“Take every chance you get in life, because some things only happen once.” – Karen Gibbs
Dear Readers I am back with my story after a gap of five months and I hope you missed me.
The Scotland bug had bitten me when I first visited UK in 2012.My fascination for Scotland had become stronger after watching the serial “Reign” which I binge watched in Amazon Prime, I had also earlier watched a movie on “Mary Queen of Scots” in my school days.I have always been fascinated and attracted to places which are historical and has natural beauty.Scotland has both in abundance.So when Jessy my travel buddy told that she would be accompanying her daughter to Scotland who has enrolled her self in the Glasgow School of Arts to do her masters in Design Innovations I seized this heaven sent opportunity and tagged along with her. Simi her batch mate from her MBBS batch also joined us.
Travelling through the British Isles is something many people want to do in their lifetimes. And it’s no surprise as to why England, Scotland, and Ireland not only have a fascinating history that dates back thousands of years, but is home to both bucolic natural scenery and some of the world’s most vibrant and diverse cities.
We decided to spend 9 days on this trip touring Scotland,The Lake District(England) and Belfast- Northern Ireland( to soak into the Game of Throne Locations) and Birmingham(England)and then take the return flight from Heathrow, London.As per our itinerary which was discussed and jointly made we would spend 3 days in Scotland covering the Highlands and Edinburgh,a day tour in Belfast(Northern Ireland), 2 days in the Lake district and a day in Birmingham.We made our base in Glasgow but regrettably we never got enough time to see the city.
We booked our flight with British Airways and started working on our VISA.We filled the online form and gathered all the documents required for the Visa.The appointment with VFS Global was on the 7th of July.The document submission and biometrics was a breeze and we finished it in less than an hour and got the Visa in two weeks.After getting the VISA we started searching the net for accommodation and guided tours rental cars etc.We had planned our trip from Glasgow, a kind invitation from a friend to stay with them during our stay in Glasgow helped us a lot.Friends staying in the UK helped us a lot in preparing for the trip.All was going well when one morning I got a call from Jessy that her flight on 10th of September was cancelled due to a strike call from British Airways pilots, the strike was for 9th & 10th of September.She was leaving on the 10th so she was a bit unlucky.She had to rebook her flight which she did with the Etihad Airways.British Airways did refund the whole amount to her.We were at tenterhooks about our flight too which was on the 14th.So when no mails were received from the airline we heaved a sigh of relief and did our final packing. Jessy gave us helpful tips about the weather as she had reached Scotland on the 10th. Finally the much awaited day dawned.Having missed flights earlier I am now a very cautious and a nervy traveler so I reached the airport well before time.As I was early, check in,security and immigration finished in an hour.Thereafter I relaxed with a cup of filter coffee(Rs 160) and settled with my mobile watching my favorite “Game of Thrones”.(I was refreshing my memory as I had already watched the serial earlier).Simi soon joined me at the gate and we got chatting.Though we met each other for the first time we were comfortable with each other as we had earlier spoken on phone and chatted several times planning the itinerary.The flight was slightly delayed.I found the in flight entertainment boring so I took refuge in Amitabh Ghosh’s “Gun Island” with a glass of red wine, the food was okay.
We landed at Heathrow at 1815 hrs local time and our connecting flight to Glasgow was at 2115 hrs.We cleared the security and immigration and proceeded to the gate.It’s a much smaller aircraft so big handbags were not encouraged however our bags were not a problem since we carried smaller ones.Here I would like to ggve you the information that British Airways allows 23 kg of one check in bag and 7 kg hand baggage.It was a short flight and we landed at Glasgow at 2240 hrs.We were delighted when we found our friend was waiting for us at the airport.He is such a gracious host ! !.We reached his home at around 11 pm.A delicious dinner awaited us cooked lovingly by our gracious hostess. We chatted and had a lot to catch up since we were meeting after a long time.We called it a day after midnight.
Day 2 – 15th September Trip to the Highlands – Loch Lomond & Glencoe and the Jacobite train ride
Our friend had a planned a packed day for us. After a hearty breakfast we started at 7.30 am,we first picked up Jessy and her daughter Audrey from Robert Owens House.(Audrey’s hostel)We had a comfortable drive and we drove via M8 and A82. It took around an hour and is about 25 miles from Glasgow. As we drove past we found sheep grazing on lush green fields which got us excited and we wanted to take photographs.
We stopped at a small private farm so that we could take photographs of the sheep but we got a bit a bit more greedy and wanted to cuddle them as well !!! so one of us walked around and inquired, we were disappointed when the answer was in the negative.Miles and miles of lush green fields with the sheep grazing were scenes right from a Enid Blyton novel.We reached the Loch around 9 am.
Loch Lomond is a lake in Southern Scotland.Its part of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.The surrounding highlands area is home to red deer and oak woodlands.On the eastern shore,footpaths and cycle trails criss cross craggy Ben Lomond mountain and the smaller Conic Hills.
We were enthralled by the beautiful Loch(lake)and the Munroes(Scottish mountains over 3000 ft in height)There are quite a few marked and unmarked walking routes around Loch Lomond. Since we were a little short of time we didn’t venture far but walked around and got mesmerized by the beauty all around.You can take a cruise on the lake which all of us unanimously opted out as we wanted to walk around and soak in all the beauty.
We were allured by the beautiful flowers and the pathways.Since we were the only people around we had the place to ourselves(Which is a rare experience).The beauty and the calmness was indeed healing to a Mumbaikar’s heart and soul.We spotted a house which looked absolutely picture perfect.As we we were admiring the beautiful flowers.
We spotted the National flower of Scotland “Thistles” which was in full bloom.We went camera crazy and clicked innumerable photos giving our best poses. Our friend had to gently remind us of our schedule and coax us to leave the place and head for our next destination Glencoe.We left the place around 10 am and reached Glencoe valley at about 11.30 am.
There are lots of activities one can do here like taking the cable car but that would take an hour and we had to reach Mallaig to board the Jacobite express also called the Hogwarts Express at 1410 hrs.We had to yet have our lunch so we opted out of the cable car ride instead walked around and enjoyed the beautiful scenery all around us.
We met a group of women riding Harley – Davidson bikes and were quite impressed by them and took photographs with them.We stayed for about 15 minutes and started our journey towards Mallaig.
Mallaig is a port in Lochaber, on the west coast of the Highlands of Scotland. The local railway station, Mallaig, is the terminus of the West Highland railway line and the town is linked to Fort William by the A 830 road – the “Road to the Isles”
We reached around 1 pm after checking for the platform(the train was already there.)The coveted train tickets were booked in advance by our friend which we were unable to book online.
We thereafter searched for a place for a quick bite and found a cute café “The Tea Garden Café”.
Two of us settled in for the fish and chips and others ordered sandwiches.
We boarded the train which departed on time. Our coach was the second last one “F “with seat numbers B & H 16 & 17.Our seats were all together and we sat back and enjoyed the experience I had to pinch myself to believe that indeed I was sitting on the Hogwarts Express.
As the train chugged out we settled in with cup of coffee which cost us £2.The train runs two services one in the morning which departs at 10.15 am and one in the afternoon at 1410 hrs.
The train starts from Fort William to Mallaig. We took the return journey from Mallaig to Fort William at 1410 hrs. Described as the greatest railway journey in the world, this 84 mile round trip takes you past a list of impressive extremes. Starting near the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, it visits Britain’s most westerly mainland railway station, Arisaig passes close by the deepest freshwater loch in Britain, Loch Morar and the shortest river in Britain, River Morar, finally arriving next to the deepest seawater loch in Europe, Loch Nevis! Since we boarded from Mallaig we were travelling in the opposite direction.
The train has coaches from A-G,Coach A is First Class with 42 seats.Complimentary tea and coffee is served at a price of £59.99 per adult.Coach B,E,F & G are standard class with the fare being £37.75 ,Coach C is the Buffet Car has 44 seats and a bar that offers a range of drinks,cakes,Jacobite whiskey and locally produced ales.The Souvenier Shopland & Guard’s office is located in Coach D.The shop offers a range of rail,viaduct and Harry Potter gifts throughout the journey.The train stopped at Arisaig,Morar and Glenfinan and reached Fort William at 4 pm.On the journey from Fort William to Mallaig the train halts at Glenfinan and one can get down and visit the world famous museum but on the return journey it didn’t halt for a long time.At about 15.05 the train passed the Glenfinan Viaduct which was shown in the Harry Potter movies.
Audrey literally hung out of the window and took excellent shots of the train on the viaduct.The train ride was indeed exciting and took us back to the days when there were the steam engines unlike the electric ones we have now.
After getting off the train we excitedly took pictures of the train which left the station after few minutes.We met our friend at the car park.Earlier we had planned to go to Inverness and Loch Ness but that would take about an hour and a half and again driving back,it would get very late so we opted out of it instead we drove to Perth and then headed to Glasgow on the way we spotted the Dalwhinnie Distillery which produces single malt scotch whiskey but bad luck it was closed.Everything shuts down here at 4 pm.
Nevertheless we took some photos and proceeded to Glasgow.Our friend gave us quick city tour of Glasgow.
Glasgow became a hub in international trade. Glasgow itself was reputed to have been founded by the Christian missionary saint Mungo in the 6th century. He established a church on the Molendinar Burn where the present Glasgow Cathedral stands, and in the following years Glasgow became a religious centre. Glasgow grew over the following centuries. The first bridge over the River Clyde at Glasgow was recorded from around 1285, giving its name to the Briggait area of the city, forming the main North-South route over the river via Glagow Cross.The founding of the University of Glasgow in 1451 and elevation of the bishopric to become the Archdiocese of Glasgow in 1492 increased the town’s religious and educational status and landed wealth. Its early trade was in agriculture, brewing and fishing, with cured salmon and herring being exported to Europe and the Mediterranean.
We drove around the city and I particularly remember driving past the Glasgow University and the Glasgow School of Arts.We then stopped at George Square which is the principal civic square in the city of Glasgow,Scotland. It is one of six squares in the city centre. Named after King George III and initially laid out in 1781 but not developed for another twenty years, George Square is surrounded by architecturally important buildings including on the east side the Palatial Municipal Chambers, also known as the City Chambers, whose foundation stone was laid in 1883, and on the west side by the Merchants House.Built by Glasgow Corporation the Chambers are the continuing headquarters of Glasgow City Council. Joseph Swan’s panoramic engraving of 1829 shows the early development of the square and its surrounding buildings.The square boasts an important collection of statues and monuments, including those dedicated to Robert Burns,James Watt,Sir Robert Peal and Sir Walter Scott.
After clicking a few photographs we ended our day having dinner at Rishi’s a South Indian Restaurant.We ordered a platter of barbecued prawn,chicken ,kebabs served with pilaf,Dosas and lemon rice.We all shared but still couldn’t finish off so there was plenty left for Audrey’s lunch 🙂 We dropped Audrey to her hostel and headed home. Later we relished waffles and home made banana ice cream.We chatted for sometime and called it a day around midnight.
Day 3 – 16th September- St Andrews & Edinburgh
Today we got up a bit late around 7 am. After a hearty breakfast.I particularly relished the fresh fruits luscious and juicy blueberries,strawberries and figs.We left for St Andrews at 9.30 am.On the way we also had a glimpse of the magnificent Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.We made a few photo stops and reached St Andrews around 12 pm.
St. Andrews is a seaside town northeast of Edinburgh, on Scotland’s east coast. It’s known for its many golf courses, including the Old Course, with the landmark Swilcan Bridge at the 18th hole.The British Golf Museum chronicles the history of UK. golf. On a headland nearby are the ruins of St. Andrews Castle, with its medieval bottle dungeon. Close to the castle is the University of St. Andrews, founded in 1413.
Our friend drove us around the beautiful town,the University area and we also saw the ruins of the Cathedral and the Church The magnificent cathedral took almost 150 years to build.It was completed in 1318 becoming the largest church in Scotland and the seat of religious power until the 16th century reformation.
The ruins are spectacular and the helpful visitor center displays some fine carved stones.There’s also a haunted tower built into the Abbey Wall.We took many pictures and spent some time walking around the ruins of the Cathedral.
We took some pictures of the North Point Café where Prince William met Kate for Coffee.
Later we relished some Gelato ice cream.We drove out of St Andrews at around 1 pm and reached Edinburgh around 1420 hrs.Our friend dropped us at our hotel Fredrick House.We paid 180 pounds per night for a triple sharing room.The hotel was centrally located.The room was good with all amenities like tea&coffee facilities hair dryer/iron etc with a nice and clean bathroom.
We checked in and freshened up and decided to have lunch we ended up in Mac Donalds. We ate some wraps and burgers and the bill was around £ 11.After this we decided to explore on our own with the help of google we reached the Holyroodhouse Palace. Enroute we also passed by Queen Mary’s Bath House.Clicked a quick photo and rushed to the palace.But unfortunately we were late by just 4 minutes the last entry is at 4 pm.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland Located at the bottom of Royal Mile at the opposite end of Edinburgh Castle. Holyrood Palace has served as the principal residence of the kings and queens of Scots since the 16th century, and is a setting for state occasions and official entertaining.
Queen Elizabeth spends one week in residence at Holyrood Palace at the beginning of each summer, where she carries out a range of official engagements and ceremonies. The 16th-century Historic Apartments of Mary Queen of Scots and the State Apartments, used for official and state entertaining, are open to the public throughout the year, except when members of the Royal Family are in residence.
Disappointed we sat there for sometime took some pictures from outside and decided to come the next day.As we strolled around Princess Street we did some shopping Jessy and myself bought typical Scottish mufflers costing £18 each.
We passed by the statue of the famous Scot Robert Burns and the monument built in his memory. It is a Circular building made of stone that commemorates Scotland’s iconic poet & lyricist, Robert Burns.We also passed by the Scot Monument and took pictures of the setting sun on the monument.
The Scott Monument is a Victorian Gothic monument to Scottish author Sir Walter Scott It is the second largest monument dedicated to a writer in the world after the Jose Marti monument in Havana.It stands in Princess Street Gardens in Edinburgh opposite the Jenners department store on Princess Street and near to Edinburgh Waverly Station which is named after Scott’s Waverley novels.
We explored Princess Street and then later picked up food from Sainsbury,we reached the hotel around 7.30 pm and chilled with a refreshing cup of tea and snacks.
Day 4 – 17th September – The Walking tour including Edinburgh Castle and the Rosalyn Chapel.
In the morning we checked out and kept our luggage in the hotel’s luggage room to pick it up later.We had packed a smaller bag for Edinburgh and left rest of the luggage at our friend’s place in Glasgow.We had a hearty breakfast at Rabbles which was just across the street. Breakfast was included in the stay.
Simi had booked(skip the Line access to Edinburgh Castle),the Historical walking tour with Mercat Tours(The cost of the tour was £ 30.94 per person.The starting time was 10 am.The hotel was centrally located so it took just 15 minutes to reach Mercat Cross at High Street.Its a 8 sided monument with white Unicorn on top.
We met the services team wearing black and holding black and orange umbrella and wearing a orange lanyard.
Simi showed the mobile ticket and we got our head sets.Our guide William an enthusiastic man took us back to the history of Edinburgh.
As we strolled around cobbled streets of old town peeking into cloistered courtyards and learnt about how centuries old Dunediners or Edinburgers had lived within the city’s narrow passageways termed as “Closes” and “Wynds”.
To our surprise the guide told us how the people living in the houses threw garbage on the alleys and that the stink and stench was very strong.
The settlement began with the Romans first settling down.We started our walk on the “Royal Mile”.The Royal Mile is a succession of streets forming the main thoroughfare of the Old Town of the city of Edinburgh in Scotland.From the Castle gates to the Palace the street is exactly a mile and runs downhill between two significant locations in the royal history of Scotland namely the the Edinburgh Castle and the Holyrood Palace hence its name.The streets that make up the Royal Mile are west to east.
The Royal Mile is steeped in history and houses the homes of famous Scots who have a place in the Scottish history.We saw Daniel Defoe’s home(Mobray House).
.He is best remembered as the author of Robinson Crusoe but he was also at different times a merchant,manufacturer and played many more roles in his life time.Later we passed by the Broody house.
Broody was a carpenter by day and a thief and housebreaker by night.We also saw the place where people were hanged for their crimes.
Later we visited the Parliament Square.The square came into existence in 1632 as a forecourt to the Parliament House on the old graveyard of St Giles Kirk(Church).Parliament House not only housed the pre-union Parliament of Scotland but also the court of session(the supreme civil court in Scotland).
We saw an interesting statue with a man sitting on a metallic horse.The guide told us it was meant to be Oliver Cromwell but it took too long to complete and by the time it was completed Cromwell was out of power so they changed it to Charles II. The metallic horse is also known as the peeing horse.Apparently when it rains the water collects in the statue and at the bottom of the horse there is a hole for the water to drain out which makes it looks as if the horse is peeing. 🙂 The guide also showed us the grave of John Knox,we also had a glimpse of the John Knox house a historic house in Edinburgh.John Knox was the fiery Protestant reformer and the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
He was instrumental in the abdication of Queen Mary, a staunch Catholic.We saw the Museum of Childhood and The Writers Museum.
We passed by James Court an example of high end living.We came back to Mercat Cross and the Netherbow Well Head.The Netherbow Wellhead is said to be the oldest surviving well head in the city,originally designed and built around 1675.The St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile is a must visit in Edinburgh.We saw the church from outside.Although it is a principal place of worship its technically not a church as the church does not have a bishop.
St Giles’ Cathedral, or the High Kirk of Edinburgh, is a parish church of the Church of Scotland located in the Old Town of Edinburgh. Likely founded in the 12th century and dedicated to Saint Giles, the church was elevated to collegiate status by Pope Paul II in 1467.
We saw the black boxes kept to control traffic nick named as the : ) Sleeping Cops”.
We now made our way to the Edinburgh Castle.Our guide asked us to wait as he got the entry tickets for us(included in the tour)The guide gave a brief history of the castle and left us to explore the castle on our own.I thought he would come with us and explain the various aspects of the castle well I was disappointed ! maybe he left us to begin the next tour which would start at 1pm. Now we were free to spend as much time we wanted which was a daunting task, as we discussed where to begin ?
Scotland’s most famous fortress has towered above Edinburgh since the 13th century and is the country’s most popular tourist attraction. Perched high atop a dramatic black basalt outcrop, Edinburgh’s spectacular castle affords magnificent views of many of the city’s landmarks, including the Royal Mile, Princess Street, and the long green swath of Princess Street Gardens.
The history of Edinburgh Castle is long and often both poignant and violent. It’s no wonder it is known as one of the most haunted places in Scotland.
We decided to first visit the Great Hall as the queue there was the shortest.The Great Hall was built shortly before the death of King James IV in 1513, and was used for state ceremonies and as the meeting place for the Scottish Parliament until 1640. Later, during Cromwell’s occupation, the building was used as barracks and later as a military hospital. It was restored at the end of the 19th century, and although its appearance changed, the hall’s original wooden ceiling remains. The Great Hall now houses a comprehensive collection of arms and armour, and stained glass panels added at the restoration commemorate Scotland’s monarchs.
Next we moved to the Scottish War Memorial later we visited the St Margaret Chapel.
We wanted to visit the Crown Jewel section but gave up after standing for half an hour in the queue.One needs at least 3-4 hours to see the castle properly.
We didn’t have much time as the Rosalyn chapel was a must visit for us.We took several pictures below the Stone of Destiny.
I also took picture of the the mammoth Mons Meg.
It was presented to James II by the Duke of Burgundy in 1457. So powerful that with 110 pounds of gunpowder it could propel a 550-pound cannonball for two miles, Mons Meg saw action several times, including the siege of Roxburgh Castle in 1460. In 1558, it was fired to celebrate the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots.We moved out of the castle after taking a picture of us with the Castle as the backdrop.
It was almost 1.30 pm and the Rosalyn Chapel would close at 4 pm.We gave up the idea of visiting the Holyrood Palace as it was not possible to do both.As we were inquiring about the bus to the Rosalyn Chapel we spotted Primark and I looked longingly at it although we were short of time I quickly bought two caps. Simi and self bought similar jackets to the one which Jessy bought from Glasgow Primark. After quickly paying we rushed back to the hotel to collect our luggage.
We looked around and with the help of google(thanks to Jessy and Simi having the foresight of taking a data pack) for the bus stop for bus no 37.The bus arrived on time(2 pm) and the ticket cost us £ 1.7 one way per person and it took us about 45 minutes.
We had to walk for about ten minutes to reach the chapel.The entry ticket cost is of £ 9 per adult. Jessy got lucky and paid £ 7 as the lady thought she is retired 🙂 The lady at the counter was extremely helpful and helped us in storing our luggage so that we could move around without lugging it around.I was excited and intrigued as I entered this mysterious place.
Rosslyn Chapel Scotland is a historical treasure shrouded with mystery and legend. It’s unique architecture, intricate carvings and statues, and belief that it may have once been home to the Holy Grail has attracted thousands of visitors around the world. Thanks in part to the success of the Da Vinci Code, which famously filmed some compelling scenes on location, Roslyn Chapel has seen an upsurge in guests in recent years.
The Chapel has an amazing and mysterious history that dates back to its origins in the mid-15th century.Around 1446, Roslyn Chapel was initially founded as a Roman Catholic Church by William Sinclair,the 1st Earl of Caithness However, it is the chapel’s intricate pillars and carvings, and the potential for hidden messages and secrets, that has helped create Rosslyn Chapel into the mysterious legend today. These days, Roslyn Chapel and the Da Vinci Code are synonymous, thanks to the extraordinary popularity of the film.If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book yet, you need to, immediately! It remains one of my favorite films and yes, it was the reason we made this visit. Without the book or movie, I wouldn’t have even known this beautiful place existed in the world.
As it turns out, I am not alone Da Vinci Code put Rosslyn Chapel on the map.Prior to the movie’s release, the chapel hosted around 30,000 visitors a year However, due to Da Vinci Code’s enormous success, Rosslyn Chapel now expects over 176,000 guests annually.As we were looking around a cheerful smart lady announced that she was the guide and welcomed us to the chapel.She unraveled the symbolism of Masonic and Christian carvings,stories such as the Master Mason’s sinful murder of his Apprentice for carving a pillar too beautiful and the life line of the Green Man(a face carved at all stages of life,connected throughout the entirety of the chapel by a vine) she also pointed out the location of the seven deadly sins or Robert the Bruce’s death mask in the crook of a pillar and the ceiling in the front of the chapel.
Earlier we took the stairs and went down to the crypt as shown as the underground chamber in the movie.All through I was desperately looking on the ceilings for some clue what Robert Langdon had discovered but couldn’t find any 🙂 Langdon’s discovery rested in the house behind the chapel which Hollywood used the remains of the Rosalyn Castle for filming.Legend says there is undiscovered treasure beneath the chapel.
We clicked some pictures and then collected our luggage.We inquired if we would get a direct bus to Glasgow but there were none so we had to go to Edinburgh and then take a bus to Glasgow.We took the return bus to Edinburgh at 4.30 pm and reached Edinburgh at 5.30 pm..We took the bus to Glasgow at 6 pm and paid £ 8.2 each.Thankfully the bus had storage and also the coach captain gave us change.(The earlier buses, one had to put exact change in the slot and a ticket would print.).There aren’t any conductors in the bus to give you change and ticket. The bus reached Buchanan Bus Station at about 7.30 pm we took an Uber( £6.1) and reached our friend’s place at about 8 pm.A lavish dinner awaited us and we gorged on the food and wine(We had missed lunch) but made it up for dinner.We happily chatted and called it a day at midnight.We had to catch the 6.30 am flight to Belfast !!!
Dear readers more about Belfast,the Lake district and Birmingham in the concluding part of my story.I hope you enjoyed reading my experiences as I enjoyed exploring this beautiful and historical country.A big thank you readers for Liking,Commenting and Ffollowing me.Please continue doing so.Its a great pleasure to read the comments and likes.New followers are such a joy 🙂
We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
To be Continued………………….