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 – London, England

Our first “long” stop on our summer holiday was to spend 4 days in London England. I’m a massive Anglophile and have pins all across England of places that I’d like to visit. In fact, I’ve said in the past that I’d love to just take a few months and work my way through England and Scotland. HOWEVER, I have a husband who is interested, but not that interested in England and two children who don’t understand, so we had to make some priorities with our trips. So, we decided to give it our all in London for a few days and see/do as much as we could.

I want to preface this by saying I don’t think you could ever “run out” of things to do in London. There is just so much and, honestly, I feel like we didn’t even scratch the surface in that general area. There was a lot more on my list that I would love to see, but, again, husband and children so we tried to stick to the popular things for this visit. Who knows, I may go back sometime soon…

First and foremost- we decided to do a hotel stay while we were in London. Here’s the thing, for us we love staying in little flats or cottages booked through AirBnB. It’s what works well for our family and having the little separate spaces for us and the boys really just helps keep everything cohesive. BUT London is a very expensive place to stay and Summer is a very popular travel season. This leads to prices going up and we simply struggled to find a flat that would fit our needs, but also be budget friendly and ended up deciding that a hotel would be the better fit for us. We picked another Holiday Inn, this time the Brent’s Cross location and we were very pleased both with the staff, the room, the breakfast, and the shuttle taking us to and from the Tube Station. Highly recommend them if you are needing a hotel there and don’t’ want to necessarily be in the hustle and bustle of central central London.

We only book two tour times for our time in London as we wanted to have a little bit of leisure time/didn’t really want to be bogged down by having to be at certain places at certain times our whole trip. We like to have a semi structured travel plan to our travels (picking what we want to do, but sticking to a fluid timeline to do it) so I tried to keep booking times to either earlier mornings and only do one per day. This gave us a chance to have one “free” day in London as well as a full afternoon to just wander as we pleased and see whatever sights we wanted to see, while still getting a chance to do some of the things that were better to have scheduled.

*I do want to say- there are a couple different reasons to choose to book ahead online, some places it is cheaper, some places sell out of time slots, some places require it.*

I also want to say, real quick, that we got very lucky with our weather while we were there. Most days were sunny all day, warm temperatures (think 80’s at the height of the day), and no rain in sight. The day we left started a few days of straight rain (typical London weather), so we did really get lucky!

Day 1:

Our first day in London was the day that we had nothing scheduled so we decided to just…walk the streets. We had gotten a lot of tips about what the best way was to do touristy things in London, all of which I’ll talk about in my Tips/Tricks, but we ultimately decided that walking was the best for us. This gave us the freedom to pick and choose what we actually wanted to see and to explore as we wanted to. Plus we like walking and I feel like you can get a really good feel for a place simply by walking through its spaces.

Anyways, we did a walking trip through what I guess would be central London, as well as hopped on the Tube to get to a couple other spots that were a little far for us to walk. We hit up the following spots: Parliament, Big Ben (under construction currently), The London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St. James Park (stopped for a little picnic lunch), St. James Palace, Downing Street (walked past), Piccadilly Circus, Hatchards (did a little shopping), Platform 9 ¾ and Kings Cross Station (they were filming there!), Trafalgar Square, and the Marble Arch.

 

Whew. It sounds like a lot just typing it. I can remember the exhaustion in our hotel room now haha. Seriously though, we had so much fun just having a wander through the streets, admiring the different architecture from the everyday buildings to the ornate hotels to the palace’s and beautiful parks in between.  Our day ended at The Marble Arch, which is right near Hyde Park and we decided to eat dinner in this area as well before heading back to our hotel. We chose to go to Cote Brasserie for dinner and had quite a lovely meal outside on the terrace (which is actually set in the front, on a little cobblestone street filled with art and jewelry shops).

Day 2:

We slowed down only ever so slightly on Day 2 in London by taking a trip to The Tower.

Known mostly for it’s illustrious execution and torture history, there is actually quite a bit longer more in depth story to the Tower. Known as “London’s Castle” it has had numerous uses in the past, but is currently a historic spot for tours, viewing of the Crown Jewels, and a way to have a great day out. It’s a landmark that I have always wanted to tour and I would say it might have been one of the true highlights of our time in London. We started with the Yeoman Warder (aka Beefeaters) tour, which gave my husband a good background on the history of the Tower and was a good refresher for myself. The Beefeaters are highly knowledgable and provide little gems of information both about The Tower and their roles within the Tower.

The tour lasted approximately an hour and we immediately turned our sights to The Crown Jewels. This meant standing outside in a queue for quite a bit of time (not a horrible amount, it gave the kids a chance to nap in the stroller/on our shoulders) waiting for our chance to take a little peak. The Jewels are, of course, absolutely incredible. You’ll see several different crowns, the scepter, and much more. The really nice thing is that you are viewing the jewels on a moving walkway so there is no extra standing and gawking or not being able to see things due to other people. Thankfully when we went, most of the items were not in use, so we got to see everything that they would put out for display.

IMG_6739 2.jpgWe then headed over to the White Tower, which is an internal tower within the gates and holds a lot of exhibits detailing the fighting and knighthood of the time. There were exhibits on the different King’s and their metal wear, the horse sizes as well as war tactics, and defense strategies.

The White Tower itself also has a full floor dedicated for kids (and adults) to explore in their own way. There is a canon they can practice firing, an arrow practice stand, an artifact exhibit with buttons showing where different bits were found on the ground, and a knights stand that had helmets and chain metal to touch.

The boys loved having some items geared more towards there age and spent a good bit of time running to each thing over and over again.

From the White Tower we wandered over to the different prison and torture chambers, learning the history of Richard III and the little boys of The Tower, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the many wives of Henry VIII. We also wandered through the turrets and towers on the outer wall. This gives a glimpse into the actual battlements of the Tower and how it was used as a fortress, as well as a pretty good view of Thames River and London across.

The final thing we got to see while we were at the Tower was a changing of the Guards.

This was quite a sight to see as the march along the front entrance path, then up to the Crown Jewels tower, yelling commands, before the actual changing of the guard. We got incredibly lucky to be in the places we were at the times that we were to see the entire process. It was definitely a cool experience to see how another country handles these changes.

All in all we spent a total of 5 hours at The Tower. Yep, 5 hours. To say we were spent at the end of it would be pretty accurate. We wanted to do something else, but didn’t want to travel far, so we decided to head over the Tower Bridge.

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This was something that my husband had seen on a London Documentary of some sort (a tourist one of like things to do or something along those lines) and he picked it out based on one thing. Not only is Tower Bridge just a sight to behold, but you can actually go up into the towers and walk across a clear portion of the floor, looking at the road and water beneath you. Insert freaked out face here…

IMG_6797.jpgI will say, as someone who is terrified of heights, this wasn’t that bad. It didn’t freak me out near as much as it probably should have or could have. Andrew absolutely loved running across the clear portion (he loves those things) while Colton was a little bit more apprehensive about the whole thing. You can look at the sides and see a really dramatic view of London and the Thames, which was just beautiful.

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As part of admission, you are also able to go down to the engine room and get some information and insight on how the bridge operates and how that operation has changed throughout the years. I will say- if they are in the process of raising or lowering, you are not actually able to go in, but they do have the times posted while you are purchasing tickets so you’ll know ahead of time.

We decided to stay in the area and had a lovely dinner at Vapiano’s. This is a chain restaurant that we actually quite enjoy, it’s one where they make your food right in front of you and we had a lovely time eating and people watching.

Day 3:

Our final day came with an early start, the earliest of our holiday (aside from the first day driving) in order to make our ticket time. Now, when I was picking out things that I wanted to do on this trip I tried to keep my husband and children in mind. There are so many things that I would want to do, but they are just not interested, so this particular experience was my one thing that I think I was the only one truly interested bit and I didn’t want to miss it.

IMG_6867.jpgThat one thing was getting a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and let me tell you, it was entirely worth it. I love Shakespeare’s works and while this isn’t the original (or even the second, this is the third rendition), the impact was still the same. It was breathtaking to walk along what was the best recreation they could do and what was even better was they were having an active rehearsal while we were there and the show that the stage was set for was a personal favorite of mine, A Midsummer Nights Dream! We were very lucky to even be able to take pictures inside the theatre as that is typically not allowed while there is a rehearsal. It just added to the entire experience and I just feel so blessed to have been able to do that. It was just so cool.

Once we finished that tour we headed back towards Buckingham Palace (thank the lord for the Tube!) and to Churchill’s War Rooms.

This was my husbands “one thing” for us to do. We waited in line for a little while to get in, but used the time to do snacks and naps. The museum itself is actually a really cool stop. Nothing has truly been touched in the rooms themselves, except to add manicans at certain points and before you get into the full rooms, you can walk through an exhibit talking about Winston Churchill’s life. I found the most interesting part being listening to the secretaries that worked for/with him. Such a good insight into who he was and what he was like.

Our last London stop was to visit/ride The London Eye. We purchased tickets the day of for a late in the day time (wait for my tips post for more information on my thoughts for this attraction) and were able to see the Mounted Guard and the retiring of the Mounted Guard (for the evening), which was an interesting sight to watch.

The London Eye itself is quite a marvel. It’s basically a large Ferris Wheel with enclosed carraiges that take you up quite high to give you a birds eye view of the city. You can see almost all of the landmarks of central London and you get pictures galore throughout the experience. You can also participate in the 3D experience (included with a Standard ticket), which just takes you into what you see and the various celebrations.

We had dinner at Steak & Co with an old friend of mine whose trip just happened to overlap with ours in London for a night. It was such a lovely way to end our few days in London!

That wraps up the first full section of our Summer Holiday 2019. I hope you enjoyed seeing London through our eyes! Have you been to London? How do you feel our trip compared to yours? Did you have a favorite of your trip? I think my favorite was probably The Globe if I’m being totally honest or walking through St. James Park. What would you want to do if you could do a trip to London?