Monday, November 3, 2008

Vacation in the UK-5

On Thursday, a week after we arrived in the UK, we boarded another plane, this time for Edinburgh. We "hired" another car, Kathy was our designated driver again, and we drove into Edinburgh, straight for the castle. While it was cooler there, the sun was shining, and we experienced a day just like my grandpa Paton had described when telling us stories.

We noticed right away that the people were friendlier than in London. London has what I call a large city mentality. People are much more reserved and less likely to initiate conversations. Edinburgh is a much smaller city, and everyone we talked to were much more open to initiating conversations with strangers.

We found a car park below the steep, rocky hill the castle is perched on. Then we walked along the side of the hill, up a narrow street to the entrance of the castle. This was officially our first castle we were able to tour. The young lady at the ticket counter asked if we would be visiting any more castles in Scotland during our stay. When we answered in the affirmative, she sold us "explorer" tickets that allowed us into up to five castles in three days for only a few pounds more than the entrance fee into Edinburgh Castle.

Once inside, we all got the audio guides, but soon Kathy and I gave up on them and followed the signs. We all split up and did our own tours, according to what interested us. Every time we did catch up with each other and took some "people" pictures, Roger refused to remove his headphones. So . . .

It was windy up on that hill. And I was very glad for the jacket I was wearing. The view from the ramparts was beautiful, looking across the Firth of Forth wondering where exactly on the other side my grandfather had grown up. From Grandpa's descriptions and from the many books I've read (historical fiction is great for learning the history of an area), I had a sense of belonging which startled me. We wandered in and out of buildings, looking at exhibits.

One of the buildings held the "honours" of Scotland: the stone of Scone, the sword and hilt, the crown, and scepter. This was my favorite exhibit in the castle. I got a little emotional thinking that this was my heritage.

Kathy and I tired of the wind and we joined up again and visited a few of the shops within the castle walls. Finally we sat in the first courtyard and waited for Roger to finish with his audio tour. The crowds thinned out considerably as it was after the time they let in new visitors.

Soon we were joining the people who had wandered on down the Royal Mile. One of the first buildings outside the castle is a woolen mill, still working. What we found inside were a bunch of shops all selling tartans and other Scottish items. One of the shops had free haggis tasting, which we all passed up in favor of seeing the looms working. We could hear them running as soon as we stepped into the building. It was fascinating to watch the automated shuttlecocks move through the looms and see the fabric as it was woven. Only one woman watched two looms, rethreading when the shuttles ran out of thread.

We browsed the displays of kilts, scarves, and hats, and followed the signs to an information area where I talked with a lady about a specific tartan for the Patons. I learned that the Paton family tartan is privately owned by the family, so we wouldn't find that specific tartan for sale anywhere. But she looked up to see what larger clans the Patons would have been a part of and we learned that the Macdonalds and Mcleans would claim them. Soon Kathy and I had found those tartans and we agreed that we liked the Macdonald plaid better, though the Mclean plaid was nice, too. We wandered a little more, but didn't want to buy anything yet, since we planned to return on Saturday.

Outside, we walked a little farther down the Royal Mile before deciding to head for our B&B and some dinner. We took a road toward Prince's Street, thinking we could walk through the huge garden at the bottom of the hill back to our car. But . . . the garden was closed when we got there, and we ended up walking almost the entire perimeter before making it back to the car park. Our glimpses through the fence of the garden were beautiful, and the views back toward the castle were breathtaking.

We found the B&B rather easily and realized we could have stopped there first before going to the castle, as it was right off the main road from the airport to the city centre. Our hostess was very friendly and full of suggestions for places to eat dinner. She handed us her card to use at one place to get a discount. We got the luggage up to the second floor (our third floor), and we found a very comfortable room waiting for us.

After relaxing a little, we decided to walk to dinner. We found the recommended Hampton Hotel and had a delicious dinner in their restaurant. Full and satisfied, we walked back to the B&B and planned what we wanted to see on Friday. Kathy and I had discussed it some on the plane that morning, so we ran our suggestions by Roger, then decided to call it a day.

Friday, after a delicious breakfast, we headed for our first stop: Cowdenbeath, the village where my grandfather was born and raised. I knew from my aunts and mother that the house he grew up in wasn't there anymore, but we do know the name of the street. So we crossed the Firth and followed the motorway to the Cowdenbeath exit. And found ourselves immediately in the town. We found Foulford St. and parked in a small car park near a dentist's office. I wondered if that was where Grandpa's house used to be, but didn't know. We got out and walked up the street a ways. Roger took a couple of pictures to prove we'd found the right street.
Then we piled back into the car.

The weather that morning was quite damp, though it wasn't raining at the time. The clouds were breaking up, but the breeze was still pretty stiff and definitely cold. So we didn't spend a lot of time outside the car. Kathy had a thought she wanted to pursue, so she and Roger got out the maps and turned on the NavSat to see how far it was to St. Andrews. Only 38 miles from Cowdenbeath. Really close to these Americans. So we decided it would be foolish to pass up going there and we programmed the NavSat and took off.

Kathy had told us that what would seem to us Americans a very short trip, or detour in this case, was long to many people in the UK. And we found that people who learned of our circular tour we took that day definitely thought we were crazy. But by this time we were used to cramming as much as we could into one day, and we did.

Driving into St. Andrews, we learned that there was a ruined castle and cathedral that were part of our Explorers pass. So after driving through some really, really old arches and very narrow streets, we parked on one of the streets near the shops and walked back past the university buildings to the shop and entrance to the castle. We had our passes validated and we went outdoors to what was left of the castle. After we wandered about there for a while, we walked down the road to the cathedral remains. The "new" cathedral is now in another part of town, but the original cathedral and castle were built right on the coast line. There is a tower still standing that visitors can still climb to the top, so Kathy and Roger got the needed tokens from the cathedral shop and climbed up. I sat in the ruins of the chapter house to wait and waved at Roger when he peeked over the top.

From the top they found the golf courses and they returned with a general idea of the direction to go. We found some lunch at a sandwich shop and headed back to the car where we ate before setting off again. Kathy wanted to visit the golf shop to pick up some gifts. But we couldn't find a parking place very near the old course. Finally we found one spot in a car park next to the British Golf Museum, and I waited in the car while Roger and Kathy headed to the course pro shop. They didn't find what they wanted there, but took a few pictures before heading back to the museum shop.

Before leaving St. Andrews, we drove on to where the road dead-ended at a car park near the clubhouse for the new course. Then we were on our way to Stirling and a visit to Stirling Castle. We drove through some rain, but mostly had sunshine with lots of clouds. After stopping for some petrol and snacks, we drove on into Stirling, right to the castle, which again dominates to top of a hill. Here we could park right at the entrance to the castle. We had our Explorer passes validated, and Roger picked up an audio tour. Kathy and I left him to his own tour, and we took off to explore on our own.

We were a little disappointed that we couldn't get into the living quarters of the castle because it's being restored. But we saw plenty of other interesting sites—the great hall, the kitchens—and walked on the castle walls in several places. My mom's cousin Barbara had told me, via my aunt, that a John Paton had a commendation somewhere within the castle. Thinking that the military museum might have something like that, we finally found the room that memorialized many soldiers and contained many of the medals they'd received for valor. We didn't have any problem finding the commendation to John Paton on the wall, complete with his medals, including a Victoria Cross. Kathy took pictures, and we saw a book on a table near a large display cabinet. It listed all the soldiers for whom they had medals and gave the location in the cabinet where family members could find the medals. We learned that very few men actually had their commendations on the walls in that room. So we felt very special. *smile*

Before we left the castle, we checked out the live tapestry demonstration where they are making several large panels of tapestry reproductions of a unicorn hunt. One lady was there patiently following a very detailed sketch behind the frame that held the tapestry. Very slow work from watching her. But they have one panel done, and it's beautiful.

We met up with Roger outside the shops and headed back to the car and dinner in Glasgow. Before we left Stirling, we visited the memorial on the Bannockburn battle site, still a very open spot, very peaceful.

Once in Glasgow, I wanted to see a cathedral (St. Giles, also called St. Mungo's). We found it easily, and parked in a car park across the street from it. It's a fantastic building, closed so we could only circle the outside of it. The churchyard is huge and split several places with city roads, but the cathedral itself is an architectural marvel dating back to the 1200s. I was interested in it because it's the setting for a series of historical mysteries I've been reading by Pat McIntosh. The stories are set in the late 1400s, and the church has already been there a long time. Wow! Seeing the church made the stories come alive in my mind even more than before.

We drove to the city centre then in search of dinner, which we found inside a shopping mall. After dinner, we drove the final leg back to Edinburgh. By the time we arrived back at the B&B we'd driven about 250 miles. A good, full day.


cityrambler said...

Hi Margie

You sure get around. Had you heard of walk talk tours? the downloadable audio tours of Edinburgh, York, London and Manchester. They are ideal for those who want to explore a place but don't have long to do it.

Take a look at and see what you think.

Kathy said...

St. Giles is in Edinburgh. St. Mungo's is in Glasgow. But you were close. :)

Robbie Iobst said...

WOW! I am completely jealous. Sounds like the trip of a lifetime!