American born author Elle Druskin has traveled the world, often with children in tow. Today she talks about traveling to Scotland with her children. A nurse by profession and academic, she has used her background in crafting her novels. To Catch A Cop, a romantic comedy/mystery was nominated as Best Romantic Comedy of 2010 by The Romance Reviews. To Catch A Crook, the second book in the To Catch series, is now available. Visit Elle at her website. -- AP
SCOTS WHA HAE!
My newest book, To Catch A Crook, takes place in London and the Scottish Highlands in the fictional town of Fraoch Falls. Fraoch, which is pronounced Frewoch, is Gaelic for heather. I first went to Scotland years ago after reading Diana Gabaldon's Outlander and I'm still reading the series and been back to Scotland many times. Today there are Outlander tours, but in those days, you were on your own. It didn't dampen my pleasure and delight in Scotland, so I thought I would take this opportunity to share some of that with you, especially if you might be traveling with children.
Think you want to see Scotland? Who wouldn't? History, intrigue, architecture, cuisine, scenery and of course, the Scottish people. You can't miss. I've been to Scotland many times, and I’m still ready to get on a plane and go again. My children were so enchanted by my stories about Scotland that they begged me to take them, and they still talk about that trip even if it was many years ago. Traveling with kids is different. It's a slower pace, and the things that fascinate adults might be boring for children, depending on their personalities and ages, but the benefit is that you get to see another country through their eyes. We often went in the middle of winter, bundled up to face a climate where the sun barely comes out that time of year. (The sun rises around 9 and sets around 3 pm. Of course, that meant the kids were fooled by the long darkness and ready for bed by 7pm.)
I prepared my children, who were 6 and 11 at the time, by telling them what we would see and do and showing them pictures. They also enjoyed Robert Carlyle's Hamish MacBeth series and hoped they were going to run into Hamish somewhere. I think that helped them and gave us a chance to talk about the trip. We landed in Edinburgh after a long flight from Sydney, made our way to our Bed and Breakfast, and were ready to head out to Edinburgh Castle.
Bed and Breakfast is a good way to travel in the UK. It's cheaper than hotels and some of them are more accommodating with children. Some, not all. We were very lucky with the one in Edinburgh; the room was like something out of a Victorian picture book, with a real fireplace, although we relied on central heating, a necessity in a Scottish winter. The owner also had children and kindly invited mine down to play with his kids in the afternoon. This was great; kids want to be with other kids.
He also suggested that we order a delivery for dinner rather than trudge outside in the cold and dark, and he happily supplied any cutlery or plates that we needed. Other Bed and Breakfast arrangements were not as good; we stayed at one that could only be described as a "Tartan Nightmare." Everything from bedspreads to curtains was a plaid riot. In Beauly, up in the Highlands, we stayed at another that was quite Spartan, but when my son asked for a particular breakfast cereal, the owner took him by the hand and the next thing I knew, they were walking outside to the little grocery next door where he told my son to choose whatever he wanted. They also had a party on Saturday night with all the locals, a "ceilidh" where music and dancing went on until 4 am. I suspected we were invited because the noise would have kept us awake, anyway, but it was fun and a chance to spend some time with locals, doing the things that they do, not only touristy activities.
This is the official site for Edinburgh Castle including a lovely photo of it in the snow. This is a great starting point for any visit to Edinburgh; the castle, which is more of a fortress is perched on volcanic rock high above the city and at the start of the Royal Mile. I much prefer walking downhill to uphill <g> so off we went.
There's so much to see within the castle grounds from the Great Hall to the Scottish National War Museum, Prisoner of War Museum and Regimental Museum of the Scottish Dragoons. For my son, this was fantastic! The uniforms, the swords, the cannons, all the colorful military kinds of things that lots of little boys love. We ended up buying several sets of tiny metal soldiers in one of the shops, and my son would line them up and have pretend battles.
Although most tourists will be in Edinburgh in the summer (lots of daylight and much better weather,) we had a few advantages going in December. No long lines for anything, and the castle staff had plenty of time to spend with the kids. They demonstrated how to roll up in a plaid—a length of tartan fabric, and turn it into a kilt and let the kids try. There's no way they would have had time for that in the summer.
The castle has many ghosts associated with its history and the kids loved that. They weren't sure if ghosts were real but they tended to believe it. Everything from a ghostly drummer warning of impending attack to a musician trapped in the tunnel that runs below the Royal Mile fascinated my children. They were particularly taken by the story of the "ghost dog" who arises from the dog cemetery within the castle grounds. Yep, dog cemetery. "If people can be ghosts, why not a dog?" asked my son. Made perfect sense to him.
My daughter loved seeing the Honors of Scotland, the Scottish Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny and the Royal Palace. Being older, she appreciated the history much more than my son and understood the familiar joke that happens every day at 1 pm. At that time, the castle cannon, (The One O'clock Gun) booms over the city. One huge kaboom. The joke? People often ask why at One and not at Noon, where there would be twelve cannons. Of course, the Scots always reply, "You're in Scotland. Far more economical to fire off one cannon than twelve." That went over my son's head but he loved the cannon anyway.
There's a lot to see within the Castle but the best way to approach a visit is to go online and plan in advance. The kids also enjoyed the recorders with headsets and could play them at marked spots throughout the grounds and listen while looking at the various sites.
As you walk down the Royal Mile, there are plenty of places to stop and visit, especially with children. The Royal Mile runs all the way down to Holyrood Palace which looks more like a "fairytale castle" than Edinburgh Castle, and the New Scottish Parliament. It's the oldest street in the city and full of shops, tourist traps, pubs, whiskey tasting (skip that one with the kids <g>) and things like the Writers' Museum (think Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns.) Lots of other places like John Knox House, the High Kirk of St. Giles, Outlook Tower, etc.
A few places of interest for kids: Brodie Close. Edinburgh is full of wynds, little alleys that are dark and kind of creepy even during the daytime. Brodie Close is named for William Brodie. Robert Louis Stephenson used Brodie (a respectable man by day, a burglar at night) for his classic novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Kids also will enjoy the Brass Rubbing Center where they can make impressions from replicas of the ancient Pictish crosses and the Museum of Childhood, which houses a collection of historical toys, dolls and books.
|Greyfriar's Bobby statue|
A must see with the kids is a slight detour from the Royal Mile, not more than a minute's walk to Greyfriar's Kirkyard. I made sure that my children saw the old Disney movie about Greyfriar's Bobby and they couldn't wait to see the Kirkyard. Even before you get to the kirkyard, there is a small statue of Bobby (a Skye terrier) on a pedestal. If you don't know the story, Bobby was owned by John Gray, known locally as Auld Jock. When Jock died, he was buried in an unmarked grave in the kirkyard. Bobby was so attached to Jock, that he remained at his master's grave for 14 years. Fed and cared for by the locals, Bobby is an Edinburgh legend, and his signal to leave the kirkyard was that famous One O'Clock Gun. Off he would go, be fed, and return to guard his master's grave. Bobby is buried in the kirkyard, too. Huntley House, which is on the Royal Mile displays Bobby's collar.
Thanks so much for the virtual tour, Elle! Readers, how many of you have been to Scotland? How many plan to go someday? -- AP