United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Scotland

Posts and related media in this series (note that links will be added when the associated posts are published):

  1. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Background and Overview

  2. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - England

  3. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Scotland

  4. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Ireland

  5. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Wrap-Up and Miscellaneous Thoughts

  6. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Photo Gallery

  7. Aviator Jeans Travel Story (External Link)

Thursday, August 29th

Picking back up from the previous post in this series (England), after visiting Liverpool and taking a tour of Anfield we made our way back to Liverpool Lime Street Station to travel to Edinburgh Waverley Station. This particular leg of our journey would prove stressful, though knowing what we know now it is not nearly as big an issue as we thought it would be at the time. Our train from Liverpool Lime Street to a connecting station, where we were to change to another train to take us the rest of the way to Edinburgh, was cancelled due to lack of available personnel to staff the train (there was a major incident somewhere that impacted train operations across the board). Being accustomed to the way things operate in the United States, this created significant cause for concern: our tickets were non-refundable, all of the trains were operated by different companies (though all a part of the same system, which plays its part in our story shortly), and there was not another connector scheduled to the same station where we were to meet the train that would take us to Edinburgh. We started asking the staff at the station what we were supposed to do and how things worked in a situation like this, and I cannot help but heap as much praise as possible on all of the people who operate the railways in the United Kingdom (and support personnel, and anyone affiliated with making this type of situation a non-event). We were told to take the next train to another station, and from there take the next available train to Edinburgh. It did not matter who operated the train, just provide our original ticket and an explanation of the events that transpired, and we would be accommodated. I won’t lie, I was surprised this was the answer. I was even more surprised to learn this was exactly what the process is in the event there is a transit issue.

If you are from the United States, take a moment to appreciate that concept. Imagine your flight being canceled, and you were told to just go grab a seat on another flight, regardless of carrier, to your destination. I realize this is not exactly the same, but that’s the concept in a nutshell. I cannot think of any mass transit operation in the United States that would even begin to suggest something like that to a traveler. Instead, every incident I can think of would be met with re-ticketing (potentially at a fee) and a complete change in itinerary. Instead, we were actually able to still connect to our original train to Edinburgh, though at a different station.

There was one other hiccup that caused us some concern, which was the loss of power in our train as we were close to where we would need to disembark and hop onto our connector to Edinburgh. After a delay of fifteen minutes or so, we were back on our way and were still able to meet our connecting train (it had also been delayed, thankfully), and so our trip was not hindered.

After arriving in Edinburgh, we made our way to the flat we had elected to stay in for the two nights we would be in the city (link to the Airbnb listing), and we were greeted by an absolutely phenomenal view of Edinburgh Castle.

For those that know mw, it is no surprise that our first task, once we unpacked what we would need and did a quick walkthrough of the flat to know where things were and be prepared for a relatively early morning, was to find a local pub and order a scotch whisky. It should also come as no surprise that the first one I ordered was from one of my favorite distilleries, though not my favorite expression from that distillery: the Auchentoshan 12 Year. Once the sheer enjoyment of enjoying a dram of scotch, in Scotland, in a local pub (which was actually right outside our flat, the White Hart Inn is well worth the visit) had truly registered, the next important task had to be performed: asking for a recommendation and trying a scotch I either had never heard of or, at the very least, had never tasted. The first recommendation ticked both of those boxes, and I enjoyed a dram of the Glen Scotia Double Cask expression. I found this Campbeltown scotch to be exceptionally pleasing and smooth on the palate, and would place it in my list of go-to selections for general enjoyment.

Having fulfilled two major requirements for our short time in Scotland, we made our way back to the flat for some rest after a relatively long day.

Friday, August 30th

Friday seemed like a day we might not make it through everything we wanted to experience, yet at the same time was not planned very heavily. In the end we did make it to everything we had on our list to see or do, though.

We started the day with Edinburgh Castle, which was just as awe-inspiring and majestic as one might imagine a castle, situated in the middle of a city perched high on a rock, could possibly be. One piece of advice for those who want to get a few photographs of the castle without having a hundred people in your shots: as soon as you get through the admission gates, make your way as quick as possible to the courtyard area where the crown jewels are located. You will have a few minutes, at least, without the area being packed with visitors.

Beyond the spectacular views all around the castle and the simply amazing weather, we thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the history of the castle as a stronghold, residence, and prison. After taking some time to peruse the on-site whisky gift-shop, we began our journey down the Royal Mile (the individual streets that comprise the Royal Mile, from west to east, are Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, the Canongate and Abbey Strand; sometimes referred to as Edinburgh's High Street, the Royal Mile is almost exactly one mile long and connects Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace).

As we meandered, we stopped in various places and ducked into various closes (the Scottish term for an alley) to see the city from many different angles. By the time we made it about halfway to Holyrood Palace we decided to stop and have lunch at the Tollbooth Tavern. I was slightly unsure of whether to try haggis or not prior to our trip, and ended up watching a video by The Broonfords entitled “Talking Haggis with The Haggis Box” (YouTube link) that made me decide I would absolutely try it. Unfortunately, due to the timing of our visit, the folks at The Haggis Box were on holiday, and we found the Tollbooth Tavern adjacent to where The Haggis Box has their shop set up. I wish I knew how the two compared, but I can definitely say the haggis from the Tollbooth Tavern was absolutely excellent, and I highly recommend it!

After lunch we continued our exploratory meandering toward Holyrood Park. The next item on our agenda was to hike Arthur’s Seat. I should pause for a moment and add a note here: while we were in Edinburgh the wind was blowing at a pretty constant 20ish miles per hour. While it felt absolutely wonderful to me, it did make some aspects of our excursion a little more challenging, such as being strong enough to knock Emily over once as we hiked to the top of Arthur’s Seat. As a result, we did take a little more of a roundabout route to the summit, just as a precaution.

The views from our hike were breathtaking. I easily fell in love with Edinburgh before we even made it to Holyrood Park and started toward Arthur’s Seat, but the hike and views from our trek made me love the city even more. Below I’ve included a short video clip recorded at the top. Just listen to the wind!

Just a quick video to hear the wind at the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh (August 30, 2019)

As we made our way back down to the Royal Mile it started to sprinkle, and we elected to stop in The World’s End to have a pint to see how long it would last. By the time we finished our drinks it was no longer raining, and we made our way down another street for coffee at the Edinburgh Press Club (definitely recommend stopping by for coffee if you’re in the area!) before continuing our journey back toward Edinburgh Castle.

We had finished our hike earlier than expected, and the next item on our itinerary was to have a tour and tasting at the Scotch Whisky Experience. We decided to go ahead and make our way there and see if we could go through early or if we needed to meander longer and come back at our scheduled time. Luckily they were not very busy when we arrived, and were able to move our time slot to the next available tour.

The tour itself was somewhat gimmicky, though still interesting. It does provide a decent idea of what the traditional scotch producing regions are known for and the official classifications of those regions, as well as an opportunity to see the world’s largest collection of scotch. The guided tasting was enjoyable, and anyone who would like to understand some of the subtleties between scotch whiskys will definitely learn a thing or two. The real treat, however, was in being able to enjoy a number of assorted scotch whiskys in their lounge.

As I previously mentioned, Auchentoshan is one of my favorite scotch distilleries. My favorite expression, at least prior to this trip, is the Three Wood, and the 18 Year expression I also found enjoyable (though I felt it not worth the price given how fantastic the Three Wood is). I found a new favorite, however, in Scotland. The Auchentoshan 21 Year expression was phenomenal. It definitely will not become one I am able to enjoy often, but I highly encourage everyone who enjoys scotch to give it a shot the next time you see it at a bar/pub.

Auchentoshan, 21 Year

After making our way back to the flat, Emily went to bed and I elected to go back out and just walk around the nearby area. I definitely was not ready for our time in Edinburgh to come to a close, but the next morning was an early flight to Dublin, and I was quite excited for the next leg of our journey.

I meandered for a short while, just taking in the sights and sounds of the city, before finally heading back to the flat. Edinburgh, you definitely made me wish for more time, though I am quite glad I even had the opportunity to experience even a fraction of what you have to offer!

Saturday, August 31st

We elected to use Uber to catch a car to the airport in Edinburgh, which was definitely the right call to make (from a cost perspective) over utilizing a cab (it was raining lightly, and neither of us wanted to deal with hiking back to the train station and getting to the airport that way). We made it to the airport with enough time, or at least we thought we did, and ended up with delays in security and having to run the last little bit to our gate to catch our flight. While not ideal, we didn’t miss the flight, and made our way to Dublin.

Stay tuned for the next post in the series: Ireland!

United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Background and Overview

Normally I am not one to care about celebrating birthdays. I’m good with the “happy birthday” messages and well-wishes and calling it a day. I turned forty this year, though, and Emily decided that meant it was a milestone that should be celebrated in style. I knew she had something planned, but I never imagined the surprise in store for me. Before we delve into the trip itself, I want to provide a little bit of backstory on what made this trip such a huge thing for me, provide a little bit of information on some things I learned preparing for the trip, and provide the high level plan for the trip we mapped out. Part two of the series will start to go through the trip itself (and depending on how long that post gets it may be continued in further posts).

This is what I received in a gift bag for my birthday!

Let’s start with what makes this such a big deal for me: I have always felt a strong desire to relocate to the British Isles without having ever visited. It was, and remains, a dream. There is no rational reason for this desire, or why I have always felt as though the region seems to be calling me home (especially given that I was born and raised in the southeastern United States, so it is a completely manufactured feeling), and yet it is a feeling that has only grown stronger with time. When I pulled the little plane out of the gift bag I was expecting something like Boston, Chicago, or New York… one of the cities Emily and I have talked about wanting to explore together. I immediately teared up when I saw London on the slip of paper. This was it. I was finally getting my chance to see if the region I felt so strongly about would be able to meet the expectations I had manufactured in my imagination and dreams.

Even my wildest expectations were blown away.

Immediately I became anxious. I was anxious about being able to fit in the highlights I felt I needed to see if I only ever managed to get this one trip to the region. I was anxious about being separated from Jacob for so long and by such a distance. I was anxious about everything that needed to be considered and handled prior to the trip in case there were any issues or problems. And yet, I was ridiculously excited.

Over the next couple of weeks we formed a list of “must-see” or “must-do” items, as well as a list of “like to see” or “like to do” items. It became apparent quickly that we would need to travel light to accommodate our list, as we would need to do a lot of travel in the British Isles. We made the decision that we would travel without any checked baggage, taking only what could be carried onto a plane. There are a few items that were purchased that made this significantly easier for me to manage, given that I was going to lose a significant amount of space by carrying my camera equipment (two camera bodies and three lenses, which roughly equated to all of the available space in my “personal item” bag, limiting everything else I would need to take to be able to be packed in a single carry-on that could be stowed in the compartments above the seats on any airplane). I won’t go through all of the items in detail that made this easy to accomplish, but below are links and brief highlights for the things that really made a huge difference in making such light packing for disparate weather conditions, terrain, and needs possible:

  • Allbirds Merino Wool Shoes (link)

  • Aviator Jeans (link)

  • Icebreaker Merino Wool Clothing (link)

  • Xero Hana Canvas Shoes (link)

I elected to invest in a small selection of merino wool clothing items for three reasons: thermal-regulating properties, anti-microbial properties, and weight. This proved to be an invaluable decision, as I was able to rotate three shirts, combined with a couple of different lightweight outer layers, throughout the entire trip without issue. Allowing the shirts to simply air out overnight on a hanger was all that was required to eliminate any odors picked up over the course of the day, and the shirts never felt as though they were unclean. The Allbirds wool runners allowed me to comfortably forego socks when wearing them, meaning I could pack two pairs of wool socks for use with the Xero shoes and perform a similar “airing out” of the pair that was worn when wearing the other pair.

Two pairs of shoes was a necessity simply so that I would not find myself forced to wear shoes that had been soaked through and not had time to dry, given the likelihood of encountering rain during our travels (though this ended up not really being an issue, I did not want to risk ruining my enjoyment of the trip if it had been). As already mentioned, the Allbirds shoes were comfortable without socks, but even more important was the fact that my feet stayed comfortable whether it was hot or cold outside, meaning I knew I could count on them regardless of what the weather conditions were like each day. Similarly, using wool socks with the Xero shoes felt the same, and both pairs of shoes could be flattened pretty easily (and were very lightweight), making it much easier to pack everything into a single carry-on.

Finally, I elected to try a pair of so-called “travel” jeans for this trip, and while these were not necessary I am quite glad that I purchased them (I was looking to replace a pair of worn-out jeans regardless, so these weren’t really driven by the same thoughts as the other items above). The Aviator jeans proved to be extremely comfortable regardless of weather conditions, dried quickly if they did get wet, and and offered some extra flexibility that I was glad to have during the trip (specifically having the hidden pockets allowed me to keep Euros and British Pounds separate easily, and allowed me to keep my wallet and phone more secure when I felt the need). The jeans are so comfortable, in fact, that they have become my preferred pair for everyday wear.

Jesse at Thornbury Castle.

Planning the trip itself actually ended up being fairly simple, though figuring out the logistics of travel and accommodations took a little bit of time. Going into planning, there were a handful of absolutes that formed the basic framework of the trip: explore London, explore Edinburgh, explore some of Ireland’s natural beauty, see Anfield, and see Hamilton. We just had to figure out what it meant to us to “explore” those areas. To get started, we did what any rational traveler might do: we googled things like “London in a day,” “Edinburgh in a day,” and “must-see Scotland, Ireland.” In fairness, Emily had been to London and Dublin before, so there was also some level of experience in what might make for an enjoyable trip. The basic framework became: stay in a castle that feels like a castle, see iconic London locations, explore the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, plan a road trip in Ireland and spend a day exploring the Wild Atlantic Way, see Anfield, and watch Hamilton in London. Although it seemed like a pretty tall order for a nine day trip (might as well be seven when you count the travel on both ends), we managed to hit all of the highlights on our list while also squeezing in a few little extras. Outlined below is the general itinerary of the trip, and in the next post I’ll start with more details of each day’s adventures:

  • Monday, August 26th - Travel

  • Tuesday, August 27th - Arrive in London, explore, stay in the Bankside Hotel (Marriott Autograph Collection)

  • Wednesday, August 28th - Train to Bristol, exploration of and stay at Thornbury Castle

  • Thursday, August 29th - Train to Liverpool, tour Anfield, train to Edinburgh, stay in an apartment with a view of the castle (Airbnb)

  • Friday, August 30th - Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, hike Arthur’s Seat

  • Saturday, August 31st - Fly to Dublin and pick up rental car, Ireland road trip, stay at Connoles Cottage (Airbnb) in County Clare

  • Sunday, September 1st - The Cliffs of Moher and the Wild Atlantic Way

  • Monday, September 2nd - Drive back to Dublin, Guinness Storehouse and general Dublin exploration, fly back to London, stay in a London flat (Airbnb)

  • Tuesday, September 3rd - Explore more of London, watch Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre

  • Wednesday, September 4th - Travel

Posts and related media in this series (note that links will be added when the associated posts are published):

  1. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Background and Overview

  2. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - England

  3. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Scotland

  4. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Ireland

  5. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Wrap-Up and Miscellaneous Thoughts

  6. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Photo Gallery

  7. Aviator Jeans Travel Story (External Link)