Isle of Skye

I was originally supposed to take this trip with my mom but she had an unforeseen move and the timing did not work out. When my sister said she and my niece were coming I knew Isle of Skye is where I wanted to take her. She is someone that would fully appreciate the history and the beauty. With only a months notice we had a very difficult time finding somewhere to stay on the island. I emailed and called every accommodation on Skye and we had no luck. August is the busiest month. If you plan to head there during this time frame plan far in advance. We had to stay off the island which took time away from the time we spent on it. Overall, everything worked out though and we got to see almost everything that was on my list.

Simply driving around the island is breathtaking. It is very underdeveloped and natural. I wonder if the life of a sheep farmer is for me because something about this place makes you want to leave everything you know behind and live a simpler life. Everywhere you turn there are highland cows, sheep, horses, rainbows and waterfalls.

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Fairy pools

The fairy pools are a bit out of the way compared to some of the other sites. To reach it you travel down a small single lane road and it is very secluded. As we drove up the weather started to turn and by the time we arrived it was pouring rain. This was my niece Emily’s number one must see attraction so there was no way were going to miss it. So we put on all the rain gear we had and set off hiking. The rain was coming in sideways and from all directions so everyone was soaked within minutes. I was wearing Carter in the Ergo and he amazingly slept the entire hike. Even at almost 3 years old the Ergo is his place of calm.

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Even hiking in the rain my husband is still going to wear his dress shoes. Yes, I married a pretty boy.

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Due to the rain and fog we did not have a lot of visibility so my pictures don’t compare to anything you will see online. It is still beautiful and worth it. I only wish the sun had been out so the kids could enjoy it more. Poor Emily and Kellan were so wet it was hard for them to enjoy.

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Fairy Glen

Probably my favorite thing we did on the Isle of Skye was the Fairy Glen. It really does have a magical feel about it. Green hills and valleys with sheep wandering about. We were fortunate enough that we avoided rain while hiking. We also got lucky with not many other visitors there. I had read it can get so busy you sometimes have to park and walk 30 minutes away but we had no problem finding parking.

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We told the kids that we were searching for the fairies that live there. Emily said they live in flowers so Kellan was searching in every flower for a fairy. They really enjoyed running free and climbing on all the mounds. They wrote a note to the fairies and places them among the rocks for them to find. It was really fun having them use their imaginations and make the hike even more mystical.

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Sligachen

Anyone coming onto Skye passes Sligachen and its brewery. This is a busy area and great place to stop to eat, let the kids play on the playground and do some light hiking. We did not eat here but did stop and walk around a bit for some pictures around the bridge. The scenery is stunning.

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Duntulm Castle

Up on the northern area are the remaining stones of Duntulm Castle. The remains itself aren’t much but the views on the walk there are spectacular. Built in the 14th century during feuding among two clans, it was the 17th century when it became the seat of clan MacDonald. The MacDonalds eventually took the stones from Duntulm and used it for another house nearby.

There is a more preserved castle on Skye called Dunvegan, seat to clan MacLeod, but we did not have enough time to visit.

Kilt Rock

Kilt Rock is probably the easiest site to visit on the island as it has its own car park just steps from the waterfall. We didn’t even get the kids out of the car as they were napping and just took turns going for a look. This makes it very crowded. In the past there were many deaths from people trying to look over the cliff’s edge but today there is a designated viewing point with fencing. We were pleasantly surprised by a man playing the bagpipes for the crowd of tourists.

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Old Man of Storr

Due to the kids being exhausted and napping in the car we elected not to hike Old man of Storr. Next time!

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Quiraing

Another area to hike is Quiraing on the northern side near Kilt Rock. We decided to give the kids a break from hiking and took pictures from the car.

Lealt Falls

This is another busy area of Skye due to its proximity to Portree and easy access. The gorge is close to the road so you must hike up a hill and look backwards in order to see it. When we stopped it was extremely windy and beginning to rain. There is no barrier on the cliff so take precautions with children in bad weather. I believe there is access to view from a road more eye level to the falls but I wasn’t sure how to get there and chose to leave the kids in the car. Again, we took turns on the short walk up.

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Isle of Skye was the trip of a lifetime and I am so thankful we got to experience it. If it isn’t already on your bucket list…make it so. To the locals- don’t be surprised if you eventually see a foreign school counselor and physical therapist as your new neighbors.

 

 

 

The Highlands

It finally came. My dream trip to the Scottish Highlands. When we moved to Europe I had a top 5 MUST DO list and this was on it. The only thing that could make it better? My sister and my niece Emily joining. We have visited and lived in a lot of cool places and it’s always nice when people make the effort to come see you and experience what your life is like. They flew into London and hit the ground running, leaving straight away for Scotland. There was a lot to get done in 5 days.

*Before I dive into the gloriousness of Scotland- I want to give a shout out to American Airlines for being the worst airline and customer service ever. They will never get my business again after what they put my family through with their luggage. To put it as plainly as possible- it was lost, separated and not returned to them until they were leaving England.*

I digress. Day 1 we spent driving to Glasgow. We arrived at midnight due to the delay with the luggage situation so our plans to see the city were put off -which I was okay with. The star of this trip was the Highlands anyway. Warning- there will be talk of Outlander ahead. And yes, I did download all the Outlander soundtracks and make my family listen to it on repeat for a week as we drove. I can’t help it.

Glencoe

People said Isle of Skye would be the highlight of my trip but Glencoe gave it a run for its money. Maybe it was because it was the first thing we did so it produced that initial wow moment for me. Maybe it’s because some Outlander scenes were filmed there so it made it more special. Either way this place is a must see when visiting Scotland. I wish I had known to devote more time there. We basically drove through and stopped in at the Three Sisters. They are three stunning mountain ridges overlooking a valley. The car park is right at the viewing point so you can choose to get out and enjoy the view or you can hike. We brought a kite and hoped to do some hiking but that didn’t last long because it started to rain heavily. Being that my sister and niece did not have their luggage they had almost no rain gear with them and no extra clothes for if they got muddy. They ended up buying all new gear the next day because we didn’t want to miss out on any more hiking while waiting for the luggage.

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Fort William

We were running short on time in order to catch the Jacobite train so we had to settle for driving around Fort William and not stopping as we had planned. It was a very picturesque small city and I would love to return.

Glenfinnan

At Glenfinnan station there is a small dining car that serves cafe food such as soup and toasties. The kids really liked eating here and the food was good. There are not a lot of dining options in the area so this is a good place to grab a bite before exploring.

You can actually ride the Jacobite steam train between Mallaig and Fort William but we settled for watching it pass on the viaduct. It is about a 10 minute walk from the highlander memorial car park and passes at 11 and 3. This train is famous. Not only because it is a steam locomotive traveling through some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery, but it was used as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies.

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Glenfinnan is where the Jacobite rising began in 1945, led by Prince Charles Stuart. The history of the highlands, the rising and fall of the clan system is simply fascinating. I find it actually quite similar to how the English viewed Native Americans tribes in the new world. Both were viewed as tribal societies or savages.

There is now a memorial here overlooking Loch Shiel in tribute to the Jacobites.  The view is amazing. The kids really enjoyed throwing pebbles into the water. It’s the little things that keep them happy.

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Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle

On our way to Inverness we got to drive the length of Loch Ness. There are a few little villages along the water that are worth a stop if time permits, all selling cute Loch Ness monster souvenirs, of course. We arrived at Urquhart castle right as it was closing so we only got to take pictures from afar. Something else to put on the list for next time!

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Inverness

This is the capitol of the highlands and such a cute little city. We did not spend much daytime here but walked around a couple evenings along the river Ness, did some window shopping and eating dinner. Our favorite place to eat with the kids was Zizzi; a rare gem that is super kid friendly but also had amazing food.

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Culloden Battlefield 

Not far outside Inverness is the battlefield and museum of Culloden- not to be missed if you love history. This is where the Jacobite rising came to a violent end in 1975. The museum has a gift shop (complete with Outlander souvenirs, yes I shamelessly bought a Jamie Christmas ornament), a cafe, and interactive displays for the kids to enjoy. There are costumes for the kids to dress up in, weapons and artifacts they can touch and a movie depicting the battle, which I realized very quickly was too violent for my oldest son. Oops.

Outside the museum you can walk along the battlefield, visit clan markers, and the memorial Cairn. There are blue flags indicating where the Jacobites were positioned and red flags for the government army. There weren’t many people there the day we visited but we did meet a sweet elderly couple with a three legged dog. They walk the battlefield yearly and pays respect to their heritage, clan Mackintosh.

Carter napped the whole walk. Kellan is my curious child and probably did not stop talking the entire time. He wanted to know every detail of the battle, who lost and won, where they are today and what happened to their families. I thankfully had a good base knowledge of the history but even that was not enough for him since he is still not fully understanding what it means to me killed. I do love that he has such inquisition for old things, history and battles.

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Eilean Donan Castle

We have been to many castles since we moved to Europe. I mean, a lot. Eilean Donan absolutely gets to be in my top 5 faves. This place is stunning. A 13th century castle, it was built as a protective measure against the Vikings and aided in the Jacobite rising. What I learned is that it housed Spanish soldiers that were supporting the Jacobites, so the government bombarded the castle and it sat destroyed for 200 years before being rebuilt.

You can spend a good bit of time here just walking around, touring the castle ( a lot to see inside), eating lunch at the cafe, and shopping at the gift shop. The kids had a great time simply walking around the waters edge, under the bridge, and throwing pebbles. Give my kids water, rocks and rain boots and they are happy.

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Scotlands most photographed castle. Not hard to see why.

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I was really excited to show Emily and Jess their first castle. Emily has a really great imagination but also old enough to understand more things than my boys do. Something I like to tell my boys when we visit castles is that we have to find the dragon and slay him. It’s just a way to make it fun for them being that they usually have to walk slowly, be quiet and not touch anything. For whatever reason, Kellan took this occasion very seriously and was on a mission to find a dragon. This poor Scottish woman sat and listened to him forever as he went on and on with questions on where the dragon may be hiding. So patient! Scottish people are so friendly.

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Necessary to fully enjoy!

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Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside the castle.  I was trying to keep mental notes of all the great displays they had. Many weapons and maps marking the timeline of the Jacobites. The decor was very detailed with extravagant furnishings. You will even see a lock of hair from Bonnie Prince Charles. Kinda weird but…wow!

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Kinloch Rannoch

This is a lake near Tay Forest Park and my journey here served one purpose: it is the filming site for Craigh Na Dun in Outlander. It is a trek to get here, very small and winding roads within the mountains. The people that scout for filming locations on the series did a great job finding this gem. It is a pivotal location for the show as it is where Claire journeys through time via the standing stones. The stones were placed here by production but as soon as we pulled up there was no mistaking this was Craigh Na Dun!

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When we arrived we found the area to the hill is gated. My sister was a little uneasy about opening the gate but my love for Outlander is too strong to travel all that way and not see it. I had Ben stay behind with the kids so we could quickly and quietly walk up, take pictures and leave. **Whispers to self** Outlander is not real, Outlander is not real.

While taking pictures Kellan decided to have his first encounter with stinging nettle and you would have thought he broke an arm as loudly as he was screaming. He was in a lot of pain. So much for being inconspicuous.

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Mallaig

We only stayed one night in Mallaig while waiting for a ferry to the Isle of Skye, but I have to give the name of the B&B we stayed at. Seaview guest house was such a pleasure. Great communication, friendly and very comfortable/stylish rooms. Wish we could have stayed longer.

**Stay tuned for my write up on the beautiful Isle of Skye!**

 

 

Stirling

From Edinburgh we took a day trip to the Stirling area. The kids were under the weather and actually enjoyed sitting in the car, relaxing and watching movies (gasp). They usually are not fans of the car. Especially the “wee” one. That’s what the locals called Carter.

Our first stop was to the Hopetoun farm shop off the M9. I wanted to see Hopetoun House; a country estate where one of my favorite tv shows filmed (Outlander). Due to this being a private estate on private roads, you have to first obtain a permit at the farm shop for your vehicle. Unfortunately, I was informed they would not be giving out any permits that day so my hopes and dreams of seeing Jamie Fraser’s home: Lallybroch, were crushed.

We continued up towards Falkirk and stopped at the Kelpies statues right off the highway. If you are travelling through Scotland this is a good place to stop as there is plenty of space to stretch your legs, a playground nearby, toilets, and a small cafe. We snapped some pictures and ate a snack at the cafe.

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Our next stop was at the National Wallace Monument. This tower sits on a small mountain in honor of William Wallace, a 13th century Scotsman that led the wars of independence. If you have seen the movie Braveheart, you know who this is. Of course, the movie isn’t all too accurate and Scotland doesn’t seem to be a huge fan of Mel Gibson. Nevertheless…that movie is one of the best movies of all time- fact or fiction! The music…the scenery…the romanticism….so yes, as I stated in my previous post, movies like this are why I have been wanting to come to Scotland since middle school.

Regardless of my connecting the monument with the movie, William Wallace is considered a hero and icon in this country. It was on the top of my to do list for the area. We pulled up to the parking lot and looked up the hill to the tower. My husband looks at me and asked “how many steps is it?” Trusty google declared there to be 246 spiraling steps. We looked at the toddlers sitting in the backseat with snot running down their faces and began imagining the different scenarios that could occur on this journey up and down the tower. Then we played the game “Well what do you think?” for a good five minutes before we decided to just continue on with our journey.

About ten minutes further and we reached Stirling Castle which is on a mountain across the valley from William Wallace. The parking lot alone gave us the view we would have had from the monument so I didn’t feel so bad not climbing the tower. It was very windy and cold and had begun to drizzle. Kellan straight up refused to get out of the car, saying he was tired and began asking if we could take him back to the hotel so he could take a nap. I decided to walk around the castle alone while Ben stayed in the car with the boys and persuaded Kellan to just close his eyes and nap in the car.

Stirling is historically significant in Scotland’s wartime history. From the 14th-17th century it has had 8 sieges and and played a huge role in politics. It is also one of the largest castles in the country. I highly suggest a stop here when visiting Scotland. I wish I had more time to spend here but I didn’t want to make my poor kiddos wait too long.

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You can see the National Wallace Monument across the valley

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Our next stop was Doune castle about 15 minutes north of Stirling. I had only added this to our itinerary after we couldn’t get the permit to see Hopetoun House. I wanted to see one of the Outlander filming sites and this popped up being nearby. I had not heard of it previously but it ended up being my favorite thing we did that day. Very glad things worked out the way it did. The rain had cleared and the sun came out a little so it started to warm up. At this point the boys decided they were ready to get out of the car so we got to all go in as a family. Our first stop was the gift shop to buy tickets. The two young women working were very friendly and explained all the filming that had been done here (I could tell they had done this before).

Outlander season 1 was filmed here in 2013 as Castle Leoch. They also explained that Game of Thrones filmed their pilot Winterfell scenes here before the show got picked up and they moved locations. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a popular movie that was shot here. It’s apparent though that this castle has become popular lately due to the show Outlander because the gift shop is filled with show souvenirs. In fact, you can come to Scotland and do full week long Outlander tours. Yeah, the show is that great. I am now on book 3!

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Finally happy and running around 
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The Outlander clans 

 

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Ben bought the boys swords. Needless to say, Kellan is really getting into castles and Royals

We really lucked out and had the castle practically to ourselves. That’s the benefit to winter travel. Sure, the sun rises at 9am and set at 3:30pm. But had we come in the summer we would have fought the crowds. I think what I enjoyed most about this castle is that is was small and very intimate feeling.

You take the tour with an audio headset but can travel through the castle in any direction you please. You just stop when you see a number, enter the number into your device and will hear the information for the room you are in. 3 stops were dedicated to the Outlander filming.

Built in the 13th century, Doune was first the home of Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany. Eventually it was obtained by his father, King Robert II and used as a hunting lodge. Later it became the home of an Earl and saw some damage during the Jacobite rising. It is now cared for by Historic Scotland, and agency that safeguards historic buildings.

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Courtyard Game of Thrones and Outlander filmed in
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Outlander filmed stable scenes out here

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After touring the castle the boys were tired again and Ben took them to the car to rest. I walked around the back of the castle and along the creek. It was really nice being the only person out there! I could have walked around for hours; very pretty and peaceful.

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We headed back towards Edinburgh and decided to stop into Linlithgow to see the palace. It was getting dark, had started raining, and closing soon so we parked and this time Ben walked around and snapped pictures while I stayed behind with the boys.

Linlithgow was where Scottish monarchs lived in the 15th and 16th centuries before the monarchy left for England;  King James and Mary, Queen of Scots to name a couple. Mary has always been a historical figure that fascinates me which is why I wanted to stop here. It would be a beautiful place to visit during nice weather as it is situated on a pretty lake.

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*A trip to the highlands is happening as soon as my mom decided when she is coming back to visit. I can’t wait! This is the trip I have been dreaming about since middle school.*

Edinburgh

Before moving to England if someone had asked me my top destinations for Europe I would have always responded Ireland or Scotland. I have always admired the music, culture, the accents. The movies I liked always romanticized those countries. Ireland was our first overnight trip from England and it did not disappoint. During our trip I repeatedly told my husband I wanted to live in Ireland. I already knew I would love Scotland just as much.

Scotland has the advantage being on the same island. We typically have to fly most places but can easily drive up north. So I knew Scotland wasn’t going to be a country I tried to jam pack into one trip. I decided we would do the Edinburgh area for a 3 or 4 day trip and save the highlands for when we had more time. The highlands I want to do when the days are long. We went to Edinburgh during winter solstice and the sun didn’t rise until just before 9 and set at 3:30. That does not give you a lot of time to sight see. If you plan on going to Scotland just once…I suggest you go from April-October to really maximize the daylight.

The drive up was pretty easy and took us about 7.5 hours with 2 stops. On the way up we could practically feel the health of our children deteriorating. They proceeded to be sick the entire trip with fevers, runny noses and terrible coughs. It didn’t stop us from having an amazing experience but sick kids mean you have to modify your expectations a bit….as well as functioning off a full nights sleep.

We stayed at the Premier Inn off East Market Street. It was a good, central location that allowed us to walk to everything along the royal mile. We dropped off our bags and headed straight to the Christmas markets. The first night we went was the Sunday before Christmas and it was packed. Too packed to fully enjoy. We saw the street of light show (highly recommend), rode rides in Santa Land, and browsed the stalls. This was the 5th country we have visited the markets at in the past month and it really never gets old! We went back on Monday and Wednesday nights and they were surprisingly not busy and much more enjoyable those nights.

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Our first full day in Edinburgh was dedicated to the Royal Mile. This is the famous street that begins with the Queens palace and ends with Edinburgh castle. In between there are hundreds of whisky, souvenir and specialty shops. Also, plenty of restaurants to chose from. The Royal Mile is one long, steady hill that can feel pretty steep when pushing up a double stroller. Our first stop on the mile was Camera Obscura. This is not to be missed for people travelling with kids. Its very interactive and hands on for any age. The boys had a blast!

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On the top floor there are some pretty great views. They do a magic show throughout the day up there (which we intended on watching but Carter decided he did not have time for that….so we kept it moving).

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Our next stop was the Scotch Whisky Experience across the street but we decided that our interest in the tour did not match the price tag so we just browsed the gift shop. You have to save money where you can..especially when you know your kids aren’t going to enjoy it. Next, we headed up to castle and again, opted not to tour the inside. At this point I was hungry so we just walked around the outside of the castle and headed for lunch. I picked a place called Oink because it was something quick and easy. They use one pig per day and close when its gone so this was recommended to me for a lunch time meal . I got a pulled pork sandwich with haggis stuffing and it was pretty good! Not the kind of pork a southern girl is used to but you take what you can get in the U.K.! When you are in Scotland you have to eat haggis…it’s an unofficial rule! The boys refused to eat anything which became a theme for the trip. We would constantly buy things to try and coax them to eat and they just refused.

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With the boys sick and fussy we bought them a nice wool blanket, sat them back in the stroller and just hoped they would relax and fall asleep as we walked along the royal mile. We did some shopping and took a walk inside St. Giles Cathedral. This is free to enter but you need to pay a small donation to take pictures inside. The cathedral is 900 years old and dedicated to a popular patron saint of Edinburgh. That evening we spent more time in Santa Land which magically helped the kids perk up!

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GO.TO.SLEEP.
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In love with music of Scotland

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Our second full day in Edinburgh it was cold and rained a good portion of the day which ruined some of my plans. I was not going to make my sick kids walk around in the rain. I had hoped to hike Arthur’s seat, a mountain that overlooks the city, but we opted to drive through Holyrood Park and get to the highest point we could via the road. I am sure the views from the top are amazing.

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Another activity we had wanted to do that day was tour the Holyrood Palace. Its the official Scotland residence of the British monarch and of course being that I am obsessed with all things royal I had to go! It’s served royals in Scotland since the 1600’s and Queen Elizabeth spends time here in the summer. The rain was subsiding a bit so we got the kids out of the car to go and it was so cold and windy they were instantly miserable. My kiddos are not a fan of the cold..yet try and get them to wear hats and gloves *insert eye roll here*. We took some pictures from the outside and then decided to head over to an attraction that was indoors.

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Carter thinking: “where is my beach?”

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Our next destination is historically significant for our family. Some background on my husband: His family is from Wales and his grandfather (Bumpa) served in the royal navy. This of course made the family move throughout Europe as his duty stations changed. Ben’s mother met Ben’s father (American) in Germany and that is where they lived until they decided to make Illinois their permanent home. So that is a big reason why we wanted to get stationed in the U.K. Ben wanted to see his family history and be able to allow his boys to experience it.

It just so happens a ship Bumpa was on is now on display in Edinburgh. He worked communications on the Royal Yacht Brittania, where he traveled with the royal family all through Europe and Africa. It’s pretty amazing that the Queen he served so long ago is still Queen today!

The yacht is free of historical and informational signage as they prefer to use just audio touring. So if you want to know any history on the yacht at all you must use the audio tour. Its actually a fairly small ship and only a couple officer bunks so we had a fairly good idea of where Ben’s grandfather slept. There was also an officer lounge. They help make the tour interesting for children by hiding small stuffed corgi dolls in all the rooms. That way the child had to pay attention to add up how many corgi’s they find. At the end of the tour if you have the correct answer, you get a sticker. That was all Kellan needed to have a good time! Most of the tour is indoors but you do walk along the deck a bit so still bring an umbrella if it’s raining.

It was truly a wonderful experience to see some family history. The yacht is attached to a mall so there is plenty of shopping and places to eat after you finish your tour. There is also an indoor play place for rainy days.

That evening we headed back to the Christmas markets. There was barely anyone there due to the rain that day so it ended up being a lot of fun for us not dealing with the crowds.

Stay tuned for my post on our day trip to Stirling!