Schools are back in session which brings back memories as one of the first assignments every fall: either tell or write a paper on how I spent my summer vacation.  So I thought I would tell you that my summer vacation this year took me to Scotland and Ireland.  

Scotland by Car

This was a trip for our daughter’s’ High School graduation, so off we went first to Scotland for five days.  We rented a car and drove hundreds of miles around the island to try and ‘see it all.’  We stayed at bed and breakfast locations hoping to be more ‘local’ than not.  We started our trip at the end of May which is Spring for Scotland, and we found Scotland to be very green with flowers just beginning to bloom.  Scotland was exactly as I pictured it in my mind.  Green fields, blue ocean, and fields of sheep.  

Stirling Castle, Edinburgh

If you are not aware, Scotland has a lot of castles, and we managed to visit at least one a day. Our first castle was Stirling Castle located about 30 minutes outside of Edinburgh.  Many of the buildings located within Stirling castle have been restored to its medieval glory, such as the vast Great Hall, which dates from the end of the Middle Ages.  We then made our way to the town of Denny to our first B&B, a 250-year-old working farm called Drumm Farm.  Let me take a moment here to try and capture the challenge of navigating Scottish roads which are narrow and very poorly marked all while driving on the wrong side of the road along with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car.  I think the best decision we made on this trip was to get a GPS from the rental car agency. Otherwise, we would still be driving around in circles.

Inverness and Loch Ness

The next day had us heading north to Inverness, stopping along the way at Pitlochry for some shopping and lunch.  We were lucky when we arrived at this town, as there was a parade and of course a marching band of bagpipes, very  Scottish indeed. As we continued on north, we saw lots of fields with rolling green hills, babbling brooks and, of course, sheep.  In fact, we even stopped to see a sheep herding contest and have lunch out of a Scottish food truck.

In Inverness, we kept our eyes open as we drove by Loch Ness Lake for the infamous monster said to live there.  Of course, we did visit yet another castle, Urquhart Castle, located on the shore of Loch Ness.  Urquhart is one of Scotland’s largest castles that endured conflict for over 500 years as the control of the castle passed back and forth between the Scots and English during the Wars of Independence.

Ballindalloch Castle, Speyside

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My favorite castle of either island was Ballindalloch Castle located in Speyside, Scotland. It is one of the few private castles in Scotland that has been lived in continuously by the family which founded it in 1546.  Besides being the most romantic and renowned castle of Scotland, the estate that it sits on is stunning.  There is a beautifully maintained walled and rock garden which was spectacular as the flowers and foliage were in bloom along with water features that offered us a tranquil setting with which to walk through.  Two rivers run through the grounds and the cattle that graze there belong to the oldest Aberdeen Angus herd in the world.

For myself, the highlights of my time in Scotland were the scenery, the castles, the challenges of driving, and the quaint B&Bs we stayed in while getting to visit with the owners for insight into the Scottish way of life.  We also enjoyed local foods at pubs and learned that not all pubs serve food, and most pubs or restaurants do not serve food between the hours of 2 pm to 5 pm.

Another highlight was partaking in a walking tour of the Old Course at St. Andrews and enjoying lunch in the famous club house.  We were unable to golf here as I don’t have a registered handicap, but just touring the grounds with a pro and hearing the stories was fabulous.

Ireland, Also by Car

After our five days in Scotland, it was a short flight to Dublin, Ireland for the next four days.  The scenery in Ireland is very similar to Scotland, but I did get to see more of the coast.  In Ireland, we traveled as we did in Scotland: renting a car and staying at bed and breakfasts and covering hundreds of miles to see as much as possible.   As with Scotland, in Ireland, we would visit a castle a day. The most famous one being Blarney castle which we, of course, all took turns kissing the Blarney Stone. My family made the climb up lots of steps to kiss the Blarney Stone to gain the gift of eloquence just like world statesmen, literary giants, and legends of the silver screen have done for the past 200 years.  This castle is in disrepair; however, the gardens surrounding the castle were beautiful and very much worth a visit.

The Irish Sea Cliffs

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Next on our agenda was to visit The Cliffs of Moher.  This is said to be  Ireland’s most visited natural attraction.  The walkway stretches five miles along the Atlantic coast with the highest peak being 702 feet above sea level. As you walk along, you get to gaze down to see the ocean crashing into the cliffs, smell the salt air, and hear the songs of birds.

Another ocean adventure was a visit to Slieve League cliffs in Donegal, Ireland.  These cliffs are the highest sea cliffs in Europe. From the highest point on the cliffs, it’s a staggering 1,998-foot drop into the swirling Atlantic Ocean below.  The Slieve League Cliffs are nearly three times the height of the Cliffs of Moher.  To walk to the top of these cliffs is not for the faint of heart, but we did it. To reach the highest point of Slieve League, you must take a narrow pathway to One Man’s Pass. Once you reach the top, you feel like you are standing on the edge of the world. It is hard to convey to you the majesty and sheer height of the cliffs with nothing but sparkling Blue Ocean below you.

The next day we took the coastal road to head back South toward Dublin with of course sightseeing stops along the way,  Such as more scenery of green fields, blue ocean, sheep and cattle grazing along the side of the road, and, of course, more castles.

Golf at Druids Glen, Wicklow

Our last two nights in Ireland we stayed in Wicklow, Ireland at Druids Glen Hotel & Golf Resort, our only hotel of the trip.  It was here that we finally got to enjoy a round of golf.  It seems natural that if you are going to be spending time in Scotland and Ireland that a round of golf would be necessary.   Besides golfing in Ireland, we enjoyed walks on beaches, food at local pubs, and raising a pint in the spirit of Ireland.

I highly recommend a trip to one or both of these beautiful islands to see the beauty and to learn about their culture and enjoy all they have to offer.