Our Scotland Adventure – Day 6 continued

Our Day 6 adventures continued with a drive into Cumbria in northern England to see Hadrain’s Wall.  This area was once the edge of the Roman Empire and the wall was built by the Roman emperor Hadrian.  Theories vary as to why the wall was built – defense, immigration & customs or just a show of power, but the fact that portions of it remain today is a lasting testament to their strength.  The wall extended over 70 miles at it’s completion with garrison towers along it’s length.  The first area we stopped at still had the foundations of one of these towers.

The view from the location was stunning and strategic.  Today the wall is surrounded by fields of grazing livestock, which belie the tumultuous history of the region.

The thickness of the walls was impressive, especially when you consider that they were created by hand without modern machinery.  Many areas of the wall have been robbed of their stones over the centuries as new structures were built in the region.

Today’s roadway follows alongside the wall in many places.  Here the local vegetation has created an archway bridging today and the past in another way.

We continued up the road to a visitor center at a key point along the wall.  This spot was the location of the Birdoswald fort where regiments would have been stationed and trained.  Today it is the longest surviving stretch of the wall.

At the heart of the fort’s footprint is a house constructed centuries after the empire fell during the Victorian era.  The house and estate were purchased during the 1840’s by Henry Norman, who had a strong interest in the fort and it’s history.  He was the first person to employ archaeologist to conduct excavations on the site.  He added the tower and porch to the farmhouse to give it a medieval style as was fashionable at the time.

Beneath the lawn of the house were the foundations of several of the fort’s key buildings, including the granaries and garrison hall where the soldiers would train.  The excavated foundations of these structures are marked out with posts today.

From the house you can see where the fort gates had been in the distance.  Signage shows what they would have looked like when it was at it’s height of use during the Roman occupation.

Because we arrived late in the day the fort was closing shortly after we arrived, so we saw what we could and then headed back the way we had come to check out a cool looking spot I’d seen on the way in.  This stone archway marked the entrance to the area, which turned out to be Lanercoast Priory, an ancient monastery.

Due to the time of day, everything at the site was closed so we enjoyed touring the grounds instead.  The east end of the church is still functioning and was under restoration near the entrance.

I discovered these stone steps along the wall coming off the church and decided to explore.  Beyond the wall was an ancient cemetery with rows and rows of aged headstones.  Some were washed plain by the elements, while others retained their medieval style.

From the cemetery you can see the damaged section of the priory, which has been left open.  The structure is massive and absolutely stunning from every angle.

We walked around the building to the other side where we had a fuller view of the entire complex, including foundations of areas that no longer stand.

Beyond this fence was yet another field of grazing sheep, completely oblivious to the history and beauty that surrounded them.

We headed back toward our vehicle at the front of the church where there were a few smaller buildings that looked like row houses.  I felt like I’d stepped into the pages of a storybook and had been transported back in time.

The signage nearby gave an aerial view of the buildings and described how it had been converted to a grand residence after the Reformation.

On the other side of the estate was a shop and tea room, which were also closed.  I was pretty bummed and wished we’d stopped here first before going up to Birdoswald so I could have browsed their wares.  What I could see through the windows certainly looked like my style!  There was also an outdoor eating area that I’m sure is fantastic to enjoy during the warmer months.

Signs in front of the shop described local sights and history.  As I wandered past the outdoor eating area along the parking lot I spotted this pretty little alley way which continued the storybook look.

On the far side of the parking lot was a large stone home, which I discovered was a B&B.  It too was closed but it was still lovely to see from the outside.

With the light fading we made our way back toward Edinburgh for the night.  Along the way we enjoyed several European road signs we spotted, which created a few chuckles about how different they were from American road signs and yet so similar.

We also had fun noticing the different truck rigs, which included extra tall loads, rounded top trailers and a triple-decker car hauler!

Because the Hubs has an American CDL we had been noticing the differences in rigs here the entire trip, along with how they handle the narrow roads and tight quarters.  On several occasions we spotted trucks stopped on the wrong side of the road unloading, but this one we spotted on the way into Cumbria was actually disconnected and LEFT on the road.  The local drivers seemed used to this behavior and just made their way around the obstacle as they could but we certainly got a big chuckle out of it and had a lively conversation about how that would never happen in the US.

We also spotted several fun displays along the highways including this hay bale Bo Peep and her sheep!

It had been a long but wonderful day and we were ready to rest when we reached Edinburgh.  We had one day left and were going to make the most of it playing tourist with a trip into the heart of the city.

Check out our other Scotland adventures:

And our travels through Iceland on the same trip with Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.

Our Iceland Adventure – Day 1

I’m finally finding time to sort through and edit the hundreds of images from our trip to Iceland and Scotland back in the fall.  We took the trip because I won a contest on another blog which included airfare to Iceland and a cash prize for accommodations.  We decided to add Scotland to the trip since it was nearby and held interest for both of us.  We planned the whole trip around my nephew’s wedding in Virginia since we had to fly out of an east coast hub and the timing worked for both the Hubs and I to be gone for a long stretch during that time.

Fall in Iceland is very similar to fall in Alaska – cold and often wet, but filled with amazing scenery.  We landed in Keflavík early on a Saturday morning thanks to a red-eye flight.  The airport had very modern architecture and reminded us of an IKEA store with a maze of shopping areas, resturants and gates to navigate.  We picked up our rental car and headed straight for the capital city of Reykjavik, which is about 40 minutes away, for some sightseeing.  The first stop was Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran parish, which is the city’s main landmark.  It is also the largest church in Iceland and one of the tallest structures in the country.

It was an overcast, rainy and windy day so the church’s smooth grey basalt stone blended into the sky.  Because it was so early, nothing was open yet, so we wandered the grounds around the church noticing it’s details, like the statue of Leifur Eiríksson in front of the church, which was a gift from the US commemorating the 1,000th anniversary of the establishment of Iceland’s parliament and the modern clean lines of the clock at the top of the tower.

Iceland has seen a huge boom in tourism in the past several years so it’s often crowded at attractions like this, but the weather and early morning kept everyone at bay and we practically had the place to ourselves.  I was a little bummed we couldn’t see the inside and the massive German organ which has been used for a variety of famous recordings, but we couldn’t stay long as we had a full schedule of things to see in the couple of days we were there.

Having seen all of  Hallgrímskirkja that we could, we wandered the nearby streets taking in early morning life in Reykjavik.  A few blocks away I spotted this cute little pub with classic Icelandic style including a turf roof and rustic but modern vibe.  I wished they had been open so I could sample their fare – or get a warm drink.

Across from the pub was this public water closet, which required payment to use.  We’d never seen anything like it but thought it was a smart concept given the masses of tourists the city sees each year.

We got back in the car and drove down to the city’s waterfront in search of the Solfar Sun Voyager, a modern culture of a viking ship.  I’d hoped to catch a shot of it at sunrise, but obviously the weather had other plans. We met a Taiwanese tourist there who was by herself and obliged when she asked if I’d take a photo with her.  I’m pretty sure we both looked like drowned rats, but it was fun to experience another culture taking in the sights.

We had planned to check out a weekly swap meet where the prices were rumored to be the best, but weren’t able to locate it despite several laps of the city.  During one of those laps I spotted this church and asked the Hubs to stop for a few minutes to let me investigate.

I discovered that it is Landakotskirkja, the cathedral of the Catholic Church in Iceland.  You’ll notice that bot churches have “kirk” in the name.  We quickly learned that was a standard throughout the country, just as “foss” is part of all waterfall names.

The classic architecture make it seem much older than it’s 1929 consecration.  The only Catholic school in the city was located right next door and featured charming cottage style buildings.  I was drawn to the ornate door of the church, which had a unique handle that the door had been modified around.

Since most attractions wouldn’t open for a few more hours and we had time at the end of our trip to visit Reykjavik again if we wanted to, we decided to head out into the countryside toward our hotel for the evening, which was a couple of hours drive away.  As we left the city, the scenery quickly changed to wide open expanses of mossy landscape, dotted with structures, the occasional farm and power lines to feed the other side of the island.

We stopped for lunch along the highway at a lovely little café, where we enjoyed baked brie sandwiches, the BEST mushroom soup I’ve ever had and a wonderful hot chocolate for dessert.  We encountered several interesting vehicles on the road which we assumed were operated by the local wilderness or extreme adventure tour companies.  We’re accustomed to large vehicles accessorized for wilderness travel and the situations you may encounter doing so, but these rigs took it to a new extreme with massive tires and a variety of extra lights, even for us Alaskans.  But it’s better to be prepared when in the back country, especially in remote areas where help may  not be able to easily reach you and it’s certainly a new experience for tourists who likely only encounter small scale vehicles.

By late afternoon we arrived at Stracta Hotel in Hella, where we would be staying for two nights.  I was delighted to discover there was a small herd of Icelandic horses right across the street from the hotel.  Seeing this special breed up-close was at the top of my list for this trip and this was the perfect opportunity to spend a few minutes petting them.  They quickly realized we didn’t have any treats for them and lost interest in us, but I stood in the rain for a while longer admiring their unique features.

After checking in and getting our bags to the room, we explored the hotel’s café and gift shop before hopping on the wi-fi to check messages.  Jet lagged from the overnight flight and weather, we decided to take a quick nap to recharge.  Refreshed from our rest, we headed back to the café for a delicious farm-to-table style meal over candlelight and discussed our plan for the next day including more country side driving, waterfalls, a historic turf house and the black sand beaches and basalt pillars of Vik.  We called it a night soon after so we could further acclimate to the time zone and get an early start in the morning.  I’ll be sharing those adventures next so be sure to stop back by to see them!

Check out our other Icelandic adventures from Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.  Then see our travels through Scotland on the same trip with Day 1, Day 2 here and here and Day 3.