England, Scotland, and Wales

Mike and Judy Henderson
May 13-26, 2018

We've wanted to see more of England for a long time but just didn't find the right tour.  We looked at cruises around the island, and at barge trips on the many canals, but none really caught our fancy.  This one seems to do what we want - a land tour that goes through all the major parts of England, Scotland and Wales.

5/11/2018 (Friday) We depart Los Angeles today, flying to London on Air New Zealand.  We change planes in London to fly to Edinburgh.  We arrive the day before the tour starts, on March 13, but that gives us time to rest and adjust to the time difference.

Here we are as we prepare to leave home.

The limo driver showed up early and we got an early start.

Traffic was fairly light and we arrived at the airport less than an hour later.  Here are Judy and the Limo driver after we arrived at the airport.

We checked in with Air New Zealand.

We went through security and then to the airport lounge.

After a couple of hours in the lounge, it was time for our flight.  It's a 777 but has that miserable herringbone seating layout.

We were late taking off - the flight was suppose to depart at 5pm but we didn't take off until about 6.  But eventually we were off into low clouds.

It was a bumpy ride at first but eventually things smoothed out.  After dinner, we tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to get some sleep.

5/12/2018 (Saturday) After many hours, we sighted the coast of Ireland.

On the way to Heathrow, we flew over London.  You can tell it's London because of the "London Eye" Ferris wheel, pointed to by the red arrow.

Heathrow is a busy airport and hard to get around.  We first went to the customs area for the people going to London - it was crazy.

Luckily, we found out that we didn't have to go through this line but had to go through customs in terminal 5, which we did.

Then it was more waiting until our flight left for Edinburgh, which was only about an hour of flight time.  After we claimed our bags we met the driver who took us to the hotel.

Its a good hotel and the staff works hard to help the guests.

After settling in we joined Judy's cousin, Jean, who is also on the tour.  Jean is from Bend, OR.

5/13/2018 (Sunday, Mother's Day)  Skipper and Bernie got together and purchased two Mother's Day cards for Judy, which I gave to her today.  Judy really appreciated their cards and thought it was very sweet of them.

Although we usually don't sleep well the first night of a trip, both Judy and I slept well last night and didn't wake up until after 7am.  After breakfast I went walking in town while Judy rested.  Edinburgh is a fairly small town, easy to walk.

I walked up to Edinburgh Castle but I didn't go in.  We're scheduled to visit it as part of the tour tomorrow.

At 1pm, we all met down in the lobby for our first tour - to Stirling Castle.  We also met our tour leader, Bret Buskrud.  He proved to be an outstanding tour director, one of the very best we ever had.

On our way to Stirling Castle, our guide told us about the rulers of that time, specifically, Mary, Queen of Scots and her son, James IV (who became James I of England and Scotland).  Mary lived at the same time as Elizabeth I of England, who was the daughter of the notorious Henry VIII (he of the six wives).  He also talked about James V, who was the son of James IV and Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England.  It can get pretty confusing with all those kings and queens:-).

Here's Stirling Castle at the top of Castle Hill.  I took this picture out of the bus window while bouncing up and down, so it's not the best picture.

We entered at the gate pointed to by the red arrow (at the right of the picture).  The yellow arrow points to the chapel.  The green arrow points to the Great Hall.  I found this aerial view on the web. 

Here's Stuart Cowie, our guide for the castle and the next couple of days, in a kilt.

An overview of Stirling Castle.

Our guide took us through the various parts of the castle. The Great Hall was where the King and Queen held social gatherings, with their thrones at the end of the hall at a long table.  Judy and I had our picture taken sitting at the table.  Doesn't Judy look like a queen?

Returning to the hotel we passed a large sculpture of two horses heads, called "The Kelpies" which is very near the town of Falkirk.  We didn't stop at the site so I got this picture from the web.  The sculpture is constructed of many pieces of stainless steel, and it's a very impressive sculpture.  Kelpies are part of Scottish folklore, and these commemorate the opening of a new canal.

One thing I didn't learn until later is that Falkirk is the location of the Falkirk Wheel - a giant device that lifts and lowers canal boats between two canals.  Traditionally, this would have been done with a series of locks but this device accomplishes the same task and is much faster.  We passed a couple of miles from the wheel - I sure wish Tauck had taken a short detour and driven by the wheel so we could have seen it. 

It is one of only two working boat lifts in the UK - the other is the Anderton Boat Lift.  For those of you interested in a list of boat lifts, see here.  The world's largest boat lift is at the Three Gorges Dam.

Here's a picture taken from the web of the wheel.

And here's a picture of the wheel in operation.  A boat from the upper canal is lowered to the lower canal, while at the same time, a boat from the lower canal is raised to the upper canal.  In the picture below, the wheel turns counter-clockwise.  The wheel is perfectly balanced because a boat displaces its weight in water, so the two sides of the wheel always weigh exactly the same, no matter the weight of the boat.  And if there's no boat, the weight is still balanced because both sides still weigh exactly the same. [Well, technically, the two carriers can have slightly different levels of water in them, but not by much.  It depends on the level of the water in the upper canal and the level of the water in the bottom canal.]

That evening we had the traditional Tauck welcome cocktail gathering in the hotel.

A bagpiper came to entertain us.  He played for us and then answered questions about the bagpipe, Scottish music and dress, and whatever people wanted to ask about.

Afterwards, we led us to dinner, playing the bagpipe.

Prior to the meal, proper, one of the cooks brought in a Haggis, a traditional food of Scotland.  Like many traditional foods, it was originally the food of the poor.  It's made from sheep lungs, heart and liver, cooked with onions, oatmeal and spices, and stuffed in a sheep's stomach (tripe).

A close-up look at the Haggis.

I understand it's traditional to recite Robert Burns' poem, "Address to a Haggis," when serving Haggis to foreign guests, and the bagpiper did so.

And here we are being served a first course of Haggis, prior to the rest of the meal. I won't say it's a delicious dish, but it wasn't bad.

That concluded the day.


You can see more of our adventure here.