Sadly, Sunday was my last day in the UK. There is supposed to be a huge storm passing through the lower half of Britain this evening. The weather forecasters are predicting hurricane force winds and saying it could be the worst storm in London in 26 years. If they are correct, I will feel very lucky, as I will have missed it by about two hours! Despite the storm forecast, it was actually quite a lovely day.
I woke up early this morning in order to pack my bags and get some sightseeing in before having to leave for the airport. I originally was planning on visiting the Tower of London, but being a Sunday, it opened later in the morning. I was concerned about having enough time there, so I decided to just do a little sightseeing on my own.
I took the tube to Green Park and walked to Buckingham Palace. Up close, it is actually rather plain from the outside, but it is enormous. I got to see the guards marching around behind the fence. It was nice being out so early because there were hardly any other people around. It felt as if I had the city to myself for a while.
After taking some photos, I walked down The Mall and then by Horse Guards Parade. I saw one of the Horse Guards in his distinctive uniform, but felt a little creepy about just walking up to him and taking a picture since no one else was there. I continued down the street, passing by Downing Street, on my way to see Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. Apparently, you used to be able to go right up to 10 Downing Street and take pictures, but that is no longer allowed due to security reasons. After taking some photos of Westminster Abbey and Parliament, I realized it was about time to make my way back to the hotel and depart for the airport. I was really sad about having to leave but am very excited about coming back some day and seeing more of the lovely United Kingdom!
We arrived back in London late Saturday afternoon for the conclusion of our tour. It really didn’t hit me until we started unloading our baggage that the trip was finished. I got a little sad. We were all just getting to know each other within the group. I also fell in love with both England and Scotland and wasn’t quite ready to leave. A group of us that weren’t flying out on Saturday met up for dinner and drinks at a nearby pub. It was a very strange feeling knowing that I won’t see these people again, but I guess the tour had to finish at some point!
On Friday night, we spent the night in Carlisle, a town in England’s Lake District, near the border with Scotland. There isn’t much to do there. I think this stop was mainly on the itinerary due to needing to break up the drive back to London because of the number of hours the bus driver can work in one day. By the time we checked into the hotel, almost everything was closed, so I just wandered around town. I took some photos of the town’s castle and cathedral. I then met up with the rest of the group at a pub across the street for our final night out.
After crossing the border back into England on Friday afternoon, we stopped in a town called Windermere in the Lake District. The drive around this area was very scenic, with rolling hills of lush green grass and trees. The only way I can describe it is that it is what you picture the background of a Jane Austen novel to be. Unfortunately, as soon as we stopped there, there was lightening and a downpour of rain, so I wasn’t able to take any pictures. The Lake District has been a popular holiday destination since the 19th century. It was also home to Beatrix Potter, author of Peter Rabbit.
We stopped in the town of Gretna Green, just north of the border with England. This town is famous for weddings. It started back in 1754 when new requirements were enacted regarding marriage in England. Couples under 21 could not get married without parental consent in England, but in Scotland, as long as the boy was at least 14 years old and the girl at least 12 years old, they could get married with or without parental consent. As a result, young couples in love would runaway to Scotland to get married.
In Scotland, anyone could conduct a marriage ceremony as long as two witnesses were present. As a result, the blacksmiths in Gretna Green were popular for conducting weddings for the young couples due to their proximity to the border. It is still a popular destination for weddings today. In fact, a couple got married while we were there! A tour guide explained the history to us, then two volunteers from our group participated in a mock ceremony. Apparently, at the end of the ceremony, the blacksmiths would hold the couples’ hands over an anvil and bang the anvil with a mallet, as if forging two pieces of metal together.
On Friday morning, we stopped in the town of Stirling and visited the castle. For the majority of this trip, we’ve been lucky and dodged the rain. This morning was a different story, as it was cold, windy, and rainy. I apologize for the quality of the pictures. This was the best I could do in the wind and rain!
The castle overlooks a hill where the monument dedicated to William Wallace (a.k.a. Braveheart) is located. Below is one of my attempts at a picture of it, but I couldn’t get a very clear shot because of the weather. The castle and palace were lovely. In the middle courtyard, you can see the outline of the foundation of the chapel where Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned Queen of Scotland at nine months old.
We arrived in Glasgow late Thursday afternoon. After checking in to the hotel, I walked around the downtown area with a couple of my fellow travelers. We walked to George Square and took a few photos. We then looked in a couple of stores and had dinner at a Thai restaurant. I was very excited to eat tofu and vegetables, but more importantly, to eat something that is not drenched in gravy! Later, most of us went to a nearby pub where I had my fair share of vodka and Irn-Brus! Glasgow is probably my least favorite place on this trip so far. It’s not a bad city, just not very interesting or scenic.
After the Loch Ness cruise, we stopped at the Commando Monument which is a war memorial and one of Scotland’s most recognizable monuments. Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain, can be seen from this area. It was a little too cloudy to be able to see the top of Ben Nevis when we were there though. I attempted to take some pictures, but they don’t do justice to the beauty of the dramatic landscape! This is fairly close to the town of Glencoe, where the massacre of the MacDonalds by the Campbells is said to have happened. Apparently there are some pubs in the Highlands with signs on the door that read, “Campbells not welcome,” or “MacDonalds only.”
Thursday morning, we all went on a cruise of Loch Ness. Before the boat left the dock, there was a typical safety announcement, except they said to leave your whiskey behind in case of emergency. Keep in mind that this was at 10 AM! They actually had liquor available at the bar that early! It was nice and sunny, but very cold on the top deck. Unfortunately, none of us spotted Nessie. . .
We arrived in Inverness in the Scottish Highlands late afternoon/early evening on Wednesday. Our hotel was within stumbling distance of several pubs, so we all went out after dinner. The first place had live, traditional Scottish music. The second place was a karaoke bar. It was a pretty fun night, but I didn’t take any pictures I can post here. . . I’m not sure what is more disturbing: the amount of whiskey I drank, or the fact that I didn’t have a hangover the next morning!