England/Scotland Recap

How is it already September! After basically taking the summer off from blogging & posting on social media, I’m ready to get back at it. Truth is, I struggle to be fully present with my family and keep up with the blogging world. And as the kids get older, they are needing more of my time, not less. Our oldest just started 8th grade, our second oldest, 6th, and the twins are in 5th grade. So basically we have 8 more summers until all kids are college age—which sounds like a lot of time, but I know I’ll blink and we’ll be empty nesters!

Initially this was meant to be to be a quick summer recap, but has turned into a much longer post about our late spring trip to trip to the UK. So without further ado...

Celebrating 20 years of marriage in the UK. In college, I spent a summer interning in Washington DC, and quite providentially, was connected with an English family that had recently moved to the States. I lived with them for a summer and thus began my love for all things British. From Jane Austen, to a good curry, to PG Tips tea, they won me over. They are still some of our dearest friends, and fast forward 22 years, as Brock and I were planning a 20th wedding anniversary trip, England/Scotland was our first choice.

I’d been before, but very briefly, so we roped my ever gracious MIL to stay with our brood for 2+ weeks and we headed to the land of royals and afternoon tea. And truly, we couldn’t have done it without her. She has a servants heart like none other.  And she manages our crazy schedule/family life without breaking a sweat.  Something I can’t even manage! ; ) Here are some highlights:

The English countryside. We started in the Cotswolds (rolling farmland filled with country estates an hour north of London). It’s truly beautiful. From Oxford in the southern Cotwolds to beautiful villages full of charm, lovely day hikes, and history, this was the perfect introduction to England.

Seriously, how pretty is this AirBnB??? Arches, stonework, painted windows, landscaping, even the pea gravel car park—just lovely!

Seriously, how pretty is this AirBnB??? Arches, stonework, painted windows, landscaping, even the pea gravel car park—just lovely!

Leaving our AirBnB in the Cotswolds. We had a little apartment above this picturesque home. A perfect place to start off our vacation! And that’s our cute little bumper car. The miracle is that we made it our alive. Brock was a champ driving on the left side of the road. I had to work really hard at not scaring him to death with unwelcome teeth gritting and audible praying/grimacing as we hugged the left side of the road.

Leaving our AirBnB in the Cotswolds. We had a little apartment above this picturesque home. A perfect place to start off our vacation! And that’s our cute little bumper car. The miracle is that we made it our alive. Brock was a champ driving on the left side of the road. I had to work really hard at not scaring him to death with unwelcome teeth gritting and audible praying/grimacing as we hugged the left side of the road.

Ahh, the Cotswolds, how do I love thee, let me count the ways. Have you watched the movie The Holiday? If so, then you are familiar with the Cotswolds.  Kate Winslet’s cottage  was tucked away in this beautiful countryside, about an hour north of London. For reference, Oxford University is also in the southern Cotswolds.

Ahh, the Cotswolds, how do I love thee, let me count the ways. Have you watched the movie The Holiday? If so, then you are familiar with the Cotswolds. Kate Winslet’s cottage was tucked away in this beautiful countryside, about an hour north of London. For reference, Oxford University is also in the southern Cotswolds.

Oh, you know, just some sheep grazing in the field. Driving through the Lake District enroute to Scotland.

Oh, you know, just some sheep grazing in the field. Driving through the Lake District enroute to Scotland.

Scotland. From the Cotswolds, we drove north to Edinburgh for 3 nights. Would definitely love to return and spend more time in the Highlands. We spent a full day in Edinburgh and our second day drove to Pitlochry (lower highlands). En route, we drove through St. Andrews (beautiful & quaint), but definitely a bit rushed. So, here’s to our next trip!

Me and Brock - Edinburgh Castle.

Me and Brock - Edinburgh Castle.

Scottish history is fascinating & fierce. And Brock and I both have a bit of Scottish blood (his mother’s maiden name is Wallace), and two red heads to boot. He was especially proud when he was mistaken for a wee Scottish bloke (his red beard and cap were a good disguise).

Palaces & Castles. We could have spent our entire trip visiting various historical estates. For this trip we visited three— Bleinheim Palace near Oxford (home of the Duke of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill), Edinburgh Castle & Blair Atholl in Scotland. We also saw the exterior of Kensington and Buckingham Palace in London.

A few tips… I had been to Bleinhem once before, and this time, thought it was worth the extra cost to take a small tour of the families upstairs living quarters. We toured with a small group and you really got a behind the scenes look. If we had more time, we would have taken a downstairs tour as well.

Also, I wish we would have bought tickets for Edinburgh Castle ahead of time. The lines were LONG! So, it’s definitely worth deciding ahead of time which estates are worth visiting and if they are known for long lines, buying tickets ahead of time.

These are pictures from Blair Atholl Castle—Not going to lie, the nursery with mannequins freaked me out a bit, (I imagined them all coming alive) and you have to love the tartan decor & deer antlers gracing the walls.

Just one of many china collections! I’m a sucker for dinnerware.  Blair Atholl Castle, Scotland

Just one of many china collections! I’m a sucker for dinnerware. Blair Atholl Castle, Scotland

Architecture & Decor. British decor is truly having a moment right now. And for good reason. From castles to cottages, much of it is timeless, classic and well appointed. One of my favorite words they use for custom made goods (read expensive) is bespoke… Bespoke kitchens, linens, furniture. You name it.

So while most normal humans are dragging their spouses to Harrod’s, I talked Brock into visiting we DeVOL Kitchens. I’ve been following them for over a year on Instagram, and they are definitely my interior design crush. And it’s not because they market sleek, fancy kitchens. Honestly, their kitchens are the opposite of flashy or trendy. Instead they build furniture like cabinets that are timeless—painted shaker doors, stone counters. They are bit reminiscent of the cooks quarters in a Downton Abbey set.

And I am bound and determined to create my own pub window seats when we finally get to our kitchen renovation.

So much of the English & Scottish landscape inspires. I came home and decided we are growing lavender wherever we have room! And the garden and flowers in London—unreal. Finally, I loved all moody, rich hued painted storefronts. Beautiful!

British pubs & tea time. The UK gets a bad wrap when it comes to food, but that is certainly changing. We made sure to book accommodations that included a full English breakfast, and two of our favorite meals were at pubs in the Cotswolds (Eight Bells Inn and another that for the life of me I can’t remember the name). Pubs are just full of ambiance, local color and traditional British fare (what’s not to love about a good Sunday roast?). We just don’t have anything quite like it in the states. Curry was another trip staple—so good. And Brock ate enough fish and chips that I’m surprised he didn’t grow fins. Other food/drink highlights:

  • Sticky toffee: Amazing! Hands down our favorite dessert.

  • Tea time: Who can say no to afternoon tea, scones and clotted cream (I would love to find a good clotted cream recipe. Have been unable to find it in the states.

  • Cappuccinos: Coffee in Europe (even in the land of tea) always tastes better.

  • Cubed sugar: It’s so dainty & cute, and I’ve totally added it to my sugar bowl.

Eight Bells Inn, Chipping Campden, UK

Eight Bells Inn, Chipping Campden, UK

Amazing architecture! Why don’t we build like this anymore??? York Minster, York.

Amazing architecture! Why don’t we build like this anymore??? York Minster, York.

Museums & tours. With history harkening back to 927 AD, there is no end to museums & historical sites. I planned most of the trip, and initially, was overwhelmed narrowing down our route (Cotswolds, Edinburgh, York, London) as well as sightseeing options. Rick Steves (see below) became our go-to throughout the trip, as well as Trip Advisor. Brock and I were both history majors in college, so basically, old things are our jam. But, Brock appreciates ruins and super older castles a bit more than I do. That said, I think we balanced it out pretty well—taking in a mix of old, middle and recent history, as well as some art museums. Our favorites… probably The Victoria & Albert in London and the Churchills War Rooms—definitely pre-buy War Room tickets. It’s fascinating WWII history, but busy! I felt bad for people trying to get same day tickets. I also really liked the James Herriot Museum (see pictures below), and the York Art Gallery, York.

Final note on UK museums, throughout England & Scotland, museums and castles have great little gift shops & cafes. We spent many a tea time at these cafes. And for the most part, the food was surprisingly good! And a some of my favorite gifts came from the museum gift shops. Most notably, tea from Buckingham Palace (totally touristy—but great tea), and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. They do a beautiful job curating thoughtful gifts, not throw away tchotchkes.

Finally, a few travel tips made the trip even better

  1. Rick Steves England/Scotland travel guide. I mean, seriously, what would we have done without him? He’s a great travel companion and we took this book with us everywhere, and passed it along to other friends traveling to England.

  2. These travel pants. I paid full price and never looked back. Seriously, I wish I had bought a couple variations along with one of Athleta’s travel blazers. I wore their Skyline pants at least 2/3rds of our 15 day trip. They were light weight, never wrinkled and didn’t look sloppy. Side note, why/how do Europeans always look so put together (especially compared to American’s?) Come on people, you can do better than constant t-shirts and athleteisure wear!

  3. This back pack for day trips. I liked that it’s anti-theft features and it was compact and sleek. In fact, I’ve taken to using this almost weekly at home. It’s padded interior makes it great for schlepping my computer & other work items.

  4. Creating a music playlist and picking a audiobook to compliment the trip. For England, we chose the book, All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot. It was perfect. It’s a memoir of a Yorkshire country vet—pre and post WWII. We were able to listen as we drove from the Cotswolds through the Lake District to Scotland, and then from Scotland to York, and finally from York to London. What I appreciate about these sweet, funny stories, is hearing about life in the English countryside—filled with interesting characters and hilarious vet tales—in the mid 20th century. We even made a pilgrimage to the James Herriot museum. Yes, we’re nerds and we’re probably the youngest people there by about 20 years. See photos bellow.

  5. Connecting with friends. While most of the trip was me and Brock, we have a handful of friends living in London, so we made sure to visit with them. I always love experiencing another culture at the ground level, not as tourist. You always get a more intimate view of the city and see some less tourist-y sites. And in all of our years of travel, we’ve never regretted connecting with friends and maintaining relationships.

On our return flight. Dressed in layers… definitely bring layers if you’re traveling to the UK in spring. The Brits may be wearing shorts, but I was happy with layers—and always a rain jacket and scarf on hand! #crappyiphonepic

On our return flight. Dressed in layers… definitely bring layers if you’re traveling to the UK in spring. The Brits may be wearing shorts, but I was happy with layers—and always a rain jacket and scarf on hand! #crappyiphonepic

So there it is (if you’re even still reading)—a “brief” (ha ha!) overview of our trip! Of course, there is so much more we would have loved to see, (Cornwall, more of the Lake District, Chartwell, Jane Austen’s house, etc…) so hopefully there is a next time. Would love to hear some of your milestone trips! And here are some parting thoughts.

Brock and I are both glad that we made the effort now and didn’t wait for a future date. Honestly, It’s never seems like a good time to fork over cash for this type of trip—there always seems to be barrage of financial priorities, but we made tradeoffs (like driving older cars), and we don’t regret it. We’re trying hard to prioritize “us” in the midst of life, work, parenting. I’m certainly not saying that you have to go on a big trip to create memories, but this was a milestone anniversary, and I’m so glad we made the effort now instead of waiting for some future date that may never come.

From Brock: At the pace of our lives, it is high priority for us to make time to rest and do things that we love – drink coffee, read books, take walks—spend time together. We spend a lot of time giving out and this was a good trip for filling up and being refreshed. And the great thing about going to an English-speaking country is that it removes a layer of stress, especially when one is driving on the left side of the road circling roundabouts :-) It was good to connect with things that we love—literature, history, being able to see beauty In things, art/theater. Probably best or most important at least, having space to talk about things you don’t typically talk about or don’t have space to talk about, even if they are sometimes difficult conversations. We don’t want to wake up 10 years from now (with our kids off living their own lives), as strangers.