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Who would dare go to Scotland without engaging in the hunt for Nessie?  First we visited Urquhart Castle which was built on Loch Ness in the early 13th century.  Most know the castle for its role in the Scottish wars for Independence but to my boys it was the site of Scooby Doo and the Loch Ness Monster – a classic!  The castle is mostly in ruins but the site is beautiful and the weather was amazing.   They have a tea room for a slice of cake on your way out and a nice gift shop.

I wish that we could have stayed and enjoyed it longer but we had to get to Nessieland before it closed.  What can be said about Nessieland?  Part gift shop, part movie, part large latex monster statues, throw in some movie posters, grainy photographs and snakes dangling from the ceiling, and you have Nessieland!  It was truly unique, and the kids loved it.  If you like things a little off beat than give it a go. They also offer cruises on Loch Ness and have an Adventure Playground, which was closed when we were there.

Urquhart Castle, Drumnadrochit, Inverness, Inverness-shire

Adult £7.90, Child £4.80, Concession £6.40
http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/propertyresults/propertyoverview.htm?PropID=PL_297

Nessieland Drumnadrochit Inverness-shire
Adult (aged 16+) – £6.00
Child – £3.00
Family (2 adults + 2 children) – £15.00
http://www.nessieland.co.uk

Oakwood Restaurant
Dochgarroch, Inverness, Scotland
01463 861481

Cute roadside restaurant near Loch Ness.  Very warm and friendly owners.  They don’t have a kid’s menu but will make something that children like.  Our kids asked for pasta, so the owner ran to the market to buy some.  By far the best meal that we had in Scotland.

Lewiston Restaurant at the Loch Ness Inn
Very good gastropub with a warm and friendly atmosphere.  They had a good kid’s menu with pasta and chicken goujons (nuggets)

Loch Ness Lodge Hotel
Family Rooms that sleep 3 for $225 including Breakfast
We choose this 3 star hotel because they had a good deal on Bookings.com.  We had to rent 2 rooms one Family room that sleeps 3 and a double across the hall.  The hotel was clean but dated.  High speed internet in the lobby.

Pin Family Fun in Loch Ness, Scotland!

Loch Ness, Scotland
Loch Ness, Scotland
Carlise Castle, Carlisle, England
Carlise Castle, Carlisle, England

We are off to Scotland! The weather has been lovely and we are hoping that it will hold out a little longer. On our way to the Highlands we stopped at Carlisle Castle and Hadrian’s Wall. Carlisle is a 900 year old castle on the border of England and Scotland. Some of the castle was actually built with stones from Hadrian’s wall.

Falls of Dochert
Falls of Dochert

We drove up through Scotland to Killin, a village situated at the western head of Loch Tay in Stirlingshire, Scotland.  The west end of the village is built around the Falls of Dochart. It’s a beautiful place with a bridge connecting the Main Street over the falls. The boys loved hopping over the rocks. Behind our little rental house is a gorgeous path which leads over the river to a pasture full of sheep, horses and a stone circle. Rich and I can’t get enough of these Neolithic sites, but the boys don’t see the appeal.  Our 11-year-old said: “It’s some rocks… in a circle…???”

Falls of Dochert
Falls of Dochert

Loch Tay has some wonderful archeological sites from the Bronze Age called Crannogs.  During that time, the local people began building homes over the lake, with bridges connecting them back to the land.  They were large structures that could sleep 20 people and livestock, with a central hearth.  They had walls that were the first known example of double-walled insulation, using fur and local plants.

Crannog Center, Scotland
Crannog Center, Scotland
Harrison working the lathe
Harrison working the lathe

At the Scottish Crannog Centre, archaeologists recreated a full crannog using as much of the local materials and techniques as they could, and you can go on a tour of the crannog with a guide who explains how they were built and answers everyone’s questions. He also demonstrated how to use the wood lathes of the time, which were fascinating contraptions that used tree branches and levers to allow spinning of wood and carving.  The boys all got to try their hand at it, which was a lot of fun.  Our guide also demonstrated how they made fire, and actually started a fire using the techniques.  We tried making fire too, and that is also harder than it looks!

Aidan getting into character at the Scottish Crannog Center
Aidan getting into character at the Scottish Crannog Center

Scottish Crannog Centre
http://www.crannog.co.uk/
+44(0)1887 830583 info@crannog.co.uk
Family from £21.00

The Old Smiddy
Main Street, Killin, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park
http://www.theoldsmiddykillin.co.uk/
Good food just down the street from the Falls of Dochart.  They have a good kids menu and great cakes (including a gluten-free option)

For the past 3 days we have stayed in the most wonderful place that we, as a family, have ever stayed.  It’s called Augill Castle and it is truly a special place.

Augill Castle is in the Lake District of Cumbria near a small town called Kirkby Stephen.  Fifteen years ago, the current innkeepers purchased this country home, built in 1841 and restored it from disrepair to an amazing inn.  It’s everything an English Country Inn should be: it has cozy beds, and sherry in your room, and a drawing room, and high tea, and croquet on the lawn, and an honor bar where you can make your own drinks anytime.

Our favorite part is that they completely cater to children!  They have tennis courts, a playground and fort.  They have boxes of toys, costumes and games.  A screening room with a projection TV, a great choice of movies and popcorn.  But more importantly, they love children and the kids feel so welcome here.  The boys spent hours running around the grounds playing Knights.

My boys loved having kids’ meals in their own dining room and feeding the goats and chickens after breakfast.  Rich and I loved having an adult dinner in the formal dining room with the other guests.  It’s been so relaxing after our many weeks of travel.

We did venture out a couple of times.  We went to Mayburgh Henge, a stone circle dating to between 2000 and 1000 B.C., with a single stone monolith in the center, and hills of stone measuring 90 meters across.  It was impressive, but… there was a little problem: the exciting herds of sheep, which the boys just had to chase off into the field, and by the time we got there, and noticed the plethora of little ‘presents’ left by the sheep all over the field… well, it was all over.  All over their shoes, all over their socks, all over their legs… It was ‘exciting’?

We also went to Barnard Castle, which is a 12th century castle in the town of Teesdale.   It’s on a hill overlooking a river and the town of Teesdale.  It was beautiful and the kids loved climbing all over the ruins.

But mostly we have stayed put and enjoyed the beautiful location and wonderful people here at Augill Castle.  Tomorrow, we head to Scotland and while we are excited to see it, we are all sad to be leaving this wonderful place.

Augill Castle
http://www.stayinacastle.com/
South Stainmore
Kirkby Stephen
Cumbria CA17 4DE, UK

The Little Castle at Augill Castle
The Little Castle at Augill Castle

The castle has several rooms that can sleep 5.  We stayed in The Little Castle, which was perfect.  It had a master downstairs with a kitchenette and bath. Upstairs contains two twin beds and a futon plus a bathroom.  We also had a private entrance with a cute garden.

The hotel offers private dinner and cooking classes for children.  Check their website for more information.

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Augill Castle, Cumbria, England, UK
Augill Castle, Cumbria, England, UK

On an overcast but warm Saturday in September we drove across the Moors from York to see Whitby Abbey, perched over the coastal town of Whitby. It’s a popular weekend town in Yorkshire and families came from all around to enjoy the fresh air and the seafood.  We dined on fish and chips at a small diner and then strolled down to the pier.

Playing the Ring Toss in Whitby
Playing the Ring Toss in Whitby

The kids were thrilled to see a fun house and a roller coaster for kids.  We rode on some rides, played some carnival games, and then hiked up the hill to Whitby Abbey for a breathtaking view of ocean and city.

Rich after walking up from Whitby to the Abbey
Rich after walking up from Whitby to the Abbey

The first monastery was founded here in AD 657.  The future of the English church was decided here in 664, when the site was the venue for the Synod of Whitby, when King Oswiu convened a meeting to work out Celtic and Roman differences of religion.  Observance of Easter and Roman church customs were some of the issues decided at Whitby.

Whitby Abbey, Whitby, UK
Whitby Abbey, Whitby, UK

The abbey itself was rebuilt by the Normans in 1090, and significant parts of it were built again in the 13th and 14th centuries in the English style.  Parts of it have been rebuilt over the centuries since then, and the West face collapsed in 1914 due to some naval bombings by Germany.

Bram Stoker famously stayed there in 1890, and used the site as the backdrop for Dracula.  He was apparently entranced by the many bats flying around the churches.  It is believed that much of the book was actually written on the grounds of Whitby Abbey itself.

Aidan plays lord of Whitby
Aidan plays lord of Whitby

It’s an eerie and beautiful place.  We took the audio tour and strolled along the path leading to the Abbey.  The kids loved standing at the base of the enormous façade and running through the ruins.  It’s my favorite site so far in England.

Looking for ghosts at Whitby Abbey

Looking for ghosts at Whitby Abbey

Visit

Abbey Lane, Whitby, North Yorkshire

There is parking on site and wheelchairs are available at the entrance.  Strollers are welcome.  

Tickets (as of Oct 2017) £7.60 per adult/ £4.60 per child or £19.80 for a family of 5

Audio tours are included in the ticket price.  

Eat 

Mister Chips

Good fish and chips in a very casual and child-friendly restaurant. The service was good and they had a kids menu.  Parking can be a challenge,  park at the abbey and walk down the hill to the restaurant.

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An Afternoon at Whitby Abbey
An Afternoon at Whitby Abbey

The owner of a home we rented in York suggested that we take a day trip to an “amazing place”. It was a two-hour drive on beautiful but narrow farm roads and we got a little lost several times but it was so worth it!  It’s hard to describe The Forbidden Corner.  It’s really unlike anywhere we’ve been.

The brochure says A labyrinth of tunnels, chambers, follies and surprises created in a four-acre garden.  But it’s much more fun than that.  We got soaked, disoriented, lost, freaked out and laughed the entire time.  We ran through mazes, tunnels, and haunted chambers.  We entered a giant mouth, marveled at giant tree figures and got stuck in a gate.  We climbed up towers, down into dungeons and squeezed into caves.  It was a blast.

We even had tea!  We saw giant rats eaten by an enormous cat, Roman guards, gravestones, ghosts, Pan, Medusa, skeletons and many more surprises.  Walls turned to doors, rooms moved and statues showered us with water.

Developed in the 1980s by Colin Armstrong,  the gardens were originally conceived as a private pleasure garden. They were later expanded and opened to the public.  They don’t give you a map of the garden, just a brochure with pictures of various sites within the garden, so you just run around and explore.  After all that running, they have a nice tea room to enjoy a slice of cake and cup of tea before you make the long journey home.  And the usual souvenir shop.  It’s all very clean and well-run, and the staff was pleasant.

You must make reservations to enter the Forbidden Corner and do it early, as they take limited bookings per hour to keep the garden somewhat empty and open, which really adds to the mystery and fun.  So book early.  We had to take their last time slot of the day which only gave us 2 hours to run around.

Tip: There are several areas where you cross under waterfalls and through creeks so be sure to wear water-resistant footwear and jackets.  It’s way too much fun to worry about getting wet!

For more information, visit: http://www.theforbiddencorner.co.uk/

£40.00 for 2 adults and 3 children
Tupgill Park Estate, Coverham, Middleham, North Yorkshire

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The Forbidden Corner Yorkshire
The Forbidden Corner Yorkshire
View from the Top of Clifford's Tower, York, England
View from the Top of Clifford’s Tower, York, England

As we headed north from London to the Isle of Skye, we stopped to stay at a cute little cabin in an orchard just a few miles from the walled city of York.  The yard is full of rabbits and has ample room for the boys to run around and explore.  The cabin is nice but the WiFi runs at slow cell phone speed, which is really frustrating!  After checking in, we went for dinner at the town pub.  It was a friendly place with good food and a playground in the beer garden.

Orchard Lodge, York, England
Orchard Lodge, York, England

York has a long history that dates back to before the Romans occupied it in 71 AD.  Today York is a busy city with a lot of fun places to explore.

First, we visited the Medieval Norman Castle known as Clifford’s Tower.  It was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 to take control of the Viking town in York.  The castle served various purposes over the years, including castle, government office, gunpowder depot (oops, caught on fire in 1684!), jail, and in the 1800s it was overgrown with trees and bushes, and became a popular picnic spot.  It has some great views of York and the surrounding area.

Clifford's Tower, York, England
Clifford’s Tower, York, England

Next we went to the Jorvik Viking Centre, which includes a ride that takes you through a reconstruction of Jorvik (York) in 975 at a site known as Coppergate.  The excavation at Coppergate helped archeologists discover what the people ate, wore, traded, and how they built their homes.  They used this information to develop a Disney-like ride that takes you down a street in Coppergate to see how the Vikings lived.  The ride was fun and informative.  Did you know Vikings never wore horns?  The ride ends in a museum where you can see some of the artifacts that were found at the site and some skeletons too!

The next day we returned to try the second part of the exhibit: Jorvik Dig, which is in an 11th Century church named St Saviour.  A tour guide led us on an interactive tour of 4 replica excavation pits that we got to unearth ourselves with trowels. They are based on four major excavations:

  • Roman Eboracum, 71 AD
  • Viking Jorvik, 866 AD
  • Medieval, The Gilbertine Priory of St Andrew at Fishergate established in the 13th century
  • Victorian, Small terraced houses from the 19th century
Jorvik Dig, York, England
Jorvik Dig, York, England

They buried similar artifacts to what the Trust’s archaeologists found during that particular excavation.  Kids get to dig through the pits and see how the archaeologists work.  They get to hold old bones, pottery fragments and even coprolite!  We learned how the Vikings made glass: they softened the horn from a steer with heat and then molded it into flat rectangles.  Then they washed it with fermented human urine (their favorite cleaning liquid) which made it slightly opaque.  Gross but interesting!

Jorvik Viking Centre

http://jorvik-viking-centre.co.uk/

£29.00 for a family of 5

£43.75 for a family of 5 if you want to go to Dig

http://digyork.com/

Carousel, York, England
Carousel, York, England

After we did the Dig, we had lunch at a cute little café followed by a trip though the farmers market in the center of town, and a carousel ride, because you just can’t pass up a carousel sometimes!

Finally we enjoyed dinner at The Ebor Inn with our boys.  The staff was helpful and friendly, and it made for a great way to end a busy day.

View of Warwick Castle, Warwick, England
View of Warwick Castle, Warwick, England

Today we ventured out to Warwick Castle.  The castle is a national monument and is a kid paradise.  Originally built as a Saxon fortification in 914 to defend against the Danes, William the Conqueror started to turn it into a castle in 1068.  The Earls of Warwick owned it up until 1978.  The castle features prominently on the BBC show Merlin, which is a popular show in our house.  Naturally, the kids were thrilled.

Knight Battle, Warwick Castle, Warwick, England
Knight Battle, Warwick Castle, Warwick, England

We explored the castle, complete with wax figures.  We climbed the 530 steps to the Guys Tower, which took so long that we missed the firing of the World’s Largest Trebuchet, measuring 18 meters high and weighing in at 22 tons.  But we did make it in time for the jousting tournament, which was a lot of fun.  Our 7-year-old twins tried their hands at archery and went to Knight’s school.  The boys toured the dungeons and tried on real armor (followed by a great sword battle).  We waited for a few hours to get into the Merlin, The Dragon Tower show (which was unimpressive).  But overall, our day at the castle was great.

Near the pub, Warwick, England
Near the pub, Warwick, England

 

 

 

For lunch we headed down the streets in search of a pub.  The town is charming, with old storefronts and cobblestone streets.  We toured the 15th century Beauchamp Chapel (the oldest part of St. Mary’s Church), and descended into the 12th century Norman crypt (spooky!) and then explored the cemetery.  We wandered into The Thomas Lloyd pub for our first pub experience.  The food was great!

Hilton Warwick/Stratford Upon Avon, Junction 15, M40, A429 Stratford Rd, Warwick

For a Family of 5 we needed 1 triple and 1 double.  No joining rooms so the adults had to split up.

Archery Training, Warwick Castle
Archery Training, Warwick Castle

I have mixed feelings about this hotel and am not sure how to rate it. This is the 3rd Hilton-brand hotel that we have stayed at so far on our 6 month voyage. It was by far the best in terms of food, comfort and service. The beds were very comfortable, the sheets soft and it had nice pillows. The food in the dining room and bar was wonderful and the servers were very kind and helpful. The parking was easy, the location was great and the kids loved the indoor pool. But the hotel seems dated and the rooms smell musty. They are clean but the smell is bothersome. Because we are a family of 5 we had to book 2 rooms. One room just needed to air out but in the other room the smell lingered.

Trying to pull a real bow at Warwick Castle, Warwick, England
Trying to pull a real bow at Warwick Castle, Warwick, England

The Thomas Lloyd pub, 3-7 Market Place, Warwick

Good food and fast service.  Large kids menu and many Gluten Free Items.  Coloring books for the kids.  Easy walk from the Warwick Gate.