All the Castles: United Kingdom Edition

Today we are heading back to the United Kingdom for our All the Castles blog post. I loved almost all of the castles that we visited during our Summer Holiday to London and Scotland, with one exception (more on that later). I am bending my own “only castle” rule with including Holyrood House in Edinburgh and Balmoral (although technically that is Balmoral Castle). 

Dover Castle (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

Known as the “Key to England” Dover Castle dates back to William the Conqueror and the 11th Century. The current castle was rebuilt by Henry II in the late 12th century and has withstood two sieges (1216 & 1265). In the 18th Century a network of tunnels dug into the castle and those tunnels became most famous in World War Two during Operation Dynamo. Dover Castle also became the Regional Seat of Government during the Cold War and was garrisoned up until 1958. 

Dover Castle was really cool because not only does it have the long history, but it has still played a large role in our more recent history (like many of the castles in the United Kingdom). I really enjoyed wandering the courtyard, the main tower (which was a signature of William the Conqueror) as well as the various outlying embankments. You are able to wander the tunnels; however, you will want to do that at the beginning of your trip, otherwise you will be standing in line for quite a while (it’s one of the most popular attractions within the castle). 

The Tower London (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

The Tower dates back to William the Conqueror as he set out to build a might stone tower at the center of his fortress in London. The Tower is the most secure castle in the United Kingdom and is the largest & strongest concentric castle. Its defenses have only fallen once, in the 14th century during the Peasants Revolt. The Tower has had several different uses throughout its time from a prison (800 years), to Luxurious apartments for Royals, to housing a menagerie of wild animals, to an execution ground. It is most known for being a prison and for the executions of three queens, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey. Now The Tower is home to the Yeoman Warders (they’ve lived in The Tower since Henry VIII decreed they stay there) and their families, a Resident Governor, a garrison of soldiers, a doctor, chaplain, and a small pub. It is also home to the closely guarded Crown Jewels. 

Probably one of the most talked about, most popular, most famous and infamous castles in our history, The Tower of London is incredible. There is just so much to see and do within the walls! We ended up spending almost half a day between the Yeoman Warder tour (which I highly recommend), the changing of the guard, and just wandering all of the various spots. You can see so much and such a wide variety of stuff and time periods.  

Edinburgh Castle (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

Edinburgh Castle has noted human occupation since around the 2nd century, with the castle dating the 12thcentury. Even though its location was prime for a fortress of defensive castle, it did not become a primary military garrison until the 17th century. It is the most besieged castle in Great Britain, topping out at 26 sieges, and is the most attacked castle in the world. In the 15th century a large canon called the Mons Meg was delivered and set up on the rampart, and you can still see that today. You are also able to walk through St. Margaret’s Chapel which is the oldest chapel in Edinburgh (12th century). Finally, Edinburgh Castle is home to the Scottish Crown Jewels which have quite the history themselves (amongst other things, they were hidden in a bathroom during World War II!). Finally, Edinburgh Castle did not actually house many royals for long periods, it was a very cold, very damp castle and most royals preferred the comfort of Holyrood House located at the other end of the Royal Mile and Arthur’s Seat. 

I LOVED Edinburgh Castle, the history, the brooding castle on the hill overlooking the city, the just darker, grimmer defenses, the history, it’s just one of my favorites. I really enjoyed our time there, walking the castle ramparts, through the church, and listening to the audio guide. We did get to see the canon get fired during our time there, which I would recommend (it’s just a fun thing to do).

Balmoral Castle (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

Balmoral Castle is actually a family home, tucked in the Scottish Highlands, for the British Royal Family. It came into the family’s possession in 1848 (first leased then purchased) and they promptly built a new home on the property. The foundation stone was laid in 1853 and it was completed in 1856. This particular castle is a favorite of the Royal Family and I can see why!

The grounds themselves are incredible (you are only able to walk the grounds and see the ballroom, nothing else), not to mention the way the house is just tucked into the beautiful Scottish scenery. It was incredible and, like I’ve said, I can see why the Royal Family loves it so much. 

Urquhart Castle (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

Urquhart Castle is a ruined castle on Loch Ness in the highlands of Scotland. It dates the 13th-16th century, with an intentional destruction by the owners in 1692 to prevent Jacobite use. Its major note was playing a role in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century. These days the castle is mostly noted as a romantic ruin, hosting visitors and events every day. 

I think, on the whole, this is probably my least favorite of the castles that we saw. While it was cool to see and walk through and provided some really beautiful pictures, I don’t think that it was really worth the cost. It’s definitely overcrowded at times as well. There are other spots to see the castle from that might be better. 

Palace of Holyrood House (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

The final spot on this All The Castle’s edition is not a castle, but the royal home of Holyrood House. Holyrood House is the official residence of the Royal Family in Scotland. The abbey was founded in the 12th century and James IV built the first palace on the property in the 16th century. On the tour you are able to see various works of art, but the real draw is Queen Mary of Scotland’s royal rooms. These rooms have been at the heart of intrigue and assassination and are a real treat into the history of the area.

I really loved seeing and wandering Holyrood House. The rooms are beautiful with a lot of historical information and artwork, the rooms of Mary Queen of Scots are incredible to walk through (along with the staircase), and the gardens are beautiful. We were also able to see the wedding display from Meghan and Harry’s wedding (including the outfits they wore!) which was really cool. 

And that wraps up this edition of All The Castle’s! Have you been to any? Which is your favorite? Which would you most like to visit?

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2019: Calais and Dover

Good morning and happy Friday!! Today marks the start of my many many blog posts about our Summer Holiday. I think this is going to end up breaking down into 5 “what we did” posts and 3 “tips/recommendations” posts. I just have so much that I want to share about our trip, tips for future trip takers, and things that I want to look back in and reflect about. It would just simply be too long to only do one or two posts…SO…

I am going to break it up by “location” or Day. This means that there will be separate posts for London, Edinburgh, and Inverness and then two additional posts about the stops we made WHILE traveling to and from. The individual cities will also have separate recommendation/tips posts, but the travel day posts will just have the tips within the post…

If that makes sense? Hopefully it does because this is going to be a long post and I’ve already blabbered on for 151…152 words.

When we originally planned this trip, I picked out the three cities we wanted to visit, knowing one would be London, one would be in the Highlands, and I wanted to do an “old school” Scotland spot. After quite a bit of back and forth and weighing our options, we ultimately decided that driving would be the best option for our family. When it comes to cost, enjoyment, and ease driving was just what fit for this particular trip. This meant having to cross the Chanel with our vehicle.

There are two ways to cross the channel, the Euro Tunnel or the Ferry. Both options have you drive your car into a train or ferry in Calais and then be whisked across/under the water to Dover on the other side. There are pros and cons to both options, and we weighed both choices for a long time. Ultimately we decided to take the train across. The benefit is that it is quick (about 35 minutes), but you stay with your car and do not have the gorgeous views and café that you get with the Ferry. I am not sure how often the Ferries get “cancelled” or pushed back on the time’s, but that is something else to consider. We had cancellations or delays on both sides of the crossing (this was handled very well though, they have a service spot with a lot of shopping, and they will automatically sort your vehicle into the next available train).

So, once we determined that we would be staying a night in Calais, I started to look around and see what we could experience while we were there. The drive to get to Calais for us is an almost all-day drive, so I knew that there wouldn’t be a lot of energy/time for us to really explore. This was fine as Calais is a port city, which means there is a lot just right on the pier if you don’t want to go far/the time is getting late (and you have little ones like we do). We ended up with a couple of free hours, so we wandered over to the Lighthouse, climbed to the top and looked out at the city below. This was an absolutely beautiful view for us and a lovely way to get our bodies moving after being cramped in the car all day long ha-ha. I’m starting to really love these aerial city shots that we’ve been doing a lot of, it’s nice to see a city from above.

We also decided to walk along the pier of Calais, watch the cars board the ferry’s and watch the water of the channel crash in and out. It may not be the most exciting thing, but watching the sun slowly start to go down while listening to the waves is just so incredibly relaxing.

We actually ended up eating dinner at one of the stand-up shacks right near the pier, choosing burgers, fries and cola’s for dinner. We stayed in a hotel in Calais, choosing the Holiday Inn Calais for our one night there. The hotel is actually right on the water and is a completely fine choice to sleep for the night.

Once we reached England and the other side of the Channel, we decided to take a stop at Dover. I’ve always wanted to see the seaside town of Dover and its beautiful White Cliffs. As soon as I had seen that no matter which choice we made, we would be right near/in Dover I knew that we had to stop there. It was a no brainer for me.

We did two stops in Dover, Dover Castle and The White Cliffs of Dover. Exploring Castles, both intact and ruined, have quickly become one of those “things” we do while traveling. They hold such a wealth of information, history, and can be some of the prettiest spots to walk.

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Dover Castle was no exception to this. Not only is the castle stunning and the displays full of information and objects from the time period (found on the property), but they have a cast of period actors that roam the grounds/are in the buildings as you walk through. It just added such a good touch to the castle, without feeling cheesy or cringeworthy. There were two exhibits that we were not able to see, the underground tours, as the queue’s got to be too long for our two very tired little boys. This isn’t anything that we weren’t aware, when purchasing the tickets, the attendant said that they were expecting a high volume of visitors and those two tend to go quickly. Regardless, I would still recommend a stop to Dover Castle, it’s the perfect stop to stretch your legs and learn a little history.

The cliffs are actually right down the road and you can see it from the overlook point at the castle, so make sure you take a look from the distance before you head over.

Oh, the cliffs, the White Cliffs of Dover… I got to live out every Victorian/English Drama Movie/TV Show I’ve ever seen and stand at the precipice of those cliffs dramatically staring out to the abyss….ok I’m exaggerating just a little bit, but it was a dream spot and a definite must see. Not only are the cliffs themselves incredible, but the water- oh the water- a stunning blue/green combo that makes one swoon at the site. Now, we only had time to go out to the lookout vantage point, BUT you are able to hike out to the cliffs themselves, the lighthouse, and have a lovely afternoon tea at the café near the lighthouse (which I so so so wanted to do). Another perfect  stop if you just want to get out and stretch your legs for a little while.

So that was the first, short leg of our Summer Holiday. I hope that you enjoyed seeing Calais and Dover through our eyes! Let me know if you have any questions, and if you’ve been there, is there anything you would add? What was your favorite spot?