Things were pretty quiet in this space during July, mainly because we took an epic trip with my family to Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man to celebrate my parents’ anniversary. After our honeymoon last summer in England (during which we kept saying, “We might as well live it up because who knows when we’ll be back!”) it was incredible to be back in the UK so soon. It’s no secret that I’m a major Anglophile, a trait I share with my mom and my sister, so this trip was a dream come true a second time over.
We started in Edinburgh and worked our way around the Scottish coastline, with stops in Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, ultimately ending our trip in Dublin. I took tons of photos, and I’ve finally culled through the collection to pick out my favorites. Inspired by Sonia Gensler’s “Postcards from…” series, here’s a glimpse at our travels through photos.
Our first day in Edinburgh, we were too tired to do much besides ramble around. We wound up having lunch at The Elephant House, a.k.a the place where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter novel. The bathrooms are FILLED with Harry Potter graffiti, like loving commentary from fans all over the world and quotes from the books. My favorite was the Sharpie-labeled toilet, which read “Ministry of Magic this way” with an arrow pointing down. Also, the back room of the cafe features a fantastic view of Edinburgh Castle, and Josh thought it looked suspiciously like inspiration for Hogwarts.
We then went on a pilgrimage to all the locations mentioned in Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street books. My sister Lissa first introduced me to them; they’re quiet, slice-of-life books about a varied group of people living on Scotland Street, and they’re very funny in a gentle kind of way. Lissa and I were thrilled to find that most of the places mentioned in the books actually exist. (Except 44 Scotland Street–the street ends just before that address.)
The next day we hiked up to Edinburgh Castle itself. We saw the Honours of Scotland (the Crown Jewels) and heard a story about how the Honours were hidden in Dunnottar Castle and later smuggled out to save them from Oliver Cromwell’s destructive rampage during the 17th century. Supposedly one of our distant ancestors helped smuggle out the Honours…but that might just be a fun story.
Our first stop on the Scottish coastline was Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness. Yeah, that Loch! If you haven’t already guessed, we saw a ton of castles on our trip. This one offered a great view of the loch and was raided loads of times during its long history. It was partially destroyed to keep the Jacobite forces from using it at the end of the 17th century, so it’s not in great condition, but you can still see the remains of buildings and various parts of the castle.
Oh, and a bagpiper played for the crowd to get the atmosphere just right. I had “Loch Lomond” stuck in my head the rest of the day (even though it was the wrong loch).
Fun fact: I played bagpipes for a hot second in college. Most of my time was spent figuring out the practice chanter, but I got to use a real set of pipes a few times. Filling your lungs with enough air to inflate the bag is a lot harder than it looks!
We also saw the Loch Ness Monster on our way out.
(PS it’s Josh.)
Our next stop was Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, where we visited the Ring of Brodgar, a Neolithic stone circle. It was pouring rain that day, and the stones kept reminding me of Outlander. I won’t say I think you really could be transported back in time…but I refrained from getting too close to the stones.
Later we stopped at the Isle of Mull, where we visited Duart Castle, which was refurbished from a ruin in 1911 by the 26th clan chief. It’s currently undergoing further renovation. Since part of the family still lives there, we got a great sense of what it might be like to live in a castle, and it reminded me of Cassandra’s home in I Capture the Castle, all dark and slightly damp.
Our tour guide also wore a kilt. This happened more than you’d think on our trip! It was like an unspoken rule that the guides would wear some kind of tartan, probably because we tourists loved it so much.
And that’s it for Scotland! I’ll post about Ireland and the Isle of Man next.