Alright y’all. It’s past time I share all the goods on our trip to the United Kingdom. Truth be told, this would be my first trip across the pond and I was beyond giddy about traveling internationally for the first time. After having spent 3 days in Iceland, we jetted out of Keflavik and straight into Edinburgh, Scotland. Did we have a set plan? Not really, but what unfolded was an incredible look into the world of J.K. Rowling, a few happy tears while photographing the stained glass that ornament the halls of St. Giles Cathedral and a whole new appreciation for the architecture of the past.
We arrived bright and early on a Friday morning and immediately headed out into the city. Our plan was to get dropped off at Waverley Bridge and make the hike through the Princes Street Gardens to our hotel in the Grassmarket, doubly name The Grassmarket Hotel. This place was the perfect place to start our day. The receptionist, Stephen, was so helpful. He made “the best fish and chips” suggestion (City Restaurant is BOMB) and even booked us a few tours for the following day.
A few friends had suggested we stay in Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and boy are we glad we did. The curved cobblestone streets and quiet closes could be found around every corner and our hotel was in walking distance of all the major attractions on our to-do list. The pubs on Victoria Street were just an added bonus.
The best advice we got was to jump on the Hop On Hop Off Tour. For $19, we managed to snag a 24 hour pass that tours the city and introduces you to the history of this ancient town. Though it was a bit chilly sitting on the top, my camera was loving the natural light and the surreal views. This is a MUST DO if you are traveling in this area.
After chowing down on some mushy peas and cod, we headed down the Royal Mile. At first, we were just walking around, taking it all in. But then, I remembered reading a Blog that said for a few Euros, you could take photos inside St Giles Cathedral. We headed in that direction, I snagged my permit and I set up my camera inside the massive beauty where Franciscan monks had once occupied. To say I cried is an understatement. The stained glass ornamenting every wall, the woodwork of the Thistle Chapel, the structure of the organ, it was all just so beautiful. Not gonna lie, I spent a good amount of time soaking it all in. I had never seen anything quite so enchantingly detailed.
We even headed back that Sunday for the 1st Lenten Mass. Their service was enlightening and the choir was incredible. The acoustics of this space + 30 out-of-this-world voices makes for one awesome concert. No matter your faith, I highly recommend attending a service.
After a few G&Ts and an incredible dinner at The Doric, we hit the hay early and started Day Two fresh. We had booked a tour with Rabbies through Viator to view Stirling Castle and a portion of the Highlands. Most of you will recognize Stirling Castle as the site of the William Wallace statue (cue Mel Gibson donning blue facepaint and screaming FREEDOM). Though most of Braveheart can be taken with a grain of salt, the importance of the Forth River during the Independence Wars and the ancestral houses that reigned here still linger with a royal importance. Stirling’s history is laden with baptisms, marriages and parties of grandeur. We toured the Castle for over an hour and then headed down the cafe to snag a coffee and some treats to tide us over until lunch. I highly suggest the Millionaire Shortbread and the Caramel Apple Loaf.
Though Mel Gibson is full of crap when it comes to embellishing the history of Scotland, a few things remain true. The history of Mary Queen of Scots is felt in every inch of this fortress. At just 5 days old, she became Queen. However, her life was ill fated and plagued by those who wished to unseat her. After a life of tragedy, her son, King James VI/I became the King of both Scotland and England. His style and borgias appreciation made Stirling an impregnable palace.
Once we were done gobbling down the Scottish treats, we jumped back on the bus and headed to Duone Castle. Featured in hit TV shows like Outlander and Game of Thrones, this castle lies in the midst of a small town. After seeing the Red Lion Inn along the main drag, I understood how this place came to be Tywin Lannister’s Casterly Rock.
Our next stop on our tour led us to Aberfoyle, a quaint town in the Highlands. Though most of this area is littered with “summer homes” aka PALACES, one can certainly feel the country vibe. There are sheep roaming most fields and hairy coos along the side of road. I was most excited to see the irises and various wild flowers popping up outside. We stopped for lunch at The Forth Inn and I had the local salmon with a red pepper pesto. Yummy. Acclaimed for the Faerie-Tree and the likes of Rob Roy, this small town had a cozy holiday feel to it.
After lunch, we made our way to Loch Lomond. It was a dreary day but the calm of the water was the perfect spot to stretch our legs and grab an afternoon beer at the local pub. We traipsed our way around the Loch until our driver said it was time to hit the road.
That night, we headed back to City Restaurant in downtown Edinburgh. Russ munched on yet another “fish and chips” dish while I chose the Antipasta Platter. Goodness gracious! After dinner, we headed back to our hotel which was appropriately located next to the busiest pub on Grassmarket, Biddy Mulligans! We chatted up with a good deal of other travelers and danced the night away to the live music.
The next morning, we woke up bright and early to the sound of bagpipes out of our hotel window. Though loud, it was an awesome reminder of how little time we had left to enjoy this country and its’ culture. We downed a bunch of Advil and headed out into the city to explore.
Once I figured out that Edinburgh is basically the home base for the inspiration behind the Harry Potter Series, I went in search of J.K. Rowling’s muse. So, we headed GreyFriar’s Kirk to search the tombstones that inspired the professors names (Dumbledore and such). This was eerily cool. We strolled along the real-life Diagon Alley. As we passed the Magic Shops, book stores and a man holding an owl, I found myself wishing I had a wand to hunt down the Leaky Cauldron. We headed to the Elephant Room, a coffee house where J.K. Rowling began working on the Philosopher’s Stone. Looking out the front window of the shop, you have Edinburgh University in front of you, Potter’s Row to your left and 1000s of children in their uniforms walking past. One could only describe it as magic or the beginnings of an epic tale.
As we walked around the city, we stumbled into Mimi’s BakeShop for Mars Bar Muffins, stopped to admire the architecture of High Street and put our butts on a double decker bus to Queens Ferry to check out the famous Forth Bridges.
Our last stop was Edinburgh Castle. I guess you could say we saved the best for last. High atop a volcanic edifice, this castle houses a destructive powerhouse, Mons Meg, and the Crowned Jewels of Scotland. We leisurely toured every inch of this place. From the dungeons to King James nursery room to the Chapel built in the 1400s, we explored the history of this great city.
Why Scotland? Well, our number one reason was the flight. Out of Keflavik, our trip to Scotland only cost us $120 Round Trip. Secondly, my husband is a tad obsessed with golf so we had planned on heading to Saint Andrews. Lastly, they speak English. We only had a short window of time and we wanted to skip the language barrier in order to enjoy the most of our vacation.
Though we did not get to see everything that we wanted to while we were there, we hope to head back. Russ wants to attend the Highland Games and head to St Andrews for a round of golf and I would like to head to the Isle of Skye and the Botanist Distillery. Scotland has so much to offer and I can not wait to see where this adventure takes us next!
HOW I GOT THE ITCH FOR TRAVEL JOURNALISM & WHERE ARE WE HEADED TO NEXT:
In the spring of 2016, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Carolyn Anderson, a landscape photographer based out of New Alexandria, Pennsylvania. After our chat, I made it a point to try my hand at capturing the highlights of our adventures. We traveled so much in 2016. Our East Coast Girl’s Trip was my first attempt at Travel Journalism and since then, we’ve traveled around and through the state of Colorado, through the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania and to Broken Bow, Oklahoma. Mr. Norris and I just got back from Reykjavik, Iceland and Edinburg, Scotland so keep an eye out for our Travel Guides for those trips in 2017!
IS THERE SOMEWHERE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE RUSTIE NAIL TRAVEL TO? LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS/SUGGESTIONS BELOW!
If any of you out there have more questions about our trip, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.