Not one to listen to scaremongers about the brutal winter in parts of Europe, I went on a guided tour to Ireland, Scotland and England with my youngest daughter, Laura, in December 2017.
Upon reaching the airport in Dublin, Ireland, the temperature that greeted us outside was a challenging 4˚C.
We walked through the cobbled stones of one of the world’s renowned universities, Trinity College Dublin. The university’s magnificent Old Library contains an Irish masterpiece called the Book Of Kells, a ninth century gospel manuscript handwritten on lambskin by monks.
Of course, a tour of Dublin will not be complete without a visit to the Guinness Brewery to learn about the fermentation process of Guinness stout.
We also tackled the Giant’s Causeway near Belfast in Northern Ireland. The Giant’s Causeway is a geological wonder of more than 40,000 interlocking, hexagonal basalt columns formed as a result of volcanic eruptions and molten lava.
However, there are myths surrounding the existence of the Giant’s Causeway: It is believed that mythical characters carved out the rocks in the tumbling sea.
Well, you could certainly use some imagination when standing on the ancient, wind-swept stones.
From Belfast, we boarded a ferry and crossed the Irish Sea. After a little more than two hours, we reached Cairnryan in Scotland. Scotland is a heady mix of lochs, rugged landscapes dotted with castles and beautiful vistas of vast coastlines. The chilly winds and pearl grey skies enhanced the haunting beauty of the country’s highlands.
After Cairnryan, we took a bus to Glasgow and arrived at about 4pm but as the days are shorter in winter, it was already quite dark in the city. However, we managed to see the Glasgow Cathedral.
Then, we travelled east towards Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. Laura was delighted during our visit to the National Museum of Scotland because of her interest in history and archaeology. Among the displays was a stuffed version of Dolly, the infamous sheep that was cloned by a team of scientists in Edinburgh in 1996.
We then made a stop at the famous Edinburgh Castle, built upon the basalt core of an extinct volcano. This magnificent castle dates back to the 12th century. Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to James VI in one of the rooms there.
The weather in Edinburgh that day was nice. When our tour manager announced that we could explore the city on our own for two hours, we scrambled down the bus to do some shopping. We prowled Princes Street and I bought two kilts and other souvenirs. We also chanced upon a bagpiper in full traditional costume, playing at a strategic corner of the street.
Before we crossed into England from Scotland, we made a stop at a border town in Scotland called Gretna Green, also own as the “runaway wedding” town. Based on some popular stories, love-smitten underaged young couples of the 18th century began a trend of running away to Gretna Green to get married as laws were more relaxed there. While laws have changed since then, Gretna Green remains a romantic destination for loving couples.
The historic Famous Blacksmiths Shop building remains the cornerstone of Gretna Green where tourists enjoy the picturesque village with its quaint shops.
Heading south, we reached the village of Grasmere in the English Lake District. Grasmere is where the illustrious English poet William Wordsworth wrote his well-known poem, The Daffodils. We had a short cruise on Lake Windermere, the largest lake in England. There are many shops near the pier and they sell lovely things such as Peter Rabbit souvenirs (author Beatrix Potter lived there once).
At the border between Wales and England is a little medieval town called Ludlow where houses are made from timber. It has many pretty shops of Tudor design along narrow cobblestone lanes. Ludlow is the place I want to be. I had a delightful time at their flea market, snapping up costume jewellery, accessories and Bunnykins plates, while Laura bought some books at a shop.
Our next destination was Bath, a World Heritage site, where we visited the Roman Baths. England was once part of the extensive Roman Empire. The Romans built the Baths using hot water from the underground spring.
The Stonehenge is also a World Heritage site, and one that sparks many questions from travellers. It dates back 5,000 years and the Stone Circle is steeped in mystery. The towering megaliths are breathtaking and is iconic to Salisbury.
On the last day of our 12-day tour, it started to snow in London. Undaunted, we went on our city tour of Westminster Abbey, Buckingham palace, Trafalgar Square, No.10 Downing Street, Tower Bridge and Big Ben.
I am still exhilarated by the awesome moments of our trip. Sometimes, the most soul-stirring moments come from getting out of our comfort zones to immerse ourselves in unfamiliar surroundings. Plus, we survived the cold!
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