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?

Recommendations and Tips For: Edinburgh, Scotland

We have recently come back from our Summer Holiday in England and Scotland and I’ve been recapping all of our travels for you in the past blog posts. Today I am going to share some of my tips and recommendations for a stay in Edinburgh (you can see the “what we did” post HERE).

Edinburgh is such a cool spot because it perfectly melds the old world, dark, dreary city with pops of bright colors and trendy spots. It’s quite obviously a tourist spot, but you can certainly find the little gems that are maybe off the beaten path a little bit. Even with all of the tourists, Edinburgh holds a special sort of charm in its way of life and we did love our time there.

Recommendations:

Edinburgh Castle. I think this one is a fairly obvious choice, but there is quite simply SO MUCH history here in this castle. There is A LOT to see (not as much as say The Tower, but still a fair amount). They also fire a canon from the rampart every day at 1PM, and that is something you will definitely want to see. Stop in the gift shop near the Soldier’s Memorial for a little whiskey tasting and then wander through the main square. You are also able to view the Scottish Crown Jewels, which have quite the history.

Arthurs Seat. This hike was one of the most incredible hikes. If you even have a little physical experience you could make it to the top, however there are a couple of different false peaks if you’d like to just stop and admire the beauty around you. Once you’ve finished the hike and you are on the way down, there is a little lake that has ducks and geese that would be the perfect stopping point for lunch (just be aware that there are also fearless pigeons).

Holyrood Palace. This is the official royal residence in Scotland (Balmoral is a “country home/private residence”) and it is really cool to walk through the halls where they host dinners and foreign dignitaries. What might be cooler (depending on who you are) is walking through the very rooms of Mary Queen of Scotts, and hearing about the attempt on her life by her husband- you can even walk the very staircase they did to get to her chambers!

If you had to choose between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, I would go with Edinburgh, much more/wider variety of history, but I do think it is worth it to do both.

Finally, if you are a Harry Potter fan, then you will be familiar with Victoria Street. This is the street that inspired the “look” for Diagon Alley and it is indeed one of those good spots to walk along and browse the shops. It embodies the feel of dark, old world, with the bright pops of color and shops. I would recommend walking up the street (as you will have to regardless) on your way to Edinburgh Castle or the Royal Mile.

Tips:

Walk. Honestly, Edinburgh is laid out in such a way that it lends itself to walking or riding a bike. It is such an easy way to get around and you are never super far from anywhere really (or a bus stop). We didn’t actually use any of their public transportation, but they do have buses for ease of use or if you don’t want to walk in a Scottish Downpour.

That brings me to my next tip, bring a rain jacket and some sort of water proof shoe (or at least something that won’t have water seeping in). Our rain jackets really came in handy the whole second half of this trip. Scotland is super rainy and, to be honest, it is a rain that really just soaks you. There is also no real telling when it comes in or when it will start, it just does. So, make sure you pack at the very least a rain jacket, if not an umbrella too.

Finally, check out the little café’s and diners that are in the city. For our two breakfasts, we stopped at cute little café’s that were not only the quaintest little spots, but were absolutely delicious. Our favorite dinner was at a little spot that filled up quickly. Know that these places will fill up quickly and so consider potentially eating an “early or late dinner”. I know that some of the spots would take reservations so that is something to think of too. I just find that you get such a good idea of what the local life is when you dine in their own spots, rather than sticking to the main tourist attractions.

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2019 – Edinburgh Scotland

Our second “long” stop on our Summer Holiday was to stop in Edinburgh Scotland. This was the one city in Scotland that I knew that we had to stop in. Edinburgh has a long history both in Scottish history and Scottish/English history. It also has a very unique feel to it (or so I thought when I talked to others/looked at pictures) of olde world meets modern times. So, when planning our summer holiday, I knew that our Scotland portion would include Edinburgh and then one area in the Highlands.

The drive from London to Edinburgh wasn’t too terribly bad. It’s a long-haul drive, but with stops and the pretty countryside it made for a very nice drive. We rented a flat in Edinburgh that was maybe a 10-minute walk from “old town” Edinburgh. It was a pretty in the middle spot for both sides of Edinburgh that we wanted to visit – the castle and the palace. The flat itself was a really cute set up with a surprising size kitchen and private entrance.

Weather wise we got exactly what I expected- rainy and grey. It was brilliant (I’m a person who loves the rain) and definitely added to our Scotland experience. We made great use of our rain jackets as we walked everywhere, even in the rain.

Day 1:

We started our day off with breakfast in a really quaint, but trendy café called Cult Espresso. We just picked up a couple of baked goods, coffee and a smoothie and were pleasantly surprised by how filling and delicious everything was! I loved the feeling of this little café and it was the perfect way to start our day off. Once we finished, we headed up to Edinburgh Castle. We had pre booked a morning at Edinburgh Castle and we still managed to spend 3-4 hours on the castle grounds looking through all of the different areas. They have their own set of Crown Jewels which were really cool and the history behind them was very interesting (lost, found, stolen, lost, found, etc.). We also managed to stay long enough to watch them do their 1pm Canon Firing, which they do at that time every day. The boys really enjoyed seeing that (after Colton got over the jolt of it) and we enjoyed doing a little whiskey trial.

Once we finished at Edinburgh Castle, we decided to just wander the streets with only vague destinations in mind. I wanted to walk down Victoria Street (which was totally worth getting us lost and having us walk all sort of back alleys to get back on track) and I wanted to try and make it to The Real Mary Kings Cross. We did not end up getting to go into that museum as the tickets were sold out until the evening time. (pre book, pre book, pre book!!!!) We stopped into the National Library and walked through the exhibit they held there (about enlightenment), as well as a couple shops along the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile refers to the mile walk and road from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace.

We also stopped in to The National Museum of Scotland. First, the interior of this building is so incredibly cool. Just the architecture of it makes it worth the stop. It’s a free entrance museum and we picked two exhibits to go in to. We started in the Animal Exhibit (so proper- I don’t remember the exact name) for the kids and they loved pointing out the different animals. The displays showed quite a variety of animals and we even got to stand on a scale to see what animal we weighed the same as. It is a very interactive portion of the museum very much for children and covers other topics, such as STEM topics and space/our universe. Once the boys had a little overload from there, we wandered up to the Ancient Worlds exhibit to take a look at the Ancient Egypt artifacts. Fun fact about me: I used to be obsessed with Ancient Egypt. Not sure what triggered that interest, but it used to fascinate me. It was nice to have the interest re ignited and look through the various coffins and mummified bodies they had on display as well as the jewelry and everyday items.

We decided to have dinner at a popular local spot called Gourmet Mash Bar. They do a lot of potato (as the name would suggest) with various meat options. I got chicken, the kids got sausage, and my husband got … We also decided to have some drinks, which gave me an excuse to try some Pear Cider. The Pear Cider was actually quite nice, although I learned that I prefer to drink it out of the bottle or lukewarm, not poured over ice. It got a little too sweet and bubbly when combined with ice. After dinner we were treated to a lovely Scottish downpour as we tried to find our way back to the house which gave us a chance to really embrace the rain and our rain jackets.

Day 2:

Our second day was supposed to be a fairly clear day after some morning showers. We decided to have a bit of a later start (aka our kids slept in and we decided to just go with that) and it ended up maybe working in our favor? We started with breakfast at a little café called Consider It (Chocolate). This is a plant-based donut shop and we had some of the best donuts ever at this café. I also had a very delicious cup of tea and we had a little goof around with photo’s while we were here. It was a really nice, slow start to what would turn out to be quite the day.

There was still rain forecasted for the next hour or so, but we decided to just go ahead and leave the café and move forward with our plans. The main goal of our day was to hike Arthurs Seat and tour Holyrood Palace. Our original goal was to walk the ridgeline between the two, but as you’ll read and find out, that did not become an option. A little background first.

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Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano with an elevation of 251 Meters (823 ft) at its highest point. The Seat itself is the peak of a group of hills that make up Holyrood Park, which is what Holyrood Palace backs up to. You can hike up to the peak and get an incredible panorama of Edinburgh and it is actually a relatively easy hike. There are two options to hike up, one a “back and forth” gentle upward slope and the other being a staircase straight up the mountain. You can create a trail at just about any spot, but those are the two popular sides. Right now, climbing is not allowed due to rock slides. We decided to hike up using the stairs because that was the side that we came to, which actually worked out better overall, and we got about a quarter of the way up before we got hit with a torrential downpour.

Yep, we hiked that hill (I so want to call it a mountain) in a downpour. Honestly, it was epic, and I would not have done it any other way. It really added to the experience and the sun broke just as we reached the summit. It just made for the most incredible and empowering experience. I was a little worried doing this hike and these heights with both boys, but it was totally worth it. We hung around at the top for a little while, snapping pictures, and enjoying the view before heading back down. We decided against walking the ridgeline and instead do the gentle downward walk on the way down as the volcanic rock that you climb down had become very slick with the rain. This gave us a couple more spots to stop and admire and it also deposited us right at Holyrood Palace.

Holyrood Palace was another spot that did not disappoint us in any way. They had several exhibits about the history of the Scots Rebellion, Mary Queen of Scots, and information about the current use of the Palace. We got to walk through several bedrooms (hello Mary Queen of Scots and where the attempt was made on her life) AND they had a whole exhibition set up for Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s wedding, including the dress and everything!! I knew that there was an exhibition, but I guess forgot that it was at Holyrood. Talk about a pleasant surprise!!! We also got to hear about the disused Abbey that was/is a part of Holyrood, and walk through the gardens.

Overall an absolute gem of a day.

We stopped for a quick dinner in one of the little café’s just off the palace and then headed back to the flat for an early evening.

That rounds out our time in Edinburgh! I hope you enjoyed seeing Edinburgh through our eyes. What was your favorite thing to hear about? Have you been to Edinburgh? What was your favorite spot if you have been? What would you most like to see for yourself?