Edinburgh – Thanksgiving Road Trip Part II


On our first full day in Edinburgh we walked up Arthur’s Seat, stared in wonder at the view, and explored Holyrood Park. I tried haggis for dinner that night and I think I’ll give it one more shot at a nicer restaurant before I write it off. The boys conducted their own city-wide pub crawl over the next few days, and I did my best to see as much as I could before I joined them around 5pm each day. The only pub I remember is called the Jolly Judge; teeny tiny with a fireplace and so cute. In my usual style, I tackled the city on foot and covered a good amount of ground.

I was amazed at the number of shops devoted to tweed and wool! By some crazy miracle I limited my purchases to under 5 items. And I not so secretly regret that I didn’t buy a wool blanked for every room in the house and for every person in my family. And the tweed coats! Swoon. You cannot find these things in America. 100% UK wool, made in Scotland, etc. etc. etc.

I tore myself away from the shops and spent some time at St. Mary’s Cathedral where I took entirely too many photos. The architecture is absolutely stunning. Connor and I toured Edinburgh Castle and saw the Royal Crown Jewels, old prison cells, the great hall where Mary Queen of Scots would entertain… I could have spent another hour or two exploring the castle, but after we watched the sunset over the city we had to get ready for Thanksgiving dinner.

Drum rollll: we had surf and turf. The fresh Scottish mussels were to die for! Probably the best mussels I’ve ever tasted. The rest of the meal was so-so, but luckily I gorged myself on mussels and came away happy. We went out in search of some folk music after dinner and ended up bumping into 8 or so American troops. How’s that for a Thanksgiving surprise?! We gave them our thanks for their service, naturally, and discovered they are all from Michigan (!??) and stationed in Italy. We chatted with them for the rest of the evening and did eventually find some music.

Oh look, this place says they have “live music.” Let’s go see.

No music playing inside. To girl behind the bar: Hello! Do you have live music tonight? Who will be playing?

Girl: Simon.

… not helpful. Do we look or sound like we would know Simon? Simon turned out to be a non-folk guitarist who has never celebrated Christmas. And with that, we ended our time in Edinburgh and drove back to Birmingham the next morning.

Climbing Arthur’s Seat.
Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat
View of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth from Arthur’s Seat.
Palace of Holyrood and Holyrood Abbey Ruins.
Gates of Holyrood Palace.
Christmas Market ride and Scott Monument
Tommy and I rode the swings at the Christmas Market. The Scott Monument is in the background.
St. Mary's Cathedral
St. Mary’s Cathedral. Stunning architecture.
Edinburgh Castle – Exterior.
Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle – Interior.
St. Margaret's Chapel - Edinburgh Castle
St. Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh. King David I built the chapel in 1130 and dedicated it to his mother, Margaret. She was canonized in 1249.
American Flag - Prison Door Graffiti
Rebel graffiti from the Revolutionary War. These old prison doors show one of the earliest versions of the U.S. stars and stripes.
The University of Edinburgh
Strolling through The University of Edinburgh.
Cafe Royal Bar
Cafe Royal. Used in the film Chariots of Fire.
Victoria Street
Victoria Street. Rumored to be J. K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series.
Edinburgh – Thanksgiving Road Trip Part II

Lake Windermere – Thanksgiving Road Trip Part I

Thanksgiving and road trips. Does it get any more American?

Anxiously anticipated and thoughtfully planned.  Ambitious undertakings if your party is more than 3. Each a right of passage in its own way. There’s a reason Thanksgiving has become a potluck-heavy tradition – many vow NEVER AGAIN after trying to cook the entire meal alone. Similarly with road trips; each generation schleps their children across the country in a tiny car despite the strong possibility that no really thinks this is a good idea.

My dad always told a great road trip story. His family of 7 would cram into a van with no air conditioning and drive from Michigan to the West Coast to see grandma. In the summer. And all they had to drink was warm Tang in the desert. I think this was supposed to shame my brother, sister, and me into getting along as we trekked out to Colorado for spring break.

If you can’t understand the appeal of road trips, or over-eating at 3pm after watching the Detroit Lions lose a game for the umpteenth year in a row, you just blew your cover and now I know you are British.

I cannot tell you how many people over here thought we were crazy for driving to Scotland and subjecting Connor’s 3 brothers to this misery. It’s only 6 hours! We’re American, this is what we do and we love every bit of it. I have to hand it to the boys: they jammed into the backseat of an oddly pimped out Honda Civic (rental), linked arms to save space, and declared the situation “Polish.” A term of endearment if you’re not familiar.

First stop: Lake Windermere. We threw our things into the Airbnb and quickly set off on a 30 minute hike up to Orrest Head to catch some views of the lake and surrounding fells before sunset. DSC_0235DSC_0255DSC_0262More pics on Flickr!

Then we walked down to Bownes-on-Windermere to check out Hole in t’Wall, a pub built in 1612, which I highly recommend to anyone visiting Lake Windermere. Super old, very low ceilings, friendly staff, good ales. Rumored to be another Dickens haunt.

The next morning we prepared for our day-long hike up the Old Man of Coniston. These epic hikes are largely unmarked and most people rely on OS maps to find their way. I looked at some of these online and in Birmingham’s library, but these are seriously detailed maps that mean nothing to me. Thankfully, I discovered the offline SatNav app a few months ago, which is a lifesaver for anyone hiking in the UK. After the first major ascent up a tiny path, the mountain opened up to show more mountains, marshes, valleys, and rivers. If not for this app, it would have been crazy to go much further.  Hiking

The sun sets around 3:50pm and we started to run out of time to complete the entire hike, which loops around another peak before heading back down the mountain. We decided to go back the way we came since we knew what to expect. Then we mistakenly missed the trail and took a decidedly less-familiar way down. No regrets – we saw an awesome waterfall and it certainly wasn’t boring.
More pics on Flickr!

Definitely an awesome hike for sure-footed people who have their wits about them and a trusty map. We stopped at the 17th century Black Bull Inn & Pub to warm up by their fabulous fireplace and enjoy a pint before heading back to Windermere.  The Black Bull operates a small brewery, too, and their oatmeal stout is the best in Britain as far as I’m concerned. We bought a few bottles to take home with us, but they didn’t last the night! The bartender was one of the friendliest we’ve met, and he introduced us to a fun little mix of stout with sherry? or whiskey? I wish I remembered because it was insanely delicious. I would go back here just to have another conversation with that guy.

Next we checked out Hawkshead Brewery which boasts “traditional ales with a modern twist.” I think there might be a bit of an aversion to craft beer on this island. I can’t quite put my finger on the relationship, but it seems like you need to brew or offer “traditional ales” if you hope to enjoy success. Hawkshead had great beer, definitely more “craft” than “traditional,” and the place was very large and not crowded. Off season? Aversion to modernity? Lack of proximity to the lake? Not sure. But we liked it.

I bought an amazingly soft English wool blanket the next morning at Peter Hall & Son, a shop I’d been eyeing with a great selection of Herdwick Tweed (made in Cumbria), bespoke furniture, and other unique bits and bobs. Then we all squeezed into the car and waved goodbye to the Lake District. Next stop: Edinburgh!


Lake Windermere – Thanksgiving Road Trip Part I