A year ago today, this New Jersey MacAulay clan landed in Edinburgh, for the start of an 18-day journey around Scotland and England. Like most of our big (read–expensive) decisions, I’m not quite sure when the genesis of the vacation occurred.
Doug and I had been to Scotland before (me: 3 times; Doug: 2), including our honeymoon, which had been split between Ireland and Scotland and featured lots of gorgeous scenery, tasty pub food, wonderful strangers, and one too many days spent traipsing through old cemeteries searching out MacAulays. (“Honey, you do know they’re dead, right?”)
As often happens, the idea sparked and our excitement grew and soon enough we were at the Passport Office applying for passports for the kids. The moment I finally hit “purchase” on the Aer Lingus website for four tickets from JFK to Dublin and Dublin to Edinburgh and then returning from Bristol to Dublin and Dublin to JFK, I was shaky–both with excitement at the prospect and nausea at the price. After 19 long years we were finally returning to one of our favorite places, and we were doing it with our kids. Bonus: We’d be seeing old friends in England that we hadn’t seen in nearly as long.
In fact, by just planning 1-2 places that we had to see on any given day, it left us plenty of time for exploring and giving in to random whims that led us to some amazing and memorable places.
I admit: I had a blast planning the trip. I pinned this map in my home office and marked the places we wanted to visit with red pushpins and places we were staying with green ones. As happens all too often, we had many places we wanted to show the kids and this meant Doug and I would be going to places where we’d already been. But that was fine with us–these were a mix of places we love (Stirling) together with places you just have to go (Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle). Since I’d had Doug at “Scotland,” even though I ran everything by him, I think he just “ayed” me to death. He didn’t care where: He was just so thrilled to be returning, with his family, to the land of his ancestors.
The #1 thing that Doug and I have learned about traveling–most of it on trips we took before kids–was not to over plan. The #2 thing we’d learned was not to travel too much within a trip–we’d found that the more we had to unpack and then repack and unpack and repack, the less we enjoyed a vacation. To this end, our favorite vacations were often those spent in one city, where we unpacked only once and packed again only to return home.
On this trip, I could honor #1 but not #2. Our plan, after all, was to rent a car and drive around. But I made sure that I didn’t overload our days, cognizant of the fact that we couldn’t expect the kids to hold out for a full day of sightseeing. In fact, by just planning 1-2 places that we had to see on any given day, it left us plenty of time for exploring and giving in to random whims that led us to some amazing and memorable places. Sure: There were many places I’d have liked to see that we didn’t, but I truly don’t remember what those places were at this point and we fully intend to go back again (and again and again) anyway.
When Doug and I had been in Scotland last, we used brochures and a travel agent to help us plan our itinerary, including places to stay. This time around, the Internet was invaluable. I’d decided that we absolutely had to stay at some fun places, like a castle and a lighthouse, as well as some bed & breakfasts, but to do this I had to balance the price out with some stays at a basic no-frills hotel chain called Premier Inn. I also used AirBnB for the first time ever (loved it and heartily recommend) to get our own flat in Edinburgh and house on the Isle of Lewis. I booked the Rua Reidh Lighthouse originally, but there was a two-night minimum and I had to eventually cancel the reservation when our trip shifted to the north.
Finally, I had our itinerary booked. When it was done, I happily promised the kids EIGHT castles. They had no idea we’d be staying in one too!
The schedule looked roughly like this:
June 30-July 2: Edinburgh
July 3-4: Inverness
July 5: Golspie to see Dunrobin Castle; catch ferry from Ullapool to Isle of Lewis
July 6-7: Isle of Lewis
July 8: Catch ferry from Tarbert, Harris to Uig, Isle of Skye; stop by Eileen Donan Castle; overnight at Spean Bridge
July 9: Callander, Stirling, Doune Castle (think Monty Python & Outlander)
July 10: Leave Scotland, overnight at Augill Castle in England
July 11-12: Head down to our dear friends, Simon & Rachael, and overnight nearby. Blenheim Palace & Battle Proms
July 13-14: Stay outside London at Watford; Harry Potter Studio Tour at studios in Watford; visit London
July 15-16: Stay in Rickford outside Bristol; stop by Highclere (a.k.a. Downton Abbey); see Simon & Rachael again in Bristol; show kids Wills Hall where I lived my junior year in university; Wallace & Gromit exhibit
July 17: Sadly, fly home.
I really wrote this for myself, since I don’t tend to keep journals but strive, instead, to take mental photographs and notes. If you’ve made it this far–thank you! Stay tuned: I plan to write about Edinburgh in the next blog installment of “Scotland Is Calling.”