The UK Trip: Day 10 in Amsterdam

For a dozen reasons, we didn’t want to leave Scotland. How can one look forward to a trip for more than a decade, finally experience it, and leave without crying? 

I cried at the airport. Full on. Cried. 

We drove 1,468 miles in England and Scotland, which doesn’t account for the miles we walked, nor taking the train back and forth to London. Needless to say, we felt accomplished and took advantage of every opporunity.

View of Scotland as we flew away: 

When we were booking our flights for this trip, it was inevitable that we’d have a layover in Amsterdam. Though I’d been to the Netherlands as a kid, Chuck had yet to put his feet on mainland European soil.

So, why not finagle a later flight, get one more stamp in the passport, and tour the city?  

We booked a hotel room next to the train station so everything would be walkable. This was our view: 

With only a couple of hours until sunset, we unloaded our luggage and took to the streets immediately.

Amsterdam was exactly as I remembered it – all bikes and canals. 

Sunset was coming, and we were perfectly positioned for a postcard moment:

These photos were taken with my phone since I didn’t want to haul the camera all night. Not bad for cell phone photos! 

Dinner was pizza on a patio: 

Killed it: 

Cheers to a memorable trip and to being each other’s favorite traveling buddy. 

The UK Trip: Day 8 in the Scottish Highlands

Having spent one full day in Edinburgh and one full day in London, I for sure knew I was a country mouse. We both were excited to get back to the countryside, and our plan for the day was to locate specific places where Chuck’s ancestors used to live. Eventually we’d end up in Inverness.

We checked out of the apartment and headed north. The route was curvy and we anticipated occasional re-routing. If there looked to be an interesting pull-off along the way, we’d stop – like this spot, which is Cargill’s Leap on the River Ericht:

We also stopped at the sweetest little library: 

The first stop on our ancestral tour was in Kirkmichael, a tiny village with one school, a little church, a village shop, a fire station, and a couple of inns.

We took a quick stroll through the kirkyard in search of names, but after no success, we went to the pub – of course – to enjoy a pint and talk to the barkeep about village life.

And play darts!

We lingered in the pub for a good hour, curious about life in Kirkmichael and surrounding villages. How did places like these stay afloat? What had the town looked like when Chuck’s ancestors lived there in the 1770s, right before they moved to Townsend? There are fewer than 200 people who live in Kirkmichael currently, and even the barkeep came into work from a neighboring town. 

We finished our drinks, bid farewell, and headed north again. Autumn color was brighter in Scotland than it was in England, even with the foggy rain. And the sheep! They were the most delightful roadside attractions. I had a hard time controlling myself with the camera. Sometimes they were close enough to pet, and y’all know I really wanted to pet them. 

Though most of Scotland reminded me of East Tennesse, certain parts of the countryside in Cairngorms National Park reminded me fondly of Iceland.

Just look at this face: 

Since it had been raining in Scotland for several days, waterfalls and rivers were full and high. 

This photo in particular looks like Iceland:  

Back on the road we went again, farther north to the Glenlivet Distillery. 

No pictures were allowed in the actual distillery, which is a shame because the set-up is impressive. Everyone enjoyed a tasting, and I honestly tried my best. I am not a whisky girl, but I’m also not a quitter. A little water in the whisky helped it go down with less burn. 

Our Airbnb was west of Inverness in a town called Kirkhill. It was the biggest space we’d secured yet, and after looking through the visitor’s diary we learned there’d been guests to stay for months on end. (A quick video of the place can be seen on my Instastories.) 

We arrived at dusk and, since we had no groceries and nothing within walking distance, we hopped back in the car and drove to the next closest town, Beauly. There, we grabbed dinner at the Lovet Arms and popped into a tiny co-op for a few staples. 

Photo of me after dinner: 

Either I’d had too much cider, or I was delirious from travel fatigue, but this package of Wee Skinny Ma Linkys had me in stitches and unable to walk fully upright in the grocery store.

I Googled it and learned that Skinny Malinky Longlegs is a Scottish children’s song. I will never be the same. 

Up next: Inverness and the eastern coastline drive to Banff

The UK Trip: Day 6 in Northern England, Alnwick Castle, and Bamburgh Castle by the sea

The night in Horsley near Newcastle was a delight, and the Airbnb apartment where we stayed was in an old, Victorian converted barn which offered one of the most comfortable night’s sleep throughout the entire trip.

Our route for Day 6 took us along the eastern coast of Northumberland and eventually into Scotland. We had two nights in Edinburgh awaiting us, but we didn’t want to rush the drive. On my must-see list was Alnwick Castle, private home to the Duke of Northumberland and his family.

The countryside along the drive was nothing short of spectacular.

The approach to Alnwick was breathtaking. I cannot imagine living in an expansive estate such as this.

Guinea fowl! Chuck and I were excited to see these birds because we’d long wondered what guinea fowl actually looked like in person. (Thank you, Great British Baking Show, for making us care so deeply about identifying ground-nesting birds and other ingredients of a game pie.)

Alnwick Castle is home to the scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when the first years learned how to fly on their brooms. Tourists can enjoy the same experience. 

We didn’t learn to fly on brooms, but we did practice a little archery.

At every turn, Alnwick was a stunner.

This was the view from atop one of the battlements:

We couldn’t take photos inside the home – cause it’s someone’s HOUSE – but I did see with my OWN EYES the most beautiful library ever, home to 15,000 books. I snagged a photo from the internet, so I didn’t break any rules by sneaking a photo with my own camera. 

GOOD GRACIOUS ALMIGHTY.

The library was used in a 2014 Christmas episode of Downton Abbey, and yes, I squealed upon learning this detail. 

We took a quick walk through the little town on our way back to the car. (How many photos do I have of my husband from behind?)

We drove north to Bamburgh Castle at the suggestion of Becca and Luke, but by the time we arrived we could only explore the outside. We’d missed the time limit for entr. Boo.

I took this photo with my cell phone from inside the car on our approach to the castle grounds:

Nestled on the seaside, the castle is surrounded on one side by sandy dunes. It is utterly breathtaking! 

On the other side of the castle is the tiny town of Bamburgh. 

As the sun set, we got back in the car and concluded our time in England. I nursed a little sadness because it felt like time had flown by too quickly. Fortunately, we had four more days together in the UK, and it was finally time to explore Scotland. 

If you’re interested, click here to watch my Instastories from England

Up next: Edinburgh

The UK Trip: That one night in Newcastle

Of all the unpredictable details of our anniversary trip – the pleasant weather, the ease in which we navigated the roads, the picture-perfect half marathon despite my doubt – the best unexpected part of our trip was making fast friends with a couple from Newcastle at a pub near our Airbnb in Horsley. 

Our stay in Northumberland was brief since it was a one-night stop on our way to Scotland. Horsley, the tiny spot of a town west of Newcastle, offered a cozy spot to sleep and a pub – The Lion and Lamb – within walking distance. We were tired from our busy morning in Oxford and the Cotswolds, not to mention the near-five hour drive afterward. All we had in mind was a hot dinner and a few pints. We settled at a table and ordered. 

Across the tiny room was another couple and their little brown dog. (Note: I love that so many European restaurants let in well-behaved dogs.) Of course, I had to make eyes with the pup because I have no self-control. Aware of one another, we smiled and nodded to the humans. But really, I was eye-balling that dog. Eventually, I got up to pet him.

Thus began our conversation with Becca and Luke. The usual questions started – Where were we from? What were we doing in the area? Were we enjoying ourselves? Did you know you sound like Julia Roberts?

They were locals, so I returned as many questions as I could. What was worth seeing in the area? What’s it like living here? Why is Northumberland so perfect? 

Then they had an idea – what if they gave us a quick tour by car? Sure, it was dark, and yes, we were strangers, and of course, this sounds totally bizarre. But how about it? 

Hmmm. Let me think: 
– get in the car with strangers
– in a foreign country
– at nighttime
– have no plan whatsoever

Sure! We piled in Luke’s car – Ted the Spaniel jumped in Chuck’s lap, while Becca and I sat wedged in the back seat. Off we went to The Boathouse on the River Tyne.

Do you need a soundtrack for our night with strangers in Northumberland? Click here to hear the song Becca played for us: “Fog on the Tyne” 

Our night didn’t end at The Boathouse. Shall we go into Newcastle and visit another pub? OF COURSE WE SHALL. Come on, Ted.

I can’t remember the name of the third pub we visited, but there we met another group of locals who enjoyed Ted’s company as much as we did. 

Our conversations circled every topic imaginable, from what we all did for a living, a little of our histories, whether or not we were Trump supporters, whether or not they were Brexit supporters, and so on. At every turn, I found them more interesting, more enjoyable to be around, and I grew more thankful we said yes back at the Lion and Lamb.

At the close of the night, Luke and Becca took us for a quick walk by the riverside and it was there that we realized how similar Newcastle is to Knoxville. 

Totally unexpected but completely worth it, we will never forget our one night in Newcastle and the sweet people who made it memorable for us.

Becca and Luke, please come to East Tennessee so we can return the favor.

Up next: Alnwick Castle

The UK Trip: Day 5 in Oxford and the Cotswolds

The plan for Wednesday, October 10, was to spend the morning walking in Oxford and driving through the Cotswolds before the long drive north to Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Before getting on our way, I made breakfast for us in the tiny red kitchen of our Airbnb. The stone building is an old converted pub in Cassington. The owners live in front, and the rental space is in back.

The map for the day: 

Ambitious? Yes, of course!

The architecture in Oxford is a magnificent collage of Neoclassical, English Gothic, Saxon, the occasional Post-Modern, and more. It is a vibrant feast for the eyes. 

Home to 38 colleges, Oxford University serves as a foundational intersection of education and history. Everywhere you turn, there’s another college paired with a different style of architecture.

Though I wanted to absorb all I could in Oxford for the many reasons Oxford is wonderful, I had one singular item on my must-see list: The Eagle and Child.

The Eagle and Child was home to the Inklings, a literary group formed by C.S. Lewis, his brother, Warren, J.R.R. Tolkien, and other academics. The relationship between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien was key not only in their mutual love for creating fantasy worlds (Narnia and Middle Earth, respectively) but also for the constant wrestling with religion. Lewis openly credits Tolkien for his encouraging his return to Christianity. 

The revolving group of members (albeit “member” is used loosely, as there were few, if any, rules) kept to a corner of The Eagle and Child where their agreements and disagreements could be shared over a few pints.

We did what was necessary and enjoyed a couple of pints in honor of these great minds. I look a fright in the photo because I’d been crying out of pure joy and disbelief.  #truestory

Chuck, yet again, was kind to endure my obsession and sit for as long as I wanted to in the pub. Along with our tour of Hever Castle, the hour we spent in The Eagle and Child is a favorite memory. 

Eventually we made our way through Oxford a little further before grabbing a Cornish pasty, the most delightful treat in the world, and getting on the road to the Cotswolds.

Driving through the Cotswolds was a no-brainer since we needed to head north anyway, and this particular Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was somewhat along the way. Known for its quaint towns and charming architecture, we made one stop in Bourton-on-the-Water to walk around. 

Bourton-on-the-Water is a favorite stop for tourists, and I could see why. It couldn’t be cuter, especially in autumn.

I would like to live here, please. 

We grabbed an ice cream cone each and made a quick pit stop before heading north to Newcastle. If ever we return to the UK, we’ll explore more of the Cotswolds and head west to Wales. Fingers crossed!

Up next: An unexpected night with new friends

The UK Trip: Day 4 in Windsor and Dorset

Originally, my plan was to drive to Brighton, then Dorset and up to Oxford, but when I couldn’t find room in the itineraries to visit Windsor, I had to make a sacrifice.

Windsor Castle was non-negotiable when it came to my must-see list, so Brighton was cut. We checked out of our hotel in Kingston-Upon-Thames and headed west.

Windsor was one of the places I checked out prior to visiting to make sure it would be open. With Princess Eugenie and Jack’s wedding that same week, I made sure we could still visit.

The town of Windsor is adorable, with its corridors of shops and little storefronts decorated with Union Jack bunting. 

Full disclosure: I didn’t know the Changing of the Guard happened at 11 a.m., but lucky for us, we arrived just in time. People were lining the streets and we followed suit. 

A statue of Queen Victoria welcomes visitors to Windsor Castle.

And a portrait of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip with their grandchildren (minus Prince Louis) welcomes visitors at the entrance.

The castle is every bit as grand as I anticipated. 

Of course, I can just imagine being in this courtyard when Prince Harry and Meghan drove away in that sports car after their wedding…

A marker for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I: 

View of Windsor from atop the castle: 

The castle was stunning, and I only snuck a couple of photos from inside because photography was prohibited. Yes, I was naughty. 

The grounds were plenty gorgeous, and I enjoyed walking around the whole property. However, the one specific thing I wanted to see was inside St. George’s Chapel. In fact, I had been counting on it. 

Unfortunately, I had to adjust my expectations. Despite the website making no mention of the chapel being closed for wedding preparations outside of October 11 and 12, it was indeed closed to visitors.

I literally had to choke down tears on account of my disappointment. All the monarchs buried here, all the royal weddings that have been held here, the architecture, the heralds and banners… I would not be able to view it all with my own eyes. It seems silly now, I admit, but I really was upset. So as to not ruin the experience entirely, I took a few minutes to readjust and appreciate the moment as it was.

When it was all said and done, we finished watching the Changing of the Guard ceremony and left the castle. 

The drive to Dorset took several hours, but I knew the views would be worth it. (What I didn’t anticipate was the level of fitness required to climb to Durdle Door.) Dorset is known for its beautiful countryside and seaside cliffs, of which you’ll be familiar if you watched Broadchurch. We parked at Lulworth Cove and met a British friend/co-worker of Chuck’s for a quick pint before taking on the massive hill that led to Durdle Door.

Though only a mile from one spot to the other, the scope of the hill is no joke. I only thought we were hiking when we climbed the White Cliffs of Dover. Oh no! This was actual hiking. (You can listen to our huffing and puffing on my Instastories.) 

Of course, once we reached the top, it was worth it. 

To fully appreciate the size, in the photo below, take note of the man standing on the beach and the two girls in the water. Ahem

Durdle Door is one of the most photographed places on the southern coast. Per usual, I wanted to see it for myself. 

It took a few hours for us to hike to the seashore and back, and not just because I was taking pictures. I cannot impress upon you the steep incline and the necessary stamina it took to climb it. 

Once we made it back to the car park, we opted to eat a quick dinner – fish and chips, naturally – before taking the long road to Oxford that night. 

Up next: Oxford and the Cotwolds

The UK Trip: Day 3 at Hever Castle

We visited more than just Hever Castle on Day 3, but my affection for Queen Anne Boleyn warrants its own post on account of the number of photos I took at her childhood home. 

My interest in Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, is primarily rooted in her impact on the English Reformation as a religious reformer and her insistence to qualify their daughter Elizabeth as an heir to the throne. (Spoiler: Elizabeth I made it to the throne.) 

Hever Castle was Anne’s childhood home, so it was a non-negotiable visit. Though Chuck had no prior knowledge about this place and has limited-to-no interest in the British Monarchy, he enjoyed touring Hever and said it was one of his favorite things we did while in the UK. 🙂 

The property as a whole is stunning, and I remain grateful we visited on a bright, clear day. Upon crossing the drawbridge (THE DRAWBRIDGE!!!) we entered a courtyard that showcased the manor’s architecture.  

Each room offers a delightful amount of access, unlike other castles that prohibit photography and keep a rope draped at the doorway. Some pieces of the home are replicas since the castle went into disrepair until a wealthy American, William Waldorf Astor, purchased the property in the early 20th Century to restore and preserve it

I read as many placards as I could and studied the artifacts with great care. I’ve wanted to visit Hever Castle for more than a decade, and there I stood where the Boleyn family used to live. (Not that I have an affection for the entire family, mind you.)

Of course, Anne was wrongfully executed on the accusation of witchcraft and myriad other silly things. She was unable to produce a male heir (because women were totally in charge of that, you know) and she suffered a series of terrible miscarriages (again, the complete fault of the woman on account of her witchcraftiness). Oh the importance of modern medicine!

Whatever really happened back then, Anne Boleyn remains an important piece of the Protestant Reformation, as well as a crucial role in the validity and success of Elizabeth I.

This marriage tapestry represents the marriage of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor, to King Louis. 

A few rooms of the manor reflected early 20th Century decor, as this was a private home for the Astor family. 

Interestingly, Winston Churchill was acquainted with the Astor family and often visited Hever to visit and paint. 

The grounds were beautifully manicured and beginning to burst with autumn color. Again, I was so thankful for the clear weather.

One of my favorite memories will always be feeding the ducks at Hever Castle. It was like that moment was crafted specifically for me. 

Like I said, Hever Castle wasn’t our only stop on Day 3, but it was an important one for me.

Up next: Mermaid Street in Rye, the White Cliffs of Dover, and dinner in Canterbury