Monday, August 29, 2016

Scotland + Ireland: Scottish Highlands Day 3

The third day of our vacation in Scotland was definitely one of our favorites! In contrast to our days in Ireland, we spent most of our time in Scotland in just one place. But we all really wanted to get up to see the highlands at least one day. So I booked a private driver and guide through Rick Steves recommended Timberbush Tours. Our guide Gillian picked us up right at our apartment and we spent a few minutes planning our itinerary with her, which was key. We wanted to see as much of the highlands as we could without making the kids spend the entire day in the car. So Gillian suggested skipping some of the more well known sights for closer but still fabulous places. And she didn't disappoint.

As we drove to our first stop, Stirling Castle, Gillian shared a ton of highlands history and played traditional Scottish music as a backdrop. As we pulled up to the Castle she even had William Wallace's "they'll never take our freedom" queued up. It was the perfect bump of excitement for the kids. We didn't have advance tickets, but had no problem getting them quickly and hopping on a free guided tour. It took about 3 minutes to realize that the kids were not in the guided tour mood (and the tour guide wasn't a good fit for the family anyway), but thanks to our trusty Rick Steves guidebook, we were able to do the self-guided walking tour with no problem. The castle had beautiful views and you could see why the saying went that whoever held Stirling Castle held control of Scotland. But the kids were mostly interested in getting back to the gift shop to pick out stuffies (A bear Kane named Robert MacDonald (after Robert the Bruce and the name of the tartan the bear is wearing) and a Highland Cow Cam named Jupiter in nod to the statues of planetary deities adorning the castle's Royal Palace).

The kids also struck up what would become two other annoying trip constants (in addition to the staring contest): the photobomb and the thumb war. Kudos (?) to Leslie and Steve for teaching them the finer points of a successful photobomb, but we all spent the rest of the trip trying to keep them from jumping in the back of all our pictures. The thumb war spurned many a backseat argument, but kept them busy during waiting times. My favorites from the castle were the Great Hall built for King James IV in 1503 (the ceiling!) and the Princes Tower in the Royal Palace, which was traditionally the nursery of the Scottish kings, including James VI and then his son, Prince Henry, and features a little bit of kiddo graffiti scratched into the wall during Prince Henry's time (he was born in 1594).

Armed with new stuffies, we hopped back in our van and headed to local Deanston distillery, which was one of the first Scottish distilleries to produce organic scotch. We didn't do a full tour, but had a nice tasting while the kids got a little Pokemon hunting in. And they'd clearly gone through some modern rebranding because they had a whole bunch of super cool swag.

After the kids chowed their fourth piece of whisky fudge we decided we should probably head to get some real food. Gillian took us to a charming little family-owned restaurant at local hotel Woodside. We had some deeelish traditional Scottish grub while Leslie put up with Cami doing her hair and the kids both managed to fight over each and every one of the 120 different pieces in their travel building set. How silly for me to think I could get away with having them share one set!

Clearly we needed to get the kids out and about, so after lunch we headed to Trossochs National Park to see Loch Lomond and get some fresh air. We stopped at a few spots along the loch to stretch our legs and skip rocks. It was beautiful and quiet and we could have stayed all afternoon! But we had to get moving along to see the much anticipated Highland Cows, which Gillian swore to us the locals call Hairy Coos.

We stopped along Loch Achray to call over a heard. Gillian gave everyone carrots to feed the cows and they came right over. They were insanely cute but did NOT like when you accidentally touch their horns. They did love the carrots and the kids were beside themselves excited. Cam was obsessed!

We made a few more stops throughout the park on our way back home—I couldn't get over the gorgeous hillsides covered in purple heather. I could have stayed all day taking photos of the clouds and shadows. But it was getting late and the kids were in need of a good car nap.

We made it back in town just in time to catch the festival crew heading out for the night. It was quite the scene! We followed along to the Haymarket area of Edinburgh for some din. It was getting chilly, but we scored an outdoor table at Mussel and Steak Bar which offered up cozy blankets for outdoor diners. We had a deeelish meal and Joel took the kids back to bed while I went out a bit with Steve and Leslie. Edinburgh has some fab cocktail bars and we headed to The Voodoo Rooms for a few tasty drinks (Joel was also a big fan of The Devil's Advocate when he'd gone out a few nights before).  And thus ended another awesome day in Scotland!


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