Beauty Brighton

Brighton! Brighton is a fun, eclectic city on the south coast that was actually my first taste of the UK. Back in 2002 my sister was an au pair for a few months for a posh family in Brighton and my parents, my best friend, and I came to visit her and spend some time in France as well.

Well I have fond memories of that time when I was 17 and I wanted to bring my family back here and show them the area, I thought Sophie would really like it. So after leaving the Isle of Wight and getting back to the ‘mainland’ we turned east.

First, we stopped in Arundel along the way. Here, there’s a large, fairytale-like castle that is still privately owned and operated by the Duke of Norfolk.

Incidentally, there had just been a big robbery at this castle last week; a heist, if you will. A few artifacts were stolen, including Mary, Queen of Scots’ rosary beads that she carried to her execution, reportedly worth over a million pounds.

The Duke who renovated the castle in the 1800s was a very devout Catholic and we could see that influence all throughout, which is rare and different to see in an English castle.

Arundel Castle was very well-maintained and reminded me of Inveraray Castle, in that it’s still so grand and privately owned, and full of photos of it being used to the present day by the current family. Sometimes it’s mind-boggling to think of families that actually still live like this in present times! (They don’t live in the very castle-y part but in the apartments attached to the castle… Still!)

After the castle we went onward to Brighton. We perfectly timed the day so that we arrived at our BnB at check-in time. We stayed at a little AirBnb right in the lanes. Normally it would be hard to find parking nearby (there’s a parking lot a few blocks away for £30/day) but I have a blue badge (handicapped parking pass) which entitles me to free street parking. I guess this is a small perk to disabled travelling! We were lucky to find a spot right in front of our place (that normally would only be max 1-hour parking without the blue badge) and just kept our car there for the 2 nights! Once we were comfortably situated in The Lanes, we didn’t need to go anywhere else!

This was my favourite memory of Brighton- just walking through The Lanes until we got lost- window shopping, people watching, and seeing all the fun things.

Unfortunately, shops all close at 6pm so we could only do this until dinnertime.

The next day we had tickets to go see the Royal Pavilion.

This ostentatious palace was built by George IV and he spared no expense. He was fascinated with the far East and everything has a decidedly Asian influence, without being specifically Chinese or Japanese or Indian or Vietnamese… He just loved Oriental art and flair. It was exotic and rare and he had to have it.

When Victoria was a young queen, she visited a few times (about 2 before she was married and about 2 or 3 after she was married and had children) and she really didn’t like the palace. She found it too over-the-top and uncomfortable and once she had children it was completely unsuitable as a family home. She and Albert decided to sell it.

However when they sold it, they assumed it would be demolished and they didn’t want the treasures in it lost, so they removed them, mostly to Buckingham House (now, Palace). We were told that many things from the Pavilion were found just sitting in a basement at Buckingham and in the last 15 years, work is being done to restore them to the Pavilion (as the Gracious Queen Elizabeth II is giving them back, we were told).

Above, you can see a beautifully restored reception room, but the fireplace is actually a photograph of the original that was once in that spot. The original now sits in Buckingham. Apparently not all the treasures are coming back from Buckingham, but the gentleman speaking to us sounded grateful for whatever our current Queen was willing to give back to the Pavilion…

Anyway, we were really impressed by the work they’ve done there at the Royal Pavilion. The palace was beautifully restored, with great stories about both the Royals and the working staff

After the Pavilion, we headed down to the waterfront. Brighton is famous for its big pier and the carnival-type fun on it, but that’s not really our scene.

We rented the classic Brighton striped beach chairs (£4/each) and sat in the sun on the pebble beach. Sophie was there too, I promise, but either refused to be in photos or doesn’t consent to me sharing them. If you’ve ever had a 12- or 13-year-old, you know.

We spent the rest of the day just simply perusing the Lanes, window shopping, and vintage clothes shopping. It was a beautiful day for it.

On our last morning, we thought we might do more of the same, a little bit of time in the Lanes before we drive home, but it was an absolute downpour so we just got in the car and left. It was okay, because we were given such beautiful weather all week long on the Isle of Wight and first two days in Brighton that one day of rain is not too bad in England!! Unfortunately, it meant what should have been a 3-hour drive home became a 4.5-hour drive (weather and traffic) but we got home safe and sound after a nice little end-term getaway that was greatly needed.

Isle of Wight

Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted, because it’s been a while since we’ve been able to do any real travelling! At Christmas, Covid put half the world into lockdown and we were stuck. However, Sophie and I took that opportunity (her doing remote schooling for a term) to visit my parents in Canada. This was very important to do because my mother was not well.

Unfortunately then with Covid and cancer, it’s been a crummy spring for our family. Lockdown was long. Sophie and I came home in February and then I returned to Canada in April again and my mother passed away in May. It’s all been awful.

We really needed to get away as a family.

So, the day my 10-day post-travel quarantine (from Canada) was over, we packed the car and drove south to the Isle of Wight. We’ve been wanting to go here since last spring when the Canadian military had a subsidised family weekend planned for only £60/pp and we were so excited to go, but of course it was cancelled due to Covid and never rescheduled. So we booked an AirBnb this time and took off!

We couldn’t have got more lucky with the beautiful weather for our 3 days on the island. It was 20-25°C and sunny all day, every day.

When we arrived, we only had plans to see Osborne House one day, and The Needles the next, but the ferry had a great magazine on board detailing all the little touristy places on the island. They were all written up great and helped us plan out our days and decide on more locations to visit.

Our first stop was Quarr Abbey, because it was about 5 minutes away from our BnB in Ryde. It is a Benedictine monastery that has been in use almost 900 years (well, on that location, at least). They still are completely self sufficient and raise their own animals and gardens.

Later in the evening, we went down to the Ryde esplanade to have ice cream and walk the beach. It’s a beautiful area.

The next day, we got to go to Osborne House! I’ve been interested in Queen Victoria’s life and times for years and love reading about her, and I’ve wanted to visit this palace for a long time, so I was so excited the day had finally come!

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert custom made this palace for themselves as a holiday house and when her son, Edward, took the throne upon her death he didn’t want it and gave the palace to the public. So this was truly Victoria’s house.

I’ve just finished reading Victoria and Abdul, the book about the friendship the Queen had in her last 12 years with her Indian tutor (or munshi) and her fascination with all-things Indian. During this time, she commissioned this room, her Durbar Room by an Indian architect and entirely furnished with furniture, wood, and art from India. Every single thing was imported and authentic. I loved being able to walk through this room and see it for myself. It was jaw-dropping.

After the Durbar room, we stepped out into the rear gardens, which, aided by the gorgeous weather, made us feel like we were much further south, in the Riviera or something.

Then we took the minibus to Osborne House’s private beach. The bus doesn’t run super regularly, we had to wait up to 15 mins each time, but the walk is over 1.5 km so if you have any accessibility needs, it’s good to know they have the bus available. Most people walk it, though.

We enjoyed walking the beach for a bit and then back on the bus to go see the children’s gardens and Swiss Cottage. Here, it was essentially where Victoria and Albert’s many children were shuttled off to play. A 15-minute walk from the main house, each child had their own garden plot and Albert built them a 2-storey Swiss-inspired playhouse that apparently reminded him of his own childhood in Germany.

There was also a mini war fortress that the little princes had built, and a jungle gym that children could still play on today.

Osborne House did not disappoint. I could absolutely see why Victoria and Albert chose to build and come here for years, and Victoria continued to come even more after his death, in fact dying here herself in 1901.

Later in the evening, we decided to head to Shanklin Chine. We went in the evening because it’s supposed to be lit up with multicoloured flood lights after dusk in the summer.

What is a chine? Essentially, what we in Canada would call a ravine.

We walked through it from the top to the bottom, it was beautiful. We also got to see the PLUTO (Pipe Laid Under The Ocean) that Lord Mountbatten spearheaded after D-Day to get fuel to the troops in Normandy.

Then at the end of the chine we exited at the ocean at Shanklin and saw this beautiful sight then headed home for the night.

The next day we started early and headed across the island to see The Needles, chalk formations at the edge of the island.

Here we decided to go to the private park instead of the National Trust park. Why? Because there is a chairlift down the edge of the cliff to the beach!!! However, we didn’t know that the private park was also a classic English seaside park with boardwalk-type rides and games everywhere. It was chaos. Luckily, we were there early before lines were crazy long.

There’s a video of me going down over the edge in my Instagram stories under Isle of Wight (warning, I curse a lot) if you want to see it.

Down on the beach, we got to sit in the sun, wade in the water, search for rocks, and enjoy the seaside. It was worth the death-defying chairlift ride. There were also great views of The Needles from the beach.

Here, you can see a picture Eric took as we went back up the chairlift and it really shows the steep angle of it!

To reward ourselves for our death-defying stunt (yes, I used death-defying twice because it’s true!), we went to lunch at a beautiful waterside restaurant. Watching people enjoy the water around this place, looked like just about the best beach swimming in all of England (so warm and it went out for so far! Such a protected little inlet!)

On our way home, we took the long way so we could go by The Garlic Farm. This farm shop sells their goods in shops all over the island but we really wanted to go to their actual shop. We first encountered them at the Bath Christmas Market in 2019 and have had their products before, too. The shop was huge and it’s too bad they couldn’t have samples out, I would’ve been like a kid in a candy shop!

We also tried the black garlic ice cream, but it really just tasted like chocolate to me- I would have honestly preferred garlic ice cream!

After that, we headed home and packed up. We left the isle early the next morning to head towards Brighton! Stay tuned here in the next couple days for my post about that!!!

Scotland

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.

The town of Whithorn
It was about an hour’s drive along this stunning coast to the Mull of Galloway— couldn’t beat it
Scotland frequently had a lot of wind turbines all over but there were especially a lot on the Galloway Peninsula. I thought this was pretty with the sheep grazing.



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.

 

The Campbells fought for the King at the Battle of Culloden in the Jacobite rebellion and managed to keep hundreds and hundreds of the actual weapons used. They decorated this great Hall with them. (And it was best not to mention any association with the Campbells as we went further North into the highlands!)

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.

Taken in the morning when we went out for an hour, before it got really bad…


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.

Misty views


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).

Mallaig from our beautiful grassy park picnic across the bay
Views from the Isle of Skye ferry


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.

But because diabetes doesn’t take holidays, we had to find a place to do a pump change in this tiny hotel room… The end of the bed it is!!


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’)