“Your Mother Was a Hamster”

Another day, another couple of castles. Because Scotland, known for Scotch whisky, has more castles than distilleries (disclaimer: that might be fake news, but it seems likely to me).

We started the day by picking up a rental car (more on that later). Our first stop was Midhope Castle, not far outside Edinburgh. For me, this was an exciting visit. Before I explain why, let’s see how many of you recognize it.

Yes, that’s right—it’s Lallybroch, home of Jamie Fraser in the TV series Outlander.

Scotland has been on our bucket list for a long time—for me, since college, when I fell in love with English and Scottish history and saw the movie Braveheart; and for both of us, since becoming acquainted with Scotch whisky at a pair of Macallan whisky tastings when we lived in NYC. But it was our recent consumption of this TV series, most of it shot at various locations in Scotland and showcasing the gorgeous scenery, that lit the spark and brought us here now.

Our second castle of the day also has a deep-rooted tradition in movies and TV: Doune Castle.

This was the only castle that the Monty Python troupe was able to secure for filming Monty Python and the Holy Grail (from which this posting’s titular quote is from), and thus the location was used for nearly all of the castle scenes in the movie. Doune also stood in for Winterfell in the Game of Thrones series, and Outlander fans will recognize it as Castle Leoch, home of the Mackenzie clan. It was also great fun to explore.

We also stopped in Falkirk to see the Kelpies, a giant art installation that we knew Molly would enjoy. Which she did indeed, even bringing her sketch pad to render their likenesses.

Another stop mainly geared for Molly was to see the Leault working sheep dogs in action at a sheep farm. It was quite impressive to see what these dogs are trained to do, and feeding lambs and meeting the puppies was an added bonus.

And now that we’re in the Highlands, we’re surrounded by scenic beauty. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to cull down the vast number of photos I’m sure to take in the coming days.

A parting note about our rental car. I’ve done a lot of things in my travels: I’ve lived abroad for several years of my life, I’ve visited nearly every continent, I’ve crossed the equator at sea multiple times… but I’ve never driven a car on the opposite side of the road. Today, I jumped right into the deep end by picking up our car in the heart of downtown Edinburgh. To say it was a white-knuckle drive out of the city might be an understatement. But we made it, and the more miles we’ve covered, the (slightly) easier it’s become. I will say, though, without the GPS navigation afforded by Google Maps on my phone, we’d still be circling around the heart of Edinburgh.

Tonight, we’re laying our heads down in a nice Airbnb flat in Nairn, just yards from the harbor and beach in the Firth of Moray. We have a couple of exciting days ahead, including Loch Ness, the battlefield of Culloden and the grand opening of the mega-million-dollar new Macallan distillery. I’ll try to keep up the blogging….

A Stirling Day

It was a sterling day in Stirling. Yes, I was eagerly waiting to use that pun. This morning, we hopped aboard another ScotRail train and crossed castle number two of the trip off our list. Stirling Castle is on most top 10 Scotland lists, and with the history—and amazing views—surrounding it, that’s no wonder.

Stirling may perhaps be most well known to those of you who watched the movie Braveheart (or who know your Scottish history). It was below the castle where William Wallace won the battle of Stirling Bridge (though the bridge didn’t figure in the fictional version of the movie). Not too long after, future king Robert the Bruce won the Battle of Bannockburn, also nearby, and regained Scottish independence from England.

Robert the Bruce, with Stirling Castle in the background

Stirling Bridge in the foreground, with the Wallace Monument in the background

The castle sits atop a giant rocky ridge, the highest point for miles around. This gives it an obvious strategic advantage (and amazing views), making it all but impregnable—but Molly still tried storming the castle walls.

Compared to Edinburgh Castle, there was more to explore and fewer crowds: a win-win. Some of the highlights included an interactive children’s area, the private quarters of the king and queen and, perhaps most fun, a walkway around most of the perimeter wall (which probably would have been off-limits in the ultra-safe, litigious United States).

The ceiling of the king’s reception room

The royal unicorn makes another appearance in the king’s reception room

Lastly, the surrounding old town of Stirling was also charming and historic—especially the old Holy Rood church next to the castle, where James VI (the future James I of England) was crowned after his mother Mary Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate the throne. And of course, no visit to an old church is complete without a stroll through its adjoining cemetery!

Tomorrow, we bid farewell to the city and head to the Highlands!

Edinburgh, Day 2

Today was a grab bag of Edinburgh sights, so finding a theme to write about is too much of a reach. Our primary goal was to hike to Arthur’s Seat, but after the seven miles of walking yesterday, we slept in and awoke unmotivated (though we ended up walking another 15,000 steps today). So instead of bagging a peak, we hiked the streets of Edinburgh and checked things off our list.

First was the National Museum of Scotland, a place that reminded me of two Parisian museums. The airy Grand Gallery evoked the expansive interior of the Musée d’Orsay, while the sensory overload of the museum’s varied and extensive collections (which included Dolly the sheep, the world’s first clone) made me think of the Louvre. (Un)fortunately, we had pre-booked tickets to “Ogo,” a show running as part of the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, otherwise the museum would have ruined us for the rest of the day.

After the show—which was wonderful, and perfectly designed for its target audience—we explored more of the city.

The monument to Sir Walter Scott

The view from Calton Hill, with the castle in the distance

Edinburgh, with the Firth of Forth and the North Sea beyond

Holyrood Palace, Queen Bess’ charming Scotland home

The unicorn is not just a national symbol of Scotland, it’s even on the royal coat of arms!

The Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat, which we still hope to hike tomorrow

This was Molly at the beginning of the day, so you can imagine what she was like by day’s end.

Walking the Royal Mile (and 6 more)

When you walk the Royal “Mile” in the heart of Edinburgh (and not even the entire length of it), you don’t expect to have walked seven miles by the time the day is done. But somehow, that’s what happened. And, even more remarkable, Molly didn’t even really complain about the walking (though she bounced around like a pinball much of the day).

Our first—and most obvious—stop was the city centerpiece, Edinburgh Castle. As the seat of Scottish royalty, the birthplace of James I (the first king to rule a united England, Scotland and Ireland), and with some type of fortification on the site going back at least 2,000 years, the place oozed history. But the views really stole the show (and are of course what makes it such a strategic site).

The next (and also obvious) stop was the ScotchWhisky Experience, an almost Disney-like attraction featuring a dark ride in a barrel (complete with a ghost host, reinforcing the Haunted Mansion comparison).

I barely scratched the surface, sampling only five of the 3,400 whiskies in their collection.

We spent the remains of the afternoon with human remains. As many of you know, I love cemeteries—they represent millions of untold stories—so a visit to Greyfriars Kirkyard was a must. More park than boneyard, it was a truly beautiful setting.

The graveyard also marked the last resting place of “Greyfriars Bobby,” a dog so loyal he guarded the grave of his master for 14 years before passing away himself. As an unofficial Edinburgh mascot of sorts, he has his own statue (and namesake pub, cashing in on the canine’s fame). Molly took a moment to add a stick to his gravesite.

At the end of the day, I couldn’t be more proud when I asked Molly what her favorite thing of the day was, and she responded with “the castle dungeon!”

Traveling to The World’s End

Today was a travel day, spent covering thousands of miles in two planes, two trains, two buses, a car and almost 10,000 steps. In some respects, it felt like we were traveling to the end of the world—which, in a manner of speaking, we did (as you’ll see).

There’s not a lot of storytelling material to be gleaned from a day spent largely squished into coach-class airplane seats, watching trashy TV and reading forgettable novels. But as I write this at 10:30 PM local Edinburgh time (having left home at 4:30 PM local Denver time yesterday), the deserved subject of this post is clear to me: Molly, the star of the day.

We spent countless hours in airplanes, walked endless maze-like concourses at Heathrow in London (only to face a delay of our connecting flight), and then had to take a bus-train combo to get from Glasgow to Edinburgh. All this after getting scant hours of sleep on the plane and going through a seven-hour time change.

Such travels would try the patience of most adults, not to mention a six-year-old child. So we expected meltdowns, tantrums and general difficult behavior. But Molly was a champ, hardly fussing at all and simply having a great time, even as we kept her up past 10 PM in Edinburgh, having a late dinner at an appropriately named pub on the Royal Mile called The World’s End.

View of The World’s End pub from our Airbnb’s rooftop patio

Cassie also deserves a shout-out, helping to keep Molly on track as I navigated us (not to mention being a pillow for Molly on the plane).

Now we’re all off to bed, so we can begin our trip in earnest tomorrow at Edinburgh Castle!

Scotland, Here We Come

Scotland has been on our list of places to go for many years. It ticks off a lot of boxes for us: history, scenery, hiking, castles, Old World cities and ocean activities—not to mention whisky! Our itinerary includes time in Edinburgh and Glasgow, the Malt Whisky Trail in the Speyside region, Loch Ness, the Isles of Skye and Mull, and even an overnight stay in a castle!

Come travel with us vicariously—we’ll try to blog along the way as much as possible. Forget Facebook and Instagram, this is where all the action is! Follow this site to get notified about new posts.