us a couple of days and it may not have?

Edinburgh is for those with a love of STONE buildings and STONE everything. For Nathan, a secret stone mason wannabe, this city was the best for him.

When we arrived in the city, naturally we headed towards Edinburgh Castle: a place with a lot of history. But we knew we were only in town for the one day and we also were keeping to a budget so we didn't get to go inside.

A week or so before we arrived there, Edinburgh Castle had a show that our housesitting hosts had attended while we were looking after their home and dogs. It was the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo which performs with dance and drumlines. Apparently it was amazing and by the time we reached Edinburgh Castle, they were still packing away the final seating at the entrance.


When heading out of the castle, there is a strip called the "Royal Mile". It has more tourist shops, some places to have a dram a whiskey (something we learned from our housesit hosts) and it leads you to the National Library which has a lot of Scottish family history information in it. We didn't make our way inside as we didn't have much time left in the day but had we spent more time in Edinburgh, we would have dived right into that!


Before heading back to our car at our accommodation, we walked down this colourful street that had not one, but two unique Harry Potter shops! If you didn't know, you would after being in Edinburgh after seeing signs everywhere, that Edinburgh was the place J.K. Rowling finished the first Harry Potter book so it's considered the birthplace of Harry Potter!

Edinburgh is a beautiful city! If you can, spend more time there, go into the Castle, experience what the capital has to offer. Even for our short visit, it offered us a lot!

ABERDEEN

Next stop along our North Eastern coastal route was Aberdeen, the Granite City. It was only a quick overnight stay but we have never stopped somewhere that we haven't enjoyed. Aberdeen included! It's different to Edinburgh... it's smaller, obviously and still is a stone built city but with a beautiful coastal twist.

Swipe Right: Aberdeen Harbour

And... there were no tourist places on the main strip that we walked down. Which was a refreshing surprise but we did want to at least find one instead ending up at an information centre for our post card and key ring needs.

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*Side story* This is where our travel woes began - when we left Aberdeen until we reached south Scotland. Every member of our travel party caught a horrible stomach bug and the first person had it from Aberdeen to Inverness. Not saying who had it when... because TMI!!!
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INVERNESS

The gateway to Loch Ness. At the tip of Loch Ness is Inverness so if you're chasing Nessie, this is a good place to start. Here and the places we stopped at around here was the highest point of the Earth we reached on our trip! Touching the water and everything... and it was cold. But not icy cold, just normal never-gonna-swim-in-there cold that we usually feel in our familiar NZ waters.


Inverness, also a smaller town than Edinburgh but busier than Aberdeen is very beautiful with the Loch beginning there. We enjoyed our time in Inverness but had to keep moving fast due to the stomach bug. Would have loved to have stayed longer but enjoyed what we did!

LOCH NESS

We had a short overnight stay in a town called Drumnadrochit, minutes from the east shore of Loch Ness. It was our first hostel stay as I'm too old to be sharing bathrooms with strangers. Luckily, this particular hostel had private bathrooms within the nice cosy cabins so it was ideal for us.

A great stop for our first stomach bug recipient, too. 

Early the following morning, we made our way to Uruqhart Castle on the edge of Loch Ness. We couldn't get in as we were that keen and too early to enter but we were able to see the beautiful sun rise over the lake and take some great shots.


As we headed down the Loch (it's longer than we realised), we realised there are not a lot of places you can stop to go down to the water's edge (except if you pay via the Castle or other touristy places) but we headed down the lake to the bottom to a place called Fort Augustus.

It had the perfect spot to see a great view of the Loch. Not in its entirety but a large section of it to enjoy the majestic Loch Ness.


No monsters were spotted... unless you count the two very friendly, eager ducks that greeted us at the water's edge wanting food as monsters. They loved our Weetabix (UK version of Weetbix)!

It was freezing here, outside in the early morning air and so was the water. But absolutely worth the visit. And if you have the budget for it, perhaps look into a Loch cruise.

Be mindful that Nessie is a big, mythical deal here and so you will see a lot of Loch Ness monster gimmicky tourist places to visit. Avoid those and just appreciate the beautiful lake and perhaps even Uruquat Castle!

After our visit to Fort Augustus feeding the little duck monsters and pretending to be Highlanders with light sabers (?), the second travel party member had the stomach bug passed to them.


It was a tough trip down to our next stop...

STRANRAER

Once in Stranraer, the current stomach bug recipient and all of us were glad when we arrived in our month long stay! Once we arrived, the last of our travel party caught the stomach bug! It hit us hard and we still had struggles with it for a couple of weeks afterwards. *TMI*

Stranraer is basically in the middle of nowhere. When heading here, the highways that were double laned and busy turned into windy, single lane roads with hardly anyone on them - that tells you how busy it is in this corner of Scotland.

So why Stranraer?! We were asked that by the locals when we arrived including our accommodation host and the local dairy owner.

Essentially we chose Stranraer because firstly we had a budget to stick to and this AirBnb home was pretty well priced for the period of time we were looking at staying and for what we needed. And, we figured if we did as much of the east and north of Scotland first, we could be in Stranraer and visit the coast around us and the other parts of central Scotland we wanted to. Then, it was just a close ferry ride from the nearby port to Belfast in Northern Ireland which was our next planned stop. Perfect!

Stranraer is a small town - not as small as the small town of Montopoli between Pisa and Florence - but big enough to at least have festivals and a thriving younger generation. But still not big enough to have fast food places like McDs. The only worldwide-known fast food place that was here was Subway.

We loved Stranraer for the month we were here. The home we were staying in was the best home we had stayed in so far on our entire trip! We may have had horribly unpredictable weather outside the whole time we were here but the home was safe, warm and inviting and for the first time in our trip, we felt very much at home. It wasn't an apartment, it was a proper house with a proper front door and driveway. A proper rubbish collecting system without a communal skip bin we had gotten used to in Europe and the people in the neighbourhood were so friendly to us strangers - Nathan was even introduced to one of our neighbour's children as "his new neighbour"... aww guys, how sweet is that?! The same neighbour even brought a delivery from the post office to us since he knew we were right by him. Small town love was felt!

Stanraer also sits at the head of Loch Rhyan on Scotlands western coast. Being steps away from the ocean always seems to make Nathan feel at home.


I think Stranraer was the most difficult place for us to leave... the community, the home we were staying in, the country. It made us miss NZ and made it hard to say goodbye. Plus we had made a new neighbour friend and he was awesome and we didn't want to no longer be his new neighbour!!! 😭😭😭

STRANRAER OYSTER FESTIVAL

We timed this perfectly, arriving just in time for this festival. Now, this plastic Maori didn't appreciate it but the Fiji-born Rotuman did. We went to this little festival and guys, for most of it we were the only darker skinned people there (and that's saying something because of my fair skin) until we saw one older Asian couple and we were no longer looked at by people trying to figure out why we're here and what kind of Asian are we. At least now it was shared between the two couples!

We didn't stay for the entire festival but stayed long enough for Nathan to get some great tasting oysters (or so he told me). This place reminded us of what we think Bluff would be like. It's one of the only places in Scotland that have oysters.


Small community festival with school children involved and of course, bagpipes aplenty!

OTHER AREAS CLOSE BY

Because we were still not 100% with our stomach bugs and because we also had to jump back into school and work after a month of instability through England, we didn't explore as much as we had hoped but when we could, we visited close by towns and areas. Port Patrick was one of them and it was a beautiful coastal town to visit!


We also visited Newton Stewart - a very small town but large enough to have a movie theatre with the latest movies! So we took the chance to see a movie in a cinema - our first on our trip. No photos of this place - too busy eating popcorn that was not butter popcorn to Nathan's dismay but instead very sweet popcorn!

We visited several other spots along the western coast of Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway (the county which Stranraer is in) - home to some of Scotland's most beautiful beaches. Highly recommended!

GLASGOW

It seemed like there were signs telling us not to go to Glasgow! Whenever we had proper plans to visit it, something would happen that would stop us. First time, Hadrian woke up and threw up; second, Nathan woke up not feeling well; third, Nathan was too busy at work and couldn't take the time off even though it was a planned trip; fourth, we actually left and were almost half way there and Hadrian was sick again, throwing up in the car (safely in a plastic bag) for our troubles. We had to return home after that and try again one more time. We were cutting it close, with only two more days before we were due to leave Scotland.

But, we finally made it! Everyone woke up with settled stomachs and ready to go! Glasgow is about 2 hours from Stranraer so it's not a quick visit, it ended up being a full day out.

Our first stop in Glasgow was at a park and ride place - I love these places, for reals! This one was next to a subway station and only 3 stops into town. It costs £5.40 for a day car park and extra for subway costs. We opted for the full day pass of subway use but didn't really use it. Similar to Athens, it is not paid via contactless card but through tickets before you enter the subway and on the other end to exit.

Like a lot of cities in the UK we've been to so far with paved areas for high pedestrian traffic in the city centre, Glasgow was no different. Yet again, beautiful, older stone buildings but mixed with modern.


Great shopping areas and plenty of places to eat. We had promised Hadrian that we would visit the Lego store while in Glasgow. Guys, it took nearly an hour in the shop. But it kept Hadrian happy even though it took up a lot more time than we had planned!

After looking through as much as we could with the limited time we had, we had a quick meal and headed out.

Because we had more to cover before heading home... 

THE BATTLE OF BANNOCKBURN

During one of Hadrian's history assignments, I had him research some of his family history - especially on Robert the Bruce as we are descendants of his way, way down his line.


The Battle of Bannockburn was an important part of Scottish history and of Robert so we made a trip to the area the battle was had and visited the statue and monument made in his honour.

This is about 30 minutes north of Glasgow and just around the corner from Stirling. Worth visiting if you have researched the history or watched movies on it! Highly recommend.

They have a visitor's centre by the monument which is free to enter and go to the cafe and gift shop but they also have an interactive learning experience that is a paid experience. We didn't do it as we were short on time.

Not far away is Sterling Castle - one of the most important castles in Scottish history. Unfortunately we didn't get an opportunity to visit it up close, but it has an amazing presence even as you drive past it on the highway.

DOUNE CASTLE


20 minutes away from Bannockburn, we visited this castle because... it was recommended by someone in NZ who wanted to visit it! We had never heard of it before but our mate, once hearing we were heading towards Scotland, wanted to join us here and visit this castle. He never did make it so we went to visit it for him, more than anything. We were only around the corner in Bannockburn and thought it was worth making a quick trip.

By the time we arrived, the castle was nearly closing. We would have made it through a tour if we were rushed but we were quite happy to walk the grounds for free and skip the inside of the castle. Had we arrived a little earlier, we would have taken the tour.

Prices for entry is £6 per adult and £3.60 per child with a free audio guide included from one of the members of Monty Python since one of their movies was filmed there.

There is a cottage opposite the castle that has the visitors toilets. 

The castle and the grounds were beautiful with rivers flowing on each side of it and fallen autumn leaves. Enjoyed our quick visit. Highly recommend to get there well before 3pm so you can go on a walk through of the castle without being rushed before the 4pm closing time.

No drone shots can be taken here. We didn't test it but read someone's review where he said it was definitely not allowed so we didn't risk it. 

HASTE YE BACK, SCOTLAND

When going through some Scottish towns, as you leave you see the sign "Haste Ye Back" which we assume is the equivalent to our "Haere Ra" signs we see in some places in NZ.

We will return Scotland. We loved you! We loved that when we headed towards the Highlands, their street signs were in both English and Gaelic which was... awesome. We loved that the people were welcoming and friendly. We loved the accents and the split second longer that it took for us to understand what was being said. We loved the landscapes with the high mountains and the rugged shorelines and the weather so familiar to what we know.
We... just, loved you Scotland! 

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FINAL REVIEWS

H: I liked Scotland and especially Stranraer, it reminded me so much of our little New Zealand suburb, with the little shop just down the road, the fields and parks, but I especially liked the house we stayed in. I would definitely recommend that house to anyone who wants to find accommodation in that area. I instantly felt comfortable and it had everything you would want (except a peeler which was probably already mentioned but whatever I'm still mentioning it) and I liked that it had Netflix as well (that was one of my favourites) on the smart T.V (I wrote it properly, tv <---like this is not a word) and the other T.V in the upstairs bedroom (which was good when dad was in a meeting). It was just an amazing house and the couches (or sofas) in the sunroom were amazing. The only thing that was a little weird was how low the couches in the lounge (or living room) were. 

N: Absolutely loved Scotland. The people were wonderful, courteous and welcoming to us strangers. Thank you for a great time! The Gaelic language, culture and tradition is alive and well respected. And you would hope so as they fought for it with their lives. As a result you can feel a sense of pride in everything Scottish. The castles, the history, the battles and the architecture mixed with an equal portion of natural beauty similar to New Zealand's South Island makes Scotland an awesome place to visit.

T: Since most of the blog is written by me, it has a lot of my feelings in it already. I truly loved Scotland and out of the places we've visited so far - which I've always felt I could move to semi-permanently in each one - Scotland was the one I could change it from semi-permanent to fully permanent. If only it wasn't so far from NZ. I suppose it's because it reminds me so much of home that I love it so much 🤷 Highly recommend Scotland to visit! 

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