Our first holiday was the last week in October and we decided we wanted to head up north to Scotland. It's only about a four and a half hour drive to get to Edinburgh and we decided to focus on that for this trip. We did have a few concerns about being cold and wet. The cheapest route for accommodations was to camp, but did we really want to camp in Scotland, in the end of October?!?!? Since we are crazy, we decided the answer to that was "yes". We have good gear, we reasoned, and we know how to stay warm, so let's do it! After a day to load up the car and get gathered, we headed out to Alnwick (pronounced "Annick" Castle. This is a castle that is still lived in park of the year, by a Duke, is lived in by exchange students from a Minnesota college, and has been used in many films, possibly the most famous of which are the "Harry Potter" series. We missed the "magical tour" where they give you the insider scoop on the movies, but it was still cool to wander around the place, see where the Duke and his family live when they are there, and take in the gorgeous countryside.
The castle is in amazing repair and we had a fantastic time. We got to "walk on the walls", go in the dungeon, see the dining room, sitting room, drawing room and library that the Duke's family use. And it only rained on us a little bit.
We were a bit slow arriving at the castle because we had walked through some botanical gardens where they had a kids construct project going on. For one pound, we purchased a paper cup of nails and "rented" a hammer. The kids were allowed to pick through many pieces of wood that had been pruned from trees in the garden and then they set to work creating. It was a bit difficult to hammer the small discs of wood with the largish nails we were given, but after a few split pieces of wood we abandoned some plans and made new. The kids had a great time and it was so fun to see what they created.
The castle was closing and so we wandered into the town to get some dinner. After a bit of a walk about we landed at a fantastic Italian restaurant. Bellies full, we headed back out to walk to the car. By now it was well into nighttime. We tried to go through the Botanical Gardens back to our car, but found it was closed. No matter, we walked around the other way and navigated back. As we approached the car park we noticed there were no.lights.on. None. It was really very dark. There wasn't even ambient light from the town. The second, more important issue, was that as we walked by the exit, we noticed the gates were locked. So we knew we couldn't drive out that gate. I became a little concerned that we wouldn't be able to get out the other gate either. After walking across the pitch black parking lot, with four nervous kiddos, we got to our car. The kids were very concerned we'd be locked in, but Adam and I figured that there would be some way out. Whoever locked the gates, couldn't have neglected to notice that there was still one car in, right? Thankfully, they hadn't and we drove to the gate and let ourselves out. Shoosh. On to Scotland.
Our first stop in Edinburgh was to see the last royal yacht, Britannia. It is now docked in Edinburgh, where you can tour it. The ship is unchanged from when it was retired in the late '90s. And it is beautiful. They give everyone a hand held audio tour and they have one aimed at kids, as well. Elie, Isaac and Talia were engaged the whole time. Leila was less interested and by the end, she was ready to be done. It was an interesting tour though and we had a good time. It was an amazing ship.
Day two we woke up to rain. Lovely. We drove into the city, which was a huge mistake, found parking after a long struggle and walked to the National Scottish Museum. It was amazing. We saw jewelry that's thousands of years old. We saw Viking graves and stonework. We saw two ancient harps, of which there are only three surviving in the world. I could have spent all day there. Unfortunately, the children had a difficult time. We did wander around the first two floors, there are FIVE, but it was really hard to keep the kids engaged. They really enjoyed the discovery section of the museum and so we spent a bit of time in there. My favorite part was the huge, over one hundred year old, still working steam engine. They only operate it for five minutes every hour, but we got to see it. It was amazing.
(3/4 of the children enjoyed dressing up in costumes provided by the museum. We have an Englishman, a Roman and a Viking. Talia "didn't want to.")
Night two - there was a gale. For those of your who don't know about British weather, it sucks. There's lots of rain and grey days and wind. And they wrap this all up in a spectacularly rainy, extremely windy (gusts up to 60 mph), weather pattern called a gale. Gales can go on for one day or four (we just had one last week that went on most of the week and is causing massive flooding). It's not fun if you are in a house and a lot less fun if you are sleeping in a tent!! Happily enough, the three older kids slept right through the horrendous noise our tent was making. Sadly, Adam and I were up most of the night with Leila in our sleeping bag. Ah well, morning came and we saw - gasp - the sun!
Back into town, this time wisely on the bus which only cost 3 pounds for us all to ride. We decided to tour Edinburgh Castle. In the center of Edinburgh there is a castle, on a dormant volcano. It is a beautiful and amazing sight. Even more gorgeous is when you climb up to the top and tour around. They have found evidence of human settlement on the top dating back 2000 years. As we approached we were all in awe. It was amazing. Once we got inside we spent five hours wandering, reading, exploring and enjoying. We saw the room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son. We saw the Scottish Crown Jewels, scepter and other royal Honours. And, at the end, we got to see the sun set from atop the castle. It was a glorious day.
(No, we do not know why Leila is flashing the peace sign. She's a nut.)
Thursday brought more rain. A trip to a museum to see some fun optical illusions and light shows. That museum also has a camera obscura and that was really interesting to look at, though not as fun on a cloudy day since it needs the sun to be really amazing.
Friday we decided to pack up and head home. We were tired of the wind and rain. We can't wait to go back to Edinburgh, though. It is a beautiful city and we had an amazing time touring around. I think we won't camp next time, though - too much wind and rain!