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Go Boil Your Silly English Bottoms, You Silly English Pig Dogs

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Day 4 on our UK Extravaganza took us to Stirling, Scotland, just a few minutes from our hotel in Dunblane. We had four stops: Stirling Castle, the William Wallace Monument, Doune Castle and the Dunblane Cathedral.

First off, Stirling Castle, which was an important stronghold in the Scottish Wars for Independence. At one time or another, both William Wallace and Robert the Bruce had possession of Stirling Castle, though James V probably had the biggest hand in designing the property. James VI of Scotland (also James I of England) was its last royal inhabitant.
Nothing says, "Top o' the mornin' to ye" like a little interpretive dance.

In front of James V's Royal Apartments

In the Great Hall

The Great Hall

We played dress-up in the children's section of the castle!

Next up was the William Wallace Monument, built during the Victorian period by the Scots who felt that it was horrible that one of their national heroes didn't have a permanent monument in Scotland. There are over 280 stairs to the very top (and no elevator!) and three exhibition halls on the way up: William Wallace's biography room, the Hall of Heroes (focusing on the contributions of the Scots people to the world) and a history of the monument. 

the view from the top of the monument

from the outside of the monument. See the little spiral-y thing on the left hand side? That's the staircase. The LOOOONG staircase.

William Wallace's sword. It's pretty much as tall as I am.

Clemson spirit abounds even at the top of the Wallace Monument!

the view from the top of the monument

Third stop of the day: the on-site film location for "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," also known as Doune Castle in Doune, Scotland (thus, the post title). 

That silly Arthur King and his silly kanigets don't have anything on me!

It was very quiet at Doune Castle, too, so (again) we had the place to ourselves. We had a great time wandering around that drafty, quiet castle!

The final stop of the day was Dunblane Cathedral, which had an incredible back story. A tower was originally built on the site in the 1100s, and the cathedral was built around the tower about 100 years later. During the Scottish Wars for Independence, Edward I took the lead roof off of the cathedral to use for bullets. As the nave of the cathedral was now roofless, the congregation turned the nave into the graveyard, and walled off the choir area to use as the new, smaller church. It set up stayed this way until the Victorian period when the congregation put a new roof on the nave and opened up the entire cathedral again. They didn't move the graveyard though, so there are graves still under the nave!

An' I'll Be in Scotland Before Ye

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On our third day of sightseeing (catch up with our earlier adventures in Edinburgh, Roslin and Melrose), we went into the Trossachs, an area of woodlands east of Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond. On our original itinerary, we were going pony trekking and clay pigeon shooting on an estate about 2.5 hours from our hotel in Dunblane.

However, Landon went down to check his email in the business center and started talking to one of the hotel's employees, this super nice man named Ian. After hearing about the five-hour roundtrip we had planned, Ian suggested that we take a drive around the nearby Trossachs. I'd done a little research on our genealogy before the trip, and it turns out that my family is from the southern tip of Loch Lomond, which is  in the Trossachs. I knew my grandparents would be happy to hear that we were switching up our plans to include a visit to the "home place" (which, let's face it, was only true about 400 years ago since we sort of jumped on that immigration-to-America thing as soon as it became a viable option).

And boy, I, for one, was really happy that Landon had that chance encounter with Ian because the Trossachs were GORGEOUS.

We first stopped in the tiny speck of a town called Kilamahog (yes, seriously):
There, we met Hamish, Heather and Honey, Highland cows (which are called "shaggy coos" by the locals). 

Then, we passed the first of several beautiful lochs: 

On the way to our next stop, we happened upon Rob Roy's grave in the town of Balquhidder.

We stopped for lunch at Killan, near the Falls of Dochart.
Landon and his traditional Scottish Breakfast

It was indeed wee.

After lunch, we headed to Tyndrum, and stopped for a quick photo shoot at Loch Dochart.
Traveler Natalie: Conquering rocks is all in a day's work

Then, we had a quick sing-a-long on the way to Loch Lomond. Our car was obviously the cool one to ride in. 

Loch Lomond was huge!

I was super glad we agreed to switch from pony trekking to our Trossachs trek--it was probably one of my favorite days on the trip!

Fact: Scotland has some WEIRD street signs. Our favorites included the following:
WHAT?? Why are the cars not in their lane??

Because old people are obviously walking around in the forest.

Melrose Abbey: Must-See Historic Ruins near Edinburgh, Scotland

Melrose Abbey: Must-See Historic Ruins near Edinburgh, Scotland | CosmosMariners.com

A major draw for many people visiting Scotland are the beautiful historic spots scattered around the country. Some of them, like Eileen Donan Castle or Holyroodhouse, can get quite crowded during peak times, so I'm always on the lookout for lesser known places that allow me to immerse myself in the history without fighting hundreds of other people. 

While we were in Scotland, we wanted to visit some historic ruins near Edinburgh, and I found some beautiful ones in Melrose, Scotland. Visiting Melrose Abbey was a highlight of our adventures in the Scottish borderlands!

The Holy Grail, Scottish Trekking and Sir Walter Scott, or Our Visit to Roslin

On our second day sightseeing during the UK Extravaganza, we picked up our rental car and headed south from Edinburgh to the Scottish Borderlands.

Ye old Hyundai hatchback. Good on gas, not so great on style.

I don't know how many of you have ever driven in the UK, but it takes some getting used to. There's something completely creepy about driving on the wrong side of the road in the wrong side of the car. You shift on the left side, and all of the signals are on the opposite side. At least the pedals are still in the same position on the floorboard!

We first headed to the town of Roslin where Rosslyn Chapel is located. It's probably most famous for its appearance in Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" for the hiding place of the Holy Grail, but it is actually so much cooler than just that. The interior of the Chapel has the most incredible carvings that I've ever seen. Check out the elaborately carved Apprentice Pillar:

Then, in the very front of the chapel, there are these odd boxes carved into the ceiling; according to a medieval music scholar, the carvings on these boxes represent music notes. You can learn more about this theory by watching this YouTube video on the "Rosslyn Motet":
Other fun facts about Rosslyn Chapel:

  • It is privately owned by the St. Clair family, who has been in possession of the property since the 1400s. 
  • There is a vault underneath the Chapel, but it has been sealed for hundreds of years, and there is no plan to open it. No one knows what's there (which is where Dan Brown got the theory that it was the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail down there), but there was an ultrasound done of the chapel last year which found 12 tombs containing men in complete armor. 
  • The Chapel is only partially finished from what the original builder planned. What you see today was only supposed to be the choir area, but after William St. Clair died, his son either ran out of money or lost interest in the property. 
Landon in front of Rosslyn Chapel

While we were in the area, we decided to take a quick hike to nearby Rosslyn Castle, which is (you guessed it!) the residence for the Earl of Rosslyn, who also owns the Chapel. 

The area was really popular with the Romantic poets and artists, including Sir Walter Scott (who wrote a poem about Rosslyn Castle--see below), Robert Burns (another Scottish poet) and Andrew Nasmyth (a Scottish painter). There's a myth that, when a Rosslyn baron dies, the building will appear to be on fire. Supposedly, there are also a few ghosts roaming around the woods, including a braying dog, a grey lady, and a knight in black armor. Luckily, we didn't run into any of the above on our trek.

Rosslyn Castle

And, to nerd up the post a little, I leave you with a poem that Sir Walter Scott wrote about the chapel, the St. Clair line, and the castle:

The Lay of the Last Minstrel

by Sir Walter Scott

Seem'd all on fire that chapel proud,
Where Roslin's chiefs uncoffin'd lie,
Each Baron, for a sable shroud,
Sheath'd in his iron panoply.
Seem'd all on fire within, around,
Deep sacristy and altar s pale;
Shone every pillar foliage bound,
And glimmer'd all the dead men's mail.
Blaz'd battlement and pinnet high,
Blaz'd every rose-carved buttress fair—
So still they blaze when fate is nigh
The lordly line of high St. Clair.
There are twenty of Roslin's barons bold
Lie buried within that proud chapelle;
Each one the holy vault doth hold—
But the sea holds lovely Rosabelle!
And each St. Clair was buried there,
With candle, with book, and with knell;
But the sea-caves rung, and the wild winds sung
The dirge of lovely Rosabelle.

Check out our other adventures on this trip!

Have you ever been to Scotland? Do you like exploring old churches or ruins?

Edinburgh: the Adventure Begins!

After traveling for almost 24 hours (we left Charleston around 3:30 PM, and finally got to Scotland 8:30 local time), we FINALLY got to our hotel in Old Town Edinburgh on our second day in the UK (we spent the first day traveling).

The traveling wouldn't have been so bad if our flight hadn't been delayed from Atlanta to London, which shrunk the time we had to get from Heathrow Airport to Euston Station in London. (I also couldn't get to sleep on the transatlantic flight, so I was HURTING by the time we finally went to sleep on Saturday.) And to make the airport to train station transition even worse, the Tube station in Heathrow was closed, so we were re-routed via bus to a Tube station about 15 stops from Euston. Eek! We made it with about 30 minutes to spare--just enough time to grab some lunch in the train station and get onto the train. 

Our train from London to Edinburgh took another 4 hours; luckily, our hotel in Edinburgh was about 500 feet from the train station. I have never been so happy to see a bed in my life!

the view from our hotel. That's Arthur's Seat in the left hand corner of the photo.

We spent all day Sunday sightseeing in Old Town Edinburgh. The Old Town was first grew up around 1200. The New Town was created in the 1700s after the gentry decided they needed a cleaner place to live. I think it's really funny that the New Town is older than 99% of the buildings/ settlements in the U.S.!
Just outside of the hotel. The buildings in the background are part of the New Town. The bridge is right over the train station.

We had breakfast at the Elephant Cafe, which was an adorable cafe on George IV Bridge. J.K. Rowling finished writing the first Harry Potter book here!

Landon at Holyroodhouse, the Queen's residence in Edinburgh (during the summer months). 

Holyroodhouse: the interior courtyard

Holyroodhouse Abbey. It is the oldest part of the palace, and was built by David I after he saw a stag with a cross (or "rood") between its antlers while he was out hunting. 

Holyroodhouse Abbey

Landon on the Royal Mile, which is actually over a mile, and is filled with cafes and shops. It's touristy, but fun.

Edinburgh Castle, at the other end of the Royal Mile

The view from Edinburgh Castle towards the New Town and the Firth of Forth

What we learned in Edinburgh: Kilts are alive and well in Scotland! We saw several men walking, driving or riding their bikes with their kilts on. Here's to hoping they they do wear something under them. I didn't volunteer to check!

Stay tuned for our Scotland driving adventures!

7/7 Bombings

Hands down, the scariest moment I've had abroad was being in London on a bus the moment that another bus and a subway train was bombed on July 7, 2005.

I actually should have been on the Picadilly line--the one that got bombed--but I had a field trip that day, and so, took the bus that morning. I knew something was wrong when people kept pouring onto the bus--it seemed so much busier than normal morning rush hour. I was almost to my destination, Trafalgar Square, when a woman comes running down from the second story of the double-decker bus yelling, "There's a bomb on a bus!" She was so scared that she wrenched open the doors to the bus while the bus was still moving. Luckily, it was approaching our stop, so she didn't get hurt.

Everyone quickly got off of the bus. As soon as I stood on the pavement, I head sirens. So many sirens. I haven't ever heard that many sirens in my life--and I hope I never do again. They seemed like they went on and on and on for hours that day. That's one of the most vivid things I remember.

I met my teacher at the foot of the National Gallery--there were only 6 of the 8 students in my class, and she didn't have any cell phone service. We were all scared because no one knew what had happened yet. The National Gallery closed, so we headed just across the street to the Crypt Cafe at St.-Martin's-in-the-Fields Church. My teacher bought us hot cocoa to calm us down while she tried to get anyone from the school on the phone.

Finally, she got through to another teacher, who took my class over from Julie, my teacher. She had to walk for miles and miles to get home to her family because all of the public transportation had been shut down. My teacher led us from central London, past Buckingham Palace, through Belgravia to our resident hall in Chelsea. It seemed like we walked for days, but it really wasn't more than two hours or so. The other teacher tried to keep us moving, and didn't want us to get distracted by tv or radio, so we still were unsure about exactly what had happened. Everyone we walked past was panicking, running all over, so we knew, whatever it was, was very, very bad.

By the time I got back to the residence hall, it was 2:30 in the afternoon--I'd left for school around 8 AM. My roommate had called my parents when the bombings happened (around 9 AM UK time, 4 AM US time), so they were completely panicked by the time I was able to call them. Turns out, the American Embassy had called them to let them know I was missing for those 7 hours. I cannot even imagine getting that call as a parent.

Luckily, everyone in my school was safe and sound; some of them had gotten stuck on the subway, and others had been asked to stay in the school building until the buildings around the bus bombings had been searched.

Not everyone was lucky. Over 50 Londoners lost their lives that day--many on a double decker bus near Russel Square and others on a Picadilly line subway. Over 700 others were injured in the bombings.

I hope I never have to go through anything like that again.