Days 12- 13: Hello, Scotland

And so on Monday morning, we were up early to hit the road for our drive up north. We decided to stop along the way at Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall, built in the second century as a guard-space for Roman forces and territories, shielding them from attacks from more northern barbarians. It was a very cool and windy day, but I wish we had had even more time to enjoy the fort and see more of the sites along the wall. Again, on that upcoming backpacking trip (HA!) we’ll be hiking the wall to see some of the sites. Caution for those who visit, it is a long and uphill walk from the parking lot to the actual fort ruins, but it is well worth it to see the foundations of the buildings that remain and to see the views that stretch out over the valley. It’s easy to see why this area was chosen as a defensive spot, but it’s also beautiful to take in as well.

approaching the fort and wall

the view from the fort

walking the ruins of the fort

walking the ruins of the fort

part of the latrine area

part of the latrine area

part of the wall

part of the wall

After realizing that we needed to be on our way if we still intended to visit a couple of border abbeys before finding our Edinburgh hotel, we snapped off a few more pics and made our way back to the visitor center for a quick bite to eat before we headed out. It seemed to take forever before we finally crossed the border into Scotland, marked most unceremoniously by a small “Welcome to Scotland” billboard. But not far past the border, we found our first Scottish stop- the ruins of Jedburgh Abbey.

Jedburgh Abbey was founded by Augustinian monks in the 12th century. The abbey was continuously patronized by various Scottish kings over the years, but as it was in close proximity to England, it was also often the target for attacks from the English and faced destruction many times. By the late 16th century, it had seen it’s better days and was beyond repair. Eventually, the remaining monks were left with a shell of what the abbey had once been. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the abbey and cloister complex. Again, the Brits and their audioguides did not let me down. This was also the first place we made use of the Scottish Explorer Pass which I recommend to anyone who may be spending more than a couple of days in Scotland. For a small fee, you can purchase the pass and gain free entry into a bunch of sites all around the country. It was a solid plan of savings for us. There is a corresponding English Pass, but that one wasn’t as useful for our purposes, so we didn’t purchase that one.

 

Jedburgh Abbey

Jedburgh Abbey

looking down the roofless nave

looking down the roofless nave

the remains of a 12th century tomb

the remains of a 12th century tomb

remains from a private chapel, tombs

remains from a private chapel, tombs

taken from the second story landing

taken from the second story landing

Back on the road, we headed to Melrose Abbey, another ruined border abbey not far from Jedburgh. Melrose was a Cistercian church and cloister that was also founded in the 12th century. Several early Scottish kings were buried at Melrose and the heart of Robert the Bruce (you guys have all watched Braveheart, right?) is also entombed in what used to be the Chapter House by the abbey. The abbey has a ton of interesting carvings on the tombstones in the graveyard by the church as well as on the church itself in sculptures and gargoyles. Of course, my most favorite depiction is one of Melrose’s most popular, a bagpipe playing pig gargoyle. And yes I did purchase a magnet with Wilber’s likeness on it to bring home. Thankfully, the lady running the shop did let me buy it since we were there until closing and they had started to close up the register a few minutes early. Craziness! Don’t people know I need to spend money on pigs?!  I did think that Melrose was slightly more interesting than Jedburgh. It was a larger church and had a lot to view. You could also climb one of the remaining towers and get some great views of the immediate area. I love climbing ruins!

approaching the nave entrance to the abbey

approaching the nave entrance to the abbey

a bagpipe playing pig

a bagpipe playing pig

walking down the nave

walking down the nave

the high altar

the high altar

a small chapel off of the altar

a small chapel off of the altar

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part of the transept; that door that is halfway up the wall once led to the monks’ living quarters and against the wall where there is a change in stone and color is where the stairs that led to that door once stood

looking down on the graveyard from the tower

looking down on the graveyard from the tower

transept entrance

transept entrance

the heart of King Robert the Bruce

the heart of King Robert the Bruce

So, once we had been kicked out of Melrose Abbey, we continued on our merry way to Edinburgh, where we would be spending the night. Edinburgh is delightfully divided between the Old Town (the medieval part) where most of the touristy attractions are and the New Town (the Georgian era part) where most of the beds and breakfasts are. It took us a bit to find out B&B for the evening because there were no signs or markings of any kind on the street or doorway. We were hesitant in our knocking, fearing we would accidentally intrude on some poor Scottish man with nothing on but his kilt, but fortunately we found the right door and were greeted warmly by the daughter of the benefactors of 14 Hart Street. She showed us to our lovely and very spacious room on the ground level and kindly provided us with several recommendations for dinner that evening. We ended up choosing one of her selections, a small bistro just around the corner and had an excellent meal.

The following morning we were up early to have breakfast and venture out towards the Royal Mile, Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare for tourists. We started our morning (after a venturesome hike) at Edinburgh Castle, home to Scottish kings during the Middle Ages, and home to military regiments from the 17th century on. I will admit to not absolutely loving Edinburgh Castle. It was incredibly crowded and not much of the oldest parts of the castle remain. It now relies heavily on its military history which isn’t really my thing. You can, however, visit the Scottish crown jewels, so there’s that.  Oh, and you can visit the room where Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to King James. Also fun!

overlooking the city of Edinburgh from high upon Castle Rock

overlooking the city of Edinburgh from high upon Castle Rock

behind the main gain, looking up towards the inner areas of the castle buildings

behind the main gain, looking up towards the inner areas of the castle buildings

There were a LOT of cannons.

There were a LOT of cannons.

One of the restored fireplaces inside the royal apartments.

One of the restored fireplaces inside the royal apartments.

from one of the inner courtyards

from one of the inner courtyards

After visiting the castle gift shop where I picked a lovely set of Scottish teas (Scottish breakfast tea, Thistle tea, Heather tea, Whiskey Flavored tea…), we ventured down the Royal Mile stopping in a couple of kitsch souvenir shops and making our way towards the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of Her Majesty QEII when she’s in Scotland. Holyroodhouse has been home to monarchs for over 500 years and still houses them from time to time today. We opted out of the tours of the Queen’s art gallery and gardens and instead choose to visit just the palace itself along with the ruins of the abbey on site. Unfortunately they do not allow photos inside of Holyroodhouse, so you’ll simply have to take my word for it that the rooms and apartments are every bit as sumptuous as one would expect in a modern royal palace.

The remains of the 12th century Holyrood Abbey

The remains of the 12th century Holyrood Abbey

part of the abbey

part of the abbey

interior of the abbey... you wouldn't believe how many other tourists were striking sexy poses over the ruins of tombs while we were out there...

interior of the abbey… you wouldn’t believe how many other tourists were striking sexy poses over the ruins of tombs while we were out there…

The abbey predates the palace and ended up being incorporated into the building

The abbey predates the palace and ended up being incorporated into the building

the forecourt of the palace

the forecourt of the palace

more forecourt

more forecourt

On our way back down the Royal Mile, we stopped in some famous whiskey shop that is known for its personalized recommendations based on customer preferences. Of course, the Husband insisted on having a special bottle picked out for him. That done we found a nice Italian restaurant for lunch where we could dine on American Champagne (ie Coke) and people watch the colorful characters out and about. After lunch, we took a tour of the Real Mary King’s Close which basically takes you underground the streets of Edinburgh to the remains of the medieval city that was later built upon. It’s a highly interesting tour which takes you through various living and business spaces where ordinary Scots lived and worked centuries before. This was probably my favorite activity for the day. After a brief respite that evening, we then ventured back out for a ghost tour of Edinburgh by night. Our guide was absolutely fantastic, theatrical and humorous. And the Husband even earned special honors of bringing up the rear of the group wherever we went to ensure that all souls made it through. (He was the tallest living being on the tour afterall.) Having spent time in the underground (haunted) vaults within the city, the Husband and I grabbed some quick take out (after a small hangry episode on the way back to the hotel) and headed back to 14 Hart to rest up before heading out for Stirling the following morning.

Days 10 and 11: Old York

After a long drive up north, we arrived in York just in time for dinner and for getting settled in to our digs in town. We did briefly walk around some of the city center before and after dinner, admiring the city walls and the imposing minster. For our days in York, we stayed at the Groves guesthouse, just outside one of the city gates, about a 10 minute walk from York Minster. This was the one accommodation on the trip that annoyed me and did not receive a 5 star rating from me on Trip Advisor. They advertised laundry facilities and since we were at the midpoint of our trip and in need of cleaning our clothes, I booked this particular accommodation based on that information. When upon arrival we were told that they could not, in fact, offer laundry services and offered no real solution other than to recommend a self-service place a 15 minute drive through town, that clouded my perception of the rest of the stay. And I can hold a grudge! Our room was on the top floor. It was a decent enough size but it was incredibly hot, especially considering the weather in York was not hot at all. Breakfast was alright, the tea was good and the servers were nice. But it wasn’t anything to write home about and the fruit salad was down right odd. I have never seen fruit salad that incorporated so many different fruits. Seriously! It had apples, peaches, grapes, pomegranate seeds, kiwis, melons, pineapple, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, weird cherries, mangoes, papayas, some Chinese fruit the English seemed to like but no one ever knew what it was, and a couple other things that I am forgetting. So anyway, to sum up, I wouldn’t recommend The Groves in York.

But York itself is definitely worth a visit. The day after we arrived, we decided to start the day touring the huge church in the center of historic York, York Minster. I actually ended up loving the minster more than I thought I would. They have an amazing exhibit in their crypt detailing the history of the site back to the Roman era complete with artifacts and architectural foundations from that time period all the way through the present day. While the Husband climbed the tower (of course), I happily wandered aimlessly through the crypt looking at Roman walls and medieval coins.

York Minster

York Minster

down the nave

down the nave

stone choir screen

stone choir screen

back down the nave

back down the nave

Prince William. No, not that one. Son of Edward III who was married in the minster in 1328.

Prince William. No, not that one. Son of Edward III who was married in the minster in 1328.

just an awesome Elizabethan tomb in the church

just an awesome Elizabethan tomb in the church

After our visit to the minster, we walked over to the Yorkshire Museum because I had heard that it had some great exhibits on the history of York. What I didn’t know was that it’s actually built on top of the ruins of a former abbey and cloister and is believed to be where Richard III stayed on his occasional visits to York. The museum showcases the exposed ruins in their exhibition and also has some great pieces like original prints of Shakespeare and jewels that belonged to Richard III. I did think the museum was tiny, especially given what they charge in admission, but maybe we just didn’t find everything? Always a possibility! We did wander through the ruins of the abbey right next to the museum when we exited, before sitting in the garden and enjoying a sweet treat.

abbey ruins

abbey ruins

a pig sugar cookie from a local bakeshop

a pig sugar cookie from a local bakeshop

For the afternoon, we headed over to the National Rail Museum to see a huge warehouse full of old trains. It was just as exciting as it sounds. ;-) I kid, I kid. Not my favorite type of attraction, but again the Husband does deserve to see some things that he is interested in right? I did at least have an appreciation for the collection of royal coaches on display. They had the train cars that Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, as well as every monarch in between, traveled in. And they did travel in style!

Having had our fill of trains, we headed out to dinner and then off on a ghost walk to explore York by night. Of course this being the summer in northern England, it was completely light out the entire time, but it was still good fun with some interesting history and stories. With tales of ghosts, tormented souls, and drunkards in our heads, we gathered some refreshment from York’s version of a fast food restaurant (which had a hell of a lot better selection of food than any of ours here) and headed back to the guesthouse for an evening of dining in while watching the World Cup since England was on.

The following day, we started out by airing our dirty laundry. Or at least taking all of our clothes to a launderette in the city. The owner was super helpful and we sat and caught up on some reading while we waiting on our clothes to wash and dry. With freshly laundered garments, we headed back towards the historic center and dropped off our clothing at the guesthouse– except, of course, what we were actually wearing. I assure you we did not walk around York naked. Tempting thought it was, just too chilly.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the winding streets and seeing the Shambles and all of the various shops and street performers out. We stopped by the Jorvik Viking Center which details some of the Viking history of the area with a Disney-like theme ride and a wax figure village. I really enjoyed it, though I could see how some might consider it hokey. After seeing that, we stopped in a local alcoholic beverage store where I had to remind the Husband that while I was fine with his purchasing whatever he wanted, we still had not yet made it to Scotland and our planned Scotch whiskey distilleries, and well… there was only so much room in the suitcases. After quite some time of worthy evaluation, he selected just a few sample bottles to take home.

At that point, we decided to head out to find the Richard III Experience within the city gates opposite of our hotel area. Within the tower where guards and prisoners once worked and lived, there is a multiple floor exhibit about York’s King Richard. It details his childhood, his genealogy, his rise to power, and subsequent death, as well as the controversies such as how he probably didn’t kill his nephews, the Princes in the Tower, and his unfortunate and undignified final resting place under a parking lot. It was interesting and something I would recommend if you are a fan of the much maligned monarch. From there we were able to hop on top of the city wall and walk around walls that once served as the ultimate security system for the “most powerful city in Northern England.” At least that’s what Braveheart taught me. After walking an almost complete circle around the city walls, we grabbed some dinner (pub food of course) and traveling provisions (namely Cadbury chocolate bars). Then it was time to retire to the hotel to pack up our things and get some rest, because the following day was the day I was truly waiting for- we were going to Scotland.

a view of the minster and some lovely English gardens from the wall

a view of the minster and some lovely English gardens from the wall

atop the city walls

atop the city walls