CIE Tours Travel Blog
Continuing to Scotland and Ireland
By: Samantha Henderson
Date: June 9, 2017
Culloden Hotel, Holywood
I never knew so much could happen in four days! My first week with CIE has come and gone and every day I fall more and more in love with the new people, the new places, and the plethora of new experiences. In the past four days we have enjoyed three different countries, stopping along the way at beautiful and fun places that I never even thought I'd ever get the chance to see.
Continuing to Discover England
On June sixth we left our hotel in London, Park Plaza London Riverbank. I must say, I wasn't thrilled to leave! The rooms were luxurious and accommodating and the views were terrific. I couldn't get over the perfect location, being less than a ten-minute walk from main attractions like the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and much more.
I was soon less upset about parting when we arrived in Cambridge. Here, our guide Ken led us through the city until he set us free to roam at leisure in the heart of the city. Along the walk, Ken provided plenty of information about and history of Cambridge and showed us some key landmarks, like the aweing Mathematical Bridge over the River Cam. After, I broke off from the group to do what interested me personally.
Tranquil gardens and seating behind Darwin College
Most guests got the pleasure of touring Cambridge University or Fitzwilliam Museum. I elected to take a look inside Cambridge's oldest church, St. Bene't's Church. The church was quiet as there was only one other person inside, leaving me time to learn about the church and its history at my own pace.
If you get the chance and are in the mood to take a stroll, behind Darwin College are gorgeous seating areas and walking paths along a small river that shortly gives way to the River Cam.
After meeting back at the coach, we travelled to York. The first thing we did in York was explore York Minster. Now, we tend to hear more about Westminster Abbey than York Minster, but I am telling you, York Minster is one of the most worthwhile attractions I've come across yet. York Minster is incredibly larger than Westminster and is much less crowded. The architecture and history are absolutely astonishing; definitely going to be a favorite of mine for a very long time.
Inside York Minster
Next, the group was guided by Ken to an area of York known as the Shambles. This area involves a beautiful cobblestone road that is one of the narrowest any of us have ever seen. The road (more like a path) is filled with different shops, many featuring local artisans selling goods unique to York and other parts of England. We were free to explore the interesting shops and cathedrals on or own, everything being a very short distance from each other. To end to evening, we checked into the York Marriott Hotel and had great fun over delicious food and drink at the bar and restaurant within the hotel.
In the morning, we had a tasty breakfast at the York Marriott Hotel and headed on our way to Alnwick Castle, which is the second-largest inhabited castle in England. On arrival, some of us headed for the elaborate gardens before exploring the castle. The seven separate sections of the gardens each provide magnificent views of floral artwork and fragrance, and the easy-to-follow maps, signs, and paths made it virtually impossible to get lost. The great thing about the gardens is that they are so spread out that no areas were ever crowded. After wandering among the flowers to our hearts' content, we got to view the poison garden via appointment (it's still free with admission that's included in the CIE tour), which let us view and learn about a wide variety of poisonous plants.
After hearing funny and shocking stories about the fates of people who got too close to various poisonous plants, we took a scenic walk to the castle. We've all heard a fairytale before that made us want to jump right into the scene... Well, that's exactly what going to the Alnwick castle was like! The landscape is absolutely phenomenal to say the least. The rolling hills and winding road in the distance our simply enchanting. Entering the castle provides and instant feeling of royalty. The architecture and decor is enough to send you through a loop. Then, things just kept getting more surreal when I was able to see the exact spot that the broomstick flying scene in Harry Potter was filmed and took a walk above the castle walls. I know I left the castle wondering if there were any eligible princes in the family...
View of Alnwick Castle
from one of its courtyards
Once the castle had been explored until we'd seen just about every inch of the awe-inspiring building and its surrounding land, many guests stopped to split a fish and chips at the stand just on the way back to the coach. Many also took a stroll along the Alnwick Garden Treehouse, which is among the largest in England.
Welcome to Scotland
Soon, we departed England to make our way for the Scottish border. After a scenic drive, offering views of the scenic shifting landscape, we stopped for photos at the Scotland Border. Then, onward we drove to the Macdonald Houstoun House, which would be our home for the next two nights. Oh my goodness, was this a magnificent place to stay! Different portions of the old-fashioned hotel are separated by gardens and courtyards that are wonderful to walk through.
One section of Macdonald Houstoun House, our first hotel in Scotland
On arrival to the Macdonald Houston House, we congregated in the lobby to be escorted by a talented bagpiper. He sat us in the dining room and played wonderfully traditional Scottish music for us and taught us all about the history and mechanics of the bagpipe. He even played happy birthday for our friend Jeffery, whose birthday was the preceding day. He then left us to enjoy our wonderful dinner, which took place after a complimentary scotch tasting (Slainte!) To kick off the tasty dinner, we all tried haggis, one of the most famous traditional Scottish dishes. I was reluctant to give it a go but I am ever grateful for our friend Betty for suggesting I do. Excellent food at this hotel!
After finishing dinner, a husband-wife duo called Clappy Dood Ceilidh Band came and showed us a grand ole Scottish time! Graeme sang, played accordion, and told Scottish stories while Shauna accompanied him on piano. Then, the real fun started when Graeme invited us all on the floor to learn a traditional Scottish folk dance that had us all laughing and shouting with one-another.
I don't think any of us had ever laughed as hard as when, after dancing, two of our friends, Mike and Linda, were welcomed onto the stage and got dressed into kilts (Mike even got to put on a Scottish hat Tam-o-Shanter hat which gave him shoulder-length orange hair!) They then showed us all their best Scottish accents in a competition to see who could fake it better. Linda won after having us all in stitches after trying her best to be a scotswoman and say, "Hoots, man! There's a mouse loose about this house!"... Which really sounded more like, "Hoots, mon! Thurs uh moose loose aboot thus hoos!" Our cheeks and bellies were sore after all that laughing, and we headed off to bed with smiles from ear to ear.
Morning came and, after a glorious breakfast at the Macdonald Houston House, we began or short ride to Edinburgh. We met with an Edinburgh guide who kept showed us the historic and festive city via motorcoach. We got off the coach at Edinburgh Castle, where a group photo was taken. After we entered the Castle and were immersed in Scottish history. We got the chance to marvel at the architecture both inside and outside, learn about the royal family that once resided where we stood, and pay respects at the Scottish war memorial. We had to rest of the afternoon to do whatever we desired.
The majestic Edinburgh Castle
Ken, accommodating as always, offered two separate transfers back to the Macdonald Houston House at either two o'clock or six o'clock. This way, we were able to spend as little or as much time in the city as we wanted. A few guests and I decided to stay past six o'clock and catch a cab on our own. We walked down the Royal Mile, full of shops and pubs, and explored the rest of booming Edinburgh.
Céad Míle Fáilte!
The morning of the ninth, we departed Macdonald Houston House after a cheery breakfast. We began our journey toward Ireland by making out way along the incredibly ravishing coast of Scotland to catch an enjoyable ferry ride to Belfast. After a short and easy ride across the sea, we arrived in Belfast and made or way to Titanic Belfast. Here, we were free to walk through the Titanic exhibit to learn more about the ship, the people onboard, and more. Real artifacts from the ship and interesting displays made it feel less like a museum and more like an experience. The exhibit even offers a short ride that virtually takes you through parts of the shipyard. Advancing through the interactive museum, the stories of the voyage come to life before you.
We took a short ride to the magnificent Culloden Estate and Spa in Holywood, just outside Belfast. This hotel is fit for a king. The building is set atop a hill and is practically a castle. No matter where you stand on the property, you are bound to find yourself in awe at the panoramic views of rolling hills and the city of Belfast. I couldn't imagine things getting any better until I stepped inside and my jaw dropped upon my first look at the intricate interior. I have never felt more like royalty and I don't think I ever will again. The rooms kept up the luxurious atmosphere, complete with chocolates, biscotti, cozy bathrobes, the puffiest blanket you'll ever feel, and a spacious bathtub to help you unwind after a day full of exploring. Dinner at the Inn adjacent to the estate left every one of us full, but still wanting more.
In the next couple of days, I will be exploring more of Ireland with Ken and the ten amazing friends I have made so far on this tour. Then, I will be moving on to new adventures on my next tour with Sabina, who I'll tell you more about soon.
Meet ya there!