UK, week 3

We spent the first few days of this week in Falkirk Scotland. I understand Falkirk is not a small town, but the view from our Airbnb sure felt that way:

Scotland seems to obsess over their recycling, so much so that they only collect trash once a month. There are four different ways to sort rubbish and I don’t feel like we ever got the hang of what goes where.

One quirky nearby attraction was the Falkirk Wheel, a one-of-a-kind contraption that lifts and lowers boats from one canal to another (as a lock would otherwise do). It truly is a feat of engineering, but I can’t say the boat ride to experience this wheel was worth the time or money.

I happened to notice on the map that Doune Castle — a prominent location used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail — was just 20 minutes up the road from Falkirk. Everyone else was castled out, but Natalie was game for a quick road trip:

Those that know their Holy Grail will recognize these scenes shot at Doune Castle:


The original plan was to just snap a photo of the outside, but once we were there I couldn’t resist buying tickets to see inside:

On Monday we took an all-day road trip to Edinburgh, the residence of author JK Rowling when she started writing the Harry Potter books. This day also happened to be the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book. Natalie, a well-read 13-year-old, has concluded that Harry Potter is the best story ever in the whole wide world.

We walked past George Heriot’s School which served as Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts:

We then strolled through Greyfriars Kirkyard cemetery where Rowling supposedly found inspiration for character names. To the left is the gravestone of 19th century gent Thomas Riddell, which (spoiler alert) was Voldemort’s name before becoming a baddy:

Rowling was known to do much of her Harry Potter writing at a few local coffee shops, such as this one:

…and this one:

Spoon was much less crowded, so we stopped there for afternoon tea:

Our waitress directed Natalie to the corner where Rowling liked to write. What fantastic wizardly shenanigans were conjured up at this very spot:

Down the street, we found Rowling’s handprints among other distinguished citizens of Edinburgh. (Annie Lenox of Eurythmics fame was the only other name I recognized.)

Sort of random, but we happened upon the National Museum of Scotland which was touting the stuffed remains of Dolly, the first cloned sheep. Entrance was free, so why not?

While the main objective of this visit was Harry Potter-spotting, we enjoyed walking around this very old, very cool city:

Back in Falkirk, we finished off the evening with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

On Monday we set out for one final castle visit, this time to Alnwick Castle. Built in 1096, the castle is still used by Ralph Percy, the 12th Duke of Northumberland and his family as a winter residence. I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside, but suffice it to say, the Percy family lives the life. This castle was also used in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Downton Abbey, and the first two Harry Potter movies among many others:

They had a few activities going on for visitors. Natalie is crazy good at archery in virtual reality, so it was fun to see her try it for realz (she did very well):

On Tuesday afternoon we reached York, and found our inn above a local pub:

The check-in process was simply notifying the bartender:

It was more no-frills but perfectly adequate accommodations:

The pub below our rooms didn’t serve food, so we walked to another pub that did. It wasn’t fine dining, but it was super tasty, piping-hot comfort food:

On Wednesday we took the bus into central York:

It rained all day:

We found some relief from the rain in the Yorkshire Museum, exhibiting archaeological finds from when the Romans and Vikings were living here:

We also ducked into York Minster, the local cathedral, but just long enough to snap a few photos (we didn’t want to pay the visiting fee):

We otherwise spent the day walking around York in the rain:

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner:

On Thursday we reached Cambridge and checked into our hostel:

I had imagined hostels as bunk beds of stained mattresses in a dimly lit basement, so this place exceeded my expectations. It was clean and bright dorm-style accommodations, dorm smell and all:

We spent that afternoon walking around Cambridge:

The colleges were a-buzz with graduating students and proud parents, so it was fun to see that activity:

University of Cambridge is a collection of colleges dating back to 1209. This is Kings College, one of those colleges, and was founded by Henry VI in 1441:

Stopping for dinner in Cambridge. My favorite part of this was hearing the waitress use the word(s) “higgledy-piggledy” in a sentence describing the confusing British street layouts.

On Friday morning we hit the road and by that afternoon had reached our destination of St. Albans. These accommodations would be the most exotic so far: a regular hotel built in this decade:

Tomorrow, Amy, Carrie and Emily will perform reconnaissance for our descent upon London while Natalie and I check out the Harry Potter Tour of Warner Brothers Studio. (She is about to burst with excitement.)

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