While trying to plan out the next year of travel, Josh had suggested a trip to Scotland. I had been to Glasgow and done a tour of the Highlands, but I was hoping to get to Edinburgh before we head home to the States for good. So this was a great opportunity for us to hit one more country over a long weekend. Since the weather is not super fabulous any time of the year in Scotland, we chose to go over a long weekend at the end of Oct/start of November. There were 3 things we wanted to do while visiting Scotland: Stay in a castle, visit Stirling Castle (home of Braveheart and Robert the Bruce fame) and visit with our British cousins whom the kids had never met.
It was night time when we arrived so we didn’t get a bright light view but from what we could see, the gardens were beautiful. The pictures of the exterior below are mainly from the owner who gave us a cd of pics and a few pics that I took the next morning when we did a tour. From what the owner told us, the castle hadn’t been lived in for about 300 years and up til the 80s it had no roof or floors. It was a neighborhood haunted house that kids would play in essentially until the time it was restored which was in the 80s. The remodel appears quite authentic and from what we read, the architect involved is an expert in castle restorations. If it weren’t for the modern amenities such as running water, toilets and lights, I would never have known it had been restored!
While we had seen pictures online of the castle, being right there was better than we could ever have expected. The pictures just don’t do it justice. Our room was stately and while we had to share it with the kids, it was certainly large enough to do so! The owner told us that our room was originally 2 rooms but that when the renovations were done, they combined them into one larger master bedroom.
While we had fun exploring Castle Levan, with only 2 1/2 days in Scotland we had places to see and so we were off and running again. This time to the famous Stirling Castle. For those that don’t remember the name, think back to that famous 1995 movie – Braveheart. Yup, you know the one. “You can take our lives, but you can’t take our freedom” – that one. While we haven’t seen the movie in years and are aware that it’s not totally historically accurate, it’s something that Josh was super excited about – the home of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace aka Braveheart. It doesn’t get much better than that 🙂
The drive to Stirling was about an hour and a half from Castle Levan. And while my pre printed google map showed us taking a coastal route, our GPS had a different way in mind. And that way was likely just as scenic as the water would have been. The roads in Scotland are windy and narrow, though not quite as much as they were in Ireland (thank god for that!). With fall at it’s peak, we even got to see some foliage along the way though it didn’t quite compete with New England in the fall – but a taste was just enough to remind me of how much I love this time of year at home.
We finally arrived at Stirling Castle around 11:30. My first instinct was to feed the kids before we began what I figured was several hours of touring but Josh was hot to get going. So after a “lunch” of chips and chocolate (lunch of champions) courtesy of the gift shop, we were on our way to explore Stirling Castle.
To start off, the castle wasn’t as big as we thought it would be though apparently is still quite large by Scottish standards as it’s the 2nd largest castle in Scotland. But from what little of the audio I had the chance to listen to (my kids might be great travelers but that doesn’t mean that they will give me 5 mins of peace to listen to an audio tour) the castle was significantly bigger many years ago.
Many of the buildings date back to the 15th and 16th century with a few being as far back as the 14th century. Positioned on top of a hill overlooking a river, it’s location was a good one as far as defense goes. However, earliest evidence of a castle on this land dates back to the 12th century, where there is evidence that a chapel was here that was dedicated by King Alexander in the early 1100s. It was from this time going forward that kings favored Stirling Castle as a royal residence.
While the outside of the castle looked to be relatively authentic and well maintained, the interior was not what we were hoping. We had been prepared to expect things to have been “disney-fied” before visiting by a friend who had lived in Edinburgh years ago and had seen the castle in a more original state and then had visited again in recent years only to see the remodel completely changed the interior of the castle. It was beyond obvious that things were new in the interior and little effort had been made to make those renovations appear dated. Paintings appeared to have been finished very recently. That was a bit of a disappointment – that little effort had been made to make it look authentic. I recognize that at many historic sites that actual antiques and artifacts are removed and placed somewhere safe and that they are replaced for the public with replicas. But often, the general public cannot tell the different. This was not the case at Stirling. It was blatantly obvious that these were not originals.
After visiting Stirling Castle, it was time to head on to Edinburgh, our final destination. It was a faster and easier (ie, all highway) drive than from the west coast. Here we would meet up with Josh’s cousin Fiona and her family on Saturday morning. But we still had almost a half a day on Friday left and we weren’t meeting them til noon on Saturday.
As it was almost 3PM by the time we got around to lunch there wasn’t a whole lot of options. And it was just ok. But that was to be expected. While at lunch, we got to talking and decided to see if there were any movies playing (in English!!!) that we could go see. We did the same thing when we were in London. It’s not that we can’t see English movies here, we can. But there is something about seeing them in an English speaking country that makes a little more special. We found a theater about a 25 minute walk away that was playing Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. We’re in!
We took our time finishing lunch and started the walk over to the movie theater. Apparently the walk took us along a main shopping drag which was just oh so terrible 😉 Aidan and I decided we shall come back just for some shopping. Gap, bookstores, American candy stores and did I mention the Gap??? We didn’t have a lot of time so we only stopped in the bookstore which for us is such a treat because with the exception of one or two just ok stores, there really isn’t much to offer for English bookstores in a Spanish speaking country – so again, just one of those pleasures we get a few times a year when we are on English speaking soil. It’s something that Aidan, especially, enjoys.
But while Aidan enjoys going into the English bookshop, I should also note that he mentioned on this trip that while it’s nice to be somewhere English speaking for a little bit, he really likes that in Spain that we have to interpret places and things – that we have to think about stuff like that rather than it just being simple. I thought that was rather deep for a 9 year old kid. His Spanish is really coming along these days – I’m really proud of him!
Anyways, the route to the movies was especially pretty and from where we were, we could see some of the old city. There were very few bombs in Edinburgh during WWII from what we were told and so much of the old city is still in its original state. We got to see more of the old side on Saturday – more pictures further down on that one.
The movie was great and since we had such a late lunch we just grabbed Subway on the way back for the kids and headed back to the hotel. It was a busy, but fun day and we had more fun ahead with our cousins visit on Saturday!!
So as I mentioned, the bonus to this trip was that when I was in the planning stages, I reached out to Josh’s cousin, Fiona who lives in Northern England. I wasn’t sure how far they were from Edinburgh but thought what a great opportunity it would be for us all to get together as we’ve talked about it for a while. And yes, we were able to make it work for part of the weekend!!
But while we waited for them to arrive on Saturday morning, we hit Edinburgh Castle. And I have to say, this one was a lot more authentic inside and out than it’s neighbor, Stirling. While it’s possible to establish that the rock on which Edinburgh Castle sits upon has been inhabited since the 2nd century AD, it was not until the 12th century that a castle was built on this site. It was used as a royal residence until around the early 17th century. Of the buildings that exist now, most are from the 16th century as many of the older ones had been destroyed in battles. Still though, 16th century is still pretty damn old, and older than the US! However, St. Margarets Chapel, built during the 12th century, still stands and is considered to be one of the oldest buildings still erect in Edinburgh.
We got back to the hotel just in time for our cousins arrival. This was a very exciting time for the kids – with no first cousins, they love getting to meet extended family and up til now, most of those cousins have been on my side. They met one or two of Josh’s cousins who had visited when we lived in the States but given we haven’t lived there in almost 4 years, they really don’t remember much.
So Fiona, Colin, Angus and Eden made the 4 hour trek up from England to meet up with us. It’s something we’ve talked about doing for a while but hadn’t actually scheduled, so in the end, it worked out beautifully (and now we are in talks for some more mini reunions!). For once, Aidan was not the oldest of the crew but instead was about the same age. Angus is 2 years older and Eden is the same age (though significantly taller!). And while Aidan takes a bit to warm up, Liam, as usual, just jumped right in.
Now to Fiona’s kids – this was my first time meeting them. And I cannot say enough about these kids. First off, they came right up to me and gave me the best hugs – most kids just meeting an adult wouldn’t do that and it just warmed me inside and out. Outgoing, energetic, fun and soooo polite! I wanted to take them home with me. It didn’t feel like it was our first meeting but like we’d known each other always. Such a great feeling and it really made for more fun on the trip. As the day went on, Aidan jumped into the fray and became a part of the crowd.
We grabbed a leisurely lunch with the cousins and everyone spent time getting to know one another and/or catching up. It was just so relaxed and fun and added another dimension to our trip. We love to travel but 99% of the time it’s just the 4 of us. That’s fine and we enjoy it but it’s nice to add another family to the mix every now and again and this was the perfect mix.
So this time we were ready and early for our tour of the Real Mary King’s Close. At this point you are probably wondering what exactly is Mary King’s Close. I know I was as before we went on this trip I had never heard of it. First of all, a close. What is a close? I went to my old go to of wikipedia for this one and honestly, it’s just easier to tell you exactly what they had on their page rather than editing it because it explains it quite simply:
“The Old Town of Edinburgh, Scotland, consisted originally of the Royal Mile and the small streets and courtyards that led off it to the north and south. These are usually named after a memorable occupant of one of the apartments reached by the common entrance, or the occupations of those that traded therein. Generically they are termed closes //, a Scots term foralleyways, although they may be individually named closes, entries, courts and wynds. A close was private property and therefore gated, hence closed to the public, whereas a wynd was an open throughway, usually wide enough for a horse and cart. Most slope steeply down from the Royal Mile creating the impression of a herring-bone pattern formed by the main street and side streets when viewed on a map. Many have steps and long flights of stairs.