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!