We’re still trying to see bits and pieces of the UK while on Covid-imposed staycation, so we decided to head over to Windsor for the day and tour the chosen home of the Queen for 2020 (she and Prince Phillip weathered most of the lockdown at Windsor until early August and it was just announced today that when they return from Scotland, they won’t go to Buckingham but will return to Windsor for the rest of 2020)
We had a beautiful, 1-hour tour of the Royal apartments— unfortunately, there is no photography allowed indoors!!! However, I didn’t know this at first. The signs are remarkably small and I was honestly too engrossed with the beauty of the palace to see them. None of us saw any signs! So I got one photo before I was told to put my camera away:
But I honestly didn’t know the rule and I put it away promptly and felt genuinely awful. I am not one to sneak photos when we’re asked not to. But I’m also not one to delete a perfectly good photo that I took before I knew better….
One thing that was cool- as they were renovating a room and removed some paintings for maintenance, it revealed a series of fun pantomime paintings made for Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret during WWII that got covered back up after the war, and have only been revealed once, in 1992, since then. It was neat to see and I really didn’t miss seeing the original portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Right now, they have the East Terrace Garden open on weekends in August and September for the first time in decades- the Queen’s private rose garden!!! This is because of Covid and we have the social space to walk through without ruining it.
We even got a selfie:
You can only get into the castle if you pre-book your tickets (tip: blue badge holders get in for a child’s price and a carer gets in for free!) so we had to look ahead at the weather for the weekend and decided that Sunday had the better weather forecast. But a Sunday ticket also means that we can’t access St. Georges Chapel. Oh well, it was worth it because Saturday was really crap weather.
We then toured the little shop and I could have spent a small fortune. I bought cookies just to have the tin, as well as a couple nice Christmas tree ornaments. The shopping bag alone was worth the price, though!!
After our time at the castle, we wandered around Windsor a bit and ate Sunday roast at a local pub. We even saw Eton school.
All in all it was a neat day. Covid is messing up a heck of a lot of plans, but it is also presenting us with a few weird and different opportunities. We were told that Windsor Castle usually has 11000 people a day visit in the summer in normal times. Now, they’re admitting only 3000 a day. So, we got to tour this beautiful, massive castle at less than 1/3 capacity. We felt like we had the place to ourselves. We got to see the rose garden, which hasn’t been open to the public for decades- how lucky!
Sure, a lot of our plans have been cancelled, and a lot more will be. But we’ll try and appreciate the small perks we do get.
Quite a few months ago, we had to face the realisation that our summer travel wasn’t going to look the way we had originally planned (we had a great deal on a place in Croatia for a week in August). Now with Covid, even if things were opening up and travel was going to be allowed, we just weren’t yet comfortable taking the discount airlines that fly from Bristol. So we decided that whatever travel we were doing this summer should stay in the UK. Let’s use our own car, rent AirBnB houses so that we’re not worried about hotels with elevators and people around, and distance ourselves. As we got lost in this idea, we started thinking more and more of the word ‘distance’ and eventually came up with Scotland and mostly, the highlands. What could be more socially distant than that? Yes, we battered around the idea of Edinburgh and Glasgow, both of which Eric has been to and I want to see one day, but in the end we decided to leave the cities (and crowds) for a later date.
So this was way back in May, way before the government decided to open things or knew when they would. I said to Eric, what’s the harm in booking a few places now that have full refund policies? I figured once the country opens up and people decide to staycation, properties would go fast. So we booked a few beautiful spots and sat back and waited. Since then, I reconsidered and decided we planned too long a trip and we cancelled the last 2 places— I thought 3 stops and 8 nights was enough, we might lose our minds and kill each other going any longer (as we found in Sicily, 5 stops was too much).
This trip took a lot of preplanning. We wanted to be as self-sufficient as possible for two reasons and to not need to make extra stops at stores or restaurants— 1) to limit our exposure to people, and 2) because we didn’t know how often we’d see good stores or restaurants once we got into the remote countryside!!!
I did a lot of cooking the week before we left, I made big batches of curry, mac&cheese, potato and leek soup, tetrazini, and mushroom soup– and we froze it all. I planned out every breakfast, lunch, and dinner for our 9 days (to make sure we had enough food with us, plus a planned shop in a town along the way). The bonus of the frozen meals was they acted as ice blocks for the cooler to keep everything else cold. Bonus, then we never had to do much cooking other than warming up and throwing together a bagged salad during our whole holiday! This also alleviated one of our biggest stresses when we’re travelling- where to eat. We too often head out to look for a restaurant and we’re all hungry then can’t agree on/decide on one and start fighting. This was so nice to have dinner taken care of every night. (And another bonus, because it was food we knew, we knew all the carb counts vs guesstimating at a restaurant!!!)
Well enough of me babbling, how about some pictures?!?! Our first stop was in South-Western Scotland in a tiny town called Whithorn. I don’t know what made us choose this place other than we knew we would be able to drive to it in one day. We figured this stop will either be a diamond in the rough or a total bust. The house we stayed in predates the 14th century! The town was tiny but very historic – apparently it’s where St. Ninian, the Saint who brought Christianity to Scotland, first made landfall. We had beautiful weather and visited the Mull of Galloway, a peninsula with a lighthouse that is the southernmost point of Scotland.
We stayed in Whithorn for 2 nights and then continued north. This is where we lost the motorways and were only on A and B roads (for you North Americans- an A road is essentially a windy 2-lane road with no shoulder whatsoever where the limit would be no more than 60km/hr in Canada but is 100km/hr here, and a B road is even more narrow, with no central line, where you hold your breath every time you go around a corner hoping no car is coming the other way, and no posted speed limit- just as fast as you dare to drive, usually in the 80km/hr range). Google told us it would only be 4 or so hours until our next location but of course it was more of 6.5 hours. That’s the problem with driving in the UK, we find- you def need to add time to the Google maps plan or you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Before we got to our AirBnB in Onich, we stopped at Inveraray Castle. This castle was particularly neat because it is the seat of the Campbell Clan, and if I could claim rights to any clan, it would be them, as my great, great grandmother was a Campbell (so I’m told). Also, funny enough, I grew up in Inverary Ontario so it was doubly neat to visit this beautiful castle. The castle is still lived in by the Duke of Argyll and his family for part of the year.
After we toured the castle we finished onward to our BnB. It was a cute little cottage on Loch Linnhe (not actually a Loch, as many aren’t, but an ocean inlet).
The next day we finally got hit with weather you might expect of Scotland- grey skies, fog, then dousing rain and wind. In fact, it was even too much rain for Scotland! Upwards of 100mm in a day! It’s a good thing we were already where we needed to be, too, because the road we had taken just the day before right near Inveraray Castle, got washed out in a huge landslide! We just mostly hunkered down, watched movies, and were glad we could say it was only one day of our holiday.
The next day it wasn’t exactly clear, but it wasn’t actually raining, either. It worked out well because we then had pre-booked tickets on the Jacobite steam train through the Highlands. This is also known as the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter, because it is featured in the movies. It provided us with gorgeous views of lochs and mountains, if a bit misty and foggy.
The Jacobite train actually travelled 2 hours to the town of Mallaig, gave us about 90 minutes there, then had a 2 hour ride back. The day after our train ride, we left our current BnB in Onich and actually drove to Mallaig where we caught the ferry to the Isle of Skye. We enjoyed lunch out on our first day in Mallaig and a picnic in the sun on our second day, followed by a little shopping (where I discovered and fell in love with Harris Tweed).
Once we got over to the Isle of Skye, we quickly made it to our sweet cottage BnB. This one turned out to be our favourite of all. It seemed so modern in such a tranquil and private area. We loved it.
While on Skye, we did a lot of driving. We went to the main town of Portree and did a little shopping (more Harris Tweed!), as well as enjoyed lunch at the pub. We drove right to the northern tip of the island which I think is the furthest north I’ve ever been (?) at 57.6°N. We also saw amazing views of waterfalls.
Eric and Sophie also enjoyed going for a few hikes in the evenings around our BnB and got some amazing shots of ancient castle ruins.
On our second full day on Skye, we went on a tour of a local croft. A croft is a type of farm – farming systems are different in the UK with tenancies and all. Croft is also a Gaelic word. We got to meet all their sheep of different breeds, like Hebrides and Cheviot, the donkeys, and the Highland coos. Then we got to try our hand at spinning wool, too!
After the croft tour, since we were already 2-hours from our BnB, we decided to go to nearby Dunvegan Castle. We knew that the castle itself was still closed to the public but there were apparently beautiful botanical gardens, and we had brought a picnic lunch. Dunvegan Castle is the traditional seat of the MacLeod Clan and the longest continually inhabited castle in all of the UK.
The next day it was time to say goodbye to Skye and move south. We had taken the ferry to the isle but decided to take the bridge off, also there was a castle we wanted to stop at, Eilean Donan, right on the other side of the bridge. Apparently, this is the most photographed castle in all of Scotland (as told to us by our BnB host, I didn’t fact check this). It is the traditional seat of the MacRae Clan (and another place you definitely cannot mention Campbell ancestry!).
We did go in and tour around and it was awesome, but of course no photos allowed.
Then we got in the car and continued on our way. We knew we wouldn’t make it all the way home from northern Scotland to Bristol in one day, so we went as far as Carlisle (right at the England/Scotland border) and crashed at a cheap hotel for the night.
When we woke up in Carlisle, we spent a very short time looking around downtown (such a very cute city and high street!) before we got in the car and made the quick drive on a B-road out of town to Hadrian’s Wall. This is something we’ve all really wanted to see since we moved to the UK. We went to Birdoswald, the Roman fort ruins built into the wall and there’s a museum there. It’s also the largest intact section of wall left.
We did a little walkabout then of course it was time to hit the road again. Google told us we would be home by 1610h but we didn’t arrive until 1830h (even though Google supposedly takes traffic into account…. It just never works on British roads! And half the time we’re driving above the limit… No idea why)
We’ve had a pretty great holiday. We’ve seen so many vistas and gorgeous sights. The beauty of the highlands is just breathtaking. There were times I found it ironic to think that people travel from all over the world to Canada just to see beautiful natural views and here, we’ve left Canada to now be looking at beautiful natural views….. Well, in Canada you don’t get castles every hundred miles or so to break up the monotony of the views, LOL!
It wasn’t how we pictured our summer holidays to go, but I don’t think anyone in this world really had their summer go to plan, did they?
(PS- if you want more pics, follow me on Instagram, because I posted all these photos and more as they happened! If you want more now, they’re on my profile stories under ‘Scotland’)