We had planned to revisit Scotland after going in 2019 (Liza’s Outlander reality tour plus birding), but, of course, the pandemic got in the way. In June we made our return, with a grand plan of birding in the Outer Hebrides with Birding Ecosse, and visiting the Scottish cities of Glasgow, Inverness, and Edinburgh; from there moving south to the Yorkshire Dales, Oxford, Dorchester and the Jurassic Coast, and finally London.
To skip this narrative and go straight to the photo galleries (our trip photos, and of course Buddy Bison!) click here. Click any photo below for a larger version.
We started out in Glasgow (by way of Dublin). In 2019 we only connected in Glasgow, collecting an (ill-advised) rental car and moving on. This time we spent a few days getting to know the city. The hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus, which we normally would avoid like the plague, was incredibly useful as it got us exactly where we wanted to go on its loop around the city. We made the most of our time there, admiring the beautiful red sandstone architecture, visiting the Kelvingrove and Hunterian museums, enjoying a distillery tour at Clydeside and a whisky tasting paired with chocolates, and taking a walking tour (thank you, Rick Steves).
We had purchased BritRail rail passes in advance (8 travel days in a month) and initiated them to move on from Glasgow to Inverness. Inverness is a charming small city on Scotland’s northcentral coast, where the River Ness meets the Moray Firth. With a population of about 46k, it’s the largest city and the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands. Easily walkable, we strolled along the river, window-shopped, visited the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, and enjoyed some fine dining.
From Inverness it was on to Grantown-on-Spey, via Aviemore (by train) and then bus. We once again lodged at the Grant Arms Hotel (UK’s Wildlife Hotel) and had a day to explore on our own before meeting Dave Slater of Birding Ecosse for our birding tour of the Outer Hebrides.
The birding tour took us from Grantown to the Isle of Skye (driving) and then via ferry to the isle of North Uist. With North Uist as our base, for several days we explored the isles of North Uist, South Uist, Eriskay, Barra, and Vatersay. We expected to be cold and wet – in June 2019 it was literally freezing in the Highlands and on this trip we’re out on islands – but instead had incredible weather. Add to that gorgeous scenery, tasty gins, no midgies, great looks at birds, and lots of laughs with Dave and our birding companions. We returned via ferry to Skye (so Liza can finally say she’s been “over the sea to Skye” – a reference to the Skye Boat Song) before spending a last night in Grantown.
A return bus from Grantown took us to Aviemore and from there by train to Edinburgh. We had visited briefly in 2019 so it was nice to spend a little more time there. Our hotel was nicely central and we walked everywhere. The Royal Mile is always a treat, and we enjoyed visiting the Scottish National Museum. Also made a return visit to Oink, a roast pork sandwich institution. We also had a full day out with Edinburgh Black Cab Tours, their Scottish Borders tour. We actually messed with the itinerary a fair amount making it semi-“bespoke”, adding in visits to the coast (North Berwick, Dunbar), Prestonpans (site of a 1745 Jacobite victory), and Siccar Point, an important area in the history of geology. We also made it to Melrose Abbey, Smailholm Tower, and Abbotsford (Sir Walter’s Scott’s home). Last stop was Rosslyn Chapel, but with the other activities got there too late to go in – we’ll add it to our list of reasons to return to Scotland.
By this point we had been in Scotland about two weeks and it was time to head south into England. Our first stop was Skipton, the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales, situated on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. You know you’re in All Creatures Great and Small country when your hotel is named Herriot’s. 🙂 From Skipton we took a day trip to Carlisle on the scenic Settle-Carlisle train route, and another day had a pleasant two-hour cruise on the canal with afternoon tea.
From Skipton it was onto Oxford by train. We had wanted to visit Oxford since niece Maureen did her graduate work there (New College), and interest piqued even more in recent years by binge-watching Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, and Endeavour on PBS. (Yes, more television show film locations.) There are so many iconic sites in Oxford, including the Bridge of Sighs (actually the Hertford Bridge, a skyway joining two parts of Hertford College over New College Lane), the Radcliffe Camera, the Old Bodleian Library, and the Sheldonian Theatre – all oh so recognizable from watching the Morse shows over the years. Robert much enjoyed the Natural History Museum there, we both wandered through the Ashmolean, had a tour of Christ Church College, and Liza visited New College to see Maureen’s old stomping grounds. We also took a fun Morse Lewis Endeavour walking tour, checked out the Turf Tavern, and ended our time in Oxford with a visit to the Randolph Hotel to enjoy a drink in the Alice Bar (so named for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland) and the Morse Bar (full of Inspector Morse memorabilia).
While in Oxford we rented a car for the day out in Cowley – yes we swore we’d never drive in the UK again but this was special – to drive out to a few iconic Midsomer Murders filming locations. First we checked out Wallingford (stands in for Causton in the show) and Dorchester-on-Thames (The George Hotel had been used many times) before arriving in Bledlow at the Lions of Bledlow pub. The pub’s owner, Mark, we had met on our March 2023 birding tour in Morocco. It was great fun to see Mark and fellow birder Dave (whom we also met in Morocco) in such a classic, lovely pub. The afternoon went far too quickly!
As much as we loved getting out to Bledlow, we were reminded yet again why we don’t like driving in the UK. (To be clear Robert was driving while Liza either navigated or kept her eyes closed.) The roads through some villages were very narrow, with cars parked, so in places the traffic in each direction takes turns going through. One of our turns to go – and cars followed us – we wound up facing a huge tractor who obviously thought it was his turn. Robert had to drive up on the curb to the sidewalk to give the tractor barely enough room to get by. 🙁 Luckily no tire damage though and we returned the rental car this time without incident!
It was while we were in Oxford that we were notified by our neighbor that there was a fire at home in our neighborhood (June 22, 2023). We have some outdoor cameras at the house and spent part of one evening watching live feeds of flames off the garage apron and thick dark smoke from the front door view, the latter turned out to be when the septic tank cover melted and burned. Rather nerve-wracking but the house was fine, our neighbor called us and a few others were in contact to let us know the status, and we were able to watch on camera the next few days as the fire crews and other services came through to check on the property.
From Oxford it was on to another Dorchester, this one in Dorset, in Thomas Hardy country (Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, anyone?). In fact our hotel was called the Casterbridge. 🙂 We explored Dorchester a bit, but primarily used it as our base to visit the Jurassic Coast – Lyme Regis, West Bay, and Weymouth. We had two day bus passes and took the very handy Jurassic Coaster bus. In Lyme Regis we had a fun day exploring the town and taking a fossil-hunting tour run by the local museum. We visited West Bay to see the iconic Bridport sandstone cliffs that we first saw in the tv show Broadchurch with David Tennant and Olivia Colman. (More tv show locations!) We took in Weymouth on the way back from West Bay to Dorchester; a proper city, much larger than Lyme Regis or West Bay, how you might imagine the British seaside to look – but it was also ridiculously windy and we were tired, so after a bite to eat we hopped back on the bus.
Last but not least, we returned by train to London. London is another city that we’ve blown through on prior occasions without really spending much time, so again it was nice to have a couple of days here. Robert took in the Natural History Museum while Liza visited the V&A; we also enjoyed visiting the British Library’s “treasures of the museum” exhibit, and the British Museum (Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles, and much more, too much for one visit). Big Ben was a must see since its recently completed renovation, part of our walking tour in Westminster.
London ended with a couple of disappointments – first a highly anticipated grilled cheese sandwich at Kappacasein in the Borough Market was not to be had as they were closed the day we went (rats!), and then we visited the Tate Modern. We have visited many museums around the world and always find something commendable; we finally both found one that we couldn’t stand. Ok, modern art isn’t everyone’s thing, but usually we can find something we like – Picasso, for example. Not here, not for us. It didn’t help that the layout was unfathomable. C’est la vie.
We flew from Heathrow through Dublin – Liza determined to get her Guinness at the airport despite the crowded terminal – back to Los Angeles, then making the drive back to check out the burned landscape at home. Let’s just say that editing trip photos and working on the trip account was the more pleasant activity once home!
Motel One, Glasgow
Eskdale Guest House, Inverness
Grant Arms Hotel, Grantown-on-Spey
Hamersay House, North Uist
Motel One Edinburgh Royal, Edinburgh
Herriot’s Hotel, Skipton
The Buttery, Oxford
The Casterbridge, Dorchester (Dorset)
Lancaster Gate Hotel, London
Restaurants of Note
River House, Inverness
Grant Arms Hotel, Grantown-on-Spey
Lochmaddy Hotel, Lochmaddy
Scotts Kitchen, Edinburgh
The Woolly Sheep Inn, Skipton
Turf Tavern, Oxford
White Rabbit, Oxford
Lions of Bledlow, Bledlow
Al Molo, Dorchester
The Swan (pub), London
© Liza and Robert Weissler aves.org 2023, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0 International License.