Sunday, January 6, 2013


Mike and I have flights purchased to head to the UK in July for just under 3 weeks. We're planning to split our time between Scotland and England with a side trip to The Netherlands between. In Scotland we'll reconnect with my host family near Edinburgh and head to an island for part of a week, taking in some Highland Games near Loch Lomond before heading out. The focus of our time in England will be Cambridge, where Isaac will show us some of the things he loves best about that area. We'll watch him graduate from King's College before heading home.

I've populated this post with photos and lots of links (bright pink) so family members will be better able to visualize what we're planning. HAPPY TRAILS!
We'll start the trip by flying out of Portland on July 4th, landing in London the next morning, and continuing by plane to Edinburgh. Mike and I plan to stay 3 nights with Ruth and Norman Middleton, my host parents from my 1978 college semester in Edinburgh. They live in neighboring Linlithgow now, a beautiful town in it's own right with a wonderful old palace and church. If others join us on the trip, they might stay with the Middletons, too, or we'll find a nice hotel or Bed and Breakfast place nearby.

St. Michael's Parish Church is attached to the Palace on the right; here's a window detail.

Here's a 1978 photo of me with the host family kids, Valerie, and David; Valerie's family still lives in the area but David and his family have settled in New Zealand. This photo has lived on our refrigerator for years.

Edinburgh is a lovely city - lots to see and do. I figure we'll decide to spend 1 of our full days there, visiting the beautiful park area, the castle, bits of old and new town (the latter is hundreds of years old), and maybe taking in a museum and a pub lunch or dinner.

We'll also want to spend some time in the surrounding countryside which is dotted with beautiful old castles and abbeys, like Tantallon Castle

and Melrose Abbey

There are other interesting things in the area we might make time for, like the science fictionish Falkirk Wheel which rotates and scoops boats up from one canal and lifts them to the level of the next one, effectively allowing boat transport between Scotland's east and west coasts.

The wheel design had to be modified because a hugely important historical site, the remains of the Roman Rough Castle Fort on the Antonine Wall, is nearby and had to be preserved.

After our time in/near Linlithgow and Edinburgh, I'd like to head to an island. The leading contender right now is the Isle of Arran off the west coast of Scotland; we'd get there by the ScoTrail Train system

and Caledonian MacBrayne ferry.

Arran is often referred to as "Scotland in Miniature" because of it's geography and natural beauty; here's a page of Google Images of Arran for your viewing pleasure.

It offers a variety of things to see and do - something for everyone. Here's a sample:

and hiking in a variety of environments.

We could hike to beautiful waterfalls,

the legendary Kings Caves,

and to the top of 2,866 foot Goat Fell.

There are 7 golf courses (Goat Fell in the background).

There's even paragliding for the extra adventurous.

The coastline is dotted with villages

and for those interested in history there are castles including the Hamilton's Brodick Castle

and the ruins of Lochranza Castle,

cairn burial chambers dating from 4000 BC,

and the Arran Heritage Museum.

Arran is also known for it's wildlife

and for a few important businesses including Isle of Arran Brewery,

world renowned whisky distillery, Arran Whisky,

Arran Aromatics bath and apothecary products,

and Arran Cheese.

I'd decided that whether it was just Mike and me or a larger group, we'd rent a cottage to give us a comfortable place to hang out and relax when that's more appealing than any of the above; I focused my search on 3 towns in the south west part of the island: Brodick, Lamlash, and Whiting Bay. It looks like Mike and I will be exploring and enjoying Arran on our own, though Isaac may join us. Here's what I booked (quoted from their website):

"The Garden Flat is a comfortable, self contained studio flat adjoining the main house of Claveron (circa 1870). It is located in the village of Lamlash, up an unmade road 200 metres from the main island road. Lamlash is in the temperate south east corner of the island and is in easy reach of all the island's attractions. The village facilities include an 18 hole golf course, yacht moorings, a tennis court, bowling green, pubs, restaurants, a supermarket, chemist, medical centre, hospital, Post Office, newsagent and tea rooms; it also has the ferry to the Holy Isle. Fishing trips can be arranged from the pier and there is a good bus service to all parts of the island.

Claveron has a mature, half acre, organic garden which you are welcome to use; there is plenty of seating with views of Holy Isle and Lamlash Bay. Free range eggs are available from our five friendly hens (when laying) and plenty of soft fruit in the season."

The main room has a double bed, chairs, digital TV/DVD, books and beautiful views of the garden, sea and Holy Isle. Wi-Fi is available.

The kitchen is fully fitted and equipped, including cooker, microwave, washing machine, toaster, fridge/freezer and ironing facilities. 

Also included are a wardrobe and cupboards, a bathroom with bath, shower, toilet, sink, and hair dryer, electric heating throughout, and a cot by arrangement. Bed linen, towels and heating are included in price.

On Saturday morning we'll head from the island of Arran back to the mainland. One of my priorities before leaving Scotland is to spend a day watching Highland Games, a highlight for me when I was in Scotland 35 years ago. The closest games during our time frame are on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, made famous by this song.

According to what I've read, the games haven't changed much, still including piping, highland dance competitions, bike and road races, tug-of-wars, Scottish backhold wrestling, and the spectacular "Heavies" competitions. Take a look at these photo sets on flickr if the photos below aren't enough for you.

I found a Bed and Breakfast in the town of Balloch called Valhalla; it's a freshly updated former police station with great reviews. It's walking distance to the Highland Games and across from the rail station that we'll need mid day on Sunday, July 14th to head to the airport in Glasgow. I reserved a room for Mike and me and one for Emile with room for Isaac if he decides to join us; they have 2 more double rooms available currently - don't know how long that will be the case.

Whether Isaac joins us for bits of Scotland or not, the rest of the trip will be squarely in his court. He has an interest in introducing us to his Dutch host family (host dad Aad with grand daughter shown below from Isaac's September visit)

and in showing us a few of his favorite places, including Naaldwijk, the town where he lived,

and maybe some neighboring towns like Delft

and Utrecht.

We'll probably fly to The Netherlands from Glasgow (half an hour from Balloch) and would either fly from there to England or take the Stena Line Ferry between the Hook of Holland (near Naaldwijk) to Harwich which is an hour or 2 by road from Cambridge.

I've included fewer photos for this part of the trip because Isaac will be doing the planning. Here's a view of his college campus, King's College 

and 2 views of the famous King's College Chapel where he sings on Monday evenings (but not, unfortunately, while we'll be there).  You can see more of King's College using this cool virtual tour tool on the college website.

We'll definitely plan a stop at the Eagle Pub where Watson and Crick announced their discovery of DNA. The pub is located across from the buildings where they conducted their research and where Isaac attends lectures.

An obvious highlight of the trip will be watching Isaac's graduation ceremony. Yay Isaac!

Here's my current front-runner for lodging in Cambridge - described as a "Luxury City Centre Ground Floor Flat". Though more than we'd normally pay for lodging, I think it's a good combination of affordable and convenient with full kitchen and a decent location, not too far from the centre of things and on bus routes.

We'll base in Cambridge but likely spend a day or 2 in London; it's not a priority this trip but we'd like a taste before flying back to the real world. 

If you're visual like I am, here's the start of an itinerary (click to make it larger). Happy trails!

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