We spent the summer of 2018 exploring Ireland and the four countries that make up the United Kingdom - England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. We spent the majority of our time in Ireland and Scotland, and we have a hard time choosing what our favorite was. Everywhere we went we enjoyed delicious local cuisine, yummy whiskey/whisky’s, beautiful nature and interesting historical sights. It was quite the adventure at times (driving on the left on the skinniest roads and getting stuck behind a rogue sheep are just two examples!) It was a great experience and we can’t wait to go back. Here’s a look at where we went/what we did.
I had been to Wales when I was a child and had fond memories. Returning as an adult I still found it charming. Wales is (generally speaking) less expensive than the rest of the UK. There are castles, coastal villages, and adventurous activities. Regional cuisine includes a lot of potatoes, leeks and fresh seafood (especially on the coast). We stayed at a vacation rental cottage that was in a tiny tiny town only reachable by a one lane road through the countryside in the foothills of Mount Snowdon, which is Wales’ highest mountain. We barely got a clear wifi signal with our mobile hotspot - we were that “off the grid”. It was quite the experience to get to/from the cottage - pulling over to let tractors, sheep and other cars go by, but after a few days we got used to it. Everyone was also super friendly in Wales - very welcoming. And Welsh is an interesting language (they speak English everywhere but signs will be in both languages).
Pictured (clockwise from top left): Caernarfon Castle, someone’s pretty garden on the island of Anglesey, the cute town of Beaumaris on the coast of Anglesey (had a lovely lunch there!) and a vegetarian pub lunch.
We spent a week at one of the best vacation rentals that we’ve ever experienced located just outside the coastal town of Waterville. We were right off of the official Ring of Kerry road and we used that to explore nearby towns like Kenmare (a fun town full of good restaurants, shops and pubs) and Portmagee (where you can take a boat to the Skellig Islands - if the weather is right). We had many great meals in Waterville including my husband’s favorite seafood chowder (he’s had quite a few different ones so that is saying a lot!) Our vacation rental was huge and set in such a beautiful area so we did have a day or two where we just relaxed and soaked up the views as it was silly not to. It was supposed to be a vacation as well as a research trip, after all!
Pictured (clockwise from top left): View from our front garden - the Ring of Kerry road is above the furthest houses in the photos, our adorable neighbor, the town of Portmagee, and another view from our front garden towards the water.
We stayed a week near the town of Kinvarra in county Galway. This was the perfect base to explore the Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher, the lively city of Galway, the unique Burren landscape, W.B. Yeats former home (in a tower!) and the Connemara National Park plus the small towns that dot the landscape. We had some of our favorite meals in this area including the best veggie burger I’ve ever had (I’m a lifelong vegetarian and have had my fair share of veggie burgers!) There’s a lot to do in just this one corner of Ireland and we were glad we had a week to explore but we definitely want to go back to see more of this gorgeous area. And I want that veggie burger again.
Pictured (clockwise from top left): The fishing village of Kinvarra, our dog Bodie enjoying the rocky beach, view of the beach at sunset, and the signatures on the Autograph Tree - just one of the literary/historical sights to see in the area.
Western Scotland Island
If you are a fan of Scotch Whisky then you may recognize the name of Islay. This is a tiny island off of the coast of western Scotland and they are known for their peaty whisky’s (there’s about 7 distilleries open on the island). I wasn’t a big fan of smokey/peaty whisky until I went to Islay. Now that’s all I want! We first did an excellent tour at Laphroaig which taught us the history and methods used in making peat whisky. Was super interesting and the smell of the smoky peat is indescribable but reminds me of a fall bonfire. We enjoyed lunch(es) at the Ardbeg Distillery in their great restaurant and we followed the country dirt road to the Kilchoman Distillery - they are the only distillery on the island to grow their own barley (rest import it). You drive across the peat fields to get around the island and the road feels bouncy - it is a weird feeling! The locals were all super friendly and I’d go back in a heartbeat. I also loved the bunnies that frequented our garden every evening and the sounds of sheep “talking” to each other from across the hills. Truly peaceful.
Pictured (clockwise from top left): The town of Bowmore with their famous round church at the top, the Laphroaig Distillery, me at one of the historical ruins on the island, and the Ardbeg restaurant/distillery
(Very) Northern Scotland
The Orkney Islands are located off of the very top of Scotland and thus they had a very Scandinavian feel to them since they are so northerly. They are reached by a comfortable ferry from the very northern part of mainland Scotland. This is really an “off the beaten track” destination that appeals mainly to ancient history fans (like my husband). We spent several days exploring these sights including Skara Brae, Europe’s most complete neolithic sights (dating back to 3000BC!) The island also has its own breweries and whisky distilleries, and some amazing restaurants. It was another peaceful place where everyone seemed to know each other. Oh, and there are a LOT of local artists who call Orkney home. Lovely jewelry!
Pictured (clockwise from top left): Palace of Birsay, Standing Stones of Stenness, Skara Brae, and more Standing Stones
Here are some other places we visited while in the UK and Ireland!