Our Trip to Scotland, Part Two

The national capital region has pretty much shut down due to the extremely high winds we’re experiencing from the nor’easter that’s hammering the East Coast. School and other plans have been cancelled so we’re staying put and declaring today Family Game Day – which sounds like the perfect way to kick-off a three-day weekend. This post is the second recap of our amazing trip to Scotland from June 2016. See Part One here…

Within the blindingly green and blue landscape the comprises Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is Ben Lomond, a 3,196 foot mountain on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. One of the most popular hikes in the Highlands, the main path for ascent is scattered with tourists, all eager to see the famed Highland views for themselves.

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We chose to hike Ben Lomond on the lone Saturday of our week-long vacation because the skies were blue and the temperature a perfect 70 degrees. We ate a traditional Scottish breakfast at the restaurant attached to our inn and made the 90 minute drive to Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. The trail entrance is near the Rowardennan Hotel on the shores of Loch Lomond and we were able to park our car in the car park for a minimal fee.

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This hike was my first and only time wearing shorts on our trip to Scotland. Because it was a Saturday, the trail was busy but not overwhelmingly so. Our first hour was spent hiking through wooded areas and gradually making our way up the base of the mountain.

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The trail became a bit more rigorous but totally manageable as we began the steep portion of the hike.

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Water breaks were the perfect excuse to just sit and soak in the view along the way.

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Seriously, the views were so stereotypical Scotland that we couldn’t stop exclaiming, “Wow!” Not surprisingly, as we climbed the temperature dropped and the air became thick with fog.

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And midges began to attack my legs and face. About halfway up the mountain, I realized my mistake in wearing shorts. Not only was it freezing at the summit, these little buggers hurt and left welts. It was worth it, though.

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We’d together for almost 15 years on that trip. Over the years, we have experienced a lot of wonderful places together. I love our everyday life and I love our adventures. Hiking Ben Lommond together and sitting side-by-side in silence at the top – gazing at the seemingly never-ending Highlands is definitely deserving of our highlight reel.

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We chose to go down the mountain on the much less-traveled back-end trail.

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We treated ourselves to well-deserved pints and food at the beer garden located at the base of the trail. My face may have been covered in welts and my feet a bloody mess but I couldn’t have been happier. This hike was our favorite of the trip and I will recommend it to anyone traveling to Scotland until my dying day. It had all the elements for a perfect Clay & Karen Vacation Day – rigorous hiking, spectacular views, beer, and food. And what’s not to love about that?

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The following day we went into Edinburgh and spend the day eating and drinking our way around the medieval city in the drizzling rain. So it was pretty much a quintessential Scottish day.

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The Royal Mile was touristy and awesome all wrapped up in a tchotsky package. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend anymore time there than we did but it is worth a visit, if anything to go to one of the many kilt and tartan suppliers located along the famed mile. And since I am from McIntyre blood, I was sure to purchase my family’s tartan in a variety of mediums.

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We had a blast wandering around the city and seeing where all the courts, tunnels, and walkways took us. My favorite experience of the day was attending an evening service at St. Giles Cathedral, which dates back to the 14th century. I grew up in the Episcopal Church and we’ve been attending Episcopal services for awhile now so being able to experience an Anglican service in Scotland was quite special.

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For our last full day in Scotland we did something a little different because we were absolutely worn-out from all our days of hiking (and drinking!) so we booked a last minute tour through the Highlands out of Glascow. We don’t consider ourselves tour-bus people and after experiencing our first one in Scotland, I doubt we will ever go on one again. But it was a welcome treat to just be able to sit and have someone else drive the mountain roads.

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There were a lot of stops along the way to Loch Ness. I’m pretty sure every person who has taken a Highland tour has a picture of this guy.

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I didn’t accidentally eat reindeer in Scotland like I did during our Alaska vacation.

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The infamous Skyfall mountain. Sadly, no Daniel Craig.

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When planning this trip, we originally decided not to incorporate Loch Ness into our travel. But since it was part of the tour package we booked for the day, we didn’t really have a choice. Yes, it is very hokey. But the lake itself is quite spooky with deep and dark water – Loch Ness is the largest lake of the British Isles by volume.

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We took a cruise around Loch Ness, which included fantastic views of Urquhart Castle. We chose not to tour the castle and instead extended our time on the water.

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After a quick top in Pitlochry for a pint and ice cream we were on our way back to Glasgow.

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Our trip to Scotland was amazing and we can’t wait to go back with the kids someday.  We flew out of Edinburgh, where I had the best breakfast of the trip. Yes, at the airport. So if you find yourself at the Edinburgh airport, get the Asparagus Benedict at Sir Walter Scott and a pint of Tennent’s Lager to either begin or end your trip to Scotland (or both!)…you won’t be disappointed.

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Flight delays at JFK ensured that we didn’t get back to Atlanta until well-after midnight but when our kids came running into our room at 6am, it didn’t matter that we had gotten only three hours of sleep. A wonderful trip ended with the best reunion possible – snuggles and giggles and all.

Our Trip to Scotland – Part One

This post is a recap of our trip to Scotland from June 2016. 

Leaving Fort Leavenworth has the reputation of being a bit of a cluster due to the fact that every June 1000+ majors graduate and PCS at the same time. But Clay and I didn’t let that deter us from squeezing in a week-long trip to Scotland while my parents watched the kids. We knew that Clay’s schedule would be crazy once he signed into his new unit so it made sense to vacation en route to Texas. So we made the trek to Georgia after graduation, chilled for a couple of days, kissed and hugged the kids, profusely thanked my parents, and then found ourselves at Atlanta airport drinking beers and waiting for a flight to Edinburgh.

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An overnight flight ensured that we arrived in Scotland mid-morning with plenty of time to secure a rental car, drive to our hotel, and then explore before crashing due to lack of sleep. The first thing we noticed (aside from the gorgeous green countryside) was the cool air – the average temperature in June is in the low-sixties, which is one of the many reasons we chose to vacation in Scotland before moving to San Antonio (where it has been 100+ degrees for the past five days). Scotland is home to almost 5.3 million people. And as any guidebook is quick to point out, Scotland has more sheep than people.

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Amelia Island, Florida

When we learned that Clay would actually be home over President’s Day weekend, we made plans to fly down to Florida so we could checked out my parent’s new beach condo on Amelia Island. My dad retired this past summer so my parents decided to really lean into their new phase of life and get a second place on the ocean. However, due to Lucy having some health issues, we scrapped our initial plans and decided to drive down to the sunshine state to avoid having to board her. And that is the story of how ended up spending 24 hours in the 4Runner in order to spend 60 hours at the beach. Yes – we’re slightly bonkers, as evident by the wide-eyed looks we received when people found out about our plans.

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She’s worth it though.

We left Thursday night after Clay battled holiday weekend traffic on the commuter bus. We drove for about four hours and spent the night in rural North Carolina where pet-friendly hotels are not readily available but we managed to find one with good reviews on Trip Advisor (no murders!). After breakfast at McDonalds (it was slim pickins’), we fought our way through I-95 traffic and were driving onto Amelia Island by early afternoon in 70-degree weather.

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Our New England Adventure – Newport, Cape Cod, and Ogunguit

During the summer of 2014, we took a weeklong tour of the New England coast. We returned to northern Virginia with bellies full of fresh seafood and as much of a tan as the Massachusetts and Maine sun allowed.

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We’re apparently machinists because we chose to drive through New York City and Connecticut on a Friday afternoon. In June. It quickly became obvious that we weren’t the only ones heading to the shore that weekend. I’m sure the big city hotshots in Maseratis (we spotted five!) were rolling their eyes at our Subaru with a car top carrier but that’s how we roll – we’re so pedestrian that it hurts. After about 10 hours, we finally arrived in Rhode Island.

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The next day, we drove over the largest suspension bridge in New England to Newport and spent the morning exploring one of the oldest cities in the United States. Newport also has a strong Navy presence so as is the case with most Navy towns we visit, we cursed the majority of Army locations throughout the world (Fort Polk anyone?).

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We ate on the water, enjoying a lunch consisting of fresh steamers, grilled shrimp, and a hot lobster roll.

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After lunch we walked around the harbor some more before getting back on the road. We left fans of the smallest state and hope to return someday. After leaving the Ocean State, we rolled up the coast along Route 6, marveling at the quaint architecture found in New England, specifically the Shingle Style, Colonial Revival, and of course the Cape Cod. Before long, we were in Massachusetts.

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I’ll admit that before this trip, my knowledge of Massachusetts was pretty much limited to American Revolution history, The Departed, and Mitt Romney but not surprisingly, we fell in love with Cape Cod.

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One of the first things that struck us was just how large Cape Cod is – for some reason, I pictured it to be much smaller. We learned that Cape Cod originally only referred to the very tip of the peninsula, but over time the name become synonymous with area known today. After crossing the Cape Cod Canal, we drove along Route 28 until we reached our resort in South Yarmouth – a Red Jacket Resort.

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 We checked into our room and promptly changed for the beach.

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 Where this little girl proceeded to take her first steps.

Go Violet, go!

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The little guy spent his time on the beach building sand castles and digging holes.

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We absolutely loved staying on the beach. There is nothing I like more on vacation than being able to walk to the water. While the resort wasn’t anything fancy, it had a private beach, an outdoor pool with a splash pad area for kids, an indoor pool, and plenty of chairs, umbrellas, and toys free for use.

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We did leave the resort to eat at local restaurants and explore the area but we spent the majority of our time at the beach.

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We were only in Cape Cod for two days so seeing the Cape Cod National Seashore was our top choice for an afternoon outing. We never made it to Provincetown or the tip of the cape but I know we will travel to Cape Cod again at some point. We were able to visit Marconi Beach free of charge due to our National Parks Pass courtesy of the military, which was a pleasant surprise. Marconi Beach is known for its sand cliff (also called a scarp) that fills you with a sense of solitude because there is not a building to be seen on the horizon.

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We had a wonderful time in Cape Cod (even if Weston’s face tells another story) and had trouble wiping the drool off our chins when seeing some of the available real estate. Having a vacation home in New England does sound quite nice, doesn’t it? But Maine was calling our name.

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As we crossed the Piscataqua River Bridge, we were welcomed to Vacationland. A quick drive up Route 1 and we reached our destination – Ogunquit, Maine, which means “Beautiful Place by the Sea”.

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 Quite deserving of the name, right?

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We checked into our hotel and immediately walked to the beach. Clay grew up vacationing in Ogunquit every summer and has many childhood memories tied to the seaside town. Continually voted one of the best US beaches, Ogunquit has three and half miles of white sand beaches along with rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean. We sat on the beach with our toes in the sand, watching the tide come in before heading back to hotel for dinner. After putting two tired kids to bed, Clay and I sat out on the balcony watching the waves while savoring a cocktail or two.

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Weston and Violet had us up early the next morning so we set out to walk the Marginal Way soon after sunrise. A little over of a mile walkway from downtown Ogunquit to Perkins Cove, the Marginal Way came to be when Josiah Chase Jr. donated his land back in 1925. Described as rocky, rugged, and wild, the path itself is paved but there are plenty of rock-lined coves to explore along the way.

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Obligatory family photo.

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One of the many coves on the Marginal Way we enjoyed climbing up and around.

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Gorgeous Perkins Cove.IMG_6120

Once in Perkins Cove, we found a lobster boat departing with the hour and quickly reserved seats. We ate breakfast at a cute little coffee shop on the water while waiting to come aboard and before we knew it, we were off on our very first family lobster adventure.

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 Being out on the water in Maine was about as amazing as you’d imagine it to be.

 

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After our time on the water, we ate lunch at The Lobster Shack and the meal was easily in the top three of our entire vacation and they won our award for Best Clam Chowder (it is obviously a highly coveted award – ha!). The restaurant is unpretentious, casual, and the epitome of Perkins Cove. Go there. Now.

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 Photographic evidence.

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 We spent most of our afternoons in Ogunquit at the beach.

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One morning we drove south to York and checked out Nubble Light, the Cape Neddick Lighthouse.

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Thankfully there was only one afternoon/evening of rain. We didn’t mind too much because it gave us the perfect excuse to drive around and explore. We ended up in Portland, walked around the harbors, and ate lunch at Duck Fat, which will now make every fry I ever eat again pale in comparison.

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Clay was also super excited to introduce us to Congdon’s Doughnuts. I am happy to report that they live up to the hype and are every bit as delicious as Clay’s family herald them to be – simply marvelous. I had the maple cream and I am still dreaming about the delicious morsel of perfection.

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Coastal Maine is magical. I will forever hold the memories of this vacation close to my heart. I can’t wait to go back and explore further north on the Maine coast. And I don’t just want to return during warm weather because as Paul Theroux writes, “Maine is a joy in the summer. But the soul of Maine is more apparent in the winter.” I’d love to find out for myself.