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Trip report UK and Ireland July-August 2019

My husband and I took my mom to the UK and Ireland from July 18-August 11. This was her first time out of the country. We had intended to travel in May, but found out at the end of March that my mom needed open heart surgery. We moved everything until later in the summer in the hopes that she would be able to join us after she recovered. We had a wonderful time, and are so glad she was able to come with us! I will give an overview of our itinerary and some random thoughts, and then I will break down my report day-by-day for those of you who enjoy all the details (I apologize in advance, I am verbose!)

Itinerary: Disclaimer - I know this itinerary is very fast paced with a lot of driving and short stays. This type of trip wouldn’t be for everyone, and we would probably do things differently in different circumstances, but since traveling with my mom brought some mobility issues, we planned a lot of scenic drives with short stops. For our purposes, it worked perfectly.

London - 4 nights
Bath - 2 nights
Cotswolds - 2 nights
Conwy - 2 nights
Keswick - 1 night
Oban - 2 nights
Fort Augustus - 1 night
Pitlochry - 1 night
Edinburgh - 2 nights
Ashford Castle - 1 night
Dingle - 2 nights
Kinsale - 1 night
Dublin - 2 nights

Transportation: We flew into Heathrow and took the metro to Victoria Station and then walked to our hotel. We used public transit in London and then took a taxi back to the airport to pick up our car. We drove all the days after that until we dropped the car off in Edinburgh. We flew from Edinburgh to Shannon, and rented another car which we dropped off at Dublin airport before our nights there. We rented our car with Sixt for both places and had no issues. We did spend the money to have full coverage for our peace of mind, so that was budgeted for. When we picked up our car in Heathrow we decided to upgrade to the next size up so that we would have a regular trunk to cover our luggage, since we would be visiting a lot of sights while in transit from one hotel to the next.

Driving was both easier and harder than we expected, if that makes sense. At first it was terrifying. The roundabouts were the hardest part for us. We had watched videos and were prepared, or so we thought, but we did not expect to hit one, after another, after another. It was a bit intimidating to survive one just to jump right into the next. After the first day we got the hang of it. We drove a ton of small country roads that required pull outs to pass each other, but we found other drivers to be kind and courteous, and it went smoother than we expected. We used Google maps on our phone, and while I don’t think the routes were always the most sensible, we did get from point A to point B ok. We did not find, for the most part, that driving times took a lot longer than the estimates, as we had been warned. All in all, it seemed doable, but I am glad my husband drove because he is much better with spacial things.

Packing: David and I each had a carry-on sized suitcase and a small personal bag. My mom had a slightly larger rolling suitcase that we had to manage for her. It was definitely a bit more difficult managing three suitcases and three small bags between the two of us, especially on the metro. After we took the metro to London and walked to our hotel in the rain, we decided it was worth the extra expense to take a taxi to and from the airports, and I am glad we did. We all used packing cubes, which helped keep us organized when we were moving around every night or two.

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Budgeting: We did not really do a budget trip this time. When we had planned our trip for May, I carefully hunted down good deals and had a lot of triple rooms booked to save money. When my mom had the health scare and the trip got moved, I wasn’t able to book as many triple rooms and hotel costs were more expensive in the high season, so my planned hotel budget almost doubled. Also, I decided to splurge on things like a night in Ashford Castle, great seats to the Military Tattoo and Phantom of the Opera, and some nice meals out and afternoon tea. I don’t regret a thing. We had originally planned on taking mom on the RS Best of England trip with a week after on our own, but decided to do it alone. By our calculations, even with all our splurges we saved money over taking the tour, so it worked out this time.

Weather: We got pretty lucky with weather, all things considered. We were in London and Bath when the heat wave hit, with highs of 95 degrees, but it only lasted for 2 days and it still cooled down at night, so we survived. After that, we had a few days with misty, rainy periods, but nothing that hung around all day except for our time in Kinsale and drive to Dublin. The weather predictions were almost always completely wrong, so we just went with whatever happened and it all turned out just fine.


Day 1:

Our travel to London went very smoothly with no delays. We arrived in London at 11:00 a.m. and were through immigration, had our bags, and were to our hotel in central London by 1:15. We stayed at the Lime Tree Hotel in Belgravia, which is a beautiful neighborhood.  After dropping our bags off in our rooms and freshening up, we took a walk, enjoying all the cute floral window displays in the shops nearby. We then walked by Buckingham Palace and through St. James park. We stopped several times for mom to recover a bit, but it was kind of nice because it forced us to slow down. We spent some time on a bench in the park watching the baby black swans and enjoying the flowers.

I had wanted to bring mom to England for so long, and one of my favorite photos of the trip was taken this day. David and my mom were walking arm-in-arm ahead of me as he helped her with the uneven sidewalks and I snapped a shot of them surrounded by the London architecture. It was so much fun showing her what we love about Europe and travel for the first time!

At 4:00 p.m. we had reservations at the Town House at Kensington for an afternoon tea. I was nervous about making reservations to do something our 1st day, but it ended up being perfect. It was a very calm and comfortable setting, and give us a place to hide out from the rain. The food was delicious, and they have London landmark themed cakes that made a great, festive way to kick off our trip.

We failed to consider the rush hour on the subway on our way home, as we went back to our hotel around 6:00 p.m. on a Friday. When we saw how crowded the station was, we decided to walk the mile back at a slow pace, stopping at benches along the way for mom to rest. All in all it was a very nice, relaxing way to spend our 1st day, and we were proud of mom for managing to stay awake all day!

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Day 2: 

At breakfast this morning we learned that mom had her 1st time change adventure. She woke up in the middle of the night, and the clock on her phone was still set to home time.  She saw that it said 8 and got up and started getting ready for the day. She didn’t realize it was 1 in the morning until she pulled the curtains to look at her view and saw it was still dark. What a great laugh we had about it this morning.

We went to the Tower of London at about 9:30. We went straight to the Crown jewels and there was no line at all. We took a 10:00 a.m. Beefeaters tour, which was very entertaining despite being a huge group. Mom was a trooper and pushed herself to climb up a few of the flights of stairs in the towers and walls for the views.

We went to Wagamama for lunch before heading to the British museum. We got there around 1:30 and it was incredibly crowded to the point of being unpleasant. We stayed long enough to show mom The Rosetta Stone, some Egyptian artifacts,  the Assyrian wall carvings, and the Parthenon marbles before heading back to the hotel to rest.

We had already walked a lot more than planned, so we got a taxi to take us to dinner. Mom thought the taxi trip was highly entertaining, as our driver was extremely talkative and opinionated about all sorts of things going on in the world. We ate at a French restaurant called Brasserie Zedel, recommended to me by Emma, which we all enjoyed very much. We capped off our night with the Phantom of the Opera. The show was just beautiful and it was mom’s first time seeing it.

We ended up walking far, far more today than we planned, somewhere around 20,000 steps. I've discovered that despite our best efforts at taking public transit, it takes a lot of steps to get to and from the metro stations. Mom did her best, but we were going to have to figure out a way to reduce our steps. It was different traveling with a bit of a mobility impairment for the 1st time, despite all the planning we had thought we had done.

Day 3: 

Today was one that we were most excited about, our visit to Highclere Abbey! We found a bus that leaves from outside our hotel and goes near a subway station, so from that point out we took the bus to the subway station before traveling further, and it worked out fine.

We used Brit Movie tours for the Downton Abbey tour. The company was recommended by Rick Steves and we highly recommend them. We had a small coach with 15 people and a very funny and engaging leader.

We stopped first in Bampton, the village where Downton village was filmed. I absolutely loved this cute little town. We saw the Crowley house, the hospital, the Post Office, the church, the pubs, and several areas where street scenes were filmed. We even met a woman who was out walking her dog who told us that she lives in the Post Office. We asked her some questions and learned about what it was like to live in a home that was filmed. She told us about meeting the actors, how it was surrendering her house when filming was needed, and about the letter they sent her to ask her if she would be interested in participating - she thought it was all a big hoax at the beginning. Bampton is like a post card of what you would expect from a small English village, packed full of old stone buildings and beautiful little gardens with bunches of colorful hollyhocks growing up the stone walls. It was just lovely and mom and I couldn’t stop grinning.

Our next stop was Highclere castle. On the drive there we watched episodes of Downton Abbey in and guide shared some behind the scene trivia about the series. At Highclere we were set free for 3 hours to see the castle, have lunch and wander the grounds. We had a very nice lunch outdoor lunch on the castle grounds with views of the beautiful building.

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The inside of the castle was absolutely wonderful and looks exactly like the show. In fact, we learned that they were not allowed to remove any of the furniture or bring any in for filming, so everything that is used in the show really belongs to the estate, which I did not expect. Brit Movie Tours gave us a guide that showed what each room was used for. 

My favorite part of the whole day was touring the grounds of the castle. We posed for photos on “Mary’s bench,” and then wondered through the many planned gardens. They were just bursting with color and such a variety of plants that it took my breath away. The whole day was just absolutely perfect.

We arrived back in London at about 6:00 p.m. and decided to grab a quick dinner at Nando's which we liked quite a bit. Mom was tired, so we brought her back to the hotel and then headed out to Notting Hill because I wanted to see the Churchill Arms pub festooned in flowers. It was quite a journey out and back for such a short stop, but I'm still glad we went - the flowers were gorgeous.

Day 4: 

Our main agenda today was to be at Buckingham palace for our 9:30 appointment. We thought there seemed like an awful lot of people waiting to go in with us and were concerned that the palace would be very crowded, but it turned out to be just fine once everybody was in and spread out a bit. We very much enjoyed walking through the state rooms and listening to the audio tour that was provided. What beautiful decor!

Mom was feeling really tired, so we made it to a bench in St. James Park. She and I people watched while David went and hunted us some sandwiches. We ended up getting grilled sandwiches from a place called the Sandwich Shop on Docker Street and they were delicious. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon so the park was hopping with all sorts of people having picnics and taking walks. It was a lovely setting for a picnic lunch.

Next up was Westminster Abbey. The line was pretty long and it took us more than an hour to get in, so unfortunately we missed the last entry for the Verger tour, which I’d really hoped to take. We went it on our own with the audio guide, and while we enjoyed it, with the packed crowds inside it was difficult to follow. If I were to do it over again, I would probably have prioritized going to Westminster first thing in the morning, but we had only 2 free mornings in London so we had to pick and choose.

We took a subway from Westminster to St. Paul's for the Evensong service. We got there early because we had been hoping to sit in the choir area right under the mosaic ceilings like we had on a previous trip, but unfortunately they weren’t sitting visitors up there that day. It was nice to sit in the beautiful church and rest feet while listening to the lovely singing. Mom had never seen churches like St. Paul’s and Westminster, so she was in awe.

We actually ate dinner at a restaurant called the Fat Bear that serves Southern American food. This was mom's choice when we listed all of the nearby restaurants, and we had to tease her about wanting to eat American food just 4 days into the trip. It was interesting however, to see the British take on American cuisine, and the food was pretty good. All-in-all, another packed, wonderful, exhausting day. Mom said she liked seeing London, but she is a country girl at heart and was looking forward to leaving the big city.

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Day 5: 

Today we had to head back to Heathrow to pick up our rental car. Our trek from Heathrow to our hotel was a bit longer and more difficult than we had expected coming by metro on our arrival day, as mom has some mobility problems, a vision impairment and has never been to a large city, so we had to watch out for her closely while managing our 3 suitcases. We decided to help cut out some walking we would spend the extra money for a taxi to the airport today. While it was pricey, it was so worth it. The traffic wasn't bad and we arrived to the airport, got our car, and headed out in about an hour.

Driving was a bit of a steep learning curve, and we definitely would have never attempted it while jet lagged. David did not have a problem at all staying left, but found the roundabouts to be a bit more confusing than expected. On the way from Heathrow to Windsor and then on to Bath there were so many that we pretty much ripped the bandaid off fast on that fear!

We parked in a parking lot outside of town that we thought was supposed to have a shuttle, but we could not find it, so unfortunately mom had to hoof it again. It was about 11 am, and we decided to eat lunch 1st before visiting the castle so that we wouldn't get hungry during our tour. Our choices were a bit limited that early, but we found the Duchess Catherine's pub just across from the castle was open. While I expected it to be super touristy and expensive, it was actually reasonably priced and the food was pretty good.

Our timing turned out to be perfect, as we bad noticed crowds and crowds of people going up to the castle and we arrived, but when we were ready to head in there weren't too many. I think that perhaps there was some kind of event with the guards at 11 o'clock and that's probably what drew the crowds. We were able to get through the ticket line with no wait at all and make our way around the palace.

We really enjoyed this staterooms, but unfortunately the dollhouse was closed. We also loved St. George's chapel, and were treated to a special women's choral performance while we were there. We had some fun taking photos on the steps that Harry and Meghan at walked down after their wedding. What a beautiful setting!

We left at about 3 and headed to Bath, arriving around 5. We stayed at the Apple Tree Bed and Breakfast, which I can highly recommend. It is very cute, has a wonderfully gracious hostess, and is located only about a 5 minute walk from the main part of town. Like everywhere else we stayed on this trip, there was no air conditioning, which we were prepared for. It wasn’t a problem anywhere else, but there was a heat wave while we were in Bath and the temperature was 95 degrees. Luckily it still cooled off at night and there were fans, so we did ok.

We were concerned we might get tired of the typical pub fare while we were in the countryside, so we took advantage of different things while in bigger cities. Here we ate at Opa, a Greek restaurant, and it was delicious. I highly recommend the food here, it is much more like the Greek food we had in Greece than anything that we can get at home. Mom was tired so we dropped her off at the hotel and took a walk all throughout the city. The streets are just so beautiful, lined with Georgian buildings and colorful flowers. It was perfect for a flower lover like me.

Day 6:  We started the morning with a delicious breakfast at our B&B. I had stuffed French toast filled with salted caramel sauce and bananas. Easily the best French toast I've ever had - just the right amount of crispy outside and soft inside. Then we walked into town and went to the Roman baths when they opened at about 9. I don't know what I expected, but I enjoyed the audio guide and walk around the baths a lot more than I expected. There is something so humbling about standing on stones that have been walked on for 2000 years.

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We found a bench for mom to rest on and people watch right outside the baths while David and I joined the free walking tour that leaves at 10:30. This has to be the best value we’ve ever had on a trip. The tour was about 2.5 hours and covered a ton of the city’s history. It was led by a volunteer guide who donates his time each week to share his knowledge of the city. There were several guides who broke us into groups of 20 or so. What a great service these people do!

We ate at the Cornish pasty shop we had passed earlier. These are popular in the area of northern Michigan my mom lives in, so she was interested in trying an authentic version. We had been warned the seagulls are ferocious, so we ate inside despite the heat. On our way out we watched a gull swoop down and take an entire slice of cake off of a startled patron’s plate, so I guess they weren’t kidding!

After lunch we rode the hop on hop off bus around to give mom a break from the walking and the heat. With did a quick walk through the fashion museum, but quickly headed back to the room so mom could rest for the remainder of the day. After pushing the walking too much in London, her legs were quite swollen and sore. She enjoyed her afternoon of napping and texting with family at home while David and I explored the city some more. We had dinner at Sally Lunn's to try her famous buns and it was interesting, but I wouldn't have been sad to have missed it. We loved Bath in the evening because it was so quiet and peaceful, but is definitely designed for day trippers, as almost all of the shops close early.

Day 7: 

We had another delicious breakfast this morning and then headed out to explore the Cotswolds. Driving got easier as we went along and David was feeling a lot more confident about our journey. We stopped at the towns of Castle Combe and Bibury, and walked around and took some pictures. Both of these are unbelievably cute and we adored the stone houses with their iconic English gardens out front.

Our next stop was Blenheim Palace. We enjoyed the palace quite a bit, but it was very hot again today, over 95 degreed, and the heat made us a bit cranky and less tolerant of the crowds. We found it much harder to cool down here than we are used to at home, as there is very little air conditioning anywhere and the drinks are served at room temperature. My favorite part of the palace was the wonderful garden in the back. Since we arrived towards the end of the day, the crowds dwindled during our time here and the garden walk was quite peaceful.

We cooled off in the car on the road trip and very much enjoyed riding through the countryside. Our home for the next two nights was the Porch Inn in and Stow-on-the-Wold, rumored to be the oldest in England. Is very charming with a lot of character, and we loved the history of it. Mom rested while David and I wandered around town which was completely still and quiet after 5 pm when the day crowds had gone. We had a delicious dinner in the dining room at the inn where I remember having the most delicious pesto ravioli and we shared a baked camembert appetizer that was wonderful. Another mostly successful day, although we were very much looking forward to the weather cooling off after today.

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Day 8: 

We had an included breakfast this morning that was absolutely delicious. You could choose from a continental breakfast with pastries and cereals or a made-to-order one. I ordered avocado toast which came on a thick slice of delicious bread topped with poached eggs and a very nice sauce. The food on our trip in general had been much better than we anticipated.

Thankfully the weather was cooler today. We headed out in the morning to the Cotswold Lavender farm, and we arrived at opening and wandered around for about 30 minutes. The fields were in full bloom with lavender and wild flowers. We stood at the crest of a hill and could see acres of beautiful lavender fields rolling into the green countryside beyond, and it was just incredible. The smell, also, was so wonderful. Well worth the 4 pound admission per person to go!

After that stop we visited Hidcote Manor to tour their gardens and spent about an hour there. Another lovely, rambling set of English gardens with all different varieties of flowers. This is truly the benefit of traveling during high season - despite the crowds, we saw the gardens in full bloom and that was worth it for me.

Next we drove to Chipping Campden, which was our least favorite of the villages we visited. We had a mediocre lunch there and wandered the streets a bit, but it seemed very commercial. Next we went to Broadway, which was extremely busy, but very pleasant. We enjoyed looking at all the old homes covered in flowers and sat on a bench with ice cream cones. We finished off our tour of the Cotswolds with a drive through Upper Slaughter, Lower Slaughter and Bourton-on-the-Water on our way back to our hotel. Bourton-on-the-Water was by far the most crowded then we wouldn't have enjoyed staying there at all, so we were more than ever happy with our choice of Stow-on-the-Wold. After a bit of time to rest we had a lovely dinner in the Old Stocks Inn down the street from our hotel. It will be hard to leave this place because it is so beautiful! This was exactly the sort of setting my mom had hoped for when she dreamed of seeing England.

Day 9: 

We spent the entire day today driving to Conwy . We took the scenic route through Snowdonia National Park.  We stopped for lunch at a pub in Mallwyd just before the National Park. There is a huge party gathered there that was having drinks at the bar before a wedding, and it was fun to see them all dressed up. Many of the women were even wearing fascinators!

I was unprepared for how crowded Snowdonia would be. Especially in the Southern part, the towns were like resort towns and was very difficult to get around. There were people and cars everywhere, no parking, and the traffic moved very slowly. When we got to the middle part and a bit further North, it was easier to drive but unfortunately it was getting on later in the day so we had to move faster than we had intended. We loved the drive, but there were a lot fewer places to pull over and enjoy the views than I expected. I would like to go back and spend some time hiking, as I think that is the only way to truly see it.

In Conwy, we stayed at Gwynfryn B&B, and it was just perfect. The rooms were spacious and beautifully decorated, and the location was perfectly central to the little town. Our hosts offered an opportunity for dinner at the inn this night, which we took them up on, and it was just beautiful. We ordered an antipasto appetizer which was just massive and took up almost the whole table with bowls of crusty bread, roasted artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and a variety of olives. For my main I ordered a delicious goat cheese tart with cranberries. I am an avid goat cheese enthusiast and love how common it is in dishes here. The best part was that the inn is in a converted church, and the dining room is in the main chapel. It is unique to dine at large tables flanked by old church pews.

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Day 10: 

After a leisurely breakfast we headed to Bodnant Gardens. We got there at opening and it was a little bit drizzly, so we had the place mostly to ourselves. The flowers and the setting were just beautiful. I would love to come back one day when the is azaleas are in bloom because I imagine it is just stunning. My favorite part was the brilliantly colored pink and purple hydrangeas that were in full bloom that just popped against the dark gray stone.

After meandering through the gardens, we took the long way through Snowdonia park to Caernarfon. We visited the castle, which is pretty spectacular, and then had a nice lunch in a pub in town.

At about 4:30 we went to a nearby town in search of a laundromat we had read about. We laughed when we pulled up to a convenience store and gas station that had an outdoor washing station with 2 washers and 1 dryer in the parking lot. The setting couldn't have been nicer overlooking mountains and the beach, but we thought it seemed so funny. We sat in the car and enjoyed the views while our laundry finished washing. We brought mom back to the hotel to rest, and then David and I took a walk on the city walls around Conwy ,enjoying the views despite the rainy weather. The city wall walk definitely was the best part of Conwy for me, it is so surreal to walk along these walls that must have so many stories to tell.

Day 11:   

We hit the road this morning at about 9 and arrived at the Lake District around 11:30. We did Rick Steves recommended drive through Kirkstone Pass up to Ullswater which was just astoundingly beautiful. We ate at the pub at the top of the pass on a picnic table surrounded by mountains and overlooking the valley and lakes below while the sun was shinning brilliantly, and it was pure bliss. Then we drove up to Ullswater and checked out the lake quickly, but it was very busy and parking was limited, so we took mom to our hotel near Keswick to settle in.

After dropping her off, we visited the Castlerigg stone circle. I had never been super interested in stone circles, but this one had the most beautiful setting and it was actually really neat. We took Rick's recommended drive around Buttermere, stopping at scenic pull outs along the way. We had the most stunning weather today, with clear blue skies and warm sun. The mountains in the area were much bigger and more dramatic than I expected. We loved driving around the curvy roads, windows open, watching the gently rolling pasture lands dotted with sheep turn into magnificent mountains. I certainly understood how this place inspired so much poetry!

Our hotel was the Ravenstone Manor near Keswick, which has just a spectacularly beautiful setting. We really wanted to like this hotel because the decoration was beautiful, the staff are nice, and they are very dog friendly. Dogs were welcome everywhere, even the dining room! It was so fun to see all the furry footed friends. However we had a lot of problems here. The bed was very uncomfortable, the  window only opened a few inches, and it was 85 degrees in our room even though it had only been 65 during the day. The toilet didn't flush right and we asked for it to be fixed and they said they fixed it but we still continued to have problems. The towels in the bathroom were on the floor near the toilet when we arrived, and David intended to make some coffee but the inside of the coffee pot was filthy and looked like a had never been cleaned. Also we had dinner in the restaurant and everything was very undercooked. We are normally not very picky about our accommodations, but this place seemed like it has a lot of little things that need to be corrected. Despite its beautiful setting, I have to say that I would not stay here again.

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Day 12:  Today was a long drive as we traveled from the Lake district to Oban in Scotland. It we stopped at a rest area along Lake Lomond so mom could see its famous banks. She was the most excited about our Scotland portion of the trip, so she was thrilled to have arrived.

Then we stopped at Inverary Castle which was just stunning with the most beautiful gardens. We enjoyed a short look through the inside, although there are not that many rooms open for viewing, but the real treasure is the outside. The castle is stunning, and has beautiful ornate stone work. The castle was featured in a special episode in Downton Abbey, so it was neat to continue our Downton tour. The gardens also were just beautiful. David and I had seen the castle from the outside while on the RS Scotland tour a few years ago, but it was nice to actually go in and wander the lovely gardens.

Our last stop before open was for a view of Kilchurn Castle, and we got beautiful views of it from the banks of the lake with a lovely reflection on the still water. Once arriving into Oban checked into Glenrigh Guest House which is just absolutely beautiful with the most beautiful views (I need a new word, everything is beautiful, but I can’t help it!) The owner was a very sweet lady, and our room was large with bay windows overlooking the water.

We arrived into Oban around 5 pm and made a quick stop at the tour office to pick up tickets for our boat tour to Staffa tomorrow. The we scouted out a place for dinner. David wanted to try Coast, but we had not made reservations because we didn’t know what time we arrived. We called them and they said that if we came right away and were able to finish dinner by 7:30 pm, we could come in. We took them up on it and had a lovely dinner, I would definitely recommend this restaurant for something different.

Day 13:  This was puffin day!!! We were all so excited. This was an early morning as we had to make it onto the ferry terminal by 7:15. We left the hotel at 6:45 and walked to the terminal. We are on the ferry for about 45 minutes. On Mull we caught a bus and traveled to Tobermory where we then got on to our next ferry to take us to Staffa and then on to Lunga. The tickets were provided by the tour company Staffa Tours, and we had pre-ordered them. They told us where to be when, and everything worked very smoothly.

Staffa was just incredible, and we really enjoyed our time walking across the basalt columns. Even mom decided to have a go of walking along the rocks to get a view of Fingal’s cave! We had stunning weather again with blue skies.We had about 45 minutes here before it was time to get back on the boat to go to Lunga.

When we arrived to Lunga, there is no permanent pier or dock. Instead, the boat ties up to a floating dock that is on two pontoon looking things, and the capitan pushes this up into the large boulders on the shore. So you have to balance on the bobbing dock and then over the rocks. We had a bit of difficulty getting my mom across the rocks in up the shore, but the boat captain was very kind and grabbed one arm and David grabbed the other and they half-carried her to flat ground. Then she had to climb up a steep bank to the plateau where the puffins live. We took it really slowly with lots of rest breaks. About halfway through she was questioning her sanity for trying this, but she was super motivated to see those birds, so up she went.

Was it ever worth it! When we first arrived, there were no puffins, but our captain said to be patient as they come in in the afternoon. He was surely right as we were in inundated with hundreds of puffins that walked right up to us. First one, and we were gawking at that and taking photos, and then suddenly they just kept landing in big groups everywhere. They were curious about us and walked right up to us. The captain says they like people because we scare the other birds away. This was one of the best days in all my travels so far.

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It was a long journey back to Oban, but we were tired and happy for the rest. We had to do the ferry, bus, ferry in reverse to get back, not arriving until 8:00 p.m.. It made for a long day with a lot of traveling for just a few hours of sightseeing, but it was more than worth it. We got carry-out from the famous fish-and-chips shop on George street, eating it on a park bench by the water at sunset. This was mom’s big request, and she loved it. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

Day 14:

Today was a long day of driving through beautiful scenery. We left Oban and headed to Glencoe. On our way through, there was a heavy fog and the peaks were covered. We drove down the long single track road to Glen Etive, and as we drove the weather cleared and the mountains were just breathtaking, soaring above us on each side.

Our drive back through Glencoe was stunning as well. We stopped at the Three Sisters viewpoint and saw the mountains with some beautiful yellow and purple flowers in the foreground. We had lunch at the Glencoe visitor center and it was actually pretty good.

It was difficult to tear ourselves away from Glencoe, but we had to move on. We headed to Glenfinnan, and unfortunately got there right after the 315 train, so the roads and parking lots were an absolute madhouse. We drove around a few times and people started to leave, so we got a space. Mom sat this one out, but David and I hiked up to the viewpoint to see the famous aqueduct and the Glenfinnan monument.

My big frivolous splurge of the day was to drive all the way out to Eilean Donan just to see it. Not getting to see it was my biggest regret from our last trip. I don’t really know why, maybe because when I was a teenager a family friend honeymooned to Scotland and when they showed me the photos I fell in love. That was when my interest in travel really piqued, I think I realized it was possible for average people. The route there on A87 was another stunner. The castle was as beautiful as I had hoped. We walked around and enjoyed it from each angle before getting back in the car for the drive to Fort Augustus. We stayed at the Inch Hotel and had a lovely dinner in their dining room.

Day 15:

Breakfast was made-to-order at the hotel, avocado toast and buttermilk pancakes with pine syrup. Our first stop this morning was Urquhart. We arrived at about 10:15 and it was super crowded. We looked around a bit and then headed out. David and I had enjoyed the castle on our previous trip, but this time we wished we had skipped it. People were arriving from cruise ship tours by the hundreds, and we literally could not move as we tried to make our way back through the gift shop to the exit. It was the most crowded site we saw on our whole trip. I am sure it was worse because it is festival season in Edinburgh, but I just never expected that volume. They need to perhaps figure out a different way to get to the site to manage crowds.

We then went to Cawdor. This was one of our favorite stops on the RS Scotland tour, though we had traveled in the fall and I had been wanting to see the gardens their in the peak of blooming. There were two buses full of cruisers arriving when we did, so we headed to the gardens while they went into the castle, and had them to ourselves. The gardens were just stunning at that time! The wild tumble of bright colors was just breathtaking. David and Mom teased me about the grin on my face as I wandered around. Then we hand lunch in the cafe and headed to the castle while the groups went to the gardens. It worked out perfectly.

We went to Leault sheepdog farms, introduced to us on the RS tour, in time to get front row seats for the sheepdog demonstration. It was lovely, with a beautiful background and sunny skies. Then on to Pitlochry. We ate at a delicious Turkish restaurant next to our hotel and then had a lovely walk around town before heading in. Pitlochry is such an adorable town bursting with flowers.

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Day 16: 

After leaving Pitlochry, we first visited Drummond Castle Dardens. These were used as Versailles gardens in Outlander, and they were really beautiful formal, French style gardens. We got there at opening and we had the place to ourselves.

After that we went to Doune Castle, another Outlander sight (for me) or Monty Python sight (for him) and David and I explored it while mom rested in the courtyard. We had a lovely lunch at the Buttercup Cafe in Doune village. The food was delicious and they had a bunch of varieties of wonderful looking pies.

We dropped our car rental off near Waverley station and took a taxi to our apartment, No. 1 Apartments at George IV bridge, which was right in the center of things just next door to the Elephant House and down the street from Greyfriars Bobby. Unfortunately, we were on the third floor with no elevators, but the plus side was a spectacular castle view from our window.

Edinburgh was incredibly busy for the tattoo and the fringe festival. While the excitement in the air is kind of fun, I wouldn't recommend traveling here at this time of year for the first time if your goal is to sightsee. With someone that is a bit mobility challenged like my mom, it was difficult to get around with the oppressive crowds.

Mom was tired and wanted to rest, so David and I wondered the town and went to Princes Street gardens for a view of the castle on a clear sunny day. We had dinner at Contini, which was a really delicious Italian restaurant.

We had tickets for the military tattoo at 10:30, and it was just wonderful. I had read that we could be admitted early if we let the guards know that we had a mobility issue, and this turned out to be true. They lined us up in a separate queue and let us head up early. It was very helpful to let mom start walking up the Hill to the castle before the large crowds. The tattoo was unbelievable and exactly as we’d hoped. We splurged on seats at the end of the bleachers facing the castle directly, and it was perfect. We went to the late show so that we could see the firework display and we were happy with our decision. It rained a bit during the show but nothing that we couldn't tolerate. Absolutely a bucket list experience!

Day 17:

Mom wanted to rest today, so David and I went out and had pastries at a French bakery and wandered around town. We found some laundry soap so we could use the washer in our apartment. We went back and got mom and went to Nando's which was across the street for lunch.

We walked down the Royal mile to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Mom really loved the palace and gardens, but she was really tired afterwards and we didn't think she could make the walk back uphill, so we ended up getting a hop on hop off bus tour and riding that around for about an hour and a 1/2. Mom decided she wanted to stay in for the rest the day, so David and I went out into the little shopping for her. We went to dinner at Mother India's which I highly recommend, it is a sort of Indian tapas style restaurant. We brought mom Subway per her request and spent the rest of the night relaxing with her.

Day 18:

We said goodbye to the UK today and headed to Ireland. Our fight left at 8:50 and landed in Shannon at 10:30. We paid about 20 pounds for a taxi and everything went smoothly. After landing and picking up our car, we went straight to the Cliffs of Moher. They were incredibly crowded, but the weather was beautiful when we got there. Mom walked to the tower near the visitor center and camped out there while David and continued on to the north past where the wall ended, and it was just stunning. The longer we walked, the more the crowds thinned out.

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On the way back, there were hurricane force gusts and it started raining sideways, which made us all giggle a bit. We made our way to Doolin to eat at Ivy Cottage for lunch. The parking was nuts and we laughed as we made our way through the cold, raining windy weather, but lunch was absolutely delicious. We got warm soups and beef stew, which definitely hit the spot.

Next we headed north to Ashford Castle for the night. What a treat this was! We were greeted at the door by a man in a green tux and a top hat with an umbrella who ushered us into the lobby, sat us down and offered us a cocktail while we checked in. Mom was shaking her head and giggling, not able to believe how fancy it all was. Our rooms were beautiful. With a lovely view, damask upholstered walls and bedding, beautiful woodwork and a giant marble bathroom. We felt like royalty!

We ate in the Dungeon restaurant at Ashford for dinner and then mom went up for a soak in the bath tub while David I explored the grounds and gardens. There is even a movie theater that plays movies every night and provides candy and popcorn. What a riot!

Day 19:

We had and included breakfast in the fancy dining room - a lovely buffet and custom ordered meals. We ordered pancakes and they were big and fluffy and delicious. Then it was time for the hawk walk, which just blew us away! This was the activity David was the most excited for, and it exceeded all of our expectations. The guide was spectacular, so knowledgeable about the birds and so patient. He told us all about them and their unique temperaments. We were each given our own bird to fly and then we headed out on a walk through a beautiful section of forest on the grounds. We launched and caught the birds over and over for about an hour. Our guide took my phone and took great photos and videos throughout the entire walk. Easily one of the best things we have ever done, and I highly recommend it to anyone in the area. You don’t have to stay at the castle to sign up.

We walked into Cong so mom could see the Quiet Man sites, which she loved. She had asked us to watch the movie with her the night before we left on our trip, so it was fresh for all of us.. Then we had afternoon tea in a lovely room overlooking the castle grounds and lake before it was time to leave. It was a huge splurge, but really like a fairytale and more than worth it!

After tea, we had about a 4 hour drive to Dingle where we would be staying for the night. We stopped to stretch our legs and check out the thatched houses in Adare, which is incredibly cute. We drove to Dingle through Conor’s Pass, which was stunning despite the bit of fog that had crept up. We checked into our Barr Na Sraide in downtown Dingle, which was a great location and very nice room, before hunting down dinner at a pub down the street.

Day 20:

We spent the morning driving the Dingle peninsula, stopping at a number of scenic areas and visiting some of the beehive huts. We were expecting really large crowds on the drive, because we had heard that it is very touristy, but we were pleasantly surprised. There was a manageable amount of traffic on the roads and we had no trouble getting parking at the various sites.

We returned to town after that and mom decided to rest in the room for the afternoon. David and I walked down to the harbor, which was unpleasantly crowded, and then took a break before hunting down dinner. We decided against another pub dinner. Instead, we got takeaway pizza and ate it on a bench outside our B&B. Mom was done for the night, so David and I went out to a pub and listened to some music, which was lovely and relaxing. We would definitely like to return to Dingle some day!

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Day 21:

We left after breakfast this morning and drove to Ross Castle at Killarney National Park where we were to meet our group. We had signed up to take a boat on the lakes of Killarney, followed by a jaunting cart trip through the Gap of Dunloe. We planned this because we thought it would be an easy way for mom to see the scenery without a lot of walking. We lucked out with beautiful weather! The boat captain had been doing his job for 40 years and told us all sorts of tales. The jaunting cart driver was a local, and his entire family runs this business, along with owning land on the edge of the part for sheep. The Gap of Dunloe was one of the most beautiful places we visited in Ireland, and I would love to go back again when we could hike through it for a slower look.

After our tour, we drove to Kinsale for the night where we stayed in Desmond House, a lovely B&B in the center of town. We had really terrible weather here, unfortunately, so our site seeing was a bit hampered. We did dine at a wonderful restaurant called the Supper Club, which we absolutely recommend. Delicious food and very unpretentious. The B&B was located in a beautiful Georgian house and the owners were some of the nicest people we had met on our trip.

Day 22:

This was our last day of driving as we made our way back to Dublin. We drove first to the Rock of Cashel. Mom wasn’t feeling like hiking up to it, so she stayed in the car and enjoyed the views while David and I walked around. What a lovely structure. We got there right in the middle of two rain storms, so we got a bit of blue sky to enjoy while there.

After the Rock of Cashel we went to Kilkenny for lunch and to see the castle. Unfortunately, there was a very cold rain while we were there, so we hid out inside the restaurant rather than doing a lot of walking around the town. We ate at Matt the Millers, and the food was delicious. After a bit we walked to tour the castle, which was interesting but probably our least favorite of the trip. We do think the town is awfully cute and would be worth a return visit in the future.

We dropped our car off at the Dublin airport and got a taxi to our hotel, Stauntons on the Green. Our taxi driver was a hoot, and gave us an impromptu guided tour with recommendations on the way. Stauntons was beautiful and had a great location right across from a park and within walking distance to everything we wanted to see.

Mom was worn out, so decided she would have a snack and head to bed earlier. David and I walked through St. Stephen’s Green, through town and to the Temple Bar area, just to say we had been. Definitely touristy, but we liked the lively atmosphere. We found a yummy thai place for dinner and picked up some last minute gifts for mom to bring home with her.

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Day 23:

Our last day had arrived! We booked an 8:30 entry to the Book of Kells, and even at this time it was unpleasantly crowded. I am glad we went, mostly because I enjoyed the long room of the library at Trinity College, but I was disappointed about how much I could actually see of the book. I was, however, prepared for this from what I had read, and I don’t regret going.

We walked down Dawson Street and had breakfast at the Ivy Dublin - mostly because I had gawked at the decor from the window on our way passed it. It was delicious and such a beautiful restaurant. We spent the morning walking around the city, seeing St. Patricks and some of the other famous sights from the outside at a leisurely pace without any real agenda. Mom wanted a break before dinner, so we took her back to the hotel and then went on a photography safari for the best Georgian doors, which I loved.

We had dinner at Cafe En Seine on Dawson Street, once again mostly because of the decor I had seen, but the food was also delicious! All three of us really enjoyed our meals, David got a steak and I got mushroom risotto. After dinner it was time to see Riverdance at the Gaiety Theater. Mom had always wanted to see this show. While it had some cheesy themes, the dancing was undeniably impressive and we all enjoyed it thoroughly. One of the best parts was that at the end a young man proposed to his girlfriend with the help of the cast, and it was so cute.

All in all, a great finale for our trip!

 While our trip was fast paced, we honestly loved almost every single minute, and if I could do it over again under the same circumstances, I wouldn’t change a thing. We had wow moments every single day and just feel in general so lucky to have had the opportunity to make this trip together.

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Enjoyed your report very much Tamara! You didn’t say, but did you all share the same room throughout the whole trip?

And this report just brings home to me too, about not waiting until I am “older” and having health issues to travel. I’m glad your mom finally got to Europe. ( better late than never), but I am so thankful we can travel now, before age related issues become a burden.

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I too enjoyed your trip report, especially since we had visited some of the same places last summer.

I am sure you will always treasure this trip that you shared with your mother.

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What a wonderful trip report! I've been to just a few of the places you talked about, so thanks, now I know more about where to go in England and Wales. It is so special that your mom went with you. I was able to take my Mom to Dublin and Madrid four years ago and it was a wonderful experience. It was the first, and most likely the last, time we went to Europe together. You made so many wonderful memories. Good for your Mom for hanging in there!

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Thank you guys, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

@diveloonie - we ended up only sharing a room at our last three hotels in Dublin. It was more expensive than originally planned to have separate rooms most of the time, but it ended up being nice to have our own space to decompress.

@BethFL - its so fun to travel again through other peoples' stories!

@Kathy H. - so glad you were able to make it there with your mom! It is a really special thing to share.

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2541 posts

Great trip and report of a wonderful trip. I took my time reading it because we will be in London and Dublin in May. I especially took note of the restaurants you ate in. I will bookmark it to reread when my trip gets closer. Such a special trip with your mom. We were always going to go but never quite got around to it before she passed. Luckily my sister did some traveling with her so she did get to see Europe.

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Thanks for your trip report. Your husband was very brave to drive on the left side of the road. I would be terrified! You are a very nice daughter to take your Mom on a trip. My husband, daughter and I took my Mom with us on a trip to New York City when she was 64 years old. We had a great trip, but my daughter had to sleep in the same bed with her and was totally grossed out that her Grandma needed to shave her legs. LOL. We made a lot of memories. I just got back from a trip that covered a lot of the same geography and I hope to get a trip report up soon.

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700 posts

What a lovely trip report. You have a delightful way of weaving a wonderful story about your traveling trio adventures!

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128 posts

Fantastic trip report! Since I'm leaving in a few days for a long weekend in Dublin, I especially enjoyed your insights. Wish I had the time to do three weeks....maybe someday.

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Janet: too funny! What a memory for her!

Kay: thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Jack: enjoy your time in Dublin!