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The Queen, Downton Abbey and Searching for Jaime Fraser

The Queen, Downton Abbey and Searching for Jaime Fraser

Old Sep 23rd, 2022, 07:34 PM
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The Queen, Downton Abbey and Searching for Jaime Fraser

We recently returned from our 17 day trip to London and Scotland. 7 days in London and 8 days in Scotland (4 days in Inverness and 4 days in Edinburgh).

Our flight on Virgin Atlantic Airlines was direct from Seattle to London (Heathrow Airport). Our neighbor who used to live in London had recommended using “Just Airport Service” so we had made advance arrangements before leaving. The driver was waiting for us outside of baggage and was holding up a sign with our name. We decided to stay in the St. James area (near Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben) very convenient. Our hotel was Conrad St. James and it was right across from the St. James Underground. We could walk to many of the sites and the UG subway was convenient for further places. We had been to London many years ago but this is our first time to Scotland.

I had called the hotel in advance since our flight was arriving at 10:30 am to make sure they had a secure place to put our luggage since check in wasn’t till 3 pm. To our pleasant surprise on our arrival they had our room ready. As soon as we dropped off our luggage we were off to see the sites. We weren’t expecting it to be so humid and we had pretty good weather during our visit to the UK.

Our first stop was to see Buckingham Palace. They had the front section fenced off for pedestrians only. We walked through St. James Park which was lovely. Then headed for Harrods which I had hoped to see if we could get in for high tea. I was taking a chance since I didn’t have reservations and there was no available tables. The store was mob with people. We did visit the food hall which was amazing.


Buckingham Palace


My husband really enjoys visiting the pubs and we had couple of good ones near our hotel.
Our favorite pub was the Two Chairmen Pub and visited them almost every day. The staff were very nice and this place was busy with locals. It was a good routine after walking all day. The UK has great hard ciders, beers and excellent gin and tonics.

I made advance reservations for most events. We did three tours during this visit and one of them was touring Hireclere Castle (where Downton Abbey was filmed) and Cotswold with International Friends Tours. Our minivan is the way to go as you can go to small villages/locations where large charter busses aren’t allow. We went through Cotswold and saw many filming locations of Downton Abbey and Yew tree farm among others. Ended at Hireclere with 3 hours in the afternoon so we were advised to get something to eat and then go on the tour through the castle. There was hardly a line when we went through. No photos are allowed inside the castle as the Duke and Duchess of Carnarvon still live here. We saw Lady Carnarvon walking through the courtyard in the back of castle and she stopped to talked to a group of Americans. The castle sits on 5,000 acres and the Secret Garden and grounds were fun to explore after the self guided tour. We rewatched the Downton Abbey series before we came so we could refresh our memory.

Hireclere Castle

We went to Windsor Castle the next day as as we had missed this on our first visit to London. It was very easy to take the train to Paddington station where we transfer at Slough. Then it was like less than 10 minutes to get to Windsor. The castle sits among the Windsor village. All ticketed events had time entry but I asked if we could go in early as our entry was an hour later. It was a slow day so they let us in early. Seeing Windsor Castle was so magical. We tour through St. George Chapel, State apartments where the State dinners are hosted, the Queen’s 1953 Coronation crown and gown was on display. This is highly recommended to visit if you haven’t been. I was amazed how low the planes fly over the castle while we were walking around. I learned later they were canceling flights during the funeral and I can understand why.

Windsor Castle

Tower of London was another day adventure which we wanted to see again. Our tickets were made in advance and we could just show them on my phone. We got there about an hour earlier and again they swipe us in with no problem. We went in the morning when it’s not so crowded and went directly to the building that holds the Crowns Jewels. The lines are always longer in the afternoon. I was happy to see a female Yeomen and there are only 3 now since 2004 and another female Yeomen will be joining them in Oct of this year. Wonderful!

The Westminster Abbey was another place where we got our tickets in advance. When you come through the front doors, they have Martin Lutheran King as one of the statues above the doors. The volunteers are very knowledgeable and helpful and will show you where Winston Churchill plaque is and answer your historical questions.

Westminster AbbeyWe went to the British Musuem and Victoria & Albert Museums since we didn’t visit them the first trip. I had no idea they both are free. Wonderful museums.

We walked through the Maryleborne neighborhood. Liberty London on Regent street is my favorite store and fabulous to browse through. We went early in the morning and it wasn’t crowded at all. My husband enjoyed going through the Tudor inspired exterior of this upscale department store. The retail is set out so inviting that you want to buy it all.

Regent Park is closed by and it is one of the prettiest parks. My husband spotted wild green parakeets in the trees. There were many birds to see in this park. It was a birdies delight.

Our hotel was closed to the Victoria Palace Theatre so we saw the musical “Hamilton” while here. It was playing in my city but I realized I could see the show in London. Wow, this is amazing show and we have tried to see it in NYC but prices were always exorbitant. We had very good seat in the Royal Circle (first mezzanine).We had a very fun dinner at “The Ivy” (Victoria location) before the musical. I made reservations for the lounge area (upstairs) because it looked brighter in the photos. The downstairs was crowded but I was happy with the upstairs. Food and service was wonderful. Ladies, the restroom is one of the prettiest I’ve seen.

Our Flight Was Canceled.

We were flying out of Gatwick Airport to Inverness, Scotland. It was over hour drive to Gatwick from central London so we scheduled “Just Airports” service to come pick us up at our hotel. Easy Jet Airlines doesn’t allow you to checkin in any earlier than 2 hours before your flight. There wasn’t enough chairs for everyone at Gatwick so people were sitting on the floor or had to stand. When we did get in line at the appropriate time, we learned our flight was canceled. Easy Jet didn’t have anyone at a Customer Service counter because of Covid they said. We were directed to go to their app and see when the next flight we could get. I’m not very techie person so I stood near the airport personnel and had them help me navigate their website. There were no flight to Inverness until 3 days later. We were directed to the blue “Service Desk” on the 1st floor to buy tickets for another airline. The agent had a long list of canceled flights as she looked after ours which wasn’t added yet. There was one flight out that evening to Inverness on British Airways. Tickets were $893 for both of us. I’m only throwing in these details so people can see what to do if they find themselves in this situation. We took the National Airport shuttle to Heathrow Airport (about a hour away). I believe the fare was $62 for the shuttle.

It was here waiting at Heathrow Airport when we heard the sad news of the Queen’s death. It was fortunate we left when we did as our hotel was very close to Buckingham Palace and now most places were shut down till the funeral.

In retrospect, I wished we had made train reservations to go to Inverness. My DH wasn’t keen on a 8 hr train ride but there was also a train strike in London at the time we were making arrangements. You just can’t predict what will happen.

Our flight to Inverness kept being delayed so finally we got there around 11pm. There were many media people on our flight since they were trying to get to Balmoral Castle. No taxis available at the airport so we all had to wait and people started to pair up with others to share the taxi ride into town.



We liked Inverness and it was the base during our Highlands stay. Although, I would have shorten it to 3 nights instead of 4 nights and added 1 night more in London. We stayed at the Highland Apartments By Mansley. It was very nice and had a balcony overlooking the city and river. We could walk everyone. There was a Tesco grocery store across the bridge that was like 5 minutes away. Restaurants were hard to get in without reservations. We liked Mustard Seed and Rocpool restaurants and they were excellent. Not too many great restaurants to choose from but you really need to make reservations. One night we didn’t have reservations and we must have gotten turned away about 8 times before we found a place.



I had booked a 12 hour tour with Rabbie’s Tours for the Isle of Skye and Eilean Doonan Castle on our 3rd day. We had sunny and clear day. The scenery was so beautiful.

This was amazing tour and we had a great tour guide (Gregort?) who met us at the Inverness bus station. He stopped at many places for photo opportunities. We stop at Loch Ness (photo), Urquant Castle (photo) and we stop at Eilean Doonan castle (hour). Then drove to Kyle of Lochalsh, stopped at Eilean Doonan Castle (1hr) lunch at Portree (1 hr) and then we we went through the Trotternish Peninsula stopping at the Kilt Rock and Man of Store and Cuillin Mountains and Kyleakin. The last couple of stops, I would recommend bringing a scarf to cover your face as there were swarms of “midges.”

Old Man Storr

Cont.

portobelloB is offline  
Old Sep 23rd, 2022, 09:53 PM
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We had paid in advance for first class train tickets from Inverness to Edinburgh (4 hours journey) but we wanted to see if we could change the tickets to an earlier time. We were told at the station it would cost $60 more and we would not be promised first class seats. So we decided to keep our original time. The interesting thing is that when we boarding our train we found the first class car but not our “assigned number seat” because they had changed services so was using a different train. The conductor told us we could seat in the empty seats that had other people bags sitting on them which she asked the passengers to remove their bags. It is always best to get the conductor.

Our arrival was on the same day, that the Queen’s motorcade was coming to Edinburgh. We had missed the arrival by a couple of hours. After we settle in our hotel, Grand Cheval, which was about a 10 minute walk from the Waverly Train station we walked over to the Royal Mile.

The street was barricaded to keep cars away until after the motorcade left. They had bought over police officers from Glasgow to help out. The Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Yacht Britannia was closed during the mourning period. There were many people in line to pay their respects at the St. Giles Church. The Scottish people were proud that the Queen had died in Scotland the place she was most happy at. When I was in the crowd, and the motorcade starting coming out, you could hear the bagpipes play and the crowd respectfully clapped. It really was so overwhelming.


At the end of Royal Mile is the Holyroodhouse Palace and I was surprised that the police allowed people to go see the flowers in the garden by the palace gates. It was sunny and clear days during her time here and many had commented that the Queen planned her funeral well and even the weather.

We did the urban hike up to Arthur’s Seat and the view from top of the city is worth it. It can get crowded when you reach the summit and it is rocky on the top.

Our best dinners was at “The Dome” and “The Witchery” restaurants. The food and service was excellent The Witchery restaurant is near the Edinburgh Castle. My husband said it was spooky but it was nice to see they use real candles for the dining room. It is dark but hauntingly perfect.

I made another Rabbie’s Tour for our third day in Edinburgh and it was to visit the Kelpies, Loch Lomond and Sterling Castle. The Rabbie tour meets at Rabbie’s cafe which is only about a block away from the Balmoral Hotel. Again, we had beautiful sunny weather.

The Kelpies are mystical sea horses and it’s a fun photo op. The Loch Lomond stop was a disappointment. The tour van parked in the National Park car park. There was a small cafe on a bay of the lake. We thought we could hike above to see the lake but half way there we realize we were going further away from the lake so had to turn around as we only had an hour here.

Kelpies

Sterling Castle was better and we had plenty of time here of 2 hours. It was disappointing that on this tour there was no stops for photos while driving to these 3 places so we got a bit spoiled with the other two tours we took. Of all the castles we saw, Sterling Castle was the most impressive. They still have cannons that work and they were going to be firing them later in the week to honor Queen Elizabeth life. Despite my disappointment on Loch Lomond, it was good to schedule tours through Rabbie’s Tours.

Sterling Castle
We did make reservations for high tea at Balmoral. It was really lovely and the staff were very friendly. The food was wonderful. We had it late in the afternoon so we were not hungry for dinner. J.K. Rowling has a suite named after her at this hotel.


Balmoral Hotel

We had a fabulous time and this is the most historic and memorable time ever.
portobelloB is offline  
Old Sep 23rd, 2022, 11:08 PM
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Really enjoying reading about your trip. Thanks for posting.
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Old Sep 24th, 2022, 12:06 AM
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what a wonderful trip report. I love the pics
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Old Sep 24th, 2022, 06:05 AM
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I had wondered what it would be like to be in the U.K. over this historical period ~ your report gives a picturesque idea.
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Old Sep 24th, 2022, 11:39 AM
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Sounds like a really nice trip, portobelloB. Liberty of London was a favorite stop for this Liberty print fan.
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