Sunday, August 13, 2017

Scotland: Days 1-3

With record setting high temperatures across much of Europe this summer, you better believe we applauded ourselves on selecting vacation destinations up north this year. It did feel odd packing pants, sweatshirts, rain coats etc. and leaving behind our shorts and sandals, but this family has too much northern blood in it to lament over leaving the heat. Our week in Scotland was a week of refreshment for our family and not only from the heat.

We are so thankful for the Lord's grace and protection over us. I started to have severe sinus cold symptoms the day before we left and felt awful on our travel day but it dissipated by the time we arrived in Scotland. Jonathan then had the same symptoms upon our arrival but also short lived. The whole driving from the right side of the car on the left side of the road added a level of stress for both driver and passenger (me), however, despite our misfortune a time or two of which I will share about later, God kept us safe and it all just added to our vacation memories.

We flew into Edinburgh on Wednesday, July 26 and then drove north across the Firth of Forth to the region of Fife (try saying that fast 5x) where we stayed in the quaint seaside town of Kirkcaldy. The apartment we rented was another stellar find and our host greeted us with a semi-stocked fridge, fruit, chocolates and snacks which was super generous of them. We found the Scots to be very warm, helpful and down to earth people. And of course, who wouldn't just want to linger in conversation with a person speaking with a Scottish accent?!

DAY 1:

Our first full day we decided to keep things low key with no real agenda. Everyone was able to sleep in and then late morning we set off on foot for a walk along a portion of the Fife Coastal Path that connects Kirkcaldy to Dysart, the next town over. It was the perfect cloudy, cool and breezy morning to leisurely explore the Ravenscraig Castle, beach comb for rocks and shells, walk through shaded forests and enjoy the North Sea views before arriving at the Dysart Harbour.


It was very interesting to see boats sitting on the harbour floor just waiting for high tide in order to head out to Sea.

Since it was lunch time when we finally got to Dysart, we stopped in at the Harbour Master's Café and got some hot chocolate, coffee and pastries to warm us up and hold us over until we got back to the house.

We arrived back just as it started to rain. And so it was on most afternoons that the rains would come and we would settle in for reading, knitting, movies, baseball games, billiards and just chilling.

DAY 2:

We woke up early in order to walk to the train station to board a train to Edinburgh. We pre-bought our tickets online for the first entry time at 9:30 to enter Edinburgh Castle. We enjoyed the free 30 minute tour with a guide who gave us a good overview of the history and highlights of the castle, before we then were left to explore on our own. We saw the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny, which were all very cool--but no pictures allowed. The Scottish National War Memorial was also very moving to visit.

Mons Meg weighs 3 tons and could fire 330 lbs. stone balls up to a distance of 2 miles

Oldest structure on Castle Hill: St. Margaret's Chapel

King James later commissioned the Bible to be translated in English

Coming off of Castle Hill a couple hours later it was shockingly crowded with people. The Royal Mile was just jam packed with street performers, mimers, musicians and the like. We figured that with the masses of people that we better just head to the sites we wanted to see and not linger in the crowds. We grabbed some Starbucks coffee and found a bench for us to eat our sack lunches before continuing on our journey with a lighter load on our backs.

Yoda is floating?! Darth Vader and Storm Stroopers were across the street.
Next stop was the St. Giles Cathedral where John Knox preached. Knox was the Scottish Reformer that did much to advance the gospel and fight for the reformed cause across Scotland. His burial location is outside the church that is marked with a plaque but is now a parking lot.

John Knox's pulpit

Just down the street from the cathedral is the John Knox House. We took some time to visit his house now turned museum. The highlight was seeing the Kleis men having fun dressing up as Knox.

The Royal Mile starts at the Castle and ends at the Holyrood Palace. It is here where the Queen of England resides when she visits Scotland. We received headsets for a self guided tour and this was again a unique and informative historical visit. In this palace is also where John Knox was called by Mary Queen of Scots to debate reformed theology in relation to her Catholic convictions.

Ruins of the Abbey

It was a long day on our feet and everyone was pretty much ready to head back by late afternoon. And so it was that as we walked back to the train station the rains came.

DAY 3:

Saturday's adventure was had in the town of Stirling. One cannot visit Scotland without seeing such a significant geographical location to Scottish history, such as Stirling, where William Wallace led the Scots against the English for their fight for independence. Samuel read G.A. Henty's historical fiction novel In Freedom's Cause for his TPS English class this year that revolved around William Wallace. It is a wonderful privilege when you can visit places you have read about. One day our kids will have a great appreciation for all that they have seen.

We did not completely avoid the rains on our tour of Stirling Castle nor the William Wallace Monument, but a steady drizzle is better than a downpour. So we weathered the weather like Scots and waited for things to change in 15 minutes.

Again, we took an indispensable 45-minute free tour of the Castle before exploring on our own. The castle was beautiful and they have done an excellent job restoring it to it's fifteen and sixteen century look, with a few structures from the fourteenth century.

The Great Hall with a roof assembled with zero nails
Very large fireplaces
The Queen's chambers
From the castle you can see The National Wallace Monument honoring Sir William Wallace, the patriot, martyr and Guardian of Scotland. The spiral step climb of 246 steps was so worth the view from the top. Along the way there were three levels each highlighting Wallace and Scottish history. At the top it resembles a crown and it was extremely windy which was very unnerving to see the kids peering over for a view.

Location of the Battle of Stirling Bridge

Upon descending there was a theatrical performance by two men talking of Wallace's fight and victory over the English at Stirling Bridge. It was very entertaining and again, accents for the win! Everyone enjoyed holding a real Clamour sword after the performance.

And that concludes the first half of our vacation in Scotland! I realize that maybe only my children have reached the end of this photo heavy post, but since they are the ones who read and reread and reread every entry, this is their vacation scrap book written and shared for their sake.

Stay tuned for the second half that includes tow trucks, tires, kilts and the Highlands.