Between September 27th and October 28th, 2018, Carol and I took a trip to the UK to visit friends and relatives, and to see where our family came from. It was a wonderful trip and we want to go back again, soon. This is a review of the trip, sharing our experiences with you.

Arriving in England

We left Canada at about 22:00h on September 27th, 2018 on a redeye to London Gatwick, arriving at about 10:00h on the 28th. My cousin, Lesley, picked us up at the airport after a slightly delayed, though largely uneventful, trip through immigration.

Our drive back from Gatwick was a pleasant introduction to England with rolling hills and pleasant, though narrow, lanes. The hedges along the verge provided a unique experience that let us know we were in new territory; a simple change that confirmed we were on vacation; a trip we had anticipated for a long time.

We spent much of our first day resting and adjusting to the new time-zone. However, there are beautiful paths and fields nearby where we hiked that day. We could see the rolling hills of the English countryside and the London skyline in the distance.

On the 29th, after a leisurely breakfast and a walk with the lads (Teddy and Huddy), the three of us headed off into London for a walk along the Thames and a show at a theatre just off Piccadilly Circus.  The show was a presentation of Strictly Ballroom that was superb.

On Sunday, the 30th, we went to Hever Castle, the family home of Anne Boleyn. It was interesting to see how royalty lived; not so bad even then. The architecture and art were beautiful, as was the drive there from Chaldon.

October 1st found Carol and me in London, sightseeing on our own. We took a hop-on-hop-off tour around the city to see as much as possible. This included a water tour down the Thames. Unfortunately, traffic was such that we didn’t get around much and didn’t get to hop-off. Nevertheless, it was a great day and we did see quite a few sights. After leaving the bus in a traffic jam, we walked to Buckingham Palace and took the Thames tour. Here are some of the pictures we were able to get.

We travelled to York on October 2nd, following recommendations from family and friends, to see the old parts of the city and York Minster. We stayed at a lovely B&B just outside the walled city and spend much of that day, as well as the 3rd, exploring the area. A great deal of the time was spent touring the Minster, including a climb to the top of the tower to see the city from above. The climb comprised 275 narrow, winding stone steps. The view was worth the exercise.

We also spent time wandering the Shambles, a medieval portion of the city with narrow streets and a large number of shops. The sights were sufficient to take up all the time we had in York and we intend to go back in the future.

October 4th saw us heading to Edinburgh for our Scottish adventure. We enjoyed the train trip up the coast, seeing the northern English and Scottish countryside along the way and getting our first views of the North Sea. We rented a flat in Leith, the harbour area of Edinburgh. We rented a car at Waverley station with the intent of driving to some of the areas we wanted to visit, and to provide us with increased mobility during our stay. We were told that there was a lot of free street parking near the flat. That was true, but we found that all of that parking was full, all the time. Parking appears to be a problem throughout Edinburgh. Discovering this situation, we kept the car for the first day to take us to Troon and Loch Lomond, then returned it early. The public transit system in the city is excellent, so we were not inconvenienced in any way.

We were also able to visit with our friend Paul, another teacher I met while in Abu Dhabi and who hails from Edinburgh. We benefited from his knowledge of the city and were able to see a number of sights we might otherwise have missed.

We took a day trip on the 5th to Troon on the West coast of the country where my father was born, and Loch Lomond, one of the places Carol most wanted to visit. This was the day after we arrived in Scotland. Back in Edinburgh after the trip, we returned the car to the rental agency. Driving in Scotland is an interesting experience, not because of driving on the left side of the road and from the right side of the car (that is a simple adjustment), but because of the narrow roads accompanied by hard stone curbs right up against the pavement.

Here are some pictures from North Berwick, a small coastal town we drove to on our first day while we waited for a parking space to open up in the evening in Leith:

On October 5th, we drove to Troon, where the paternal side of my family originated, and Loch Lomond. Here are some images:

We stayed in Edinburgh on the 6th, using public transit to find our way to the Royal Mile. We found it very busy and, after asking a police officer, found that there was to be a significant SNP protest that day. We spent the day surveying the city, working our way around the crowds. Below are some images:

The 7th was quieter on the Royal Mile and we were able to spend more time investigating the sights; visiting Edinburgh Castle and other places. We covered the road from top to bottom.

On the 8th, we left Edinburgh for our four-day tour to Islay, my paternal grandmother’s home island. It was largely a distillery tour, but our amazing tour guide, Ewen Kenneth MacLeod, upon finding out about my family origins, made sure we were able to find out all we could. We spent the first day travelling to Islay, stopping at various highland sights along the way. The final day, returning to Edinburgh was similar, though by a different route, changed at the last minute because of landslides on the highway down the west side of Loch Lomond.

This tour experience was one of the highlights of our visit.

October 8th: the highlands

October 9th and 10th, Islay

October 11th, back to Edinburgh

We returned to London on the 12th, but first had a chance to spend a few more hours in Edinburgh. I also had the opportunity to experience a local variant of Eggs Benedict, one of my favourite dishes. It was Eggs Balmoral, with haggis replacing the ham. It was a great experience.

Arriving back at Chaldon, where my cousin Lesley had graciously allowed us to make our home base, we decided that we were simply too tired to go far for the last couple of days. We took a walk to her local pub for a delightful lunch (I do love pub food) and relaxed.

On Sunday, the 14th, we decided to go to a small church just a short way from the house. It was a lovely old building with a small, friendly congregation. One of the portions of a wall bore an inscription dated 1538 a.d.

On the 15th, we began the day with a trip to Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s home. It was wonderful to experience a place where so much of our recent history began.

Later in the day, we were surprised by a lovely dinner party put on by my other cousin, Valerie, at a pub in a small town where one of her sons lives. We were able to meet a number of relatives I had not met before. The food was remarkable and the company a delight. It was a wonderful way to end our holiday.

We arrived home on the 16th tired, but fully satisfied. This was an unforgettable holiday and one we intend to repeat.

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