We went to the UK and Ireland with my parents this September. We started and ended in London and took in Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England. It was a good trip and we saw a lot of the countries. We also had excellent weather: We had a couple foggy days and got rained on once. But that is great for the UK in September.
Our tour started in London. London was probably my favorite city because it has an impressive density of attractions and sites and is easy to get around. You can see Westminster Abbey, Westminster palace, Big Ben and the London Eye from one spot.
If you walk for five minutes you pass 10 Downing street, the Horse Guards, several war memorials and arrive at Trafalgar square. The National Gallery is right there, and you are another five minutes from Buckingham Palace and the Royal Society or the British museum. Plus, there are lots of old buildings and historical markers.
Our tour included a driving tour of the city and the tour guide could barley keep up describing the sites that we passed on the bus. On this tour we got to see some of the more famous modern buildings, the Tower of London, and the Tower bridge.
The museums have some impressive artifacts. We especially liked the Rosetta stone and the clock display in the British museum and both Leonardo da Vince’s notebook and Mozart’s ‘Summary of works’ in the British Library. The British Museum as a huge collection of artifacts from other countries. It is really amazing the amount of stuff they took and haven’t given back.
The single site that I was most eager to see was Stonehenge, and I was not disappointed. In fact it was a bit cooler than I anticipated. They have made changes to the site within the past year to move the parking away from the site and make it more peaceful. Between that and the large radius ring that people are allowed into, you could get away from the crowds and noise and enjoy the site.
At Bath we saw the reconstructed Roman baths. The neatest thing here were the “curses”. If you were robbed or wronged by someone (especially if you didn’t know who did it), you could write your complaint on a lead sheet and throw it into the water to ask the gods to punish them.
In Cardiff, we took a tour of Cardiff castle. We ended up touring the portion that were renovated in the early 1800s by the local coal baron. The baron (John Stewart) had good taste, the decorations were lavish and everything was still in good shape. Some highlights were the children’s room with fairy tales painted on the walls, the smoking room with game tables, and the dining room where the table was setup to allow live grape vines to be brought in so that diners could have fresh grapes off the vine for dessert.
We spent a few days in Ireland before we arrived in Dublin, mostly looking at scenery. We had a nice history tour in Waterford, drove around the Ring of Kerry, took a cruise on the Beara peninsula, and kissed the Blarney stone. The highlight of this period was visiting a demonstration farm where they showed life for an Irish farmer before the potato famine. We got to see peat, their poitin still, and the houses. We ate a traditional meal of lamb stew and brown bread and tried Poitín.
In Dublin we saw the Guinness brewery with the tour (very overcrowded) and happened into an Octoberfest. We saw Trinity college with the Book of Kels and the long room that was used for some library scenes in Harry Potter. We went to Kilmainham Gaol and the Little Museum of Dublin where we learned a bunch of Ireland’s history. There was a great quote at the prison: “If the prison does not underbid the slum in human misery, the slum will empty and the prison will fill.” We did a couple of geo-caches and I went to a “Musical Pub Crawl” which was a mix of music and Irish musical history lesson.
Back in England we went to Liverpool. The tour took us to a bunch of Beatles stuff, but there were also a lot of cool buildings. The best was the modern (1970s) Gothic style Anglican cathedral made of red sandstone.
It took a full day of travel to get up to Edinburgh in Scotland. On the way we took a nice boat ride on Windermere lake. In Edinburgh was toured the castle, walked up Scott Monument for views of the city, and toured the Royal Yacht Britannia. The Yacht was used by the Queen for vacations and had a cool room of gifts the Queen received on her travels. It was also interesting to see the vast differences in the bedrooms of the Queen, officers and crewmen.
In Edinburgh we had our most interesting meal of the trip at “Amber” by the castle. They had an extensive (350) Scottish whiskey selection and we both tried one. We learned that the smokey Scottish whiskey gets the smokey flavor from using peat to heat the mash. We also tried Haggis; it could be mistaken for ground beef or mild ground lamb. For dessert we had a whiskey whipped cream with raspberry.
On the way back south to London we stopped at York and saw a chunk of Hadrian’s wall. The part that we saw was small, but it was still neat to see something nearly 2000 years old. At York we toured the old town and saw the impressive cathedral. The next day we stopped at Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare’s birthplace and Warwick castle. At the castle we saw them fire the world’s largest trebuchet. The last stop before London was in Oxford. We saw the deposit library on campus, the Bodleian, and toured one of the colleges (Brasnose).
Back in London we took in the London Eye, Tate Modern, the Victoria and Albert museum and the Natural History museum. The Tate has a lot of art that we liked and the Natural History museum is housed in an impressive building with a cool main hall. We also walked around Hyde park and checked out Harrod’s department store.
On our last day in London we went out to the Greenwich Observatory where the prime meridian is located. We toured the museum there and saw the telescopes used to make transit observations. We stood with one foot in each hemisphere and found the spot about 100 meters away where GPS registers zero. They are off because GPS uses an oblate earth model, so the only place where the GPS meridian and the original meridian line up are at the equator and poles.
We traveled back to the Tower of London on a Thames river boat and walked around the tower. They are doing a WW I commemoration right now where the Tower moat is filled with one red poppy for each service member who died in the war.