Thoughts on a three-month vacation

at journey's end

at journey’s end

Three whole months to travel, see sights you’d never have time to see on a shorter trip, meet people, have leisurely lunches in cozy pubs – sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Well, it was in many ways, but the question I was tossing around in my head as we brought this adventure to a close was: Would I do this again?

In a heartbeat.

There are some things I would do differently, however.

  1. I would not stay away from home quite so long. Technically, this was an eleven-week trip. I want to say I’d rather not be away from home for more than eight weeks, but then I start to ponder which cities and sights I would remove from the itinerary. I can’t eliminate anything we’ve seen. And I certainly wouldn’t want to have seen it any faster; if anything, I wanted longer in some places. Which leads me to the next thing….
  2. I would stay at each accommodation at least a week. This, in conjunction with #1, would mean I would have to find a way to see less, but I think I would be sacrificing quantity for quality, and I’m okay with that. Even in the eleven weeks we were in Great Britain, we weren’t able to accomplish everything on my itinerary, and I expected that. We’d start out the day with a full and prioritized list, and drive until we’d had enough. The items at the bottom of the list that we didn’t get to were dismissed and forgotten – no regrets. I count myself fortunate to have seen all that I did see; it was plenty.
  3. All our accommodations would be self-catered flats or cottages. (Self-catered is a term used in the UK to indicate that, unlike a Bed & Breakfast, you will provide all your own meals; kitchen facilities are included toward that end.) No matter how much I love to eat in restaurants, it gets old after awhile. It’s not very healthy in the long term, and is quite expensive in the UK, even in pubs. Some days, on a “day off” or rainy day, I didn’t want to go out. And breakfast was so much easier when I could eat it on my own schedule. But aside from the food aspect, we loved having the space (such as it was) and privacy that a flat or cottage affords. We could spread out and relax.
  4. I would not travel so far north of the equator after October. I don’t mind the cooler days, but we found that many of the sights closed for the winter before we got to them. The gardens close at the end of September, and other sights closed at the end of October. We missed all of the gardens and castles in Kent (known as the garden of England) by saving it for last (November). Also, it’s harder to squeeze as much into a day after daylight savings time is over; it gets dark early that far north!
  5. I would have taken a pair of boots, even if it meant taking another suitcase. I love boots, and I rarely get to wear them in Florida. Everyone was wearing them in England. I was so envious!

That’s it for lessons learned. Not bad, considering we had never done this before. It was a fantastic experience, and I’m already thinking about the next one! ¿Habla español?

What we love the most about England

Favorite pubs visited, and why

Inn Deep, Glasgow

Inn Deep, Glasgow

1. Inn Deep (Glasgow): best pub built under a bridge; best outdoor beer garden; best pub on a river; best beer on tap
2. The Barns (Kingsbarns, Fife, Scotland): most needed fire; good ambiance; outstanding food
3. White Hart Village Inn (Llangybi, Monmouthshire, Wales): best history (in Jane Seymour’s dowry, priests hole behind wood stove); excellent local & organic foods; most patient staff; great fireplace
4. Leather Bottle (Cobham, Kent, England): best pub frequented by an author (Charles Dickens)
5. Philharmonic Pub (Liverpool): most helpful barkeep; most beautiful interior
6. Old Brewery Tavern (Canterbury, Kent, England): tastiest and most innovative foods (overseen by Chef Michael Caines)
7. The Other Place (Edinburgh/New Town): newest pub; great beer and sausages; cool vibe
8. Cross & Corner (Edinburgh/New Town): coolest vibe; friendly server
9. Badger Bar (Rydal, Lake District, England): best pub built into a rock cliff; best rescue when hiking and thirsty; cool beer garden
10. Woolpack Inn (Chilham, Kent, England): best fireplace you could get lost in; great ambience
11. Hung, Drawn, and Quartered (London): best name (across from Gallows Hill, Tower of London)
12. Kay’s Bar (Edinburgh/New Town): best Friday club and back room; best time with friends
13. Boathouse Bar (Deal, Kent, England): best pub on the English Channel; pub fayre with a flair
14. Dirty Dick’s (Edinburgh/New Town): most accommodating barkeep
15. Horse Shoe (Glasgow): best traditional pub menu; great atmosphere; nice barkeep
16. The Old Monk (London): best rescue when sightseeing and thirsty
17. Isles Inn (Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland): best (only) pub in town; walking distance from B&B
18. Anchor Hotel (Kippford, Galloway, Scotland): most welcoming owners
19. Farmer’s Arms (St. David’s, Pembrokeshire, Wales): most outgoing owner; best quality assurance department
20. The Pot Still (Glasgow): most popular after-work pub; first British pub; great atmosphere
21. Black Boy Inn (Caernarfon, Wales): largest portions; great fire; worst name
22. Twice Brewed Inn (Hadrian’s Wall): best pub in the middle of nowhere
23. Ye Olde Starre Inn (York): best Yorkshire beef & pudding
24. A Fly in the Loaf (Liverpool): best name; nice staff; Schneiderweisse on tap
25. Tartan Arms (Bannockburn, Scotland): best kept secret by locals
26. Ox Noble (Manchester): most well-behaved rugby fans; nice manager
27. Yorkshire Brewery (York): best pub-owned brew (Yorkshire Terrier); friendly clientele
28. Blue Boar (York): most informative eavesdropper; good food; friendly staff
29. Pig & Fiddle (Bath): youngest clientele; great beer garden; cutest dog (border terrier)
30. Slaughters Country Inn (Lower Slaughter, Cotswolds, England): coziest inn in cutest village; most adorable Jack Russell terrier in front of fireplace
31. Crown & Trumpet (Broadway, Cotswolds, England): most annoying eavesdropper; great ambience
32. Royal Oak (Winchester): England’s oldest pub; best tapas in pub; lots of cool rooms
33. Golden Rule (Ambleside, Lake District, England): best (only) pub in town
34. Curler’s Rest (Glasgow): coolest old building; helpful barkeep
35. Clachnaharry Inn (Inverness): best pub on the Caledonian Canal; most fun playing dominoes

Favorite castles visited, and why

Tower of London, complete with trebuchet

Tower of London, complete with trebuchet


  1. Tower of London: most historically significant and great exhibits; beefeater-guided tour; the ravens
  2. Stirling: most important to Stuart family history; great tour guide
  3. Edinburgh: best preserved; located on a cool volcanic ridge (the Royal Mile); great tour guide
  4. Caernarfon (Wales): coolest passages inside 15-ft thick walls; great exhibits on the castle, Edward I, and Prince of Wales
  5. Lindisfarne (Northumberland, England): most dramatic approach and profile
  6. Urquhart (Drumnadrochit, Scotland): best ruins and location on Loch Ness, and Drumnadrochit is fun to say
  7. Culzean (Ayrshire, Scotland): most beautiful grounds
  8. Eilean Donan (Dornie, Scotland): most picturesque approach by bridge
  9. St. Andrews (St. Andrews, Scotland): best ruins in the driving rain; cool underground tunnels
  10. Tintagel (Cornwall, England): King Arthur’s birthplace, Merlin’s cave, gorgeous Cornish coast

Our accommodations, from best to worst

  1. The Annexe cottage (Inverness, Scotland)
  2. Cardigan flat (Cardigan, Pembrokeshire, Wales)
  3. Snuggle flat (Glasgow, Scotland)
  4. Bowgie Cottage (Cornwall, England)
  5. Chilham Park flat (Chilham, Kent, England)
  6. Chippenham Stable flat (Chippenham, Wiltshire, England)
  7. How Head Barn flat (Ambleside, Lake District, England)
  8. Kerr Cottage B&B (Dalbeattie, Galloway, Scotland)
  9. Liverpool B&B (Liverpool, England)
  10. Llangybi B&B (Llangybi, Monmouthshire, Wales)
  11. Abel’s House B&B (Caernarfon, Wales)
  12. Forest Park Lodge (Ashurst, New Forest, England)
  13. Tigh na Coille B&B (Isle of Skye, Scotland)
  14. Scotland Street flat (Edinburgh, Scotland)
  15. York B&B (York, England)
  16. Newcastle B&B (Newcastle-on-Tyne, England)
  17. Easter Garth B&B (Rosneath, Scotland)
  18. Balyett B&B (Stranraer, Scotland)
  19. Honeysuckle Homestead B&B (Dinton, Wiltshire, England)

Our trip, by the numbers

  • Months planning: 7
  • Books read in preparation: 25
  • Movies watched in preparation: 19
  • Television shows watched in preparation: 4
  • Days traveled: 84
  • Days with rain: approximately 35
  • Kingdoms visited: 1
  • Countries visited: 3
  • Miles driven: more than 5000
  • Cars rented: 3
  • Speeding tickets: 0
  • Fender-benders or accidents: 0
  • Photos taken: 3000
  • Overnight accommodations: 20
  • Pubs visited: more than 100
  • Real ales sampled: approximately 65
  • Single-malt whiskies sampled: 8
  • Haggis eaten: 1
  • Castles visited: 10
  • Cathedrals visited: 8
  • Abbeys visited: 6
  • Stone circles visited: 4
  • King Arthur burial sites: 3
  • Sheep seen: 1 gazillion
  • Credit cards stolen: 1
  • Money lost: 0
  • Cell phones lost: 1
  • People weight gained (pounds): 2
  • Luggage weight gained (pounds): 32
  • Mail accumulated (pounds): 80

Poppy day

Big BenToday is Poppy Day in the UK, another name for Armistice Day. The poppy became a symbol of Armistice Day from the popular poem, In Flanders Fields, written by Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae during World War I in which he describes the poppies growing between the graves in Flanders fields. For the past few weeks we have seen these bright red paper flowers pop up on shirts, blouses, lapels, coats, and hats everywhere we go in England. Every news- and sportscaster in the UK wears one. It’s a wonderful way to show remembrance – and respect, gratitude, and optimism.

poppies on little crosses outside of Westminster Abbey

poppies on little crosses outside of Westminster Abbey

Today, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, at 11:00, we were emerging from the Underground station next to Parliament, under the vigilant face of Big Ben, when the clock began to strike the hour. It was eerie to see the people on the sidewalks of such a congested district in a bustling city take a moment to stop, look up at Big Ben, and reflect. And most of them were wearing poppies.

Wardrobe update, girls

My clothing plan worked! Aside from having to get used to wearing the same six tops every week for weeks on end, with minor variations accomplished through layering and scarves, it’s been virtually flawless.

The plan:

  • two short-sleeved T-shirts
  • two long-sleeved knit tops
  • two heavier cotton turtlenecks
  • two sweaters
  • three toppers (for layering): a quilted vest, a light drapey sweater, a wool cardigan
  • three pairs of nice jeans: one black, two dark blue
  • one skirt and tights, for dressier occasions
  • three cotton scarves
  • two coats: an anorak with a fleece pullover for outdoor activities and a long, dressier raincoat
  • three pair of shoes: walking/hiking shoes, dressier-but-comfortable flats, waterproof Wellies

When we first arrived in Scotland in August, I wore the short- and long-sleeved tops, and put on the toppers as required in the evenings or on a chilly, overcast day. Occasionally (in the Highlands or on Skye) I would need a turtleneck. Note: Never hike in a turtleneck, no matter how chilly you are going out; you are sure to overheat. Use more layers instead.

By the beginning of October I was ready to drop the short-sleeved T’s, unless wearing them under the wool cardigan. The turtlenecks were becoming more of a staple, and the lighter of my two sweaters was introduced.

This week I brought out the skirt, as we were meeting friends for lunch on Sunday, and the second sweater. It felt so good to have something “new” to wear, especially at this stage of the game! And the tights were perfect – everyone in the UK is wearing them, even with summer dresses in August.

The scarves were brilliant too. They go with T-shirts as well as sweaters. Some days you just need to feel a little dressed up, even if you’re hiking in the morning, and they’re much easier to pack than necklaces. Less liability too. Even though they’re light cotton, they add a lot of warmth around the head or neck. Long scarves can be wrapped around multiple times for extra layers.

And get this: I got by with only one pair of earrings for three months! They’re my standard silver earrings that go with everything.

I almost didn’t bring the third pair of jeans, and I’m so glad I did. It’s nice to have one pair of black and one pair of blue to wear alternately during the week, and to have the third pair as a clean backup to wear while doing laundry or when another pair gets muddy on a hike. Note: Always wear a pair of blue jeans when hiking so you don’t get your only black pair dirty.

Most importantly, choose colors wisely when packing so there’s more opportunity to mix and match. When I started pulling clothes from the closet to pack, I noticed a pattern – purple, olive, and black – so I let that guide me in selecting everything else.

And take clothes you love so there’s less risk of wanting to burn them when you get home. ;o)

Chilham – going out with a bang